A Lost Son – Guest Post

Pencil drawing of Margaret Rolston, nee Logan. Our guest poster is Denise and this woman is a distant ancestor of of her husband, Jim.

As you can see by this inscription, which is on the back of the picture, she married on March 29, 1785.

[ed: I found further information in a book published by the New Jersey Historical Society: Documents relating to the colonial, Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary history of the State of New Jersey. John Ralston came to Mendham, NJ, from Ireland in 1785. Margaret and John’s March 28th marriage license was listed, and it was stated that the year after he married, he went into a partnership and operated the Ralston General Store until he died in 1819. He also built a cotton and woolen factory, but his fortunes were depleted by the War of 1812.]

The silhouette below is of Margaret’s youngest son, Daniel Stuart Rolston, born May 3, 1801. [ed: almost 20 years of childbearing!] According to the inscription on the back of the picture, he went to South America and was never heard from again. His family supposed he died there.

The lost young man and the mother who never learned what happened touched Denise. She has hung the two pictures together: mother and son visually reunited.

Bullet Casing Jewelry

Necklace and ring made of shells and bullet casing. These were my mother’s. A gift from my father, made for her when he was in the South Pacific, at war.

I don’t ever remember Mother actually wearing these, but I loved to look at them. My father designed our house and among other touches just for Mother (the kitchen was a wonder), he built a jewelry case into their master bedroom. The case was made of teak, modern and unadorned, set into the countertop. Lift the lid and there were the treasures, nestled in little compartments. I think that reveal, from the plain wood to the opals and myriad earrings, made magic.

I’m going to digress for a moment. We lived in a subdivision called “Paramont Heights, Homes with a View.” Daddy, architect that he was, cared deeply about how the house looked from the outside as well as inside. I often heard him comment on ugly houses with windows stuck here and there, no thought to outside appearance, just to inside expediency. For us, he designed a long low rancher framed in steel (at the time heating was cheap.) The steel was unusual; when it started to go up, the neighbors thought it was going to be a filling station. In any case, architectural beauty demanded two floor to ceiling windows in the front, connected by a long wall painted a lovely green. One window looked into the entry and livingroom, as might be expected. The other peered into the master bedroom. Houses with a view, indeed!

Back to the jewelry. Mother simply told us that Daddy made them when he was stationed on a ship in the Navy. After she died, I was going through the piles of cards and pictures (she kept everything) and I came across a thank you letter she had sent him. The necklace was a first year anniversary present. You can imagine how I treasure them.

Orbit, the Flying Dog

Our Flying Dog, Orbit. I fooled you with the noble picture on the front page. This is actually what she looks like most of the time – a blur running past, ears blown back. When we picked her out from the pound, the woman looked at us dubiously. She evidently thought this was a dog for a young boy, not a solid married couple. “Wouldn’t you like a calmer dog,” she said. No we wouldn’t. This was our dog.

We chose the name before we knew how apt it was. She’s a go-go girl. Chases her tail. Ran away once, my husband saw her down the street and yelled. She did a u-turn immediately — knowing she was in trouble — and came huffing back as fast as her little legs would carry her. She loves riding in the car, preferable head out to the wind, as you see. We keep the window shut when we go over 40 mph. But the minute we slow down, she’s panting and waiting for it to open. Who knows what she sees or smells. Whatever, it’s her favorite.

She’s particularly obsessed with motorcycles. She spots them miles ahead on the freeway, yips and barks until we pass, then gazes longingly out the back window. Oddly enough, she doesn’t recognize a motorcyle if it’s parked.

She also knows when we’re getting ready for a trip. Not too hard; we gather our suitcases at the bottom of the stairs. Usually, yes, she’s coming with us. But last year we went to Spain to visit the girl I have mentored since eighth grade (junior year abroad) and dogs were staying home. Orbit was furious. No way we were abandoning HER. As my husband struggled to close the door, she bit him! Not hard, you understand…she just couldn’t help herself.

I never had a dog growing up. I was a cat lover. But now I can’t imagine being without one. We’ve had eight over the years and each has had a distinct being. Sometimes I feel a personality in the room and when I look up, I’m surprised to see it’s a dog.

Finally, apologies to those who got the story about the red Italian blouse twice. You’d think after 6 months I’d know how to drive this thing…

Red Italian Blouse

Italian blouse bought in Tuscany. Missed my Wednesday post because of a power outage. Huge tree down. We went out for a rare mid-week margharita.

Now, about the blouse. It was bought in Italy under duress. Mother and I were touring, 7 days in Tuscany, then 3 in Rome. We arrived. Our luggage didn’t. In this instance the stereotype I carry of the Italian domani (tomorrow) played out perfectly. Our luggage came from Rome the day we returned.

Meanwhile, we had just what was in our carry-ons. Neither of us a clothes-horse, but as the days passed, we needed a change. We were in a small town, not a lot of English spoken, and my Italian is limited to what I’ve heard in opera. O Mio babino caro doesn’t cut it when you want clothes. Eventually I found a nice shop where the prices weren’t too high and they were adept at pantomime. There I found the blouse which I have loved and not just because the airline paid for it.

After the third day of washing out at night, it rained and we needed clean underwear. My dictionary wasn’t much help. Bus – autobus. Rain – pioggia. Underwear? Um, no. At the shop I pulled a bit of fabric from under my jeans belt and asked “Dove?” (Learned from a kooky choreographer who made us say “Dove sta amore, where lies love” while we danced.) After the laughter died, I was sent to a shop to buy the most expensive undies I’ve ever owned. Penney’s it was not.

I also needed a pair of shoes. Now, my feet are wide, high-arched – perfect for ballet and impossible to fit. Mother used to say, “Just sell her the box.” I found an empty shop – important when you think you are going to embarrass yourself – where a nice salesman brought out the ugliest sandals I’ve ever seen. Sadly, they fit like a dream. I hesitated, frowned, shuffled. All the while he was extolling how good the leather, how comfortable the shoe. Even with my limited Italian, I got it. Finally I burst out “Ma non e bella.” which I think meant “but they aren’t pretty.” He laughed, extolled some more and I bought them, wore them everywhere, and they were great. In fact, I still have them.

I’d like to point out that other folks write about charming men and love in Tuscany. My story is about lost luggage and ugly sandals. Seems apt…

Antique Stereoptican with Travel Slides

Stereoptican. Patented in 1897. No brand name.   This is a very up-to-date model. The slide can be moved to focus the picture and the handle folds up for easy storage. My husband’s father remembers playing with this at his great-grandmother’s house when he was a boy.

For those of you who haven’t had the fortune to look through a steroptican, they were a first in technology. A heavy cardboard slide containing a double photo was inserted into the slots on the left. The photos had been taken at slightly different angles by a camera with two lenses placed 2 1/2 inches apart, about the distance between your eyes. You looked through the silver viewfinder and voila! A 3-D picture.

Invented in England, this gadget was popularized in the U.S. by Oliver Wendal Holmes of all people, who designed a hand-held model in the mid 1850’s.

The slides were often of scenery for the arm-chair traveler. This one is labeled “Storm mists press down on the mountain walls above beautiful Loen Lake, the Nordfjord, Norway.”

In addition to scenery, domestic scenes were popular – mothers with babies, fathers feeding chickens. The one below is labeled “Dutch Courtship.” You can see the double slide which created the 3-D effect. I wonder what my husband’s father made of the picture.

Not all the slides I have are from my husband’s family. My mother also collected them; I believe the Norwegian ones are from her because of my American Field Service sister.

It’s fascinating to think of how people entertained themselves in the past and to try out some of their toys. But don’t try to take away my movies, internet or the chance to write this blog. Otherwise, what would I do on Wednesday and Sunday nights?!

Antique Toaster

Flip flop toaster by Sunbeam. This came with a rather frayed cord. The toast is placed between the two metal grids, one side toasted, then you flip it over for the second side. Typical purchase for my mother who was a lover of odd-ball antiques. She would go for an antique humidifier over a fancy chair any day.

She took pictures in the same way. Whereas my daddy took carefully framed and planned pictures, Mother took pictures of everything. The leaves on an unfamiliar tree, the front of a bus, an unusual traffic sign. When we got home from a trip, she would have hundreds of pictures. Of course, as she said, the English pictures were mostly green fields or sheep. The Greek pictures were piles of stone and olive groves. But looking at her photos the country would emerge.

With Daddy’s pictures you remembered a specific moment: When he dropped the stone into the pond. When you posed for the umpteenth time on a fence with mountains in the background and your stomach was growling. (Those fence pictures always seemed to take place early in the morning before breakfast.)

When Daddy died, Mother took over as family photographer.  At first she found the camera daunting and the shadow of Daddy’s perfection hung over her. I remember her taking this picture of me and two friends in Germany. She adjusted the lens and stepped a couple feet to the left. The sun went under a cloud. We waited. She refocused and squinted into the view finder. She asked us to move closer together. She refocused. Finally my friend’s husband said, “Did anyone ever die waiting for you to take their picture?”