Saturday, November 14, 2009

Red Means Doris

With great respect and affection we call Doris by the moniker Giggling Gertie. She laughs often and long and easily; when she laughs, the sound is like a boisterous wind chime, and you can’t help but feel happy around her. Having her own shop was a dream she made happen for herself when Grand Interiors opened eight years ago. Business has grown with each year, and so has Doris’s reputation for producing a quality product. She does curtains, drapes, upholstery and interior design consultations. And her favorite color is red!

Rosy red cheeks are for everyday and season. In the spring it is red geraniums and red wagons. Once falls rusts and red oranges give way to December, it is the season for Christmas reds. Since polka dots are one of the “in” features of décor right now, Doris capitalized on polka dots in red for Christmas. Choosing to limit her mantle to white and red, she decorated her shop traditionally with flocked greenery but threw in the most delightful red polka dots to spruce up her Christmas wall this year.

A Trash Bag Kite In November

I don’t know how DH and I ever made a marriage. We are so totally opposite! There might be a few things we agreed on, but over all, if I said white, he said black. If I said go, he said stop. I guess the early years were like Camelot’s Lusty Month of May. So yesterday was no exception when he went to build a kite for his class on alternative energy and study of wind turbines.

I expected to see a flat triangular shaped piece made of a paper. But DH had other ideas. He made a box kite and used trash bags for both the body and the tail. It was no beauty, but it was original, this trash bag kite. The wind was too strong during the day because he was afraid the strong winds would destroy the kite before getting it airborne.

So we waited until late afternoon with softer winds, and the first few tries seemed to indicate the kite might not fly. Then with a burst, the box kite caught the current, rose quickly, and reached for the clouds. It was fun to see the trash bag kite glide and dip, dancing against the sky at sunset!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Main Street and Sinclair Lewis

I grew up in rural Kansas, where I lived most days at the local library experiencing the world in pages of books. By the time I was fifteen, I had worked through children’s, horse novels, mythology, and arrived at the classics shelf. There I met Carol and Will Kennicott living in Gopher Prairie through the pen of Sinclair Lewis and his novel Main Street. An ingénue at reality, I missed a lot of the meaning in that first read of the novel, but I fell in love with Lewis’s descriptions, and I did recognize a small town life I knew.

Like Carol Kennicott, I wanted to lasso the world, pull it in and tame it. When I fell in love with my future husband, a farm boy who wanted to study engineering, I thought I could broaden his interests. One of our first dates, we planned a picnic at a county lake. I donned a wide brimmed Scarlett O’Hara-inspired hat, packed a gourmet basket lunch, bundled a kite for flying and poems for sharing. The hat flopped in the wind; my hungry boyfriend longed for simple fried chicken and was oblivious to the beauty of iambic pentameter. When we assembled the kite, it took one swoosh across the sky before diving to the lake bottom along with my hopes of a perfectly picturesque outing. Carol Kennicott would have understood my disappointment!
A marriage, a stint in St. Louis, a settling in a small Missouri town brought me back to living more of Carol’s life. I felt strangled with the lack of change, the ordinariness of my life. I had my causes, served on the library board, the museum board, worked church and civic groups, and taught school. I tried to motivate friends, to no avail, to study ballroom dancing, attend poetry readings, and see avant-garde movies. Eventually, I changed my pace and just fell into step with the community.

This autumn, one of my book club’s selections was Main Street, and I fell in love with Lewis, his characters, and the prairie all over again. It was the third reading for me, and the novel was just as fresh and contemporary as it was the first time I read it. I felt the texture of the fabrics, smelled the wood smoke, chilled in my bones from the snowy cold; I experienced the frustration and angst of characters, all thanks to Lewis’s finely honed details. Now age made me see the characters with a different slant, more understanding and tolerance for small town life.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Joy of Letters

The sky is as steel colored as a gun barrel, the air is chilly, and my November is looking more like a harbinger of winter than the colorful leaf quilt of autumn I so love. It is a legal holiday and there will be no mail delivery which adds to the feeling of gray isolation. However, I don’t get much real mail these days because people have changed to emails rather than use the pen these days.

Not only do I miss face to face contact by replacing conversations with emails, the joy of reading letters is eliminated. In letters folks take the time both in the writing and the reading. Writing used to mean choosing the right stationary, color and paper weight, picking a fine pointed pen, maybe even selecting a shade of ink. Then the thoughts were chosen with equal care, mulling over words and expressions, taking the time to capture our lives for sharing with another in just the right way.

Ah, and to receive a letter! Carrying it in from the mailbox, I hold an envelope with expectation, one I can identify by penmanship as a greeting from a friend carrying news or simple chat! It means pouring steaming water from a kettle for a cup of tea, a sit down in the kitchen, a few quiet moments for reading and re-reading the letter. Still the letter can be saved for yet another read, maybe kept in a ribbon tied box. Emails don’t urge me to save them in anything other than maybe a stiff manila folder.

I have two letters my Dad wrote his mother from Ft. Knox right after World War Two had ended and I was not even a thought in his head yet. But I can glimpse what he sounded like as a young man, his loneliness for home and family. I have other handwritten letters from people who no longer walk the earth. Yet, when I miss these people the most I can pull out the letters and “hear” their voices tell a story or share some news. I can see the way they looped their letters and curled their signatures.

Now I think I will turn off my You Have Mail button and dig my letter box out from the bottom desk drawer. I will go light a candle fragrant with cinnamon and apples, pull my sweater tighter across my chest, and put the kettle on for tea. I can come back to the cyber world later, but for now, I want to read a real letter even if the mailman doesn’t come today.

Flat Rock Creek

Springs are plentiful in Missouri, both large and small. Sometimes the earth is like a sponge and a gentle squeeze will yield a squish of water. But in Kansas you are more likely to find a creek or a crick as some say it. After the fast and furious spring rains, rivulets of water meander across soaked fields; small streams bulge and race through pastures. Then in the scorching heat of a Midwestern heat, the pathways dry up or turn to stagnant puddles of dark mud.

At the edge of my in-laws farm, Flat Rock Creek putters by stands of oaks and cottonwoods. In this wetter than normal autumn, the water is unusually clear and abundant. The stream glides purposefully out of the Kansas meadows and dashes across farms to reach the Neosho River which in turns joins Spring River down at the Kansas and Oklahoma borders to flow into Grand Lake.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s this area of Flat Rock was a playground for local folks. They swam and cooled off there after haying or plowing. Occasional beer busts were held by slightly rowdy teens. When my husband was growing up, he meandered along the banks of Flat Rock with any spare time he could find to slip away from chores. One of his favorite pastimes was building balsa wood or even paper boats to float in Flat Rock; he pushed his creations with an oak or walnut branch to the center to catch a strong, spirited current and watched his boat creations float away into unknown lands downstream. He says he longed to have a boat of his own on this water, but that never happened. Now he still harbors a love of water, fishing, boating, and building his own boats when he can.

Meanwhile I grew up not far away but fearful of water despite swimming lessons, trips to lakes and streams, fishing and boating. I spent time with grandparents on Grand Lake and Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma. My grandfather loved boats too, fast ones, big ones. His boating days were over by the time my husband and I married, but they would have made a good pair dabbling in their love of water and boats had they had the chance.

Small farms still rest at the edges of Flat Rock, but daily traffic over the low water bridge is not as heavy as it once was. Folks have air conditioning, city water, and other interests than swimming in a creek. Farming itself has changed, but the little stream of Flat Rock flows onward, alternating with spring surges and autumn riffles, draining the bottom land of Neosho County like it has done for eons of time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Amelia Earhart from Kansas

Other than Dorothy and Toto, there were not a lot of famous Kansas women serving as role models when I was growing up. Even as a child I loved to read biographies, stories about real people doing real things, books that took me far out of my Midwestern corner of the world. My town was small, about 2000, and the library was a modest, one room building shaped like a shoe box. Children’s books were near the floor. When you grew a bit, chapter books were mid-range, and a collection of great works and encyclopedias were on the top shelf. Around the corner were nurse romances, horse novels, and science fiction which all gave way to “serious” adult fiction.

I was about fourth grade when I was tall enough to reach the row of turquoise covered copies of biographies for children that I read over and over. It was there that I met Amelia Earhart, girl flyer from Kansas. I had no idea where Atchison, Kansas was, but if it was in Kansas that was enough for me. I read and reread Amelia’s story. I remember a chapter where her adventures caused her to get a spanking and than made her even more human to me; a girl who was less than perfect but went on to be famous gave me hope I might amount to something someday too!

I recently saw the new movie Amelia where Hilary Swank portrayed the aviatrix. It seems appropriate that I got to see the film in a city once known as Air Capital of the World--Wichita, Kansas. Swank was such an accurate look alike for Earhart that one could easily forget she was an actor and not the flyer herself. The flying scenes were gorgeous and awe inspiring, especially when seen on the huge, concave screen at the Warren Theater. I am not sure how accurate the film was on details, but the story seemed well told. I will certainly be pursuing some of the latest reading material on this 70 year old story.

My young niece has an interest in flying planes. Maybe someday she will fly those same skies as Earhart; maybe she will set records or just earn a good living. Then again, maybe her dreams will change and her life will take another course. But without Amelia Earhart’s breaking way for women, without her adventurous spirit for tackling new things and breaking new ground, even at the cost of her own life, my niece and girls like her might not have had the opportunity to choose. Thanks, Amelia, for giving us all an easier path to the clouds!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Toilet Tea and a Kitchen Build

Toilet Tea is what I called our morning brew while on a kitchen build...not a nice or inviting name, I know! The kitchen remodeling was for our son. Hubby made the oak cabinets at home, and we drove the wooden cabinets four hours to the bungalow where son had stripped walls down to the studs. Insulation, sheet rocking, no water, no sink—well, you can imagine.

But I had an electric hot pot for boiling water, some Red Rose tea bags along with some Charleston Plantation Peach tea bags, and some hot cups that all sufficed for our morning tea. I had to get water from the bathroom and then plug it in there or the bedroom...thus our Toilet Tea. Son does not understand our need for this morning ritual, but it is better than nothing at all right now. Once I slipped away to Chelmsford Teas where I bought a Caramel Rooibos loose tea, some peach apricot tea bags, and a new Brown Betty tea pot. I waited until we returned home to savor them both, but I continued for a few days more brewing our daily Toilet Tea!

Watching my son work with his dad reminded me of many things. It was bittersweet how he did so many things like my own dad did years ago. Son never worked with his grandfather so it was not a learned behavior, more of a gene he inherited. When he stripped his old kitchen out, he was neat as a pin. He cleaned up and sorted boards to size, bagged up sheetrock, piled old cabinet drawers neatly. His tools were tidy and organized and he was frenzied by his own dad’s random tossing of screw drivers, nails, and levels and such. My son could eye a eighth of an inch discrepancy in straightness, and when it was time to cut the vinyl flooring, his own dad was nervous he might make a mistake in front of his own son! My dad has been gone for nine years and on this kitchen build, the missing him was freshly renewed watching his grandson radiate his mannerisms.

Son’s house is a yellow brick bungalow of early 1950’s vintage. While it shows some wear in the corners, this post WWII house is solid as a rock. The kitchen was dated and worn. Son chose dark colors, pewter accents, and modern granite sink. It is an inviting place now or soon will be when he finished the tiny details that will make the room his own. I wonder if he would consider a new black tea pot for the counter???