STUFF

HouseThis house in Monson MA is rumored to have been the town’s first elementary school and because the town predates the Revolutionary War nary a floor is level.  The original structure had only two rooms whose blackboard walls are now hidden by layer upon layer of wallpaper.  From this simple dwelling, my ancestors added two bedrooms, an indoor bath, a kitchen, covered patio and small television room.  The room to the left was probably built by my great-grandfather as storage for his three children (two of whom are in the above picture along with a girl identified as only “My cousin Myrtie.”)  Because the toddler in the picture is my grandmother, born 1899, I figure this picture dates from the early 1900s.  The original deed is handwritten.

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Receipt for the house on Main Street

Here’s the same house on Main Street in a photo probably taken in 1910 after they added the porch :

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This porch (now screened in) overlooks a boulder-filled creek where as children we played for hours, always within shoutin’ distance of Gram.  The last time I visited, the untended blackberry vines choking the creek and newly constructed storage facility on the other side stole all hope of a return to what once was.  Nonetheless, the house’s eventual slip from our fingers still stings.

SignatureI know that, in the end, old houses and photos are just stuff, stuff our children probably won’t give a hoot about, stuff that will end up either in a garbage dump or in some moldy basement, pages stuck together, edges eaten by rats.  I’ve accepted that eventuality however for some insane reason I decided to go through the five million boxes of unorganized STUFF I rescued from my mother’s house.  If you’ve ever had to clean out grandma’s house and go through her stuff then you’re probably thinking what an idiot I am. And I admit, it is exhausting, unrewarding work that has kept me from blogging, writing, exercising and cleaning house.  But every now and then I’ll find something which might be mildly interesting to the kids. Know what it is?

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Bowpea

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Dad and Wug – pilots, drinking buddies and champion story swappers.

Today it seems appropriate to wax on about one’s dad, however my father was far too complicated for tearful remembrances thrown together with favorite photos and sage advice and so I will save him for another day (truth be told, he hated sentimentality and, truth be told, I may never be able to write about him).  

IMG_4336Instead let me say a few words about my Bowpea.  This gentleman was the father of three children: my party-loving mother, rowdy Oncle Boob, and Poor Charlie, whose wife, Auntie Dottie, lived with such unrelenting gusto that no one in the small town of Monson Mass could figure out how he put up with her! 

Bowpea was a man of high moral standards who probably didn’t deserve his wacky family but he endured their shenanigans with a sly smile and occasional word aside to “The Enforcer,” my depression-hardened grandmother who could have stared down the Gestapo.  He was given his peculiar nickname by his oldest grandchild (yours truly).  Don’t ask me why. 

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The Preacher’s Family – Bowpea is between his father’s legs.

My grandfather had, from all reports, a strict childhood, the result of generations of puritan ancestors dating back to the 1600s, most notably Deacon Samuel Chapin founder of Springfield Mass and yes, there were some witch-burners hanging about in the family tree.  

He had five sisters, none of whom had particularly happy lives and one older brother.  The older brother moved to the west coast early on and from all reports, escaped the wrath of the burning witches.  He died too young for me to have any memory of him; his childless widow sent us checks every Christmas until she died and once famously turned down the chance to invest in Disneyland.

IMG_4340Bowpea shipped off to Europe at the start of WWI a skinny, hopeful lad, and returned with lifetime health problems, allegedly the result of mustard gas.  If he spoke about his war experiences to any of his children or wife, I would be surprised.  Certainly they don’t remember.  He never returned to Europe.

A few years later a steam-engine explosion at the factory where he worked brought my grandparents together.  He wasn’t hurt but a fellow worker wasn’t so lucky. As Bowpea waited anxiously in the hospital corridor, a young student nurse appeared from nowhere IMG_4338and took control.  She sat beside the scalded man all night long, holding his hand and applying cold presses and  my grandfather fell in love.  Of course, the downside of this lovely story is that Gram never accepted the fact that a man like him could fall in love with her.  To her dying day she claimed it was gratitude.  She was just too plain (according to her father) for any man to really fall in love with her.  Sixty some odd years of faithful devotion and she still felt that way.

In all honestly, I only saw my grandfather during the summer so my impression of him is formed by lazy summer days spent playing croquet on their back yard,  scouring the hills for blackberries, going downtown for a soda, or settling in for the evening listening to the crickets as a summer thunderstorm moved over head. Sometimes he would smoke a pipe as he read about his beloved Red Socks or have the one Scotch he allowed himself nightly. He had  accomplishments which he never dwelt upon: a membership in the Hole-in-One Club (for non-golfers that means you’ve scored at least one hole in one – he had three) and a state ice-skating championship in his youth. Probably more, but they were never touted.

Alas, the last pic I have of me and BeauPea together.

Alas, the last pic I have of me and Bowpea together.

 

 I’m sure he had his faults, certainly allowing Gram to become the Enforcer was one of them.  But to me he’ll always be the modest, quiet man who smelt of Old Spice.

Oskar Schindler was the greatest aid worker of all times

Our buddy Duke Miller’s brilliant post on Aid Leap – a motley group of international aid bloggers – check them out!

AID LEAP

Author: Duke Miller, hardened aid worker and author

Aid Leap outlines problems and then offers solutions and that is the professional way. Yet, year after year, we are confronted with the same old difficulties requiring wheel reinventions. Refugees die, money is chased, programs collapse, agencies and governments position themselves, wars continue, stars fly in, and R. Kipling smiles. We are caught in a continuous loop of assessments, proposals, M&E reports, coordination meetings, and training workshops created by donors, headquarters, and paid consultants.

When was the last time you met a really happy and satisfied aid worker?
I have an observation. Try not to judge me too harshly. Most aid workers should be subversives. I make this statement only with the finest intentions that a good bottle of tequila can engender. My sentiments are absolutely glowing.

I see a “Books” tab on the Aid Leap home page. I suggest the…

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I Grok the Rain!

If you haven't read this sci-fi classic, the main character was raised on Mars where there is no water.

This morning I awoke to the soft patter of rain. At first I listened in disbelief. The weathermen had been waffling for days about even the scantiest possibility, leaving us with visions of catastrophic water wars and Stranger in a Strange Land scenarios. If you’ve never read this sci-fi classic, the main character was raised on Mars where there is little water and thus, water is sacred and the wasting of water unthinkable.

But it was rain and, as the sky lightened, the joyous ruckus from the jays, chickadees, and spotted towhees as they gave thanks was a sound unlike I’d ever heard before.  There would be no fighting over the birdbath on this day!

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Kitty grooving on the heavenly aromas brought in by the wind!

 

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Water pools on grateful leaves.

Photo by

It’s hard to imagine feeling happier! Photo by the amazing Christy A. Gudel

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Rose reaching to kiss the sky.

Note to readers:  I will be up in Reno Nevada with limited access to the internet for who knows how long.  So apologies for not keeping up with your blog postings, etc. When I return, I’d get to know you a little bit better.  Let me know if you’d like to guest post!  Thanks, Jan 

ZitherHead

thA funny thing, the senses.  I have an aversion to the smell of gasoline, the taste of lamb and the feel of steel wool but I love songs in minor keys.  Some examples are: Things We Said Today (the Beatles), All Along the WatchTower (Dylan), and As Tears Go By  (Stones). Neuroscientists claim that songs written in minor key evoke melancholy and its twin sisters, depression and gloom. I’ve never found that to be the case.

Take, for example As Tears Go By.  The singer is pensive, mournful of the fact that money cannot buy him happiness and yet observant of the world.  Somewhere, despite our losses and pain, children will be playing.

In Things We Said Today, the lovers are parted but hopeful of their future together. The minor key lends a bit of uncertainty and

A love that went on and on only in a song.

A love that went on and on only in a song.

indeed, since Paul McCartney wrote the song to Jane Asher, the relationship seemed doomed to have its brightest moments in songs.  Hey, if my finest moments are in words, I’m a happy camper.

In All Along the Watch Tower the only people who seem to know what’s going on are a joker and a thief.  Kind of reflects my vision of the world.  Bring on the jokers and the thieves.

I haven’t spent a lot of time figuring out why I am attracted to songs that  depress other people but I did stumble upon this website a few months ago which gave me a clue. Enter the date of your birth and it will tell you the most popular song the year you were born.

Apparently I was conceived to sound of a zither.  Well, that explains a lot!

How about you?  Does the song your parents were listening to when you were conceived help to explain some odd character trait you’d care to fess up to?

Mud Season

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Aspens near the valley floor just beginning to blossom

Other places have spring, but up here in the Colorado Rockies they have Mud Season. Mud Season spans from mid-April to approximately the second week of June, a time when it’s generally too warm to ski but too cold for the aspens to have leafed.  The weather is extremely unpredictable. A few years ago when we were here we took a few hikes in shorts, however this year we rarely got out of heavy winter coats, especially on our visit to the Maroon Belles where we encountered three feet of snow.

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Mirror Lake by Carol Teltschick

To get to the lake in the photo above we had to trudge uphill often through fields of melting snow in the rain.  I slipped once, fell in the snow and had an icy butt all the way downhill towards the car (did I mention it was my birthday?).

During Mud Season many of the restaurants and shops are closed and the ones that are open offer deep discounts on their products. The town goes into a  frenzy of preparing for the summer season.  Restaurant facades get a facelift, city gardens get an infusion of snapdragons, petunias and other annuals generally associated with the spring, and its famed gondola only runs on weekends and holidays.

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View from the gondola of the road far, far below

Thus the city is void of its usual throng of tourists and/or seasonal residents and/or celebrities willing to overspend on just about anything.  Except the rock sculpture gardens.  They’re free.

RockSculps

One of my favorite places in Aspen is the John Denver Memorial.  It’s on the riverbank just beyond a children’s park.  A simple memorial – several large boulders in a Stonehenge pattern with the words of his most popular songs carved into their smooth faces.

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If you can’t read the lyrics, here they are:

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry,
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely,
Sunshine almost always makes me high.

If I had a day that I could give you,
I’d give to you a day just like today,
If I had a song that I could sing for you,
I’d sing a song to make you feel this way.

If I had a tale that I could tell you,
I’d tell a tale sure to make you smile,
If I had a wish that I could wish for you,
I’d make a wish for sunshine all the while.

I must admit that when I was a kid I thought John Denver’s songs were a little too saccharin sweet and that his whole public image, too squeaky clean considering we were in the middle of the Vietnam War, the race riots, the clashes between generations – all of which he seemed to ignore, however, being high up in the Rockies, beside a healthy stream, soaking in the incomparable greenness of a newly budding aspen tree, I couldn’t help but savor his words.