Saturday, November 14, 2020

Meet the McDraggals

Although the quality of this photo is poor, it remains one of my favorite family pictures. For years I kept it on my desk in corporate America as a way of announcing that yes, I had a family, but details would stay compartmentalized. Of course, the photo always prompted sideways glances or outright questions. And I would answer: Yes, I am the tallest one in the photo, and, Yes, the other four are my offspring. See a family resemblance? Meet the McDraggals.

The McDraggals came about in 1977 to help a friend and volunteer mom who was in charge of the annual grade school talent show where three of my children were pupils. That year, The Gong Show was a huge TV hit, and that gave my friend an idea. She wanted to model the talent show that year on it. Her thought was that instead of the usual polite applause for the multiple degrees of talent and non-talent the audience usually endured, audience members would instead be encouraged to boo so the gong would ring! But, so as not to hurt children's feelings, she had a plan (one that needed and received approval of the principal of the school). She would privately arrange to have kids from each grade (with full disclosure to their parents) intentionally create awful acts that would be booed instantaneously, thus getting the gong within a half-minute. (She even planted several relatives in the audience to assure that happen). The judges presiding over the gong would be PTA moms, full of compassion and would manage outcomes so no one would be sad or insulted. She approached me and asked if a member of my family would like to invent an awful talent act. With kids in third, fifth, and sixth grades in the school, she was fairly certain one of them would rise to the challenge.

Like most families, we watched The Gong Show every week, and the idea was immediately appealing. It didn’t take long to think up the perfect act. The whole family would be needed, however, to make it work. We would play our fake bagpipes! Dad had a tech rehearsal the very same night as the talent show, however, so he couldn't (sadly . . . wink wink) participate.

And what are 'fake bagpipes'? you might be thinking. The six of us together loved to replicate the sound of bagpipes by pinching our noses and humming the classic tune, Scotland the Brave, with a deliberately nasal tone while concurrently striking the outside edge of the other hand across our Adams apples. This is not a healthy action in terms of the vocal cords and no one should do this for very long, but the sound eerily resembles bagpipes and is still hilarious to whomever hears it. 

And as the kids became more inspired about developing an instantly gong-able act, we came up with the idea of everyone wearing mixed tartans and plaids, the more clashing the better! There were plenty of hats on the closet shelf (some having belonged to two deceased grandfathers), and a quick trip to the local variety store would provide more Groucho Marx glasses with mustachioed noses like the one already in the dress up box. Voila! The McDraggals were born.

The third grader was eager to take part, but not sure he wanted to be a bagpiper. Instead, he happily conducted the group with a plumber's friend as his baton, adding another dimension of silliness. The eighth grader was tickled to return to her alma mater for this silly event, and my participation gave everyone the scapegoat they needed, in case people later made fun of them (Mom MADE us do it).

Of course, nothing ever turns out quite the way one imagines it. Instead being booed and gonged within seconds, as we expected to be, the audience began to giggle and laugh and roar and applaud and call out "more, more," as we struggled to make it through repeated choruses of the tune. No one gonged us! Eventually the Master of Ceremonies urged the audience to boo, and the gong finally sounded. 

In my memory, at least, The McDraggals was one of the most original and fun acts of the evening for the audience, but the immediate reactions by four of the five of the McDraggals, however, was mortification. If you've agreed to make a fool out of yourself for a few seconds, it's not fun to be kept onstage for what was probably two minutes (and, indeed, those two minutes felt like fifteen). It took a few years before we, as a family, could laugh about the experience. Now it’s always fun to remember. And we've been known to hum/play Scotland the Brave on our fake bagpipes as recently as a few years ago. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Blogger woes

Until recently, I could easily check out readership stats on my blog or go into an old one to correct a typo or add a missing word. Normally I don't spend any time re-reading old posts, but once in a while, when I notice that there's been a lot of interest on a particular post (especially if it's been a decade since I put it on my blog), I will re-read it. 

In the case of Cindy Part II, when I re-read it, I saw a small material error that I wanted to correct, and when I did so, the post jumped to the top, as if I had just now written it. In the case of Cindy Part II, it seemed ludicrous to have it appear as if I wrote it today, with Part I appearing exactly eleven years earlier. I might be slow at posting, but not THAT slow!  With a LOT of wrangling, I was able to move Cindy Part I to the top (there is absolutely no way to push something into the past where it belongs), which sequentially matches the parts. But--consider yourself warned--it's not new. It hearkens back to the first year of blogging in which I was determined to self-publish many of my personal essays that had not yet seen the light of day.

CINDY Part I

She stared back through the window, lips glistening, eyes wide open looking directly at me. I couldn’t tear myself away. Her perfect blond curly hair and rosy cheeks were an eye-magnet. Everything about her, from her impeccably ironed organza dress to her dainty little shoes called to me—Are you the one? Will you rescue me? 

 My parents slowed their pace but didn’t stop. “Come along, dear, we have a lot of errands to do.” Begrudgingly I followed them into the record store next door, but even the brightly colored posters and strains of music leaking out of the glass listening-booths didn’t distract me. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. 

 “All right,” Mother sighed an hour later after several errands had been accomplished, “we’ll stop by the store on our way back to the car . . . to ask how much she costs.” Once inside Fifth Avenue Toys, I hastily made my way past mounds of alluring items—stuffed animals and Teddy bears, Lincoln logs, Parcheesi games, Erector sets, and model airplane kits—to the doll corner where her twin sat with a price tag of $25. 

 “No, absolutely not!” said my mother when I started to ask the inevitable. “Don’t be ridiculous! You’ve almost outgrown playing with dolls, so you’re not getting a doll that costs that much,” as if a doll’s value could be amortized over the months it was played with. Wisely, my father stayed out of our discussion, although I sneaked peaks at him to see if I could detect a glimmer of empathy. No dice. This was girl talk and he had intentionally disconnected. 

 All the way home from the backseat of the car I jabbered. “She’s so big, almost the size of real a two year old,” I speculated. “Isn’t she beautiful? Her cheeks are so rosy, her hair is so blond.” 

 “We are not spending that much money on a doll, period,” said my mother again. Her tone wasn’t mean, just decisive. By the next morning I’d devised a scheme. Trying it out first on my father, I asked, 

“Will you go halvsies with me? If I save my allowance until I have $12.50?” Maybe because my math was impeccable, more likely because he was an entrepreneur himself, he smiled. 

“That’s a possibility,” he conceded. “Better talk to Mother, though.” Now that I had Dad in my camp, I approached Mother with confidence. 

“We’ll see,” she said. 

 As an old woman nearly seventy years later, I don’t think of myself as a person with a lot of drive, staying- power, focus, or determination. But that summer I was one-track-minded and consumed with focus. Stashing about three dollars a week in allowance and chores, I decided I would name her Cynthia and call her Cindy for short. She would be my playmate, my best friend, my confidante and my little sister. By mid-July I had twelve dollars. “You still need fifty cents more and there’ll be tax,” reminded my mother. “You’d better save at least thirteen dollars.” Even though I was so close to achieving my goal, she must have hoped I’d still change my mind. 

 When I finally had enough money, a new worry overtook me. What if Cindy wasn’t still at the toy store? What if she had been bought by someone else? But miraculously, she was still there, on the shelf, not in the window. “I have come for you, at last, Cynthia,” I whispered as I lifted her off the shelf. She was as beautiful as I remembered, radiant in her human-like softness. I patted her crunchy nylon hair and ran my fingers over her smooth vinyl cheeks into the crevice of her mouth. Her fingers and elbows were dimpled, her body was cuddly, made from soft flesh-colored fabric. I carried her carefully to the counter and opened my wallet. My father opened his, as well. 

 For an entire week I thought of nothing else. She slept next to me during the night and came to the breakfast table. My mother, softened considerably about the doll once she was sharing her roof, located some old baby clothes for Cindy to wear as pajamas. The doll was too sophisticated to be wearing toddler overalls or V-necked T-shirts during the day, but those items were perfect as sleepware. After breakfast, I changed her out of her pjs and put her in her store-perfect organdy dress, delicate shoes and lacey socks. When I brushed her hair, a few shiny strands of her nylon wig (glued to her head) came loose, but it didn’t matter. She was still the most alluring doll I had ever seen—and she was mine! She sat by the window when I went out to play with my neighbor in the next-door vacant lot. Cindy couldn’t play with us outside because her body was cloth. I was not going to let her get dirty. 

 Every night she joined the family for dinner. Her straight, unbending arms thrust out beside her or rested on the table edge. Although her feet stuck out straight ahead of her when sitting in a chair, I made sure she was included in the conversation. My parents and my sister must have become exasperated as they waited out my obsession, hoping I’d lose interest in her and discover something (anything!) else. But nothing made me waiver from my inordinate affection for Cindy. 

 One morning in late August, just days before fifth grade was going to start, I put Cindy in a patio chair on our veranda. When my neighbor came over, we ran off to play. (We had formed a gang called “The Monkeys,” which did mischief—things like helping ourselves to a Coca-Cola from the basement storage room at her house.) While I was gone, a summer storm blew in and when I arrived home for lunch, I was dismayed to see a fine layer of soot all over Cindy’s face. Although she was damp from rain, she desperately needed a washing. Carefully carrying her to the upstairs bathroom, I pulled my washcloth down from where it hung over the bathtub. I soaped up the cloth and began to scrub her vinyl face. My mother was calling me for lunch. As I hurried my task along, I noticed slivers of red on the washcloth. When I looked closely, I saw . . . paint! Her mouth color was flaking off in front of my eyes. Little bubbles were rising up from her lips, then popping and peeling off. 

 Tears welled up in my own eyes, and I let out a yelp. My mother, assuming the worst—perhaps I had fallen on a knife—was up the stairs in moments. “What’s wrong? What have you done?” She was ashen. The combination of the horrifying disintegration of Cindy combined with my mother’s reaction set off my sobs—bellowing sobs. I scared myself they were so loud. I gasped through spurting tears, “I washed off some of Cindy’s lips.” My mother who had, until that moment, been the epitome of a caring mother, was no doubt so relieved it was only the doll and not her daughter who was losing red substance from her face, and brusquely snapped, “What? You’re crying over your doll? Oh, for heavens sake! Stop crying and come to lunch,” which made me blubber all the harder. Now my mother was shouting, something she rarely did. “She’s just a doll, for heaven’s sake, Sallie! Get a-hold of yourself.” The more Mother reacted, the more I cried. I couldn’t stop, I didn’t know how. “Take a breath and hold it—or you’ll have hysterics,” she commanded. 

By now I felt as though I was in another place, inside someone else’s body. I no more knew how to stop crying than I knew how to fly. Finally, Mother suggested that I lie down in the guest room. She pulled the shades halfway down, making the room calm and shady. “You have to get a-hold of yourself,” she said as she left the room and closed the door. “No one but you can stop your crying.” I heaved big sighs and started all over again, terrified by my inability to stop. A few minutes later, my father came into the guest room. 

“We can fix Cindy, I’m sure, Sallie. She’ll be as good as new.” 

 Then I heard my mother say to my father, “She’s having a case of hysterics,” which frightened me even more. As I lay there, someone put a cool wash cloth on my forehead. Eventually I must have slept because the next thing I knew, it was nearly dark outside. I woke up exhausted. When I went downstairs, both parents were very solicitous. Mother gave me supper and brought my pajamas downstairs, then offered to read to me until I was sleepy and ready for bed. Within moments of awaking the following morning, I remembered something unpleasant had happened the day before. When I entered the kitchen, Dad was sitting at the breakfast table. He looked up from his plate. “We can buy nail polish in exactly the same red,” he began, “and paint Cindy's lips with that. I think it will look quite professional.” Thinking about Cindy made me feel queasy, but I trusted my dad’s assessment. He could probably repair her just fine. 

 After breakfast while Mother did the dishes, my dad and I went to the local dime store to select nail enamel. I picked out a deep coral without worrying if it matched her current lips because—my dad explained—it would be best to remove all the original lip paint so the color would be smooth. After we bought the polish, he spent the rest of the morning gently washing off her flaking lip paint, picking off the splinters with a wash cloth. Eventually her lips were unadorned and pale. Dad repainted her mouth with a great flourish, the way a surgeon would prepare a patient, carefully covering the rest of her body so as not to get a speck of unwanted nail enamel on anything else. I watched. He decided to let the paint dry for at least an hour. 

"Come on, Sallie--let's go to the arboretum to feed ducks while we wait." When we got back, Cindy’s lips looked fine, but I knew we could never go back. We were both scarred. Cindy had sustained lip damage; I had had my heart broken. Although Cindy looked like herself . . . I knew she wasn’t. She was no longer the most beautiful doll in the world, she was just a doll, my doll. And I was a girl who knew what it meant when mothers lowered their voices and whispered about someone, “Then she became hysterical.

end of Part I . . . to be continued

CINDY Part II

Cindy, the life-sized doll, went everywhere with me for a while. In her blue soft wool hat and coat, she looked almost real sitting next to me. She sat in the backseat on the car seat, and I would turn her so she could look out the window. Sometimes I made her wave at children who were looking out their backseat windows from in cars in adjacent lanes. Sometimes I held her on my lap and narrated the scenery.

Our family was invited to the Olympic Peninsula for a weekend with friends. I asked Mother if Cindy could come; the answer was yes. Part of that trip was a ferry ride, and after we drove our car onto the auto deck, we went above to the cabin for the thirty-minute crossing. I lugged Cindy up the ferry’s stairs with her face looking over my shoulder, carrying her as if she were a real child. Her legs and arms were stiff and straight because her knees and elbows were not jointed.
As I reached the top of the stairs and entered the sitting area, a woman passenger looked up from her magazine with a look of horror. Then she began to laugh. “Oh,” she said, “I thought your doll was a real child with polio.”

I explained the reason I wanted to get such a big doll was because she was life-sized—like a little sister—and “she wears the same size clothing a two-year-old would wear,” I added proudly. I propped Cindy up to look at the water and other boats while we crossed Puget Sound, conversing with her the entire trip. My real sister, four years older than I, didn’t want to be seen with her childish ten-year-old sibling who was talking to a doll on the ferry. How embarrassing my behavior was for her.

As fifth grade wore on, my interest in Cindy receded slightly. My teacher engaged her students from day-one, in what turned out to be the most dynamic year of my schooling before or after. I would lug Cindy into the breakfast nook to share weekend breakfasts and lunches with our family, but I don’t remember playing with her as much. I did change her clothes often before propping her up in a chair in my room. I never wanted to give my mother an occasion to say “I told you so.” My grade school friends admired her, but we rarely played dolls together.

All through junior and senior high school, Cindy stayed visible in my room, the only doll so honored, although she shared a spot with several stuffed animals on the small studio couch in my bedroom. I still believed her to be the most beautiful doll manufactured in my lifetime. When I moved into my own apartment as a university junior, Cindy took a place of honor in my vacated room—on the bed. Lying on the bedspread with her head on the pillow and gathering dust, she looked like a miniature, blond Sleeping Beauty. Once in a while Mother would ask if I was ready to give her up. My answer never changed: No.

My mother sold the family house in 1967, and at her insistence, my sister and I purged and removed anything we still wanted. Free storage of surplus belongings was no longer available. Cindy, my life-sized doll, was one of many items I dragged to my husband’s and my modest duplex—we had three children by then. This big, floppy blond-wigged doll was instantly interesting to them. Initially, I was reluctant to let them play with her, and then thought—why not? She would add a new dimension to the toy box as “a girl” for my daughter to play with and a willing wagon-rider for the boys to pull around outside or down the basement.

Because of my three live ‘dolls’ (not just life-sized, but growing), I no longer needed a pretend doll to dress up a doll for amusement. My three wiggle-warts needed dressing each morning and sometimes again later in the day, as well. From the first day at our duplex, Cindy was the new favorite toy for all three children. They held her hands and made her dance; they made her ‘walk’ around the house to see things; they pretended to feed her lunch; they put her to sleep in the laundry basket. Seeing Cindy flopped in a laundry basket actually pleased me. She had more than paid back her initially high investment price, I thought—she had been around for twenty-five years and was still bringing enjoyment.

When my husband came home from work that first day and saw her flopped into the laundry basket, he dubbed her Ophie . . . after Ophelia in Hamlet, a play he was currently working on at one of his moonlighting jobs. Ophie seemed like a perfect name for her. Calling her Ophie instead of Cindy helped make a transition for me, too—her sentimental value immediately diminished.

The amount of amusement she provided—from being stuffed into a wagon and hauled around to being tossed high in the air with her limbs flailing about, from being pushed in a swing to becoming a stand-in patron at the pretend shoe store—was invaluable.

After a few months her shoulder tore, and one arm began to dangle, which gave her a strange, uneven look. When dressed, that arm hung longer at her side—when undressed, she looked broken. One of the children suggested they should just spare her further discomfort by ripping off her arm. They did the deed. It wasn’t long before her wig disintegrated, pulled loose by too much attention. She was soiled, fingertips blackened by too much outside play, and the brand imprint on the back of her neck was filling in with soil. After a while she lost her novelty and became just another toy, occasionally invited out of the toy box, but less and less frequently.

The time came for a massive weeding out of all possessions in 1972. We were selling our house and moving to the Midwest. I spent weeks sorting through every piece of clothing of the children’s, every toy, every book, every possession I’d accumulated over my lifetime. The remains of Ophie were put into the thrift-store donation pile. By then no one remembered to play with her, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to discard her.

One night as I was hauling more stuff to the giveaway pile, I saw her arms and feet sticking out from the other toys and in a sudden sentimental urge, I pulled her out. I realized it was Cindy peering out at me, not Ophie. I looked at her beautiful face and well-made vinyl (remaining) arm and legs. It occurred to me that she probably could be restored to her original luster. I also still had her original dress and shoes tucked away.

Carefully I snipped away at the filthy fabric body—now with red Kool-Aid spilled on it and marks of ballpoint—removing her head, legs and the one arm still attached. I put the body fluff and stuff in the trash can. Then collecting her limbs (I still had the loose arm) and her head (now resembling one of the heads depicted in Glenda of OZ book where Glenda chooses the head of her choice to wear), I tied a pink satin ribbon around them. On a 3x5 card I wrote:
This is a Madame Alexander doll, circa 1950. With a new body and some loving care, she will be, once again, a beautiful doll.
I put her into tissue with her dress, panties, shoes and socks and put everything into a plastic bag and marked her price as five dollars. She was now in the garage in the rummage-sale pile, instead of the thrift store pile. The sale would be held the following Saturday.

Shortly after nine o’clock when the garage door opened, two old women with a push cart walked up the street toward our house. They were joining many others who came in by the carload—people who were crowding around to take the best of the junk, to capitalize on one family’s change of fortune by scarfing up their treasures. The two old women entered the garage and looked around carefully. One of the them spied the package doll pieces and parts. “Look,” she said to the other one as she nudged her gently. “Look at that. “Is it what I think it is? A Madame Alexander?”

The other woman’s face lit up. “Oh, yes indeed. No doubt about it.” They picked up the plastic bag and turned the parts over inside. “What do you say . . . should we? . . . oh, let’s!”

“How much for the doll parts?”

When I told her five dollars, the other one looked ecstatic. “You know,” she told me, “My sister, Effie, here, has a large collection of dolls who have their own room in our house. They sit in their rocking chairs and chatter all day long. . . and we know how to fix them.” Was this an omen? A sign of providence at work? These women would turn Ophie into Cindy again—my beautiful doll restored . . . and loved. She would have a wonderful new life.

Effie opened her coin purse and pulled out a wrinkled five-dollar bill, then lovingly opened the plastic bag, took out the doll’s head, arms, and legs and arranged them carefully in the push cart. I watched the two women walking down the street wheeling their precious cargo. They were talking to Cindy as they pushed. Her face was staring back at them, her arms raised up in alleluia praise.

The perfect ending for my doll—and the beginning for theirs.

Nature's Artwork: No Admission Fee



It's Autumn and the rain is starting up

LOOKING DOWN WHILE WALKING CAN
YIELD SOME BEAUTIFUL AND SURPRISING
SIGHTS,  ESPECIALLY IN AUTUMN
 
I am still struggling with the 'new and improved' blogger software. Actually, it has rendered me helpless and full of dread when it comes to adding new stuff to my eleven-year-old Blog. I'm very close to just giving up on it, but thought I could at least post a few pictures. The biggest poblem is the the preview screen looks nothing at all like the working screen, so final effect is utterly unacceptable. If I don't write much and use only one picture, I can limp along with occasional updates. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Part II of Lavendar Sticks

As I mentioned in Part I of Lavendar Sticks, the new, "improved" blogger.com platform that hosts my blog is not user friendly! Especially not for photos. After searching for how to move photos around and wrap text with its new design, I've come to the annoying conclusion (along with many others who are loud and clear online about their disasatisfaction with this change) that I cannot manipulate the photos for the time being. Therefore, this is really just a postscript to the prior blog called Lavendar Sticks. The captions (a built in component) don't stay with the photos, either, so I will narrate instead.Harvest lavendar with blossoms are dry. Then: 1.) wrap uneven number of lavender stems in cheesecloth and tie off with narrow ribbon (9-13 stems best).  2.) bend stems down as closely as possible to the tie-off.  3.) Start the weave: over one, under one, over, under, etc.  4.) Pull ribbon tightly as you go, and keep going until you can't weave any longer (the stems get too bunched to continue).  Wrap the stem with ribbon and tie with a loop (see Lavender Sticks Part I prior post.) As the sticks dry, you'll want to snug up the ribbon on the stems.