My maternal grandmother wasn’t what you’d call a lover of the great outdoors. When she and Grandpa camped, it was always someplace with picnic tables, brick barbecues, and indoor “facilities.” She firmly believed yard work was for men and enjoying the outdoors was something you only did after chores were complete. But she did love birds.
Sometime in the late 1950s she began collecting Arthur Singer ornithological prints. She bought them at “The K-Mart” thirty or so miles from her house; probably as part of K-Mart’s weekly “blue light” specials. The sole grocery in their tiny town stocked only the essentials and so once a month my Crazy Auntie Dottie and Gram would hop in Grandpa’s Galaxy and hit the road. Their big adventure to the big city of Springfield Mass.
For those of you who’ve never heard of K-Mart, they were granddaddies of Costco, Target, Marks and Spencer – places where you could easily get lost in mile after mile of discounted products of all sorts: Clothing, towels, sheets, pots and pans — you name it. Heaven for housewives from small impoverished towns. I even thought it was a big deal as there were no large discount stores in Reno Nevada back then. And they sold big bags of buttered popcorn at prices even a child like me could afford.
Auntie Dottie went to The K-Mart to buy do-it-yourself hair dye and perm kits —- not for herself, mind you. But for her “clients.” Women willing to pay for a dirt cheap perm or dye job from someone who’d never set foot in a beauty school. One month she got a good deal on “Golden Highlights” and half the women in town were suddenly red heads. Their husbands were thrilled but the Vicar accused Dottie of tempting the Devil. Being Catholic, she just went to Confession and was absolved.
Gram probably bought wash clothes. She was of the opinion that you could never have enough wash clothes. And she might pick up a bottle of Old Spice for Grandpa. That’s what he always smelt like. Old Spice. While they drove, she probably snuck in a bit of unwanted parenting advice or a reminder that it was not exactly legal to pretend to be a beautician. Which Dottie would ignore.
Supposedly Arthur Singer created eight of these so-called ornithological prints. Each contains the male and female of a species and the flora and fauna typical for their environs. I don’t know if Gram collected all eight; only five survived life with Mother. Anyway, I have taken them out of the cheap plastic frames they were in and reframed them for the next generation. They may not be worth much, but I can’t look at them without thinking of Gram and Crazy Auntie Dottie and the excitement of those trips to The K-Mart.