Love in a frame

 

Once again, the piece I was about to write shifted and this little girl encased in a frame demanded its time to shine instead. I love that I have so many  oddities on hand that auto-switches are not only possible, but in my case, probable.

As soon as I saw this little girl I immediately thought of this frame hanging on the wall behind a man’s work bench. I wondered why. Was this work bench in the basement, a home’s garage or shed, or was it at a place of work? I let it sit in the back of my mind for a month or so until…I got it.

Here’s the story…

Dad wasn’t a builder as much as he was a fixer. Lamp quit lighting, toaster cord frayed, screen got a hole from the cat—whatever it was, her dad would make it whole again. He had this small portable radio of black plastic  that sat on one of the wood shelves about shoulder high, and the crackle of the day’s baseball game announcements over the AM waves would rumble out as he worked, fingers re-threading or hammer nailing with a slow and easy smile on his face. Yep— shirt and tie man by day, tinkerer and fixer by night. That was her dad.

One evening, just before bedtime, the little girl appeared at the workbench, and watched for a moment as her dad slowly, carefully, replaced a worn plug on her favorite lamp. The lamp with little lambs playing in a field of tall grasses. She was too old for it, hadn’t used it since she moved to her big girl bed, but it was still a favorite.

And her dad knew that, so he replaced the bits that had been carelessly yanked out of the wall one angry play day. Just in case. Or perhaps  looking ahead, to a time when it would be needed again, for the next generation.

Little hands held up the little frame to him that night. She’d begged her mother for it and her mother gave in, as mothers sometimes do, knowing intuitively how important that little frame was to her girl. His little girl wore a huge smile when she told him that was her, in that frame, his little bow in the hair child with the falling down socks. That was her, sure enough, he agreed with a squeeze to her little shoulder. Love in a frame, he called it.

And now, here it sits, right where the little girl pointed, all those years ago. Right next to that black plastic radio, leaning against small boxes of screws and bolts and other little pieces of the fixer’s life. The black plastic AM radio is silent, hasn’t played in years, and a thick coating of dust lines the shelves. The screws and bolts and tiny nails are still in their little plastic squares, labels hanging loose by a single yellowed piece of cellophane tape.

And right next to that black plastic AM radio is the little girl in the frame. The white background is beigey now, with little dots of black growth barely visible. Her socks are still falling, the bow is still in her hair, and right below her, on the wooden work bench sits a single lamp.

And on that lamp, frolicking forevermore, are three small lambs, jumping along a field of high grasses. The plug looks brand new.

 

Hummel Love

 

I picked these two up at my local Goodwill just a few days ago. Actually, I first chose the little girl figurine, liked the way she fit so easily in my palm. My eyes slid right over the little boy because of all the…plastic flowers. I’m sure that’s happened more than once because this little guy wore a fair amount of dust, or should I say, plasticky-feeling dirt.

The boy figurine was stuck up on the top shelf, I’m guessing so that his “flowers” would be noticeable and on full display. The little girl was one single row underneath him, next to two white porcelain geese, both sporting those awful aqua bows so reminiscent of the 80’s. Obviously,I needed to get her out of there.

I flipped the bottom of the girl figurine up, whispering all the while…”hummel, hummel,hummel…” but, alas, no marking on her base. No bother, I thought she was worth the $1.99 for her cuteness alone so I walked around the rest of the aisle with her propped between my fingers. It was kind of funny now, looking back, how I had her placed so that it appeared she was checking everything out along with me.

Except that she wasn’t.

Those eyes of hers were transfixed on those stupid plastic flowers, and the boy figurine in the center. I laughed it off as I moved around the store, but somehow we kept coming back to the knick-knack aisle. Finally I picked the plastic flowers up to take a closer look at that figure trapped within. I sat the little girl on the top shelf and she watched as I pushed those flowers aside and found…that the bottom of the figurine had been stuck into a green square of floral foam somehow. Well now, that intrigued me some. Could this little guy be a hummel figurine after all?

I debated a minute and for each of those sixty seconds I felt the little girl’s eyes watching me from the top shelf.    I couldn’t take it any longer so I scooped her up and with the plastic flowers in one hand and her in the other I literally ran for the register.

Why?

Because it became apparent what the real story is here-I need to free the little boy figurine from his plastic flower prison.

With the little girl’s black olive eyes watching my every chisel, I set to work. First I pulled the plastic bits out, uncovered a faded pink ribbon that had been stuck inside, dislodged even more crusted dust underneath and then…I saw why he’d been stuck there in the first place.

He was broken.

How did he break? Did a child knock him over? Did someone drop him when they were dusting? Did a cat stroll through where he shouldn’t have?

However it happened, someone took very strong glue and a very strong hand and smooshed this little guy right into the floral foam for all time. Or, until some years later when this woman bought him and decided to free him…under the watchful gaze of his new best friend.

 See, don’t they look happy now?

 

 

Coke bottle of memory

Found this coke bottle at Goodwill.

It’s heavy bottomed, thick glass, with a side coating of mud that has solidified over the years, hardening until it became a part of the bottle itself. Impossible to scrape off with a fingernail. Possibly a scrub brush and a long soak would do it. But that’s part of its charm, isn’t it? Why remove it?

This coke bottle has no value, most of them don’t even though people think they should, so they might squirrel a few away for a better day.  So was this one dropped on purpose, buried with the other trash like folks did sometimes, or was it left behind, forgotten until found?

Here’s the story:

Saturday afternoon meant two things—drive down Main st., sitting shotgun with dad to fill up the Oldsmobile with gas, then turn around and drive back home to wash it while he pulled out the lawn mower and set to work cutting the grass.

This was the Saturday  ritual, and it worked just fine. After a morning spent in front of the television with a bowl of cereal and cartoons she’d be pushed outside anyway. And besides, the gas station meant lifesavers and a coke.

They’d pull in, windows down to catch a breeze or because it just felt cooler to drive around that way. The front tires would roll over top of the black hose that ding-dinged their arrival, and the owner himself would stroll on out from inside that white concrete building.  Dad would step out, shake hands and start to talk about the week or the price of gas or the weather, as the owner pumped the gas and checked the oil and squeegeed clean the windshields front and back.

Once the tank was filled and the oil rag was once again hanging out the back of the owner’s work pants, the trio would enter that little white building. Right inside and to the right stood the coca-cola red cooler, and like the bell above the screen door, that cooler had always lived right there.  

She’d grab herself a bottle and flip the cap off with the bottle opener on the front, sometimes catching it but more often watching the metal top hit the worn dusty wood floor and roll off to a crevice somewhere, where it would join others of its kind left by years of little girls stopping in with their fathers.

On to the counter where the lifesavers lived inside their cardboard multi-packs, twelve rolls to a box. Three kinds to choose from—five flavor, wintergreen, or tropical. She didn’t much care for the medicinal twange to the wintergreen, and she liked the five flavor well enough but with those came the chance of losing the pale yellow pineapple to an over-eager sister with greedy and unearned fingers, so she usually chose tropical.

Secretly, tropical was her favorite. The white white of the coconut flavor was creamy sweet, but her hands-down favorite was the soft orange-colored cantaloupe. Those she never ever shared. There were only two in a roll, so she planned her sharing accordingly, even giving up the pineapple if necessary.

With dad’s palm resting on top of her head, they’d leave the white building and slide  back into the Olds, because that was how you did it; open one door and slide on over, careful not to spill the halfway empty coke.

My question to you is this—

Which one saved that coke bottle all those years?

Dad or daughter? Or was it saved without thought, then found and saved with love remembered…?

I vote for love remembered

Sister, dear sister

Ah, what is this ugly little computer replica you see this week?  It stands less than 6 inches tall.

Look at that monitor. See how much it looks like an old style television, complete with a fat back and a frame around the screen.

Check out the attached keyboard.  That dark slit on the right could have been for a floppy disk insert. Either way, this item, which I first took for a remote holder because of the wide opening on the top and the felt lining, is seriously dated. The white parts have gone south of eggshell and the keyboard has taken on the patina of beige bakelite.

What a treasure from the shelves of Goodwill.

And here is its story…

 

Ugly pencil cup lives on the corner of her desk. An out-dated computer monitor with a few stray unused pencils, tips broken, eraser tops still pink, poke out from the cup like relatives that no one really talks to anymore.

She could place that ugly thing up on the shelves behind her easily enough, hide it from view behind the years of accumulated awards and plaques and other bits of a life spent on the edge of greatness.

Her clients will make note of it, some with a quick laugh and others with a raised brow. Her coworkers have learned through the years not to mention it, to let it be, there on the desk of the vice president, sixty-five floors up, in an office the size of her first apartment.  For it was a gift, this ugly computer cup, given to her a very long time ago upon her college graduation.

Her only gift.

Her parents saw things differently back then, her whole family minus one did. they all, as one, believed in the two simple rules for secondary education-

Boys go to college for business, or to become doctors, lawyers, accounts of fine measure. Girls, if they must, go for either english, which is another way of saying husband search, or for a teaching certificate. That’s what her parents told her and what she always believed.

So she quit college. Didn’t want to be a teacher and wasn’t looking for a husband. She wanted to stretch herself, use her brain, be independent. So until graduation, she worked as a waitress, in a crummy little coffee shop down by the river, that smelled of fried meat and old people.

Each Friday morning, without fail, a sturdy-looking grey-haired nun would stop in, always sit in her section, and order a coffee and a crueller.  The girl continued to work at that coffee shop throughout her college years. She needed the money. Had to pay her own way after refusing her parents’ choice of career path. And each Friday, that nun came in, ordered a coffee and a crueller,  and left her a fifty cent tip. They shared conversation and laughter and the day after she graduated, tears. Happy tears in response to finding a certain grey-haired nun sitting in the graduation audience, way up front where she would not be missed.

The nun wasn’t sitting next to her family, because no one came. Just the nun, who was also a teacher, and the new graduate, who was not. Someone snapped a picture of the two of them together, the girl in her black cap and gown standing, arm around the shorter version in black, her aunt.

The same aunt who gifted her that ugly computer pencil cup that next Friday. One of the nun’s last Fridays before the cancer sent her away to her husband in heaven.

And that is why that ugly pencil cup in a long-outdated computer model still sits on that fine wooden desk of hers. In remembrance of a simple act of kindness, repeated each week, by a woman who loved the child as if she were her own.

It is often the little things that have the longest, farthest-reaching impact on us.

 

 

Jeanette F-3

 

You know how you are drawn to certain color combinations? Whether it’s a throw for the back of the couch or the dominant shades of a print on the wall,  when you see these two colors together your eyes widen for a second and your mouth might even round itself into a little OH as a hand automatically reaches toward the object. You can’t quite help yourself.

That is exactly what happened when I spotted this little handmade beauty at Goodwill. Any shade of cranberry to maroon crossed with forest or deep pine green gets my heart thumpy-thumping and if it happens to be vintage, the checkbook follows.

A bigger heart tugger though, is that I already own a few of these bowls. In varying sizes and patterns, each carry the small finger marks of its elementary-school creator, along with its endearing imperfections. Sure enough, a quick flip reveals the author of this piece…

Jeanette.

So how did this handmade bowl end up here on a Goodwill shelf? Here’s the story…

 

No one likes the old woman that lives next door to Jeanette. Some say she’s lived there since she was first married, in a small tidy white house with two cement steps up to the front door and green awnings over each window to protect the insides from the sun.

No one crosses her yard to get to their friends quicker because she’ll rap her knuckles raw telling them to get out. No one trick-or-treats at her house because her porch light is never on. No one offers to clear the snow away in the winter or to gather up the fallen leaves in October because a pickup truck appears when needed, with leafblowers and snowblowers and out of town markings on its sides.

Until the crisp autumn afternoon when the old woman is making her daily trek to her mailbox at the same time that Jeanette is stepping off of the big yellow bus. They meet at the roadside, the old woman and the young girl, and as the old woman struggles with the latch on her box the young girl drops down to her knees. She unzips her backpack with determination and ever so carefully removes a white plastic bag from inside.

“For you,” she whispers to the old woman, who turns toward the soft voice, circulars mailed to occupant in hand.

“I made it.”

The old woman reaches down as the young girl reaches up and the old woman receives the hug the young girl so freely gives her. She watches as the young girl gathers up her backpack and waves back at her with the white plastic bag swinging in the afternoon air. The old woman runs a gnarled thumb along the small thumbprints along the edge of the crooked cranberry-colored bowl and a smile forms along her lips.

“I will keep it forever,” the old woman whispers into the silence of the autumn air.

She brings that handmade bowl up the two cement steps and right into her kitchen, where she places it on the unused red-flecked placemat directly across from her much-used one.

There that cranberry handmade bowl with the dark green piping stayed, catching the early morning sun year after year, until the young girl left for college and the old woman left this earth.

One of my bowls, proudly made by my son so many years ago
We still use it, for our car keys

Teatime with grandma

I was struck by the beauty of this woman. How she stood proudly on that top shelf at my local Goodwill, towering over anything else nearby. I did not buy her, but I did pick her up, first noticing her dusty feet, hidden beneath her silken gown of what is now a faded Ai(japanese indigo). But it was when I flipped her over that I discovered her story.

Here it is:

Each Saturday, without fail, the child was dropped off at grandma’s so that her mother could run a week’s worth of errands in a morning’s time, or so she told her daughter. The little girl didn’t mind, because she loved that small white house with the green shutters and the flag waving in a pole stuck by the front door. She loved the way the sofa squeaked when her bare legs met the plastic covering, and she even loved walking on the plastic runners that covered the hallway carpet.  

She pretended the clear plastic was a gangplank on a pirate ship, or a balance beam at the Olympics, or a shaky bridge over raging river.

But most of all, the little girl loved teatime.

Each Saturday, the little girl’s mother would call to plead for more time, and each time the grandma would scowl and complain and shake the telephone receiver as she winked at the little girl. The little girl, in turn, would smile and clap her hands and run as fast as she could on the plastic walkway over to the living room. Once there, the little girl would rise up on the balls of her feet and daintily tippy-toe over to the mantle above the fireplace that was never ever used, in the corner of a room that was never ever used.  Very very carefully the little girl would remove the japanese doll from her resting place next to the hand-painted display plates of hibiscus and cherry blossoms, and she would carry her back to grandma’s kitchen, arms outstretched without a bend to either elbow.

The doll, a black-haired beauty, would be placed on a round white doily that grandma kept for just that purpose, right in the center of the little oval table, next to her favorite salt and pepper shakers, an old man and his wrinkly wife with the sad eyes.

Grandma would place a delicate cup of tea in front of the little girl, white with a flowered pattern and matching saucer, and she would always tell the girl to be very very careful, the tea was hot and the cup breakable. The little girl would play with the white string hanging down the side of the cup, flicking it so that the words Lipton would sway back and forth as grandma placed exactly two small gingersnaps onto the saucer after telling the girl to stop that.

Every Saturday the little girl and her grandma would sip their tea and crunch their cookies and each Saturday the grandma would spin another story about the japanese doll who graced her table. First it was a gift from her husband, then one week it was from her brother who had sent it back when he was a soldier, and another time it was a long ago penpal who one day stopped writing. The little girl didn’t care which story was true, she believed them all.

After grandma’s funeral, as the cookie platters were unwrapped and the coffee urn was bubbling away, a young woman walked the plastic path along the hallway to the living room, where she rose up on the balls of her feet and tippy-toed over to the mantle and ever so gently removed a tall black-haired japanese doll from beside the hibiscus display plates.

The woman, tired and tearful, lost her grip for a moment and the doll tumbled toward the unwalked-upon carpet. She quickly grabbed the doll by her legs, upside down, and that’s when she saw it. Something she had never seen before, never even felt as she carried that doll each week back along the plastic pathway to the kitchen and grandma.

On the bottom platform, right underneath the hidden feet of that doll, was a sticker of gold, with three words in black…

Made in China.

The woman thought back on the years of stories her grandma had shared with her, tales the doll traveled to get to her, hands that had passed her along, love that bound her, and love that surrounded her.

The  young woman scraped that sticker off with a single thumbnail, rolled it up onto itself and flicked it into the fireplace.

Then she headed off back to the kitchen, doll in hand, to search for a round white doily, and to see if perhaps, somewhere in that massive cookie platter, there was a gingersnap or two.

 

 

 

The Candy apple frog

 

 

One day at Goodwill I saw a small group of ceramic green frogs sitting on the middle shelf. Four were green with happy, cartoon-like faces, but one was shockingly different. This one was an odd red color, with a straight serious line of a mouth and beautiful marbled coloring underneath the red. I plucked that frog up and brought him home, without first seeing his story. It took a while, but finally…

Here is his story. 

 

Divorce is never easy on a child. As soon as the papers were signed, mom packed up her son, and their belongings, and headed up north, back to her family. She packed shirts and squirt guns and newly-purchased winter gear. Together they sold off all the extras in little piles in their front yard.  They left the ancient dog, the iguana that bites, and the two feral cats behind for his father.

They also left behind an empty aquarium. Hand prints hugged the sides of the glass and tears dried next to the imprint of a little boy’s cheek. His very favorite thing, his little red frog named Kermit-not Kermit, was missing. 

Kermit-not Kermit was an ugly little frog, first scooped up from the back yard after a summer rain. he was on the small side, with silvery bumps and a body of muddy red . An unusual find, his parents told him when he brought it inside that day, the same day that they sat the boy down and told him about signing papers and the divorce.

Kermit-not Kermit disappeared the morning of the boy’s move. He was heartbroken. The three searched the house, and the yard, and the road, looking for either the red frog or his squished remains. The boy continued to look as his mother blamed his father and his father blamed his mother, and the empty space in the van was filled with an extra bag of clothing instead of the little  glass aquarium.

Before the boy closed the door to his almost-empty bedroom, he picked  a small  squarish box  out of his trash and headed out to his soon-to-be old backyard, where he buried it after whispering a tear-filled prayer for his missing friend.

On the first full weekend of spring that same year, when the air smells like wetly-warmed dirt and lawnmowers sing their songs across the town, a box arrives for the boy.

It is small, squarish-sized, with traces of dirt on its outsides,right where a sticker proclaiming “Jelly Belly red apple” used to  be, before a certain little boy’s fingers pulled it free from the cardboard some time ago. 

Inside the box, surrounded by bright red jelly beans and the faint appley scent of the candies, sits this little red frog. He is not alive, not the boy’s missing friend, but something even better.

This frog is a mere two inches in length but heavy in the hand. He is made of compressed plastic, hard and shiny, not unlike the red coating of the candy apples sold at local fairs in the fall. This frog also has hard shiny bits of what almost looks like quartz, in shades of grey and white, barely visible under that bright red coating. The boy instantly falls in love with this little frog, who he names Candy Apple. 

He also knows who dug up his little box, and took an hour’s drive to that particular candy shop where the boy had picked out those unusual beans. He knows who filled that box with the boy’s most favorite flavor, and who searched all these months until he stumbled across a two inch frog, with a bright candy apple red color, sitting on top of a pile of other frogs on a long wooden table at an outdoor flea market.

The boy knows, even though there is no note. he knows who didn’t forget, even though his mother told him different.

He knows, and he smiles. A happy tear slides softly off the back of the candy apple red frog as the boy hugs it to his face.

 

 

The case of the odd little whisk

 

minus the cheetah...
Phyllis Gordon, silent film star, shopping with her cheetah

I  was casually walking the aisles at my local Goodwill the other week when I came across this small whisk. I wasn’t searching hard, like down on my knees and moving things around but instead was performing my initial stroll. If you ever see me out and about in a thrifty store you’ll most probably spot me doing this.

I  move at  roughly the same speed as a student on their first day back from winter break, arms down by my side, not too interested in much, or so it would appear.  What I am actually doing, however, is walking to be surprised. No, I did not mean waiting, as in waiting to be surprised. I am moving along the aisles to see if something jumps out at me, or at least screams quietly from a corner.

That is exactly what happened with my little friend here, the piggy whisk. 

People might say, “oh look-how cute!” and pick it up, smile, show their shopping partner, and then place it back on the shelf.

Not me.

As soon as I held that little cutie I knew he was coming home with me. Why? Was I in need of a whisk?

doesn’t everyone have multiples?

Not hardly. Did I need to add to my collection of whisks(all of which I do actually use, some more than others but they are all hard-working). I guess my next question was, is this whisk for real?

What I mean by that is, first of all, this baby is on the small side. My smallest little whisk(think salad dressing, if you were wondering what it can be used for) is plumper in the metal whisk parts AND the whisk itself has six hoops and not three like my little piggie here. Plus, piggie has a flat bottom, like he was meant for display. which makes me wonder…who would feel the need to display a whisk like him in their kitchen? Personal tastes aside, I knew there was only one kind of kitchenista who would have this little piggie on their counter.

A collector, that’s who.

Someone who collects pig paraphernalia. THAT was my AHA! moment. You see, way back in my twenties…I collected pig stuff. I’m not sure why or how it even started, I think I simply decided one day that I needed to collect something, like so many people do, and I settled on the pig. I remember being gifted a pink pig pitcher, a pink pig waste basket(that I still use in my downstairs bathroom) and assorted little collectible pig statues. There are probably more pig things but I have since forgotten.

My pig fascination lasted a few years and then one day it was gone. It wasn’t a big heart-wrenching decision on my part, no. I simply, stopped. I packed away the items(except for that waste basket) and sent them to the basement in a cardboard box.

Has finding this little piggie whisk sent me scurrying to the basement to uncover my own pigs?

Nope. Not even tempted.  I will, however, add this little guy to my collection of oddities that sit proudly strewn about my writing area, just in case.

You see, writers never know exactly what they’ll be needing. Until they need it.

piggie and his new old friend