I’m sitting here at my computer desk at 5:00 am because my nerves have woken me up again and it feels impossible to lie in bed. Although my goal is to post three days a week, it’s been nearly a week since my last post. My email inbox has 147 messages in it — I like to keep it under 50. Many of the messages are unread links to my blogging friends’ posts. I am so far behind in reading the blogs I follow, the news from the online friends I’ve cultivated nearly two years now, that I know I will never be able to catch up and will have to resort to jumping ahead to try to get back in the sync of things.
I don’t like to complain about how busy I am, or how far behind I get. We’re all busy. But for those of you who notice I’ve not been around, I just wanted to tell you I hope to be back to reading and commenting soon.
I spent most of the day at my parents’ yesterday. Holidays are so hard for people who are suffering in some way. I woke up thinking that I needed to hang the strand of blinking red bell lights along Mom’s living room mantle. My sister Annie loved watching the red blinking lights, and because of that my mother loved them too. Or because Mom loved them, Annie did. We never were quite sure which way that actually went. We hung the bells up the first two Christmases after Annie was gone, but I think it was too much trouble for Mom to do last year.
Armed with blank Christmas cards and a package of peppermints, I left for my parents house mid-morning. Life has been so hard for Mom over the past months, years really, that she is worn out and doesn’t want to do one thing extra. I suspected if I asked her if she wanted me to get out her Christmas decorations she would say “No.” So I didn’t ask. I went for the bells.
I went down the hall and into Annie’s room where Mom keeps the Christmas decorations in the large closet.
While I was looking for the bells, I found a wreath. I took it out and hung it on the front door.
“I usually put the wreath my sister gave me on the front door,” Mom said from her chair near the far corner of the living room where she sat and ate her toast and drank her tea. “It’s on the glass porch.” I moved the wreath I’d hung to the back door and went out on the porch for the wreath my aunt had made.
I decided we needed Christmas music so I sorted through their collection of vinyl albums for the Christmas ones and selected one I remembered from my youth, the album cover completely torn through on one side.
“I don’t want to get the tree out today,” Mom said as I worked.
In one box I found a Santa and Mrs. Claus that a good friend of hers had made years ago. I set them together on top of the china cabinet.
Back and forth to Annie’s room I went bringing out decorations one or two at a time.
I put the snowman and woman on the window sill beside the card table, Dad’s “office,” where he sits and “works” or plays ball with a family member or a home health aide.
I found a centerpiece for Mom’s coffee table, four miniature nutcrackers for the kitchen window sill, and a snow globe that I think Dad might enjoy.
At the bottom of a big box, in a bag, I found the red bells that Annie loved.
I hung them along the mantle, securing them with tape. Then I cleared the nick nacks off the mantle and set out the manger scene that used to be my grandmother’s.
Christmas carols playing in the background, I stood still for a minute and looked around the room. Mom used to put a small tree on a table in front of the picture window in the living room, but Dad sits there now and the table is full of pencils, blocks of wood, books, cups of coins, and other things we use to try to entertain or occupy him.
“You know, you could put the little tree on that table beside you, Mom,” I said. “It wouldn’t have to be in front of the window.”
“I could put it on that table,” Mom said and pointed across the room to the end table beside the lift recliner that we got for Dad, but that he rarely sits in anymore. It is simply too hard to get him in it, and he slides out of position if he sits there too long.
I shifted the recliner away from the sofa and moved the small table between the two so that it would be closer to the electrical outlet. Then I got the little white tree from a box on the shelf in Annie’s closet, and I set it up on the table.
“I don’t want to do the ornaments today,” Mom said.
I went back into Annie’s old bedroom and found a crocheted tree skirt.
“My sister made that for me, too” Mom said.
I arranged the skirt around the bottom and plugged the tree in. It’s tiny colored lights added a warm glow to the room.
Annie’s blinking bells strung along the mantle lent a cheerful twinkle to the room.
I left the ornaments in the three small boxes on the bed in Annie’s room.
Mom can decorate the tree later.
My grandmother died 28 years ago on November 1st, All Saints Day, which we thought was kind of appropriate as she was a faithful soul who helped to clean and take care of the church a half a block away from her home.
Below is a short excerpt from the story I am working on about my father. This selection is told from my father’s perspective, in his voice.
A Hard Life
(1930s – 1940s)
My mother had a pretty hard life. It’s very sad when I think about it and how little appreciation I had for that.
She got home from work probably about 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon. She made dinner out of whatever she could scrounge up. I was a bad boy. I raised Cain about what we had for meals and I have regretted that many, many, many times over the years. I’m a mashed potatoes and gravy kind of a guy. I wanted a full meal with meat, potatoes, and vegetables. If we didn’t have that, it wasn’t a meal in my way of thinking. My parents had two limitations: one, their financial ability to provide it and two, before the end of the war, whether they had rationing capabilities to provide it.
My mother had a number of family events that she always enjoyed, but my dad was a wet blanket on every one. He never missed one that he didn’t make at least somebody miserable, in particular my mother. He didn’t want to go.
When my mother wanted to go somewhere she’d get us all ready to go and then he would refuse to go. Most of the time we went anyway. Because we didn’t have any transportation, the Wirrigs would come and pick us up, generally Paul. Paul always represented to me the person I would like to be.
My dad never watched the kids. Mom would always be mad at him. With just cause. I can’t ever remember my father ever doing something that was really a help to her.
My mom didn’t like the fact that my dad was an alcoholic. And she couldn’t do much about that. She’d do what women generally try to do—threaten—but that don’t stop them.
[. . .]
My mother never had time to play.
She told me she was going to teach me how to cook enough that I could be self-sufficient when I got older. She taught me how to bake a cake from scratch. It was almost a sin to think about making a cake out of a box.
I also watched her fry chicken and saw what she did, but there was nothing formal about learning that.
I was supposed to keep the weeds out of her garden. I never did.
After the war, the factory where she worked went back to making underwear. Those ladies really worked hard sewing their stuff. I worked there my junior and part of my senior year cleaning the place at night. Those women leaned on those sewing machines just flinging the fabric through there. They got paid by how many they did. So they worked hard. They had to. That’s why I say my mother had a pretty hard life.
Songs really have a way of transporting me to a different time and place.
Pandora is one of my best discoveries on the web. I love defining my own radio stations. If you’ve not done it, you should give it a try. I just heard “Don’t sleep in the subway Darling,” on my Petula Clark station.
Now it’s playing one of my old favorites – Ferry Cross the Mersey by Gerry and the Pacemakers. I just love this station.
In the time it took me to look up the links, Ferry Cross the Mersey ended and now they’re playing another goldie, God Alone Knows by the Beach Boys.
Earlier today I heard Build me up Buttercup by the Foundations and was instantly transported back to the talent show my 7th grade year of grade school. I wasn’t performing in the show, but my sister Carol was. She and a friend had worked out a baton routine to this song. My sister had never really done baton before other than to just play around, but her friend knew what she was doing, and she taught Carol.
Carol practiced and practiced and practiced, forever engraving the song into my mind. I knew every step of the routine by heart from watching her practice.
They had little costumes made up and everything. And I think it could have been a knock-out performance.
But Carol didn’t have as much confidence as perhaps she required. She told me before the show, “I hope I catch the first toss. If I catch the first toss, I’ll be fine.”
I sat in the front row of the balcony as Carol and her friend came on stage with their batons and the music started. I held my breath when Carol tossed the baton into the air. Then my shoulders slumped when her spinning baton fell with a thud and a bounce to the floor. Oh no.
I don’t think Carol caught even one of the subsequent gazillion tosses during that song that never ended. And I cringed from the cheap seats every time. The rest of the audience responded as you might expect teenagers of the junior high variety to respond. It was mortifying for me as a mere spectator to my sister’s disastrous performance. My heart bled for her.
But she stayed out there on the stage and kept doing the routine, tossing the baton into the air and dropping it. I suppose she had options. She could have left the stage in the middle of the routine in tears. But she saved the tears for later and saw it through.
Here’s to you, Sis, for an amazing performance of perseverance.
And thank goodness we’re not in junior high anymore.
I hope you’ll enjoy this from the archives of my school days, written November 1, 2001
You came out crying, screaming really. You embraced the air and the world and announced your indignation with all the force your tiny body could muster. I heard you before I saw you, before I held you. It was a sign of things to come.
When you were first born I immediately looked for evidence of myself in you. On the delivery table I held your little hand and saw that it was truly a miniature of mine. I was so thrilled to see this part of me in you—to recognize myself in one of what I considered your most important features, —your hands. I think some of our turbulence may have come from this need of mine to see myself in you. It started from day one.
Over the years I have kept a journal of memories for you, filling it mostly with trivia of the times—but also with glimpses into our turbulent relationship at the start. When you were only 2 years old, I was already writing about struggles to come when I noted, “You try to exercise much control and influence over the people and events around you.”
August 16th, 1989
Last night you woke up in the middle of the night. When I put you back in bed, I left the light on and gave you about 6 books in your crib. I could hear them hitting the floor one-by-one as I left your room. You threw them out in your rage.
December 16, 1989
Anna, Anna, Anna, you are truly a challenge. We must come to terms with ‘dressing’—who is going to do it, what you will wear, and when……. I do think that your strong will will serve you well later in life—if we can just get through it together. I love you.
January 24, 1992
You are really a good girl but I think I misunderstand you sometimes. I yell at you for pushing the baby, or picking him up, but I know you’re usually just trying to help. And many times you really are a big help. You get irate with me when you feel I’ve reprimanded you unjustly. I guess I can’t find fault with that. I love you and hope we will be good friends.
September 22, 1992
You take the bus to kindergarten. The first day you were very brave. You were afraid and came back to me before you got on the bus. But you got on anyway—and that’s being brave.
January 25, 1993
You are very good at knowing where things are, and how things are done. I think you’re going to be a big help to me someday. You’re a smart girl and you are a good singer. You really take care of your little brother. I love you now and always—even if we fight.
January 10, 1996
We have had some times when we could laugh together but you still prefer your Dad to me and don’t hesitate to let me know it. I still believe with time we will have a strong relationship. I love you dearly. I’m just not a very patient person most times.
February 19, 1999
Yesterday you helped me set up the new computer and I saw again how I have come to rely on you. You help me, ungrudgingly, whenever I ask. I do enjoy your company at those times and I appreciate your help.
I know I’ve been hard on you, and I don’t regret some of it, but a lot of it I do regret. I hope that someday you will be able to forgive me. I have firm ideals about being strong, being brave, not being needy, so I know I discourage weakness in you. I think the problem with this is that I may be stifling your ability to feel O.K. about your feelings. I want to tell you now that it’s O.K. to be angry, scared, sad, and proud—forgive me for my mistakes in this. I am not a perfect person either. I’m hoping you will love me anyway. And I’m hoping you will be able to overcome the mistakes I’ve made. I love you dearly and always will.
November 1, 2001
Being a mother is a tremendous emotional burden. I feel your pain; sometimes I think I feel more than your pain. I want to take it all away from you. But I know that I can’t. I can’t buffer the world and keep you in a pastel, cottony soft cocoon. Sometimes I wish I could. Sometimes I wish I could paint your world for you. But it is better that you experience life with all its sorrows, fears and disappointments as well as its triumphant and joyous moments. You are strong and brave and loving. I have confidence that even if I won’t always be able to hold you and comfort you; you have it within you to take care of yourself. This gives me great comfort as you spread your wings and go out into the world.
Now that you’ve gotten older I can see what a charming, talented young woman you are becoming. And I am so proud of you. I worried when you were younger that you would reject all the ideals I held most dearly. I was most concerned about my ideals about the place or role of women in society. When you were young and infatuated with Barbies and make-up and dress-up, I worried you would end up being something of a ‘fluff’ for lack of a better word. Now I realize you have become a brave, serious and enlightened young woman, in addition to being sensitive and caring. I couldn’t have formed you better if I had held the power to do so. You are everything I could have hoped you would be, and amazingly you did it in spite of me.
I like to watch you use your hands: playing the piano or the flute, drawing, painting, and creating hairstyles for yourself or your friends. You are really quite creative and very good with your hands. You use your hands to not only create, but to help and comfort.
I believe you will do great things with your hands.
I think I figured out this morning why the lame doe that frequents our yard bothers me so much. No one likes to see an animal suffer, and in particular, no one likes to see a juvenile animal suffer. If the lame doe has a life-threatening disease, her fawn will be orphaned.
But that’s not the whole reason it bothers me so much.
No one likes to see a person suffer, and in particular, no one likes to see a juvenile person suffer. But most, if not all, of us have and do all the time. I have permanently imprinted on my mind the women, young mothers, I knew who either were disabled or died leaving behind small children:
Michelle, mother of a one-year-old daughter, who had a severe stroke and was in a coma for weeks with a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her
Joann, mother of three children in grades K – 3, who was diagnosed with liver cancer and died about a year later
Candy, mother of 4 or 5 children and grandmother of a one-year-old, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and died after several years of treatment.
Irene, mother of kids in high school, who got ALS and slowly lost all of her abilities to function and then died.
I suspect you could make a list of your own. It’s a very tragic thing when a child’s mother dies.
We understand at some level because there is a bond of motherhood that connects women of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages. Some things are universal, and motherhood is one of those things.
I realized this morning that the bond of motherhood, for me, extends beyond human beings, to all creatures, from the tireless bird who makes continued flights to and from the nest to feed her babies, to the deer who teaches her fawn how to find food and stay safe.
This morning as I was walking Arthur at the VOA, I saw a young mother with a little daughter who looked to be about three years old. The girl had shoulder length dark brown wavy hair and was wearing capri-length jeans with a pink jacket. The mother was using a walker. The little girl was skipping and hopping ahead of her mother and then back. The mother trudged on. I don’t know her story, and I have no idea what her prognosis is. I could only tell that she struggled to walk.
I hope the mother is okay.
Whether she’s got a temporary setback, or a permanent disability, or a progressive fatal disease, the mother is living her life and taking her daughter to the park.
Just like the doe.
I’d like to give you flowers
that overflow the kettle, and boxes, and pots,
with bright colors of reds and pinks
surrounded by a cloud of butterflies and hummingbirds
who flit between.
Morning glories that climb on the railing and brick walls
blanketing the house with blue and lavender blossoms.
Sweet fragrances of hyacinths and roses
placed in small vases on the kitchen sills
or table beside your bed.
I’d like to give you strawberry pie
bright red in color, sweet with glaze and topped with cream,
and all your favorite foods
with no guilt,
I’d give you entertainment.
Musicals at your command,
Julie Andrews singing on a mountainside,
Richard Harris hiding in a tree,
Yul Brynner asking,
“Shall we dance?”
Technology that is easy to learn
and easy to use.
I’d give you appliances that never break,
doorbells that always work,
plumbing that never leaks,
lush green grass that never grows,
leaves that never fall,
snow that melts on walks and drives.
I’d give you restful days
waking up without pain,
filled with laughter from children,
and lunches with friends.
I’d give you quiet nights with the sweetest of dreams.
What I’d give you if I could is a
a heart that heals,
of a bright tomorrow.
Instead, I give to you only what I can—
that never ends.
Happy Mother’s Day.
“Handcrafts belong to an earlier world, the slower pace of preindustrial life where one had the leisure to sink deeply and profoundly into the rhythms of nature within and without and to feel a connection with the earth as a living spiritual entity.[...]
“Self-expression, whether individual or tribal, religious or secular, is to my mind one of the most beautiful impulses that we humans possess. We look at our brief time here on earth; we perceive our inconsequentiality in a vast universe of planets and stars; we know our connectedness to our ancestors and descendants and feel our mortality as we pass along the eternal continuum of time; and yet we still want others to know who we were, how we lived, that we were here and saw and felt and knew beauty.The pioneer women with lives of endless work, half buried underground in sod houses on the prairies, often without trees or neighbors for company, fashioned quilts out of pieces of cloth, which might have been the only color they saw for months on end.[...]
“And now, when, with each piece of handwork I do, I connect with the centuries of women who cultivated their inner lives and expressed them through the humble works of their hands.” The Knitting Sutra—Craft as a Spiritual Practice by Susan Gordon Lydon.
As I went on my search for the stitch work of my fore mothers, I was happy to find out that there were quilters in my family. I am sad to think that I may not find any examples of their work.
Not knowing I had this heritage, when I was a young adult I became interested in making quilts. The first quilt I ever made I gave away to my boyfriend to take to college the summer after my senior year in high school. I made it from fabric scraps left over from articles of clothing that I or my mother had made for me during high school. There was a shiny light blue piece from the dress my mother made for a dance my junior year. A pastel yellow fabric with tiny pink rosebuds that was made into my senior prom dress was also in the quilt. In many ways it was a quilt of memories.
I cut little 4-inch squares out of the fabrics and created 3 by 3 larger panels with a loose repeated design (the four corners and the center square within the nine-square panels matched, the remaining four squares in the panel were somewhat random). I backed the quilt with a soft flannel and tied the layers together with yarn knots at the large panels’ corners. I remember sitting in my parents’ family room and sewing it together.
My boyfriend loved the quilt, used it at school, and really cherished it for a while, until we broke up at the end of our junior year in college. The quilt, if it still exists, is probably stained and crumpled in the corner of a garage or basement somewhere. I should have kept it.
The second quilt I made, I also gave away. When I found out that my boyfriend’s older brother and his wife were expecting a baby, I bought yellow gingham and while muslin and fashioned it into a quilt. I think the squares were probably about 6 inches. I drew little designs on the white muslin: an alphabet block, a teddy bear, a duck, among others. I embroidered the designs onto the fabric. My boyfriend and I broke up before the quilt was finished or the baby was born, but I finished it anyway and delivered it. It was the first and only time I saw the child, and the last time I saw the quilt.
The third quilt that I made was more functional than sentimental or aesthetic. I had just moved to Cincinnati and started a job and I decided I wanted a blanket for picnics. So I bought four pieces of fabric: a floral pattern, and three solids in the colors of cream, rust, and brown. I made large panels out of the pieces of fabrics and just sewed them together. Thirty-three years later, it is now torn and stained in the back of Mark’s truck. It has been used for romantic picnics early in my relationship with Mark; for small family picnics when I’d take our firstborn son to meet Mark for lunch; for baseball games, Fourth-of July fireworks, and days at the beach.
I’ve always thought I would like to make a “real” quilt from a pattern. I don’t know if that will ever happen. I would also like to make a crazy quilt, which may be more likely to happen. A couple of years ago my daughter Anna helped me make a quilt for my new grandson. Several years earlier I had found a picture of a dragon quilt pattern online and bookmarked the page, anticipating I might want to make it when my oldest son, who loves dragons, had a child. When I tried to go back and buy the pattern, it was gone, offline, kaput. But I still had a small picture of it I had saved. So using Adobe Illustrator, I traced the picture, enlarged it, and printed patterns from it. Anna helped me shop for fabrics and sew it.
I have embroidered pictures hanging on my walls, although again, most of what I made I’ve given away. I have simple crocheted shawls in the closet. I sewed outfits for myself, and my children, including many costumes. I have dresses I made for Anna and boxes of scraps of fabric and bits of ribbons and lace that I can’t bear to part with. And like my Grandma Smith, I have unfinished needlework projects stuffed into cupboards.
I’ve made things because I needed them, and I’ve made things because I wanted to create something beautiful or meaningful. I have my mothers before me to thank for my ability to do this. I am proud of the simple, big-hearted, talented and creative women who came before me, and those who may follow.
See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.
“I take the vest out of the storage box that I keep under my bed and I am transported. [...] I knitted the vest during one week of our vacation in the Adirondacks. Funny how seeing it, touching it, brings back the time and place. This vest holds the Adirondack Mountains, the lake, and my young children for me,” The Knitting Way — A Guide to Spiritual Self-Discovery by Linda Skolink & Janice MacDaniels
My mother, Mary Katherine Lemmon Smith, taught me most of what I know about needlework. And if she didn’t teach me how to do it, she helped me untangle it—from bungled articles of clothing to early knitting attempts. When we were younger she sewed a lot of our clothes, including formal gowns.
She is a very creative individual in all aspects of her life. If she doesn’t know how to do something, she figures it out. In addition to practical items, she also enjoys making beautiful things like crocheted afghans, fabric album covers, and decorative flags. She worked for a while as a decorator’s seamstress and sewed many custom-made draperies, comforters and other items. One year at Christmas she made a set of custom drapes for my living room.
Mom was born May 15, 1934 in Piqua, Ohio. She was a straight-A student. She worked in a department store after high-school graduation and married my father when she was 19.
She primarily stayed home to raise the five children she eventually had, which include my sister Annie who was severely handicapped with brain damage.
Because she was basically house-bound with the care of my sister, my mom put her energies into doing those kinds of things that could be done at home, and sewing became a source of income and pride.
See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.
“Except in rare and isolated areas, crafts no longer exist as a way of life.[...] In our day, crafts are newly respectable, but chiefly as ‘hobbies,’ as ‘occupational therapy,’ or as new fashions in interior decorating. Yet behind the excuses given for indulging in craft activities, there lurks a kind of half-buried question, a faint suspicion that there is more to all this. . .
“The myths and traditions tell us that it begins from above; that all art, all craft, starts as a divine revelation. ‘Ideas,’ writes Coomaraswamy, ‘are gifts of the spirit,'” A Way of Working—The Spiritual Dimension of Craft, edited by D.M. Dooling. (A.K. Coomaraswamy quote from Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art).
By far, my grandmother, Anna Matilda Adams Lemmon, produced the most needlework of the women in my family, at least the most that remains in the family.
Anna Matilda Adams was born August 3, 1915 in Covington, Miami County, Ohio. She had to help with farm work when she was a child. Beginning at the age of 5 or 6, Anna started attending school at a one-room schoolhouse that contained eight grades.
They didn’t have electric lights at home, so they used coal oil lamps to see with and would take one from room to room. They had a large coal stove for heat.
My grandmother’s family was quite musical and for entertainment in the evenings they would get together and play music. My great-grandfather played the fiddle. Her brother played the guitar, and Anna played the piano. She said, “We had a good time, just playin’ music and singin’.” That’s how Anna met Cory who would eventually become her husband and my grandfather; he came out to the house with some friends for the entertainment.
Anna was happily married, raised three children and never worked a day outside the home. She stayed busy embroidering and crocheting throughout her life.
She produced numerous embroidered pillow cases and doilies; she crocheted numerous doilies and various other items; and she produced probably hundreds of crocheted afghans. I personally own four.
We celebrated my Grandma Lemmon’s 90th birthday in the summer of 2005. I made a display of photos and some of her needlework that we had collected over the years. At the time, she suffered from dementia and was eventually moved out of her home and into an assisted living apartment, and later to a nursing home where she died in 2010. The last years of her life she had very poor vision and was no longer able to do any needlework.
See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.
“Through the history of embroidery — in the very threads of samplers, firescreens, table runners and dress — can be traced another history: the history of women.”
(From The Subversive Stitch)
When I was in college the second time, this time earning an English degree, I took a concentration of Women’s Studies classes. This is the 6th in a series of posts from a project I wrote while taking a Women’s Studies/English class called “Reading between the stitches.”
Katherine Roecker Adams
My mother’s maternal grandmother was Katherine Roecker Adams. She was born January 21, 1885 in Piqua, Ohio. Katherine’s father was from Germany, but her mother was born in Ohio. Katherine spoke German.
As a farm wife, Katherine did various farm chores like milking the cows. She also baked all of their bread and cake and pies. She made her own noodles and strudel. She sewed all of their clothes.
My great-grandmother Adams made quilts for their use out of pieces of fabric from worn out clothes. She also embroidered, crocheted, and did tatting. I have never seen anything that she made. I wish I could.
See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.