Saturday, April 15, 2017

Saturday Morning in the Yard

 First of the the roses are starting to bud. This is from my Ethan rose.  It is really a Knock Out but it is named after a boy who talked non stop in a third grade class.  His grandmother gave it to me as a gift.
 Spider Wort that my mother in law gave me.  Supposedly it came from her Aunt Beck.  Grandma is not always a reliable source of facts, but I will give Great Aunt Beck credit just in case she is the one who passed it down.  I just took a clump to my daughter in law last week.  When looking for genealogical evidence, an untapped source might be the plants that we have passed down from generation to generation.
 This fern came from a friend  Betty Jo.  They are perennials and come back every year.  I have passed these along to other folks as well.  I love them.
 Dutch iris are starting to bloom  These little iris are small and deeply colored.  It is really hard to get the true color of them in a photograph.

 I had long desired to have a clematis since I read the Henry and Mudge books to my son years ago.  There was a clematis vine on Henry's front porch.  I finally bought one and it has taken several years to produce these lovely big flowers.  I think it is about time to get another one.
 Apples blossoms
Bachelor Buttons

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Finding a Respite for Our Souls

Quilt made by my mother in law

Every old lady I knew growing up had some kind of handwork that she kept at the ready.  It could be picked up and laid down at any time.  But mostly handwork was picked up in the evenings after the dishes were washed and dried, the kitchen swept, and the dish towel laid out to dry.  The day's main work was finished and that handwork was the dessert for all of those industrious people of a bygone era. These women knitted, quilted, crocheted, tatted, or embroidered.  Put a needle in their hands and things got serious.  I stand amazed at our culture and its' obsession with video games and high scores.  I am not impressed, I grew up surrounded by fiber artists and when they finished they had beautiful pieces of work not a score.  Right in throwing distance of our house were three older ladies who were "masters of the needle".

Mrs. Lowder lived on a working farm that looked like it was a Norman Rockwell print.   Mr. and Mrs. Lowder were in their 80's and my sisters and I would often take their mail to them in the evenings.  We would step into a surreal scene of an aged man in overalls watching the news usually of war scenes from Vietnam, the man hired to help run the farm would be sitting quietly and stoically on a straight backed wooden chair by the heater and then there was  Mrs. Lowder in her rocker feverishly  crocheting away on some kind of beautiful cotton lace work.
Crochet by my mother in law

Mrs. Shuping lived up the road  on a slight rise.  She was an ancient old lady with white hair that she balled up at the nape of neck.  She kept the cleanest house I have ever stepped into.  Her floors were so gleaming that I was actually afraid that I would slip and fall. Her specialty was tatting.  She tatted the lace for pillowcases that she gave away for graduation and wedding presents.  She died before I graduated high school and it still feels like I was somehow cheated.

Mrs. Sutton lived across the road from us and she was a knitter.  The Sutton's army green house resembled a mountain cabin with screened in porches.  It seemed low built and nestled into the trees.  Everything inside was serviceable and in muted colors.  Mrs. Sutton had a round face with a double chin, salt and pepper hair.  She kinda of waddled back and forth when she walked.  She was a kind spoken lady who spent her time keeping house and  knitting in her rocking chair in the corner of the big open den that was the center of the house. Sometimes, my sister Gail and I would go and visit her. She rocked and knitted and we sat awkwardly on the couch chitchatting until we couldn't stand the awkwardness any more.

My grandma was a quilter and she continued to piece quilts way into her eighties.  Growing up, all of our beds were weighed down by homemade heavy ancient quilts that had been stuffed with real cotton. As her eyes and dexterity failed, Grandma pieced quilts with left over fabric scraps that came from her daughter Hazel's sewing job.  She would piece the quilt top and then add a blanket on the back and tie off each quilt square with a thick piece of bright thick cotton thread. I don't think she could handle the true quilting anymore.  The 1970's fabric patterns were uncharacteristic for Grandma's tastes but thrift came before taste.  Other kids went off to college with plain white blankets and floral bedspreads, but we were loaded down with Mod Squad  quilts that even Linc would have been proud to sleep under.

My own mom crocheted afghans as she aged.  She also like so many other young women had embroidered in her early years for her hope chest. An ancient treadle sewing machine was employed by both my mama and my grandma to make whatever struck their fancy. The treadle machine was simple, sturdy and only made the whirring noise that could be produced by a foot on the pedal. When I married I inherited a mother in law who was another true master of all kinds of handwork.  She crocheted, quilted and was a great seamstress.

Hand drills from Granddaddy

Women were not the only ones who worked with their hands. Many men of my childhood were world class whittlers and primitive furniture makers.  My grandpa made a rolling pin that I still use even though he passed away sixty years ago.   Grandpa made "what knot shelves" and small end tables that are still beautiful and unique pieces of  craftsmanship.  My dad used those same hand tools that had been his own dads. Those simple hand tools required the same focus and quietness as needle work.   An electric speed drill produces faster work but I am not sure it can bring the same calmness to the soul as rhythmic movement of a  hand drill.
Granddaddy's rolling pin

Coffee grinder that was passed down to our son.
It is useful tool in their home.  
 The old men and women from my childhood were not significantly different from the people that live now.  They had sickness, heartache and even stress in their lives. The world has always been an evil and cruel place. Many of them lived through World Wars 1 and 2, the Depression, the Korean Conflict, the chaos of the 1960's, the Cold War, Vietnam, and polio epidemics.  My neighbors also had personal heartache and dysfunction in their extended families just like we do.

 Their lives weren't perfect and carefree just because they lived in another generation.  But those folks from my childhood  found ways of focusing and coping in the world in which they lived.  I imagine that the things they did by hand they did out of necessity but discovered the soothing and calming effect that it had upon them.   I believe when we put our hands to work that it takes our minds to a different place that enables us to cast off our cares and worries.  If we can rest our minds then sometimes we can also right them.

"Putting a needle in her hand is like giving her a tranquilizer."
Granddaddy Dew (when speaking of my mother in law and her handwork) 
My latest project - piecing a baby quilt

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us-- yes, establish the work of our hands.

I am not against progress and I appreciate modern convenience but I am not sure that we understand the value of using our hands to produce something. We are created beings and we have a Creator.  I think that deep in our DNA is the desire for beauty, for order and yes even for work.  I think there is even a deep desire to work with our hands.  Buying it on Amazon, pushing a button, or buying it at the farmer's market is just somehow not the same.  The "work of our hands" is connected to our souls.  In our effort to streamline and to circumvent having to work we have lost something important. We have lost something of ourselves.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Spring in the Yard

 Yellow Finch

 Flat of flowers I picked up at the local Bargain's store.  I would rather have these than a nice arrangement from the florist.

 I hung a nyger thistle bag yesterday, the  finches showed up today.
 Sitting in the rain hanging out .

A whole flock of cedar waxwings were eating the red berries off the holly bushes that line our property.  It was neat to watch them swoop in and out to eat.
Mister Blue Jay in the tree 

 Yellow Finches

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ode to the Plain White Cotton Bed Sheet

I pull back the covers 
greeted by a  plain white cotton bedsheet, 
 tautly buttressed

I snuggle 
inhaling the outdoors
 captured  in the
flapping wind on that old sagging line.

Oh my dear white sheet 
Bleached by the sun
No colors of complexities to assault my day wearied  mind

Oh the soothing sensation of your cool crispness 
and your well worn soft cotton fibers

I nod my head in gratitude
As I drift into a night of unfettered rest.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sustenance and Solace

As the sun lowers in the sky

I take up my stance in my patch of earth
The good smell of dirt fills my nostrils
Spade after spade of brown friable dirt

The shovel bites into the earth
Spade after spade of brown friable dirt
The sweat beads upon my brow
"From the dirt you came and to the dirt you will return"

He used to meet us here
"In the cool of the evening"

All my people turned the dirt
From here came their sustenance and their solace 

Grandma, her bonnet shielding her head and thick brown stockings upon her legs
From the dirt she grew faint images of the Garden 
Bits of the bounty and the beauty

Leather worn skin housing a heart 
tuned to the One who had exiled her from the Garden

A worn copy of her invitation to the Throne
graced her bedside table
Spade after spade of brown friable dirt
The sweat beads upon my brow

Grandma peers out from across the divide leaning upon her hoe

Encouraging me on

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Everyday Pictures

Lenten Roses

Snow Drops

I came home from work one day recently and I was pretty exhausted.  I have a difficult schedule on Monday and I had errands to do on the way home.   When I drove into the driveway I noticed that lots of birds were out.  I spotted one bird that was unfamiliar to me.  I was suddenly energized by my interest in in the birds in our yard.  I pulled out my camera to try and grab some shots.  Amazing how our tiredness can be "fixed".  

Mr. Crow was perched on the very top of one of the trees in the woods.  With birds the shot has to be taken quickly or they will flit away before you have a chance to focus. 
Mockingbirds don't seem to be a perturbed by my blundering noises which make them much easier to photograph.

Blue Bird 
Dogwood blossoms
Violets are blooming profusely all over our yard.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Louise, Peggy, Charlene, and Jan

Aunt Peggy and Uncle Glenn
Aunt Jan and Uncle Akins
Aunt Charline and Uncle Tom
Mama(Louise) and Daddy
My mama was one of six children.  Her brothers and sisters were incredibly important to her.  My mama  talked to her sisters on the phone pretty much every day. Our phone rang off the hook on a regular basis and Mama would come close to breaking her neck to answer the phone before someone hung up.  There was no caller ID in those days.  The telephone was her entire social media. Mama would sit for hours with that old black rotary phone stuck to her ear talking to Aunt Peggy or Aunt Charlene who lived in Salisbury and Dunn's Mountain. Mama would then talk to Aunt Jan and Grandmother who lived in Kannapolis.  We lived  in between those little towns and it wasn't a long distance call for Mama either direction.  That way they could all stay in touch every day without long distance charges.   Mama was disabled and it was hard for her to get out often.  Her sisters and her own mom were her main contact with the outside world.

The sisters' catch phrase was a molasses slow "uh hum", that they all said  repeatedly in conversation to each other.  I never really paid much attention to what Mama was saying over the phone, but they shared all of the important and unimportant details of their lives. On that well worn black phone recipes were passed back and forth, information about their kids, spouses, extended family members, and former neighbors became fodder for conversation.  They also talked about the soap operas that they watched.  They discussed romance novels and the important transfer of hand me down clothes and extra garden produce.  They listened and they validated each other's lives.  They were a genuine support system to each other.

 As far as I can remember Mama was the only one of her sisters who never took up smoking.  My aunts took Mama in the bathroom one day when they were at our house to try and teach Mama how to smoke.   They were all smokers and they wanted her to be able to enjoy it to.  No one back then took the dangers of smoking very seriously.  I doubt that daddy would have ever gone and picked Mama up any cigarettes, so it is just as well that she failed at that task.

The sisters came alive when they were together.  It was a talking and belly laughing extravaganza.  Mama was the least expressive of the sisters and the most private.  From my aunts I saw glimmers of my mama packaged just a bit different.  I saw strong women who loved their kids and who knew what it was to stay  married in the good and bad times.  Each of the sister  had real difficulties in this life.  They experienced heartbreak, sickness and suffering in some form or the other.  I never knew them to bicker or bad mouth each other.  Whatever life had to offer, they kept their chins up and a joke on their lips.  They stood in hospital rooms and funeral homes but refused to let that keep them from living.  They just kept on making strong coffee and enough food to drown any sorrow or at least put you in a food induced coma.

By mid life after birthing their babies into the world they were packaged on the larger size.  I think it was necessary though because their hearts were so incredibly big that it took extra large packaging to handle all of the love and compassion that each of them had. Their lives aren't cataloged on Wikipedia and the world doesn't know their names, but their children and grandchildren have them permanently engraved on their hearts. I miss each of them.  I just never imagined the day would come when every single one of them would leave us behind to carry on.  I don't need some kind of celebrity role model to teach me how to be a woman.  I had my mama and my aunts.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Drawing Dr. Seuss

March 2 is Read Across America Day and it is also the birthday of Dr. Seuss. In the US we haven't the foggiest clue when the Magna Carta was signed or the significance of the Mayflower Compact, instead we devote an entire month to a man who wrote rhyming books and drew whimsical pictures about a fox wearing socks, a cat in a black hat encouraging bad behavior in children and about someone named Sam eating green eggs and ham. You can draw your own conclusion as to why we are going to hell in a hand basket.

Today, in the spirit of things, the kids in the 4th grade drew a picture of Theodore Seuss Geisel.  We used gray construction paper, pencil to draw, black sharpie for some detail, skin color crayons, and oil pastels.  I  watched a You Tube video for my own instruction.  I used as a simple guide picture and also found looking at real pictures of Dr. Seuss to be helpful. For what ever reason  many of the kids wanted to make his head flat on top or would give him an enormous amount of hair. For the eye color we used a pale blue pastel and then colored over it with a gray pastel.  We made the pupil with sharpie.  The kids chose the color for the bow tie and I found it interesting that most chose red like the Cat in the Hat.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The True Value of Home

My dad and sisters and myself by the side of our home. c. 1966

Our little country home was small. There were five rooms, a bathroom, a small square hallway, front porch and a closed in back porch. The house was sided in wood that was always painted white.  It was more like a country cottage.  We had hardwood floors, but there was often a big piece of decorative linoleum rolled out across each of them. Some of the linoleum had beautiful flower patterns but some of the other patterns were just a strange assortment of shapes.  Even the kitchen floor was hardwood but it was always covered by some hideous tile.

On cleaning day Mama or my grandma would mop all of the floors throughout the house with a string mop that was wrung out by hand. They laid pieces of newspaper down on the wet floors in case anyone needed to walk across the floor.  Tracking up a wet floor was a crime that you just didn't dare commit.  I would have rather sassed my mama than walk on her wet floor and sassing was a crime that was punishable by near death or at least being swatted with her defunct hairbrush. In the summer time all of the windows were open and both the front and back door.  The wind and the warm sunshine dried the water fast and the house would have a nice clean fresh smell that mingled with the smell of the cleaner.

Our furniture was old, piecemeal and sparse.  The beds were spread with Chenille bedspreads or homemade quilts.  We had a Formica red table in the kitchen and few of the original chairs.  We had one old upside down barrel at the end of the table that had a pillow on it and a hodgepodge of other chairs to give everyone seating. The table seldom had a table cloth but collected a homey assortment of sticky tableware like the Tupperware salt shaker and the Federal glass sugar bowl.

Often on those summer days, a load of laundry would be blowing on the clothes line. A pot of fresh corn or beans or potatoes might be simmering on the back of the stove and a row of freshly canned produce  lined up on the back kitchen counter covered by a damp cloth. There might be some leftover biscuits setting out as well.  Gray, our cat would be sunning on the top back step and the dogs  laid out somewhere in the shade.  A canopy of tall trees covered the house at almost every conceivable angle providing the poor man's air conditioning.

As I grew older and experienced more of the wide world it was easy to compare our little home to those around us who had more financially.  When I went away to college, I didn't want my wealthier friends to know how country and how poor we really were.  I was embarrassed as to how little I thought we had. Now I am an old lady and those precious memories of wet newspapers flapping in the wind on that old linoleum evoke such a strong memory of comfort and love.  I am  thankful now that I grew up so incredibly rich.