Friday, March 1, 2024
Saturday, February 10, 2024
by Margaret Sizemore Clark
On a calendar February 14 is singled out as Valentine’s Day, a day for celebrating love. For adults it could mean a proposal or celebrating an anniversary. Today’s moms and dads are busy people so many parents simply go online to buy the cards that their children will be taking to school to share with classmates. When I was a teacher, I set aside time for making Valentine’s bags, which called for LOTS of red and pink construction paper, glue, and the dreaded glitter. As I kid, I can remember making that same kind of bag and looking forward to filling them with valentines on which I had written the recipient’s name with fancy lettering. Then, when Valentine’s Day arrived the cards went into the bags and then were taken to our desks to open and read each one, maybe even hoping to get a special card from a particular person. After school we gathered up our bags and headed home, where the bag was put on a shelf to reread the cards later. “Later” turned into days and weeks and eventually those once-anticipated cards found their way into the ash can and forgotten.
But not so with my mother. She was born in 1922 so when she reached elementary school age it would have been the late 20’s and early 30’s, and the Great Depression was gaining momentum. Her family was fortunate in that her father had a job and kept his job all through the Depression, but I’m sure many of her friends were not as lucky. Money was tight, so things like valentines were a luxury. Many of us that had parents who were raised during that time have learned it’s difficult for them to part with things. In their lives nothing went to waste, whether it was a piece of equipment that broke, flour sacks that were sewn into dresses, even newspapers that were used as insulation on walls. Perhaps that’s why Mom saved her valentines; they were precious things that were given by someone who cared about her, and they meant something to her. Mom saved about forty of her valentines from a range of years and stored them in a candy box, never sharing them with us kids. In the late 90’s Mom developed dementia and when my dad went through her things, he discovered the box. It was hard for him to know what to keep and what to part with, but he kept the valentines, and on the candy box he wrote a note to us “kids”. "These are old valentines Mama received as a child and later youth. They are really keepsakes. One of you please keep them as they were meaningful to her.":
The valentines came to me for safe keeping. When I opened the candy box I discovered a bit of my mother as she had been as a girl. She must have been well-liked. Many of the cards were still in their envelopes, yellowed with age, and on them, handwritten in very legible cursive, was written, “To Mary Lee James” or just “Mary Lee”. Some were brittle and had tears on them, while others were just as bright and crisp as they were when they were new. I opened each card and read the sentiments on every valentine. They were sweet and reflected the innocence of their day. One valentine has a little boy in shorts holding a hot water bottle that says, “Warm up to Me” then below that it says, “and be my valentine.” The little girl is wearing a baby-doll dress with bloomers that peek out below the rather-short dress. Another shows a burglar complete with newsboy cap and a mask over his eyes breaking into a safe. It reads, “I think it’s “SAFE” to say I’m fond of YOU.” His bag of burglars’ tools is red, has a heart on it, and asks the reader to “Be Mine.”
Another card made me smile. It depicts a little boy driving a black jalopy that resembles something one would see in a Keystone Kops movie. It’s a convertible carrying a load of valentines, and the boy has a valentine in his hand that says, “Greetings Old Dear.” (How’s that for a romantic lead-off?) He must have just graduated from the School of Love and is now headed to see his sweetheart, because there is a document in the back seat that says, “Diploma of Love”. His jalopy is emblazoned with his printing, telling the world it was “New York or Bust”. On the driver’s door “She’s My Baby” is written and there’s a drawing of a red heart with an arrow through it saying, “Spiked For Life”. I’m not sure if I would appreciate being spiked for life, but you get the idea; this kid is in LOVE!!
Fruit was mentioned on several of the cards. One had a little boy in an orchard who has just picked a heart from one of the trees. He is handing it to a little girl who is holding both hands out. The card reads, “Say yes, Valentine ‘cause you’re a peach and we’d make a good “pear”!” Another shows a little girl holding an adorable little puppy sitting on a large peach. “It Will Be Peachy” is written on the piece of fruit, but the rest of the valentine is hidden under glass. Several of the cards referred to being up in the air. On one, a hot air balloon is floating with a little boy dropping a valentine saying, “I Love You” down to a little girl. On the gondola is written, “I want to drop in” and the balloon is hovering over a fence draped in valentines that say, “And Be Your Valentine”. There is another that features a little girl who is balancing on a highwire. The card tells us that, “You are keeping me “Up in the Air” My Valentine”. I thought it interesting that it was the girl telling the boy that he was keeping her dangling.
One year I thought of a way Mom’s valentines could be shared with my siblings. I sorted them, carefully trimmed some of them, mounted them on lignin-free paper, and placed them in shadow boxes made with glass that filters 99% of UV rays. I made copies of my father’s note and placed a copy on the back of each shadow box so that my brother and sisters would know the significance these cards had to our mother. I’m sure that the children who presented the valentines to my mother could never imagine that they would still be around almost a hundred years later and that they were cherished by her. They could not know that their sweet little valentines gave Mom’s family the gift of glimpsing their mother as she was as a child. So, if you are fortunate enough to get a valentine this year, think about the person who gave it to you, and consider how much they care about you. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Monday, February 5, 2024
Saturday, January 20, 2024
By Gil Tisnado
I was thinking back sixty-four years ago when I was in sixth grade; We were given the homework assignment of watching the very first televised presidential debate. It probably didn’t have to be assigned, since nearly every family in our neighborhood would be watching. It was a very big deal.
I learned yesterday that JFK and Nixon were actually “friendly rivals.” They weren’t close friends; however, Nixon was invited to JFK’s wedding in 1953. Much has been written of how much better Kennedy looked than Nixon on the first debate. Kennedy understood that TV was a visual medium and used it to his advantage. On the day of the debate, Kennedy worked on his tan and listened to Peggy Lee records. Nixon, on the other hand, had just spent three weeks in the hospital with a badly inflamed knee and had made several campaign appearances around town. While JFK was tan and rested, Nixon was pale and gaunt from his hospital stay—and this would cost him votes.
Being ten years old and soon to be eleven, I thought that JFK was the coolest of the dudes, and based on appearances alone, he should be president. I do remember that after President Eisenhower, who was a very old seventy at the time, both Nixon and JFK seemed relatively young for adults. (Nixon was 47 and JFK was 43.) At school, we held campaign rallies and mock debates. The moderators were two classmates playing Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (the two biggest names in broadcasting outside of Walter Cronkite.) As a retired teacher, I can now fully appreciate what a wonderful civics lesson this was.
After watching the Trump/Biden debate, I went back and watched YouTube videos from the JFK/Nixon debates. It was a fascinating exercise. My takeaway from seeing these videos were how damn smart and articulate both candidates were. I can now understand why the 1960 presidential election was so close. They really were two brilliant men. But more than that, there was such a sense of civility, decorum, and mutual respect. No talking over each other, mugging for the camera, eye rolling, or name-calling—but simply presenting their vision for the future of our country.
I think before the next
debate that our current presidential candidates should watch these master
classes in debate. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if they also played some Peggy Lee
Friday, January 5, 2024
Saturday, December 30, 2023
by Margaret Sizemore Clark
In my youth I was what I would consider to be a tomboy. I grew up playing with my older brother’s Matchbox cars. One year for my birthday I received a “huge” Pontiac station wagon car, not a model of one, but a scaled-down version of the real thing, just right for transporting a Barbie, but she hadn’t been invented yet! I was delighted!! I rather enjoyed doing “car” things with my father, and I liked playing in the dirt after a rare rain.
In those days girls were taught all the necessary skills to be a good homemaker, hostess, wife, and mother. Sewing was one of the skills to that end, and being accomplished using a sewing machine was something that my family did well. My mother made matching outfits for me and the sister just a year younger than I, along with the sister that was eight years after her. We frequently received lots of comments about the cute matching dresses or shorts sets when we went places. Additionally, at least two of my sisters learned to sew when they were Girl Scouts. My oldest sister was making her own clothes in high school and became very skilled at it. I was never a Girl Scout. The pressure to conform to “the norm” was mounting, but I resisted. To her credit, Mom kept trying to encourage me to sew but eventually she realized that it wasn’t a good idea to try to force me to learn, and apparently the sewing gene had skipped me, so I dodged that bullet. But in junior high it came up AGAIN: one of my best friends was in 4H and was making her clothes, as were most of my friends. It was pointed out what beautiful, fashionable clothes they were creating, but I wasn’t taking the bait. The last assault on my refusal to learn to sew came when my older sister needed a babysitter for the summer while she and her husband worked. I was invited to come to Oregon to live with their family. Little did I suspect that it was to be another attempt to teach me to sew, and I was trapped! My sister patiently tried yet again to teach me how to sew, and I tried, I really did! I think I made something fairly simple, using straight seams, but when it was done, so was I.
Years later my oldest sister retired to Sisters, Oregon. Now, if you or a loved one are into quilting, you know that Sisters has an outdoor quilt show every July, and the quiet, sleepy little town with about 1500 citizens swells to ten times that much. Women come from all over to take classes, make quilts, compare projects, and see what others have created during the year since they last came to Sisters. My younger sister and two of her friends were teachers, so they were able to make the pilgrimage to “Mecca”, aka Sisters, every summer, a week ahead of the quilt show. During that week they fed their addiction for buying fabric, sewed, taught each other new techniques, and showed off new machines. I was a teacher too, but at a year-round school, so I couldn’t come with them. Eventually I was able to transfer to the track that was closest to the traditional school year, so I was invited to join them, BUT: I was warned that since I didn’t sew, I would have to bring some other type of hobby that would keep me occupied, or else I would have to be “Cinderella” and wait on the others. I complied. I didn’t want to miss out on the shopping trips, the gabbing, and seeing the amazing things they created so I became “The Husband”.
Husbands are the patient angels that come with their wives during Quilt Show week. They are so legendary, that wise quilt store owners have created a special place for them to hang out while their wives shop. There is usually a tent with chairs, and a large ice chest filled with cold water. It fell on me to drive my four “sisters” from fabric store to fabric store and wait in the husband area while they shopped, had the fabric cut, and waited to pay for it. It can be a very time-consuming process, but I was armed with a good book or a crossword puzzle BOOK (not just ONE puzzle) to work on while I waited for them to exit. Back at the house I often ironed pieces of projects while they sewed, or generally helped wherever I was needed. You may be thinking that my “job” sounded an awful lot like one Cinderella might have done, only there was a big difference. I loved doing it. We laughed a lot and we listened to each other while we worked on our projects. We knew when an engagement had been announced or a new baby was expected. We also heard who had lost a loved one, or whose family had a problem. In a very real sense, all five of us were sisters, although not all of us were related by blood. That was the real take-away from the weeks and years we made the trip to Sisters.
One year we all went to the quilt show as usual, slowly wandering through Sisters looking at that year’s quilts, until we came to a building where we stopped. My favorite color is purple, so I went over to inspect a particularly lovely purple quilt. A voice over my shoulder instructed to read the tag on it. It read, “Made for Margaret Clark by” and gave all four of their names. I burst into tears! They wanted me to know how much my being there had meant to them, so they had made the quilt top during the winter and sent it to my older sister to quilt. It was a truly a labor of love and a gift I cherish.
These days my “sisters” and I are in our 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and are retired. The home in Sisters was sold. I STILL don’t sew. But on every occasion when we notice or use the treasures that came from Sisters, we recall the times we spent there and the love that went into making those precious gifts.
Tuesday, December 19, 2023
Memories of Christmas Past
Christmas will be here before we know it and, as it does every year, it got me to thinking about Christmases past. I am in my 69th year and Christmas has certainly changed! Here are a few cherished memories I have from my childhood. I hope they trigger memories of special times you had.
Growing up in the desert we did not get snow, so forget about building snowmen, sledding, and snowball fights like in the movies or on TV. Forget about Santa arriving via sleigh, too. When the leaves blew off the cottonwood trees, and the nights grew cooler we knew that winter was on the way. After Thanksgiving all the things that signaled “Christmas” started happening.
My mother was a baker and enjoyed making candy, too. When the season changed, she started buying extra butter, sugar, flour, and nuts. While my dad watched football games on TV, it was his job to crack open the walnuts, almonds, and pecans that would end up being used in Mom’s cookies, pecan logs, fudge, divinity, and toffee. Since many of our extended family lived in other states most of her confections had to be mailed, which meant getting everything made early. Wonderful smells filled the kitchen, and it was so hard not to eat everything as soon as she had it ready. But we knew better! After everything was safely in the mail, Mom would start all over again to make the same goodies for our local friends, and for us! Now, all these years later, my sisters and I still make many of the cookies, toffee, rolls, and other sweets, using Mom’s recipes. We have made three cookbooks containing her recipes, so they don’t disappear.
Getting a Christmas tree was always fun. Most Christmases we went to a tree lot and bought a tree, not a flocked tree, or an aluminum tree with one of those gadgets that rotated and turned the tree different colors. We had a real Douglas fir tree. There were those times, though, when we drove up to the Greenhorns in the Sierra Nevada mountains to cut a tree. My grandparents had a mine they tinkered in and there were trees on their property, so that’s where we headed. To get there we had to drive up through Walker Pass, which often had snow. We got to get out of the car and play in it, and of course we had to build a snowman. Many people had sleds or toboggans, but most of us used a squashed cardboard box to slide down an embankment. It was a special day, and when we were done playing, we headed home to dry clothes and a warm meal. That evening we set the tree up and decorated it, right down to the silvery icicles dangling from all the branches.
Of course, Santa Claus made an appearance to kick off the season, but he didn’t arrive in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. No, in our neck of the desert Santa arrived on a Navy firetruck, with the horn honking, siren blaring, and Santa waving at all the kids lined up and down the street while his elves threw candy. We scurried into the street to grab all that we could. It was chaos! Santa’s arrival also meant the opening of Toyland, a magical place set up by the Navy Exchange for the benefit of the sailors and their families stationed at China Lake. It was housed at the fire department, and parents could take their kids for a visit to view all the toys they hoped Santa would be putting under their tree on Christmas morning. Mom and Dad could go back later to get the right toys.
The Navy also installed and maintained a giant star on B Mountain. On a certain night in December the star would be lit up with white lights for all to see, and THAT meant Christmas was getting close! After I left home, I would visit for Christmas, and knew I would see that star when our car rounded the curve and dropped into the valley. It’s light shining meant one thing: I was home. Sadly, the star was destroyed in the 7.1 earthquake on July 4, 2019, and has not been replaced.
Christmas also meant school programs involving plays, singing, and band concerts. I generally liked that kind of thing, but when I was in the 7th grade, our music teacher wrote a play that called for eight small reindeer. I was always one of the shortest kids in my class, so I and seven other pee-wees donned paper-mache reindeer heads and pranced about the stage. It was something I won’t forget and at my 50th high school reunion last year, I was able to visit with one of the other reindeer.
Our church always had a Christmas Eve service which my family attended. We sang carols and carried lighted candles. At the end of the service each child received a stocking made of netting, filled with candy and fruit. I can remember Mr. Porter’s friendly smile as he passed out the gifts.
My most memorable Christmas was when I was a freshman in high school and my youngest sister was a Kindergartener. A week or so before Christmas, she came down with the mumps, and of course it spread to the rest of us kids. The twins both had light cases, but as luck would have it, my symptoms showed up on the Friday we got out of school for Christmas vacation. My neck disappeared, I felt terrible, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I had no appetite, not even for all the good stuff Mom had made. I lived on Fresca and aspirin for the better part of two weeks and my Christmas was spent lying on the sofa watching my siblings open their gifts. I have no idea if I opened my gifts that day; I couldn’t eat Christmas dinner with my family, and I was miserable. My mother said I was the sickest kid she had ever seen, and since she had six of them, she ought to know! Every Christmas I make it a point to remind my little sister (now 60 years old) of that memorable “gift” and that I have never forgiven her for it. Just kidding.
Christmas would not have been Christmas without the Firestone Christmas albums my parents bought every year. You know, the ones with all the stars of the day singing Christmas carols, The Boston Pops playing something jaunty, and the obligatory operatic star belting out a hymn. After listening to those albums over and over, year after year, we became experts at imitating the songs on them. Now, I’m not one to brag, but yours truly still does a pret-ty mean imitation of Maurice Chevalier “singing” Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Just ask my sister, Martha: she calls me every year to tell me that when she plays her CD of the album, she still hears me singing Jolly Old St. Nicholas and we laugh together, just like we did when we were kids.
Who hasn’t seen the movie White Christmas? If you’re like my family, we watched it every year, eventually memorizing the songs from the movie. I have three sisters, so every time Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye sang “Sisters” we would have to sing along with them. My sisters and I live in different parts of the country now, but we will watch it and send each other a meme just so we all know we are thinking of the other sisters.
Christmas has changed: I live in Washington now, so having a white Christmas is a distinct possibility. The Sears Catalog we pored over and circled all our Christmas wishes in is no more. Instead, we have Amazon. Making homemade goodies for neighbors and friends doesn’t happen so much. Time moves on. Although Christmas is different, I am blessed with being able to recall those long-ago times and smile. Maybe even laugh.
Merry Christmas to all!