Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Minding Mabel

Back in the fall of 2000, my friend "Lucy" and I were asked to care for an elderly sister from church. She was homebound, and the women that cared for her were leaving for a family vacation. We gratefully accepted the request and so began our adventure.
Driving to her home, we were wondering what we would encounter. We had never met this woman and we did not know anything about her at all other than we were to administer her medicine and make sure that she ate her Meals-on-Wheels dinners. Our imaginations, fertile as they are, could not begin to compare with the real thing.
We arrived at her house and knocked on the door. Again and again. Finally, the door creaked open and we were greeted by a slight, elderly woman with fly-away gray hair, her left arm caught up in a permanent bend, the odor of cat wee and thirty-year-old Estee Lauder perfume. Oh, my goodness. This was Mabel.
We walked into a home that had not seen sunlight in years. The curtains, closed to the world, were yellowed with age and cigarette smoke. The murky darkness held the swirling dust of the unhappiness and tragedy that had consumed her life.
Off of the kitchen, there was a room that had originally been a carport. This is where Mabel lived. Darker than any other room in the house, it held a sofa, a television, a small table and chairs and a space heater. On the walls were shelves with tattered silk plants, paintings and decorations that bore the weight of years of dust and grime. She would not sleep in her bedroom or go to the back of the house except to use the bathroom. This cave-like room had become her home, the only place she felt safe.
It wasn't always that way. There was a time when her home was filled with light and love. When her husband and sons were there, and they were a close-knit family of four. But things changed. And the world came in and stole away all the things she loved, one by one.
Mabel was born on July 28, 1916 in West Wyoming, Pennsylvania, an only child to her parents, William and Nancy. They lived in a house that sat on a hill, and from her description, was the home that everyone came to when they were in need. Her father was a doctor and her mother was her best friend.

This is Mabel at the age of four- You can tell by the smile on her sweet face that this was a happy little girl.

Her childhood was filled with wonderful things and her mother taught her well about love, kindness, friendship and charity.
All throughout the year, she told us, her mother collected the clothing that Mabel and her family had grown out of or no longer needed. Tucked away neatly in the attic, Nancy would save it for those in need and in the Spring and Autumn, she opened her home to them and shared what she had saved. There was no waste and no one was turned away.
Winters brought sledders to their hill and skaters to the pond that stretched in front of their house. I can just picture that little miss, bundled in a fur-trimmed coat with matching hat and muff, watching them with her father.
She told us of her first travels away from her parents, off to secretarial school in a suit that had been tailored by her aunt, made from one of her father's suits- but "no one could tell, because it had been so expertly crafted." She was able to keep them close to her, even when she was away.
The telling of those memories brought a light that changed her before our eyes. We could see the beauty in her now, the gentleness and the esteem in which she held others was the source of her energy. And it was slowly fading away.
Mabel quickly consumed us. In the mornings, Lucy and I would drop our children off at school and drive to her house. Every day brought new insight to this woman. We discovered that the writings we found on small bits of paper, books, door jambs and walls, were her notes to herself so she would not forget. She knew her mind was failing.
Her home was filled with ceramic dolls and plates and figures. We initially thought that she was a dedicated collector. But we were wrong. She was a brilliant artist, who created each and every one. Her husband had made her a small shed where she could pour and fire and paint each delicate piece. Her work was exquisite.
She shared stories of her family- about a husband whom she loved and who loved her. About her two sons whom she doted on, and who in turn came to despise her. Not because of her, but because they had become tangled in things of the world that consumed and altered them.
Her bent arm was from a son throwing her into a wall, shattering her shoulder. The loss of her husband came from an arguement with a son that escalated into a fight that weeks later caused a blood clot to break away and extinguish his life.
We came to understand why she did not go to the back of the house. It held the ghosts of a life that no longer existed. You could feel them there. It was a place we did not like to go to either.
Not all of the things associated with Mabel are sad. We had many times when we had to laugh.
Such as the time we got there and she could not eat breakfast because her teeth were missing. After a mad search for her missing choppers, they were found in a cup under the kitchen sink. Another time they were tucked inside her pillow.
One thing we noticed about Mabel was that she had not been able to tend to her nails, on her hands or her feet. So, being the angel of mercy that she is, Lucy took on the task of clipping them. It was almost an exercise in futility.
Thick with age, her nails were nearly impossible to clip. Toe nail shards flew through the air like missiles. Had they hit one of us, we surely would have been impaled or lost an eye. Ew.
She spent a lot of her time with us trying to remember where things were, those things that she held dear to her heart, like the Family Bible, photo albums and coin silver spoons that belonged to her mother.
We set about one afternoon in search of said bible, and with Mabel directing us, we began to look in, on and behind furniture in her living room.
Piles of papers and magazines came tumbling out all around us like an avalanche on an unstable mountain. Dust flew up in small tornadoes, causing our breathing to become heavy and labored. And still no bible.
Leaning over a chair, I found a small, white box. Lifting it I found it to be quite heavy for its size. Maybe this was the elusive bible at last! Opening the box, I lifted out a thick plastic bag. The further it came out of the box, the more concerned I became.
Inside the bag was not the family bible I had hoped for. I began laughing one of those silent laughs that come with shock and make your shoulders shake. I could not stop.
More laughter, now not as silent.
"What are you laughing about?"
"I think I just found Mabel's husband."
Mabel seemed overjoyed. "There he is! Will you put him somewhere safe?"
I put him in what had been his dresser, third drawer down, on the right. It seemed the safest place for him to rest.
For two and a half months, we tended to this darling woman. We brought our children to visit her after school, and after realizing she was not a scary witch, they learned to love her.
Mabel passed away on Thanksgiving Day that year. She had awakened, chosen an orange for her breakfast, sat back on the couch, and died.
When I heard, I placed her baby shoes, the small brown leather ones she had given me as a gift, on my dining room table and cried.
She still comes to mind frequently. If we happen to be in her neighborhood, we drive by her house, now cleaned and painted with the curtains open to the sunshine. Only the outer shell resembles the home of our friend, the woman who filled our days and our hearts.
And she has the one thing she so longed for- a place of safety and her husband beside her.
Farewell, Mabel, until we meet again.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Twenty-five Years

Twenty-five years ago today I became a mother for the very first time.
To a son who changed my life.
We filled our days with adventure, the two of us. We learned together.
This little boy who met every day with excitement, filled me with joy, fear, sweetness and love.
He has grown up and away from me now.
But he is my child, and I will still catch him when he falls, light the path before him, comfort him when he sorrows, laugh at his silliness, cheer at his success and always have his back.
He made me what I always wanted to be.
A mom.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thrifting Goodness

My sister, niece, #2 son and I tore up the town! We came home with some really wonderful things. And the nice thing is, we did not even reach our budgeted amount for each day. That's thrifting at it's best!!

Very sweet vintage sheets that will be made into something or other. Maybe the cute lounge pants that I saw on some one's blog a few weeks ago. If you read this and they were yours,I thought they were clever! :)
Snap! A vintage Widenur tablecloth for $1. Yes, I said $1!! It had a few yellowed stains on it, but they came out with a good soak in OxyClean and a night hanging out in a thunderstorm, followed by a day in the sun. I don't know what it is about a good, hard rain, but it takes out a myriad of unidentified stains.
The Three Sisters- sweet vintage aprons that will be worn with pride!

Some vintage trim along with wooden shoes forms that were 49cents at the Garage Sale Store in St. Pete.

Too cute for words teeny-tiny plastic bathroom fixtures and furniture.

There was more, but it seems you can only post five pictures at a time. Ah, well. Now you have something to look forward to!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Home Sweet Home

We're home. It is so nice to be here, wrapped up in all things familiar and very much missed; Hugs from my husband, Only Daughter and #2 Son who was just over-the-moon happy to be back. Even the dogs and cat breathed a huge sigh of relief at the sight of us. The ones who really take care of them.
It was ten days filled with busy things. And the end of each day found us pleasantly content and deservedly tired.
Between stalking thrift shops in Bradenton and St. Pete, going to movies, venturing to Orlando, going to the beach, making clothes, cooking dinners, watching some of the most beautiful (and intense) thunderstorms, we wore ourselves out in a good way.

Tuesday found us in Orlando. Not for what you would think though. We went to the Titanic exhibit that is there. It was amazing and haunting and sobering all at the same time. When you arrive, you purchase a ticket for passage. It is a ticket that bears the name of an actual passenger or crew member that set sail on the ship. I was in Third Class, Mrs. Annie Sage from Hackney, England. #2 Son was Harold Bride, 22, the Junior Wireless Officer on the ship. My sister was Ida Strauss, whose husband owned Macy's and my niece was also a Third Class passenger named Amy something. I never did get her full name.
Receiving the name of someone who actually lived, and died, changes the perspective of the tour. You travel through as if you are that person. At the end there is a wall with the name of every passenger on board ship that day. If you lived, your name was solid and easily viewed. If you died, it was hollow and pale. My sister, niece and I all perished. #2 Son lived.
This is the ceiling over the Grand Staircase- in the center is a chandelier that takes your breath away. No expense was spared for that ship. I took more pictures, but the lighting was not very good. This is the best one.

I will have to post my thrifting treasures on another day. I have not yet taken their "glamour shots!" So, I will give you a few pics from the beach instead. This is my family- you could call this picture a "flop." ha ha. They were not cooperating with my attempt to get sweet family photos. At all.

I do not like the beach, so we only went in the evening, with the intent of collecting a few shells, walking the shoreline and dipping our tootsies in the surf. Ah, the best-laid plans..................On the back-stretch, my sister spied a crab scurrying along the ocean bottom. What is the first thing she did? Shouted "Crab!" Then she pointed to it for #2 Son to see. (I should explain - #2 is deaf. He would never have known that the crab was there otherwise.) He immediately got "The Look." Following her finger, he darted into the water, head down, eyes focused on the crab who was now just trying to get the heck out of Dodge. #2's hands plunged into the water in an attempt to capture the poor thing. No amount of signing on my part made any impact. He was determined and that always spells disaster.

Within seconds that look of determination gave way to a look of triumph, followed quickly by pain and agony. He had caught the crab and in turn, the crab had caught him. Right on the little finger. Ouch.

#2 wears his crab bite proudly, showing all who will look the tiny marks left by Mr. Crabby and his Amazing Pincher. He's going to get a lot of mileage from this one.

Just seconds before the crab attack-

Thank goodness she didn't shout "Shark!"

This is what we should have been looking at-

I had to throw this one in. This bug-creature, whatever he is, lit upon the hood of the truck at McDonald's one morning. I thought he was so amazing, that I jumped out of the truck, while parked at the window waiting for our breakfast, and snapped his photo. I loved how the landscape reflected all around him, like a mirage in the desert. He left just after his photo shoot. I must have really been bugging him.

Yes, we had a lot of fun, but it's so good to be home.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I Would Walk 500 Miles............

But I think I will drive instead. #2 Son and I are off to Florida to visit my sister. We have never taken a mommy-son trip together. He is 21. It's about time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


We had rain last night. A real clear-the-air type rain, that left its mark on my garden.
Tiny drops of water, glistening like jewels, rest on petals providing small
sips of liquid nourishment for any small creature passing by.
They so need this.

And so do I. I need a well to draw from.
My mind has been as dry as the days, unable to absorb anything from that still, arid environment.
I have been boxed in by my own accord, stifling myself for no apparent reason.
I crave those things that will spring forth as ideas and then
something tangible that says I am still alive and viable.
There are not too many in my home who understand this desire.
It confounds them and because of this, it separates me from them.
That is my box- Conformity. Self-doubt. Compliance.
I need to spread my wings, drink deeply at the well and be.
I need renewal of body and spirit.
I need to be filled with droplets that will pool together
and flow through me, giving me energy and drive.
I need refreshment.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Small, Sweet Things

My Paper Potter has been sitting unused on my kitchen shelf for months. It's original purpose is to make small pots from newspaper in which you plant seeds. I only made a few. Very few.
So today I looked at it in a different light. Do you remember the colorful little nut cups that graced the tables of every bridal and baby shower up until the 1970's? I do. My grandmother had dozens of them. My mother always had some on hand.
They were the staple of every proper party-giver. Each one held a perfect serving of salty nuts or sugary mints.
I decided to make my own version. With all of the yummy scrapbook papers available these days, I could make any style or color I desired. Armed with a cutter, a glue stick, my "potter", buttons and some vintage glitter, (along with some pretty M Stewart border stickers), I started making them.
So cute! And easy-peasy to make: Just cut 2 strips of equal width of paper, glue them back-to-back, wrap around the "potter" and glue then seam. Press in the bottom, secure it with a push into the base and VOILA! You are done!

Then, decorate to your heart's content. I used vintage netting and baker's twine to hold the candy. Pretty sweet, aren't they?
Now I just need to have a party!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Striped Fur Jackets and Little Chubby Bums

I have been watching them for weeks now. It's always the same routine- first I catch sight of the slight rustle of leaves. "What are you up to?", I wonder. No good, I am sure.
Daring to brave their way into barely open space, I spy the familiar black and white stripe on the back of their fur coats. Aren't they hot? I would be.
At first it was small things that would go missing. Then they became bolder and started taking things that were more obviously missed. No wonder they have chubby bums!! They are living high on the hog. At my garden's expense. Chip and Dale have moved in, and it is not a good thing.
I know, I know, chipmunks are sweet and funny. The way they scamper across the lawn, with their squat bodies oozing cuteness- who wouldn't love having them entertaining in the garden? Me, that's who.
Do I have strawberries this year? No. Do I have sunflowers growing? No. And "Why?" may you ask? Because of the new tenants that have taken up residence in my yard. Not just in the yard, but under my side deck, where it is nicely shaded, cool and protected. They chose the condominium of the underground.
I discovered this by strategically placing fresh, fat strawberries (store-bought- grrrrr.) along the path leading to the garden. Maybe, just maybe, they would take the bait and try to bring one home with them. It worked.
This is their front door- (Did you notice the roly-poly doorman?)

Oh joy, oh rapture.
The problem is that, while they are systematically destroying any hope of us eating one home grown strawberry this summer, I haven't the heart to do anything about it. I am a wimp.
While the brain says "seek and destroy", the heart cannot bear to see small, innocent creatures hurt or, even worse, brought to an untimely death.
So, we will have to learn to live with our fur-coated, chubby-bummed subterranean neighbors. And strawberries from the farmer's market.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

Happy Fourth of July.
To those who are serving or have served our country,
we will place our hands over our hearts and include you in our prayers today,
in gratitude for your selfless sacrifices.
You are heroes in our eyes.
Thank you.

I have been listening to Michael Buble's new cd today.
His music had us dancing in the kitchen while we were cooking.
But, Lorna Doone made us swoon-

A few women have written about and posted the recipe for
Lorna Doone Spoon Pudding. It is on the box of Lorna Doone's, so I won't write it here.

But, I will tell you that you have to make it with cook-on-the-stove pudding and real whipped cream.

It is just to die for made with the real thing. And not much more

time consuming than with instant pudding and Cool Whip.

Our Fourth of July fruit salad. Made with watermelon, strawberries and blueberries and dressed with a combination of lime juice, honey and balsamic vinegar. Yum. Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue!!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Sweetness in the Post Box

Saturday was a blaringly hot day. On the bank's annoying flashing sign it read 96 degrees. Ugh. But, in our post box was something that brought refreshment and joy!! My sweet apron from Susan at NotQuiteJuneCleaver arrived!! A lovely package of pink and blue, with a nice little packet of peachy herbal tea that I will make and chill with a few ice cubes. (The cup and saucer are from my great-grandmother, but fit so well that I had to include it in the display.)

I opened the soap so that you could witness for yourself the lovely pink color. And the scent? Yummy!

Thank you, Susan, from the bottom of my heart. And the middle and the top. xxxooo