Happy Birthday Papa

Chopsticks!

Papa showed me how to play the classic simple song. A waltz actually. On his piano.
Sitting right beside me. Just the 2 of us.
At his big old house in Cincinnati, Ohio. One warm day in the 1960’s during a rare family visit.
I was only 8 years old.  I wish it had been the first of many lessons.

Papa, my paternal grandfather, was born March 9, 1886 in Chicago, Illinois. The middle child of five.  I don’t know much about his early life except he met Grammy when passing through her small rural Tennessee town. He often traveled by train from Cincinnati, working as a lumber inspector for his brother’s company. He rented a room in my grandmother’s childhood home during stops in Graysville. He eventually won her over…and that was that!

Papa and Grammy married and raised my father and his older sister in Cincinnati, where Papa owned and operated a lumber company. No small feat for a man with only an 8th grade education.

I probably saw Papa maybe a dozen times before he died unexpectedly at the age of 78. Cincinnati was very far away from where I lived on the east coast. Visits did not happen often. The last one was a whirlwind car trip a few weeks before he died.

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Papa and me

What do I remember about Papa?

He was a short quiet man with kind brown eyes. Papa loved to put on his cap and go for long walks. Sometimes he asked me – just me! – to join him. During one of those walks, he stopped, plucked a wide blade of grass from a nearby patch and carefully positioned it between the sides of his thumbs. He pressed his thumbs together…held them up to his mouth, took a deep breath, puffed out his cheeks…and blew out…. It whistled!
Was this magic?
He then plucked one for me. And waited calmly until I was able to make it whistle all by myself.
I’m (obviously) still impressed all these years later.

I learned how to play chopsticks on the piano during one long…patient…lesson with him. Later, in their sunny kitchen, we’d sit across from each other by the window and play double solitaire. Or a new card game he taught me called 7Up.  At the metal table with the shiny sides and checkered formica top.

papa and me
Papa and me
circa 1958-59

Sadly our connection was short lived, but fortunately he left his loving stamp on my memory…and my heart.

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Happy Birthday Papa!

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Fishing in Tennessee

 

[ps…Papa would be thrilled to know…that coincidentally…his middle name is the same as his great great grandson’s first name…and…also coincidentally…they were both born on the 9th day of the month…]

 

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge – Tender Moments

This post inspired by Cee’s B&W Photo Challenge. The topic this week: Tender Moments

Being a big sister is not always easy.

I know that from experience, as I was a big sister 4 times. By the time my youngest sibling was born, I was in high school and became more of a surrogate parent than a sister. 

My daughter was almost 6 when her brother was born.
Five and three quarters! she would be quick to remind us.

The transition to sharing parental attention was a challenge I understood and tried to make as smooth as possible for her.
Without shortchanging her little brother.

Well, my husband and I got lucky. And with some guidance on our part…their relationship blossomed from the start. Her love for her brother was palpable. As was his for her. Not without some healthy competition of course. And normal periodic friction. Racing to the front door to be first. To the car for the front seat (Shotgun!). And down the stairs to see what Santa brought.

But there were also the quieter moments. Looking at picture books.
Playing games. Giggling at secret jokes.

And sitting under the backyard trees exploring what was hidden in the grass.

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Big sister age 6½…exploring nature with little brother…age 1¾

Their childhood together lasted until he was 12 and she was 18 and left home for college. Nineteen years ago.

But their connection remains solid to this very day.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

 

 

Stories to be told

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

Muriel Rukeyser

 

 

reading on porch
Reading on the porch
age ~ 10

 

 

Stories.

Beginning with…
Mother Goose Rhymes, Grandma Moses’ poems, Little Golden Books, Nancy Drew’s many adventures, the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Pippi Longstocking….

All stories I craved as a child. Gobbling them up one after the other.
Why?
Curiosity. Escape. Imagination.
Or maybe because I loved to read.
Storybooks drew me in as nothing else could.

old books

My public elementary school was part of the Scholastic Books program. Students could order paperback books for 25¢ or 35¢ each. Sized just right for a 10 year old with titles such as Encyclopedia BrownDanny Dunn and the Homework MachineJust Plain Maggie. To name just a few. Piled high on tables in the gym on delivery day.  I couldn’t wait.

The school library drew me to its stories as well. Shelves of biographies…”Childhoods of Famous Americans”…were a magnet. Hardcover books mostly about boys (Nathan Hale & Abe Lincoln come to mind), but I did find some about girls. Clara Barton. Helen Keller. Dolly Madison. I didn’t discriminate at the age of 10 or 11 or 12. I read them all. Fascinated by their life stories.

Only famous people had their stories told…at least that’s what I may have assumed. But perhaps it sparked my own urge for story telling. At least in the privacy of my diaries. And letters. Later, the journals kept in college and beyond. Recording my story such as it was. Often painful. And hard to believe. Even upon reading years later.  The telling…written for my eyes only…crucial. Therapeutic. I see that now. Important…even though I certainly wasn’t famous.

Years later I filled notebooks with anecdotes, observations…and stories yet again. But this time about my own children. And our family, as it grew and changed…and then grew and changed some more. A natural continuation of my childhood storytelling. About what happened.

This time, though, joyful. Still striving to capture the essence in a quick pair of sentences…or a paragraph. One page. Maybe two. The setting. The conversation. The humor. The love. The challenges. The delight.

Catching the stories on the page before one day wove into the next. Leaving me breathless to get it on paper. Their imaginations. Their curiosity. And uniqueness.  From foot stomping “do by self” episodes to impromptu conversations about “where do babies come from?” To shopping for clothes. Playing with imaginary basketball teams in the driveway. Getting ready for school. Accidentally shaving off half an eyebrow. Navigating the minefield that is adolescence. How a seven year old plans the future. In her own imaginative way.

Endless stories every day. I wrote when I could. So glad I did.

We are, after all, our stories.

 

This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #37: Story

A long time ago

This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #36: Wild Card

…Go back over the last week’s worth of posts or so, and notice any words or phrases that repeat themselves. I’m talking adjectives, or verbs, maybe nouns.

 

diary

Long ago at the age of 9, I received
…a small red diary with a key.

I was one among many children
Armed with a powerful place,
To preserve what happened…
in the illusion of privacy.
Safely locked up tight with a tiny key
Hung on a tiny ribbon.
So long ago

And so it began.
This writing life.
For me and many others
A lifetime ago.

Pouring out our secrets. The ups and downs.
Today I went to school…After school I played outside...I collected bees in a jar…I poked holes in the lidI did my homework…it was hard.

Scrawled sentences tucked in at day’s end…I got in troubleI cleaned up the playroom…Nobody loves me…It is boiling hot out.
or
Today was an exciting day…we had hamburgers…went to the Dairy Queen.

I watched: The Addams Family…Valentine’s Day and Gomer Pyle.

Important pages to a young writer
Who never imagined
They’d be such a treasure
Many years later
When the age of 9 would be…

Such a long time ago

 

Love and Hearts and Grandparents

If we have someone who loves us — I don’t mean who indulges us, but who loves us enough to be on our side — then it’s easier to grow resilience, to grow belief in self, to grow self-esteem. And it’s self-esteem that allows a person to stand up.

Maya Angelou

 

 

from Grammy 1966

 

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from Great Grandma 1967

 

I have much to be grateful for in my life. The love of family is at the top of the list. As a child…and then as an adult…I was well loved by my grandparents. Held up. Cherished. Accepted.

All four of my grandparents – and my one living great grandparent – took the time to write to me. Personal letters. Postcards. Valentines. Birthday cards….
I heard from them on a regular basis…knowing I was important in their lives. And not forgotten, even though we lived miles apart.

Treasured pages of handwritten news, stories, questions about my life and plans for the future….
Offering encouragement and understanding
And unconditional love.

 

Photo a day challenge – Hearts

RDP – Intimate

 

Tales of Terror: Times Past

Irene Waters’ “Times Past” prompt challenge topic for February is: Tales of Terror

Can you remember any tales of fear that your parents used to stop you going out of bounds. Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and your generation. 

~~~

 

jungle gym
on top of the world circa 1962

 

As a baby boomer growing up in the USA suburbs, I basically roamed the tree lined streets of my working class neighborhood. On foot. On my bike. On my skateboard. On roller skates. I specifically remember the house I lived in from the age of 4 to 11. There were woods to explore at one end of the street before it curved uphill to circle around to the next block. Houses lined up close together and near to the street.

 

My mother issued two clear directives to keep me safe:

 Don’t take candy from strangers.

This was in the context of a stranger driving around the block, who might stop, open the door and try to lure me into his car with a Nestle’s Crunch. I would then never be seen again. And terrible things would happen…which were never spelled out in any detail, but an implied tale of terror just the same.

I will admit I considered possibly grabbing the candy and making a run for it. However the opportunity never presented itself.

Being the immortal child that I was, I was unafraid to ride my bike for hours at a time…for long distances that perhaps would have been prohibited if I had advertised my adventures. Which I didn’t.

A favorite trip: to “the little store” on the other side of town…saved my allowance and bought my own candy. Smarties, Mary Janes, Mounds, tiny wax bottles (remember those? argh), button candy, Bazooka Bubble Gum. No strangers needed. Sometimes I let my younger sister tag along, swearing her to secrecy.

Interesting side note: when we first moved there, my sister was 3 years old. One day she packed a lunchbox with napkins, hopped on her tricycle and took off…without telling anyone. Her destination: where we used to live…a long car ride away. A dozen houses later – almost a quarter mile – she arrived at the far end of our road, about to pedal down the cross street. A dangerous intersection at the crest of a hill. The neighbor on the corner stopped her in time and called the police.

So my sister got a ride in a police car…which is where she was eventually spotted by my frantic mother. Who had grabbed me and my infant brother and probably went looking for strangers with candy. An actual tale of terror thankfully averted.

Don’t go near Tony M.

Tony was a mentally challenged teenager who lived a couple of blocks away. At least I think he was a teenager…to my young eyes he could have been in his twenties. He lived with his parents and sometimes wandered around looking somewhat disheveled.  It was never explained to me what he might do. Or say. But the look in my mother’s eyes spoke fear. My questions about why went unanswered. I rarely saw him, but when I did he mostly looked lonely and sad.  I wonder what happened to him.

 

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Family gathered safely on the front porch – 1958

 

Collection

This post inspired by Ragtag Daily Prompt: Collection

Even though I was a saver, I was not a big collector of stuff when I was a child. I imagine I was far too practical for that. One more thing to find a place for. And my logic may have been…why?

Except for my trolls. When I was 9 or 10, I was given a small rubber troll with bright orange hair. I don’t remember who gave it to me. I was intrigued by its simplicity and ease of transport. Its lack of pretense. Friendly face. Easily styled hair.

And troll (as I simply called it) was supposed to bring me luck. I really liked that part.

Over the next few years, my collection grew. By saving my allowance or from birthday gifts…until I had a semblance of a troll family.

They came without clothing, so my rudimentary attempts at making outfits was confined to cutting up rags and scraps of fabric samples. Using the basting stitch I must have learned in Scouts, I fastened together my idea of troll fashion. And borrowed clothes from the heap of dolls I didn’t play with.

I recently found this vintage(!) collection stashed away in a shoe box. Along with an old Gimbels jewelry box full of accessories I can’t identify anymore.

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Troll Patrol

(this photo taken on the cobbler’s bench from my childhood…which my trolls most likely recognized)