Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Santa's Book of Fun

For something completely different, here are some vintage coloring book pages! 
I found this coloring book last summer for 50 cents. 

Don't you love these old illustrations? They sure bring back memories to me!

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

If Pat Conroy Likes It, I Should Read It

The last two books I have read had one thing in common: a blurb on the back cover by Pat Conroy. And since I liked these books, and have always enjoyed Pat Conroy's books, I suppose that in the future when considering a book, I should first check and see if Pat has a quote on the back cover.

First I read Rick Bragg's memoir, "All Over but the Shoutin'."  In the blurb, Conroy calls it one of the best books he's read, a work of art. If "art" is that which reflects to us our lives but in a way which makes sense our of the chaos, I would agree that it is a work of art.

Rick is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist. His writing style is beautiful, and his stories moving. In the second paragraph he claims, "This is not an important book. It is only the story of a strong woman, a tortured man and three sons..."  later he states that he had "put off" telling this story for ten years, because "dreaming backwards can carry a man through some dark rooms where the walls seem lined with razor blades."

And so Bragg begins to delineate the story of his family, about a beautiful woman who loved a man damaged in the Korean conflict and went down the the self-destructive path of alcoholism. How the man abandoned his family, and the woman picked cotton to clothe and fed her three sons.

Rick Bragg is not a Depression-era child. We are used to hearing these stories from that time period. But to read about someone my younger brother's age growing up in poverty rearranges my view of the world.

Bragg calls himself lucky, just a guy in the right place at the right time. His climb up the ranks, from writing sports stories for the local paper to feature writing at the New York Times is presented without bravado, not a jot of egoism sneaking through the words.

Bragg's descriptions of life in Haiti are chilling. While on the staff of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, my husband had visited Haiti several times between 1985 and 1989. Bragg's first trip was in 1991. Bragg writes, " I had come to believe that I was good at one thing, writing about people in trouble. As it turned out, I was a rank amateur  I didn't know what misery was, but I would learn." Bragg was over-whelmed by the poverty and garbage, death and despair around him. Three years latter he returned to find "not much had changed." Political upheaval and deadly repercussions still ruled the lives of  the citizens. The poor were still maimed-- or killed, their bodies stolen and held for ransom.

Real Life rarely has happy endings tied up nice and neat. So it was sweet to read about how Bragg repaid his mother's sacrifice by purchasing her a home of her own. "And I am grateful I could give her this much, before more time tumbled by lost. There ain't no way to make it perfect. You do the best you can for the people left..."

Bragg's father, on his death bed,  asked his sons to see him, and he tries to make amends for years of abandonment. He tells his son, "It's all over but the shoutin'."

The second book I read last month was "America, America" by Ethan Canin.  I bought the book for 50 cents at Big Lots. It sat on my shelf for at least a year. I picked it up and fell in love. I did not want to read it too fast, yet did not want to put it down.  In his blurb, Pat Conroy confesses  "I love this book." Well, Pat, I do too. I finished it over a week ago, and the characters and images live in my mind's eye as if I had lived the story myself.

Corey, the son of a blue-collar, working class man,  shares his father's high standards of careful workmanship. While helping his father replace a drain, and saving the roots of an aged oak tree, he is noticed by Liam Metery, who has inherited the wealth accumulated by his Gilded Age grandfather. Corey is asked to help around the Metarey estate, and as Liam Metary and his family come to respect Corey, he is invited into their lives.  Liam himself is a man who loves workmanship, and the simple pleasure of hands-on industry. He is also a progressive liberal who decides to back the great Liberal senator from New York State, Henry Bonwiller, in his run for the presidency in 1972.

As Corey becomes involved with the behind-the-scene machinations of politics, his world widens. Corey is especially taken by a journalist, who becomes his role model, leading him to his life's work in journalist. Corey is also affected by Liam's dreams of a better country, the end of the war in Viet Nam, and a government that aligns itself with the common man's good. Liam recognizes the boy's potential, and assists him with a scholarship to a private school, and later leaves him money for a Harvard education.

The fairy tale unravels, dragging Liam and Corey into the ambiguous black hole created by Bonwiller, and their loss of innocence reflects the national loss of idealism in the 1970s.

What would you do to protect your most sacred dream? How reliable are the human vessels in whom you place your dreams? Can you live with the knowledge that you have compromised yourself?

One reviewer I read thought that the title "America, America" should be heard like a sigh for what might have been, knowledge of what has been lost.

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Green Heroes Quilt: Lois Gibbs

After completing my First Ladies quilt "Remember the Ladies"  I decided to make a series of  quilts on American leaders. I did complete "I Will Lift My Voice Like a Trumpet" which portrays women abolitionists and Civil Rights Workers. Life and several moves got in the way, but I finally  finished a quilt top for Ecology Heroes...Only because I found a wonderful website that offers information sheets and line drawn portraits for use in teaching, Better World Heroes (http://www.betterworld.net/heroes/ ).  I wanted to focus on American heroes, so I had to forgo using some favorite leaders, including Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall. I added a few that were not included on that website, such as Annie Dillard, whose Pilgrim at Tinker Creek impressed me so much when it was published.

I wanted to try a modern color scheme, and so chose green fabric and black embroidery thread.

I found a leaf print that added colors, including red, and set in a small border of red and green woven plaid. The blocks sat and languished for a year. I hope I get it quilted before another year goes by!

One of my favorite people on this quilt is Lois Gibbs, the Love Canal mom and activist.

Love Canal is not far from where I grew up in Tonawanda, NY. On Sunday afternoons we would drive to Niagara Falls and be back in time for dinner.

This part of New York is an industrial center. When we went to visit my cousins on Grand Island in the Niagara River,  we passed the Ashland Oil refinery which lined the road near the Grand Island Bridges. It smelled! In front of our house was an Ashland gas station which my grandfather had built in the late 1940s. My family sold the house and station in 1963, and several years later they were torn down and an apartment building was built on the site..

We'd go boating on the Niagara River and pass industrial sites of all kinds. The Tonawanda dumps, where my dad used to go as a kid, was full of hazardous waste. Uranium from  the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb, was dumped there! (We actually own a painting found in the Tonawanda Dump in the early 1970s.  I wonder if we should get it tested for radioactivity!)

The Linde Air Products plant was near the housing project in Sheridan Park where my mom grew up. Known as 'the Projects,' the duplexes housed the influx of workers for the war plants. My grandfather was an engineer at a Chevy plant. A 2001 report by Don Finch of F.A.C.T.S. states that  the Tonawanda problems  is not "as bad as the Love Canal findings of the 1970s" but he sees the entire Western New York area as a chemical wasteland. "If you move here you have a choice. Do you want to live on top of radioactive, toxic, or heavy metal materials?" The area's cancer cases were 10% higher than expected.

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Love Canal began as a scheme to connect the Niagara River with Lake Ontario. Money ran out and water filled the site. In the 1920s, the canal became a City of Niagara dump. In the 1940s, the U.S. Army used the dump, including for waste from the Manhattan Project. Hooker Electrochemical Company also used this site as a dump until 1953. Hooker sold the property to the City of Niagara for $1. In 1955 the City of Niagara built a school on the property, and a second on was built a year later.And in 1957 the Love Canal housing project was built.

In 1976 reporters found toxic chemicals in sump pumps in the area. Birth defects and health problems were reported at higher than normal levels. On August 2, 1978, Lois Gibbs founded the Love Canal Homeowners Associations. The activists fought for four years until President Carter allocated government funds to Love Canal clean up. Nearly 900 families were relocated, and reimbursed for their lost homes. Congress passed the Superfund Act because of Love Canal.

In 1981 Lois created the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice.She proved that through activism, people can change the world.

Hooker Chemical also left behind a polluted area in Montague, MI, where we lived for four years. The site was fenced off, but it had not been cleaned up  Residents there were concerned that in the future people would forget its history, and build there.

My parents both died of cancer. When mom was diagnosed in 1990, at age 57, she was asked if she had been exposed to toxins, and she thought of Love Canal and the polluted corridor of Western New York.

For more information on Lois Gibbs:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Charlotte Bronte and her Family

The Brontës, Charlotte Brontë and her Family by Rebecca Fraser

I did not imagine that when I picked this book up that it would lead me to reread Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s books, which I had read so long ago. I also waded through Charlotte’s Villette, luckily on my Kindle so I could translate the endless conversations in French. I am planning on reading Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey, and Shirley by Charlotte. I have also skimmed the poetry by Anne, Emily and Charlotte—who published as Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell.

Their  Methodist father’s church was situated in an isolated area of Yorkshire, among the uneducated and struggling poor. The five sisters and one brother were dependent on each other’s company. Their mother died when they were young, and their father oversaw their education, teaching Classical languages, current affairs, poetry, and philosophy.

Charlotte and her younger brother Branwell were deeply enmeshed in an imaginary world they created, as if today’s Gamemasters and alternate reality players never left the world of the game to resume normal life. Even when Charlotte went away to school, her thoughts were in that other world.

Elizabeth and Maria contracted tuberculosis while away at school. Charlotte was also brought home. It was too late; the two older girls died, leaving Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell.

Branwell was highly sensitive and passionate, and frustrated by his inability to find the recognition the whole family felt was due him. In his late teens he began drinking and taking opium. He found a position as a tutor, fell in love with the wife of his charges, and was dismissed. His was a life of, addiction, failure and early death.

Emily shunned society, preferring to stay at home and tend their father while Anne and Charlotte went to school in Brussels to prepare to be governesses. The girls excelled in their studies, but after a year were called home when their father needed cataract surgery. Only Charlotte returned for further education.

Charlotte, having lived in such a limited society, fell in love with the school master, the first man to give her attention apart from her family. Later, after publishing her book Jane Eyre, she fell in love with her publisher George Smith. Her suffering, knowing neither man was attainable, was chronicled in her novels.

Emily and Anne both died of Tuberculosis. Charlotte suffered great loneliness, and felt she was doomed to be alone. She was vilified and lionized for Jane Eyre, and did form some friendships. But she was limited by keeping her books a secret from her father, and hid behind her persona of Currer Bell.

Arthur Bell, who had been her father’s curate, reappeared announcing he could not get over his love for Charlotte. After great inner questioning, and with great fear, Charlotte accepted Arthur. He proved to be a perfect companion. Charlotte’s health had never been good,  and she died within a year of marriage. Surely, had Charlotte lived, her writing, which she said rose out of her experiences, would have reflected a different kind of woman than the lonely and alienated creatures of her novels.

Reading Wuthering Heights after Jane Eyre, I was struck by the vast differences in style. Jane Eyre has passion and high emotion, and a strong but submissive heroine who stays true to her ideals. But Charlotte also seems to be working hard to preach the Christian Women’s duty and to adhere to constrained Victorian standards. Emily, on the other hand, has a distinctly modern style of writing, direct, clean, and fresh. Her characters are as twisted as the wind-driven trees on the Yorkshire moors. They are no role models!

I could not help but to compare the Brontës to Jane Austen. Jane was born at the end of the Age of Reason, while the Brontes were products of the Romantic Era. Both were clergy children, growing up in a parsonage and endeavored to adhere to the standard of the Christian woman of her time. Both wrote in childhood.  Jane, like Charlotte, turned down several proposals, but she never found her man. At least Charlotte did marry, and had some months of wedded happiness with a companion who put her needs first. Both women died in their thirties. Both women had close ties to siblings and father, and an absent or alienated mother. And both wrote only what they knew, and were diligent in their adherence to Truth.

Jane Austen is most loved for her bright and sparkling novels, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. These books are alive with wit and irony, pithy insight, and unexpected turns of events leading to happy marriages. Mansfield Park and Persuasion are darker, their heroines victimized by situation, poverty, and powerlessness. Their heroines are more like Charlotte’s characters Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe. And in the end, a happy marriage is the ultimate goal of the novels of both writers.

Emily, on the other hand, dared to show what can happen if convention puts asunder two souls who nature intended to become one. Readers may not like Marianne married to ‘old’ Brandon, or Jane taking care of the crippled and blind Rochester, but the characters at least have found their proper mates. Catherine and Heathcliff, Linton and Isabella, brought on their own unhappiness by not following their true natures to embrace their proper partners. And consequently, every family member suffers and is blighted.

The cover of Fraser's book said it was 'enthralling," and I have been enthralled by the blasted lives of the Bronte family.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our Heirloom Quilts

Growing up  there were no quilters in my family. But in 1966 my grandfather took my mom and me with him on a trip 'back home' to Milroy, PA to visit his Aunt Carrie. And Aunt Carrie gave him and my grandmother a quilt which was given to my mom, who gave it to me in the 1970s.

Carrie V. Ramer Bobb was my grandfather's mother's sister. When Gramps lost his mother and then his grandmother, he was an orphan at the age of nine years. Sisters Aunt Carrie and Aunt Annie Ramer Smithers took turns raising him. My grandfather Lynne O. Ramer got a sound education, and worked his way through college and seminary and gaining a teaching certificate.

Aunt Carrie (1904-1971)

The quilt passed down to me is a Dresden Plate. The layers were machine sewn, with the backing turned to the front and sewn down. Then the plates were hand appliqued to the quilt!

The background fabric is white, the plate centers are light blue or medium blue.

The quilt was likely made in the early 1960s shortly before it was gifted to my grandfather. I expect that like most quilters, Aunt Carrie had a collection of fabrics that spanned the early 20th century and came from a wide variety of sources.  In September 1965 my grandfather wrote a letter to the Lewistown Sentinel about just where Carrie got her stash:

“Well we have stitched on another vacation patch to the crazy quilt of life. At the Richfield ‘Ramer clutch” several widely separated cuzzins brought bags of patches for Aunt Carrie Bobb of the Mifflin County Home, who has another Postage Stamp Quilt under way.
     “Aunt Carrie sews on this quilt between times devoted to the guests and writing 10 letters each week.  This year the patches came from Bethesda, Camden, Annapolis, Indianapolis, Sinking Valley, Allen Park and Berkley, etc., etc.—and a crazy assortment they were to be sure!”
   “Yet when a quilt is complete there is some manner of symmetry and form to the total, be it a Dresden Circles, a Field of Diamonds, a Double Wedding Ring or just a plain Postage Stamp.
     “Such is life! Patches added willy nilly, seemingly with no central purpose, yet the total displays an amazing degree of purpose.  A quilt is hard to see because we look at the patches, just like it’s said we can’t see the forest due to the single trees."
The fabric scraps from Allen Park and Berkley were from Michigan: Gramps lived in Berkley and his daughter Nancy in Allen Park.  The scraps from Annapolis was my mom's brother, Uncle Dave and his wife Pat.
Aunt Carrie Bobb's grandson, Sid Bobb, shared with me a photo of the two Aunt Carrie quilts he inherited, a Drunkard's Path variation in red and white and a Grandmother's Flower Garden variation in pastels.

I also have a quilt from my husband's side of the family, given to me by my mother-in-law. It was made by her grandmother, Harriet Scoville (Scovile, Schoville) Nelson, and was given to her daughter Charlotte Grace Nelson O'Dell,  then came to my mother-in-law Laura Grace O'Dell Bekofske.

Harriet Scoville  (1877-1951)and Aaron Nelson. 

Charlotte Grace Nelson and John Oren O'Dell, 1896

Laura Grace O'Dell Bekofske

 The quilt is a red and white Single Wedding Ring, with a polka dot backing, and tied with faded red and white floss.

The cotton batting is quite lumpy!

 The edges were turned in and machine sewn. A thread was never cut. The floss looks pink, but is pin or red and white.
 The quilt was kept in Laura's cedar chest and never used. Tannin in the wood left brown spots.

Laura made Gary and I several quilts in the early 1980s, a blue Log Cabin and a multi-colored Sister's Choice, much beloved by our son.

By the time I started to quilt in 1991, my mother-in-law was ending her quilting career. Arthritis had settled in her thumb joint. She instead took up counted cross stitch. Her vision remained clear and she enjoyed this work until her death.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dear Nelton

Many years ago I was at the Royal Oak, MI flea market and saw a trunk full of old papers that had been lifted from the streets. I asked the seller what he wanted for the papers, and he said $10, which was an awful lot of money for what was trash! I gathered up all the papers I could, noting there were covered with a thick sprinkling of baby powder. There was one album with papers, a few photos, and a few letters.

Back home, I sorted the papers. There was a whole man's history in receipts, from the purchase of a ring to payments on a house and furniture. I later sold these to a collector of African American ephemera.

The letters were very moving. George S. Miller was a vet who was trying to get the government to cover his medical expenses for injuries incurred in the war. He was in love with a woman named Nelton, who had a son. He poured his heart out to her, how he wanted to be a father to her son.

I made a little quilt with scanned letters and photos printed on fabric. Because George's life was in such turmoil, the quilt is chaotic. I used a vintage napkin for the background, which I stamped with various paint patterns. I layered my scans with fabric bits, and appliqued threads and buttons and silk flowers.

George's handwriting was not hard to read, and he wrote three sheets of paper per letter, using three-hole-punched lined school paper.

The photos showed two women, one of whom I believe to be Nelton.

Several houses photos were included. I found a paper with his address.

My heart still breaks when I read this letter from George. I wonder if he and Nelton ever were able to be together as a family. I sure hope so.
2019 Update:

I searched Ancestry.com trying to discover more about George and Nelton.

Nelton E. Battles was born December 24, 1923, and died in Highland Park, MI, on March 16, 1987. George's 1962 letter to Nelton is addressed Seebalt St. in Detroit and the records show that in 1990 Nelton lived at 4382 Seebalt St.

You can see that the home in the black and white photos I found with the papers is the same house as pictured below. Today tet home is foreclosed and owned by the city. It was once a lovely house built in 1915. This Westside neighborhood is now mostly vacant homes today.
Seebalt Street home where Nelton once lived

In one letter George says he is sending money to Mrs. Nelton Battles, 2635 Cortland St., Detroit. That location is vacant land today.

George S. Miller's 1951 letter from the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is addressed to 730 W Euclid St. in Detroit. I have seen Euclid St. I remembered it from the 1960s and several times in the last few years we have gotten lost coming off the expressway and drove past Euclid. The street is just north of New Center where I have visited Henry Ford Hospital specialists. The house appears to have been torn down. The houses next to where it would have been were built around 1907, large brick houses that once were lovely.

It is possible that I have found George in the census.

The 1930 Census for Detroit shows George Mill, born around 1926, 4 years old, living with parents George and Myrtle Miller and siblings Gladys and JC. Both parents were born in South Carolina. George Sr. worked in an auto factory. They paid $30 rent at 664 Livingston St., Detroit. I can't find Livingston on the map or in an internet search. The area must have been torn down years ago, perhaps during 'urban renewal' when African American communities were displaced to build the expressways.

The 1940 Census for Detroit shows George was 14 years old. Goerge was 40 and worked as a line foreman for road construction, earning $945 a year. Myrtle was 39 years old. John C., George, and Lilia were the children. The family lived on 3888 St. Antoine St. This is another street I have driven by. It's not far from Orchestra Hall where we attend the Detroit Symphony.

From Detroit Streets:
Beaubien and St. Antoine originated from the two Beaubien brothers, Lambert and Antoine, each of whom received half of the family farm after the death of their father, Jean Baptiste Beaubien, one of the first white settlers on the river, opposite Fort Dearborn. Lambert was a colonel in the First Regiment of Detroit's militia. He fought in the War of 1812. Antoine chose to name his property after his patron saint, St. Antoine. Antoine was a lieutenant colonel in the Michigan Territorial Militia. He donated a chunk of his land for the Sacred Heart Academy, once located at the corner of Jefferson and St. Antoine.
It would be great to locate George's military records.