Photo: On the Water in Norway

Norway fiordPicture taken in Norway.

This is another of my Daddy’s pictures, taken on our first European trip, visiting my Norwegian sister, Merete.

Coming from Colorado, we were used to mountains, but our mountains are dry. Those in Norway sprout myriad waterfalls and Daddy called them the “leaky” mountains.  Everywhere there was water; the long bays of the fiords along the coastline, the thin silver threads of the waterfalls; when the sun comes out, it’s glorious. 

Actually, sunshine is somewhat of a rarity.  When the sun appeared, Norwegians pulled off the highway, took collapsible chairs from their cars, and basked.  I can imagine the need to soak up as much sun as possible; for a quarter of the year they barely see it, a condition I would find difficult although my sister says winter is cozy.

That summer we drove the scenic route from Oslo to Kristiansund, where my sister’s family lived. It was slow going – up a mountain, down a mountain, around a fiord, up a mountain… 

Once we encountered a tunnel. We couldn’t see the proverbial light at the end; the road simply buried itself into the mountain. However, it was on the map, so in we went. Soon the only light was our headlights. Then the road took a sharp corner. Daddy stopped the car, took a flash light and investigated. Reassured that the road didn’t drop off into nothing, we went slowly on.

I always knew when my parents were worried: they stopped talking. After a very silent half hour, we came out the other side. And there on the road for travellers going the other way was a sign: ROAD CLOSED.

Here’s another of my Daddy’s pix that I love, taken in Germany…

Glass Christmas Garland

A garland of glass beads for the Christmas tree given to us by my Grand- mother.

It being the season, I want to write about Christmases past. I suspect the story is going to sound a little like Ozzie and Harriet – all light and happiness. Well, yes, that’s the way I remember it…I was a child lucky in my family. I suspect my sisters will remember it much the same way.

Christmas really began when my grandparents arrived from Kansas. Inside their suitcases were wrapped packages for us (yippee) and boxes of cookies. She baked date rolls (tedious to make – I make them now), sugar cookies with sprinkles and flavored with anise, round powder-sugar balls, something called “rocks”. Some years there was fudge or meringue candy. My grandfather usually took us downtown to look at the windows in the department stores. There would be moving figures and trains – a fantasy to look at. Then he’d take us to the dime store, shopping. We saved his present till last; because it has to be surprise, he’d go to the counter for coffee and we’d pick out something for him. (At that time, no one worried about kids being stolen. How times change.)

For many years we had a real tree. One year the best tree, the only full one on the lot, was crooked. We bought it anyway and after many failed attempts to make it look straight in its holder, Daddy had to hang it from the ceiling. It was also was his job to put on the lights, which took forever because the red, green, yellow, blue colors had to be well separated. Finally it was our turn to hang on the other decorations. Traditionally we played excerpts from Handel’s Messiah when we decorated and I still can sing many of the lyrics. There were the usual glass balls and garlands, but also some unusual decorations from during the war. I particularly loved the one made of maraborou feathers and tinsel.

We had a plaster creche that was many times arranged around a little cardboard stable with an angel hung on the rafter. I particularly loved the donkey and the sheep. Just last week my sister dug it up – it’s missing some noses, having been well loved – but she’s going to take it to the doll hospital to be fixed. Then she’ll pass it onto the next generation.

Christmas Eve had its own evolving ritual. We started with a meal of homemade chili, but later that became pizza (easier on the cooks.) Then, church. One year I had both chicken pox and measles at the same time and couldn’t go. I made my mother promise to bring home one of the little candy sacks that were handed out to the children. When I was older, I once ran out of gas driving home from church by myself and had to walk home through the snow. Oh yes, we often had snow. (Not as often as we had it on Halloween, but that’s another story…)

On Christmas Eve, we opened our presents. I always thought it was because we were of German extraction; however, we were told that one of my cousins was too sleepy in the morning to enjoy her gifts. Hmmm, I always found that hard to believe. After gifts, we went to church again, the midnight candle service, carrying our new dolls or, when we were older, wearing new finery. I loved the cold church, the sleepy feeling, the carols. There was a wonderful soprano in one of our churches and when she sang O Holy Night, the real meaning of the celebration came through to me.

Sometime on Christmas eve, we’d find time to visit our next-door-neighbors, my parents’ best friends. Their house was always as packed with people as ours. Mrs. B. made the tree skirt for my mother and I inherited it.

Christmas morning was spent at home, opening the little gifts in our stockings from Santa. Then everyone gathered again for a traditional meal. My mother and her sister took turns; one hosted Christmas eve, the other Christmas day. The next year it alternated. The crowd was always big; grandparents, cousins, whoever was in town. And noisy. One year my husband took videos of our celebrations — the pictures are wonderful, but there is so much talking chaos, you can’t hear a word.

About the glass garland. So light and fragile. My grandmother produced many strands of it from her suitcase one year. She’s dead now, as is my mother. Many of the beads have been broken, but I cherish the strand that I have. Symbol of happy times. I still have those happy times, but, of course, they are different.

I think I’ll close with a quote from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

Fleur de Lys – Ancient Symbol of France

Fleur de Lys charm in silver. France is next in a series of charms from a bracelet I collected on my first trip to Europe with my family. I’ve covered Scotland, England, The Netherlands and Belgium.

In our new VW van, we drove into France and promptly needed gas. This was before the Euro, but no matter, we had Belgian Franks. “If we need to, we can always exchange them.” Daddy, the optimist.

In the gas station the owner made it clear that Belgium money was not acceptable. Out came Daddy’s dictionary. Ou…est..la banque? A deluge of French answered. I, who after all had studied French in school, was summoned from the car. A nightmare scenario ensued: angry shouting, me straining to resurrect mon vocabulaire, Daddy thrusting the dictionary between us to point to a word. Eventually I understood that the banks closed for lunch for 2 hours. Daddy gave the man a an overabundance of Belgian money, we filled up and drove on to Paris.

I have since been to Paris quite a few times and in my palimpsest of memories, little survives from this first trip except that we picked up my Norwegian AFS sister at the airpoint. Another time I was there alone on Bastille Day – the French 4th of July – and heard that the opera was giving a free performance. After standing in line for several hours, I saw La Cendrillion, Cinderella, from the 6th row in the orchestra in the most ornate theatre I had ever seen. I was also there when the war in Iraq began. A man in a bar where we were eating lunch advised me to say I was Canadian and a taxi drive refused our fare.

From Paris, we drove into a little town called Beaune. The man who helped Daddy plan our trip insisted that the meal in Beaune be paid before we left. “Mr. Lewis, you will think it too expensive but you must eat there.” So we had a five course feast of which I remember the wine. A different bottle with each course. I’ve already written about my first drinking adventure at the start of this trip; as we traveled my parents allowed me to have wine with dinner. That night I got slightly tipsy. Turns out I am a lightweight when it comes to drinking, but I got it honestly. By the end of the meal, Mother was giggling and silly and Daddy said, “I don’t know what you kids are going to do but I’m going to take your mother for a walk.”

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.

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?”

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.