Somewhere in Turkey

This trip was some 12 years ago.  All may have changed since; but this seemed appropriate for Christmas Day.

We go by the rickety little souvenir stand—nothing there to pause for except a few dusty postcards and a sorry figurine or two—and pass under one of the ancient arches of the church. Walls which once sheltered newly Christian worshippers now gape wide, admitting light, yes, but rain too, and weeds. Water lies inches deep over the faded mosaics on the floor. Dimly seen above us, a procession of saints circles a crumbling dome. The loving hands that painted it are themselves dust these many centuries. We approach a broken tomb, thinking of the fragile bones we had seen in the nearby museum. Tradition has it that they once lay in this tomb, and are the remains of the Bishop of this church.

He must be too busy to see to its maintenance: for this is Myra, and he was St. Nicholas.

Advertisements

The Grasshopper Stitcher

THE GRASSHOPPER STITCHER
In one of her novels, Jane Austen characterized a young woman as having a grasshopper mind. The minute I read that, I knew that she meant someone like me: someone who hops from interest to interest, from enthusiasm to enthusiasm, lighting on nothing long enough to become truly knowledgeable. This habit of mine made me well suited for the career of librarianship, because I knew a little about lots of things, enabling me to have a pretty good guess as to where to find more for the inquiring patron.
When it comes to stitchery, however, it was clear that I would never become an expert in any one type. I’ve been fairly consistent in a general interest, but definitely as a browser in this field.
I began as a ten-year-old, not with a sampler as I would have done a generation or two ago, but with dime-store tea towels and pillowcases printed with garden gates and cutie kittens. My mother had no needle skills, and other relatives were distant, so I was self-taught. In my teens I sewed a few (a very few) of my own clothes, and then I married and the kids came. I sewed more successfully for them, and took pride in creating, not buying, the Hallowe’en costumes for all four. Throughout my working life I did cross-stitching in the evenings from some of the many books I checked out of the libraries where I found myself. Occasionally I went to needlework shows, notably the annual one at Woodlawn, in Virginia; these both impressed me and depressed me. What beautiful things people can make, I would think; and then would come the thought, But I never could.
Still I always liked to have a “Project” under way, for busywork as I watched TV, or sat in a hotel room while on a trip. Some of these projects never reached completion–my grasshopper mind again! Or perhaps they did, in someone else’s hands. Did anyone out there discover, while looking for treasure in a thrift store, an unfinished panorama of the city of Jerusalem, or a cushion cover all over pink stylized tulips? The panorama went on and on, far beyond what my attention span would accommodate; I stopped work on it; it sat on the shelf reproaching me. I could not bring myself to discard it. That seemed disrespectful to the subject. I consigned it to a shop from which I hoped it would be adopted. The pink tulips became a bore to work on, and I thought they would be that to look at, too, so they met the same fate as the panorama.
Quilt-making by hand I always knew was too demanding, requiring patience and fortitude which I have not. I did manage a pillow front from my husband’s old ties, appliqued and embroidered but not actually quilted. Machine-appliqued crib quilts I have made, one for each grandchild, and these I designed myself, from folk patterns or story illustration.
Along the way, for grandchildren or for library storytime, I have made dolls, stuffed animals, puppets and flannelboards. Once I even made a doll for my mother. She had spoken so often of her grandmother who wore black and white print dresses every day, that I recreated Grandma, print dress, white lace cap and all.
At my present time of life, I have at last learned to select projects taking little time, with
almost instant satisfaction. Potholders and bookmarks are about my speed; but most fun are finger puppets. A box on my work table holds characters from Mother Goose and from the Bible. Easy to acquire materials, easy to make, easy to store. The grasshopper mind has finally alighted.  I think.

An Enchanted Evening

An Enchanted Evening

It was the fall of 1949. The college semester was well begun, and I was at a table in the University Commons with the usual group. The background music was from the then-popular musical, South Pacific.
The song was Some Enchanted Evening; I chanced to look up, and as the lyrics continued, I did “see a stranger, Across a crowded room”.
He saw me too, and “somehow we knew, we knew even then” that we would meet.
It was some weeks later, in fact, that we met, introduced by my then boyfriend. By Thanksgiving we were an item. He was from the Middle East and I was a dyed-in-the-wool Midwesterner; my parents weren’t thrilled that we were making future plans together. I was too young; they didn’t know his family, etc. He was meeting opposition from his distant family too, in that “Americans did not make good wives”, and anyway he was not to marry before his sister did.
We went blithely ahead, marrying the next summer. Happily both families became reconciled, no doubt partly because we produced four grandchildren for them. Now we have our own grandchildren, nine of them, and a great-grandchild.
We had just celebrated our 57th anniversary when he left this life. A poster for South Pacific graces the living room wall, and will always do so for all the memories it evokes.

If Only I Had Known

IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN

It was 1948, and I was a very young, very green college student. I was attending Indiana University, five blocks up Woodlawn Avenue, as it was too costly to go anywhere else. Mother and Dad, however, may have felt that some sort of experience away from home would be good for me; and if they felt that they would have been right. A more naive and unworldly eighteen-year-old would have been hard to find even then, and probably would be impossible now. Dad had acquired a brochure listing inexpensive student tours abroad, under the auspices of Columbia University. He and Mother selected for me a month-long stay in a small town in France, with a family who would travel a little with the participants and acquaint them with other families in various walks of life. I was to travel on an unconverted Marine troop ship, and this turned out to be a delight even in rough weather. There was a day of rolling and pitching when I was one of only two passengers on deck having fun.
On my arrival in France, the rendezvous with the two other American students and with our French hosts took place. Monsieur was a tall, imposing figure who was the pastor of a Protestant church; Madame his wife’s origins were Italian and Russian. They had several children, only one of whom, their daughter of about our age, was to spend time with us, We all piled into their aging Citroen and headed for the parsonage where we were to live for four weeks.
As described in the brochure, we partook of their family life; we met French doctors, farmers and shoemakers; we toured Roman ruins and VanGogh scenery; and we brushed up our French language skills. All in all, the experience lived well up to expectations.
Their names had of course been known to us from our first reading of the brochure. What we did not know, and I at least was not to learn for some years, was this: Andre Trocme was the pastor under whose guidance the entire village of Le Chambon had saved hundreds of Jews during the Nazi era. How recent a memory this must have been to them when we were there, but not a word did they say to us about their heroism.
Through the book by Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed; and the Pierre Sauvage film Weapons of the Spirit, the world now knows the Trocmes. What a privilege it would have been to hear their story as they would have told it.

A Little Boy, a Little Girl

It seems, at this distance of time, that we traveled to Long Beach Island often, so significant a place does it hold in my memory. In truth it could have been no more than three or four times in my life, as we came East only every other year, and the beginning of World War II with its gas rationing, ended these excursions.

They were, while they lasted, the happiest of times. Grandmother and Granddad Davis, who lived in New Jersey, regularly took the little blue-shuttered cottage every August. We, as I’ve said, could not make the trip from Indiana every summer, nor did we stay the full month–but oh, the joys of sand, sea and wide blue sky! It seemed to Kit and me that here we had complete freedom. We were allowed a lot of liberty back home, too, but people knew us, and this was inhibiting. Who knew what might be observed and reported by family friends, neighbors, campus colleagues of Dad’s, or shopkeepers enjoying Mother’s custom? No: true freedom lay beyond the dunes in Beach Haven, where the only watchful eye was the far distant Barnegat Light. Not that we looked for, or found, any real mischief. Freedom was a state of mind.
Two specific events stand out against a backdrop of sensory impressions. The first was a rare gathering at the little cottage, of relatives on both sides of the family. Equally rare was the six-day rainfall during their one-week visit. I can still see us, sitting in a huge circle on the floor of the cottage’s vast and otherwise empty attic, playing jacks to a tune by Grieg which had acquired the words, “A little boy, a little girl…”
The postscript to this episode was that on the last day of the relatives’ stay, the sun blazed forth and everyone spent that day making up for lost beach time. Uncle Harry got such a bad sunburn that he could not get his socks and shoes on, and had to borrow Dad’s rubber sandals for his drive home.
The other happening which has remained with me, and has become invested with nostalgic significance, took place on the last day of another visit to Beach Haven. It was allowance day, too, and Dad had taken Kit and me to the little novelty shop for the ceremony of spending it. Kit’s selection was quick and typical; he added some small metal soldiers to his ever-growing army. For some reason I could not settle, this time, on the usual box of bright new crayons, or the pristine paper doll book. I remember examining everything, and starting over again, before the elderly Japanese proprietor said, “How about two dolls in a box?” I wasn’t that much of a doll person, but I agreed to look at them. The proprietor drew from an upper shelf a little closed, painted basket, and opened it to reveal two exquisite Japanese dolls about four inches tall, with real hair and inlaid eyes, dressed in tiny, matching kimonos. I parted willingly with my twenty-five cents, and left the little shop with the “two dolls in a box” and the knowledge that they were the only right choice.
What I could not know then was how right this choice, or why. This was the summer of 1941. We were never to come back to Beach Haven, and the little shop with its patient old shopkeeper, would not survive the war years. These two little beings, a little boy and a little girl, have preserved for me the innocence of those summers before the war, and the kindliness of one old Japanese, before he became The Enemy.

A New Beginning

If you have seen this blog before, you will recognize that it is different. The stories and verses have gone.  Some of them will gradually reappear, along with some new ones, but this time in the post itself.  I will start here, with FAMILY  TREASURES.

FAMILY TREASURES

When you hear the phrase “family treasures”, you may think of old, heavily embossed silver, or of Grandma’s gold and pearl earrings.  Maybe your first thought is of an ivory satin wedding gown, a set of damask napkins worn through at the fold, or a faded photograph of Great-Grandpa with handlebar mustache and funny, long-outdated clothes.
Whether any of these, or other such relics, lie carefully tended on a shelf, or in a trunk in the attic, we must not neglect the richest treasures of all.  They are our family stories.  These unique anecdotes, whether handed down the generations or recounting a funny or touching incident of yesterday, entertain us, to be sure, but they do more.  They reflect us and define us both in themselves and in our conscious or unconscious choice of what to remember and retell.
In my family, the tale is often told of Great-Grandma’s stern insistence that her husband enlist in the Confederate Army.  “But, Sarah,” he is reported to have said, “I don’t believe in secession”; to which she replied, “Now, Elijah, no man in my family ever refused to fight for his home!”  He went, and she ran their farm singlehanded for the duration of the war.    She, and by extension all the women of the family, are thus portrayed as stubborn and independent.  Many of us are just that!
And that we are not religiously observant the story of our own four-year-old daughter’s first day in Sunday school exemplifies: upon her return from that first session we asked her what she had learned.  She answered, “There is somebody up there who takes care of us, and I forget his name but I think it’s Bob.”  A generation later we still speak of Bob at times.
What we find funny, poignant, or valuable in some other way, is and should be preserved.  Unlike the earrings, the gown or the photograph, which incidentally carry stories themselves, we don’t do this by packing away in cotton, mothballs or acid-free paper.  We tell the stories, and tell them again, and they bind us securely to one another over space and through time.

Bestiary

It has been some time, to say the least, since I have posted here. My blogger self has been hibernating–and there is a word we take from animal behavior!

Animal words as metaphor, simile or idiom pop up everywhere. Here are a few I’ve noted lately.

White elephant; cat o’nine tails; loan shark; horse sense.

The lion’s share; a feather in your cap; dog in the manger.

Birdbrain; no more sense than God gave a goose.

Snake in the grass; busy as a bee; stubborn as a mule.

Calf (broken-off piece of an iceberg); Frog (design in braid on a jacket, often a buttonhole); Horsefeathers.

Chicken with its head cut off.

Derived from German: easel (Esel, donkey)

So many more, and often we are wrongly attributing a characteristic to the animal. Birds have the brains they need. Snakes are not mean or treacherous, but just going about their lives.