Saturday, January 24, 2015

Oh Friend! My Friend! -- A Tribute to Margaret Wingate


The first time I met Margaret was in the fall of 1972, at Lagrange College. She was the upper classman assigned to our dorm to be a mentor and support to the freshmen girls.  Her room, located four doors down, became a Mecca. With her long blonde hair, bright, sparkling eyes, and a gorgeous smile, Margaret welcomed us like life long friends.

We all loved her.

I thought she was beautiful and admired the way she dressed.  Wearing her signature denim, bell-bottoms and sporting some kind of colorful top, she seemed the essence of a 70s college student.  We sought her to solve our problems, to soothe our wounded vanities, and to calm us down with the fears and stress of college courses.  Hosting hall parties in her dorm room, we drank bottled Cokes and ate Jiffy popcorn popped on her hot plate.  Always making time for us, she shepherded us into the wild world of independence on a college campus. Early on, Margaret’s destiny was set – forever to be an influence on the young.

Margaret graduated and moved on and out of my life. It wasn’t till the early 1990s, when half way through my own teaching career, that she returned to my orbit even if on the peripheral. A student in my 10th grade class at Harrison High School, said to me: “You should meet this teacher I had at Pine Mountain. I think you would like each other.” I later discovered that the teacher was none other than Margaret Wilder, now Wingate, my former college dorm resident assistant.

From then on, I listened closely to the students who touted her teaching and influence.  The stories included details about the Target classes she taught at Pine Mountain that were exciting, fun, as well as interesting and her classroom that became a haven for them, a classroom that they said “you just have to see.” According to their testimonies, “she was the best teacher ever….  And her bean bags, lava lamps, mod posters, rock music, and unorthodox teaching style  --- legendary, almost mythic.

Margaret Wingate made a difference in the lives of those students. They bragged on her teaching, told stories of her creative, field trips , and said how much she challenged them to think, ask questions, and be proud of who they were. She even took them white water rafting, and later told me how she was horrified to discover after the trip that one of them couldn’t swim.

In the fall of 2000, I moved to Kennesaw Mountain to open its doors, and while moving in, ran into Margaret, who had also been hired.  We embraced, screamed,  and laughed as we thought about the opportunity to work in the same school. She taught history and gifted on the first floor and above her I taught English. We would share the same students. We would truly be colleagues.  How great to have our lives come full circle --- to end up finishing our teaching careers at Kennesaw Mountain together.

I remember her questioning her move to the high school level – wondering if she would be effective or if she had just given up a job she had loved. Pshaw! *rolling eyes*  Whatever! Effective? You? Really?  What cha’ smokin’?

At first our contact was at a minimum.  Once, before Margaret and I began to team teach together, I brought up her name in my classroom, perhaps to share some college tale. To make a connection, I asked my students:  “Do any of you know Mrs. Wingate?” Instead of the “yes or no” answers I expected, they shouted out:  “I love Mrs. Wingate.” “She’s my favorite teacher.” “She’s da bomb.” “She’s got the coolest classroom.”  As usual, the mention of her name always elicited a type of pep rally.

How did she draw such devotion? Because all her students recognized that she loved teaching, she loved them, and she wanted what’s best for them.  What was not to love about her?

For the first two years, Margaret and I saw each other at faculty meetings and visited each other in our classrooms, but it wasn’t until the magnet program decided to create a course for their students that would combine US History and American Literature that she and I would become true colleagues and great friends. Margaret, the perfect choice to teach the history part, was a no-brainer, but I lucked out when another English teacher who was picked to instruct the literature bowed out, and I stepped forward and declared, “I’d love to do it.” The true story is that I begged to do it. Whined. Cried. Threw a fit. I wanted to teach with Margaret. I knew it would be awesome. To get to work with a teacher whom the students admired so just seemed like a God send.

And it was.

My teaching experience changed as I worked side by side with Margaret. Immediately, I saw the high expectations she had for her students and herself and the goals she wanted for the course.   I knew that this would be the course and highlight of my career.

We were different animals in the classroom – Margaret, open-minded and spontaneous, who dressed in bright colors, and wore wild earrings, colorful Crocs,  and fun reading glasses was paired with me --- a no-nonsense, following a tight schedule, conservative, draped in some element of black clothing everyday task master.  We were opposites --- but it worked.

Margaret brought out the best in it all -- the course, in those students, and in me.

For the next six years, Margaret and I team taught – with two years sharing the same classroom.  It was in her classroom that I saw firsthand why she was so celebrated.

As I observed her teaching, I saw she was a natural but skilled craftsman. As a master storyteller, she wove history into a delightful and adventuresome journey where she made the men, women, and events of America’s past come alive. I listened to her mesmerize students with the depth of her knowledge as she never stopped reading and studying about history. She brought something new, fresh, original to it – but it was her passion for history that won them over.  Won us all.

A big part of Margaret life was that she gave selflessly to her teaching and her students.

She inspired them and accepted them for who they were. Always ready to listen to their woes and ails, she gave them time, all they needed, and time is a precious commodity for a busy teacher. If I opened the door to room 202 at Kennesaw Mountain HS, the room was never empty. Someone, a student, a former student, a colleague, was always there in search of her. We gravitated toward her – we desired her. Like moths to a flame, she possessed spectacular warmth.

With her undivided attention, Margaret made us feel that what we said and had to say was important. Our troubles the biggest. Our joys the best. She had a gift for relationship – and she gave it unconditionally, as she listened without judging. She smiled with us, cried with us, and laughed at our jokes, funny or not. For the record, most of mine were funny.

She gave this same thing to her teaching. She bought students candy, fixed them “collards and hard tack,” squirted them with a spray bottle, sang to them on their birthday, and hugged them with a full and sincere heart. On her 50th birthday that we celebrated in her classroom, a student brought her guitar and returned the favor to Wingate with a song she had written solely for her. Margaret wept over that student’s thoughtfulness.

She designed teaching units with creativity – and was always looking at a way to help the students “get it.” Students remembered fondly what they learned in her classroom:  they lovingly recalled her unit on Vietnam, the Holocaust, or WW1 – that they would never forget the way she approached history.  She taught with panache, with imagination, and complemented it with passion.

If a student sat in her classroom, they loved history because she made you wanna. It was her way.

Not only was Margaret a teacher, but she was a confidant, a cheerleader, and a best friend.  She loved viewing nature, and I adored the way she would declare something she’d seen as “magnificent.”

I don’t have the words to express how heart sore I am over the loss of her.  I will miss her love, her devotion, her contagious laugh, and big smile.  I can’t even begin to talk about our friendship – and the loss of it – the grief is too big.  How can that vibrant, crazy, lousy driving, lover of life, sweet friend of mine be gone? I have chosen to keep her spirit present and to believe it cannot be extinguished.

Margaret had gusto. Whatever she did, she did with joy. She loved to read, to travel, to laugh and drink a little wine. She loved music. Hot boiled peanuts. Riding around. Writing notes to friends. Funny stories.  She loved her pets – Dylan, Bombay, and Blondie. She loved the 60s. The 70s. She loved to discuss. To listen. To celebrate. She loved going. Doing. Learning. Laughing. Observing. Reminiscing.

She embraced it all. She sat on ready. 

In one of my last conversations with her after her hip surgery, we talked about our next trip “to the mountains.” We had been making an annual trip to a house I own in Rabun County, Georgia.  Up there, as we sat on the screened porch, we talked for hours entertaining  a variety of subjects, but our conversations always circled back to talk of and wonder about our former students – Margaret loved the students whom she had “the pleasure” of teaching, and to her, their being in her classroom was to her delight. She was the one who was blessed. 

I know differently. Margaret blessed us all. In those thousands of students that Margaret taught, she lives on – they are her legacy.

I thank God for the way she brightened my life and willed me joy.

She painted life with such gorgeous color.

Good night, Sweet Margaret. I’ll see you later.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Anything Else You Want to Give Me

My family and I have always made Christmas wish lists or now as we call it, Gift Suggestions. Several years ago, my niece Nora generated a shared Google Document that we all put our wishes on, and some of us even link it to the gift online. Brave new world! 

When we were children, and encouraged by letters from my generous aunts who lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Washington, DC., my siblings and I sat down around Thanksgiving and created lists with “wants”  to send them. This task, with obvious benefits, my siblings and I dragged our feet on and turned into a ridiculously arduous and drawn out assignment for no other reason than we were obviously ungrateful wretches.:-)

Celebrating a number of Christmases with my aunts Ava, Eleanor, Lois, and Harriett in Virginia made a lasting impression on all of my family. The aunts always provided a festive atmosphere and even though these occasions have faded and blended together over time, my siblings and I always smile when we think of those years "up" in Virginia. Until 1964, my grandparents shared in our annual visit, but already older [in their 70s] when I was born, their shadowy figures play elusively at the edges of my memory.

Regardless, my amiable aunts took the lead and blessed my childhood with fond moments, a lot of them surrounding Christmas.

With a family of four to raise and cautions savers, my parents had little in the budget for Christmas presents, and my aunts stepped in with generosity and kindness to give to us. I’m not suggesting that it was not what they wished to do, but I know that their unselfishness was a great help to my parents. They gave to us with such largess; they made and purchased gifts and provided us with clothing, especially what they handmade for my sister and me. {In Gratitude for Eleanor}



Margaret styling it in her handy clam diggers; I'm showing some slip. Ha. 
A day or two before Christmas, we made the eight-hour road trip to Lynchburg. When we arrived, after my dad’s focus on “making good time,” their three story house greeted us with the Christmas spirit. Decorated with greenery on the hearth and mantle, a twinkling tree in the corner of the living room with small goodies for us hanging from the branches, stockings on the chimney [we didn't have a fireplace in Atlanta for Santa], and a wreath on the door, their home welcomed their sister, her husband, and their four children, the only nieces and nephews they had.

Even though the house on Westover where they lived seemed huge to me, it still had to absorb fourteen people, and ten of them were adults. My brothers slept in the basement on hard, canvas cots with scratchy, green wool Army blankets, and my sister and I tucked ourselves on a daybed, covered in Grandma's quilt, under the eaves in Aunt Eleanor's attic bedroom. Mother and Daddy rested on the sofa bed in the living room [that must have been fun]. The house had two bathrooms -- I don't remember anything about the morning shuffles associated with those parameters. Thankfully for all, our Christmas visits lasted just a few days. 
The real gift of Christmas for us was the love and adoration my mother's sisters gave to us. 

Usually on Christmas Eve, we dressed for services at Fort Hill Methodist, a church within walking distance of their house. 

After that service, we four performed for my aunts and grandparents– Christmas carols [all of my siblings sing well – I’m the weak link], or we read passages from the Bible of the Christmas story. 
Not sure what my mother’s motivation was – could have been anything, but when I asked  my brother Hunter, he said, “her fantasy.” My guess is it was a way of sharing her children with my childless aunts.

We grudgingly put on these performances since mother always made us practice until she was satisfied, and she was an exacting maestro. In all, we were probably pretty lame in our execution of this tradition, but our aunts applauded enthusiastically and bragged on us like we were talented. 

Another Christmas Eve tradition, mostly my mother’s, was the admiration of the wrapped presents themselves – the paper, the ribbon, the size. Mother loved sitting near the tree and extracting wrapped presents and exclaiming over their beauty: "Isn't this exquisite?" she'd ask us. We totally didn't get it and rolled our eyes with a lack of understanding of the care and thoughtfulness that went into wrapping gifts. I miss the way she used to show such appreciation and enthusiasm for a beautifully wrapped gift. 

*sigh*

On Christmas morning, we immediately ran to our stockings and unloaded them [my aunt Lois used to put these huge nuts in them, probably a king nut, confusing my little “what was Santa thinking?” mind] and then we waited patiently [except not really] to open presents. For what seemed like hours, mother and daddy and the aunts sat leisurely around the breakfast table sipping their oyster stew. Ewwww. This tradition I could do without, and I was totally grossed out by the concoction anyway. I did, however, have a fancy for those salty oyster crackers that accompanied this dish, and for some reason, mother only allowed me a limited amount.  

When we finally did gather in the living room for the opening of presents, we oohed and ahhed over the number of presents [amazing amount as my aunts wrapped every little thing to make it seem like more; for example, if they were giving us two pair of socks, each was wrapped lovingly and separately]. We gleefully enjoyed the opening of the presents as much as the present itself, well we might have enjoyed the present more. :-)
That's I with my back to the camera -- I look a little grabby.
Note: My Aunt Eleanor always received the most gifts, some of them store gift wrapped; as a beautician, she had loyal clients who purchased slips, nightgowns, scarves, and gloves from Miller and Rhoades or gave her boxes of Russell Stover candy, which she graciously shared with us.

As the presents were handed out, we each waited [again, not patiently] to see what each had received, and the paper from the package and the bows and ribbons surrounded us. Afterwards, my aunts folded and saved the salvaged paper as well as gift boxes for the next year. A singular piece of wrapping paper could appear consecutively for years, and they got just as much mileage, if not more, out of those stick on bows, Frugal they were and what a great example to us.{We still save boxes, bows, and gift bags.}

Before all of this, our trip, our performance, the decorations, and the gift giving, my aunts wrote letters to us in Atlanta and asked us to make gift suggestions. Some of the gifts were a no-brainer – clothes!!! -  but they did like to get us a couple of things that were “store bought.”

Now here’s the rub --- as much as we desired the gifts, loved what they bought, and appreciated what they did for us, mother had to force us to make our lists.

What?

Yes.

This ritual of sending “the aunts” our “wish list” had to only been done under duress. Why? What ws that deal?

Mother nagged and nagged us to get our lists done, and from time to time, a letter dated from the first of December would arrive from Lynchburg, and my sweet Aunt Eleanor would write, “We really need the children’s lists as we have lots to do to get ready.”

What was wrong with us?

We were children and had no concept of the trouble and expense and time that the adults put into making our Christmas memories.

They did make them – wonderful ones. I hope they knew. I pray they knew. They were the best.

We miss all of them so.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

These two lists of mine, saved by Aunt Eleanor and resplendent in their preposterous-ness, we found among the memorabilia that my sister and I continue to sift through.

1965 Wish List

Sweaters – white
Clothes – hip huggers, Poor Boys – different colors – such as blue black red white pink, pants such as with big belts, dresses, skirts, blouses, shoes – lafers {I assume I mean loafers} brown size 7AA, kneesocks, white, etc. coat, any color you think would be good
I got a charm bracelet for my birthday – I need silver ones.
Records – Elvis Presley, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman’s Hermits,
Watch, television, radio
Jewelry box [I crossed out jewelry three times before I spelled it correctly]
Money such as 5 dollar bills, 10 dollar bills, 20 dollar bills
Gold necklace with my name spelled out
Anything else you want to give me.

1971 Wish List

Any kind of clothes
Pants, size 9
Body shirts, watch, crochet vest, underwear
Posters any type
Albums – The Carpenters, Carole King, The Who, Rod Stewart, Chicago, Cat Stevens
Bracelets, plan [I mean plain] gold or silver
Chokers, gold or silver
Silver chain belt
Film
Money – any size
Hairbrush
Anything will be acceptable [did I think I sounded mature? Bwha]

I didn't want much, did I?  Hey now, they were suggestions.

Merry Christmas.


Always the cutest, I pose with one of my many packages. 

  



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Commuting in the Green Goot

As I watched the Saturday morning news, a young boy pressed the detonator and down fell the many stories of the former, Executive Park Motel off Druid Hills Road.  With its demolition, the motel and office park adjacent to it will make way for a Children’s Healthcare facility.
Found this on a website, somewhere....
Feeling nostalgic and sad, I watched as another part of my past closes.
In the winter of 1972, my friend Gloria and I joined a relatively new program at Sylvan Hills High School -- work study. In the last quarter of our senior year and most of the required classes for a high school diploma completed, we enrolled in the work program.
Leaving school at noon, we took a part time job, found for us by Gloria’s mother’s cousin, and began a new phase of our life – separation from high school and the possibilities of the future.
Hired as proof-readers at C&S Optimation, an ancillary of a local bank, we embarked on the world of office work, responsibility, and freedom. We felt very sophisticated – but we were ingĂ©nues, and very, silly ones.
In my senior year of high school, I had a bad case of “done.”  May of 1971 saw the graduation of my closest friends, whom I shared with my brother Kenneth{who is only 18 months older}, as well as Vaughn, my “high school” boyfriend; I felt rather “over” the idea of high school and ready to move on – to whatever was next.
Senior photo, taken fall of 1971
Noticing my restlessness, my parents approved of the work program, even though none of my siblings had done such, and my getting a job. When the opportunity arose through Gloria’s relative, I felt freed and looked to it as a move in the right direction. Yes. This had to be better than yet another PE class, elective, or working in the office of the principal as a student aide.
Living on the south side of Atlanta, the job at C&S required transportation, a car, as it was located off north I-85 at Druid Hills Road in an office in the new Executive Park complex. With all of my siblings in college, my parents allowed me the privilege of “driving to school,” a perk that my brother Kenneth and I had enjoyed the year before as well. 
Not our car -- but this is one like it -- well, it could be the  same one, living well in retirement. In Kansas?
With him graduated, I had the car all to myself, and needless to say, I did some crazy, random things behind that wheel, but that’s another story.
Before I took the part time work at C&S, the fall of 1971 had been one of “killing time.” The Green Goot, the so called nick name of the 1969 Chevrolet Bel Air I drove, became the car that my friends and I dove in to go places [before my parents got home from work]. With two bench seats, we could get four in the front and six in the back – if we needed – after all, this was the 70s. No required seat belt laws and obviously before we became the “ample sized” people we are now. J Pretty sure that the law stated only three people in the front, but we waved that off as being short-sighted and un-economical, and of course, we were not going to get caught for breaking that silly law.
That fall, I drove a carload of nine to McDonald’s for “off campus” lunch;  we enjoyed two cheeseburgers, French fries, Coke, and a hot apple pie for about 1.25. For driving every day to McDonald’s, my friend Jonathan on most days paid for my lunch since my parents’ frugality dictated that I brown bag  --- they never would have been frivolous enough to allow me to fast food it. On some days, I happily ate my peanut butter sandwich while my friends shared their fries.  I really don’t know how I got away with this little side-trip each day to McDonald’s. Rest-assured there was no permission sign off by my parents – the school offered the opportunity in the new thinking 70s, and we just did it. It was a different world. A trusting one at that.
Gloria, center, and I, circa 1970

We also piled in the car after school and rode around, again with friends chipping in quarters to fill up the tank[gas a mere 36 cents a gallon]. We drove the roads of southwest Atlanta and jumped on and off the interstate on a whim to go to downtown Atlanta, Stone Mountain, the airport, or to 14th Street to see the hippies. With a short time of freedom between after school and when my parents got home from work, I ran and rode with abandon and without supervision.
My father never said much about it even though I’m sure he noticed the mileage on the odometer. He was wise enough to pick his battles – and riding around? Not one of them.  
FTR:  Daddy required that I record my mileage, the price of gas, and the number of gallons [not in round numbers – but 8.32 or whatever] in a small notebook stashed in the glove compartment, a notebook that he checked to compute the miles per gallon and such… a habit he kept about his cars until his death.
With the job at C&S Optimation, the world changed for me. Gloria and I finished our third period class, sprinted to the Green Goot, and high-tailed it to Lakewood Freeway and the fifteen mile commute to the north side and our “big” job.
Swinging onto the exit ramp onto Druid Hills, we turned right and then flipped another right into the Executive Park Office Park and parked in front of C&S Optimation and our job. 
Executive Park office building, built in 1967
Gloria, at LaGrange College, 1974
As the only high school students employed, we appeared fresh faced and un-tapped. The other employees, being full time, were, of course, adults, most of them much older, but there was a smattering of employees who were in their early to mid-twenties.
Gloria and I admired the pretty young girls who worked there with their modern fashion of short skirts and polyester pant suits, teased hair, and freedom to smoke in the break room; we ogled and dangerously flirted with the young men who occupied the front offices, their mysterious work unknown to us. What were we thinking – seventeen-year old girls trying to draw the attention of men in their mid-twenties? Thankfully, they rebuffed us and kept us from being beyond stupid.
Our first job was the proof-reading of loans, which had been typed by the women in a room full of IBM Selectric typewriters. I loved those electric typewriters, the first I had used as the typing class I took in high school had us pounding out on manual typewriters at 35 words a minute, our fingers strengthened with the Herculean effort of “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” that taught us the key stroke of every letter of the alphabet.
The distinct sound of the rapid clicking of the electric keyboard could always be heard from anywhere in the office space   – never was that room quiet – unless it was five-o-clock. Always amazed at how the typists timed their exits -- purse in hand, green plastic covers neatly pulled down over the Selectrics, and the keys to their VWs, Pintos, and Civics in hand when the big, round clock at the front hit five.
The women who typed the loans were not only fast – but very accurate; however, the loans, mostly for cars, had to be proof-read in case of errors – mostly in number amounts, but occasionally words – like 24oz car instead of 240 Z. Most of the number errors were reversals – from fast typing --- 3999 might come out as 9399.  A big difference, eh?
Hard to believe cars were ever that price.
The best part of the proof reading was the stapler remover placed in the trusty hands of the reader. Not one of the institution issued, pinch-y, brown toothed ones I was used to from high school aide work, but a slender, sleek, chrome designed one that fit easily under the staple for removal. I coveted that office goody, and when I left that job in September, the supervisor gifted one to me --- I kept that staple remover in my classroom for over thirty years, and one of the hard and fast learned rules in my classroom was that it was not to be touched without permission from me.  Ha. I still have it – proudly carried home to my own office when I retired from teaching.
The supervisor over the proof-readers was a no-nonsense, eagle-eyed woman who never missed a hyphen. After I proof-read the loan for mistakes, she signed off on it, and even though I was fairly good at this job [I mean, totally not hard], she amazed me at the things she could see with a cursory glance.
Gloria and I shivered under her gaze. She was eerily exact.
At some point, Gloria and I were promoted to the typing room – I don’t know how long we worked as proofers, but when we graduated from that, we sighed in relief. We had showed our mettle and had arrived at the big time – the typing pool.
Equally boring as proof-reading, the typing of car loans got old pretty fast – how interesting could the name, address, and phone number of prospective car buyers be? To relieve the boredom, Gloria and I got into some fits and giggles over names we found humorous, but it never took much of anything to send us into hysterics.  Oh yeah, independent working women – not.
The challenge of the loan typing came with the numbers that had to be typed into relatively, small spaces. A good typist [like we became] mastered the tab with a muscle memory and easily or automatically hit it to put the numbers in the right spaces. At this job, I learned to type not only fast and fairly accurately, but also to type numbers pretty rapidly from the top row of the typewriter. Some of the Selectrics had key-pads, and once I learned that little accessory, well, dang, numbers were easy.
Loved these beasts!!
The job though --- yeah, repetitive…and frankly, mind numbing. So, Gloria and I grew to entertain ourselves with looks, giggles, and a silent code that only we could translate.
At first, Gloria and I sat next to each other at our typewriters. Not smart on our part. Cracking up over nothing, we snorted behind our hands, rolled our eyes at stuff, and alerted the attention of the supervisor. She promptly separated us like the silly, teenagers we were, but we managed somehow to giggle even though we were typewriter rows apart. I don’t know why we wern't fired – maybe as a favor to Gloria’s VIP relative, or maybe we weren't as bad as I thought we were – maybe we were responsible employees – showing up, literate, and effective. As I remember it though, we were quite immature.
Executive Business Park, built in the late 1960s and along the I-85 corridor, considered itself prime real estate. Easy access to the interstate, not far from the new I-285 perimeter, the sleek office park with its air-conditioned spaces, big rooms painted in beige with cushy wall to wall carpeting, and large windows commanded a fair amount of money per square foot. Up and coming businesses rented and bought space in its sprawling acreage – and for the time, it was the place to be.
Of course, Gloria and I didn’t care about that – we liked our minimum wage pay-check --- about 48 dollars week, and we secured that job to go full time in the summer before we headed off to college in the fall.
On the longer commute home in the five-o’clock traffic, Gloria and I dreamed about our futures, gossiped about the older guys at work, superstitiously made wishes as we passed under bridges with trains crossing, changed lanes to follow good-looking boys in cars [we once convinced ourselves that the long-haired man in a Porsche was Pete Maravich, pro-basketball player for the Atlanta Hawks, and chased him], and set ourselves up as career gals as we made our minimum wage and saved our money for college.
So as I watched the demolition of the Executive Park Hotel, I thought of over forty years ago, that office park with its modern world effects and my excursion into what I saw as the stylish work place.
Who was that young girl? She’s gone and so is Executive Park.
Sigh.

Gloria and I -- 2014

Note: The taking on of a job while I was in high school totally removed me from the school scene. Missing half a day meant missing the drama; this disconnect from school had its merits. As Gloria and I took on the work program, we didn’t know we sat at the beginning of a trend --- the program for work study only got more popular with high school students.. By the time I was teaching high school in the mid 1990s, the drama of adolescence had moved for a huge proportion of students – from the school room to the work place. Was this a good thing?   







Friday, July 18, 2014

In Gratitude for Eleanor



 
 Framed patterns

Last fall, my sister came across boxes of fabric and hundreds of patterns packed away in her basement from when we closed my aunts’ three story house in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1992.


My Aunt Ava died in July of 1991, and Aunt Eleanor, who had shared that house with her for over thirty-four years, delicately declined in health.

In December of 1991, Eleanor fell and broke her hip, and while recovering in the hospital, she grew disoriented, frightened, and confused. My mother recalled a conversation that she had had a year before with Ava about how Eleanor could no longer remember how “to put a collar together.” Neighbors also mentioned to mother later that they had noticed that Eleanor, after Ava’s death, had difficulty with everyday, household chores – like not remembering how to turn off the stove.  

Knowing that Eleanor could no longer live by herself,  my mother and Aunt Harriett found a facility for her care, moved her, and then they, my siblings and I began the arduous task of dismantling, parceling out, and estate selling the contents of that house that had been their home since 1957, and to us it was “back home.”

 
Aunt Eleanor, 1947, and circa 1935

Not only was the house full of the normal stuffing of a household but also the leftovers that they had moved from their own childhood home, Poplar Tree Farm in Appomattox, which included family memorabilia dating back to the mid 1800s.

Traveling to Lynchburg and spending time in that house on Westover Boulevard for Christmas and summer vacations had been a ritual in my family.

I spent time in Virginia in the summers with my maiden aunts from the late 1950s until 1967. Recollections of that house, its contents, and the precious giving nature of my mother’s sisters lie at the forefront of my memories.

My aunts gave liberally to my siblings and me, as we were their only nephews and nieces, and when we were around them, they doted on us as if we were extraordinary.

One of the most precious gifts was Aunt Eleanor’s talent as a seamstress, a talent that she generously shared with her sister, my mother, and her nieces, my sister and me. She also sewed for herself and her four other sisters – Nancy, Ava, Harriett, and Lois.

 
 Mother, Harriett, Eleanor, Ava, Nancy, and Lois, 1961

A perfectionist, Eleanor got exact measurements and altered patterns to fit precisely. My sister Margaret, tall for her age, would have had some trouble fitting in the sizes of ready-made clothes. Aunt Eleanor custom-made her dresses, night gowns, shorts, tops, and one time a suit that fit her perfectly.  A lot of the time, she matched my clothes to my sister’s, knowing that anything she made her, she had to make me, or I might, I don’t know – throw a fit.

 


A favorite custom-designed piece, which she made for both Margaret and me each Christmas, was a flannel nightgown that ended perfectly at the top of our feet. {I grew tall myself and wore those gowns until my early 30s.} Several years ago, I came across one of those nightgowns, folded in a bottom drawer, that I had lovingly saved. I touched the well-worn material, my eyes welling with tears, as I thought of Aunt Eleanor.

Here in Atlanta, anytime we received a package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with white string and addressed to “The McDaniels” in Eleanor’s neat handwriting, we wriggled with excitement at the thought of what she’d made.

For years Eleanor picked out the patterns, but as my sister and I aged and cared a little more, she allowed us to pick out the style. Once we had done that, we wrote a letter and included the maker of the pattern, Simplicity, McCalls, or Butterick, [as I recall, she wasn’t much of a fan of Butterick], and the number. A couple of weeks later, our customized outfit would arrive in the mail.

 

 Aunt Eleanor sewed, and she did so beautifully.

When I spent time in Lynchburg in the summers, Aunts Eleanor and Ava would take me to the fabric store at Pittman Plaza, a u-shaped grouping of stores within walking distance of their house on Westover. There in the store, I flipped through the oversized books of patterns, trailed my hands along bolts of polyester and cotton, studied ric-rac, buttons, and lace, and dreamed of the fashion that Aunt Eleanor created.

 
 Aunt Eleanor and the blogger, 1963

In her upstairs bedroom, Aunt Eleanor laid a cardboard pattern sewing cutting board across her double bed, placed the tissue pattern pieces on it, and painstakingly and flawlessly cut the pattern.  Then with straight pins, she pinned the pattern piece to the fabric and cut again with precision.

At night with the light of a single bulb of her gold, cast iron, gooseneck, adjustable desk lamp, she bent over the work at her Singer cabinet sewing machine and sewed.

I slept on a single bed in her bedroom, and I have a distinct memory of her silhouette, after sending me to bed, humped over her sewing into the late hours.  She lovingly and selflessly did this for us after having worked a full day as a beautician.

In the evenings, she sat in her chair in the living room and stitched or hemmed or crochet or pieced quilts as she and Ava watched Lawrence Welk or Perry Mason on their RCA television. Her hands never were in the devil’s workshop…

Her buttonholes round, her pockets, seams, zippers, and darts flat, her hems even, her hook and eye lined up perfectly,  she did gorgeous work – and the clothes fit.

One story about Eleanor and her sewing that I heard only as an adult was about my mother’s wedding dress. My father asked my mother to marry him in March of 1948 and planned their wedding for June.

My mother, of course, asked Eleanor to sew her dress. Into the project, Eleanor determined that it was “too much,” and another seamstress stepped in to finish what Eleanor had started. In retrospect, I imagine that Eleanor, who would not settle for anything less than perfect, put herself under too much pressure. I ache now to think of how hard that must have been for her to tell my mother that she couldn’t do it.

Sweet Aunt Eleanor, the second oldest of my mother’s sisters, quietly and sacrificially gave much to my family. 

 
Aunt Eleanor, 1981
When my siblings began to have children of their own, Eleanor made each of her grand nieces and nephews quilts, and had she lived long enough, she’d made them more.

 
 I mean, how cute are we?

 
 and here we are in our 1967 matching suits -- obviously, I had rebelliously rolled my skirt.

    

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Notes My Mother Made



Janet, Nora, and Mother in Underground Atlanta, 1989

When our parents died sixty days apart in 1995, my siblings and I were in the middle of our working years and careers [actually both of my brothers are still working, but you know]. My brothers and sister had children to raise --- as there were eight grand-children under the age of twelve.

Closing their house in the spring of 1996, we carted away boxes and boxes of photos and memorabilia that ended up being stored at my sister Margaret's house.

Busy teaching high school English, I didn’t make time in the summers for going through papers accumulated by my parents in their almost forty-six years of marriage. A huge project to undertake, my sister and I just kept finding other things to do.

Packing away pictures in photo boxes, we stored the thousands of photos in her upstairs closet, and we filed and dumped haphazardly memorabilia and other paraphernalia in a five-drawer filing cabinet. Included with my parents’ papers past were those of my mother’s three unmarried sisters, one of whom spent her retirement years in research and family history.

The amount of paper and photos collected by our family seemed overwhelming.

My Aunt Harriett wrote twenty or thirty books on her family’s genealogy and on Appomattox County, Virginia, her birthplace. Some of the material that she gathered and bound into periodicals is quite dry with titles like “The Tax Records of Appomattox County 1856-1890” or the “Attendance at Sunday School for Salem Methodist Church, 1948.” Not. That. Riveting.  To her, a preserver of the past, the information mattered.

 Mother and Aunt Harriett [in her office] Falls Church, Virginia, 1987

 Aunt Harriett, 1986

Her tireless work in family genealogy and history in a time before common use of the internet and computers is quite impressive. Her research on her extended family includes a book titled “A Hundred Hunter Cousins” and “Grandpa Chilton’s Diary,” all meticulously documented and full of lists and dates and places and people.

About ten years ago, my sister and I began to work through the photographs by sorting them by decades. We also bought hard backed over-sized scrapbooks in anticipation of putting together information for the next generation.  We embossed the scrapbooks with “Chilton” for my mother’s family and “McDaniel” for my dad’s. Left empty on a shelf for this past decade, we had good intentions but never quite got around “to it.”

In the last two years, with both of us retired, Margaret and I started plugging away at this family history of photos and paper – and of course, the technology now available is invaluable. Few people do hands-on scrapbooks anymore since we embrace so much digitally. 

Too bad.

We already had the scrapbooks, and [stomps foot], we’re using them.

We’re not all old school, however.

  Kenneth, Amy, Mother, Margaret, and Daddy, Mother's Day, 1985

Margaret spent months scanning photos and negatives, birth certificates, diplomas, grade reports, tax receipts, World War II souvenirs [odd word] and other interesting [well, anything we found interesting, that is] papers into her computer. Then we began to take some of the print photos, papers, and placed them in the scrapbooks immortalizing three generations of my mother’s family.

In the last two days, we tackled the file folders crammed into that old five drawer filing cabinet that sits in my sister’s bonus room. Labeled with each relative’s name, we unloaded them and set out to organize, save, and toss the detritus gathered there.

We came across part of my mother’s journal. Eh. Not exactly a journal. It’s notes my mother made….

Though they are loosely dated, her notes are not in journal form as in a leather bound book, lined with porous paper, and inked full of her thoughts and interesting tidbits about what adorable children we were. What we found and read were pieces of paper dated from around 1979 to 1993. In three recycled, blue file folders, she scribbled information about telephone calls between her and two of her life long friends, Dot and Sarah. Within those jottings lies little information about her, but then what she did write told much about her caring nature.

In her famous, illegible handwriting, mother recorded explicit details about her friends’ lives – their children, their husbands, and their woes and worries. Extensive notes they are, so that the next time they talked on the telephone, she could review the notes and ask questions specifically. 

 Mother's notes, 1983

In a type of shorthand known to her, she used initials for us when she did make a note: as in “H & D said only goldfish” or “K & S new car” or “Hunter’s award” or “M’s garden.” In March of 1988, she devoted a page to my nephew Paul, who as a newborn, spent time in the neo-natal ICU. In her manic shorthand, she recorded details about his condition. She also made proud notes about her other grandchildren as well: “A eats well” and “C’s precocious.”
 
Paul, 1988

Writing mainly with a dull pencil, she scribbled on the back of dot-matrix computer paper, old green and white computer sheets with the names of patients she treated in the Cardiac Clinic at Grady, on small slips of note pads with different company logos, on the back and front of sheets of lined notebook paper, and occasionally on the back of Xerox copies of handouts from my father’s days as Reading Coordinator for a local school system. Her copious notes also included particulars about the failing health of her sisters – as she worried about each of them as they aged.

From the notes that I read, now faded with time, her focus lay with her family and friends. How sweet it was to read how she kept meticulous notes on their health and needs. Occasionally she would write, “did not tell about H’s angina” or “forgot to mention M’s scare” or “[my] fender bender.”

My mother loved her family and friends, and as I scanned her notes, the memory of how much she did came flooding back.

Now there's a legacy.

Sigh.

 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hydrangeas 2014












 
I dug up  seven or eight small oak leaf hydrangeas from my friend Debbie's yard back in 2011. I love saying "back in '11 -- it sounds so history book.
 
These plants flourish in the rich, mulched soil on the west side of my house -- a mostly shady area.
The bloom in the second photo stands twenty inches in height, and the oak leaf plants themselves rise to over eight feet.
 
:-)
 
The lace capped hydrangeas came from my sister in 2012. My brother-in-law rooted and nourish them to a decent sized plant before they were given to me. They have quadrupled in size.
 
It's so awesome.
 
Underneath the hydrangeas are hostas, coral bell, daphne, and ferns.
 
Gardening is a gift from God,
 
and
 
when friends share their plants with each other, He smiles.