Sunday Morning 1962

In 1962 I was a 10-year-old girl, spending my time doing the same things my contemporaries were doing in rural Arkansas. It was the year Chubby Checker’s The Twist hit the radio waves and a Catholic sat in the White House. My dad declared that the whole country had gone plumb crazy.

Nine months of the year I went to school, riding the bus about an hour each direction and reading my way through the miles. My favorite books included Island of the Blue Dolphins, Heidi, and Old Yeller. I was a master at hopscotch and jacks and also excelled at spelling, hula-hooping, and jumping rope. I could beat anyone who challenged me in the best card game ever: Authors. Television shows I routinely watched included Dr. Kildare (I had a secret crush on Richard Chamberlain.), Bonanza, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The Disney show aired on Sunday nights, so usually I saw only half of it before having to leave for evening church.

Sunday mornings at our house were as predictable as the muddy roads that followed a big rain. I was the oldest of four children and therefore was responsible for helping my mother get my younger siblings ready for church. My 5-year-old brother was the easiest to get ready on Sunday morning but the hardest to keep ready. Mom or I helped him get into his Sunday pants, shirt and shoes, rubbed a little Butch wax into his flat-top haircut, and searched his person for contraband such as frogs, whistles, and paper rolls of caps from his cap gun. In decent weather, he was then sent outside with strict instructions: “Stay on the porch and don’t get dirty until the rest of us are ready to leave.”

My baby sister had to be wriggled into lacy anklets and shiny Sunday shoes (black in winter and white starting on Easter Sunday) and then wrestled into a frilly dress with tiny buttons down the back and a big bow that had to be tied to perfection. Matching short bloomers were pulled on over a fresh diaper and plastic pants; barrettes were fastened into her fine blonde hair. Her hands and face were wiped again and her pink cheeks were kissed repeatedly. We couldn’t resist.

Then my 7-year-old sister and I concentrated on getting ourselves ready. Baths and shampoos had been taken care of the night before. We had also chosen the next morning’s outfit, shined our patent leather shoes with the middle torn out of a biscuit, and washed any needed hair ribbons. The ribbons had dried overnight wrapped around a drinking glass so they would be wrinkle-free and ready for use the next morning.

After washing my face and hands, brushing my teeth, and “fixing” my hair, I then chose the appropriate slip to wear. Selecting the right slip required a certain amount of deliberation. If my dress had a full skirt, I chose a can-can, also called a crinoline, a stiff, heavily starched, birdcage-type affair that assured that the skirt would flare appropriately. For slimmer-fitting dresses, I had a half-slip, which was made of nylon, had an elastic waistband and simply prevented anyone from “seeing through my skirt.” If I chose a full-slip, my mother used a needle and thread to tack the slip’s straps to the inside of my dress at the shoulders, lest anyone get a glimpse of the straps.

Exposing a slip strap was a social faux pas equivalent to letting one’s slip show beneath the hem of her skirt. A girl was discreetly informed that this breach of etiquette had occurred by hearing whispered into her ear the words, “It’s snowing down south.” I as yet had no need for a bra but was certainly looking forward to the day when I would. Those Jane Russell Cross-Your-Heart bra commercials on TV were not wasted on this pre-adolescent girl. I also eagerly anticipated owning my first pair of nylon stockings, which wouldn’t come for several more years. We had never heard of pantyhose.

As we left the house, I checked my mom’s stockings for runs and her hair for any “holes” in the back. She checked the corners of each child’s eyes for sleep, the edges of their mouths for crusted food and their fingernails for dirt. We then stepped out onto the front porch. There Mom persuaded my brother that he could not take with him those things he had been playing with for the past half hour: an old boat anchor, his safari helmet, his cap gun, and Dad’s hunting dog. She then re-tucked his shirt, wiped the dust off his shoes, and gave his face a good spit bath. After patting him down once more for concealed objects, Mom herded the four of us into the family vehicle for the two-minute ride to church. She deserved a gold medal.

1 Samuel 16:7 tells us, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In 1962, my mother had a genuine concern for both the inside and outside of each of her children. I am glad she did.

Today Mom still worships in the same stone building whose every cranny I investigated as a child. She sits on the same wooden pew that has on its back the marks left by her teething babies. The faith she instilled in my siblings and me resides in our hearts to this day.

We still clean up pretty nicely, too.

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You Call That Fun?

I did a little research before writing this article and Googled “unusual hobbies.” One of the largest sub-categories in my Google hits was “Strange Collections.” I learned that some people make a hobby of collecting air sickness bags, handcuffs, cigar wrappers, and (it sickens me to type this) navel fluff. Other people engage in unbelievable competitive sports such as “extreme ironing,” in which participants find the most challenging places on earth, such as on the side of a mountain, to accomplish removing wrinkles from a shirt using a traditional iron and ironing board. Others make a hobby of following the “fighting beetle circuit” or they create art by carving egg shells. Members of one enthusiastic hobbyist group practice the art of catching thrown javelins. Some of the photos I saw still haunt me.

It was not necessary for me to consult Google to come up with pastimes that seem to me more like torture than fun. One of these is the putting together of 2000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Why would anyone find it relaxing to put together a puzzle whose pieces are the size of baby teeth? In addition, who can suspend the use of their dining room table for the six years it takes to complete one? I suspect that the overcrowding of our prisons might be eliminated if, instead of being sentenced to serving a certain number of years behind bars, convicts were sentenced to completing ten to twenty 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Surely, the very threat of such a penalty would scare straight even the most hardened criminal.

I refuse to participate in any activity that involves being out in the cold. Thus, ice skating, sledding, snow skiing, snowboarding or polar bear swimming are not options for me. A few years ago a group of friends asked me to accompany them to Chicago in December for a day of Christmas shopping. Were they kidding me? Had those people never heard the term “lake effect winds?” I declined, stating that instead I would just crawl inside my freezer and spend the day gnawing on raw meat.

I want no part of any pastime that involves mathematics. Therefore, playing Sudoku is out of the question for me, as is the solving of riddles, especially those beginning with the words, “Two trains left separate stations . . .”

Please do not ask me to meet you at the gym for a workout. I don’t like to sweat, lift heavy objects, put on leotards, experience leg cramps or push the envelope on my occasional urinary incontinence.

I can no longer see well enough to attempt intricate embroidery projects; plus, I got tired of finding lost needles by stepping on them with bare feet. I tried my hand at quilting, but when I spread my project out on the floor so my husband could admire it, he asked, “Did you intend for it to be in the shape of a parallelogram?”

It seems that I am left with only one viable hobby option: writing. I do sometimes get eyestrain from staring at the computer monitor and headaches from trying to retrieve from my brain the exact word I am looking for, and yes, I may occasionally be embarrassed by letting such errors as split infinitives, dangling participles, comma splices, pronoun-antecedent disagreements, and run-on sentences like this one creep in, but my readers generally forgive me if the article makes them smile.

Thus, whether it is collecting four-leaf clovers or flying remote control planes, here’s to your success in finding the perfect pastime for you! Cheers!

People, Places and Things

The word “vacation” means different things to different people. When we travel, Dan loves to visit famous geographical and historical landmarks and take in all that they have to offer.  I, on the other hand, like to talk to the people I encounter, read, nap, linger over meals, get up late, go to bed early, and relax.

Dan and I have made two extended tours of the West and have traveled in the East more than once.  We have seen all of the main attractions in Washington, D.C.; visited Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg; walked along various beaches; toured multiple national parks; and viewed many deserts, canyons, mountains, forests, rivers and plains.  It is just that “seeing” these things means something different to Dan from what it means to me.  He cannot get enough; I fill up quickly.

When we travel, Dan spends weeks preparing an itinerary.  He knows in advance the order in which we will visit our selected destinations and the exact routes we will follow to get to them.  He knows how early (very) we need to leave our motel each morning and how late (very) we will return to a motel that evening. He leaves very little wiggle room in his scheduling because there is much to see and he doesn’t want to miss a thing.

Dan cannot understand why I might choose to spend time chatting with local people or other tourists we meet along the way.  In Yosemite I came across a man with two sweet dogs on leashes.  I struck up a conversation and, according to Dan, we stood and listened to the man tell us his dogs’ complete life histories, plus the histories of the dogs he owned before he got those two.  All of this took place while Half Dome stood only several hundred feet away, begging to be admired.

In Arches National Park, while waiting for Dan to make the long and difficult trek to photograph Landscape Arch, I met a recently widowed English woman.  She and I shared the one tiny area of shade that exists in the park while she told me how she and her husband had planned a trip to the American West for many years and when he died, she decided to brave it on her own.  I admired her courage.  Besides, I will talk to anyone with a British accent in the hope that he or she will say the word “bottle” (bo’ ul) or mention the trunk of a car (boot), riding in an elevator (lift) or using a flashlight (torch).

At the Lincoln Memorial, Dan was incredulous that I preferred visiting with a Japanese woman near the Reflection Pool to climbing (again) the memorial’s steps and reading (again) famous quotations of our sixteenth President.  Afterward, I told Dan that even though the foreign woman and I struggled with a definite language barrier, I learned quickly that the words “children” and “grandchildren” are spoken with the same facial expression in any language.  I laughed as I told him that when I asked the woman if she had experienced Washington D.C.’s subway system, she at first looked confused.  Then she smiled in comprehension, spread her hands about one foot apart from each other and asked, “Subway?  Sandwich?  No like.  Too much bread.”

Of course the natural and manmade wonders that Dan exults in seeing never disappoint him.  They are predictable and safe.  Conversely, the people I meet along the way may or may not be pleasant and entertaining.  In Arlington National Cemetery, I declined walking up the steep slope to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (again), telling Dan that I would rest in the shade of a large tree while he did his thing.

The day was clear and breezy and the cemetery was peaceful.  Soon, using my purse as a pillow, I stretched out to nap for a minute and recover from a day of hiking.  I awakened to see a stern-faced, official-looking man wearing a black suit and sunglasses looking down at me.  He asked, “Are you ill, Ma’am?”  I replied, “No.”  “Have you been injured?” he queried.  Again, I assured him that I was fine.  Then he asked me, “Have you been drinking?”  At this point I sat straight up and declared that I was entirely sober.  “In that case,” the man said, “I must ask you to remove yourself from this area.  We cannot have people lying around in Arlington National Cemetery.”  As I stood, embarrassed, I was tempted to tell the man that, in truth, most of the people in Arlington National Cemetery were lying around, but the eyes behind the dark glasses did not invite humor.  I removed myself.

That’s about it for people and places.  As for things, the main thing that must be remembered is that every long-term relationship is a give-and-take business.  Dan and I, each giving and taking a bit, always enjoy our trips together.  He relishes the places he sees; I savor experiences with the people I meet.  I’m sure you get the picture.

In case, however, you don’t “get the picture,” Dan has a well organized collection of over 700 picturesque vacation slides that he will happily show you if you come to our house.  Don’t expect me to be present for the slideshow, though; I’ll be out somewhere with friends.

Don’t Touch That Dial!

When I was a little girl, our television sat on a black, metal, swivel stand between our living room and dining room.  Each Saturday morning my siblings and I watched cartoons and shows like Fury, all in black and white, in the living room. Each weekday evening, the TV was swiveled to face our dining room table, and together our family ate supper while watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report.

On the front of the television were three clearly labeled dials.  The smallest dial turned the set on or off and controlled the volume.  Above the on-and-off, volume-controlling knob was a slightly larger dial that we turned to select the channel we wanted to watch.  I can still hear the soft, clicking noises the dial made as it moved through the thirteen or so station options.  In between those two dials was a third one that was used for bringing the picture on the screen into clearer focus.  It didn’t do much, but it got twisted a lot.  A three-year-old could operate that television set.

Today in my living room sits a television set with absolutely no dials on it, and I miss them.  Thanks to the magic of fiber optics, this television can bring in several hundred different channels, all of them clearly focused and in brilliant color.  However, were I to approach this television set and run my hands over every one of its flat surfaces, I would not find a dial to let me choose a channel.  Nor could I adjust the volume or focus the picture.   All of those functions are now controlled remotely.

I despise remote controls.  Our television alone has three, and when used correctly, these remotes let us view television programs, record upcoming shows on the DVR, or watch DVDs. Learning to use the three remote controls in proper combination is a challenge that takes many adults years to master. Why can’t we just have dials on the front of the television?  Is it all that much trouble to get up out of a chair and walk across the room to make adjustments?  We didn’t used to think so.

Of course lots of things had dials when I was young, even the telephone.  When I wanted to make a call, I simply lifted the receiver, listened to make sure no one else on our party line was currently using the phone, and dialed seven numbers.  In a few minutes, voila, a real person answered.  Usually this was my grandma or a school friend.  Never once was I greeted by a stranger’s voice advising me to listen to the full menu before choosing an option.

Our radio had dials, and so did our record player.  We turned the dial on the iron to select the correct temperature for the item being ironed and on the toaster to determine the brownness of the bread.  We dialed the oven to 350 when making a cake and to 450 when baking cornbread.  We adjusted the dial inside the refrigerator to make our food cooler and the dial on the water heater to make our water warmer.  It was so easy!

Our clocks and wristwatches had their equivalent of dials.  If the power went off and the time had to be reset, I simply turned the dial that moved the hour and minute hands until the time was right again.  There was no worrying about a.m. or p.m.  I usually knew if it was day or night.  I wound the dial on my wristwatch every day to keep it running, and I made minor time adjustments using the same tiny dial.  Granted, my watch did not tell me the date.  I had a wall calendar for that.

In our attempts to make difficult tasks easier, we have succeeded in making simple tasks impossible!  While visiting at my sister’s house a while back, I wanted to help her with household tasks so I offered to dry a load of wet clothes for her.  Getting the clothes into the dryer was all I managed to do.  After shutting the dryer door, I found myself facing a control panel that contained as many lights and buttons as the cockpit of a small plane.  I was clueless as to how to turn the dryer on.  I left the laundry room and settled for just sweeping her kitchen.  I still know how to use a broom and dustpan.

I don’t want to go back to the days of wringer washers and freezers that have to be defrosted.  I just long to be able to find the oldies station on my radio without having to consult the 50-page, fully illustrated, multilingual instruction manual that came with it.  I want to know how to turn on my oven timer without accidentally setting the thing to self-clean.  There may even be something on television that I want to watch, but that will require the use of those blasted remote controls.

I miss the days of Fury.

Instructing Grandchildren

Sara Teasdale is one of my favorite Twentieth-Century, American poets.  In her poem, The Net, she describes the futility of trying to put into words how very special a certain person in her life is.  She says that when she makes an effort to do this, it is “As though a net of words were flung to catch a star.” That poem describes any attempt on my part to put into words how special my grandchildren are to me.  It simply cannot be done and every endeavor to do so falls short.

Because I was a mother before I became a grandmother, I realize for how short a time children remain children.  I feel an urgent need to pass along to my grandchildren all of the important life lessons I have learned in my 60+ years of living.  Therefore, unless I check myself, I am tempted to turn all of my experiences with them into science, math, morality or faith lessons.

Our oldest granddaughter is five now and ripe for instruction.  While playing in our backyard, she and I came across a cocoon.  She showed a mild interest so I explained how the little worm inside would gradually turn into a beautiful butterfly.  I volunteered that it was very hard work for the young butterfly to break out of its shell.  I warned that she or I might be tempted to help the butterfly escape by peeling away the layers of the cocoon, but that would keep the butterfly from developing the muscles it needs to be able to fly off into the sunshine.  I looked into my granddaughter’s sweet face to see if she comprehended.  She smiled warmly and said, “Besides, it would get our hands all icky.”   Yes, that too.

This five-year-old misses her great-grandmother, who died just over a year ago.  She asks many questions about where her Mee-Maw is now, why she had to go away, whether she is really underneath the dirt, does she sit on Jesus’ lap, etc.  I explain that all of the good things she remembers about her Mee-Maw are still alive.  Her Mee-Maw is now living in heaven and she is very happy there.  I emphasize how important it is to love God and believe in Jesus and trust that we will be in heaven one day too.  I am hoping I am making an impact when this little one exclaims, “And guess what, Grandma!  Mee-Maw gave me a beach towel and it smells just like her house!  You can smell it if you want to.”  Ahhh, yes.

My granddaughter and I spend quite a bit of time putting together jigsaw puzzles.  Her favorite puzzles feature Disney princesses.  I have taught her how first to look for the four corner pieces, followed by the straight-edged pieces that form the border.  Once those pieces are in place, the rest of the puzzle goes together easily.  I want to compare the puzzle to life and to tell her that if a person has a good framework of faith, moral guidelines and discipline, all of the other pieces of life will fall into place.  As I am considering how best to present this lesson, she looks up at me expectantly and says, “Uh, Grandma, I think you’re sitting on the stem of Belle’s rose.”  Touché.

I won’t stop trying to instill in my grandchildren the principles I know to be important.  Perhaps, though, I should lighten up a bit and simply enjoy them while they are still oblivious to principles.  Another of Sara Teasdale’s poems, The Coin, emphasizes the importance of creating lasting memories.   She says, “Oh, better than the minting of a gold-crowned king is the safe-kept memory of a lovely thing.”  The “lovely thing” I am doing right now with these little ones is creating memories for them and for me.

As for the instruction part, I sometimes wonder who is teaching whom.

My Hair Towel

Being a woman with distinct OCD tendencies, I like doing things in prescribed ways.  Nowhere is this more evident than in my showering routine.  I have several large, white, very absorbent bath towels that I use for drying my body after a shower.  I also have two smaller, well-worn, white bath towels that I use exclusively for wrapping around my wet hair.  Since these towels are used only for covering clean, freshly washed hair, I use them several times before washing them, and I hang them on a specific rack in the bathroom for easy access after a shampoo.  These old towels are too worn and too small to be much good for use as bath towels, and I have asked my husband not to use them for such.  They are designated hair towels.

One morning I found one of these damp hair towels in the bathroom, hanging on a rack where I never hang them.  “Uh-huh,” I thought.  “Dan has once again used one of my hair towels as a bath towel even though I have asked him more than once not to do that.”

I took the towel off its unassigned rack and confronted Dan with it.  “Haven’t I asked you not to use these towels?  Don’t you know they’re my hair towels and are not to be used for anything else?”  He looked up from whatever he was doing and said, “I didn’t use that towel.  I found it lying on our bed, wet, so I hung it up in the bathroom.”

Oh.  Well.  Hmmm.  “Okay,” I said.  Truly, I had left my wet hair towel on our bed, on his side, no doubt.  He had found it there, and without chastising me or complaining, had merely hung it up for me in the bathroom.

I hope I learned something from this little episode with my hair towel.  In any given situation, I rarely have all the facts.  I need to be a little more charitable in my estimation of others.  I am called to extend grace, not hand out judgments.  Could it be that I am too insistent upon the rest of the world doing things my way?

Everlasting Job Stoppers

All of us are alike in many ways.  We all eat, sleep, breathe, love, interact with people, and spend 24 hours every day doing something.  Our areas of difference, however, are what make us individuals.  We all have habits (I always park in aisle 10/11 at Wal-Mart.), preferences (I choose Prego spaghetti sauce over Ragu.) and quirks (I cut my fingernails very short when I am stressed.).   And then, as my grandmother used to say, we all have our own “ways.”  I have a way of grimacing in an unattractive manner when concentrating very intently.  I grew up hearing, “Stop scrunching up your face!  It’ll freeze that way!”  I also have a way of finding pull-through parking spaces because I hate backing vehicles, and I have a way of avoiding tasks that I really don’t want to do.

As a matter of fact, I am quite skilled at finding ways to skirt around doing jobs that I don’t want to do.   Here are three job-stopping tactics that I successfully employ when I want to dodge a distasteful chore.

My first job-stopping strategy is to over-analyze the task at hand.  For example, if I need to wipe down my greasy stove top, I stand in front of the appliance and take inventory.  Yes, the stove top is greasy and needs to be wiped down.  However, it seems imprudent to settle for wiping down the stove top when the burners are blackened with baked-on food and in far worse shape than the actual stove top is.  The filter for the vent above the stove top is covered with dust; the back splash is be-speckled with food particles; dust bunnies, coins, and runaway allergy tablets reside underneath the stove; and the oven needs to be cleaned.  It is impossible to decide where to begin!  Therefore, I deduce that since I don’t have time to do a thorough job today, I’ll wait until another day when I can do the job right.  The greasy stove top, which I really didn’t want to clean, goes untouched, providing proof that this strategy works.

Another strategy that works for me is to avoid tackling a particularly distasteful job by addressing other tasks instead.  Let’s say that my overloaded, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves need to be dusted.  This is a monstrous endeavor involving a ladder, cleaning rags, a vacuum cleaner, various cleaning products for the different types of items on the shelves, and the stamina of a rock climber.  Yet, the job needs to be done.  However, upon reflection I realize that I also need to go to the bank, return some library books, and visit the Post Office.  In fact, these jobs are more time-sensitive than the shelf-dusting.  If I don’t take care of them right away, I risk bouncing a check, accumulating overdue book fines and getting my Mom’s birthday card to her a day late, so I put on my coat and head out the door.  At the end of the day, the bookshelves are still coated with dust, but I did take care of three jobs instead of just one.  I even managed to get in a little window shopping.  Truly, I am an efficiency expert.

A third job-stopping strategy I often employ involves simply asking myself these questions: “Will doing this job really make a positive difference in the lives of others?”  “Is there not some more noble, charitable, or service-oriented task that I should address instead?”   Thus, when I recognize that 14 items of clothing are waiting to be ironed, I ask myself who will benefit if I spend my time ironing them.  Will anyone’s day be brightened?  Certainly mine won’t be.  Will a relationship be strengthened?  Who will receive encouragement or pleasure from the fact that my ironing is done?  Probably no one will.  However, my granddaughter will be ecstatic if I tell her we are going on an impromptu outing to Monkey Joe’s.  A friend who is feeling blue will be cheered if she and I go to lunch.  My mother, who lives 600 miles away, will delight in a long, rambling phone chat with me.  Shouldn’t I choose to bless rather than to press?

It may be true that greasy stove tops, dusty bookshelves, and wrinkled clothes deserve more attention than I give them, but consider all that I accomplish by choosing to neglect them!  In the category of Avoiding Unpleasant Jobs, I rate myself as functioning at the professional level.   However, reaching this high degree of expertise does not happen overnight.  Like any skill, this one takes years to master.  I will give a tip, though, to anyone interested in becoming more adept in this area: It helps if you’re already good at rationalizing.

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.