Monday, January 29, 2018

A Summertime Day circa 1953

It’s a hot, humid summer day in 1953, and I'm an eight-year old girl. A quick bowl of cereal for breakfast (probably Cheerios or Sugar Pops) along with white toast and possibly hot chocolate (the kind you mix up in a pan on the stove top), fixes me up for a day of aimless distractions in the neighborhood.
The first thing I probably do is knock on a neighbor’s front door and ask if a friend can come out to play. Once connected with a friend or two or more, a serious discussion takes place that may result in one or more friends leaving the group. Would it be a morning of bicycles, badminton, balancing on the railroad tracks all the way to the corner store or playing house in the basement? 

 Cowgirl bicycling would often be my choice. Getting ready to play required the delicate business of taking my bicycle out of the one-car garage without scratching the side of Mom’s car.  Next I’d search for the short lengths of rope for reins that I’d used last time I pretended to be a cowgirl on a bicycle horse.  

Probably someone would suggest putting cards on the bicycle spokes, which took even more time during the “getting ready” phase.

I had a cowgirl hat and a set of cap guns complete with a two-gun holster. After riding around the block a couple of times shooting caps at each other, we’d probably decide to play something different like softball. That meant rounding up a ball and bat before walking the six blocks down to the school to play on the grass under the big elm tree or setting up make-shift bases in the street.

If memory serves, we often spent much more time getting ready to do something than actually doing it! The very best fun was sitting on the big fallen tree at the end of the street near the train tracks and making up games. Sometimes we’d play “Mother May I” or “Draw a Magic Circle.” Other days, we’d pretend to ride the tree trunk as if we were on horseback and scream for the caboose trainman to toot the whistle when the train roared past us. 

Lunch would be a sandwich grabbed from the fridge and a can of pop. We’d have a backyard picnic and then go about the ritual of thinking up something to do for the afternoon like playing Monopoly or jacks on the front sidewalk. Sometimes we’d roller skate on the smooth sidewalk around the corner after spending time searching for a skate-key and clamping on our skates. 

Summer days seemed endless, and we didn’t go in for supper until mother yelled for us in a voice that carried across all the backyards in the neighborhood.  After dinner it would be kick-the-can out front of the house under the street light or telling ghost stories in the dark until we scared ourselves inside to television shows like “I Love Lucy” or “Red Skelton” before going reluctantly to bed. The next morning it was more of the same, and we all hoped summer would never end.

But, summer did end and the years rolled by until looking back, I long for those days when summer didn’t run out in a flash and fall, winter, and spring speed by in barely a moment. I’m retired, and I move more slowly now, but time seems to slip away like Superman, “faster than a speeding bullet.” I often dream of those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” Do you?

Friday, December 29, 2017

From One to Eleven

I’ve been rummaging through my writing files again and came across a folder titled “An Ordinary Woman.” It’s the title of a memoir I thought I’d write someday. 

In among some notebook journal pages, I found a timeline I’d constructed while working at The Arizona Republic’s news library. The entries are in no particular order, but each one must have resonated with me in some way.

Do these people, songs, stage/screen and events seem familiar to you as well? If you were born in 1945 most probably do. What would you add/delete to make this record jive with your own personal lifetime? 

My timeline begins in 1946 when I would have been one year old and ends the year I turned eleven in 1956.

Annie Get Your Gun and Brigadoon
Doin’ What Comes Naturally, Tenderly, Zip a dee doo dah

          Dead Sea Scrolls discovered
          The Diary of Anne Frank published
          Henry Ford dies, Al Capone dies
          Flying saucers reported in the United States

          Harry S. Truman elected President of the United States
          All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth, Buttons and Bows
          Orville Wright dies, Babe Ruth dies
          First Porsche 356
          Prince Charles, Prince of Wales born
          Military Draft in the United States begins (1948-1973)

         1984 by George Orwell published
         USSR tests atomic bomb
         Cortisone discovered
I Love Those Dear Hearts and Gentle People, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, 
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’dve Baked a Cake, Rag Mop, A Bushel and a Peck, Good Night Irene, Music! Music! Music!

         Rosenbergs sentenced for espionage
         The African Queen, A Streetcar Named Desire
Hello Young Lovers, Getting to Know You, Shrimp Boats, 
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening

The Old Man and the Sea by Hemmingway, East of Eden by Steinbeck, The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain, The Revised Standard Bible
This is Cinerama, High Noon (Gary Cooper & Grace Kelly)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Jambalaya, Your Cheatin’ Heart
Rocky Marciano wins world heavy-weight boxing title
Yankees win World Series over the Dodgers

          Rosenbergs executed
          From Here to Eternity, The Robe
          (most films now in Cinemascope)
          How Much is That Doggie in the Window, I Believe, 
          I Love Paris
          Yankees win World Series for 5th straight time
         Yankees win World Series Again
Dr. Jonas E. Salk, United States developer of the anti-polio serum 
starts inoculating schoolchildren in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
         Mister Sandman, Three Coins in a Fountain, Hey There
         Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

Yellow Rose of Texas, Davy Crockett, Rock Around the Clock, 
Sixteen Tons
Dorothy Hodgkin discovers liver extract (Vitamin B-12) for treating pernicious anemia.
Albert Einstein dies
Sugar Ray Robinson wins World Boxing Title
Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series

          Rock & Roll dancing in vogue
          Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog, Que Sera Sera
          Around the World in 80 days

Unfortunately I don’t remember and cannot find my source for all these facts. I’m sure I managed to scribble these down on company time, which would explain the random order and selection of the entries. None the less, each one has a note of the familiar to me.

Memory Lane remains a nice place to stroll when the gift of a quiet bit of time falls in your lap. Thanks for taking this walk with me.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Magic of Keys by C. K. Thomas

If you’re famous, you might be given the key to a city, and if you’re in love, someone might have found the key to your heart. Then again, if you’re a chemist you might become famous by finding a key ingredient.

The humble key opens locks of course, but the word key, it seems, has become a handy metaphor as well. My interest in keys stems from childhood when my dad frequently managed estates. Often he found mysterious keys without the locks to go with them. Those keys found their way into my key collection. I had quite a horde of all kinds of keys that I kept in a flower pot. Unfortunately I’ve lost them somewhere on the journey of my life. However, my fascination with keys remains.
Skeleton keys have been stripped down to the bone and thus the reason for their creepy name. There is only one remaining bit at the tip of the barrel (hollow) or shank (solid). 

A skeleton key could open most of the doors inside my grandfather’s house. In fact, most houses built in the 1940’s have mortise locks that respond to a skeleton key. In my grandfather’s house, the attic door, with its big square, metal lock and large keyhole, easily opened with a skeleton key. The turning of the key revealed a winding stairway behind the door; topped by a trove of attic treasures to explore. This explains, in part, the magic I attribute to the skeleton key.

Magical thinking about keys began in the Middle Ages when keys and locks were made of iron. Many believed evil spirits might find their way into dwellings or religious buildings through keyholes, but that iron keys and locks had the power to repel these demons.

During these times, superstitions about the power of keys dictated that if keys were left on a table, there would be chaos and strife in the household. The Finns believed keys in her bed could help a woman in childbirth and that a key

made in the form of a cross could cure boils. In Europe large, iron keys for church doors usually had a cross imprinted somewhere on them. (above) These keys were thought to be powerful enough to cure whopping cough and other ills of children.
“The key for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is believed to be at least 500 years old. It is still used daily, and is held by an ancient Muslim family in Jerusalem. The family has held this position since 1244, and the key may be that old.”* (above)

I was surprised to realize the considerable variety of keys, some of which follow: prison keys, church keys, clock keys, railroad keys (small brass ones), skeleton keys, trunk keys, desk keys, briefcase keys, suitcase keys, diary keys, house keys, car keys, file cabinet keys, keepsake box keys, padlock keys, jewelry box keys, cedar chest keys, music box keys, toy winding keys, skate keys and on and on and on. You can probably think of many more.

If you’re intrigued enough to want to know more about keys, consult the Internet links below. The book Keys – Their History and Collection by Eric Monk, published by Shire Publications will help in identifying keys you might find in antique stores and also in estimating their value.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Great Grandma and Grandpa’s Stories of World War II

My granddaughter needed to interview a veteran for a school project just as my son did many years ago when he was her age. For my son, the timing was perfect since his grandpa and grandma were visiting Phoenix from Indiana. At that time the most sophisticated method we had for recording the interview was a small tape recorder. 

We recorded both sides of the tape and captured the voices of both grandparents relating their experiences during WWII. Grandpa had served as a navigator on a B17 bomber while his pregnant wife lived at home with her parents. The interview reveals what life was like both on the “front” and on the “home front.” 

A few years ago I managed to transfer the taped version of the interview to my computer and save the .wav files to my family history folder. Even though my son’s grandpa has passed on, his voice on my computer is as strong and true as ever. 

Yesterday I converted the .wav files to mp3 format and loaded them into the public folder on Dropbox. I sent the links to my granddaughter, and her mother told me they spent the evening listing to her great-grandpa’s amazing story of not only his wartime experience, but of the compassionate food-drop missions he participated in immediately following the end of the war.

I’m amazed at the technology that allowed me to pass on this historic piece of my children’s and grandchildren’s heritage so quickly. My granddaughter’s request came to me in the late afternoon and by early evening the stories she needed were in her hands in Seattle. 

The thought than my granddaughter can hear her great-grandfather’s voice telling her his first-hand account of such historic events is so magical and poignant that I’m overwhelmed with gratitude at this opportunity to share it.

Below are the three links to the recordings in order: The introduction I recorded followed by sides 1 and 2 of the original tape. I’d love to hear your comments if you have the time to listen to these voices from the past. 

I try to make it a priority to thank a veteran whenever I have an opportunity, and I’ll remember them especially today on Veteran’s Day, Saturday, November 11, 2017.

Side 2  (voice quality improves toward the end of this side)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Two Old Hippies

A Short Fiction Story Inspired by a Photo
By C. K. Thomas

Squatting somewhere in the outback of British Columbia while dodging the draft, we came dragging with us the idea that peace, love and marijuana would see us through the toughest of times. Though young, ragged and ill-equipped, we managed to live off the grid up in the wilds of Canada for the duration of the Vietnam War.

Forty years later, we stand at the bottom of the hill by the lake looking up at what remains of the abandoned cabin we inhabited in 1967. I slipped my backpack off my shoulders and retrieved the camera from one of my hiking shorts’ plentiful pockets.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to take pictures looking uphill, but right now I don’t have the energy to walk another step to get closer,” I said to Jim who had already removed his pack and lay sprawled on the ground using his pack as a pillow.

“You’re right, no uphill pictures, but I’m not a bit tired. I’m just lying here looking at the sky to assess the weather. We might be getting some spotty sunshine right now, but from the look of those thunderheads it won’t be long until we’re getting seriously wet. Of course, I might have to lie here a bit longer to make absolutely sure of my prediction,” Jim grinned as he threw his arm across his eyes in a pose that suggested he wasn’t getting up anytime soon.

Back in ’67 frozen ground and the beginnings of a snow storm greeted us as we staggered up this very same steep hill toward the abandoned cabin that looked as if it might be a place where we could at least weather out the storm. We made ourselves at home within its sheltering walls and with a few feeble repairs to keep out the drafts, ended up staying for the duration of the war.

We survived our stay in rural British Columbia largely because we had stumbled upon the Slocan Valley where in the early 1900’s Russian pacifists had settled. We’d found a community sympathetic to our plight that welcomed us at first with much needed supplies and secondly with offers of employment among them. By the time the war ended we were so entrenched within the community that the thought of returning to the States during the Carter amnesty in 1977 held no appeal for us.

Jim and I married while in Canada, and you might say we grew up here because we certainly weren’t adults when we arrived. Today, I’m a stringer for a local newspaper in a small Canadian town many miles from the Slocan Valley, and Jim still does free-lance photography for magazines and newspapers. We’re both retired and very happy in the frozen north. When our own country sought to throw us into the jaws of an unjust war, Canada welcomed us, and we never forgot that welcome.

This trek to the “old homestead” reminded us just how far we’ve come since those days. We may be approaching old age, but this old cabin looks to be in far worse shape than us. Thankfully, it’s still early enough in the day to make our way back to our truck parked at the trail head. 

As great as it is to reminisce, I’m not about to lay these old bones down in a sleeping bag on the dirt floor where we conceived our first child. “Those were the days,” and I’m very happy I don’t have to relive them. Just making it up here to explore the place where Canada refused to let war come between us is quite enough. Thank God and those plucky Russian pacifists for our adopted country!