Fridays at 10am
Tuesdays at 1pm
Breath exercises, stretches and movement to support circulation, mobility, strength, concentration and balance
Art Class with Ana
Tuesdays at 11am
No one is ever too young or too old to engage in arts. In fact, it can even be therapeutic.
Art relieves stress, encourages creative thinking, boosts self-esteem, eases the burden of dementia and other chronic health conditions.
Thursdays at 12pm
Cheer up dancing! Variety of dance styles is taught to all levels of mobility
WE ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE THE WINNERS OF THE SHORT STORY CONTEST!
The First Prize Winner is Maria Raffi with "Moving to America". The prize will be a printed copy of the story illustrated as a gift edition. (When complete the illustration will be posted on Facebook.) Two free Grab-n-Go lunches are also included.
The Second Prize Winner is Debra Coleman with her story "A Rescue of Memories", which had 17 Facebook likes. The prize is a free Grab-n-Go lunch.
Also, we plan to reach out to Ashland Historical Society to see if they would be interested in taking all the stories and preserving them as part of Ashland residents' legacy. Thank you all for writing, reading and participating!
Some episodes in our life we want to share. It could be a stunning adventure or a funny situation, a kind word, or a sad event. Short stories have their roots in oral storytelling and the prose anecdote, a situation that is quickly described and has a clear point.
We would love to read them!
WE ARE HOLDING A SHORT STORY CONTEST
FIRST PRIZE winner will receive two free Monday Grab-n-Go Lunches and their story will be beautifully illustrated and printed as a gift edition.
SECOND PRIZE winner award is one free Monday Grab-n-Go Lunch
BELOW, YOU CAN READ THE STORIES THAT WERE WRITTEN BY THE CONTESTANTS
We were looking forward to a new year with new beginnings. It didn't take long for the excitement to begin when we were pleasantly surprised to receive the announcement that a new grandchild was expected in August, number 7. How very exciting! Talk about new beginnings. A trip to the Azores and a trip to Scotland, my husband's native country, were also in the works. My husband was to have a milestone birthday and we were to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Other activities were also planned and we were looking forward to a great 2020.
We packed our bags and left in early February for our first trip to the Azores. Nothing was going to stop us It was difficult to get any information about the country we were heading to so it felt very exotic. Our plane flight was only four hours. After landing, we got in our rental car and combed the island. We were met by farm land covered in volcanic rock, pleasant people and a road system that went one way on the entire island. If you needed to go in the opposite direction ,there was a roundabout to go on. People were courteous and you could never get lost. One just needed to keep the ocean to your side The ocean surrounded us and we knew were were in for a restful, fun vacation. At times there was talk about how people in China were dying due to a virus. Concern was expressed that it could come to the US but that idea seemed remote, as remote as the island we were on. It was put out of our minds and we just enjoyed ourselves.
The flight home was uneventful. Upon arriving home however, we received a call from my son that his father-in-law had passed away. We were shocked as we had no idea that he was even in the hospital or that he had been ill. He was there only a week and had died from Pancreatic Cancer.
Our lives continued but it wasn't long before the news was reporting a pandemic. At first there were no guidelines; so in March we attended a dinner for the family that had previously been put together as a Christmas gift. In checking with the venue, I was told that the event was going to definitely be held no matter what! Nothing was going to hinder our good time. There were sleigh rides in a horse drawn wagon and an all you can eat dinner of prime rib cooked on a roaring open fire fresh baked rolls and fish chowder that the guests got to assist with and an apple pie piled sky high with fresh, home made whipped cream. Stuffed, we waddled our way to the car to drive home.
Two days later we attended the ballet, also a Christmas gift,. Three days later, we were in lock down. Everything was closed : restaurants, gyms, supermarkets. Our trip to Scotland was cancelled. No one seemed to know what to do and we glued ourselves to the TV as information slowly trickled in. We felt fortunate that we got to enjoy some planned events. We had won tickets to a rock concert to which we were going to bring our sons. Of course that was cancelled and we were so disappointed.
During this time period, my sister phoned and announced that she was sick with covid that she caught at work. One of her coworkers had gotten exposed to the virus and was nice enough to pass it on to her. Fortunately she had only a mild case and recovered.
I soon found myself making masks for hospital workers. It was fun but mostly it made me feel useful during this time of worry. Things escalated as people were dying left and right. So sad! We considered ourselves very fortunate since to this point things were not too bad for us.
Then a strange thing happened. People everywhere were helping each other. Masks were being made everywhere by everyone, food banks were set up and comradery was exhibited everywhere. Strangers popped out of the woodwork to help one another and put their resources to good use. Entertainers who were now out of work gave free performances and Zoom was put in place. Zoom gave a good outlet to visit with family that we were now quarantined from seeing. The following month of April was my birthday, there was no family to celebrate with and I was “all dressed up with no place to go”.
May turned out to be a Zoom marathon and I signed up for every Zoom course I could get my hands on. I was Zooming everywhere! There were exercises, Tai Chi classes and cooking courses. Although I learned things from the cooking courses, I was unable to get some of the items that were needed to prepare a lot of the meals. The stores were running out of everything. It seems everyone had the same idea that I did; cook what you cannot buy. Then the stores started running out of the essentials like toilet paper and cleaning products. I'm still scratching my head about the toilet paper. Libraries started to offer services and they were very resourceful. We could get books, crafts and even enjoyed entertainment on Zoom. My husband and I also challenged each other with games like Phase 10 and Dominoes.
To quash some of the boredom and monotony, my husband and I went on motorcycle rides to places that in the past were too crowded to enjoy. We went to the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, Newport Rhode Island and many local sights. We felt free and were able to follow all the pandemic guidelines. It was interesting trying to find public restrooms though. Let's just say we became one with nature
June was a continuation of May. We celebrated my husband's 70th birthday. Just the two of us and cake.
In July we enjoyed a visit with my daughter in North Carolina. She purchased tickets for us at Christmas and I had booked a flight for the week of July first. Flying on the plane was a little nerve wracking. Everyone wore masks but there was absolutely no social distancing, (a new terminology the has become part of our regular vocabulary).
What a great time we had, swimming every day, going to Myrtle Beach and just having fun being with family. We also got to see our Granddaughter and Great Granddaughter (number 3) who also live in North Carolina. Unfortunately, time flew by and it was time to leave.
The ride home was better as far as social distancing was concerned and people were polite and very helpful. There was no pushing and shoving to be the first one off the plane. They waited and even helped each other remove luggage from the overhead. Back home, it became too hot to do anything so I decided that since I couldn't go anywhere, I should have foot surgery done that I was putting off for a long time. The surgery was in September for the left foot and I was to be off my feet for three months to recover. Although I could not walk fully and I was still quite sore, I scheduled my right foot for October. Talk about being a glutton for punishment! A lot of time was spent on the sofa watch game shows. Television celebrities were invited to our home and much to my husband's dismay I am now in love with Drew Carey.
During my recovery, I finally completed a project that I had started earlier in the year … making 1000 cranes. According to Japanese legend, anyone who folds 1000 origami cranes will be granted a wish by the gods. I'm not sure who the gods are but I sure hope they listened to me. In any case, it certainly gave me a sense of accomplishment. The cranes proudly hang as a colorful mobile in a place of honor in my living room.
In November we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. My foot was in a boot as I was still recovering from my surgery. As part of our celebration we went to a bakery and bought one of every pastry in the shop like kids in a candy store. Since we had no one to celebrate with, we tried to make the best of a crummy situation. Fortunately, some restaurants were open and since this is an occasion that only happens once in a lifetime, we took advantage of this opportunity. That evening we went out to dinner at a local restaurant. We splurged and ordered whatever we wanted without care of the cost. It was decided not to get dessert since we had half a bakery at home. It was a great meal although it would have been nicer if we could have had our family with us. When we asked for the check , the waitress announced that my son took care of the bill and he had insisted that we get dessert. Little did he know of our big splurge! Unfortunately, as time passed there were more deaths of people we knew.
December was quiet. Then the shock happened. A phone call was received that my brother-in-law was given 6 months to live. According to his doctors his stomach cancer had caught up with him. He continues to put up a good fight since his original prognosis was similar and that was at least 20 years ago.
We invited my son and his family over for Christmas dinner. This was a nice treat as we usually go to Connecticut to visit with family to celebrate. Although we were sad not to see my extended family but were happy to be with family just the same.
So here we are again. The eve of 2021 and looking forward to a new beginning. Oh wait! What's this? My phone just beeped. Wow! I just received a text from my Granddaughter. Great Grandchild, number 4, is expected in September!!!!
A Rescue of Memories
Time was eroding the captured images of men and women; long in their graves. As I opened my mother's aging album, square, black and white photos with scalloped edges cascaded onto the floor. They landed next to several boxes containing more photos that had been stuffed, haphazardly, into yellowing envelopes.
Pandemic isolation could, at least, result in some useful endeavor – a rescue of memories. The archival photo albums and pages I had purchased, according to my recent phone call checking on the delinquent order, was not going to be delivered for another several weeks. Apparently I wasn't the only one with time and an inclination to save family history.
Mom's album begin with a couple of baby pictures of her in 1919. The very few pictures of her childhood pictured her shoved between two or more siblings. She was the seventh child of eight in their family. Which, probably, accounts why there were so few pictures. There is a photo of Mom sitting primly at her school desk, hands folded and sporting a Buster Brown haircut of the day. The year 1930 is printed at the bottom. The next photos leap to 1937 senior year high school classmates. A large, professional photos showed her in her cap and gown. Photos, printed onto postcards, pictured mom in a gorgeous, empire waisted prom gown with sheer puffed sleeves. Her smile was slight, her hair plastered in waves, rings on her fingers and the ubiquitous flowers pined to her shoulder. If only it was in color. There is a photo of her, in her cap and gown, with her bleary eyed parents who had just one more younger daughter left to celebrate a high school graduation ritual.
I carefully peeled away the plastic pages that still remained steadfast. I released fading photos of younger versions of relatives. There are uncles who died when I was too young to remember them. Aunts who look fresh faced when I remember them as “old”. When, actually, they were younger than I am now. A camera seemed always on hand to document new babies, birthdays, weddings, graduations and general good times. Most of the people pictured have since had passed. The babies in arms and in carriages are the grandparents of today. Even several of “my” generation have passed away.
Several years in Mom's life are undocumented until pages and pages are filled with photos of young women in their twenty's. The entire world was in turmoil. Never, in their dreams, had these women imagined they'd be cast into a work force that only men had previously held. The women smile as they covet their new found freedom and cover their anxiety about brothers and boy friends gone into service for the country. Posed group photos attest that they labored along side of my mom for the “war effort” at the RCA. They wear printed dresses, (one woman's slip is showing), white blouses with skirts just below their knees, saddle shoes with bobby socks, a few wear suits cinched in at the waist and high heels. There is always a shot of a man in a white shirt and tie; most likely the boss. This is Harrison, NJ and not far from where Navy vessels would come for 'dry dock' repairs and RR for the men.
Then, what I call 'the sailor section' of the album, begins. Two or three pages are devoted to a particular sailor. Five different dashing, young men in all. Some 5 x 7 pictures were taken by photographers casing nightclubs convincing service men to purchase a remembrance of their night out for their girl friend. That photo, perched on her desk, just might be the incentive to keep those letters coming when they were off to places unknown. Two or three couples sit around a table. Sailors with one arm around their date and a cigarette in the other hand. The women wear fabulous dresses, bright red lipsticked smiles, a flower tucked in their hair and drinks in their hands. “You'd always double date,” my mother would say. Some of the sailors sent my mom photos, from exotic locations in the Pacific, with endearments written on the back. Some photos were professionally staged. The men were, also, barely in their twenty's. They, too, smile with their new adventure, hiding fears of what tomorrow would bring.
On a rare occasion, when I was younger, Mom would pull out this album. She'd flip slowly through the 'sailor section'. “I'd work all day then dance or roller skate the night away,” she'd say wistfully. I'd roll my eyes. “It was good, clean fun!”
We'd quickly move on to the page that introduced that last sailor. She'd tapped her finger over the man with soft brown eyes staring from beneath his flat white, sailor hat known as a “dixie cup”. “I dated his brother George. Did I ever tell you?” Only a hundred times.
“He was a handsome devil,” she'd sigh. “But, what a liar. Can't abide a liar,” she'd shake her head. “He wrote me once, when they were in a port, about how he stayed on board the ship thinking about me. Ha! His shipmate wrote my friend about how George was the life of the party at a bar in that same port. I wrote him that I couldn't stand a liar. He pleaded with me to write his brother, a more quiet and reserved man than he was.” We'd look again at the picture of George's brother, open in her lap. “So we wrote and we managed to date a few times.” This was always the point in the story when she'd relay she introduced this sailor to her older sister. “Your Aunt June told me, 'You can't dance and roller skate your life away. He's a good one!'”
A photo, on the next page, showed the same man with a gentle smile beneath the brim of a cap and wearing the insignia of a chief petty officer. This fifth sailor's picture, perhaps due to intervention from my aunt, would be the only other man in my mother's album and life; from the next page's wedding photo taken in 1946 and for the following 56 years until my dad's death in 2001. “We only went out on three actual dates. I had my fingers crossed when we were taking our vows.” My mother passed away in 2013 so the only history I have to go on is conjured up old stories and names and some places and dates written on backs of some of the photos.
I needed to eliminate a number of photos to be transferred to the – rather expensive – archival albums. I separated piles of photos to send to children or grandchildren of those pictured. Badly damaged photos had to be tossed. Many photos had no names assigned and I had no clue. I had four piles of dashing, young sailors who meant nothing to me. But their names were on the backs of these pictures; so somebody likely cared.
In the back of mom's photo album is a small silk banner with two stars printed on it. My father's mother hung it in her window during the war. It signified she had two sons serving the nation. She was lucky. They returned to her. Perhaps I could return some photos to a few sailor's families.
I showed one handsome sailor's pile of photos to my daughter when she visited one day. “If only I could find the family,” I lamented.
She took note of his name, pulled out her phone and started tapping away. It wasn't very long before she held her phone screen towards me. “Is this the guy?”
There was the same name on an obituary with a clear photo of a middle aged man in a Naval uniform – retired as a Lt. Commander. There certainly was a resemblance to the photos I held of a fresh faced, twenty year old sailor. “Oh, my God, I think that's him,” I said. “If only we could...”
She turned her phone back. Her fingers flying over the keys. “It lists surviving children”... click, click, click. “There's a daughter in Florida”.....click, click, click. “On the Eastern coast”....click, click, click. “Here's her address. I'll text you it.” My mouth was still dropped open when my text alert sounded.
I photocopied the pictures and snail mailed a note, including my email address, to the Florida daughter.
A week later an email popped up with her name as sender. With scams lurking around every corner and reputations subjected to disgrace, Florida Daughter's message was written with understandable trepidation.
Soon emails were flying between us. I was only too glad to forward the actual photos now that it was established my mom's old boy friend was, indeed, her father.
On the back of one of photos her dad had written a comment about his hat sitting askew on his head. Yes, the daughter confirmed, he was career military and always had a thing about hats sitting properly on heads.
She and her sisters were thrilled to receive the pictures. Their dad could have never imagined photos, with his comments scribbled on the back, would be coming 'out of the blue' eighty years later. The daughter wondered if I knew of a Helen in my Mom's life from that time period. Helen? I did not. “Who was she?”
She was their dad's first wife and mother of his eldest daughter. Helen had no family and died soon after giving birth. There were no photos of Helen. Their oldest, half sister, never knew what her mother looked like. An intriguing story. I decided I was not Miss Marple and left it at that.
I was on a roll. Time for more obituary hunting. Sailor number two had an unusual name. I clicked from screen to screen and soon found a likely candidate. I photocopied his pictures and sent them to an address in Newburyport.
A few weeks later I received an email answer. Yes, he recognized the sailor in the photos. The man was his uncle. He had contacted his cousin, the son. The son's email soon popped up.
We emailed back and forth trying to establish the relationship between this sailor and my mother. He had lived in Revere, MA.
Perhaps this was the time after mom graduated high school and traveled to Malden, MA to help a sister after she had gone through a difficult delivery of a baby girl. Mom had made a notation “roller skating” on the back of one of his pictures. My childhood image of scuffed, white high top roller skates with wooden wheels came to my mind. My mom would remove those skates from a nail in our basement, force her feet – aged with bunions – into the skates and take a few laps around the furnace. “Those were the days!” she would say with bright eyes.
I learned that sailor number two loved to roller skate, had survived four years in war torn Europe and died at age 81.
I mailed this set of photos off to Pennsylvania – over miles, through decades of war and peace, back to the family where he belonged.
I have two more sailor boy friends photos to make their way back to their families. I hope, when a connection is made, that the sailor had not been married at the time and had a girl in every port and these photos would tarnish his memory. The odds are that twenty-ish year old guys were still single but, perhaps through, 'engaged' so someone would be writing him and pining for his return.
The 'greatest generation' sacrificed so much. Unfortunately, these connections were not made a decade ago. I can imagine the delight in my mother rediscovering these sailors from a lifetime ago. Would they even have remembered her? Would their recollections have been as vivid? As happy? As in agreement? Sometimes our memories are how we would have liked things to have been; not how they were. How wonderful to release the very many memories, of so many people, that are captured between the covers of a photo album.
The Old man and the Sleigh Ride
I looked up again out of habit. The grayish-white cloud was still there, draped like a comforter across the mountain top. Even the "old man's" profile was completely enshrouded. This was not unusual; in fact it was normal to see the summit cloaked this way.
I've never seen the cloud descend lower than it was now and in any case it wouldn't present a problem for my flight. The ceiling would remain about a thousand vertical feet below the peak leaving me a safe couple thousand feet of wide open space to the landing area. Also, if it remained calm, and I expected it would, the sleigh ride (a term used by hanglider pilots describing a smooth descending uneventful flight) would make it a piece of cake. I would simply drop through the cloud popping out at about 500 to thousand feet above ground.
But what I was really hoping to see was the nearby tree branches moving a bit indicating a breeze. With an uphill wind sweeping up the mountain ridges and creating a wave, it might allow me to soar and extend my flight time. This is what all experienced hang glider pilots looked for. But it was not to be. It was dead calm.
Refocusing, I turned my attention to my ski school students making lazy wedge turns down the beginners slope. This was their last run and the class was over. After a few comments and encouraging words I bid them farewell saying they were now at a level that would allow them to ski the bunny slope.
As I coasted over to the base lodge I caught the eye of the mountain manager waving to get my attention. He was already on the snowcat that would carry me with the glider to the mountain top. This became a routine after the area management suggested that I make a demonstration flight for the public at the end of each day and after the lifts shutdown. I happily agreed and anticipated these daily flights as it was the highlight of the day for me provided the weather cooperated.
With the glider securely loaded I climbed on the back of the cat and tapped the cab roof to start the climb. The ride up was uneventful, holding on to the furled glider watching skiers and waving to chairlift riders. It was at this time that I could relax after a full day of ski instructing. Eventually we entered the bottom of the cloud and traveled the remaining 300 vertical feet virtually blind. The driver turned on the lights to help illuminate the service road and eventually we reached the launch area without incident.
After unloading the glider I thanked the driver and waved him off. For a moment I watched the cat as it descended and disappeared in the cloudbank. It was eerily quiet as I looked around. Surreal I thought.
Refocusing on the task at hand I unfurled the 194 square foot sail and quickly swung the cross tube over the keel. I attached the A-frame to the juncture of the two tubes and sat it up. The A frame triangular base is what the pilot holds onto and uses to control his flight. By pushing out you climb, pulling in you descend, swing right or left to bank. Basically it was control by weight shift. After attaching the cables and giving it a walk around safety check I was ready. I gazed at the glider momentarily as it stood upright on its A-frame with its nose high and the tail of the keel in the snow. It reminded me of a praying mantis. Then I slipped into my harness, stepped into my skis, hooked into my quick-release strap and I was set to go.
Winter launching was always easier with skis, as you were able to attain more speed than necessary to ensure your takeoff. Foot launching limited you to how fast you could run. Of course the uphill wind was also an important factor and sometimes just a couple of steps were adequate. Today when I picked up the glider and pointed the skis down the mountain I felt confidant that it would be a smooth takeoff, which it was.
Lifting off I soon gained altitude. Clearing the trees on either side of the ski trail, I veered to my right over the chairlift towers. They soon disappeared below as I gained more altitude allowing the cloud to close in around me. It was quiet and peaceful now as I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. So comfortable and relaxed that I failed to notice the lapse of time. I should have descended through the cloud and into the clear air by now. So what, not to worry I thought, the cloud ceiling dropped a little. I'll just continue to fly straight and level knowing that basically I'm no more than a plumb-bob dangling below the kite. As such it presented no problem with maintaining horizon level flight. But soon I accepted that the ceiling had dropped a great deal and I would need to modify my flight plan. I knew that there was a little wind out of the northwest. If I continued straight and level I should drift enough to my right (easterly) and keep away from the chalets and power lines at the base and to my left. If I traveled too far I might find myself having to make a tree landing across route 16 on bald mountain or artist bluff. I've made those landings before, settling in the branches safely but poking holes through the sail tearing the kite up. But I didn't want to have a search party come to the my rescue and give the sport a bad name. I still expected any moment, however, to break through into the open. A few minutes later I realized that was not going to happen. Okay, I have been in worse situations in similar weather conditions.
Was I a risk taker getting involved in this sport I thought? On a number of occasions I was asked if I was a thrill seeker and had a death wish. I tried to convince them I was not a thrill seeker nor did I have a death wish. I did explain that I often enjoyed watching hawks circling gracefully in the sky and thought how wonderful it would be to experience that freedom. Hang-gliding was as close as I could get to emulate that experience. Was I scared? More nervous than anything else I thought. In dangerous situations when I was in trouble fear existed but I was to busy trying to deal with the condition and a way out of it. Today reminded of a similar situation that occurred when making a military training flight in a helicopter. It was a nasty day and I was taking my time pre flighting as I expected the tower to call and say not to take off as visibility was down to zero and raining. But no call. After finishing my cockpit checklist I started the engine and lifted off hovering in place, still no call. I taxied to my takeoff point and called the tower "666 number one alpha." The tower responded, "666 clear." It surprised me of course but being a trainee I obeyed (never did find out why they cleared me for takeoff).
It was no more than a 6 to7 minute flight to the training field but I was flying blind and couldn't see beyond the plastic bubble. I knew other students may be in the air facing the same dilemma and a midair collision was very possible. I thought of my name being mentioned in the Framingham News (todays Metro West) that a local airman was killed in a training accident. It saddened me to think of the impact it would have on my mother and family. If it occurred in Viet Nam that was one thing but in a training flight it seemed to me to be a wasted life. I descended below the normal 500 foot standard cruising altitude to get a glimpse of the ground and spent those tense moments expecting the worse at any second. Eventually the practice field came into view. I immediately called the field tower and sensed the surprised alarm in the voice as he gave me clearance to land.
And than there was the day in Maine when we couldn't fly our gliders in a meet at Sugarloaf as the weather was unsuitable. A few of us drove around looking for a favorable launching site so we could get a flight in. We spotted a cliff half way up a mountain that faced into the wind and decided to give it a try. We hiked up, set up and began launching. I was the last to take off or I should say step off as it was a cliff launching. That's when I broke a cardinal rule. In cliff launching you want to be ready for the sudden updraft created by the wind hitting the face of the cliff. If not the nose of the kite will lift straight up and cause a stall. Then the kite would drop off and go straight down in a flagging dive in which there is no recovery. Hang gliders have no movable control surfaces to correct this condition. I goofed. In hang gliding you don't always get a second chance. Frantically I pulled the control bar into my stomach to get the nose down. I hung suspended momentarily in a stall expecting the worse. Somehow the nose dropped and I was able to gain flying speed to continue the flight. I beat the odds again.
Another incident occurred taking off downwind which is just plain dumb, a no-no. Facing into the wind is a must. Starting out with an inflated sail is especially helpful if your foot launching which is what I would be doing that day. After lugging the glider up the mountain it's discouraging if weather conditions are marginal. You want to fly and not have to lug the kite back down. That day facing down the mountain the wind was coming right over the top and at my back. The kite was setup with the nose on the ground facing downhill and most of the time the sail was pressed down against the frame instead of the sail being inflated. But now and agan the sail would inflate and I chanced that perhaps the wind direction had changed. Foolishly I went for it. A big mistake. What I took off in was a rotor, the temporary curling of the wind as it came over the mountain top creating a brief uphill draft. It was up and down violently bouncing like a bronco. Once out of the curl it was like entering raging river rapids. In order to prevent losing lift and nosing in I had to fly twice as fast as the 20 mile per hour wind. I was very close to going in many times as my boots kept clipping the treetops. This continued all the way to the landing area where I made a high speed running touch down. Lady luck gave me another break.
And then there was the time the wind was coming straight up the mountain but rather brisk. Once again, when in doubt sit it out. I didn't. When you become proficient at this sport you look for ideal conditions that will allow you to soar. These conditions mean more wind for ridge lift. Judging the wind can not always be that precise especially in the mountains. Unbeknownst to me the wind that day created too much turbulence. Unfortunately, once committed to a takeoff you can't normally turn around and abort, especially when you find yourself in trashy air. I knew immediately that I was in trouble. I had gained perhaps a thousand feet on the ridge wave and it was like riding a bull in a rodeo. In addition to the thrashing, my legs would swing side to side hitting the cross-tube as I repeated many times the expletive frequently used on the golf course. As I struggled to maintain level flight I regretted that I hadn't invested in a parachute like many of my fellow fliers. I wouldn't have hesitated unhooking and dropping away. My greatest difficulty now was making forward progress. The wind was just too strong and in attempting to I would have to drop the nose but that would cause sail deflation resulting in disaster-a flagging dive. But I couldn't just stay stationary fighting the beast and hoping it would go away. I finally came up with an idea that I would try, the falling leaf exercise that we used when in ski clinics. The only way I'd be able to land is straight down. So I worked my way over to my right and lined up over the work road to the ski area so I would have an open space to descend too. Tipping the glider at a 45 degree angle to one side I allowed it to slip down 15 to 20 feet then repeated that to the other side. Like a falling leaf I continued this sequence all the way down to the road.
Now after all these experiences my present condition could not be all that bad. And it wasn't, as I suddenly broke through the cloud ceiling and found myself over strange terrain in the open. But quickly I recognized echo lake and than the old base lodge. I still had a few hundred feet altitude so I decided to make a 180 degree turn to try an uphill landing. Seeing a few skiers coming down I changed my mind and swung around toward the base lodge again. Noticing space in the upper parking lot I decided to give landing there a try. I made my approach and elected landing between two rows of cars which I did skiing to a stop. Before I could unhook from the glider the snow cat driver drove into the parking lot. He said they knew I wouldn't be aware that the ceiling had dropped and that briefly they heard a flutter from the trailing edge of my sail and then nothing. In attempting to get my attention they used a bull horn and turned the lights on. With a helmet on I heard nothing and of course saw nothing. He announced that they were about to send out a rescue party but decided to drive over here first. At the same time a couple came running over from their VW micro bus. "Wow," they said, "we saw you suddenly appear out of nowhere and then circle around." "Where did you come from?" I said, "From just below the saddle at the top of Mittersill." "Incredible, you deserve this" handing me a Coors beer. I thanked them replying I'm more than ready for one.
Moving to America
I miss my village of Castiglione nestled in the Apennine mountains valley of Northern Italy. It looks like paradise in springtime. There are fragrant wildflowers all around. A carpet of yellow primroses covers the forest floor beneath my feet as I walk to school and I cannot avoid stepping on them. Nearby wheat fields are newly green, but come June the ripened wheat will be a glorious golden color ready for harvesting. There are also fruit trees, cherry trees loaded with white flowers, peach trees with pink blossoms and still lingering yellow cornelian cherries, all of them promising an abundant harvest. These fruits will be our candy and snacks when they ripen in June as there are no stores for miles.
After school, I walk home with my friend whose name is Ave and mine is Maria. We look at each other and giggle when we hear the song Ave Maria. After a long day at school, we are hungry as are all the children in the village. Many of us stop to eat any new and tender shoots of plants such as raspberries. We also dig up wild carrots from the ground and I can still taste the flavor of the young roots. In a month or two we start picking the unripened apples and pears against our parents’ advice. We eat them even though they taste bitter and soon we hold our stomachs in pain. When we get home we will eat healthier food, perhaps a slice of bread and a hunk of home made cheese. We may have been hungry, but we are still happy in the mountains isolated from the rest of the world as we do not have a radio, television or electricity. Many of us kids have never been far from here, even to Parma, the nearest city located between Venice and Genoa.
Severino, my father has been to Parma and other cities so he knows that there are better ways to make a living so he seeks a way out. He and all the farmers in our region of Emilia Romagna work hard in the fields from sunrise to sundown. Their work is exhausting, lifting heavy plows and yelling orders at the overworked oxen to pick it up, slow it down, or keep pulling the heavy plows as their blades cut deep into cement hard soil. They plow and sow in the fall and finally rest in the winter. In spring the cycle of hard work begins again. Even the teenage boys work just as hard. They still have plenty of youthful energy so they look for ways to entertain themselves. One of the ways they entertain themselves is to corner the younger boys and proceed to shave their heads. The helpless little boys go home crying while the older boys laugh and laugh. In the dark of night another group of boys decide to pull a prank on one of the farmers. They take his heavy plow, tie a rope to it and lift it up on a tree and leave it there. In the morning the bewildered farmer looks for his plow and when he finds it he will need several men to help him lower it to the ground without breaking it. Teenagers are still teenagers in the farms of Italy, just like in America, they find trouble.
Fortunately, my father has a brother and two sisters living in the USA and they want him to join them. USA immigration laws require one to have a guaranteed job there before arriving on its shores. His sister Maria Rosa found him one in Wellesley Massachusetts. Once there he will save every penny to pay for our family to join him in America - the land where money grows on trees as the people say. It took a few years for him to apply and get accepted. Finally in February 1956 my father left for America. My mother woke us up in the middle of the night so we could kiss and hug our daddy goodbye. Weeks later we received his letter stating that he did arrive safely and living with his sister. He liked his job as a gardener which was ten times easier than farming and he actually got paid every week.
In my father’s absence Rosa, my mother, along with my brothers Giuseppe, Romano, Ennio, Quinto and I must care for the cows, the oxen team, a sheep, a pig, a goat and many chickens. My older brothers Giuseppe and Romano plant and harvest the crops in the fields, mainly wheat, corn, and grass. Us younger ones help with many other chores. Our hands are calloused from carrying pails full of water from the wells, from swinging machetes to cut wood for the stove, and doing other chores. We are all skinny as rails as we walk everywhere, to school, to church, to the fields, taking cows to pasture or even going to visit our relatives in towns far away.
One of my chores is to take the cows to pasture every day after school a mile or so from our house. After a long winter of being cooped up inside the stable eating dry grass, the cows race outside with their hind legs kicking high in the air. I lead them to sweet grass and bushes full of tender leaves for them to eat. They stop to drink from a running brook and jump around in sheer exhilaration. I am not as thrilled and get bored so I ignore the cows and entertain myself by picking some flowers or climbing a tree. A little while later I look for my cows but can’t find them. Frantically, I search everywhere and I spot them in a farmer’s field and they are both trampling down the smooth waves of wheat. I run to get them out of there, but the angry owner is already coming towards me with hands waving in the air. “Why didn’t you watch them?” he says. I crouch down on the ground and cover my head for protection but he does not hit me. Instead, he runs in the wheat field and grabs the cows by the horns and with a big kick drives them out. I am spared, but now I will have to face my mother as the farmer just might ask her to pay for damages caused by my carelessness.
Another one of my chores is to help my mother carry the laundry a half mile to the river. All the village women gather there too. They wash clothes while chatting away and some sing folk songs. I help my mother wring out the heavy sheets but I don’t have the strength that she has and I wonder if I will ever be able to do this when I grow up. When all of the clothes are washed and rinsed we carry them home and spread them on bushes to dry. As I listen to the women talk, some of their conversations stay with me. Some are afraid that German soldiers will return to kill their husbands or sons even though the war has been over for several years. On the way home I hear a plane fly overhead and my ears perk up as I hear one woman tell another “I hope that is not a German plane coming to drop bombs on us.” I look up at the plane in fear and I stumble on a rock and fall down a hill. The women laugh at me thinking that I am clumsy, not realizing that their fear became my fear too.
Fear of war also stayed with my older brother even though he was still a little boy at the time of World War II. Giuseppe and friends were told to get the parachutes landing nearby so their moms could use the fabric to make dresses for the girls. When the boys got close to the parachutes, the soldiers began shooting bullets over their heads. The parachutes contained the soldiers’ food and they were not about to let some kids steal it. The warning shots worked as the boys ran away as fast as they could leaving the parachutes behind. Another time when he was walking in the hills tending to his cows, bombs were landing a little too close to him. My mom heard the explosions and she ran screaming for the soldiers to stop bombing near her little boy. The soldiers quickly radioed to stop bombing. They told my brother to wear something white on his head so that he would not be mistaken for the enemy again.
Since World War II has been over for several years, the town is starting to recover. Castiglione will have a water fountain with a large tub for the animals to drink, too. We will no longer need to walk all the way to the wells to get water for drinking, cooking, bathing and for the animals. An aqueduct will be dug and my two older brothers are required to work digging a five foot deep trench from the top of the mountain down to our village. They will join other men and labor eight hours a day in the hot sun. The aqueduct finally reaches our village the day after we leave for the USA. We never get to drink from that long-awaited fountain. Now I try not to take modern conveniences for granted as I remember all too well the struggles we once had.
On May11,1958 my family and I leave Castiglione for America. Everyone in the village accompanies us to the top of the mountain where a taxi is waiting as there are no auto roads near us, just paths for carts and such. Some of the older people cannot walk the distance so one by one they stop to kiss and hug us and wish us well while sadly saying “We will never see you again”. Us kids are excited about going on a sea voyage but my mom has been saying goodbye to friends and family for weeks. Sadly, she knows that she is leaving behind, brothers, sisters and friends to go to a strange country where she does not even speak their language.
Hours later we arrived in the city of Christopher Columbus, Genoa. SS Augustus, our ship leaves the next day and we are at sea for eleven long days and we don’t see land for most of that time. So, when we see a ship far off in the distance we are so happy to see anything other than water that we shout and wave even though they could not possibly see us. I wonder if they were also waving at us for the same reason. After an eternally long journey I thought our ship might be sinking when I heard many passengers shouting excitedly. I went on the upper deck and I discovered that they were shouting “Statua della Liberta”, “The Statue of Liberty” which could only mean one thing, that we arrived in New York! What a sight to see the huge statue welcoming us. My father is there to bring us to our new home. I was very glad to get off that rocky boat and step on terra ferma again.
The very first morning in our new home in Natick Massachusetts we sit on our front porch in awe of so many cars going by. We count them all one by one. Our landlords must think we are very strange children but they still smile at us and speak to us even though we cannot understand a word they say. Three of us younger ones go off to school and learn to read, write and do our lessons in English now even though we speak with a deep Italian accent. The older brothers, Romano and Giuseppe go to work instead and soon they will each purchase their very own car. Little girls my age come to introduce themselves and teach me how to ride a bike. They walk to school with me and most importantly, they show me the nearest ice cream shop. My taste buds quickly get used to the yummy taste of ice cream.
We have many friends and our parents also have many friends whom they knew in Italy and emigrated before us. They come to offer their friendship in our new country and show us where to shop and give us things that their kids have outgrown. We feel at home here. We miss the beautiful mountains but love all the modern conveniences and the ice cream shops so close to us. Even though “Money does not grow on trees here” we write to our friends back at Castiglione we do have a machine that washes clothes all by itself, we have running water inside the house, a radio, a television, a telephone and a refrigerator full of food. What else could we possibly need? Viva l’America! Long live America!
Fortunately, my whole family was able to go back to Castiglione for visits and much later my siblings and I returned with our own families. We introduced them to all the relatives and neighbors. It was such a joy for all of us to go back and show our children how we lived our lives so long ago. We all felt welcomed when our friends and relatives would greet us with “When did you come back home?” as if we were still part of that lovely village.
He was one of the most kind, gentle, sweet human being who was woven into my life from the moment of my birth. The third child, a son, of my Bubbie and Zadye, Clara and Morris Corman. The young brother of my mother and Aunt Rose – his name was Hyman Corman.
In 1977, when I was 35 years old, my uncle died of a brain tumor in the Newton Convalescent Home where he lived with my Bubbie and Zayde, and where they had died earlier. I lost his physical presence. He was 66, but – oh my, what he filled my heart with those first 35 years! My Uncle Hymie’s early history is gone as so many of our ancestors’ stories.
Before the days of exploring our heritage, delving into the realm of genealogy I, like others, have had to accept all that has vanished. The task then becomes one of teasing out morsels of our ancestry – picking through mounds of mental information, mind data, brain garbage. Of course, some of what lurks and shows its fangs are scraps that bite us. But whatever we’ve experienced they are our stories.
My Uncle Hymie left me with a string of pearls. Like chocolate bonbons cherishing the sweet droplets of remembering I can taste my memory of him within me.
Uncle Hymie was, for all the knowledge I had, retarded. What a horrible label to attach to anyone that, still today, brings tears. I didn’t know how else to name the puzzle of who he was. How far he got in school – unknown, what the “real” story is – unknown. What small pieces I’ve been able to collect from my sister Myra, who got her information from Cousin Bill, an older first cousin of my mothers’ who is still alive, was that Uncle Hymie was a very handsome boy and “slow”. Because of his mental capacity other kids would tease him and he would react by swearing. And who knows what else unknown but Bubbie and Zayde had to take him out of school. Which ended any chances of a formal education, or any education other than his daily interactions and experiences.
Uncle Hymie lived with my grandparents and when they needed to go to a nursing home he went with them. It is though our experiences, Morty’s and mine with Caren, that I have forged a powerful identification with my grandparents. It’s not an unusual occurrence for me to yearn for a cup of coffee with lump sugar or maybe a mound of butter laden mashed potatoes with Bubbie to talk about our children. But mostly to hear her narrative, her account, her story of motherhood. I’m not able to even imagine the struggles she and my Zayde had to endure. The challenges that trickled down to their daughters and beyond. How well I know that tale. Today would be very different.
My uncle was never institutionalized and worked alongside Ma and Pa, as their children called them, in the variety stores they owned over the years in Revere. Here lies another story for another time. An additional fractured piece of information is the fact that a candle burned him as a young boy, allegedly. The fact that he was burned was evident in the large area of scarred skin where his armpit and upper arm form a V. I never thought of asking about it – it was just a part of him – just there.
Uncle Hymie was never ostracized by our family, the extended family, friends of the family, neighbors, customers. If there is such a being as a “gentle giant” he personified one. Because my visits to Revere were so frequent as a young child and because all the family lived within a reasonable distance, I was with Uncle Hymie often. No family celebration or event or Sunday visit to someone’s house went without Bubbie, Zayde and Uncle Hymie. And, of course, the sleepovers at their house where I languished in the brown frieze chairs.
Uncle Hymie and I played cards for hours. War and Go Fish. And when we finished playing those games we played them again – over and over War and Go Fish. Like two kids – no judgement, no bickering, np competition to win. He taught me a song counting my fingers that went Einz, Fie, Dru, Aleph, Aleph, OO, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, OO! He had a favorite expression that I had forgotten until channeling him for this story: “You can’t fool the public!”.
My Uncle Hymie could have contributed much to society. He had been fortunate enough to have had a 2005 medical assessment, psychological testing and 21st century work-up. He could have had a more dimensional life. Bubbie and Zayde wouldn’t have had a lifetime of chronic sorrow around their son that is pretty much guaranteed when having a child with special needs. But, then, I would have been robbed of my Uncle Hymie as I knew him. Given the choice I would have given up my gain because I know how far reaching his disadvantage was.
I know the worry my Bubbie and Zayde had about my uncle, especially my grandmother because she was the more verbal, dynamic of the pair. My grandfather being quieter but certainly made his presence known with his loving demeanor. It’s difficult to describe what that was but an instance of “just knowing” that someone loves you dearly without necessarily doing or saying anything. One shuch instance of Bubbie’s worry with Uncle Hymie came when I crawled into bed with him one morning after sleeping over their house on Summer Street, Revere. I don’t remember how old I was but don’t think I could have been more than 8, 9, maybe 10 years old. When my grandmother saw this she started to yell at my uncle in Yiddish. What I remember is the word “kinder”…meaning child. I was too young to think about what she was talking, thinking, referring to, but that incident has never left my mind. Of course, she was worried about any indecency that might occur. I am always left with a smile on my face when I think of that moment in time. Two worlds colliding: the innocence of a child and the alarm of a mother and grandmother. Although I’ve never questioned the possibility of mis-behavior on Uncle Hymie’s part, I’ll push the envelope to say if anything did happen it left me with some of the most tender feelings of my life and an affection for my lovable Uncle Hymie. He is my lifetime lollipop that I’ve savored and will continue to savor until we can pull out the old deck of cars for a game of War and, of course, Go Fish.
I stand at the edge, knowing that I was somehow, inexplicably drawn to this. These are my thoughts as I reflect back, coming up on the Christmas holidays of my forty first year. I should have been able to read the warning signs, for they were all around me but I just didn't recognize them. Having spent most of my life with my wife, my children, my pets, my cars, my toys, my bills, my problems, my joys, all in the relative warmth and protection of our home How was I to know that in spite of or perhaps because of this that I would end up so obsessed in this activity and yet save for the inconvenience and frustration it must have cost my lovely wife, Nancy, whom I have spent the last twenty odd years with, I have found something I thought was only attainable from outside of me to indeed be harvested from inside my very soul. My son Keith the middle child in age of my three as well as my youngest Erik had long been active in Boy Scouting and so it is no surprise their keen interest for the outdoors would spill over into my world of reality. I was pressed by Keith and a co- worker of mine at the time by the name of Rich to take a mountain hike some day. I liked Rich very much and always enjoyed working with him but I did think his stories of cold and altitude were as lofty as the places he proposed to spend much of his winter weekends Keith knew a little of these trips that Rich made, however he suggested we try one sometime. Rich often spoke of how it was a different world, a place where he could get away from the day to day. So with a single sweeping motion one day I succumbed to their incessant "Oh come on now, why don't you try it ", and I began the approach of what would turn out to be the multi pitch climb of my life.
It had been one of those weeks, you know, nothing went right, life was a bore, I didn't feel like I had much to contribute to the general welfare of mankind. Having agreed to this madness I thought about the trip all week long. At last Friday came and I eagerly though nervously looked forward to our trip. Rushing home looking at the blank stares on my companions face in this ridiculous routine we've labeled ... commuting, I couldn't help having a What the Hell kind of feeling and so I probably pressed harder on the accelerator than should have. Finally I was home, armed with a brief list of needs, we scurried together everything we could for our trip. After much confusion we finally left the warmth of our house and Nancy's puzzled looks and headed into the darkness of the night. We drove to meet my friend Rich at his house. We thought the adventure would be in our destination rather it was many other aspects of this trip which were yet p unfold. Arriving at Rich's house rather late my immediate thoughts at the time were about how cold I was and we were only in his driveway. How could I possibly. . . well, in we went to his cozy house where his wife Maureen was very happy to help us and warm us with coffee that was brewing, their tiny living room was littered with camping paraphernalia. I looked at this with disbelief and amazement simultaneously, how was all this going to fit in these backpacks and even if it did where were the mules to carry it? For quite some time that evening we packed and repacked and redistributed until finally all he essentials of life were in these four packs. After many goodbyes and countless rechecks we finally loaded the car up and proceeded to our destination. The northern part of Vermont, near Burlington. I had only been to Vt. A few times before and each time it was to ski at Mount Okemo, which was quite far south of where we were heading. We would only be a stone's throw form the Canadian border or so it would seem to me that night. This whole trip had a strange yet alluring mystery to it, as we left Rich's house we drove up roads that were unfamiliar to me. I had been out in the western part of the state before but not enough for it to be comfortable to me, so with every new turn I could not help but wonder where we were in relation to our destination. In the car the conversation was lively with eager anticipation about our our voyage.
Finally we crossed into the Vermont border and the long haul North began. Steadily it got colder and later into the evening, more and more snow was accumulated on the sides of the road and again I thought I'm out of my mind. After a stop at a Gas station for fuel for both the car and our hungry bellies we proceeded onward. Into the night, colder and darker we proceeded, farther North we proceeded, our longitude was increasing at a rate proportional to my doubts, but still we proceeded. Eventually we slipped into the loneliness and eeriness of our isolation on that highway, when suddenly as we were driving, with no other cars in sight on the road, we passed a car that had gone of the road to our left side. The car had slipped down the embankment on the side of the road. After a few moments we reached a consensus and decided to help, with that we stopped and reversed the car without delay. Shortly we were on the other side of this desolate highway, ankle deep in snow trying to help excavate a car and it's inebriated driver from a surely frigid consequence. We succeeded with the task at hand and were on our way again. It wasn't until some days later as I thought about it, that the risk we had put ourselves in, could indeed have been considerable, but Dam we felt like real heroes that night. After a while we started to see indications of life again such as lights from distant homes or towns flickering like stars in the night. We had come upon the town of Waterbury, there were gas stations, convenience stores, phones, all the trappings of the things we love so dear. The car stopped at one of these luxury spots. Inside with hot coffee to warm us we were able to find relief of a personal nature, some of us began to ask specific directions or look for a local map, eventually we left with a not to certain awareness of how to approach our goal. We wound our way through little streets and over curious bridges while Rich tried to find the little sign that would point to our trail head. Thus began one of the most comical aspects of this whole adventure if not only because of its stupidity. It must have been about 2:30 or so in the morning, we had worked all day and had spent most a good part of that evening prepping for all of this, now we were right on the doorstep, however we couldn't find it! We began to retrace our route and drove back to our starting point, which seemed by all accounts to Rich just as he remembered it. Again we drove down narrow roads looking for the evasive marker, still with no luck.
After circumventing the base of this mountain, what felt like three times, the hour had reached way down to the bowels of the morning. Somewhere around the 4:30 time frame in a slightly delirious state, Rich at last found what he had spent the better part of the morning looking for, the little sign that would path the way for us. So with new found energy we launched forward, deeper into the darkness of the surrounding woods, driving uphill till we finally stopped in a little cul de sac type parking area. Rich proclaimed that this was where the car would stop. I might say, it was not an all together impressive sight. Our car 's headlights illuminated the area somewhat, but all that was to be seen were trees that merged together to become an impenetrable blanket of darkness and mystery. We sat in the comfort and warmth of the car for some time debating our options and put a strategy to our plan. Should we just sleep in the car until dawn...or maybe just outside the car, only a few steps in to the woods...perhaps we should muster all our energy and do the whole dam trip up and down before daylight, after all most of us had been for almost 24 hours at this point! Semi delirious from lack of sleep we thought it would be best to split the difference between total insanity, and a mild state of hysteria and fear. We decided we would hike up as far as was comfortable and crash for the morning in our luxury Eureka accommodations. After quite a bit of time we were all packed up and I must say suitably dressed for the occasion. Rich led the advance, one little step for Rich, one giant hurdle for me. We walked in about twenty feet and reached the sign in board, a few broad pencil strokes later we were committed or perhaps we should have been!
And so it began...
12 Point Crampons
Rich was not off to a very good start... no wonder after all that exhausting route finding! We had barely gone fifty feet into the trail and Rich experienced some trouble with his crampons. Crampons are a very necessary tool in any winter mountain activities. They will enable you to go up or down trails without falling .Such an event could be very dangerous in remote travel, especially in the dead of winter, It seemed the strap wasn't adjusted correctly and had fallen off. Who was I to question why . . . only to hike or die, after all you get cold when you aren't in motion and if I didn't keep moving I would have either fallen asleep standing in the spot I was in or would start to get very cold. Rich finally resolved his problem by retying his laces and straps more securely and we were able to continue on. At first the trail didn't seem to bad but my body reminded me what my age was and kicked into overdrive to remind me incessantly that I was no longer a kid. We continued for a little while soon the sun started to come up, it filtered its warming rays like shiny fragments of a mirror through the myriad of trees that were keeping company with us that night. With less than a mile into the trail we decided to find a site and pitch a tent.
The funny thing about hiking in the snow is that the very material you are hiking through will later become your source of water for cleaning and cooking, and will provide you with a soft and a cushion that was easy to mold. We selected a flat area just slightly off of the trail and set our tent up there. Inside the tent, a 6' x 9' sloped wall hotel room awaited us, it was as welcoming as the finest room at the Ritz. After we organized ourselves somewhat we all slipped into our sleeping bags and were out for the count. Somewhere around early afternoon either Rich or myself began to rustle and woke up. My hair had grown quite long I must have been a horrid site to behold having not brushed my hair in over 15 hours and having it under a hat of one sort or another. Eventually we all rose and after cooking something nutrition for breakfast (lunch) we concluded that if we were to make our goal during daylight hours we would need to pack up and get moving shortly.
This would start my sons and I on many adventures up several mountains including some of the tallest in the United States, Mt. Rainer, Mt. Hood, Mt. Whitney, The Grand Teton, many more and even the tallest in North America, Denali. This passion was also passed onto my grandson who in his own right hiked all 48 of the four thousand “footers” in New Hampshire.
. . . and we loved every minute of it.
Stitching Us Together
The bright red, shiny, heart-shaped buttons are one of my earliest memories. They were the final embellishments to a white cardigan knitted by my Grammie. It had red bows knitted into the hem and cuffs and I was about four when I wore it. I found the pattern many years later in her belongings and the pattern’s name was “Buttons and Bows.” That sweater was my special pride and delight and when outgrown, was worn by at least five other little girls in the hand-me-down network of which I was the oldest girl. Both my Gram and my Mum sewed. Grammie also knitted, tatted, and crocheted. As the oldest girl in my extended family, I had the rail position in the clothing horserace in my modest family, but it had its downside. When I was in Junior High, my cousin, Donna, two years younger, would visit with her two-year younger sister Margie, and stand in front of my open closet door, and ask “What’re you gonna outgrow next, Bethie?”
Throughout my life, memorable moments and gestures of love seem to have come from my Grandmother’s knitting needles and my Mum’s sewing machine. Short on words, and long on sewing, Mum used her sewing to stay connected with me throughout my life.
When we were babies, Grammie knitted all four of her grandchildren extra large red and white Christmas stockings with an intricate pattern on the cuff, a lot like my special cardigan. In her late eighties, she made multiple large red and white Christmas stockings and stockpiled them. We asked her whom they were made for. “For my great-grandchildren, of course,” she said laughing to herself. “I will probably be too old to knit by the time you all get busy and produce some.” Eight great-grandchildren got their own stockings. My Mum sewed the great-grands names on with red felt letters. Gram’s days of intricate knitting were over.
My Mum taught herself to sew on a treadle White Rotary sewing machine when she was fifteen. At eighty, she was still sewing on a treadle machine. Better control, she said. As a teenager during the depression, she sewed all of her own clothes and many for her Mother and her sister. She kept this up for most of her and their lives. At 20, when Mum and Dad were dating, she made herself a dark navy cellophane dress for a party. Evidently, you couldn’t see anything through the dark cellophane, but her mother ordered her back up the stairs to put a slip under the dress. I’ve seen those 1930s slips, rayon numbers, stout fabric and full coverage – definitely not the lingerie-like numbers worn by young women to nightclubs today. No, these slips wore like iron and covered everything. At any rate, my Grammie felt, wisely, that given my Mum’s style of dancing and partying, the dress would not stay intact very long. Sure enough, Mum came home in her slip. My grandmother’s Victorian sensibilities were outraged.
During World War II and its aftermath, a great treat for us was a visit to Mr. Lawson’s farm nearby in Cumberland, R.I. For kids growing up in a jewelry factory town in North Attleboro, Mass., Mr. Lawson’s farm was Old McDonald’s Farm in living color and sound. He had cows, sheep, dogs and chickens. However, we did not go for fun. We went to mark grain bags. Yes, we put wire and my mother’s name and phone number on nametags then placed on matching grain bags, usually gingham, sometimes in red checks and sometimes with flowers. Fabric was in short supply just after the war ended, and smart women like Mum would talk local farmers into saving their cloth grain bags, a lightweight, perfectly useable cotton fabric that could be sewn for children’s clothing. If you didn’t mark the bags before they were empty, you had no assurance that you would get matching bags and an adequate amount of fabric. When the bags were empty, Mr. Lawson called Mum and she went to collect and pay for them.
Despite the shortages during and after the war, Mum managed to get a professional photo of my brother, Joe and me, every year about the time of our birthday. I have pictures of us in matching gingham shirts made of Mr. Lawson’s grain bags. Mum was a survivor in every regard, and she wanted new clothes for her children. She did what she had to do to get them.
Grammie lived with us for my entire at-home life. Every afternoon after school, when I came slamming through the back door, she was sitting in her Boston rocker knitting in the sunny south window, in the green and white wallpapered room we shared. The room held twin beds with quilt tops made of appliquéd yellow and green tulips, two dressers, her rocker and my desk and desk chair. I have a vivid memory of her, lips slightly puckered as she concentrated on some intricate detail, long salt and pepper hair braided and pinned into a coronet on her head, housedress covered with the ubiquitous apron. I recall that she tried to teach me to knit, but I was never interested and exhibited little patience. But I loved to help her wind her yarn from the skein into the balls with which she worked. I would sit at her feet and hold the skein between my hands while she pulled the yarn off to form the ball. We would talk about her life, her childhood and our relatives. There was a comfort in both her presence and her need for my help.
Much later in my life, when I was emptying my Mother’s hope chest after her death, I remarked on the large amount of linen she had kept, probably created as part of her trousseau. She had pillowcases and sheets, dresser scarves, handkerchiefs, tea towels, and towel sets, highly embroidered with her married initials. I was mystified that they had not been used and worn out. In the same chest, I found my mother’s wedding dress, her hat, and the tie Dad had worn that day in August, 1938, when they were married in the minister’s garden in Newburyport, a wedding party of six. I had seen pictures of her wedding, and instantly identified the dress that she had made of white, slubbed raw silk and the silly, three-pointed hat and white gloves to go with the dress. Cleaning out after her death, I discovered a trunk of fabric pieces. In it, completely intact, was a rust-colored rayon suit, incredibly detailed, with multiple covered buttons and fabric button loops. Was it a hint of Mum’s self-esteem issues that the dress was in the rag bag? I had both dresses cleaned and have them saved in acid-free paper as an historical clothing example of her early handiwork with a thread and needle.
Brownie camp registration always put Mum in high gear. First we went to Woolworth’s downtown, or to one of the many fabric mill stores in our area, and bought fabric for short-sleeved blouses and shorts, the summer camp uniform. Almost every year I would need a new pattern size, thread and zippers. At home, we would put the leaves up on the dining room table, install the table pad, and then Mum would preside over the ceremonial opening of the pattern. I was taught to read a pattern at a very young age and asked to participate in the stitching of my own blouses and shorts at about eight-years-old. I learned about sleeve facings, buttonholes, collars, the importance of matching stripes and pattern. After this tutoring, I never had a tolerance for clothing with mis-matched patterns no matter the cost.
In Junior High, Miss Angus presided over the Home Economics sewing class. She was ridiculed repeatedly by my classmates for her militaristic approach to keep us from ruining her machines, but she taught me some valuable lessons. ‘When you are endowed with an hourglass figure,” she said, eyeing my post puberty curves and hips, you must never, never, never wear a dress or skirt that buttons down the front.” Others laughed, but she was right. Any purchase I have ever made with buttons all the way down the front was a completely ill-fitting disaster. I was a tuck in kind of a girl, with a long waist, requiring all my patterns to be adapted.
I was also in the enviable position of having a Mother who could sew and sew well. As a teenager, it just wasn’t cool to have your Mum make everything you wore. I never had the “in” skirts or fabrics and at one level, resented being different. My clothing was beautiful, unique, and extremely well-made. But with a teenager’s desire to fit in (although that was a laugh, I was the tallest girl in my class and head and shoulders above most of the boys) I lusted after the popular styles of store-bought clothing. I lusted in vain. Mum would not succumb. If she could make it, I had it. If she couldn’t, I did without. Trust me when I tell you, she could sew anything and did.
We had out hair done in Providence in those days, a reasonable bus ride from North Attleboro. When I was about sixteen, we were passing the retail women’s clothing store Casual Corner on the way to the hairdresser and there, in the display window, was a really darling dirndl dress in red gingham and lace. I stopped Mum and asked if I could try it on. She said, “Why bother, I could make it for a quarter of the posted price tag.” I said, “But Mum, I’ve never tried on a dress in a store before.” She looked at me shocked and with an odd gleam in her eyes, said “Poor Baby, you’ve been so deprived.” She took me into the store. I loved that dress. We left it behind. After haircuts and the return bus ride to North Attleboro, we went to Woolworth’s, bought the exact pattern, the gingham, the lace, the thread and the zipper. I remember that everything cost less than $5.00 and the dress had been $24.00. We went home and I had my dirndl dress in two days.
There is a lot more to this story. My Mum sewed for me through my years art North Attleboro High School, my time at the University of Maine, and my wedding, until after my second pregnancy in 1973. It was an amazing, tangible gift of love that I could feel from a woman who could never actually speak out loud the words “I love you.”