Friday, December 4, 2009

"You've Got To Be Kidding"

December is finally here. My long awaited favorite month of the year is in full swing. News of note?.....not much you would want me to go into great detail about, except that I have decided to go under the knife again for a complete overhaul. I'm not talking about any trimming away of the fat I have acquired by eating prime rib and ice cream or smoothing away the wrinkles on my freckled face. I wouldn't think of masquerading around Mandarin after a face friends of 40 years and all of those old boyfriends who appear occasionally in Publix would never recognize me (I can't have that!) What I am talking about is major spinal surgery complete with rods and screw, cadaver bones, artificial disks, a hard neck brace and the magical place known as rehab. My cervical and lumbar spine otherwise known as a "highway to hell", has reared it's ugly bones. It's going to be a tough one, but my newly found bffn at the Mayo Clinic says were going to be getting to know each other very well in 2010. He thinks he can save my mobility in what may be either the stupidest thing I have ever agreed to do..or the only option I have left to continue to remain upright. If I can cop a lap-top out of Santa this year, I'll be able to write about the crazy things that will surely come my way during that twilight state before and after intubation. My mind usually takes me to places even Holly Hunter hasn't been. No one can really say for sure why my spine has let me down... maybe it was all that sex and rock 'n roll in the seventies or maybe it was the numerous times I fell off my bike or took a nose dive off the top bar of my swing set..The fact is, my spine has let me down. a tough break for sure.....but I truly believe that "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping".
So...... that's why I am taking off for Paris again before I'm down for the count on February 1st. This time my stay will be longer than three days and the plan is to see the things I didn't get to see the last time and more. I'll be traveling with a dear friend I have known since junior high along with my red walker with wheels and hand brakes. We've found the lowest airfares available to mankind for January traveling and what looks like a great hotel. It's a good thing WE PURCHASED TRAVEL INSURANCE BECAUSE EVERY FREEKING MUSUEM WORKER IN PARIS IS "ON STRIKE" NOW SHUTTING DOWN EVERY MAJOR MUSEUM. Naturally, THIS INCLUDES "MY" BELOVED LOUVRE AND IT'S GIFT SHOP WHICH I WAS REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO SPENDING MORE THAN THREE HOURS VISITING THIS TIME AROUND.
= EN GREVE!!! = French museum strike widens over staff cuts Visitors to Paris' Pompidou Centre (Beaubourg) find the doors locked due to a strike. Several of the French capital's museums went on strike to protest over the government plans to reduce staff numbers and state subsidies. The signs read "On strike". Well, I've never known a telephone man to strike for more than a month, but the French might be more determined than the American communication workers of my generation. Before marrying into new money, a work stoppage was the last thing I looked forward to. In my later years at work, I actually hoped for a strike to get some unpaid strike vacation and a chance to sew to my heart's content. Who could predict man's quest to avoid doing more work for less Euros would affect Claire in Jacksonville. Not me, that's for sure.........So my plan is to have a back-up plan....I don't think the Vatican's Swiss Guard has ever gone on strike.....maybe I'll have the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to ponder while under anesthesia for the day....on second thought, maybe I don't want to see the hand of God reaching out to me during a dreamy drug induced post-op fog.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The White Shaggy Rug

Back in the early fifties (or in my case, the late forties), Jacksonville moms had a good thing going with Mr. Morley. Morley Photography came to you…you didn’t have to go to him. I actually remember him coming to the house. He brought with him a few props, a white shaggy rug and a lot of camera equipment. I don’t remember all of that, just that he came and set up shop in our living room. He would rearrange the furniture to make room for his equipment, while we sat and waited for the call to SAY CHEESE PLEASE!! He didn’t lolly-gag around either. He was in and out of there in no time and heading for his next appointment.
The pictures were a gorgeous sepia color and hand painted or tinted by someone employed by Mr. Morley. The portraits were probably developed at Mr. Morley’s home or studio in the Riverside area of Jacksonville and painted by color artists who worked from their homes. One of these women who colored portraits for Mr. Morley was Justin’s cousin Billy’s wife’s grandmother. Billy calls me Aunt Claire, so I guess that makes Cindy my step-niece. She remembers her grandmother working for Mr. Morley and doing a lot of portrait tinting for him.
After Lon and I were married, his mother Georgia gave me one of his baby pictures. Funny thing is that Lon’s photo looked just like mine. We were wearing the same color yellow clothing and sitting on the same white shaggy rug. Both of our portraits were taken at home by Mr. Morley and Cindy and I believe that her grandmother may have colored them.
I wasn’t thinking much about my future husband at age six-months, but I fantasize that Mr. Morley left our house and drove his white shaggy rug over to Arlington to take my husband’s picture the same day. I wonder if Mr. Morley told Lon that he knew this really cute girl on the other side of town and to check her out in about thirty years. That’s probably what happened.

Friday, March 27, 2009

An Unfinished Quilt

I have a passion for making quilts. I couldn't even begin to tell you how many I have made.
I also can't tell you how many old unfinished sets of quilt blocks or quilt tops I've seen for sale in my time. The pattern one is most likely to find in an antique store or at a quilt show is the beautiful “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” (GFG). The reason so many of these blocks go unfinished is that the quilter really enjoys hand-piecing the actual block, but when it comes to sewing the blocks together to make the blocks into a quilt top.....well, the tough part begins. This particular pattern it is difficult to sew together, the project becomes less portable and frankly it goes from a relaxing pastime of hand-piecing to a real pain in the ass.
I know this because I have completed a GFG and it took me four years. I carried all of the tiny pieces around with me and worked on them while waiting on the doctor, flying out of town, driving to North Carlina and to where I accomplished more than you will ever know--My Lunch HOUR. I'd hand a few pieces to friends ostensibly to teach them how to do the piecing, but really I was just trying to get them to do a block for me.. Finally, after leaving work on a Friday, not knowing if we'd be involved in a labor strike the following Monday, I handed my anxious friend Gail a bag of fabric ready to sew some GFG blocks to ease her nerves. She showed up Monday morning with almost twenty-five completed blocks. I had not planned on her being that nervous and was now faced with having all I need to begin sewing my blocks together.
Most vintage blocks you find for sale are usually made from Gramp’s old ugly plaid shirts or wool that has served as a meal for moths. Rarely do you fine old blocks that can be sewn together without having to true them up or cut them down to be able to even fit together. So, when I found this very nice set of ten unfinished blocks at Joyce’s shop several years ago, I wanted them. They had plenty of potential, were clean, came with extra yardage and were expertly hand appliqued. So why did the previous owner fail to finish her quilt? While squaring up and arranging the old blocks into a layout that pleased my eye, I thought about the beginnings of my quilt and the circumstances of the woman who started it. Since the blocks also came with the receipts for the 36 inch wide fabric that she purchased, I decided that this woman from Vincennes, Indiana walked into the Gimbel-Bond Company on July 17, 1941 and purchased 7 ½ yards of the main fabric - a creamy soft yellow percale for $ .25 a yard along with 2 ½ yards of green for the leaves at $.22 a yard. She may have already found a pattern that she liked and just wanted to ”get started” because her next purchase of fabric for this project was on August 16, 1941 at which time she bought 3 more yards of the yellow she had finally decided on for the flowers. Meantime, without having everything she needed to complete the quilt, but having enough to start the blocks; she cut out her paper patterns and began to applique.
My guess is that she may have been short on money and stretched it out over time or even worse, her husband, father or brother had headed off to war the following December after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th. She took quite awhile to make her final fabric purchase for the quilt, buying 3 yards of fabric on October 12th, 1942, over a year later. This was probably going to be used for the quilt backing and prices now were up to $ .32 a yard. The three receipts added up to $4.14. Did she have to work outside the home to do her duty for the war effort? Was she so preoccupied with the events of the day that she couldn’t concentrate on her pastime? Whatever the reason for not finishing her quilt, I am thrilled to have been lucky enough to have found her quilt blocks and finish them for her. If it were possible, I would return the completed quilt just to see the expression on her face and her relief that her money and time wasn’t wasted after all. There’s nothing worse than a UFO (un-finished object) staring at you every time you open a drawer or in my case, the trunk of my car. I have a significant collection of incredible fabric. I have so much in fact, that I could start sewing today and everyday thereafter and still not use it all up. But one thing that I don't have are unfinished projects staring at me like that doggie in the window. When I'm looking through my stash for just the right color of blue or a print that "speaks" to me, the only thing staring at me is Michael Miller, Alexander Henry, Kona Bay or Three Sisters for Moda begging to be cut. I can't handle the reminder of a well intended purchase and lack of “stick to it’ness” that would cause me to start something and let it go unfinished. I am one of those rare women who hardly ever allows this to happen. I learned this from my Mother.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Growing Up In Lakewood

Once again, my friend Dorothy Fletcher has written another wonderful article for her column “By the Wayside” in the Florida Times-Union. Now that Dottie’s column is more frequent and located in a separate magazine section of the paper, I manage not to miss any of her tales of living and growing up in the Lakewood-San Jose area. Being from the same neighborhood and growing up together in the same church (we even shared a crush on the same boy), I love her writing about times past. I remember in great detail most things that happened fifty years ago, but don't ask me what happened yesterday. Hopefully I will remember what happened yesterday when I am 98. Dottie is a retired English teacher and spent most of her teaching years at Wolfson.
Dottie always inspires me to write as I feel the urge to expand on or continue her stories with my own tales via this blog.
Her other recent column on the long gone Southside Drive-In Theater hit home.
My parents loved to take us to the drive-in which was right down the street from our house at 2767 Rainbow Circle. My dad was on the road most of the week with his job as a Sealtest Dairy salesman, leaving my mother to deal with Neil and I on her own. My parents did not use foul language, but on occasion, I do remember my mother screaming, “God-dam it…you kids… are going to send me to Chattahoochee”. For you non-natives, Chattahoochee is where Florida’s infamous state mental institution was located. Being from Pittsburgh, I’m not sure why my mother was so knowledgeable about Chattahoochee, but it was always on her mind about going there. My best guess is that it would give her a break from ironing such things as my father’s boxer shorts, all of the sheets we all slept on, white damask tablecloths that were always on the table, not to mention every item of clothing we wore and possibly my brother’s diapers.
Never needing to go to Chattahoochee, our family went to the Southside Drive-In often. I loved the movies (indoors or out) and it was my Dad’s idea of a great night out after cooking his hard earned sirloin steak on the grill. If I recall, they didn't broadcast many movies on TV back then before midnight and it was my Dad who always took me to the movies downtown probably to give my Mother some down time. Back then, we thought nothing of arriving at a theatre in the middle of the movie. Then, after the movie ended, we’d hang around until the next showing to see the first half of the show. If that wasn’t the dumbest way to watch a movie, I don’t know what was….but that’s how we did it. The funny thing is that Lon’s father handled movie times the same way - last half first, first half last. After pondering this awhile, I have decided that this stems from a man’s inability to sit and wait. It happens at all restaurants when there are people waiting to be seated and from experience, it is consistently a male flaw….if they can’t walk right in and be handed a menu, you have to move on down the road to a less popular place. The only exception to this rule must be Osteen’s Restaurant. You see plenty of men waiting in line there. It must be the Minorcan clam chowder that does the trick. My friends Joyce and Frances never have a problem waiting in line for a great meal with me. We chat, people watch and wait patiently for the promise ahead of incedible shrimp, fried oysters and of course, the hushpuppies. I rest my case.
Dad took us all to see blockbuster family movies like “Around the World in Eighty Days”, “The Ten Commandments” and “The King and I”. The drive-in was also a place my Dad, who was unfortunate enough to be at Pearl Harbor on December 7th ( the day before he was scheduled to be discharged from the Army) could practice his fine listening skills, locating and finally killing that one blood-filled enemy only equaled by the Japanese……the mosquito. Rather than rolling up our car windows to avoid breathing in the mosquito man’s toxic pesticide cloud whose fogger made it’s regular round down the rows of cars at the drive-in, we would roll the windows down to make sure the inside of the car was well fumigated. I’ve mentioned this fogger in an earlier blog about my childhood because I never could get away from this guy. He was probably the only man dumb enough to take a job like that. I truly believe he just drove and drove that fogger until it ran out of gas…he’d stop and fill up…and then drive back to where ever I was at any given time. His route was from the drive-ins in Jacksonville to our street in Gainesville, then back to Jax. What was in that fogger anyway?? I also remember wishing my parents would allow me to go to the playground located at the front of the drive-in under the huge movie screen. We were never allowed to go play on the swings before the movie started. I think my parents thought we would be abducted by escaped prisoners. Escaped prisoners were the only thing I was ever worried about back then. At the drive-in, Dad certainly didn’t take advantage of any needed snuggle time with my mother because she’d have half of her body hanging outside the passenger window praying for the cool breeze that never came. Drive-in popcorn was the ultimate treat and Mom made us a thermos full of the dentist’s best friend, Kool-Aid.
Too bad Moses loved automatic weapons and ended up as President of the National Rifle Association. Go figure.
My father was over six feet tall and as a result, the entire front seat was pushed back to the maximum length leaving Neil and I little or no leg room in the back seat of the family car. All old cars that I remember had one front seat. All passengers were at the will of the driver’s height regarding seat position and my back seat comfort was never the number one thing on my father’s mind, drive-in or not. On summer road trips to Pittsburgh when Dad usually did most of the driving I traveled in a fetal position in the back seat and between me and my brother, the boundary determining his territory and mine was the big hump on the floor in the back seat. That hump might as well have been an electrified razor wire fence. We never allowed the other admittance to other’s side. Whether it was at the drive-in or on the road to Pittsburgh, the invisible barbed wire was ever present. Being referred to as “antsy” by my mother, I recall the torment of what is now referred to as Restless Legs Syndrome. As one of life's cruel little jokes, I believe I caught RLS in the back seat of our car. Some of that really old Coca-Cola with a little cocaine in it would have been a great break-through for RLS sufferers had anyone given it any thought or had it even had a name. My Mother was also plagued with restless legs, so there you go. Dottie’s latest story was about the Lakewood Pharmacy brought back many memories too. I happen to have spent quite a lot of time at the “Pharmacy” as we called it. Other than a visit downtown, the Pharmacy was a favorite destination well into high school years. It was one of the two places I was allowed to go while my mom was grocery shopping at the A&P which was the anchor store of the shopping center. No escaped prisoners were ever caught there. After making sure my Mom had put a "Spanish Bar Cake" in the grocery cart, I’d head for the Pharmacy or Peterson’s 5 & 10 to entertain myself until Mom was finished grocery shopping. This was more than likely training for one of my favorite past-times - looking for bargains in discount stores. Spanish Bar was my favorite cake and a staple at my house. My mother also loved the dark, two layer loaf of spice cake that had a thin layer of white icing with lines in the icing accomplished by running your fork over the icing to add a little flair. I found out later on that my Dad used to make Spanish Bar at a bakery in Pittsburgh where he had a part time job. The bakery delivery man who delivered the bake goods to the groceries would collect all of the stale cakes that didn’t sell, take them back to the bakery where they were dumped into a big mixer. They were spiced up with molasses, cinnamon and allspice and baked again, raisins and nuts were added and a delicious cake was reborn. I wasn’t so sure about this story, so I went googling for a recipe and found several. It’s on my list of things to bake that I don’t need to eat. If I get around to it, I’ll let you know if it tastes the same. A&P Spanish Bar Cake 4 cups water
2 cups raisins
1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
Add water to raisins and simmer for 10 minutes. Add shortening and allow to cool. Sift together spices and flour, salt, sugar and baking soda. Add cooled raisin mixture and blend well. Add beaten eggs and nuts and stir well. Place into a 9-by-13-inch pan in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35 minutes, or until tester comes our clean. It can also be baked in a jelly roll pan for 25 minutes. Frost when cool.
1/3 cup shortening
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk or cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Beat till smooth and creamy.
There were two attractions at the Pharmacy when I was really little were: 1) I could go by myself and 2) they sold candy cigarettes. They also sold these ridiculously over-engineered tiny wax cola bottles called “Nik-L-Nips” filled with some kind of unknown flavored liquid.
After biting the top off of the three inch tall wax bottle, the reward was approximately two teaspoons of colored sugar water. But…Ahhh…heaven. Then after the bottle was empty, you were supposed to chew the wax. Chewing this wax was right up there with little wooden ice cream spoons. They both gave me the chills and made me gag. I was a big gagger back then. Other things like liquid starch and tempera (the finger-paint recipe), liquid starch and newspaper strips (the Paper-Mache recipe) , the smell of a bar of Palmolive soap or any milk that didn’t have a Sealtest label on it…well, to put it crudely, sent me into projectile vomiting fits that sometimes started off a chain reaction with fellow kindergartners and probably a teacher or two after they left the room to “wash their hands”. They still sell those little wax bottles in the nostalgia candy section at The World Market a few doors down from Barnes & Noble. I didn’t go there looking for them, they just sort of found me. I think the same guy who invented the Nik-L-Nips also came up with the idea of filling little foil wrapped chocolate candy bottles with Jack Daniels or Kahlua…don’t quote me on that. The candy cigarettes were my first introduction to addiction and I would venture to say that I was well into a pack a week habit that lasted until they were banned. These little white sticks even had a little touch of red color on the tip to give them a “lit” effect. How very cool…... I sucked a box of these down all the while mimicking the way my Dad held his cigarette in his mouth while raking the yard or doing a paint-by-numbers masterpiece. I also liked my bubble gum in cigarette form and considered those the Benson&Hedges of the candy cigarette offerings of the day. My father was a very artistic man and had a knack with large paint-by-numbers paintings. He’d blend the paint and go over the lines avoiding that…well, paint-by-numbers giveaway look. I wish he had saved some of paintings, but they must have gone in the garbage on our move either to or from Gainesville.
I don’t remember seeing them again after that. Sadly, my Father smoked cigarettes and later his pipes, until the world realized it wasn’t such a great idea to have cancer and emphysema and make one smell like an ashtray. Growing up, smoking was a really cool thing to do.
I began at age thirteen and wised up at age 23. I can’t even fathom smoking a cigarette today. As I grew older, I’d depend on the Pharmacy as a place I could buy Tampax and real cigarettes discreetly and call boys from the phone booths that lined the walls. The phone booths were great, with doors that closed and little seats inside. Considering that I was not allowed to use tampons or call boys, I was sure the ladies who worked at the Pharmacy and I had an unspoken don’t ask, don’t tell arrangement that I could depend on. At the beauty counter, they sold “Stradivari” perfume by Prince Matchibelli and other favorites like Revlon’s ”Intimate” and “Aquamarine”. Later in high school, I frequented the beauty department to use the testers of “Ambush” and “Canoe”. Usually most of the money I earned from my lucrative babysitting business, along with unused lunch money more than likely was spent at this wondrous emporium. I even filled my first prescription for birth control pills at The Pharmacy.
The Lakewood Pharmacy, Peterson’s 5&10 and the old A&P Grocery were special destinations where I was expected to be quiet and keep my hands in my pockets and off the merchandise. We knew the manager’s names and they called my Mother by her name. these special places also had separate water fountains for white and colored, employed all white men and if that wasn’t bad enough, did not seat black men, women or children at the soda counter or cater to any of the needs of the people just down the road near Emerson Street and St.Augustine Road. I don't recall ever seeing black men or women at the stores in Lakewood. They had to take a hot city bus downtown to Kress’ to purchase the likes of hairnets with little beads woven through them, the perfect powder puff, Noxzema and other important necessities like hankies, comic books, paper dolls, sparklers, wax lips, hand buzzers and falsies. I never knew any black people as a child. The only exception was Earl who worked at the A& P. He was an older gray haired black man who carried my Mother’s groceries to her car. She always handed me a dime to give to him as a tip. He would gratefully accept the dime from me (a child) and head back quickly to help another customer. How humiliating that must have been for him. I think about Earl when I remember the A&P. He picked me up off of the sidewalk after I fell outside and carried me into the store to hand me over to my Mother. I hope he was treated with more respect in his later years. He certainly deserved more and certainly a bigger tip.