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?”

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..)

Portuguese Rooster

Carved Wooden Rooster from Portugal. My mother traveled to Spain and Portugal with her best friends, the next door neighbors. Their son was studying in Barcelona and Mother went along on the trip. This is typical of the kind of bright souvenir that would catch her eye.

Allthough this little bird is just a tchotchke, it reminds me of a rooster story my grandmother told:

“When we lived on the farm, our rooster was a big old mean thing. He liked to chase your mother and aunt, cornering them on the porch against the railing. They weren’t much taller than he was, and once he’d cornered them, he’d hop and peck and crow. It got so they were afraid to go out in the yard. Time for rooster soup!

“While the soup was cooking, the girls played zoo in the front room. Your mother [mine] pretended to be a lion caged under a chair. Roaring, she stuck her head through the rungs. And got wedged in. Her sister began jumping around, yelling, ‘You won’t get any jumping rooster soup.’ Neither soap nor vaseline could unstick her head. We had to take the chair apart.”

How satisfying as a child to know your mother was a scamp!

This being Mother’s Day, I want to add how terribly I miss her. She was a scamp her whole life (perhaps I should post the picture of her sticking out her tongue as proof). But she was also generous, helpful, loving, and smart. How lucky I was to have such a mother.

Russian Print

Some families love to go out to eat. Some love to ski or cheer their favorite team or go to the movies. Mine loved to travel. Every year there would be a discussion: Should we build a swimming pool or go on a trip? There would be a vote. My sisters and I (young and short-sighted) voted for the pool, my parents for a trip. 3 to 2. Pool! Wait…parents’ votes count double. Trip!

There were many family trips. I’ve already written about moments in Germany, and Sweden.  We also traveled all over the U.S. The painting this week is from a trip my mother took to Russia. If was after Daddy had died and none of us girls were free, so she went alone. In December! If there was ever a place I wouldn’t want to visit in December, it’s Russia. But there was a good tour, so Mother bought what she called a “puffy coat” and off she went.

One of the interesting stories from that trip was her realization at the New Year’s Dinner that the tourists were getting the best food. This was before the fall of the wall and evidently things could be a little desparate. I know Mother and the others on the tour felt guilty and left large tips.

The other good story was that Mother stayed behind to take a picture inside a church – she became a fanatic photographer after Daddy died, although her photos were utterly different – and when she went out the door, the vast square was empty, her tour group vanished. As she said, “I didn’t speak a work of Russian and had no idea of the name of the hotel.” Turned out the tour had gone out another door.

This picture is from that trip; I believe it is a signed print. It looks to me like an imagined Russia, one of the Firebird or Snow Queen fairy tales. Or even of a Chekhov story. The signature of the artist not legible. H Siu? Then again, the label on the back is in Cyrillic alphabet, so perhaps the signature is also. I took it home when we closed down Mother’s house, in honor of her adventurous spirit and because it is beautiful.

Washing Ewer and Bowl

Antique pottery bowl and ewer used for washing. These are not a set. One belonged to my mother’s maternal and the other to her paternal grandmother. They are delicate, so it’s easy to understand that a set might not survive.

In houses without plumbing, most houses at the time these were made, water was kept ready in the pitcher for morning wash-ups in the bedroom. The piece of furniture the bowl sat on was called a commode. It had a rack for a towel, sometimes a mirror, and a chamber pot was kept in the cabinet. I’m eternally grateful to have been born well after a commode was necessary!

My mother’s two grandmothers were very different. The one was stout and looks in pictures as if she likes to cook – she often wears an apron. The other was very thin. Mother said when they visited her father’s family, she was sometimes chosen to sleep with her grandmother. The bed was high and difficult for a young girl to climb into. Mother would cling to the edge, hoping not to fall out, but worried she’d roll over in the night and squash her grandmother.

BTW, the flowers, sadly, are fake.

Glass Mobile

Hand-blown glass mobile. Strung on fishing line and hung from a clear plastic disk. The glass pieces vary from two to four inches

My sister and I found the it while walking in NYC’s Village where I lived for a time. An art weekend, the streets spilled with paintings hung on fences, sculpture, and piles of crafts. The mobile cost more than we could afford but we bought it anyway, knowing our parents would love it. My father, a wonderful architect, designed our mid-century modern house, very spare and wonderful. The mobile fit right in and was hung in the living room for all to see what great taste my parents’ daughters had. (Or so I felt then…)

One Christmas it almost bit the dust. Mother always made the house festive and as part of her decorations, she tied little red bows to each glass. She was cutting off the bows when she snipped the fishing line. Luckily she caught the glass before it fell. Our fisherman Daddy had the line handy and restrung it good as new.

When my parents died and the house was sold, the mobile didn’t convey. It now hangs in my living room where it continues to be treasured. By the way, my house is 1937 colonial but it looks right at home.