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. 


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.



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
Money – any size
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.

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.



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,
when friends share their plants with each other, He smiles.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Bulletin Boys

Kenneth and Hunter, circa 1959
When we moved to Atlanta in the late summer of 1954, our first home, a rental, lay on the west side, a once prominent and affluent suburban area [not that had any impact on why we settled there]. While Daddy and Mother shopped for a house they could afford, we lived in “West End” on Westmont for six months and long enough for Hunter  to enroll in kindergarten and for my parents to choose a church. As religious church-goers, no pun intended, my parents took us to nearby West End Christian Church, a small but growing congregation [when we joined in the process of building a new sanctuary] of young families and well-heeled Cascade Heights dwellers.

I have no memories of “Westmont,” but Mother and Daddy fondly referred to their first house by its street name when they talked of their time there, and Hunter and Margaret both retain some vague memories.

By Christmas of 1954, my parents bought a house about ten miles south of West End on Oana, but we remained faithful attendees of West End Christian; each Sunday in rain, snow, sleet, and heat, we rode the roads, crossed the railroad tracks, and passed other churches to get there.

Kenneth's SS class, circa 1956, fourth from right pointing finger;  mother stands in the background on left
My SS class, circa 1956, fourth from left [Probably making that boy cry!}
In the fall of 1962, my parents changed us to a neighborhood church, Mary Branan Methodist, when Hunter, the oldest, began high school. They believed at this formative age it would be best for him and all of us to “have school friends who attended the same church.” Leaving West End Christian, my parents left behind many friends, most of whom they stayed in touch with as well as visited for the next thirty years.

I hold many, lovely memories of West End Christian: its Carrom game table set up in the basement, the cement pad adjacent to the new sanctuary where we played “Simon Says,” the gravel parking lot, the huge heating and air turbines in deep wells, which we climbed among, along the east side of the sanctuary, its full immersion baptismal fount with the white curtain and loud, wooden stairs, the weekly passing of a silver, communion cup tray with  teeny glasses and wafers, the fashionable hats and dresses worn by the women, the stained glass windows, the covered passageway between the old and new sanctuary, and my brothers’ collecting the bulletins.

Margaret's SS class, back row, third from left, circa 1956

Hunter's SS class, second from right, circa 1956
Highly competitive children, we played to top one another in anything and everything. Even though no serious blood was shed, my childhood teemed with arguments. We poked, prodded, pushed, yelled, fought, and made ugly faces at each other as standard daily fare. As my sister’s childhood friend Terry once told Margaret:  “All I remember about ya’ll is the fighting.” What a legacy!!

With there being four of us, only separated by a five year span, the birth order and rapidness placed my two brothers three and a half years apart. They slept in the same room where they issued ultimatums and threw down gauntlets, they later shared a paper route where they argued about work equality, and at some point in their young lives when we attended West End Christian Church, they initiated a crazy, made-up, competition over whom could collect the most bulletins after church.

bulletin sample

Neither of them remembers exactly how this “collecting of bulletins” began. I imagine this: after church in the parking lot, my parents stood with their friends and talked and talked and talked. Sometimes, they hung around for thirty or forty minutes, maybe longer, catching up on weekly events --  sharing stories of work, child-rearing, and their favorite conversation with other adults  -- “ain’t it awful?” My parents could do some talking.
Mother on left, gabbing, like she liked to do...:-)

I, who was always hungry [used to savor the communion wafer!], perhaps tugged at my mother’s skirt wanting to go home and being shushed for it. They stood around as long as others were willing, and my siblings and I would just wait. Patiently? No. But wait? Yes.

Sometimes, we waited in the car, but those stories?  Later.

My bored brothers sought entertainment, and one of them created the idea of returning to the sanctuary and picking up bulletins.

So, it began.

At first, they waited good-naturedly for most of the parishioners to leave before they ran up and down the aisles, in between pews, slipping and sliding on the tile, and picking up the bulletin from the hymnal slots on the back of the pews where a member had stuck it, diving under pews to retrieve them from the floor where they had carelessly been dropped, plucking them from the end of the pew where they had hung on a cushion, and of course, just simply pilfering them from a neat stack left on a table in the vestibule by the ushers.

ETA: Kenneth told me that they took those from a drawer in a table in the vestibule until they were told that the extra bulletins were taken to "shut ins."

Eventually, that policy of waiting stopped, and they began their competition as soon as the minister said the “amen” of the benediction.

With a war whoop and a manic rush, they dashed in between exiting church members, and vied to up the other by grabbing as many as possible; this brother versus brother became a weekly ritual.
Kenneth and Hunter, circa 1962

I have a distinct, comical memory of my brother Kenneth lying on his stomach, hands and feet splayed, and scooting rapidly and awesomely, I might add, under the pews grasping at fallen bulletins.

From time to time, I would help one or the other – probably Kenneth since he was closest to me in age, and we naturally aligned a type of defense against the older two –who were smug in their “being older” experience.

In addition, my brother Hunter, notorious in the family for his sound beatings of us in board games and cards, seemed always in need of a loss.

Kenneth and I were better athletes, so I’m guessing we gave Hunter some competition at least in the dash part, but Hunter, cunning and cerebral, probably mathematically figured out how to gather the most “church news” by dividing the rows of pews by the number of attendees or something; I don’t know if Margaret ever got in the game or not – she appeared pretty prissy and probably above it. Separated by age to me by three years, she seemed vastly removed from me and more like an adult.

After my parents stopped their chatting with their friends and we drove from church, my brothers in the back seat of the car counted the bulletins they collected and tallied their totals at each other with pride:  “I got 94” or “Ha! I got 106.”  When we got home, they filed the bulletins in the deep drawers of a lady’s old, dressing table used in their room for storage.

Did they have a score card? A money bet? Did one or the other have to pick up a chore for the winner? At some point, this competition turned into a team effort, but when did it change from competition to collusion? That answer is lost family history.

Why did they do this? I don’t know, and they don’t either.

Did my mother eventually make them toss the bulletins when they cleaned their room?

I don’t think so because I, being a natural snoop, looked in those drawers and remember seeing the bulletins so tightly packed that I could run my fingers across the tops of them as if they were manila files.

Mother probably thought the collecting of church bulletins wholesome – better than comic books or baseball cards. And, of course, they were free!

Over the years, they must have accumulated thousands.

Then they stopped.


When we changed churches? Sooner that that?

In my memory, those bulletin boys still run those aisles. 

Margaret [on right] in front of West End Christian church entrance, circa 1959
Mother and Daddy, circa 1954 :-)

ETA: After reading this, my sister emailed me and told me that "I was not too prissy and slid under those pews for my share of bulletins.  I actually think Hunter and I were the first ones to do it."

Ha. Ha. Ha.