Sunday, May 22, 2011


I've had cats my whole life.  I really can't imagine life without them...though I don't have to imagine it because I lived through it for four years.  Spouse is allergic to the long haired type beast and we thought that meant he couldn't tolerate any type beast in the house.  I loved him so I was willing (or so I thought) to do without something that had been a major part of my life since I was five.  Bad idea.

Those four years were difficult - two very VERY different people trying to come to grips with marriage and home ownership and careers and all the little landmines those things entail.  Then, as if all that wasn't hard enough, we started trying to get pregnant and within three years of "I do" we were on that wonderful roller coaster called infertility treatments.  Maybe you've heard of it?  Get something done, chug up that long, long rise waiting, waiting, scared but excited, reach the top, have a test, and ... BAM you're whizzing down into tears and misery.  Then you get another treatment, start chugging back up the rise...well, you get the idea.

Somewhere in the middle of that, a friend and I were at a garden center.  A little black cat trotted out from behind some bushes and my friend said, "There you are!  This is the one I've been telling you about.  He's SUCH a sweetie!"  The little cat came right up on the tip of my shoe, meowing as if I was his long lost cousin from Nebraska, and when I scooped him up in my arms - because he WAS so darned sweet - he rubbed his face against my breast and started to purr...and I was lost.  Then, I literally could not put him down, because each time I tried he would start climbing up my leg. I stood there, my heart breaking because I knew, KNEW I could not bring this little stray home.  That's when fate intervened in the person of a nasty young worker walking by who said, "You guys want that cat, you better take him.  I'm dumping him in the desert tonight.  Can't have him hanging around here, we'll get in trouble."

Well, long story short...Pooky came home with me that night, and I held on fiercely.  If I couldn't have a child, I was at least going to have a cat, by God, and no stick-in-his-rear-end husband was going to stop me.  Spouse didn't talk to me for three days, and it was touch and go for a while after that.  Then one day I came home and found Pooky curled up on the bed next to him as he watched t.v. and I knew the battle was over.  Not by any stretch of the imagination could you say he enjoys the cats, but he does tolerate them.

Pooky was my child all those years I couldn't have any human ones.  God found a way to give me something to hold on to until He could give me the children He had waiting in heaven.  .

My most recent beast - one of three - is fidgeting behind the laptop, trying to get a pen to play with her since her human is falling down on the job.  This one is also a rescue beast - a friend found her, three siblings, and her mom starving in her woodpile two summers ago.  Mine is the runt of the litter and what she doesn't have in brains (we think the summer sun cooked them out) she makes up for in sheer curiosity.  I pray daily that she has her full complement of lives because she is going to need them! And she is a daily reminder to me that God is always taking care of me, in one way or another.

And now we have three new kittens in the house.  Foster children, in a way.  My daughters are taking care of  three motherless darlings until they are ready to be adopted out.  There are two marmalade kittens and one breathtaking beauty of black and grey tabby-hood.  We'll take care of them; God takes care of us; the cycle of life spins around and around.  And all is well here at the cottage.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


     My paternal grandmother was Nelle.  Nelle Madeleine Winans Clark, to be exact.  She was born on May 18, 1897 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  When Grama was born, there were no airplanes, no cars (except for interesting experiments), no rockets, no radios, no televisions, no computers.  Electric lights were still somewhat of a novelty, as was the telephone.
     Her father was a brick layer, who didn't have much work in the winter, and as there were 11 children in the family, there wasn't much money to go around.  They ate a lot of potatoes, which Grama always said was the reason she was a bit heavy.  Too much starch, she said. 
     When she graduated from high school in 1915, she went to the Normal School at Valparaiso, Indiana, to learn to be a teacher.  She taught for a year or two, and then found that being a secretary brought in more money.  Strange how some things never change...
     She met a young man named Loris with a devilish smile and a tall pompadour and they fell in love.  He took pictures of her and pasted them to a notebook, which he kept all his life in his World War I army foot locker.  They were married in October of 1923, and in that same foot locker is a kewpie doll with a bridal outfit that stood on the cake.  On their invitation it says that they would be "at home" to visitors by December, in Dayton, Ohio.
     It wasn't an easy life they had.  My grandfather had left school in the 10th grade to help his family survive.  He was a genius at "tinkering" - could build and rebuild engines and had a knack for industrial design, but he had no formal education.  He worked numerous jobs, trying to find something that fit his unique talents. Once he started his own business, only to have his partner vanish with the proceeds.  Nelle got a job at Wright Field, in the steno pool and he got a job in the fledgling air conditioning business.
     They wanted children, but the years passed by so did the stork.  Eventually, a doctor told her she would never be able to have a child, so she threw herself into her work.  She started at the bottom of the steno pool at Wright Field in 1924 making $960 a year.  The years went by.  They wanted to build a house, but by then the Depression was in full swing, and they knew it would be a challenge.   And then - a miracle happened.  At 37 years old, she was pregnant.  My father was born on July 3, 1935. 
     Despite her dream coming true, Nelle still had to work, because Loris was still struggling to find a full time job.  She had worked her way up to Senior Clerk (CAF-5, making $2000 a year).  Then my grandfather was offered a wonderful job in Silver Springs, Maryland.  Even though it meant losing her place at Wright Field, they made the move to Maryland.  Four months later, the job disappeared.
     Nelle started back at her old job, Jr Clerk/Steno 2 on Sept. 13, 1938.  Loris found a job at Master Electric at the very bottom of the business, pushing a broom, doing odd jobs, sorting and filing.  But they were the generation that bred the men and women who would fight WW II a few years later, and they did not give up easily.  By 1945, when she was finally able to quit and stay home to raise my dad and be a housewife, she had worked herself all the way up to Administrative Assistant, making $2900 a year.  Loris had worked his way up to a full fledged position, dreaming up new ideas and getting patents on them.
     This was the last generation that could do this.  This was the American Dream in the late 1800's and early 1900's - the self-made man and woman who started with nothing and ended up with a house, a garage, a family, and a roast in the pot every Sunday.  Nickle paperbacks told the stories a hundred different ways and kids believed, truly believed, that you could become whatever you wanted with hard work and a good attitude.  Magazine articles, sermons from the pulpit, stories in schoolbooks - all told the tale.
     Nelle passed away in 1970.  The upheavals of the 60's had already swept away that bright and shining generation and replaced it with anger, sarcasm, cynicism, and greed.  While I'm not sorry that discrimination against women and people of color also fell by the wayside, I do feel like we're holding a collective bathtub and wondering where the heck the baby went.  Where did the good stuff go? 
     GIGO.  It's a computer term.  It means "garbage in, garbage out".  An easy concept to grasp - shovel garbage intoanything - a machine, a computer, your soul, and garbage will spew back out.  However, I think it could also mean "good in, good out".  Read those writers who have good, uplifting things to say, and your world will come out uplifted.  Magazines in Nelle's era were full of articles that taught a clean and steady way of being, and a clean and steady world existed. 
     People ask me why I live surrounded by things from the past.  The answer is - they make me feel good.  They evoke that era gone by, and help me to be better at living up to Nelle's world.  I hope when I see her again someday, she'll be proud of me.
Grandpa Loris wrote "A Flower Among the Flowers"  ca. 1921

Loris mustering out in 1920.  The war ended before he could get "over there".

Donovan Lee Clark, my dad, about 18 mos.

1139 Oakdale Dr., Dayton, Ohio, around 1940.  My very best memories of childhood are from times in this house.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Parable about Irons

     My husband and I have been married for almost 27 years, and in that time we have been through five toasters, five irons, and five vacuum cleaners.  They call this "planned obsolescence".  It allows companies to make cheap products - usually overseas where they pay their workers a fraction of what an American is paid for the same work...oh, except we don't HAVE very many of those jobs left because they've nearly all gone overseas.  And because the products are so cheap in price, they're also, well, CHEAP.  They don't last.
     So recently, on one of my vintage treasure hunts, I came across an iron made in the late 50's.  I paid five bucks for it at Goodwill.  The cord and plug looked to be in great shape, so I took my courage in both hands (I'm a real chicken when it comes to things that heat up) and plugged it in.  It heated up in a fraction of the time my most recent one took, and got truly hot, so that starched cottons got that wonderful crisp feel and look.  I've been using it for about a month now and I'll keep you posted.  A friend of mine has one that was her mom's and she's STILL using it, after all these years.
     I looked irons up in an old Montgomery Ward catalog (1958 - 59) and found my same iron.  It sold for $9.95 then.  With the change in monetary values since then, that same iron would sell for about $75 now.  An iron - any electric appliance - was an investment in those days.  You saved your money, you waited, and you bought when you had the money in hand.  And here's the important point - that item was WORTH the money you paid.  Now people can - and do - argue what's the difference between buying one iron at $75 and five irons at $15.  The difference?  It's that the $75 iron would provide a living wage for an American.  It would last 30, 40, 50 years.  There'd be less waste.  Less discarded junk to make our garbage dumps overflow.  We MUST rethink our values.  And this is why, beyond all other considerations.
     Someday we're going to have to fight another big war.  The last really big war - World War II - was won for a lot of reasons, one of which was that we had the factory infrastructure available to change over to war materiel.  We produced an unimaginable amount of STUFF in the five years of the war.  Where would we get that STUFF now?  China?  What if we're at war with China?  Think they'll sell us the stuff to beat them? 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Love to Iron

     I really love to iron.  I know a lot of women consider it a task to be avoided whenever possible, but I actually love to do it.  Mostly only when I'm ironing cotton, though.  Anything else is not nearly as much fun.  I guess it's because I LOVE starch.  I love the way it smells.  I love how the heat of the iron smooths down the cotton and makes it crisp and shiny.  I love how starch and an iron take a wrinkly piece of fabric and turn it into a thing of beauty.
     This is my iron.  And my starch.
I found my iron in a Goodwill store for $5.  More about that tomorrow.  I found the same iron in a 1958 Montgomery Ward catalog, so it's from "my" era (1935 - 1960, which is, curiously, the year I was born...I'm sure there's some philosophy in that...)  It works like a dream, despite already being at least 53 years old.  Certainly works better than I do, at 50. 
     I was ironing because I have so many wonderful vintage linens, and until now, I didn't really have a way to display them unless I was using them on my kitchen hutch (more about THAT another day, too!)  Then I found this wonderful old quilt holder, on Etsy.

The cat is Socks, my daughter's "baby".  She's four years old and weighs over 20 pounds.  But, BOY, can she love and purr...  Anyway, I found this great piece and decided to iron up some of my linens to display them.

     This is how it came out.  I love it!  I looked for the "Kitchen Parade" towel forever before we found it at a local flea market.  I love all the great designs with faces - the tablecloth underneath is another find and the veggies have faces.  I'm also a sucker for those "days of the week" designs.  You have to really admire all the work that went into this simple things.  And the work ethic behind it - don't spend money on stuff, make it yourself.  Makes sense - not much t.v., you had to go to the movies, and during those days at home while the kids were at school, doing needlework in front of the radio had to have been a special time of the day - get off your feet and take time for YOU.      I found another iron at the same flea market, but this one had a box, so I used it as part of a display.  I got an old wooden ironing board, years ago, and I have a little collection of vintage washday stuff.  I adore the graphics on this stuff.
I thought the "Monday Washday" cloth underneath went perfectly!  I found the Fels-Naptha bars at a garage sale in Indiana for ten cents each.  I also adore garage sales.  Especially back East.  You can still find prices of ten cents and a quarter there.      A wonderful book on vintage linens is this one:

It's not a price guide.  It show lots and lots of wonderful old linens, with stories from the women who made them and the women who collect them.  It is a wonderful resource, but it's also an homage to the women who made our homes wonderful.
     Well, that's it for today.  I hope you'll stroll down the cottage path again another day and join me.