Monthly Archives: January 2016

The 52 Lists Project #5

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january2016 182Week #5: List what you would like your life to look like in ten years

Again, this seems to be a challenge more suited for a younger person…one with more life ahead of them. My first inclination is to make jokes: I could describe my ideal cemetery plot, or list any number of glib responses like:

“I’d like to still be vertical.”

“Not yet in a home.”

“Above ground.”

“Still able to feed myself.”

These are all true statements, but indicative of the age-bias that I still seem to hold onto (having been a part of the generation that didn’t trust anyone over the age of thirty and sang, “…Hope I die before I get old!”), though I’m old enough to be affected by it. When it comes right down to it, I still make plans for far into the future, though I passed the median life expectancy many years ago.

  • I would like to be self sufficient and strong
  • with my mental faculties still intact.
  • I would hope to be retired from working for others.
  • I would like to be taking long walks every day
  • I plan to still keep up a large garden
  • and maybe finally add a small flock of chickens.
  • I would still be active in art-making
  • and possibly still teaching a bit.
  • I’d possibly have built my wood fire kiln,
  • and be working a great deal more in clay.
  • I’d like to think I’d be “known” by then, for my art or my writing (perhaps a book or two?)
  • and that I’d get some travel in, to art openings or bookstores, for promotional purposes.
  • I hope my sisters and I will still find opportunity to get together, and that we’ll continue to have plenty to laugh and talk about,
  • that my daughters will still appreciate my company
  • and my friends will still be close.

 

Bringing the Farm to Hunt Road

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In the Garden, with Tomatoes Back row, left to right: Cindy, Ted, Brenda Front row, left to right: Sheila, Cheryl (hiding), Nita and Robin

My father grew up on a farm, here on Beaver Island. He knew first-hand about planting, growing and harvesting. He knew about animals.

We knew the stories. We heard about the bull that Dad could ride, about long days spent at the hot and itchy job of haying, about the tree that he’d sit under for shade when he’d take a break from plowing the field.

We knew that, as a teen and young adult, he’d worked on the ferry boat in the fall when they shipped the cattle across. His job was keeping the cows on their feet, no matter how rough the sea, because if they lay down, their stomachs would tangle and they’d die. That was accomplished by riding in the lower deck with the cows, and “jostling” them if they showed signs of leaning or falling.

When we visited the island, we saw the familiar places. We knew the horse barn, and the barn for the cows, with the lean-to attached where the sheep were kept. We saw the chicken coop, and the fenced path for leading the cattle to and from pasture. We knew the pig house, the granary and the wood shed.

I don’t think Dad intended to farm when he moved off the farm, to Lapeer, Michigan. He went to work with my grandfather, his father-in-law, and learned the electrical business from him.

It all started with a tiny plot at the back of our yard that Dad worked up, to show us how things grow. Nothing is so exciting to children as watching things spring from the ground where a seed was planted; nothing tastes as good as fresh-picked tomatoes, or raw peas from the pod. Dad loved our excitement and enthusiasm. Every year, the plot grew larger.

My grandparents home was on one side of our house; a widow named Magabelle owned the property on the other side. The land was bare, except for a small storage shed in the middle of it. Though ten years older, Magabelle was a good friend of my grandmother. She and my grandfather, however, were mortal enemies. Because of that, Magabelle had planted thorn bushes all along the border between her property and theirs. That part of the property became ours.  As children, we ran around bare-footed all summer long, and were constantly picking thorns out of the bottom of our feet.

After Grandpa died, Dad approached Magabelle about using her property for a large garden. She agreed. That’s when we started planting a quarter-acre every year.

Dad was not good about collecting money for electrical work, but he was pretty slick when it came to striking a bargain. One year, a truckload of manure was accepted as payment. Lumber, a piece of equipment or a load of wood chips might show up without warning. Dad used some spare lumber to build a small chicken coop. More to build a pig pen, shelter and feeding trough.

Eventually, Mom realized that we were going to starve to death if we were dependent on Dad collecting payment for services. She convinced him to take a job at the shop. Once Dad started working as an electrician at Chevrolet Manufacturing Company, farming became more than a hobby. Then it was life…life beyond work.

Dad worked second shift, and wasn’t home until midnight. Still, in the springtime, he was up every morning early and out on the tractor to get the garden ready. When it was harvest time, his lunch box was always full of samples for his co-workers: the hottest hot peppers, the freshest tomatoes, or the longest cucumbers. When company came to visit, Dad would walk them through the garden. Long distance competitions raged from Russell Green on Beaver Island to Peter “Doney” in Marlette to my Dad in Lapeer over whose corn was the highest, whose pumpkins the largest.

For us children, things were not as much fun. The garden was no longer something we did with Dad, it was something we had to answer for. Weeding and watering were our jobs: weeding in the morning, before the sun was too high; watering in the evenings, to soak in overnight. Mom didn’t dare let us slack off, or she’d be called on to explain why the weeds were overtaking the garden or the vines were dried out.

We couldn’t get attached to the animals. We’d get fifty sweet, fluffy chicks every spring, cull the roosters for fryers after a few weeks, keep the hens for eggs until late winter, then they were butchered, too. We’d get cute little pigs every spring, too, feed them corn that we’d gleaned from the fields, scraps from the table and excess from the garden. They would  go in the freezer, too, before the year was out.

Work on the “farm” was play for Dad; for us it was just work. By the time we were grown, most of us never wanted to set foot in a garden again.

And yet…the garden calls to me. In my adult life, I’ve never gone long without a garden. Maybe that’s how it was with Dad, too.

More of Hunt Road

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Ted, Cindy, Sheila, Brenda and Laddie, in the front yard with the grandparents house in the background.

As much as the grandparents house felt like an extension – a quieter, calmer, more accepting extension – of our own home, it was separate.

My Grandpa Ted died when I was six. Visits were different then. Sometimes Grandma would come to our house to talk to Mom. She wore slacks, with an ironed crease down the center of each leg. She dyed her hair, and carried a pack of cigarettes. She would give each of us a double pop-sicle, and tell us to take it outside to eat it. Then they could talk. We could still stop in to visit at her house, and were welcomed most of the time.

We could play in her yard outside. We could go to see the rabbits, in cages that were stacked up the side of the garage. We could see the brand new hairless pink baby bunnies, and pick our favorites of the big ones, based on color, length and softness or fur, and friendliness. We could pet her Beagle. My grandmother had named him “Sputnik.” When I asked what that meant, she laughed. “It’s Russian;” she said, “it means ‘out of this world!'” She got another new dog, a chihuahua. His name was Pancho Villa.

Before I turned ten years old, my grandmother had also died. That changed our world completely.

To our household, we brought in my grandmother’s everyday dishes and her special occasion dishes, her full set of matching silverware, frosted iced tea glasses picked up as souvenirs from vacation spots all over Michigan, a tiny, engraved, silver cup and spoon that had been hers when she was a baby, a roll-top desk that had belonged to my grandfather, many suitcases and purses, books and bookcases, and a car. We had a telephone installed for the first time, since Grandma would no longer be there to take telephone calls and messages, or run next door to tell us.

As young children, it was like a roller coaster ride: one minute we were thrilled at our new car, the telephone, the dishes…the next minute remembering the reasons for the windfall, and that our grandmother was no longer with us. As for my mother, at not quite thirty years old, she had lost both her parents. She had no brothers or sisters. She had a husband that worked long hours, and seven small children at home.

My parents rented the house next door. I can’t recall all the tenants. I think I remember one woman renter, followed by a couple men. One was a man who drove a beer truck. He had a skin disease, and was told by his doctor to sunbathe in the nude. My Dad built a partition of cedar poles and woven metal flashing to give him privacy, and we were told to stay out of that yard.

Later, my Aunt Margaret moved in, with her eight children. The upstairs became a loft bedroom for her four boys: Barry, Kim, Bobby and Greg. Three of the girls, Shirley, Gail and Mary Jean, shared one small bedroom; the baby, Joannie, shared the other bedroom with her Mom.

Dad built an addition off the back of that house, then, for a laundry room and a little extra space. He’d been regularly adding on to our home, as well. Our family was expanding; Dad added gardens and livestock as well as rooms. That will have to wait for another day!

Timeout for Art: Picking Up

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Sometimes, marks on the page are just that.

Recording what is there, perhaps, whether the objects are worthy subject matter or not, but not to tell a story, and not to make “art” of it.

There are times when it’s not about art, at all.

Sometimes, it’s just that moment in time, marking tool in hand, present in the moment.

Sometimes, that’s enough.

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…and More

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Cindy, Ted and Brenda in the living room, in front of the door leading to the old kitchen

Before Dad started the big project that would become our new kitchen, he had already been remodeling the house. He had already closed off a portion of the living room, on the right side, to create a second bedroom. That became the master bedroom.

The small bedroom in back, original to the house, became mine and Brenda’s, where we slept in matching twin beds with gray vinyl headboards. Then it was ours plus Ted’s, when his big, “two-year” crib was moved in. That was when Sheila and then Cheryl, too, were sharing the other bedroom with Mom and Dad. When Cheryl outgrew the bassinet, there were two little cribs in that small room along with double bed, dresser and cedar chest. When Nita was born, Ted was moved into a big bed, Sheila was moved to the big crib in the back bedroom, Cheryl and her small crib were moved in there, too…and Brenda and I were moved upstairs.

The upstairs consisted of two large bedrooms. Dad was afraid of fire, so neither bedroom was given a door. Over the years we hung drapes over the openings, and argued for doors to no avail. If we mentioned privacy, we were told we didn’t need it, or that we should just respect each others privacy. If we’d had doors, they wouldn’t lock, anyway. Ever since Brenda – as a toddler – had wheeled her baby carriage into the bathroom and locked the door behind her, causing Mom to have to stand outside on a bench talking to her through the window until Dad could be reached to come home from work to take the door off the hinges to save her, none of our inside doors locked.

Straight ahead at the top of the stairs was a simple, square room with a closet. The ceiling was made out of tiles of wood, with the grain going first one direction, then the other. The windows looked over to the grandparent’s house. Around the corner to the right was an L-shaped room with deep shelves built in over the stairwell. The closet led to the attic space under the eaves. The windows looked over the flat kitchen roof, to the garden, the parking lot, the Lake Inn, and Lake Nepessing beyond. That was our bedroom.

It was scary, at first, to be so far away from the hub of the family. Turning off the closet light caused moments of panic, as we rushed from the pull cord to the bed in the dark. We devised a way to link metal hangars together, to form a long chain. One end, we’d hook into the light cord; the other end, we’d bring carefully across the room with us, get into bed, then pull. The light would go off, the links of hangars would fall apart and drop to the floor in a loud, clanging heap, Mom would shout up the stairs for us to keep it down and, giggling, we’d settle in to bed.

I learned quickly to enjoy the quiet and calm of the upstairs. I would sit on the top, deep shelf, away from the fray, with a book for company. I would take a tablet, a doll and a flashlight to the very farthest point of the attic, under the eaves, to sit by myself to write. We’d make imaginary lines on walls and floor, to create separate spaces.

As the little girls moved in upstairs, we helped plan and decorate their room and rearrange their furniture.  Visits to our room were special, and only allowed rarely. Eventually, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin and Amy all made their way upstairs. A half bath was installed upstairs, to the left of the landing. The little bedroom downstairs, where we had all taken a turn, was shared by Ted and David for the rest of the time that I lived at home.

As the family had grown, so had the rest of the house…

 

Continuing…

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Cindy and Brenda, Christmas morning, in front of the partition to the unfinished new kitchen.

My father had built a sweet little house, which his ever-growing family had outgrown in no time.

Before I was three years old, Dad had started the first addition, which was a large, flat-roofed kitchen, off the left side of the house. I remember being allowed in there when he working. As long as we behaved, Brenda and I could slide across the big expanse of floor, smell the fresh-cut wood, stand ready to hand tools or nails to Dad when he needed them.

Eventually, it was finished. A wide archway led from the living room to the kitchen, where the dining space presented itself first. A picture window in the front gave a perfect view of Lake Nepessing on the other side of the road, and created an ideal spot to show off our Christmas tree at holiday time. Windows on the far side offered a view of the garden and field beside our house, the black shed, two little cottages (one of which my mother was born in), the parking lot and – across from that – the Lake Inn, with its sign in cursive pink neon letters.

The refrigerator was framed in, with enough space on top to house Mom’s radio, on the far wall just past the side windows. Cabinets went all the way to the ceiling. The counters were all downsized to suit my mother’s “four foot, seven and a half inch” height. The sink – very modern looking in stainless steel with chrome faucets – was placed on the diagonal, with windows on either wall meeting in the corner, creating a little nook where Mom kept plants and religious statues. Around the corner on the back wall, a shiny electric range top had a strong fan above it to pull out smoke and kitchen odors. Cupboards underneath held stacks of pans. More drawers below and cupboards above continued across the back. Finally, a built in oven with a giant drawer below it and a huge cupboard above finished off the kitchen space.

Every cupboard and drawer were made by hand, painted palest gray, set off by shiny red trim, and finished with bright chrome handles. The counter top was deep red linoleum. The floor was a checkered pattern in red, black and white. The light fixtures were modern circular fluorescent bulbs. There was a slight pause, before the light came on. When we flipped the switch, we’d look with bright eyes at each other and say, “wait for it…” just as our mother had when she first showed them to us.

A doorway led to what was the old kitchen. Now, it was a hallway to the back door, a utility room with the furnace and many shelves for canned goods, and a stairway leading up. The bedrooms, though, will have to wait…

The House on Hunt Road

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Cindy and Brenda, 1952

Though the property was a wedding gift to my parents from my mother’s parents, and my father started work on it right away, the house was not ready a year later, when Brenda was born. She lived, for a while, with my parents in an apartment not far away. By the time I was born a year after Brenda, the family was in their home. My father built it, and continued building it for all of his life.

First, it was square, with a pitch to the roof so steep “it could split a raindrop,” according to my Aunt Katie. From the driveway to the front door, the sidewalk ran parallel to the house, then made a right turn and went straight to the large pink block of cement that was our front step. The blade of a hoe was embedded in that step, beside the door, to use as a boot scraper. I don’t remember a single injury involving that boot scraper, though we were accident prone children and managed to hurt ourselves on things that appeared much less dangerous!

In the bit of lawn that the sidewalk enclosed between driveway and house, there was a welded metal planter. It was a simple rectangular box, with corners of L-shaped steel that extended down to form legs. The box was white with red trim, and bold red numbers were painted on the front, with our address: 3678. I don’t know who made it, or where it came from, or even who first painted it. In later years, when Patsy “Doney” came to stay with us for weeks every year, to give our rooms a fresh coat of paint, he’d carefully repaint the planter and renew the numbers in bright red. It has been planted with petunias, marigolds, vines and tomatoes over the years. It has sometimes grown up in weeds. Colors changed from red and white to black and white, but it has endured. I think it is still sitting in the front of that house, all these years later.

The original house, as I said, was a square. The front door was in the center, with windows evenly spaced on either side. The living room spanned the entire front of the house.

On the back wall, a doorway on the right led to a little hall with doors leading to a bathroom and bedroom. A linen closet fit in the space under the stairs. A trap door in the floor of the hallway led to the crawlspace underneath the house. It was dark and damp and scary; we didn’t want to go down there, ever, not even during a tornado. Dad would occasionally have to go down there, to check on something drainage or plumbing related, but I don’t think we children ever ventured down that hole. None of the girls, anyway!

A doorway on the left side of the back wall of the living room led to the kitchen, which also housed a large fuel oil furnace. A door led out to the back yard. There was a stairway in that space, too, but it was closed off, not yet in use.

I don’t remember that kitchen, though I have seen photos taken in it. Before long, Dad had a new kitchen underway…but that will have to wait for tomorrow!