Friday, August 8, 2008

Hey Girls! Let's Go Watch Some Paint Dry!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Ah! I had my two nieces all to myself (what fun!) today and I decided to take them on a short road trip to one of my favorites places to Museum hop – Gainesville, Florida. My family lived in Gainesville for three years in the late 50’s and I still vividly remember the day we moved back to Jacksonville. I was crying, our cat was hiding under the driver’s seat and we were concerned he would fall through the rusted out floor board of my Mother’s car, a brown ’51 Ford. It was always a challenge for me mentally when we reached the Shands Bridge in this car because you could see the planks of the two lane wooden bridge if you lifted the rubber floor mats up. This was also the car that my Mother drove me back and forth to Jacksonville monthly to visit a psychiatrist in Riverside to try and figure out what my "problem" was. I have since self diagnosed myself as having suffered from Mercury poisoning from breaking and then playing with my father's refrigeration equipment thermometers (he worked for a dairy) and poisoning from the the carbon monoxide that more than likely came up through the floorboards leaving me in a stupor after long trips to Jacksonville (or maybe that was from dehydration). My Mother always blamed my problems on my having had polio. Back then when it was okay to play happily with brain damaging and carcinogenic fun things like lawn pesticide sprayers, spearmint scented bug spray and the most efficient poison delivery system - the mosquito spray car at the drive-in. "Be sure to roll the windows down, so he can get the mosquitos that are in the car." All this, followed by my own efficient hand to mouth substance delivery system to make sure the job was done right.
My dad always had a spiffy new Dodge since he traveled for a living and Mom had a car of questionable condition to get her to the grocery store and get us kids to the movies and to the doctor. She didn’t seem to mind. It had a radio and she could roll her wondow down to hand signal...what more did she need? I do remember her having to cut the engine off as we drove very slowly into the yard and took advantage of a spindly dogwood tree to bring the car to a stop. I think the car had some brake problems. But the car was transportation and that’s what counted.
In Gainesville, we lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and went to great schools. We had great neighbors, great kids to play with, and the pristine Hogtown Creek to play in surrounded by plenty of woods to explore in. The creek was chock full of fallen trees which served as bridges across the creek. Unfortunately, finding arrowheads and pieces of Indian pottery was taken for granted. The lush ground around the creek was a thick bed of fallen magnolia and oak leaves. There were plenty of sticks and stones to take home and fossils and animal bones to take to school and scouts for show and tell. We were always on the lookout for snakes and tigers. I was not able to show my nieces the Hogtown Creek of the 50’s, but I managed to point out the drainage ditch that it resembles today and the house we used to live in. My father always planted a Magnolia tree in every front yard we ever had. The shade the huge tree provides keeps any grass from growing under the tree and I imagine that was part of his motivation. We never stayed in these houses with Magnolia trees long enough for him to reap the benefits of the huge shady trees. In fact, on one of my previous treks to visit my old house in Gainesville, the current owner was standing in the drive-way and inquired if he could “help” me. I explained I used to live in the house and my father and I planted the Magnolia. He said he hated that tree. The roots were a nuisance and no grass would grow under it. Oh well, to each his own.
Okay, so that’s why I wanted to go to Gainesville again. It reminds me of happy times, seizures included. We had a nice trip on the way down to Gainesville. Kind of a captive audience if you will. VA seemed surprised at my diligent speed limit observance through Waldo and Kat kept herself busy talking to some puppies on a four inch screen. VA warned me that Kat would be blurting out commands like “SIT” and “STAY” throughout the day. Even with the warning, I kept asking VA who Kat was talking to. Earlier in the morning, I was trying to give the girls a few options for the day’s entertainment. They turned down my offer to take them down to the Jacksonville Shipyards to watch the paint dry on the ships in dry-dock. After Lon told them we would have to watch them sand the ships first, they seemed even less enthusiastic. I also gave them the option of watching the guys down the street paint the yellow stripes on the highway or even better, watch the guys out at Sawgrass mow those patterns in the grass on the fairways. It’s the wait for them to return that’s a little boring. I also offered them a trip up to Lowe's before they opened (I have connections) to watch them mop the floors with these really neat mops. Eventually, they caught on, so the trip to Gainesville sounded pretty good. No Adventure Landing with Auntie Claire. There has to be sewing, fabric, art or air conditioning for me to venture out for the day.
For Kat and VA, we visited the Florida Museum of Natural History on the campus of The University of Florida and our destination was the Butterfly Rainforest! I knew they would love this! Called a vivarium, this small butterfly friendly habitat was a delight. Butterflies everywhere…some elusive…some camera shy….some begging you to take their picture. Kat and VA seemed to be enjoying themselves. I certainly was. No rushing around, just walking slowly through the moist air looking for butterflies. The vivarium was open to the outside, yet enclosed to keep the butterflies from wandering off to the Swamp. Since there was a slight drizzle, we visited there first to avoid an afternoon downpour, but that never happened. After we spotted all the different butterflies we could, we headed for (where else??) THE GIFT SHOP. They are MY nieces after all. After visiting the powerful and compelling African Exhibit in another section of the museum, we exited and headed next door for our visit to the Harn Musuem of Art. At first, we were excited to discover that the current exhibit by Maggie Taylor was called "Almost Alice: New Illustrations of Wonderland". Kat had worn her Alice in Wonderland shirt and
took delight in the coincidence, but the exhibit was much like The Tales of Alice…dark, grim, moody, unhappy digital ink jet prints. I have to
say they were beautiful and imaginative, but Kat and VA are probably most familiar with Disney’s Alice and commented that the only thing wrong with the pictures was that no one was smiling. This was true.
Visit the Maggie Taylor Gallery to see for yourself this new and
innovative medium:
We were fortunate enough to find a Monet entitled "Champ d’avoine: (Oat Field - 1890) and I was right there in it’s face to study the individual brush strokes that melt together to make a Monet. Alarms were going off, lights were flashing and I was oblivious to the fact that it was VA and I who were the reason for these alarms until the museum guard asked us “step away from the Monet". "What is this? The Thomas Crown Affair," I mumbled to myself, thinking that there should have been a velvet rope or sneeze guard installed if one was not allowed to get up close and personal with the gazillion dollar masterpiece. We knew better than to touch or photograph it, so I was a bit embarrassed. I of all people have the utmost respect for great masterpieces. But the guard chastised me a second time for touching the side of a free standing Formica display case while pointing something out to the girls that I did not want them to miss. I was mortified to say the least, but managed to exit the museum without knocking over the Rodin sculpture. I found refuge in the gift shop where I belonged. After a joint decision on Italian for dinner, we found a “Leonardo’s” and had a leisurely meal to wait out the 5 o’clock rush hour in Gainesville. To distract is while waiting for our meal, a word search complete with an erasable marker was mounted on the wall in our booth.
Kat and VA found a lot more words than I did, but by the time our food arrived we forgot to count to see if we had found all of the forty-six words that were supposedly in the puzzle. A bead shop next door was an added surprise for me and some cookies from the Fresh Market across the street for dessert ended our outing. We headed back to Jacksonville and arrived at their house just after dark. I had a great day and hope the girls did too. They are growing up and a pleasure to be with. I’m so lucky to have them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Great Horse Tale

Once again, I have another spine tingling blog for you...No trip to Paris...No broken body parts...Just a fun little tale of my past life as a horseback riding Girl Scout. Dorothy Fletcher, author, retired teacher and dear friend of mine wanted to include my "horse tale" in her Times-Union column which can be read on the Times-Union website at: Visit Dottie’s web site which includes many of her short stories and info on her books. You won’t be disappointed. Her writing is easygoing, thoughtful and always hits close to home. Dottie has been a friend since we were kids and we both knew each other’s parents. Since our parents are gone, I feel a special closeness to my friends who knew my Mom & Dad. When I speak about my mother to Dottie, I know she recalls my mother's face. It’s the same when Dottie talks to me about her parents. They will always remain in my heart. Getting back to our horse tale, Dottie eliminated what I believe to be the most interesting part of my story due to “space”, I’m sure. It's one of those freakish, rambling on forever "Claire stories" that seem to happen only to me. That damn horse only traumatized me for the afternoon, but what bothered me more were the girls in that Girl Scout troop who I was trying my hardest to fit in with. Well, it just wasn't happening. I remained in the troop for the remainder of that 6th grade school year and then gave up on Girl Scouting entirely. At that age and attending a different school than these girls it was impossible for me to break into the clique. Oh well. That was around 1961. Trust me… I AM OVER any trauma suffered during my experience stuck out in the woods on the horse. I can’t say the same for my feelings for the girls in the troop. Being left on the outside looking in, I really can say that I’ve never forgiven those girls even though I have no recollection now of actually who was in the troop. Until, one afternoon, while ringing up a sale at my beloved former job at Joyce's Quilt Shop, I noticed my customer's last name was that of a well-known local UNF Professor and Pianist…… someone whom I had heard perform and admired years ago. I introduced myself to his wife and inquired about him and one thing led to another. You know me….she asked where I was from….I said here…I said I went to Wolfson….she said her daughter graduated from the second year it was open….I did too….she said she knew many of the girls in that class…..and why? BECAUSE, she was the leader of that Girl Scout troop. Okay, so it’s been forty three years ago, but I told her my “horse tale” anyway. She looked puzzled and did not remember me. Well, duh! I didn’t own a horse. Back then, many Girl Scout troops had a focus. One thing all the girls in that troop had in common…wasn’t sailing….or expanding interests through merit badges….it was HORSES…My former scout leader now is explaining (and unfortunately feeling the need to apologize, although not remembering) that all the girls in her troop OWNED horses and rode together frequently. It was a “great group of girls”, she said. And they all loved those horses. Regretfully, I was not privy to this important bit of Girl Scout information and here it is, making sense now why I didn’t fit in with these girls and why they made no effort to welcome me into the “fold”. Too bad I carried that grudge for so long when all really needed was a horse. It now makes perfectly good sense. Regretfully, my former scout leader probably went home and telephoned her daughter to discuss said incident and she probably thinks now that I was a little insensitive to have even brought the subject up with her 85 year old mother (which might be true). But sometimes you need to get some things off your chest and this opportunity didn’t present itself for some number of years. Throughout the rest of my school years, I never had much to do with those girls or any horses for that matter. Or, maybe it was the other way around. I found my niche at school in music and of course sewing. These things have enriched my life beyond words, but I always missed not being a First Class Girl Scout. (That’s the equivalent of being an Eagle Scout). I missed Girl Scouting so much so, that in the late 70’s, I found a troop sponsored by the Telephone Pioneers and became an assistant leader to a great group of girls who allowed me to finish my scouting dreams in other ways. I’m happy now to have a nice collection of Girl Scout memorabilia and of course, I’m always prepared. If you need it, it’s probably in my purse. That’s the end of the story and I’m putting it to rest. One stunned stranger, one puzzled former Girl Scout……one life experience explained. I’m ready to head for the barn.