Sunday, December 20, 2020

Bears transform barren holiday

Maebeary wears Rudolph's nose, not a red ribbon
Because I will not be able to host friends and family during this holiday season, my motivation for decorating lessened considerably. I know--we're supposed to be looking out for ourselves this year--self care, in the jargon of mental health experts. But the fact of the matter is, I think it's more fun to decorate when other people can see the result.

Although I didn't feel like hauling the contents of several bankers' boxes to the living room this year to transform the house into a tiny wonderland, I had an inspiration. My stuffed bear collection!  And to give due credit, the inspiration came while conversing in a Zoom-based Community Café facilitated by my local YMCA for older members of the community during the pandemic. The conversation was about things we could do differently this year to help stave off loneliness. 

Yes, my stuffed bear collection, stored on shelves in the empty room that was my late husband's office, could come downstairs for the holidays! And so I tied a red ribbon on each of them and tossed them over the stair railing (that was the most fun of all), and gave them a place of honor on the couch. After all, no one else will be sitting there this year.

It's quite fun, I have to admit, to have the company. Only two bears stay downstairs regularly: a large plump brown bear
Jules talks with Santa (not a bear,
but a gift from a dear friend years ago)
, Jules, was a gift from one of my sons more than twenty-five years ago; and Maebeary, last year's Christmas gift from a granddaughter. Jules is quite staid--perhaps it's his middle age (in bear years). Maebeary, however, was born to be a clown--and, of course, she's young. I keep both on my bed and for whatever reason they delight me daily. She regularly falls off the bed and lands in silly poses. Sometimes she twines herself around Jules as if she's trying to get attention. Maebeary apparently heard about the couch congregation and demanded to join them. No red ribbon for her, however. Instead she opted for a Rudolph nose. 

Jules joins the group only in the daytime, preferring the luxury of a queen sized bed to a crowded couch (and besides, Jules is a very cozy companion on the pillow next to mine). But I couldn't be happier to have them in my living room this year. They are doing a surprisingly good job keeping my loneliness at bay.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Call from Anna Nimmus

Yes, I'm old fashioned; I still have a landline with several extensions. There was a time when the handsets were all connected to a phoneline, so if the electrical power went out, they still worked. Well, that technology disappeared and now my landline ceases working like everything else when the power fails. Still, they are reliable instruments that ring loudly in their respective rooms (the kitchen, the bedroom, the basement, etc.) and robotically announce who's calling. 

My most common caller nowadays is someone announced as Anna Nimmus. What a nuisance she is; she calls me at least four times a day. If I block her number, she uses another one. Wow--what a deep pocket she must have to afford all those phone lines. If I read her ID on the handset's screen, she spells her name Anonymous. But the robot announces her as Anna Nimmus. I ignore calls from Anna, despite how badly she wants to reach me, and hope she'll give up trying to get in touch. Wishful thinking, of course.

The way telephones work and are used is but a tiny example of the enormous amount of change I've lived through as an eighty-year-old. When I was young, my family had one clunky rotary-dial phone--and it was a big day when we got an extension on the second floor of our house. We were some of the lucky ones because we had our own line, not a two-party line we shared with another household. Some of my friends' families had those two-party lines. When making an outgoing call, you picked up the receiver and listened before dialing because the line might be in use by someone from the other household sharing it. Lots of jokes were made about secretly listening to another's call that way, and even books were written with this sneakily invasive method of finding out someone else's business (a murder, perhaps!) as a plot point. Families whose budgets were stretched to the max could opt for a four-party phone line, as well. With a four-party line, you'd hear another household's phone ring at your house, but the ring pattern would be different. You only answered it when it was your ring.  Clearly, in the 1940s and early '50s a private line was a luxury that not everyone could afford, and some families had no phone of their own, but used their neighbors' for emergencies. 

Fast forward through push button, cordless, etc., all the ensuing modernizations of the family phone. In cities, shared phone lines were phased out by the end of the '50s and several extensions could be found in a typical middle-class home. Now let's visit my grown-woman (wife and mother) household in the late '70s. A family of six that included four teenagers, one phone line and two extensions.  One handset was on a table in the upstairs hallway. One handset was a wall-mount in the kitchen. The phone upstairs had the longest cord allowed, a spiraled cord in the same matching green as the handset. The user could have a semblance of privacy by carrying the phone into his/her bedroom and shutting the door. If you shared a bedroom, however, it was hard to keep out the occupant, so the cord also reached into the bathroom, running under a door that could be locked.

It seemed as if there were always others waiting to use the phone, make their plans, gossip with their friends, check homework with their schoolmates, call their girlfriends. Even the parents might need to check in with their friends or neighbors or appointments. One of the most effective and definitely the most annoying ways of getting to use the busy family phone was to lift the receiver of the extension not in use and interrupt the current conversation. If a sibling did so, it could start a furious fight. If a parent did so, it contaminated cordial communication for a period (lasting from minutes to hours).

Recently my youngest son told his seventeen-year-old daughter about having to take turns to use the phone to call his friends in the evening, and how, if the friend's mother answered the phone, etiquette dictated a short, polite conversation with the mother before asking if his friend was home. My granddaughter was incredulous. It was akin to our parents telling us they walked three miles through the snow to school. "You WHAT? OMG, Dad! Really?"

I love my cell phone, how I can text someone, "Can you have a quick chat now?" before calling. What a great way to cut wasting time chatting with someone's mother first. Not that my friends have mothers anymore . . . but I still love my cell. I don't have to ask if I'm catching my friends at a good time. My cell phone counts my steps, serves as a timer and alarm, acts as my photo album and camera, records conversations, holds my library book, becomes my flashlight and magnifying glass, and serves as the best encyclopedia ever imagined. And speaking of encyclopedias, remember the door-to-door salesmen? Don't get me started.

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.


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, 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

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" 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. 


Lavender sticks Part I

I have a wonderful source of beautiful and fragrant lavendar every year. My sister and her husband grow an abundant crop in their Seattle home's front yard and always invite me to harvest as much as I want.  For the past few years, I've dried the equivalent of a few cups of flowers, which I then stuff into little organza bags and bequeathe to friends and family at Christmastime. This year I created Lavender Sticks, also, something I haven't done for years. 

I learned to make them as a teenager when my dad gleefully pointed out an article in periodical that I think was called The Herb Growers' Magazine. He was a hobby gardner and loved herbs in general, but he was partial to the scent of lavender and wore Yardly aftershave, which had a predominantly lavender scent. He didn't do crafts himself, but could elicit sachet-making activity by announcing that his abundantly fragrant crop of lavendar in a given year was ready for harvesting. At least one of the three women who lived in his household would rise to the occasion. When I first saw the photo of lavender sticks in the magazine and realized making them meant weaving stems of fresh lavender through ribbons, the challenge was on! They were so satisifying to create and I loved making them, happily giving them to my mother to use as tuck-in gifts for her friends. (None of my friends wanted a lavender stick for Christmas!) 

Multiple years later, I made once or twice when my children were small and the lavendar plants were still thriving at my mother's home, but when she moved the source disappeared. And lavender doesn't winter well in Wisconsin, so after we moved there in 1972, there was no way to source the main ingredient. But even though I've been living back in Washington for the past thirty-four years, I have  made sachets only by bagging loose blossoms, no sticks . . . until this year

I'm not sure what triggered my decision in August, as I harvested an abundant crop at my sister's, to try making 'just one,' but I got carried away and made more than twenty-five! They have to be woven within hours of picking so that the stems are flexible enough to weave. And because the sticks always smell best when they are newly made (unlike traditional blossom sachets that can be squeezed for renewed fragrance), most of the twenty-five have already found homes. Only a few will be Christmas gifts this year. But weaving them was a satisfying activity (and a tad compulsive, too, as I tried to weave each one better than the last one), so I'm looking forward to another season of lavender sticks next year. God willing.

P.S.  Part II of the article carries more photos. The host of my website,, has made radical changes to the way its users create posts, siting 'new, easier' technology. Easier for someone, not doubt, but not for me. Seems that placing pictures with wrap-around text is impossible. It's not just that I'm a bit handicapped in terms of technology, either--I've been on help sites where I find lots of rants by other users of blogger with the same disappointed rsponse. I think my posts will probably be limited to one photo each from this point forward (until fixes something).  

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Apple doesn't fall far . . .

Walking in a local park where an orchard was planted in the 1930s, I had to laugh. There are a few straggler trees remaining, and this time of year the apples drop to the ground. The apple in the photo didn't fall far from the tree--it was lodged in a little crevice in the tree-- so the picture becomes a graphic illustration of the cliche. And that made me think of something that happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at my local Farmers Market, masked up, wearing a hat, carrying several cloth bags loaded up with produce. From behind me a voice called out, "Sallie?" I turned to see a friendly looking woman hurrying toward me, her arms filled with two flats of blueberries. It took me a minute to recognize who was behind the mask, but I did--just as she identified herself as L. "I was pretty sure that was you. I recognized you by your walk." What a flood of memories that brought back. My mother was easy to recognize by her how she walked, and as soon as L. said that, the expression, 'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree,' jumped into my head. I remembered lying in my hospital bed after the birth of my first child more than fifty-six years ago (in the days when a new mom rested up from the ordeal of childbirth for a full three days before returning home) and listening to footsteps in the corridor. I heard my mother approaching from a long way away, recognizing her by the sound of the her footsteps, the same ones I heard every morning as a child. Because my bedroom was over the kitchen, I woke up every school day morning to hear her stepping to and from the fridge, the stove, the table, as she made the family's breakfast. CLICK, click, CLICK. click. She favored one foot more than the other, just I apparently do. 

And since we're on the topic opf like-mother-like-daughter, there's a request that seemed silly to me when she made it while in her early sixties: "When I'm old and feeble-minded," she said, "promise me you'll pluck my chin hairs when you come visit me in the nursing home." I think of my mother whenever I stand in front of my mirror with my tweezers in hand. She didn't live long enough to need someone to help tweeze chin hairs, and maybe I won't need the service, either . . .  but her comment always makes me smile in solidarity.  Yup, THIS apple didn't fall far from the tree.  Maybe that's one good thing about our COVID lifestyle. No one can see what's growing under the mask. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020



 | \ ə-ˈbli-vē-ən , ō-, ä- \

Collegiate Definition

  • 1: the fact or condition of not remembering : a state marked by lack of awareness or consciousnessseeking the oblivion of sleepdrank herself into oblivion
There are definite activites I can indulge in to momentarily bring on a state of COVID oblivion. One of them is walking, if I can make myself stay in the present; another is to simply look up. I share these photos in the hopes that you, too, can identify an occasional moment that might be guaranteed to bring on few seconds of relief. And, yes, I know I'm lucky to have these beautiful sights within easy (I should say very easy) walking distance from my home.
The shadows of trees seem to welcome peaceful contemplation
The underside of branches can trigger awe

The sky helps bring on momentary oblivion

This blue heron sitting on a fallen log
takes its viewer out of the moment

Monday, August 10, 2020

Repurposing Mozart

Well, the title is titillating, you'll have to agree. I'm not sure this tiny little bronze statue inherited fifty-years ago is really supposed to be a likeness of Mozart, but that's how I think of it. A vague memory ascribes it to my mother's childhood, a tiny trophy bestowed for doing well on her piano lessons. I've used it as a paperweight upon occasion, but most of the time it sits in a drawer in my desk--one of those trinkets that doesn't do much except take up space--seemingly useless, but of enough sentiment to prevent its disposal.

Because of Covid-19, I'm walking more than I normally would in the summer. The absence of classes at my local YMCA, not to mention having almost no social life, means it's healthy and easy to take several walks each day. And I frequently need a visor and sunglasses because this is the time of year in Seattle when the sun is out almost every day. 

For many years, instead of having separate prescription sunglasses, I have chosen Takumi brand frames because they come with matched sunglasses that snap magnetically on. That way, my sunglasses can be easily taken on and off while driving, and they are so small I'm never without them--tucked behind my wallet in a small zipped essentials case with me when I leave the house. But because of their small size, they are a little more fragile--and sometimes hard to locate if one sets them down thoughtlessly after removing them.

Because of my daily walks, I wanted to keep them somewhere more accessible than my purse for them. That's when I thought of Mozart! They balance perfectly on his extended wrist. SO . . . I am letting him hold them for me. He is doing a GREAT job, too. I always know where they are; they aren't susceptible to scratching, and just seeing the little statue being useful after all these years makes me smile. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

PT 4: Who Loved Me into Being

William Neill Hughes, Jr.
was 85 in this photo
Yes, you understandably might have assumed I was done with this topic. Not quite. There is one other person who loved me into being: William Neill Hughes, Jr., my great-uncle.

Although my mother kept up a correspondence with her mother’s only brother and the longest surviving member of her family, I didn’t meet my great uncle until I was a junior in high school. Uncle Will lived in Florida and although he was a veteran of the Spanish American War and WWI (European Theater), he’d never visited Washington state because it was an arduous trip to come from Florida where he and his wife had lived since his retirement.

When my family (mom, dad, sister and I) made plans to travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico in May of 1957, my mother was inspired to ask Uncle Will, a recent widower, if he would like to make the short flight from St. Petersburg to join us. She was thrilled when he wrote back return mail with an excited ‘yes.’ He would come for just a few days, motivated to finally meet his two great-nieces, then ages seventeen and twenty-one, and reconnect with his beloved niece.

When I first met him, I found him a little bit intimidating (after hearing about him from Mother for all those years), but also a little bit disappointing. We were there for the first-ever Casals Music Festival in Puerto Rico; my great-uncle was not. He was there only to see our family. At seventeen, I was passionate and even obsessive about music. Pablo Casals was my musical hero, and so were the specific musicians invited personally by Casals to participate in the Festival. How could anyone be indifferent to this event! Nevertheless, it was exciting to meet such an old relative! (He was seventy-nine then, a year younger than I am now.) Since all four of my sister's and my grandparents were deceased by 1946, it was quite exciting to meet someone old enough to be our grandparent. 

Within minutes of our introductions, Uncle Will asked my sister and me to please call him just ‘Billy’—not Uncle Billy.  H-m-m-m . . . that was really a fun idea.  It seemed almost irreverent to call him “Billy,” but we quickly obliged and changed how we addressed (and referred to) him. Mother, however, continued forever to refer to him as Uncle Will--the name she had known him by her entire life. [Note: In the post dated June 29, 2013, I wrote about my great-uncle and referred to him as "Uncle Billy." As I recalled our Puerto Rico experience during this writing, I realized we didn't use "Uncle" when addressing him, and verified that with letters I have from him.]

He didn't want us to use "Uncle" when addressing him
For most of the three day visit, Billy sat in the shade under an umbrella on the hotel grounds, eager to talk and bask in our company and conversation whenever we had time. He and my dad had a lot in common, but he especially wanted to catch up with my mother and get to know her daughters. Our family had tickets for all the festival concerts, but most were in the evening, so that worked well. Billy retired early, and besides, he wasn’t there for the festival; he was there to see the Johnsone family.

On the last day of his visit, my mother called me aside. She was visibly upset. “Sallie, Uncle Will has pointed out to me just now how disrespectful you can be to me. He said I should not tolerate it. And he’s right—I put up with your sassy retorts too much. So from now on, I'm not going to let you get away with a flippant tone of voice or rude reaction to my requests!”

Ouch! Naturally, I was annoyed—no, more like angry—with this old relative who felt it was his duty to share a punitive observation with his niece about me. Who was he to talk about my behavior! I barely spoke to him for the rest of his visit, and when he flew home to St. Petersburg, Florida, I wasn’t sorry. But . . .  deep down, I knew he was right and respected him for noticing. I could be feisty and ill-mannered to  my mother, and was especially annoyed with her in Puerto Rico because I wanted more than anything to gawk at, swoon over, the musicians at the hotel—the admired performers whom I idolized. In my heart I was a classical musician groupie and wanted to act out the part. She was determined I would, in her words, "Act like a lady."

When we got home, all of us received individual letters from Billy thanking us for the opportunity to get together. It was the beginning of a bond between the two of us that solidified over the next twelve years of his life. In that first letter, he enumerated what he saw as my talents and strengths and deplored me to live up to my potential and not to get bogged down in the pettiness that often happens with family members living in close proximity. Expressing outright admiration for what he saw as the good in me, he knew exactly how to get my attention and make me think about his observations. He implored me to continue developing our relationship by agreeing to correspond with him.

I invited him to my high school graduation, but . . .
I wrote him back, and thus began our deepening “pen pal” friendship. Throughout the rest of high school, all of college, and until he died in 1969, we corresponded regularly with long heartfelt letters. Billy consistently praised my writing, which prompted believing in myself as a writer, and he urged me to consider writing as a profession. Within a few years of our 1957 meeting, both of us had converted to Roman Catholicism, which gave us an immense amount of subject matter to share in our epistles. Understanding my devotion to him over the years, my husband strongly endorsed giving the Hughes family name to our youngest child, born in 1968, as a middle name. Billy was delighted!  

How lucky I was to have made the acquaintance with Billy while still forming my own notion of who I was and would become. Billy’s praise for, and faith in, my writing abilities might even be seen as the seed this blog. He was a true blessing in my life.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The comfort of nature

Recently I realized in a different kind of way just how comforting it is to sit quietly among trees, and in particular, to feel--stroke--the bark of a huge Douglas Fir.

I'm fully aware this is not an original observation. In fact, it's probably as old as the spoken word and perceived long before language occurred. There is always comfort in nature. But as I sat in Blyth Park across the river from where I live, no one else was anywhere around. Although two cars were in the parking lot, their drivers must have been walking on a nearby trail. It felt like the entire park was all mine . . . and the birds, of course, and various critters that live in the trees and ground.

Stroking the bark of this giant fir was surprisingly soothing. I wondered how many others had sat there and felt the bark, its skin. If I could have stayed there all day, I would have. The cares of Covid-19, even the isolation it has dealt us, seemed not to matter much while I sat there. It was as though I was connecting with everyone who has ever approached this tree. Blissfully the tree is unaware of the virus and the new distancing protocol. How comforting to think about this magnificent tree could spread its branches--unconcerned if they should come into contact with another tree's branches.

I'm familiar with the concept of Forest Bathing. Although I didn't have a certified leader taking me through a sensory connection with the forest, I made my own bath of quietude and calm. It was better than bubbles for calming stress.

Monday, June 29, 2020

PT 3: Who Loved Me Into Being

I stalled writing this because I told myself I could look for photos of the special people who made me who I am--the people who"loved me into being."  But I realized quickly I'm never going to find photos of many without a lot of effort. And even with photos, I realized it would be impossible to ever do justice to those special people.

It's been fun thinking about who the people were in my life who profoundly influenced me. I'm just going to name three of them in this post and identify how and why they influenced my person-hood.

Mary Anderson, lifelong friend of my mother. 
Mary had two sons who were younger than I. Our families spent our summers at a remote enclave of four large seasonal houses built on the shore of large Idaho lake. It was accessible only by water (or an arduous hike from an automobile 'landing' a mile away over rugged terrain), so once we arrived, we stayed put! The houses had no electricity, just plenty of sunshine, water, and socializing. There were numerous youngsters at the lake every summer, all within a ten year range, but most were older than I To fill my need for companionship, I played every day with Jimmy and Johnny, Mary's boys. Because they were younger, I got to be the boss, and we made up a lot of fun activities and games, but I was in charge--quite a treat for the younger child in a family of two children. Mary loved that I paid so much attention to her little boys, and through that relationship, I felt great kinship. She hung out with my mom a lot, and I used to love to see and hear Mary laugh. Her style of parenting seemed so joyful and relaxed. She listened to my stories, and always seemed so pleased to share tidbits of my life. Mary and I began corresponding while I was in college--it was especially fun to hear her take on my student life, because she was a faculty wife at another university. By then we'd formed a deep, affectionate bond. She reminded me of my mother, but without all the 'strings' of conflict that accompany a young woman's bursting from the nest.

Ben Weatherwax: Friend (along with his wife) of my parents.
Ben made his living as a designer in an architect's office. He had great talent and an eye for style. He designed a beautiful year-round cottage for my family on the ocean, which endeared him to all of us, but even more exciting--he had a weekly radio show! I thought he was the most overtly talented grown up I'd ever met. When Ben would visit our home (with or without his family), he and my dad could talk and chuckle together, and I loved listening to them. Ben always asked me, a young-to-mid-teen, my opinions about current events! I really wanted to be an adult when Ben sat down to visit with my dad, because their topics were so vital and worldly. Ben knew I was a bookworm and always asked what I was reading, then would share his thoughts about the book, which, of course, he would have read years before. Our first literary encounter was over Jean Christophe by Romain Rolland. When he saw what I was reading he nearly jumped up and down with glee. "Oh, how I loved that book!" In the summer of '56 we had a long talk about my adoration for Thomas Wolfe. "Yeah," said Ben, "he sure did write some magnificent purple prose." (I had to look up that term!)  When he died in a house fire in November 17, 1956, I was torn with grief. He was the first person whose death I deeply grieved. At sixteen I was old enough to recognize the depth of loss when a vibrant person passes in the prime of his life. I was overcome with personal sorrow.

Gladys Phillips O'Day: Friend (along with her husband) of my parents. \
Gladys gave me a glimmer of what women could do in the world--besides being a secretary, nurse, or teacher, which were the three choices that "nice girls" had for their careers in the '50s. Gladys was an attorney! Not only that, she used her maiden name on her business cards! She wasn't stuck in the mold of just being the wife of a successful man. She made her own career and everyone knew who she was--for herself! That was a radical notion in the '50s. In addition, she was proud of her native American ancestry and shared stories and history of her family that made me think of native Americans differently from how I'd learned about them at school. Gladys had such reverence for her ancestral people, you couldn't be around her without catching a little of it from her. She was also a fellow violinist (clearly quite outstanding, as she was concertmistress of UW Orchestra), and always asked me what music I was working on. I found this immensely encouraging because she 'got' what was involved as a student of the violin. Our families drifted apart, and we completely lost touch before I entered my thirties. And--truth be told--I was intimidated in her presence. As much as I admired her, I could barely imagine myself as a bold, strong, bright woman who stood up to--and even flaunted--the expected norms of womanhood. She was a true inspiration on a very personal level. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Part 2: Who Loved Me into Being: Margaret Whiteman

I continue thinking about the people who loved me into being: Adults who influenced my life in my formative years, those to whom I attribute (in part) my values, my character, my overall personality.

Aunt Maggie created
this cross-stitched
silhouette for me 1958
From an early age, Margaret Whiteman opened her heart and arms to the little girls who lived across the street from her father, Mr. Strauss. My parents who purchased their first Seattle house in 1943 (I was three, my sister seven) happily engaged with this tiny, vivacious woman and her lively son, Chuck, who came to look in on their father/grandfather. Over the next four years, the Whiteman family became good friends with our family, and at some point my sister and I were invited to call her "Aunt Maggie," rather than Mrs. Whiteman. When we moved to a bigger  house, the Whiteman family was part of our inner circle of family friends and remained there forever.

Chuck, Aunt Maggie, sister Judy, me
It truly was a lovely family friendship, with my father and Margaret's husband, Glenn, deepening their bond every year, and Mother and Maggie always finding hundreds of topics to discuss and giggle about. Maybe it was because she had no daughters of her own, but Aunt Maggie was always genuinely interested in what my sister and I were doing. She was a talented piano player and artist, too, capable of improvising a little jig on the family piano or making a quick sketch in our autograph books (see the two photos below). Because Chuck and my sister were closely matched in age, their interests and abilities much more advanced than mine in the first decade of our families' friendship, so I was the 'odd-man-out' when the two families got together in the early years. Aunt Maggie always made conversation with me, not just the adults. Maybe that's the reason I believed Aunt Maggie and I had special bond. Her genuine interest in me resonated increasingly as I grew older.

In 1952 our family moved to Aberdeen. I was twelve; pubescent, tall for my age and overweight. Not the easiest profile for buying clothing in a small town. Quickly Mother learned that the shops in Aberdeen did not carry much of a selection of clothing for girls shaped like me,at least clothes that she approved of for a young woman. The department stores of Seattle carried lots of youthful looking clothing in chubby sizes. (Would you believe there was actually a clothing-size category for girls called "Chubettes" ?) More than once Aunt Maggie came to my rescue by shopping at a Seattle department store and driving to Aberdeen to bring special occasion garments she'd purchased 'on approval.' If the item didn't fit, or meet aesthetic approval, Maggie could return them to the store. I still have such fond memories of seventh and eighth grade dresses that Aunt Maggie selected for me, and I absolutely loved them. I always got the feeling the she took great pleasure in doing this for me. 

In fourth grade marionettes had
become my hobby. Aunt Maggie signed
my autograph book Easter that year
But Aunt Maggie was more than just a personal shopper, artist, and musician. She was interested in me and what I was doing. I felt like I could talk to her about anything--a real auntie figure, especially welcome because my only actual aunt lived thousands of miles away and I didn't know her at all. When we moved back to Seattle in 1956, my parents bought the home next door to the Whitemans! Certainly the fact they would know their neighbors was instrumental in their decision to purchase, and I was ecstatic. By then I was a sophomore in high school, transferring into the same school from which Chuck had recently graduated, so Aunt Maggie's first-hand knowledge of the school--its faculty, strengths, pitfalls, etc--was extremely helpful to me, a newbie. She also was available to listen to me whenever I just wanted to complain about school. We often talked about music and she would show me whatever creative sewing project she was doing. Sometimes she'd sit at the piano and play a little Liszt or Chopin, too--on the baby grand piano that prominently sat in her living room.

In fifth grade I had a new
autograph book signed on the
occasion of a Memorial Day Picnic
In addition to being an artist, she was a creator of all kinds of needlework, crewel, cross-stitch, even quilting. Whenever I got new dresses, elegant shoes, or especially glamorous sweaters, the first thing I'd do would be to take it nextdoor to show Aunt Maggie, who, predictably, would ooh and aah. She'd admire the fabric, rave about the cut, the color  . . . the kinds of things a mother might do, but it seemed so much more meaningful coming from an unbiased 'outsider.' I even remember taking my wedding dress to her house to show her the minute we brought it home, and I still remember how excited she was to see it. She lent such strength and emotional support after both of my parents' deaths, and periodically would call to chat on the phone until Jay and I moved to Wisconsin in 1972. Then we reverted to letters.

When Jay and I moved back to Seattle in 1986, one of the first people I visited was Aunt Maggie. By then was living in a retirement community in the downtown area near my work. Occasionally I would visit her during an extended lunch hour. I can remember her asking my advice about travel insurance at one of our last get-togethers, and how flattered I felt when she asked my advice about something, after so many times I'd asked for her opinion.

Yes, Aunt Maggie was definitely one of the people who loved me into being. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Who loved YOU into being?

The question seems corny . . . but it's also so profound, the question Fred Rogers asked audience members to think about at the awards ceremony of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1997. WHO LOVED YOU INTO BEING? If you're like me, you probably missed that event, but I'm sure you've heard the quote--most recently in the recent movie, 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' with Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys.

Grandmother Elmendorf  with me 1942
With nothing better to do in this locked-down existence, I started thinking about the people who loved me into being, and discovered a few surprises--even a few people who helped form me that I've not talked much about to my offspring. Of course, they've heard stories about my big three: mother, father, and sister. And my offspring have also heard about my grandmothers, particularly my mother's mother, Margaret Elmendorf.

She was always referred to as "Grandmother Elmendorf" at our house. Never Granny, Nana, Grandma or any other cozy nickname. For whatever reason from the first moment we were introduced, she was Grandmother Elmendorf, and my sister and I (for the seventy-five years we've been alive without her) still refer to her by her full moniker. And although I shared her with my entire family, it felt to me as a very little girl that she was exclusively MINE!

Of course, that was absolutely not true!. When she visited Seattle from her home in Spokane, she was there to see everyone: her daughter, her  son-in-law, and her TWO granddaughters.I am certain she loved my sister as much as she loved me, but she was just so present when she was in our presence. She was clearly very good at focusing her attention.

She died when I was five, but I have vivid memories of her. They are my own memories--not stories about her told me by others. She taught me how to knit, and I remember her sitting next to me, watching me struggle with the needles, ready to help whenever I turned to ask for help--but never, ever meddling or reaching for the needles in exasperation. She praised every eight-stitch row with or without a dropped stitch. She taught me how to sew, too, and by that I mean the very beginning basics: threading a needle, tying a knot in the end of the double thread, pushing the needle in and out of fabric in even spaces, reinforcing the last stitch with three extra stitches, measuring the doll for sleeve or skirt length. My doll had a wardrobe of beautiful clothes Grandmother Elmendorf made that lasted until I was done with dolls, as well as a few primitive pieces I made under her watchful eye.

I never pick up a needle and thread without thinking of her. When she was in the room, snuggled next to me, it was as though I was the only person in world. I had her rapt attention even in silence. Such a gift, and one that we could all get better at in this era with its constant interruptions by pings and chirps, rings and blasts from myriad media. Yes, Grandmother Elmendorf was certainly one of the people who loved me into being.

In another post, I will write about several other people who helped form me, but who aren't related by blood. They aren't people I've necessarily identified as helping to make me who I am until this solitary existence inspired the exercise. It's fun, thinking of those people. I hope my reflections might inspire others to ask the question of themselves: who loved me into being?