Tag Archives: Family

October 7 – Remembering the Landline

by Sara Etgen-Baker

 

Though landline phones may be on the endangered species list, in the 1950s and before, they were the lifeline of communities. For nearly 100 years, the landline was how we talked with someone who wasn’t in the room with us.

We had only one telephone, a black rotary one, that sat on a built-in phone cubby. There was no caller ID, no robocalls or telemarketers intruding in our lives. So when the phone rang, we were curious. The caller could’ve been anybody, but in truth, the caller was usually one of four or five people who had our telephone number. Morning calls were certain people; probably neighbors and evening calls were relatives. No one called before 9 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and we lived in fear of any call after midnight.

The phone didn’t ring a dozen times a day, and its sound was a kind of minor event. We kids didn’t pick up the phone and answer it, nor did we make a phone call without first asking permission. Father didn’t answer the telephone; answering it fell under the duties of the homemaker. When Mother answered the telephone, we didn’t listen to her conversation, but we knew by her tone whom she was talking with. When we were teenagers, my brothers and I were allowed to make limited telephone calls and answer the telephone.

There’s a wonderous landline moment that doesn’t exist today. The telephone rang after dinner one evening. My brother answered the phone. “Hello,” he said. After a moment, he hollered loud enough to notify the entire household, “Sara, it’s for you; a phrase that is long gone because no one shares a phone anymore. Using his phone etiquette, my brother asked, “Who’s calling?” Then he yelled, “It’s Robert,” a name that had never been said aloud before in our house and the sound of which piqued my parents’ interest. I sprinted to the telephone cubby. “It’s Robert,” he shouted, “that boy from school!” I yanked the phone from him, ignoring his satisfied grin. “Hello,” I said softly. Robert needed to know what time he was picking me up for the sophomore dance. I was tongue-tied and embarrassed, answering him in monosyllables: yes, no, okay, sure, yes. Bye.

Standing at the phone cubby in a household with a landline, the news was now public. I had a crush on Robert, and he was taking me to the dance. The village had been alerted.

There are no such shared moments like these in our homes today. No one stops and listens to the phone ring, wondering who the caller might be. Robocalls, caller ID, and telemarketers have killed our curiosity. Cell phones and instantaneous texting have made the landline extinct. Yet, I yearn for those days of removing the phone’s handset from the cradle, listening for the dial tone, placing my fingers in the number hole, rotating the dial and waiting for that almost magical connection to be made and hearing someone on the other end answer, “Hello.”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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September 16 – Mom on the Fly

Advice to my Grown Daughter

by Susan Rudnick

photo by BreakingPic at pexels.com

Standing on West 56th Street in Manhattan, I give myself a moment to look across the street at Carnegie Hall before heading to my dentist’s office to have my mouth numbed.  My cell phone rings, and “#1 daughter” comes up, the way she had jokingly entered her number on my phone.  And she is #1. My only one.

Motherhood came to me late. For so many years I had longed to be one but wasn’t sure I would be able to make it happen. It was a miracle gift when my daughter’s birth mother entrusted her to me and I became a mother through adoption at age 43.  I have loved being a mother through every stage of my daughter’s life.

My daughter is 31 now, and recently married to a lovely man.  We live over an hour away from each other, so it has been through phone calls that we have some of our most meaningful conversations. I have received calls in the gym locker room, in my car just about to go somewhere, at 11:30 in the morning and 9:20 at night. It might be “just saying hi”, or it’s the “do you have time to talk?”   In two seconds, when I know it’s the latter, I have learned to listen, and to weigh in judiciously if given permission.

I have learned to regard these calls as little windows to pass on whatever wisdom I can. Lately, as my 75th birthday approaches, I feel more of an urgency to share whatever wisdom I have.  How much longer will I have to be there for her?  What have I not said that would be helpful?  What does she still need from me?

In the past, there were many calls about whether she should break up with a boyfriend who had addiction issues. “Of course,” I would want to say.  “You deserve better.” But I knew that until she was ready to let go, that wouldn’t work. I chose instead to remind her of all the efforts she had made to help him stop.

Thankfully, we are now past those calls. We are dealing with the trip to Georgia to visit her in-laws or the contractor who walked away without finishing a project for the business she is starting.

I have said these things before, but would it be helpful to say them again?

  • Your in-laws are your husband’s parents.
  • Listen to your doubts, they have something to say.
  • Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you feel is right.
  • Try not to take things personally.
  • For everyone who disappoints you, there will be an unexpected gift of someone who shows up for you.
  • If you decide to become a mother, know it’s for life.
  • I will always be in your heart after I’m gone.

I press down the key.

“Mom, do you have a minute to talk?”

“Of course,” I say.

Susan Rudnick is the author of the memoir Edna’s Gift: How My Broken Sister Taught Me To Be Whole.  She is a published haiku poet, and her recent essay appeared in the NY Times: The Power of a Name: My Secret Life With M.R.K.H. She has been a psychotherapist in NYC for the past forty years.

September 9 – Monday Was Wash Day

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Helen Morain Stainbrook

Last Thursday my washer quit spinning, leaving in its wake a tub full of wet, heavy clothes. I grumbled and stared inside the washer, knowing I lacked the arm strength to wring out the excess water in each item of clothing. What I wouldn’t have given at that moment to have my grandmother’s old wringer washer.

I can still picture her standing beside her wringer washer that sat on a little back porch behind her kitchen. Come rain, shine, cold winter days, or hot summer afternoons, she washed clothes EVERY Monday. She rose extra early, built a fire, and heated wash water. She filled the washer and twin rinsing tubs with scalding hot water; hand scrubbed each individual item, using a washboard to remove bad stains. Once clothes were scrubbed, washed, rinsed, and sent through the wringer, Granny hung her laundry to dry on clotheslines strung between two tall posts. As I recall, there were some basic clothesline rules she and women of her time followed.

•       Clotheslines were cleaned before hanging any clothes. She walked the length of the line using a damp cloth, removing dust, dirt, and bird poop.

•       Clothes were hung in a certain order: “Whites” with “whites,” always first.

•       Sheets and towels were hung on the outside lines. “Unmentionables” were in the middle out of public view.

•       Shirts were hung by the shoulders; NEVER by the tail.

•       Socks were hung by the toes, NOT the tops.

•       Pants were hung by the BOTTOM or the cuffs, NOT the waistbands.

•       Hang clothes out to dry on Mondays only. Never on Sunday! For heaven’s sake!

•       After taking down dry clothes, ALWAYS gather up the clothespins. Pins left on the lines look tacky.

Although using a wringer washing machine took a lot of time and required tremendous body strength, my grandmother thought she was lucky to have a wringer washer. At the end of wash day, Granny sat on her stoop occasionally recollecting her youth when she built a wood fire under an iron pot where she washed clothes with lye soap; something she did in the early years of her marriage during WWII when it was impossible to buy a wringer washing machine.

I take a lot for granted these days. I have an automatic washer and can wash clothes any day of the week and at any time of the day or night. I have an electric clothes dryer so I don’t have to tote laundry baskets full of wet clothes outside in all kinds of weather and hang them out to dry. In fact, drying clothes on a line is rarely seen these days.

Granny certainly wouldn’t have much patience with me for complaining about my automatic washer having gone on the fritz. She’d be shocked knowing I’d gone soft, lacking the strength to lift wet clothes out of my washer and wring out the excess water. She’d probably fuss at me, too, saying, “Why the heck are you washing clothes on Thursday anyway? Shame on you!”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

August 5 – Turning Pointe

by Sara Etgen-Baker

“Point your feet! Rotate! Don’t stick your butts out! Stay out of your heels.” I looked up from where I was sitting.  There was no music; only the thump-thud sound of the dancers en pointe and the ballet master shouting. “Dance to the tips of your fingers and toes! Plié! Spot!”

Ann obeyed, sweat running down her face. “Tours chaînés déboulés,” the master barked. She struggled, her sleek muscles quivering with exhaustion. I’d never seen my aunt rehearsing. So, the contrast between seeing her stage performance where she glided effortlessly on the tips of her pointe shoes and seeing her studio rehearsal baffled me.

“Rond de Jambe en l’air and Frappé.” The master paused; the dancers gathered at the barre. “Fifth position, preparation sur le cou de pied. Single frappe en croix each position getting two counts.”  He strolled around the dance studio.

“Close Fifth position front.” Ann panted for breath. “Single rond de jambe en l’air en dehors twice at 45°.” Her corded tendons stood out like insulated cable. …“Now close to sous-sus front.

But when the curtain rose later that winter evening, there stood my aunt; her feathery light body rose en pointe.

Ann lifted her arms, breathed in the music sending it through her torso, arms, and legs. She surrendered to the music and spun like the wind across Swan Lake; her tutu fluttering like the wings of a bird at dawn. Dancing became her body’s song, and Ann sang it beautifully, her body telling the story of Odette, the Swan Queen, and her love for Prince Siegfried.

Backstage afterward, I cringed when Ann removed her pointe shoes revealing calluses, misshapen toes, black nails, and reddish-purple flesh. The contrast between her beautiful pointe shoes and her battered, ugly feet startled me.

“I didn’t know how ballet dancing was so painful!” I searched her eyes. “How can you endure so much pain?”

Ann silently walked over to her dressing table, wrapped her pointe shoes in soft tissue paper, and placed them in a pink satin drawstring bag. She scribbled a note, tucking it inside the bag. “I’m not quite sure how to explain it to you, but take these. I want you to have them. One day, you’ll understand.”

I left the performance hall and opened the drawstring bag, running my fingers over the pointe shoes’ pink satiny smooth surface and read her note.  “Each time you see these, remember life, like dance, is a beautiful art form. It’s hard work. It’s painful. It’s ugly. You sweat. You fail. You succeed. You try again. You push. You fight. But always remain graceful.”

At the time I didn’t understand the wisdom in my aunt’s message. Now, though, I recognize my aunt’s gift was not her pointe shoes; rather it was her enduring words that served as a turning point in my young life when I learned that life, like ballet, is a battle between beauty and pain.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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July 15 – Collecting and Connecting

by Kalí Rourke
I recently mentioned to my husband that in light of our multiple downsizings, we were fortunate that neither of us is a collector.

My husband smiled and said, “I think you do have a collection. You have collected the people and ancestry in your family!”

“And yours,” I responded with a grin.

People ask, “How did you get into genealogy? Did your family talk about its history?”

“Not really.” My maternal grandmother (Nana) claimed that we were descendants of Myles Standish of the Mayflower through her father William Herbert Standish. He died young in a carriage accident and was the great love of her three-times married mother, Nellie Holley Standish Kidder Smalley. When Nellie died, her wish was to be buried with William.

Actually, we all just smiled and humored her when Nana claimed the Standish connection. No one took it seriously.

December of 2006 I was goofing around on the Internet. I stumbled on Ancestry.com and it gave access to the Name Bulletin Boards. This is a hit and miss way to research because the conversations are in threads and can meander, but I was fascinated! I tried my maternal grandfather’s name, Baskett. I plowed through with an investigator’s zeal and finally, there it was.

Dorene Standish from Oregon had posted that she was looking for the family of Lorena May Standish Baskett. I shrieked with glee! That was us! I commented that I was a granddaughter of Lorena through her daughter Marie and I would love to correspond. Dorene was incredibly generous with her knowledge and time and she encouraged me to dig into my family tree. She had accomplished the heavy lifting, getting her husband George (Nana’s nephew!) approved for General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) membership. All I had to do was document the generations between Nellie Holley/William Herbert Standish through me. I could do that!

I started gathering hard copy documentation. Birth, marriage, death certificates, divorces, multiple states, and it occurred to me that I was seeing many headstones online but I didn’t see any for my family.

Dorene solved the mystery for me. Our family had not been wealthy and nice markers were not possible. Concrete with basic information on it was what we found.

She checked the local monument makers and we decided to share costs while she and George would coordinate the replacements. We decided on granite with more engraved detail and soon, it was done.

In 2013 my husband and I traveled to Washington and drove to the Woodlawn Cemetery where so many of my family rest. As we searched through the headstones of all sizes, and some markers so old they had sunken under the soil, I felt blessed that we had been able to help make this lasting improvement. Future genealogists will have an easier time tracing the trail and I was able to say goodbye one more time to Nana (Who was right all along!).

I love owning this particular “collection.”

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin and the Austin Community Foundation Women’s Fund. She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. A longer version of this post appears on Kalí’s Musings.

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July 2 – One Woman Remembering Another

by Debra Dolan

I am writing this on Canada Day delighted in knowing that my darling Michael’s mother’s remarkable life is honoured in our national newspaper.  There is a wonderful regular feature titled “Lives Lived” which “celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed”.  Margaret was a proud American-Canadian who was many things to many people.  I submitted an essay for consideration; therefore, my day, today is finding joy in remembering her loving presence in my life during the past 17 years.  

Margaret Leonebel (Chiefy) Jackson Frizell

Margaret spent her youth in the lush interior mountains of China, where her father worked. The Second World War forced her American family to return to Santa Barbara, Calif. It was here that she graduated from Mills College. Later she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and travelled through Europe. While working as a French teacher at a children’s camp on Vancouver Island, she met Charles George (Chip) Frizell, the lodge’s dishwasher. Chip was a young, war-shattered man from the United Kingdom who had fought in the Battle of Britain and recited poetry from memory. They were a remarkable pair of beguiling individuals.

For more than 65 years they were a formidable team, building homes on Mayne Island, B.C., and in Point Roberts, Wash. They raised three sons, Michael, Paul, and Mark. Margaret was an untraditional homemaker, wife, and mother. She wore pants, smoked cigars, ignored housework and shared coffee with the mailman in broad daylight. And she created a home full of love and acceptance, providing a place for neighbourhood children to play and enjoy fresh baking. Later, it was bacon and eggs in the middle of the night for young men returning from parties drunk or stoned.

As her nickname suggests, Chiefy was indeed the boss. She never sweated the small stuff and picked her battles in a household of boys and men carefully; however, once she made a decision about what was important, she was a force to be reckoned with. Chiefy was a fierce defender of her sons, who she loved with every fibre of her being.

Chiefy had a wild and fascinating mind. She had an iron will and was connected to the strong values of her Catholic faith. In her presence, you felt special: She would tilt that head covered in cotton-candy-textured white hair and listen respectfully and intently. In the 1960s she wrote radio plays for the CBC and was a talented iconographer.

Margaret had a great fondness for cookbooks, which she read with the tenacity of novels, and amassed a large collection. Chiefy could be whimsical and silly; joyful and optimistic. She also demonstrated a tremendous fondness for martinis, butter, Hawaii and all things Parisian.

Her end was sudden. After a full day, attending mass, lunch with Michael and enjoying a drive along the beach, Chiefy suffered a stroke and died a few days later. She is buried next to Chip, who died in 2014, in the Gardens of Gethsemane.

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and these details are worthy to be recorded.” – Natalie Goldberg

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

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June 17 – The Subversive Needle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), I spent my summer vacations with my Aunt Betty. She was a non-traditional, career-minded, single woman in the ’50s who each morning ventured off to work at the nearby Western Union office.

“Don’t go outside until I get home,” she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn’t own a television so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her 33 1/3 rpm records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como.

“You’re wearing out my records,” she told me one day. You need something else to do.”

Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her tiny crackerbox house, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.

“Wah-lah!” she exclaimed. “Now you can embroider while I’m at work.”

And so I did, lost in choosing the color of thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. During my time with her, I created seven towels–one for each day of the week that represented the agreed upon prescribed daily duties for women of the time. Monday: Wash Day; Tuesday: Ironing Day; Wednesday: Sewing and Mending Day; Thursday: Go to Market Day; Friday: Clean House Day; Saturday: Baking Day; Sunday: Day of Rest (or church attendance).

I loved embroidering from the start, for it not only allowed me to occupy my mind and fill the time, but it also allowed me to express my creativity. I still have many of the pieces I completed that summer and the summers afterward.  When I look at them and think back to those summers spent at my aunt’s house, I realize that embroidering also taught me how to be a feminist.

What?” you say. “How could embroidering, a seemingly negative symbol of traditional femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience, provide the skills and qualities necessary for a feminist?”

Femininity and sweetness are part of a woman’s strength, but passivity and obedience are the very opposite qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in any type of needlework. What’s required is a host of physical and mental skills; fine aesthetic judgment in color, texture, and composition; disobedience of convention; creative expression; assertive individuality (in design and application); as well as patience and determination.

I doubt my aunt knew just how subversive the embroidery needle, hoop, and threads could be. With them, she inadvertently created in me a mindset that would serve me as I grew into womanhood and became an ardent feminist. I am grateful for her and for all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful threads.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.