Saturday, February 22, 2020

I Was Blessed

My mother has been on my thoughts lately, so for no special reason, I'm writing about her today. She died nearly two decades ago, but she never really left me. A fashion piece, she was not, although in my favorite picture of her, she appears quite stylish.
It's not her birthday, although she'd be a hundred and nine this coming November, so that counts for something. It's no longer Valentine's Day. She was too practical and would cringe whenever my father brought her flowers. She was a product of the Great Depression, after all, and spending money on such an extravagance went against her nature. It's not Mother's Day, the one day she did allow flowers, on corsages, white orchid for her to wear to church in memory of her mother, red rose for me because, as tradition dictated, girls whose mothers were still living wore red flowers in their honor. We only went out to eat at a restaurant once a year. Mother's Day. Even when we traveled we did not eat at a restaurant. We packed a meal or we brought out the Coleman stove and cooked beside the wayside picnic table on site.

She had gone on a cross country adventure of her own aboard a tour bus before World War II and before air conditioning. Each evening the bus stopped and unloaded cots for the women to sleep under the stars. She had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single day for the three week duration of this adventure, consequently she never served me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Never. I had no idea they existed until I was further up in age.

I might have been deprived of a pb&j childhood, but I wasn't deprived of the wanderlust gene that I was fortunate enough to receive from both my mother and my father. They traveled around the United States dragging my brother and me into the most obscure museums ever invented. When they both retired, they traipsed across Europe visiting places they never imagined they would see.

Their life long goal was to see Alaska. That dream ended when my father passed away unexpectedly, so my husband and I picked up the dream and drove the Al-Can highway in his honor, dragging our two children to the most obscure museums ever invented. A few years later my mother accompanied me on a trip to Alaska where we traveled by state ferry instead of a luxurious ship chocked full of glamorous delights.

She wanted to see more of the world, so she promised her grandchildren she would take each one of them to any place on the face of the earth as long as she had not been there before, which narrowed the list a great deal. Her oldest grandchild, my niece, picked Ireland, and off they went. My nephew chose Greece. My daughter picked the Netherlands. And my son, the baby of the four, chose a safari in Africa.

Last fall my cell phone rang. My younger granddaughter was on the other line. "Granny Gretchen," she started. "You know how Daddy's grandma took him to Africa and Auntie Jenny to Holland?"

Where she heard the story, I didn't know, but "Yes."

"When are you going to do that for us?"

Guess what is in my future! Thanks, Mom. You're the greatest ever. I was blessed.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Alexa, May I?

One game my friends and I played nonstop all those many, many years ago, was "Mother, May I."

Looking back through the lens of years, I'm wondering where in the world that game came from. We learned it at school, I'm sure, and adapted the rules to fit our circumstances in the side yard at home, but I wonder which teacher first stood before her class and laid out the rules. Probably a teacher who was determined we were going to learn our manners, come what may.

One person was assigned to be the mother. She stood at one end of the yard and we lined up at the other end. When our individual turns came, "Mother" gave us instructions we had to follow. Like "take two giant steps forward," or "hop like a frog three times." The object of the game was to be the first person to get to mother.

If we obeyed without asking "Mother, May I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. If we said, "Mother, Can I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. Sometimes we added the "please" rule, and that set us back even more. The mother in our games usually wasn't all that fair, either. I played with sisters who disliked each other and ordered "baby steps" when they saw each other winning. Life lessons there.

My childhood training in "Mother, May I" came in handy one day last week. I went to my volunteer job, opening the Red Awning Art Gallery where my books are for sale. I was alone and the building creaked as the wind howled, so I needed noise to off set all those imagined footsteps an author like me manages to create in her head. I plugged in the neon "Open" sign and leaned over to the music box and said, "Play music." Nothing happened. I said it again, "Play music." Nothing. I remembered the please rule and added that. Still nothing. I was defeated by a black circle. I felt like I was sent back to the beginning.
Alexa sitting behind some art work
on an antique desk at the gallery

Lightbulb moment.

"Alexa, Play music."


Who would have thought that some obscure game I played once upon a time would be a part of reality in this century!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Play Pretties

I'm starting a new project that takes place in, you guessed it if you know my past projects, the mountains of western North Carolina. In my research I ran across the term "play pretty," as in "taking a play pretty from a baby" or "like a play pretty on the end of a string." What a delightful way to describe a toy. The Dictionary of American Regional English lists several examples of this southern way of talk, including a map showing where the expression "play pretty" has been found. Yes, the mountains of western North Carolina were on that map. Yes, my research was on daily life in previous centuries, although I found "play pretty" in the more modern Urban Dictionary.
Fort Defiance, Lenoir
When my fourth graders went on a field trip to Fort Defiance, the restored home of our town's colonial namesake, General William Lenoir, the docent taught them about play pretties from colonial times. One was the game of Graces, where players use a set of dowels to pass embroidery hoops from one to the next. 
(Public Domain,

Another play pretty was a hoop from a barrel that children could roll down a path using a stick to keep it moving and balanced. I wonder if any of those children in the Appalachian mountains all those years ago ever considered rotating the hoop around the belly. By the time I came along, the hoop went around the belly. And the neck. And the wrist. Times changed! Play pretties changed.

Our play pretties were simple. We played marbles until our school's playground was paved. Even the grassed lots didn't work all that well, since we couldn't find any sand where we could draw a circle for a game. 

We had metal pointy thingamajigs called jacks that we picked up each time we bounced a ball, first one at a time, then twosies, then threesies, and so on. I was not so adept at those evil play pretties. I doubt I ever picked up sets of jacks beyond the sixes or sevens. That's why I wasn't a fan, that and the fact that they hurt like crazy to step on in bare feet.

We skated, using another play pretty that wasn't so pretty when I skinned my knees and the blood dripped down my legs. I had a key for my skates. I inserted it into the metal slide between the two halves of a skate in order to change the size. I stayed in my regular shoes to skate and clamped the metal skates to them. Those straps around my ankles kept coming undone and tripping me. What a fun childhood I had!
I could write a book!

But wait. I am writing a book and the play pretties children found to entertain themselves three generations ago is a part of this book. Stay tuned.

Catch of the day,