Winter Fence

Victorian window screen. This is a portion of a fence we built in our back yard. I’m including this today because it’s so dang hot, I thought a cool visual was in order.

My husband and I wanted a portion of our yard to be dog-free but given our personalities, something normal and easy was out of the question. While doing our research, we serendipitously discovered window screens stacked in a back corner at an antique reseller. Iron, sturdy and decorative, they seemed perfect. We bought 12 in several designs, then the fun began.

It took most of the summer to remove the paint layers — some of them had 6 colors — using metal brushes, paint removers, steel wool, and lots of elbow grease. The sections aren’t very tall — 3 feet max — and we crouched over them or sat on upturned paint cans. The work went on and on, but…when they were clean, painted black, installed by my husband, it made the yard unique. As for keeping the dogs out, ha! If there’s a squirrel sassy enough to flick a tail in Pushkin’s yard, that dog’s over it in a flash.

I was in high school when Daddy gave me the words that prepared me for stripping Victorian iron, or tiling a bathroom, or learning to make pizza from scratch. He sat at the piano, playing, while I decorated the family room for a party. I went up a ladder, taped crepe paper or other decoration in place, climbed down. Moved the ladder. Climbed up again. It took a long time and when I was finished, I said, “I don’t like the way it looks but it’s the best I can do.” Daddy stopped playing and said, “If you don’t like it, say so, then be brave enough to try again.” So I removed my work. The second iteration was better; lesson learned.

Enjoy the cool picture. Drink lots of water. More on Wednesday.

Boating Grandparents

Photo of my husband’s grand- parents.
A beautiful couple in a romantic setting.

Row boating – in a full suit and pearls…I’d like to know more about that, but it was another era. From the picture, you might think their lives were full of picnics and ease. But I doubt it.

This grandfather worked at the Celanese, a manufacturing plant set up during World War I to produce cheaper fabric for airplane manufacturing. On a historical note: they located the plant inland to protect against Zeppelin attacks! From 1924 it employed thousands of workers and produced a fabric intended as an alternative to silk. We now call that alternative acetate (which I associate with linings that melt easily if the iron is even a bit too hot).

It probably wasn’t the healthiest environment and when my mother-in-law was 15, he died of a blood disease. Now I don’t believe you can ever really know your parents, even if they live long. But if one of them dies when you’re young, you don’t have the chance for them to become a person removed from their parental role, a removal that makes them more your friend. I see it as a separation of sorts, different from leaving home and good. In any case, my mother-in-law has a gap in her heart from this death that I can feel even today.

The grandmother in the picture is the one whose cat we now own and who took my husband bowling. I knew her and she was as lively as she appears in this picture. I can only assume she chose a wonderful man to match her personality. From this distance and given the old photo, I note he is handsome and I think my husband inherited his nose.

So…sending father’s day greetings to those living and dead. We love and, in the latter case, miss you.

(to those who got this twice – the page seemed to have gone belly up. My apologies..)

Norwegian Troll

Jolly Troll doll bought in Oslo, Norway. I have a Norwegian sister. When I was a senior, my family was selected to host the first American Field Service exchange student in my high school; a foreigner was coming to live with us for a full year! We picked up Merete at the airport. Blond, of course. English speaking, although when tired or facing a question she didn’t understand, she just said, “Yes.” The first night she ate with us there was some confusion when Mother said she was full. “What?!” It turns out “full” in Norwegian means drunk.

We had a fabulous year. She taught us to knit patterns into sweaters. The basement bedrooms flooded and we three older girls slept in the recreation room in an extended slumber party. She was elected HomeComing Queen, went through several boyfriends, got contact lenses, and totally bonded with us, especially my mother.

When she left at the end of the year, I was among many of my classmates, seeing her off. We were crying. One of the male Terry’s (remember there were 3 of them in my class) said, “What do you think? You’re going to get together in Norway? You’ll probably never see each other again.” He wasn’t mean, just realistic, but I vowed that wouldn’t be true. And it wasn’t.

The next year my entire family went to Europe for the first time, meeting Merete in Paris. We traveled through Germany, Switzerland, and into Northern Italy where a group of young soldiers almost jumped into our VW van through the sunroof when they saw us sunbathing in bikinis. Eventually we made it up to Norway where we spent a week with her family and I fell in crush with Olaf Brinkmannhansen. There were tears again when we parted.

But we have been together many times. Merete came to a wedding. When I left the theater in Germany for good, Mother and I went to Norway to meet Merete’s husband, and their two daughters. Her family came to the States. Mother, my husband and I went there.

The ties have loosened a little now, even with skype, but what a wonderful friendship. I am grateful to the American Field Service for sending Merete to us!

English Family

My husband’s Great-Grandfather in England with his sisters. He’s on the right, quite dapper I think. Don’t you love the hats?

Although her father migrated from England and we don’t think she ever visited, his grandmother wrote to her English cousins throughout her life. Sadly, by the time we became interested in meeting that side of the family, his grandmother had died. We decided to travel to England to see if we could locate them. (It would have been cheaper but less fun to write to the address he had…)

Before the English trip, I went on a tour to China. Among the group were a couple of Brits and I mentioned that I was traveling to England soon. “Oh where?” “Just a tiny town. Hebdenbridge.” “My, we live just a few miles from there.” The story of why we were visting was told and the British women decided to help. We sent them the address and one Saturday we got a call. A very-out-of-breath voice said, “I just ran up the hill to a phone box. I’ve found them!”

The house had been sold but the people living there knew my husband’s relatives (the pleasures of small town living.) The upshot was a wonderful afternoon with many many cousins, eating, talking and learning various recipes for trifle. One of the cousins had just completed a family geneology, but had been unable to locate the U.S. relation. We completed her information which was displayed in a large family tree on the wall and there were namtags for everyone that identified relationships – daughter of Emma, and so on. The tags for the women who had made the reunion possible read “Go between.”

A result of this trip, besides some wonderful hours, was a confirmation of U.S. family gossip that that great-grandfather and his wife moved to the States because their first child was born “too soon.” The Brits said there were always whispers that stopped when they came into the room but they didn’t know why.

My indelible image of that afternoon, besides all the food and conversation, came when we were leaving. Ella, the oldest surviving relative stood at the top of the stairs and waved us off with a British flag, singing “Till we meet again.”

Engraved Silver Cup

Silver Baby Cup. Engraved with my original, but not official, name.

I think names very important; they are the first things I settle on when starting a story. I can spend a week or more searching for a true fit — is “Carly” appropriate for the time period and the personality I imagine? Is “Meghan” overused? “Star” too fancy? In one of my novels, the lead was named Anna by her parents. She hated the name – plain and ordinary – so in the fifth grade she added two “h”s. Voila – Hannah. Here’s a bit from that same novel; mother and daughter are talking about family:

“There were seven Lydia’s in that family. Thank heavens they didn’t name her Lydia.” Mother makes a sound that I recognize as a snort. “Miss Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.”

Okay, my family is weird that way. Focused on names. Long discussions on what to call the baby. No one cares if Fleda was your favorite aunt; Phoebe sounds like a cat. Fierce squabbles over pet names. PacoBell’s pretty mild. Orbital. Mr. Spam Beauyardee. Spamby for short. Keep-off-the-Rug and You-Too, Daddy’s suggestion for a pair of kittens. Claire named her fish Hootenanny and Joshua’s snake was Pencil. Names made us laugh. Meant something. We kids once had a dentist who said that he knew how a child was going to behave based on his name. If I recall, “Brian” and “Carol” were best behaved; “Janet” was stoic; “Wesley” a whiner; “Ricky” and “Cassie” bound to be devilish.

My parents named me Teresa so they could call me Terry. Very confusing; am I official today or just myself? The “y” got changed to an “i” in 7th grade. There were 3 other Terry’s in my grade, all boys, so guess what gym class was listed on my schedule? And guess how loud the hooting when I showed up. After that I morphed into Terri, a girl, thank you very much! My middle name is Nan, which I always liked, despite my sister calling me Terri Nanny Goat! In any case, I think my parents found a name for me that is a true fit.

Dog #5, Sprocket

We have had eight dogs over the years and we tend to name them in sets. We had Sprocket the same time as Gizmo, a truly crazy dog, but unlike her mate, she was a lover girl. You can see by the picture how gentle she was. How many dogs would agree to wear a paper new year’s hat?

She was a hound of some sort, rescued from the pound, as have been all our dogs. My husband said hounds howl, but she never let out a peep. Finally, everytime there were sirens in our neighborhood, hubby would howl, setting an example. Sprocket caught on, much to our chagrin, and woke us many a night.

You never know what kind of treatment a dog that’s rescued has been through. Or how they are going to react. When Sprocket got into trouble, she’d go into a corner and shake. It was pitiful. But she had a happy life with us.

When she died, my husband said what he always does – remember, there is another dog waiting for us to rescue her. And so there was: Pushkin and then Orbit, not named as a set but for their personalities.