Category: Memoir

Leather Saddles, Plastic Turkeys, and Sundaes

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In the town where I grew up, we planned our shopping trips and errands around the odd hours that the businesses kept. The banks, stores, and offices all closed at noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but the retail stores stayed open until 9:00 p.m. on Thursday nights. That was the day to walk down the crowded sidewalks, stopping to  chat with a neighbor, just being out and about.

We are often fooled by our cherished memories: childhood homes that mysteriously shrunk from the size we thought they were; candy bars we loved when we were 10 now taste like over-sweetened wax.

I have no delusions about my hometown, though. I’ve returned a few times to find a depressing business district. Although the city does keep the parks up and has added attractive street lamps, the main street is no longer the vibrant shopping hub it was before they built the mall outside of town.

When I was young, however, I couldn’t imagine ever moving away. The city was situated just south of the point where the river branched out, spreading east and west through the county, leaving natural parks and waterfalls within the city limits. If the river wasn’t too high, you could drive from park to park over a ford, the car’s tires cutting little wakes through the water that flowed across the pavement.  You drove slowly to keep the brakes from getting wet, for you would need them on the steep hills at each end of the ford.

In town, the main street was lined with a lively mix of businesses anchored around a family owned department store. There was a Sears Roebuck and J. C. Penney, movie theaters, hardware stores, and restaurants.

My father liked to pay the bills in person each month. My mother wrote the checks and on Saturday morning, my father and I drove into town to make our rounds. Off we would go into the gas, electric, and telephone companies, then to the bank to pay the mortgage. I stood in line with him at each place, waiting our turn. Then, stamped receipts in hand, we walked to Sears, where my father left me downstairs while he went to the office on the third floor.

Sears was a major retailer then and I loved leafing through the thick catalogs that came in the mail. We always kept the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs under the sofa and I liked to pull them out to look at the toys, and dog houses, and admire the handsome male models.

The store didn’t carry as many items as the catalog, of course, but on the lower level, next to the appliances, was my favorite department. Ours was not a rural town but Sears sold western saddles in a department next to the appliances. There were a dozen or so of them displayed on (what else?) sturdy wooden saw horses. (more…)

In praise of Title 9 (from someone who never benefitted from it)

iStock_000016768724XSmallI’ve been watching the Olympics, as you probably are, too. This is the first year that women were allowed to compete in the ski jump competition.

What took you so long, IOC?

To someone who was excluded from participating in sports, this is wonderful news for women. I wish I’d had the option to participate. I wonder what would have happened if I’d had that choice.

In the spring and summer in my hometown, we made our own adventures. For the boys who played sports, they could join a Little League baseball team and play their way through the summer, but there was nothing for the girls.

I got to watch the Little League games. My mother would make popcorn and scoop it into little brown paper bags for the concession stand. My father was an umpire. Since I couldn’t play, I learned how to score the games, not that it mattered to anyone but me.

My Girl Scout troop took tennis lessons one summer. Our troop leader was a nurse and one of her doctor friends let us use his private tennis court for lessons. I loved what we learned and would have played regularly if I could have found an opponent. On the few occasions when I did, our matches went something like this:

  1. I’d serve the ball and she would miss. Time out while she retrieves the ball.
  2. I’d serve the ball and she would return it! i’d miss the ball. Time out while I retrieved it.

At some time, one of us would suggest that we not keep score. No point to it, really.

Let’s be honest: many of us never entertained the thought of excelling in sports because “Girls don’t do sports.” I was never taught to throw or catch a ball. It never occurred to anyone that I might enjoy it.

My father did buy me a single golf club (a 7 iron) and taught me how to swing a club. I did get good at that.  We didn’t belong to a country club, though, so I’ve never been on a golf course. Besides, I think it would have taken me a long time to play a round of golf with just that  7 iron.

He showed me how to bowl and bought me a powder blue left-handed bowling ball. I joined a league but was never very good at it. Then I discovered that the boy who was purportedly the best bowler in our junior league cheated. He would always be the scorekeeper and managed to pad his score by 4 or 5 pins each frame.

In high school, there were many team sports for the boys. But not the girls.

Physical education was mandatory for freshmen and sophomores and that is where I grew to hate sports.

They hired a woman who had played tennis competitively, but she did not teach us tennis. She did not teach us anything. She made up ridiculous exercises for us to do.

We would play volleyball with a beach ball because we did not want to smudge the low-ceiling of the gym. If you did mark up one of the ceiling tiles with your ball, you were given a detention.

We played an equally ridiculous version of basketball called half-court. We could only dribble the ball three times and then we had to pass it off to another one of the fragile females on the team.  Offense and defense had to stay on their respective ends of the court.  I could have easily done my Geometry homework while playing a game.

So why wouldn’t I hate sports?

Then I went to college where I had to endure another 2 years of physical education. I took bowling and golf and learned nothing. One semester I accidentally got registered for curling. I walked down to the Ice Arena to see what it was: shuffleboard on ice. I quickly dropped the class and signed up for another semester of bowling.

Our university had about 15,000 students. At that time, there were few opportunities for women who wanted to participate in sports. As I page through my college yearbooks, there are no women represented in the “Sports” section, save the intramural sports.

I would have been fine with the differences between mens’ and womens’ sports except for this: Scholarships.

I remember a friend who was a wrestler. He was there on scholarship because he was a good wrestler. The fact that the man could not arrange a subject-verb-object into a 3-word sentence didn’t seem to matter to the university.

I’ve never seen the point of a sports scholarship. Women didn’t matter in sports. Academic scholarships were another matter entirely.

I graduated from college two years before the United States Congress passed a law commonly referred to as Title 9. It says:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…

And that, as they say, changed everything.

Now I see the women competing in hockey, and skiing, and, finally, ski jumping and I think this is long overdue. Women can finally participate as equals on the sports field. I cheer them all on.

I must admit that I still don’t get curling, though.

The fan quilt: three generations; one promise to keep

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My grandmother married a handsome man who dreamed of making his fortune in the oil fields.

She left the comfortable Ohio farmhouse where she was born, left her family to go with her husband and their infant son as he followed his dream.  They moved to an Oklahoma boom town that literally grew from the oil derricks. Like many of the people who arrived to work in the fields, my grandparents lived in a tent with their baby boy until they could build a house.

There were fortunes to be made there, but not for my grandfather. He managed to get a simple house built in town.  Four more babies arrived but so did the Depression and the Dust Bowl.

He struggled to find work. For a while, he tried to sell cans of car polish. A sale meant he could bring home a bag of groceries. My uncles,  just boys, would hunt or fish for something to eat: catfish, rabbit, squirrel. They planted a garden.

If any of them brought something home, my grandmother would turn it into dinner. Not enough food for the seven of them, but a hot meal. Everyone agreed she was a wonderful cook. Imagine what she could do if she ever had a full pantry.

When a coat began to wear out, she would take it apart and re-make the coat so that fabric was reversed: the worn side now hidden.

She lived simply. If there were regrets at her choice to leave that Ohio farmhouse, her children never heard them.

As her children grew into adults, they left home to start their own lives. The sons eventually joined the Army during World War II. The two daughters moved to Ohio to be closer to my grandmother’s family. They, too, found work and eventually married.

That is how I came to be born in Ohio and not Oklahoma. (more…)

Family Portrait

My parents both died in 1989. As I approach the anniversary of their deaths, I am re-posting this blog post about my family.

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This is a portrait of my family, my entire family–all three of us. It is my favorite photograph.

My mother hated having her photograph taken. I inherited that from her. So, we don’t have many pictures of the three of us together.

My mother took this photo. If you are going to take only a handful of photographs in your lifetime, I hope you have one as good as this.

There is a lot of irony in this photograph.

My father was very handsome and I never saw a bad photo of him. Yet in this photo, you don’t see his face. You only see his arms, which I loved.

My mother, a lovely woman who ran from the camera, is in this photo, too. That is her shadow and, I have to say, Mom, your composition is perfect, but then you were the seamstress and quilter and could decorate the house like a pro. You always had the she artist’s eye.

She took this photo in the living room of the house where they lived for four decades. the light coming through the picture window (extra charge for that window when the house was being built).

I still have that chair. It will be reupholstered soon and reunited with your bedroom furniture, which I have kept.

I still have the watch my father was wearing in that photograph. I took it to New York last year to be restored; it spent a few months in Switzerland, back at the factory where it was made. (Who knew?)

I have cherished this photograph for decades, but it is especially poignant this week because my father, my strong, handsome father now long gone, would be 100 years old on July 11th.

My father, a centenarian. Fancy that.

Business traveler

This is another previous post from an earlier blog. A favorite of mine that I wrote at two airports on my way home during a very long day of travel.

Forty years. Half a lifetime.

Forty years looking for,  going to, work.

Employed on Thursday; fired on Friday. Not because you are bad at what you do. Just because.

Because you make too much money now. Because you didn’t want to truncate your life and move your family to the other side of the country. Because the new owners want to cut expenses to the bone so they can find new owners in a year, or two. Everyone is expendable. None of it really matters.

Forty years. Fifteen jobs.

For your father, it was thirty years with the same company. Then retirement. A pension.

For you, it’s Monday mornings in the airport, waiting for the first flight to Dallas, or Chicago, or wherever it is this week. Through security, shoes off, liquids and gels in a zip-lock bag. You wheel your bag towards a good seat in the waiting area, one on the end and not in the path of traffic. Not back-to-back with another row of seats because they always move whenever someone sits down. A good seat, out of the sunlight, close to an electrical outlet for your laptop.

Priorities change when you are a business traveler. You leave behind the family you love and now try to avoid families who dare to travel for pleasure on your flight. You avoid them at check-in, avoid their eight bags of matched luggage, avoid their children. You especially avoid them at the security check-in because things will not go smoothly for them.

You love your children but not children who travel, except children who travel alone. Those children are perfect travel companions. They are pros, just like you. No whining or fidgeting. No running up and down the aisles. No kicking the back of your seat. Those children are compatriots, younger business travelers on their way to see the non-custodial parent, or their grandparents. You like children who travel alone. Many years ago you learned that you can pull the tray table closer to you by watching a child traveling alone. (more…)