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By the light of the Moon

As I searched through the rack of sequined dresses I sounded like little Miss Goldie-locks as I pointed out to the saleswoman, “This one is cut too low in the neckline, this one is sleeveless. I don’t want to expose my upper arms.” Holding out a beautiful blue dress I complained, “The top of this dress is transparent material. It would allow my undergarments to show through.”

Dress shopping as a young woman was easy. In 1970, almost all women wore dresses. There were several stores along Central Avenue that carried a wide variety of dresses to choose from, ranging from casual to fancy. My criteria for what I wanted in a dress was different back then, too. I wanted the garment to be a color I liked, fit and be affordable.

Searching for a dress to wear to my granddaughter’s wedding has me feeling discouraged. I might be old fashioned, but I don’t think a grandmother of the bride should be a show-stopping spectacle. The dress should be modest and complementary to my aging body and include being able to wear familiar, tried-and-tested foundation garments.

One of the dresses I tried on looked nice, but showed every contour of my midsection. When I told my daughter that I needed to wear a bulge control thing under it, she laughed at me. I find it hard to say the word: girdle. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, I suspect every woman wore one whether she needed to or not. I hated how they rolled and cut into the flesh. Taking a deep breath, I went shopping for what I needed. Eventually I managed to find a girdle that would gently shape my form rather than strangle it.

Since my recent shopping trip for wedding clothing, I came across an article I treasure as a trivia enthusiast. It told of the intimate connection women have with the Apollo Space Program. The Playtex company, famous for bras and girdles since the 1950’s, made the space suits that made it possible for man to walk on the moon.

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Frankenstein Dresses

Mom said she felt like sewing a dress for herself. I watched as she carefully laid a beautiful floral-print material on the kitchen table. The day before last, my family made one of our rare visits to Marshfield where she’d bought material and a new pattern.

My only interest when we visited downtown Marshfield was the candy, toy and pet sections at Woolworth’s or Ben Franklin’s. I tried hard to be patient as Mom slowly studied the McCall pattern book before picking out what she wanted. She knew how I felt by my frequent sighs, moans and occasional question, “Can we leave this store pretty soon?”

Most of the tissue paper pattern pieces were pinned to the material when Mom stopped what she was doing and stood quietly. After a moment she spoke as if talking to herself, “The neckline isn’t exactly what I want. Also, I want the sleeves to be longer.” Pulling pattern pieces from other pattern envelopes, Mom began pinning those onto the material to replace the original neckline.

I was just a little kid, but I couldn’t figure out how Mom was going to get everything to fit together without puckers in the cobbled together material. Remembering my long wait for her in the fabric store, I felt restless and decided to go outside for a while.

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A Gift

Mom’s Christmas afghan and my recipe story book.

Mom switched on the table lamp next to her upholstered rocking chair and sat down. She said, “Days start getting longer after December 21st, but for the first month each day’s change is only small chicken steps.” Turning to me, she ordered, “Turn on the lamp next to the davenport.” I chuckled. Her description of how slowly days became longer for the first month after the winter solstice always made me laugh.

Outside our warm, well-lit farmhouse, cold winter winds howled as they built snow drifts. I snuggled contentedly against the living room heat register. Mom opened a bag and pulled out a skein of yarn and a crochet hook. I watched with surprise. At fourteen years of age, I’d often seen Mom sew clothing for the family, but this was something new. Curious, I asked, “What are you making?”

Pulling a small, colorful crocheted block from the bag, Mom proudly explained, “This pattern is called a granny square.” I scooted to her side and took the square from her. It was made with four different colors. Mom happily stated, “I’m going to make a lot more like the one you’re holding and then stitch them together to make an afghan.”

Frowning, I repeated the foreign word, “Afghan?” I didn’t know it at the time, but for the rest of Mom’s life, “afghan” was a part of our family’s normal, everyday vocabulary. She made several afghans for each person in the family, as well as baby blankets, lace collars, slippers and more.

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The W. M. Syndrome

Sister Chantal paced across the front of my seventh-grade classroom listing what assignments she wanted us to complete by the end of the school day. Her pretty young face, framed by her white wimple and black veil, looked thoughtful. Her black habit accentuated her thin body. Only the toes of her small black shoes showed below the hem. “Read the next story in your English book. It’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. To test your reading comprehension, I will hand out a paper while you are reading. Answer the questions about the story to the best of your abilities.”

I loved reading. Opening my English book, I quickly began mentally absorbing the story. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was about an odd man who couldn’t function properly because he was always daydreaming. His ineptitude made me suffer second-hand embarrassment. I wanted to escape from the uncomfortable situations that resulted from his stupid behavior.

What made me truly hate “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was that I saw myself being like him. I daydreamed more than I thought I should. Did I act weird because of my daydreams? I shuddered and fervently hoped I didn’t.

Staring at the floor next to my desk, I pictured Sister Chantal announcing, “Kathy, I already know you have good reading comprehension, so you don’t have to do this assignment. I’ll have you hand out the test papers.”

Sighing, I went back to reading the story. Walter Mitty seemed crazy. Did that make me crazy, too? Continue reading

Practice Baby

After Tammie and I attended Mass on Christmas Eve, we shared a special meal together, then turned out all the lights except one lamp and thoes on the Christmas tree. A lovely, deep calm settled over the household. From the stereo came soft strains of beautiful, traditional Christmas songs by Mannheim Steam Roller, played in their usual non-traditional manner.

Under the tree there were two piles of gifts. One was from me for my daughter, the other stack was from her. Sitting on the floor next to them, Tammie leaned forward and pushed two presents aside, pointing out, “These two are your birthday gifts from me. You can’t have them until the 27th.”

Jumping up from the sofa, I exclaimed, “Thanks for reminding me. It’s midnight and baby Jesus’ birthday! Retrieving a small package from a chair side drawer, I walked over to the nativity set and unwrapped a small infant Jesus figure. Placing it in the manger between Mary and Joseph, I said, “There you go, my sweet little baby.” Tammie and I paused for a moment to enjoy the familiar ‘Silent Night’ melody playing on the stereo, then began with our gift exchange. Continue reading

Dinosaur Tales

Before going to my garden to pick tomatoes, Niki put her cell phone on the dining room table. Blaise, my four-year-old grandson saw his opportunity and snatched the device. His small fingers flew this way and that to bring up the You Tube videos he wanted to watch.

Although I didn’t grow up with computers, I’m not a total ‘slouch’ when it comes to technology. Seeing his expertise though, impressed me.

Ben, age thirteen, was sitting in the living room staring intently down at an iPad. The curtains were closed, so the room was shadowed. Ghostly blue-green light from the flickering game screen reflected on his face. Next to him, nine-year-old Jacob complained about having to wait for his turn and finally demanded, “You’re hogging the iPad. It’s my turn to use it. Hand it over!”

Gemma, my six-year-old granddaughter, was sitting at the dining room table drawing. She looked up from her picture and told me, “Last night we watched a You Tube video…” In great detail described what she had seen.

I’ve always considered myself to be a modern woman and looked in awe at how primitive the world had been when my mother was born in 1906. Few people had electricity, indoor plumbing or motor vehicles at that time, nor for many years after.

On the other hand, when I was born in 1950, most people had in-door plumbing, electricity, radios, cars and some even flew in airplanes. Television was introduced to our household when I was eleven. When I was eighteen, NASA sent men to the moon and brought them back. Continue reading

An Unusual Pen Pal

I came home from working an evening shift at the hospital and found a package from Mr. Greta on the dining room table. It was wrapped in brown paper and plastered with stamps. My children were in bed and Arnie was asleep on the sofa with a magazine on his chest and the television blaring.

As I turned off the television, Arnie mumbled in protest, “I’m watching that.” His eyes were closed when I looked at him. Slowly, he lapsed back into the long, slow breaths of deep sleep.

At the dining room table, I ripped open the package and found a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I knew if Arnie had been awake, he would’ve been teasing me about my elderly boyfriend who liked sending gifts.

Pushing the torn wrapping paper aside, I examined them and wondered how despite loving to read, I had managed to reach adulthood without being familiar with them.

My correspondence and friendship with a man born 47 years before me, was hard to explain. I liked to think of our friendship as a divine gift. Although I seldom mentioned how stressful my life was to my elderly friend, the cares dissipated as we doled out bits and pieces of our lives to each other. Continue reading

Tooth for a Tooth

I didn’t bounce into the kitchen talking a mile a minute as would be usual. I quietly took my place at the family supper table, slipping between my sisters, Mary and Betty. Mom had made one of my favorite suppers; a Spanish rice and hamburger casserole we called, ‘hungry man’s delight’.

Handing me a slice of buttered homemade bread, Mom questioned, “Is that loose tooth bothering you?” I nodded. The tooth was very loose. It didn’t take much to make the tooth wobble. Every time it wobbled, it hurt. Sometimes it even bled.

My brother Billy suggested, “You should pull it out so it stops hurting.”

I gave him a reproachful look. Pulling out a tooth hurt. This tooth already hurt, so the idea of pulling it out horrified me.

Mom stewed half to herself, “I’m worried that she’ll accidently swallow it here at supper, or during the night while asleep!” Sucking on a small chunk of buttered bread, I nearly choked. I was already a worry-wart, so I didn’t need Mom’s vision of terrible things to add to my fear! Continue reading

Schnitzelbank

Gemma, my five-year-old granddaughter, held up a picture she had drawn, proudly explaining, “See, Grandma? Here is a flower and a heart and a person…” I leaned forward and looked at her picture and praised her work.

From the other side of the dining room table, Niki, her mother looked up from a cookbook she was studying. She said, “I’m taking the kids to Farm Technology Days this week. Do you want to join us?”

Remembering past visits I’d made to this yearly farm show, I eagerly accepted the invitation. “Sure. Hopefully it won’t be too hot the day we’re there. One year I felt completely baked by the time we went home. I want to go to the women’s tent first. They put on cooking shows and have dozens of information booths.”

My daughter smiled and admitted, “The thing I want to see on the day we’re going is someone carving cheese.” Three of my young grandsons who were listening to our conversation all chimed in saying how they wanted to see the cheese carving, too.

I laughed and teased, “Maybe you just want to be there to eat the cheese shavings.” Continue reading

Birth Order

Cats love my daughter, Niki. Every time one is around, she gently, lovingly pets them while they purr in ecstasy. My white and black cat, Louie was enjoying Niki’s attention recently when she told me, “Our new neighbors have a pretty little calico cat.”

Five-year-old Gemma jumped in to make sure her Mama got the details right. She blurted, “Her name is Jewel, and it’s supposed to live in their barn. When we come back from playing with the kids there, it always follows us home! We try sending it back, but it won’t obey.”

Laughing, Niki agreed, “The kitty is very naughty. It doesn’t obey. It not only follows us home, but it tries to slip inside our house. It’s snuck in a few times while the boys were going in and out of the house to play in the snow.”

Gemma pipped up again, “The cat is fat!”

“The cat is very fat.” Niki confirmed. “One day last week I found it sleeping in Luke’s cubby. Of course, he hadn’t hung up his coat on one of the hooks, so kitty had a soft bed. I picked her up and discovered the reason she’s so fat. It’s because she’s going to have kittens! I think they’ll be born soon!”

Smiling, I suggested, “More than likely, she’s coming into your house looking for a warm nest to birth her babies in.” Continue reading