Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Dad

Dad and Sharon, August, 2006
Larry, Grand Marshall, Memorial Day, 2008

My Dad, Larry, has not been really well since sometime in the spring. He has been hospitalized recently for testing and less than 2 weeks ago was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He came home yesterday, and hospice care has been set up. We had so hoped to be back in Vermont last month to visit and that he would be well enough for some outings.
We planned to leave here on Tuesday the 25th, but received word tonight that Dad's strength is failing fast, so leave taking is updated to tomorrow.
We have made plans and abandoned them, it appears now that we will take the motor home, but not pull the little car as we can make better time that way,
If you are of a praying mind, we could use good thoughts--for my Dad and the family caring for him there and that we have a safe journey.
The laptop is going with us, but I may not have many opportunities to catch up on mail or post.
I hope you'll check back when I return.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mountain Flowers

Fireweed--that plant which traditionally takes over in waste areas.
I beleive this is a stand of wild larkspur. I didn't wade through the knee high vegetation to view it close up. I tried the zoom on the new camera but it didn't magnify as much as I expected.

This is obviously a member of the umbelliferae family, although I don't know which name to give it. It resembles the angelica I've seen in the Maritimes, but could be a sturdy water parsnip. I need to unearth my wildflower book and see if I can be more positive.

A clump of lupin.

These asters are very like the New England asters which cover roadsides and wild areas on the east coast and westward into Ohio. The color was actually a deeper lavender than shows in the photo.

This was a bit of a tended area near a lake in Yellowstone National Park. There was a paved parking lot as it is apparently a popular turn-out for tourists.
The prime season for the mountain wildflowers is past. They are at their prettiest in mid July. Many of the plants are recognizable as forms of those found in New England. I've noticed that plants which would bloom in succession over the longer spring and summer season there, bloom here mostly at the same time. The cold mountain nights and the short summer at high altitudes brings the various plants into a rush of blossoms, acres of color. One of the lovliest is the wild cranesbill in varied shades of pink and magenta. They had mostly gone to seed and I didn't photograph the beaky little pods. Stands of goldenrod echoed the bright sunshine and there were a few sprawling bushes of wild roses along the tracks, dusty and crinkled, but so sweet. Their scent was a joy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Friend Has Moved!

Please note that you will now find Bovey Belle at Just one of the nasty things that goggle and blogger lead us through!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rain Lilies

This photo was taken circa 1950 when I was about 5 years old and my sister 18 months younger. We are posed with my uncle in front of the farmhouse porch. Our dog, Muffin, had surprised us with puppies--something she wasn't allowed to do again. I remember my red and white pinafore, made with "feed sack" fabric. Many of our pajamas and play clothes were homemade and the feed sack cotton was very sturdy. When he was headed to the feed store my Grampa Mac would check to see if Mother wanted more of a particular print and try to get matching sacks. I remember the cracked corn would be dumped into a grain bin, the edges of the sacking unraveled and the fabric washed and pressed, a process which I followed with the eager anticipation of new clothes.

In the photo you can see the long wooden planter box on the south-facing porch railing. My Grampa Mac was the gardener of the family. Each spring he added fresh dirt to the planters, enriched with home made fertilizer. This involved "stewing" up some horse poop for a week or two in a bucket of water. During the fermenting process my sister and I enjoyed the daily stirring of this evil smelling brew. Grampa never seemed to mind that we were at his heels and let us take part in many of his chores. We were sometimes returned to our mother in a rather grubby condition.

The little wooden box on the left railing contained a handful of rain lily bulbs. Every autumn the box was stashed in the "shed chamber" to winter. Early in May the box was set outside to catch rain water from the roof and I watched for the lovely pink flowers to appear.
I looked through plant catalogs for a number of years for rain lily bulbs. I see they are now available. I wonder if the deer would allow me to cherish a few in a porch planter.
The photos of rain lilies in bloom are from the web.

Photos from the Mountains

We camped for two nights on the North Fork of Spread Creek in the huge wilderness area between Jackson Hole and Moran Jct, WY. We camped there in July last summer, so the place was familiar. It is an area where one of the dude ranches takes their clients to experience a wilderness adventure. The "outfitters" bring in covered wagons to use as bunk houses, there is a chuck wagon and supply trucks, and of course a string of horses. The outfitters had just finished a trip, the "dudes" had been moved out by vans and the crew was in process of dragging all the equipment back to the ranch.
I looked out of the camper window when a Dodge truck roared by and realized the mule drawn covered wagons had already passed quietly beyond our campsite.

I walked to the end of the dirt road, about two miles from where we parked. The horses were tethered to a long horizontal rope rail waiting their turn to be trucked back to the ranch. Most were hefty quarter horses, a few were of slimmer, lighter build. By late evening the horses had all been moved with Dodge 3/4 ton trucks pulling horse trailers. [I should say "dragging"--out here that is the term used for moving anything that has to be towed!]

When I approached the horse corral there were several enormous ravens bouncing over the ground with out-spread wings. They were searching for any bits of food dropped by the dudes or [yuk] bits of grain to be prized from the piles of horse droppings. The ravens flew into nearby trees and scolded in their harsh voices while I was there snapping pictures.
Many of the lodgepole pines in the mountain forests are dieing. I understand they are infested by a plague of beetles. The affected trees first turn a rusty color, then dull grey.
I rode on the back of J.'s 4 wheeler for one afternoon, about 50 miles, more than enough jouncing for my cranky old bones! He hadn't brought the pack he usually straps on the rack of the ATV, so I didn't take my camera.
J. and grandson stopped to fish in several likely places on the twisting creek, which gave me a chance to explore on foot. Grandson went under a narrow bridge across the water and called me to see a fantastic nest. How I wished for the camera. The nest was wedged between an I beam and the underside wooden planking of the bridge. It looked like a miniature bee skep turned on its side. It may have belonged to a swallow, although it was larger than the similarly constructed swallow's nests I have seen.
Walking back up the road while the males cast their lines, I heard a mighty squawking and could see a cloud of grey and white birds ahead. I toiled up the hill until I could stand near the crown of a tall spruce where the birds were congregated. This was an odd experience as the side hill fell steeply down to the creek bed and the tops of the trees rooted at the bottom were still way above my head. I beleive that the birds were Grey Jays--known in the mountains as "camp robbers". Just beyond the jay's roost was a pile of "scat" in the dusty track. There are these reminders that not every animal who is at home in the mountains is small or timid. The previous day J. and grandson had come across a "pile" which they identified as bear do.
The mountain flowers were past their peak and the photos I took are not the best; I'm still not accustomed to the focus of my new camera.
Blogger is balking about photo uploads this morning, as it did last evening. I have a shop quilt to finish [7 more rows] so will try later with the flower photos.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Domestic Scene

I've had to bring this quilt project home from the shop. The fabrics are a lovely brushed cotton by Moda. The quilt, called Night in the Woods, is part of our "line" and is usually made 60 x72 inches. "The Boss" took an order for one in queen size which is a bit unmanageable. I've broken it into three sections of 13 rows. The cats think brushed cotton is very snuggly and I've been shooining them off--will have to use a sticky roller when I'm done. It is one thing to have cat hair on my own quilts--but not acceptable for my shop work!
The big buck is a lone visitor this morning. There has to be choicer munching on the property than this stand of weeds and native sunflower stalks. We've been surprised to see how long the antlers remain in velvet.

Whereas we've been seeing the buck all summer in groups of 3 or 5, perhaps as rut season approaches they are starting to feel competative. We are seeing them singly or two at a time. This big fellow has a slight injury to one leg, which may put him out of the running with the ladies or make him an easy prey for a hunter. He moved off down the driveway by the guest cabin when J. opened the garage door. These are Mule Deer, known here as "mulies." We also have the White-Tail Deer, an import from farther east.

The cats are very inspired this morning. I've given them a paper bag as a "hide."
Teasel on the left and Jemima on the defensive.

I'm hoping the paper bag and a cardboard box will keep everyone's activity staged in the great room--so that I can sew without helpers!

Sunday, August 16, 2009


All during the past summer I puttered in the kitchen of my grandfather’s house. I perched on the high stool to shell peas, rolled biscuit dough at the Hoosier, washed grit and tiny snails from garden lettuce. I scooted out of my uncle’s way as he charged from stove to sink bearing a steaming kettle of potatoes or macaroni. At mealtime I laid two places on the oilcloth-covered table in the narrow dining room, taking the white ironstone plates from the big cupboard, bringing milk from the icebox, half a pie from the broad shelf in the pantry. All summer I helped to choose the groceries on twice-monthly trips to town, adding little delicacies to the list of staples which seldom changed.

Now it is autumn. After school I change quickly to old clothes and walk through falling leaves to my grandfather’s house next door. My uncle relinquishes the kitchen happily, retreating to endless little tasks elsewhere in the house or yard. Left in charge and free to experiment, I spend these late afternoons scrubbing potatoes, searching out a pretty bowl for applesauce, stirring up gingerbread from a neighbor’s recipe tucked in the dog-eared old book which bears my great-grandmother’s notes.

My grandfather stumps up from the barn during a break in his chores and stays long enough to peel the potatoes and quarter apples for the sauce. He keeps the kitchen knives honed to razor sharpness, and doesn’t trust me, I think. We share an apple, slice by slice from the point of his jackknife, eating it with Royal Lunch crackers and cheddar cheese, to fortify ourselves until suppertime.

My grandfather replenishes the wood box and heads out to attend to the milking. I check the progress of my gingerbread, then wander through to spend a few moments in the front parlour. Two of the windows face westward, and the slanting sun of early October filters mellow amber light through the fading red and gold of sugar maples on the hill. The light touches the gilded oval frame which surrounds the portrait of my great-grandparents, Eddie and Eliza, caught forever in the graceful dignity of mid-life. In shadow on the south wall hangs the military portrait of their son, Lawrence, killed in the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918. The old piano is here too, stolid on the worn ingrain carpet, on its dark-varnished top an unearthed box of my grandmother’s music, stashed away after her death years ago. I play at random from the Pilgrim Hymnal, The Golden Book of Songs, and attempt a few bars of waltzes and “rags” from the yellow tattered sheet music of the early 1900’s.

The thump of boots in the shed announces suppertime and I hurry back to the kitchen to put the meal on the table while my grandfather splutters and splashes at the hand sink, burying his face in the roller towel. I move the vinegar cruet closer to his plate and pour tea. My grandfather pulls out his chair, sniffing with pleasure at the homely aromas of simple food. The old dog clicks across the linoleum to be nearer in the comfortable assurance of handouts. Spoons tinkle against china, twilight moves softly against the windowpanes, extinguishing the afternoon’s gold. We eat slowly, companionably; an old man, a girl, and a dog, warmed by each other’s presence and filled by the savor of beef stew, applesauce and gingerbread.

Sharon D. Whitehurst
Writer’s Retreat
Wentworth, NH 1997

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Process of Selling a House

View of the kitchen at the "spec" house; locally made lodgepole cabinetry
Side front view of spec house just before completion

front of the house where we live, garage to rear and guest cabin on the right

the guest cabin
I've had a few comments and questions regarding the process of selling a home. I hadn't realized that the transaction might be conducted quite differently in other places.
My husband's work for a number of years has been to build as a general contractor either "custom homes" for a specific client or to purchase vacant land and construct a house which we hope will be appealing and saleable. Either process presents some pitfalls.
In the case of a custom home there is a specific budget arranged between the client and a mortage lender or bank. The general contractor and the home owner to be must go over plans, designating what portion of the funds will be allocated for such things as labor, materials, sub-contracting, fittings such as lighting, cabinetry and appliances. Usually the contractor presents a detailed estimate of the amount for which he can do the specified job, allowing for a cost over run. We have worked with clients who have a good understanding of how their funds must be spent and are able to sort their "dream home" wishes and come up with a plan that is affordable and pleasing. We have also had the negative experience of clients who can't come to grips with reality. These are the ones who feel priviledged to make phone calls 24/7, who decide that they would like a doorway repositioned , a window added, an interior wall moved. They are apt to be people who fall in love with a style of cabinetry or lighting or flooring which is beyond the budget, but they offer reassurance that of course they will pay the difference in cost. The reality is that when it is time for a final settlement, the home owner is shocked at the total, protests that they couldn't have imagined the difference in price, have decided that something doesn't suit and therefore they "can't pay."
J. came to the point of preferring to buy a parcel of land, go through the permitting processes to "sub-divide" into 4 or 5 plots, and one at a time design and build quality homes to be offered for sale. The usual practice is to choose a local real estate agency [one or more realtors] to advertise the property through their website and in the area realty magazines. The realtors are involved in a multiple listing service [MLS] which means that any of the associated agencies can show a property listed by another firm. For their services the realtor receives about 8% of the selling price.
The realtors set up appointments for "showings" of the listed property. When an interested client makes an offer, the realtor acts as the intermediary, submitting the offer, conveying the seller's acceptance, rejection or counter offer. [Think piles of paper!]
Once a price is agreed between buyer and seller, the mortgage lender requires a safety inspection and a property appraisal. The inspection is usually straight forward; we have learned that the appraisal process is not. The appraisers, like the realtors and inspectors, are state licensed. Their job is to make an evaluation of the house based on location, construction quality, desirable "upgrade" features, design details, etc. The appraisor has to show "comps"--similar properties which have sold within the past year--and review how the subject property compares to the others he or she has chosen to include. The subject property must appraise for at least the dollar amount that the buyer has to borrow, preferably more. The appraisal is meant to be based on careful review, including in the case of new construction, questioning the builder about materials and building practices which may not be obvious. Most appraisers are conscientious, some are more conservative in their evaluations than others. We have just had dealings with one who has a poor reputation in the area--a man not interested in thoroughness or research. The gross errors and invalid assumptions contained in his appraisal of the spec house have caused a delay in closing the sale--while the buyers sought another lender and a second appraisal. The bank where we do all our business refuses to use the services of this particular appraiser and we have begun the process of a formal complaint which is under review by the licensing board.
Once the inspectors and appraisers have filed their reports and collected their fees, a bond is posted while a title company researches the validity of the seller's right to the property, determining if the boundaries are properly recorded at the county courthouse, whether there are any liens against the current owner, or even against a former owner of the property. When a "clear title" is established a closing date is scheduled.
We have occupied three of the houses built with resale in mind. The goal is to realize enough profit so that we can build and keep a mortgage-free home for our declining years--which are bearing down upon us. On several occasions the houses have been "under contract" for sale before they were quite finished. Two of them, one in 2006 and the current one, have been on the market for over a year. That is when J. gets nervous and decides that whatever house we are living in will also go on the market--to give us better options. In 06 when he did just that, both houses suddenly sold within six weeks--and we hastily packed our belongings into an old barn and squeezed ourselves and numerous cats into a camper while we built the little "guest cabin" on this property. First we and then our daughter and her family stayed in the tiny cabin while we finished our house and one for them.
There is a tax exemption if one sells a home after a two year occupancy--thus J.'s reasoning that we should do this "one more time." Under the current administration, that tax break is likely to be rescinded.
So, kicking and screaming, this where we are at. The closing on the spec house should go forward next week. Meanwhile I have to accept that we are again living in a home which might sell in 30 days --or might not. And--more wailing and gnashing of teeth--I have to be tidy enough to accept a viewing appointment on an hour's notice. For what it is worth, I protest!

Friday, August 14, 2009

In Which We Prepare for a House Viewing and Rest Thereafter

Raisin curls in a chair after her "tea"
Maisie sprawled on the windowsill

Charlie has crashed on the hearth rug

Mrs. Beasley stares groggily from the blanket chest

lt. to rt: Jemima; Teasel; Eggnog; Chester
No, you don't see photos of the exhausted home owners! It is not that we conduct our daily lives in a pig sty. Beds are neatly made, bathrooms are clean, laundry done and stowed away. But we are, hmmm--untidy.
I hoed out my lair--the sewing/book/computer space last evening and was quite pleased with myself. Daughter, who considers housekeeping a kind of recreation [she ran a house cleaning business for several years] came down and artfully arranged things on kitchen counters, tweeked the furniture arrangments after the manner of HGTV house-hunter shows. I upearthed the contents of my bedroom closet, chucked out things, washed the bedroom curtains which had acquired a distinctive edging of cat hair.
I can't say that we leapt from bed this morning, but rather grimly arose a bit after six and guzzled our coffee, fed the cats. J. tackled the confusion of the garage and I decided to wash all the windows inside and out. All of these things, mind you, have "wanted done"--the phrase that Wyoming natives use to describe a task which looms.
The cats were most put out by all this activity with mops and brooms and bottles of cleaner. Teasel sat on the kitchen counter while I perched on a step stool outside swiping at the window. Her mouth opened and shut with distressed meows--unheard through the glass. Eggnog dived under the bedcovers, a stolid lump. Charlie watched as his favorite hiding place, a cardboard box, was relegated to the garage. Daughter appeared to see if we had made a proper job of it, moved my waste basket to where she thought it looked good--a spot inaccessable from either desk. J. wiped down appliances while I had a hasty shower and put out the best towels. We looked around and decided that the place looked pretty sharp!
"See, now, how nice this looks--why can't you just keep it up?" [This from daughter in her best talking-to-not-quite-bright-children voice.]
We waited to vacate until the realtor and her client arrived. [It doesn't do to leave too soon and risk Raisin hawking a hairball on the dining room floor!]
Daughter reported that the "viewing" took about 15 minutes. I am not anxious to move yet again--this is our 4th new house in 10 years and the novelty is a bit worn off.
J. loaded up daughter and grandson, went to the dump and on to Riverton so see if the faulty A/C has been sorted on one of his motor homes. I went to work at the quilt shop.
It was lovely to come home to the nearly spotless house. The cats emerged and demanded their "tea" then told me they were quite worn out with house cleaning and viewings! My feet hurt!
With the grumbles re camping and cleaning uproar here-by expressed and more or less out of my system, we will resume next posting with more "literary" efforts!

Camping Trip

J. with the trout he caught
J. and J.--the twins

Looking toward the mountains from camping area in Cody, WY

Two large birds circled around that rocky peak, riding the drafts--I couldn't tell what they were.

Camping is not a past time which brings a gleam of enthusiasm to my eye. It generally involves an effort at being a "good sport"--a guise which I can manage for a limited time. The departure for this adventure was pushed up by a half day which meant that I was scrambling to make sure everything was on board. By mid afternoon on Saturday we were lumbering toward the Big Horn Mountains beyond Ten Sleep, Wyoming, with the two 4-wheelers on a trailer behind the motor home. J.'s twin brother and his wife traveled with us in their coach. The vehicles groaned over the looping mountain roads, the drivers consulted maps and turned off at several wilderness camping areas only to find there were no vacant parking spots. With the motor homes rocking over rough tracks, we finally located a decent area, inhabited by a flock of sheep. It began to rain, a chilly drizzle just as we settled and started a campfire. With our breath making white puffs in the frosty air, we hastily gathered up the supper preparations and took shelter in our respective coaches. A reconnoiteur in the morning proved that all the wooded trails in the area had been posted closed to ATV's. Considerably disgruntled, the men decided to drive to Cody, spend a night there and then drive through a portion of Yellowstone National Park. We cooked over a campfire that evening in Cody and the good fishing improved the male moods.
The drive through the park was surprisingly uneventful. The only wildlife spotted was two shaggy buffalo and a deer. Grandson hadn't seen the Old Faithful geyser, so we made a stop there. The spot was crowded with tourists, so I stayed in the coach and drowsed over a British mystery. Our stay for the next two nights was a spot on Togwottee Pass where we have camped before. I tried the new camera when I went for a walk there, but haven't had the time to fuss with uploading the photos, so will save them for another post.
We arrived home late on Wednesday to the news that the realtor wished to show our house on Friday morning--the house we live in! Oh groan!
J. and grandson cleaned the camper, I dragged in dusty, campfire-smelling laundry. I began cleaning and tidying before going to work at the quilt shop on Thursday, came home to deal with various messes I had allowed to pile up in this little room that holds sewing desk, quilting projects, the PC desk, books---dear me!
I think I need another "vacation"--maybe the kind that involves delicious meals appearing, a lounge chair, complete leisure!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Elm Row Farm
hay barn with milk house to left


essay from writer's retreat

Wentworth, N.H. 1997

The thunderstorm moves in just as the evening milking is nearing completion. All day the August sun has climbed, a brass ball in a sultry sky, shrivelling the long green streamers of the field corn, wilting the dahlias along the north end of the house. The cosmos near the front porch droop delicately, their soft pink petals faded and limp, their frothy leaves dangling on listless stems. In the yard the hens scratch in the dirt, clucking querulously.

My grandfather has not lingered over his noon dinner today, has foregone his usual doze in the rocking chair. Leaving his pipe and the can of Prince Albert on the living room table, he gathers the hired men, the pitchforks, the water jug and clambers stiffly into the passenger seat of the farm truck. The truck bumps down the rough track to the meadow, lurching over the ruts, its slow progress marked by puffs of dust.

I scuff along to the meadow gate to watch the slow loading of the hay bales, the jerking stops and starts of the old truck. Three times the men return to stow the neat tiers of bales in the bay of the big barn. Their blue shirts are stuck to their backs; when they swill from the common jug of ice water, the wetness dribbles onto their chins, drips and mingles with the sweat of their forearms, spatters onto their dusty shoes.

In the northwest sky the clouds pile, white shading into ashy grey and purple-black. My uncle fusses about the dooryard, shooing the hens toward their coop, muttering dourly about "thunder heads." A sullen wind stirs up acrid dust, rushes through the branches of the apricot tree, turns up the leaves of the maples.

No one needs to fetch the cows home for milking; an hour early they cluster uneasily at the gate. We stand guard while they cross the dirt road and plod into the barn, cowpies splotting behind them onto the dry packed earth. The old De Laval milk pump sputters and drones, the sound harsh in the heavy air. The clatter of pails and milk cans, the scrape of the hoe pushing manure into the gutters, create a dinning discord as the wary hush deepens outside.

I lurk at my grandfather's heels, getting in his way, as edgy as the stable cats, until he installs me on an upturned bucket in the alcove between the milking barn and the hay barn. A tiger cat weaves around my sneakered feet, his eyes glowing amber in the strange early dusk.

As the milking machine is pulled from the last cow the sky outside the open windows is slashed with fire, yellow-white cutting against a horizon gone an angry blackened green. Thunder crescendos, the timbers of the barn creak. The cows plunge in their wooden stanchions, straining, frightened. At the third crack the lights flicker and go out. The milk pump whines to a stop. My grandfather appears beside me, his bulk familiar and reassuring in the gloom. We walk out to stand together in the roofed passageway between the barn and milkhouse. Rain pounds on the tin overhead and sluices in sheets past the open sliding door, drilling a trench as it hits the gravel of the driveway.

There is a pause like a gasp of indrawn breath, a split second before the rain is followed by a staccato of small hail. Steam rises from the ground and the smell of old dust gives way to a cool scent ---like snow in summer. In a few moments the din eases, familiar shapes loom through the silver veil of wet, the thunder creeps off, still grumbling.

My grandfather reaches back inside the stable doorway, plucks his ragged denim barn frock from the peg. He wraps me in the coat, the woolen lining scratching my bare arms. Hoisting me, he plods through the green twilight toward the house.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

In Which We Go Camping!

I hope everything we need is packed. Food, the kettles for cooking on an open fire; clothes and bedding enough for chilly mountain nights.
This is "sissy" camping--a motor home instead of a tent!
Will share the photos when we return.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Eliza's Story

Eddie and Eliza's marriage certificate.
Back row: Lawrence; Minnie; Helen;

Front row: Eliza; Harold; Eddie.

Standing: Eliza; her MIL, Ann.

Seated: Eliza's step-daughters, Minnie and Helen.
circa 1910 at the home in upstate New York .

Early 1920's

Eddie and brother, Amos.

Eliza and SIL Belle.

circa 1930

Eliza and Eddie in front of the Vermont farmhouse.

My Favorite photo of them.

She wasn't a pretty woman. The earliest photo I have of her is a formal pose taken on the day of her 1892 marriage to my great-grandfather, Eddie. Her photo and his are part of an elegantly embellished marriage certificate. Eliza is gowned in a light colored suit with darker deep cuffs and yoke, probably of velvet. The fitted jacket has a row of large dark buttons down the front. Her matching full skirt has side pleats caught in a draped band. For the occasion of her wedding the front of her hair has been cut in a full bang and frizzed with a curling iron. She was not yet 20 when she became Eddie's second wife. He was nearly 10 years older, a father of three. Thirteen months earlier the birth of their third child had cost the life of his delicate first wife, my great grandmother.

The second marriage of Eddie's mother, Ann, to a widower, had made her sons, Amos and Eddie, a part of the close-knit Adirondack hamlet where Eliza would have grown up seeing Eddie and his family at church and neighborhood doings. After his first marriage Eddie continued to share the large white farmhouse on the hill with his mother and step-father--who became his father-in-law as well.

Suddenly this grieving household had to manage a motherless newborn, an active little boy not quite 2, and a serious big sister of 7. The handed down stories don't include the date when Eliza was called upon to help. I would guess that it was fairly soon. At first she may have come daily to the house to help with cooking and cleaning and child care. She may have been immediately asked to stay at the big house, bringing her clothing, her work basket, her sewing. By the time the NY census was enumerated in early 1892 she was considered part of the household. She was small and plain, gentle, patient and quietly competant. Her soft-spoken presence would have made no disturbance in that sorrowing family. I wonder: did she make friends first with the little girl who was old enough perhaps to understand that her mother would not be returning? Did she keep a watchful eye on that little boy who had so recently learned to walk and must be kept from mischief? Undoubtedly she washed diapers and ironed dresses for the tiny baby girl. How long before the family began to know her, not as a young woman whose parents were part of the rural community, but as someone whose ways were becoming a familiar and valued part of their lives? How many months passed before Eddie's natural sense of fun began to re-assert itself? How soon did he realize that he wanted Eliza to stay, to become his second wife?

Eliza's younger sister, Bessie, and Eddie's half-sister, Edna, both in their teens, signed the marriage certificate as witnesses. Perhaps they took over Eliza's household tasks for a few days so that Eddie and Eliza could enjoy a brief wedding trip before she moved her clothing, her dresser set, her hairpins, her personal treasures into Eddie's bedroom. Eliza was by then a cherished member of the household, familiar with their foibles, secure in her contribution to daily life. Her clean calico aprons hung on the same peg by the pantry door; she walked as usual to meet Helen after school, took Lawrence with her when she went outside to fetch clean laundry from the clothes line. She held her arms wide toward Minnie as the baby took her first stumbling steps. It would be more than 5 years before Eliza's son, her only child, was born.

On Saturdays she helped Ann with the preparation of baked beans and brown bread, made the pies for Sunday dinner. In the summer they canned fruit, sat on the back porch together to shell peas, sharing the care of the blended family. Eliza, whose voice could barely be heard on the Sunday hymns, stitched and mended, sitting near the glow of a lamp, while Helen played the piano. Lawrence learned the violin and eventually Minnie joined her sister at the piano. Eddie sang, his mellow tenor filling the parlor. Eddie and Eliza and their children remained a part of that joined household for more than 20 years. Eliza became the church treasurer, while Eddie taught Sunday school and chaperoned a youth group. Eddie's mother, Ann, died in 1911, just prior to Minnie's marriage to a young man who lived on the adjoining farm. Eddie's step-father's death followed in July, 1912.
By late autumn, Eddie had purchased a farm of his own across Lake Champlain in Vermont. Soon after the turn of the year the move was made. Lawrence divided his time between the farm and his job in Ticonderoga, NY. Helen's fiance rode the ferry across the lake to visit as often as he could before their Christmas time wedding in 1913. True to his word, Eddie made his son-in-law, Mac, a partner in the farm. Eliza and Helen, long accustomed, worked easily together in the narrow kitchen with its window that looked toward the big east meadow. In the evenings, especially on the weekends when Lawrence was there, this house, too, rang with music.

Lawrence went to war, didn't come back. The family celebrated Harold's marriage, wishing that Lawrence was there---not knowing yet of his death a week earlier in France. His fiancee came to weep, pouring out her heart, as Eliza sat with her in the warm kitchen, peeling potatoes, patting out biscuit dough, trying to spare Helen, pregnant with her second child. Gently she told Letha, "You must move on. Lawrence would have wanted that."

Eliza helped care for Mac and Helen's son Billy, delighted over the new baby, my mother. Helen's health, never the equal of her enthusiasm for life, declined. With Helen's death when my mother was 9, Eliza was once again the surrogate mother, taking over the raising of children who were not of her blood, but very much of her heart.

Eliza managed the house, fretted over Billy's uncertain health and shy ways. She boarded the school teacher, made the plaid gingham dresses my mother, Beulah, wore to school, taught her to use the treadle sewing machine, encouraged and corrected in her wise and quiet manner. In speaking of those years my mother said once of Eliza, "My grandfather adored her."
By the spring of 1934 only Eliza and her son-in-law, my Grampa Mac remained of the original partnership.

My parents created a three room apartment in the farmhouse when they were married. My younger sister and I learned that Grandma's kitchen was a welcoming place. When I shut my finger in the screen door, she made bandages of gauze, tied in a bow over a coating of Raleigh's salve. Her touch was so light, her manner so calm that I didn't think to cry. Eliza's fine hair was white now, wisps of it escaped from her hairpins and blew in her face when she sat on the front porch with my mother while they hemmed pinafores or darned socks. With my mother's third pregnancy we were out-growing the three rooms at the back of the farmhouse and a new house began to take shape a few hundred yards along the road. Through the dusty golden weeks of that autumn I walked beside my mother, my sister, barely 3, clinging to her other hand. We watched the little house taking shape, then returned to the familiarity of Grandma Eliza's kitchen.
We moved into the unfinished house just weeks before my youngest sister's arrival. My mother, weary and uncomfortable, watched from the front steps as I carried a well wrapped cake plate next door to where Grandma Eliza waited on her back porch. It was my 5th birthday and Grandma would make my cake. My baby sister was born a week later.

With our mother recuperating from childbirth and trying to settle into a new house, my sister and I were often at the farmhouse for a part of the day. Sometimes Grandma Eliza phoned our mother to say that we would have supper there and our dad could fetch us home after. We were there waiting for him to collect us on the evening a month and a day after my birthday, when looking toward the dining room from our game in the parlor, we saw Grandma Eliza suddenly standing still, a dish towel clutched to her chest. My uncle was at her side in an instant, my grandfather Mac was out of his chair by the radio. Suddenly our father was coming in from the yard, hustling us into coats and hats.

I woke in the night in the room I shared with my sister. Lights were on in that still unfamiliar house. When I crept downstairs, a young neighbor woman whom we loved was there. She explained that my grandmother was sick and that my parents, taking the baby with them, had gone next door to be with Grandma Eliza. She offered to read to me, but I trudged back up to bed, mute, with an odd sense of something wrong. The memory of Grandma Eliza's stricken face, the way my uncle held her arm, spoke of something outside my experience.

The next days were strange. When we were briefly allowed next door Grandma Eliza was not there. People we didn't know came and went. Flowers stood in large baskets and vases. It was a week or so before I knew that Eliza's presence was forever gone away. It was then that my tears broke in a flood.
It was years before I realized how deep my mother's grieving must have been. Eliza had been both mother and grandmother for her. In speaking of this time many years later my mother still worried that she had allowed grandma to do too much for us. Remembering that quiet lady, having learned more about her, I expect that it was as she wished--her long life was spent in caring for others, those children, grandchildren and great grandchildren--not of her blood and bone, but of her warm and loving heart.

Salvaged Treasures

Quilt blocks unpicked from the worn sashing

Muslin used as setting triangles after blocks were "promise stitched"

to worn muslin backing

Two of the dark triangles had been pieced of small scraps

Returned from the frame shop

During the United States bicentenial in 1976 there was a renewed interest in older handcrafts. It took several years for fabric stores to begin supplying quality calicos, but the fires of enthusiam had been kindled and the creation of beautiful cotton fabrics has become big business. I had been sewing for many years, but was new to the art of quilt making in the early 1980's.

My mother kept a vintage quilt top put away in a dresser drawer. It had been pieced by her grandmother, but never finished. All the fabrics used in the patchwork were scraps from worn aprons, blouses, "house dresses", with some small scale plaids which likely were from men's shirts. The blocks were meticulously hand-pieced, then my g-grandmother's treadle sewing machine was used to "set" the blocks with strips of pink and white checked cotton.

I bought unbleached muslin for a backing and a roll of batting, tied the layers and then folded the backing to the front and hand stitched the edges. I brought out the finished quilt for my Mother's birthday. We were both pleased that something which had been tucked away for so long was now in use and enjoyed.

Mother kept the little quilt folded at the foot of her bed. She wrapped herself in it for naps, pulled it up on cold nights. The cats slept there during the day and sometimes came in with muddy feet which meant that the quilt was laundered often. It went into the washing machine so frequently over the next 20 years that the pink checked fabric began to split and fray. Before my mother had to go into a nursing home, she washed the old quilt one last time and put the sagging remains in a plastic bag with the stipulation that it was mine.

When we moved our daughter and her family from east to west in 2006, I stuffed the quilt into my suitcase and brought it along. We were finishing a new house for ourselves, building one for our daughter's family. In the general upheaval the tattered quilt was put into a closet and there it stayed for two years.

Finally I resurrected it from the plastic bag and had a good critical look. With no clear plan in mind I began the tedious process of picking the blocks free of the ruined sashing. I carried chunks of the quilt with me in the truck when we traveled for building supplies, it went with me on weekends when we visited our son's home. At one point I even bought checked fabric which almost matched the original, thinking to reset the blocks.

One of the classes offered at the quilt shop where I work part time was called "Promise Stitch." The concept originated in the Appalachians when women had to utilize scraps of old clothing to make everyday bedding. The worn strips of fabric were hand pieced, then for strength, the seam allowances were pressed to one side and top stitched, again by hand. Utility rather than fine stitchery was the goal.

I cut the soft, well worn muslin of the quilt backing into squares, pressed the salvaged blocks and carefully pinned the two layers together, block by block. It became a labor of love to hand quilt along the seams. When the hand stitching was finished I added "setting triangles" of new washed muslin for stability.

I sent two of the quilted blocks to my two girl cousins who share the same great-grandmother. I wanted to frame several to keep and to give to my children. While I was pondering the best way to do this a cousin of my husband came to visit. She is both a skilled needlewoman and an artist. She suggested that the pieces should be very simply framed in something which would resemble the frame of an old farmhouse mirror--a vintage white-washed effect.

The elderly gentleman who owns a photo and frame shop in town was able to order just the right wood for the frames. I have my favorite of the blocks hanging over my sewing machine and chose blocks to be framed for my son and daughter. I printed a card giving the history of the quilt and the name of my g-grandmother to go with each block. Several more of the blocks are works in progress for my sisters and their children.

The setting of the light/dark triangle-squares is an unusual one, not often found in quilt pattern collections. I have found it labeled as "Windblown Star". When an arrangement of the triangle-squares includes light, medium, and dark, it becomes "Trailing Star."

I call it "Eliza's Star" after the woman who made the quilt. She was indeed a very precious star in my family's history.
You may "click" on the photos to see the details of the piecing and the quilting.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Whose Egg This Is, I'd Like To Know!

"Wild" egg on the left; extra-large store-bought egg on right.

Egg nestled under sagebrush root when found.

See how the egg's coloring blends with the dry ground and twisted sage roots.

The moon was rising as we turned toward home.

Last evening our grandson hurried in and asked me to come out before dark to view an egg he had found while riding his bike through the sagebrush and weeds of our vacant lot. He is very interested in the natural world and wild life. I am so pleased that at almost 15 he still seeks my company when he finds something special.

We have speculated on what bird-y creature left this mottled egg in such a spot. It doesn't appear to be tended or cherished. Our first thought was it might belong to one of the Mallard ducks, but they make their secret nests in the cat tails that surround the nearby pond. There are pheasants who patrol the vacant lot, but we think a pheasant egg might be smaller. We wonder: how long has the egg been resting in the dirt? It was sunk into an egg-shaped depression nearly under the twisted trunk of the sage. Has it been rained upon? Has it cooked during the recent hot afternoons? Would it explode if we poked it?

We had no answers, so as the moon rose in the night sky, we crunched back through the dry and prickery weeds. This evening we took the white egg from the store-bought dozen and laid it beside the egg of unknown parentage for size comparison. I have a ridiculous mental picture of the unknown bird being overtaken with an inconvenient urge to lay an egg, squatting there by the bush, then continuing on without a care.

Grandson's find today was a large snake on the overgrown path down to the old barn. I declined his invitation to see if it was still there.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 1--Our Family Remembers

Lawrence Ross, Camp Devins, MA, 1918

My Parents, 1942

50th Wedding Anniversary, 1991

Among the memories shared by a family or other closely knit group are the ones we celebrate joyfully, sending invitations, preparing a surprise party for a birthday or anniversary. Other, more somber occasions may be commemorated by a quiet pilgrimage, solitary reflection or a memorial service.

The first of August has significance for our family. On that day in 1918 my grandmother's younger brother, Lawrence, was killed during the Second Battle of the Marne. Ironically Lawrence, who was missing parts of two fingers on his right hand and wore thick glasses, was a machine gunner. His commanding officer, writing six weeks later to Lawrence's parents, described his death: "About 4 p.m. the Gemans attacked us, shelling very heavily as they came. As a general rule, a hole in the ground is as safe a place as one can select and, although we considered ourselves comparatively out of danger, three shells broke directly in the hole. Private Ross was killed instantly."

Word of his death did not reach his family for about two weeks. His younger brother was married, as planned, on August 8th. My mother, born 9 months after her uncle's death, grew up feeling that she was almost acquainted with him. The family apparently spoke of him fondly and often, as though perhaps he was merely living at a distance from home. His portrait, a slender man photographed in sober uniform, hung in the farmhouse parlor during my mother's growing up years--and mine.

My parents were married on August 1st in 1941. I don't recall seeing a photo of them together on that day, although surely someone must have recorded the event with a Kodak Brownie. There was no formal church service as my father was a professed Catholic and my mother a Protestant. Their vows were spoken at the Catholic rectory. I suppose there was a celebratory gathering and a cake. I can imagine that the mingling of the two families may have been a bit reserved, although my parents had dated, after the fashion of the times, for several years. I do know that they spent the weekend at Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks.

I don't recall any fuss over their anniversay when my sisters and I were growing up. In later years, they usually planned an outing together. On their 50th anniversary we held a picnic on their lawn under the silver maple. In 2007 they had been married 66 years. My father was at the nursing home to have lunch with my mother. There was a cake and flowers. Three weeks later, mother passed away.

Sometimes, as years go by, we find that a day of remembrance has passed, almost without notice. Perhaps there is no one with us to share a particular memory, to recall an old sorrow, or to relive a happy event. The news commentators remind us of the anniversaries the world shares: Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, the landing of the first spaceship on the moon.

Memories blend and merge, becoming a collage of faces, colors, sounds. Photographs curl and fade in old albums. In most families there are those of us who decipher the browned pages of diaries, ponder the identity of those forever caught in a blurred black and white photo. We collect the memories, handing them on to the next generation. "Lest we forget."