Broken Bubbles

Noma_bubble_lights

The rear compartment of my father’s station wagon often carried mysterious cargo. During much of my childhood, he worked as a sales representative for a “sundries” company selling most things that drug stores carried, other than the actual medications…stationery, sunglasses, toys, personal care products, and many handy helpers for the household.

Dad traveled from our home in Northern Lower Michigan to client stores all over the state, taking orders. The back of his trusty station wagon was typically used to carry product samples meant to show the buyers, or sometimes he also brought “returns” with him that needed to be sent back to the company in Detroit. We often got a peek at the exciting goodies in there, and once in a while even got to keep something small, in the case of a discontinuation or some similar situation.

christmas-station-wagon
Our station wagons were usually much plainer than this ‘snazzy’ model!

One very cold December, I remember that Dad ended up with a package of Noma bubble lights in his car. Christmas was quickly approaching, and he would have to hang onto them until after the holiday. They were meant to be used indoors, and he was afraid that the liquid in the bulbs might freeze and break the glass if he left them outdoors in the car. One thing led to another, and to my delight, they eventually ended up on our Christmas tree!

bubble lights vintage

In my mind, they were magical, with many different colors of bubbling liquid that made the surrounding ornaments shimmer. Our tree seemed almost alive. Some of the bulbs didn’t bubble very well, and my parents were too busy with other things to fool with them and discover that they needed to be almost perfectly upright to work effectively. I didn’t care and absolutely loved them. After the holiday, those lights disappeared from our lives.

Many years and Christmases passed, and as an adult with a tree of my own, I never again came across those types of Christmas lights. The year that my mother died, the leaves were already starting to turn color near my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was still married at the time, and my husband was teaching at a university quite some distance from our town, which required him being gone during the week. Even with my new job as a preschool director and our home and dog to care for, I had way too much time on my hands to think and feel sad about Mom’s passing. I needed a project!

The project that I decided upon that autumn was to re-style our Christmas tree with new lights and ornaments with an overall vintage appeal. My first thought was BUBBLE LIGHTS. I searched far and wide and finally found some through Ace Hardware that needed to be ordered. My husband also surprised me by bringing some others home one weekend that he had found “downstate.” We ended up with two different types, but that worked out fine and looked lovely with the old-fashioned style of ornaments I had bought at various shops. The tree was beautiful and offered me that sense of connection with the past and my childhood just when it was most needed. Those decorations were enjoyed for many years.bubble lights plain

One fall a few years ago my world turned upside down, and I left my home and that life behind. At the time, bubble lights or any kind of Christmas decorations weren’t exactly uppermost in my mind. They remained in the house, hidden away in the little storage space under the stairs. I honestly don’t know if those beauties ever again saw the light of day. They didn’t appear to be on the tree when “First Dog” and I made a visit (in spirit:) last Christmas, and I’m guessing that they’ve been forgotten or dumped. Kind of sad.

A small, pre-lit Christmas tree in my current home nicely shows off a few new vintage-style ornaments and several that were salvaged from my past only because they happened to be packed in with other things. I’ve recently been yearning for the look and feel of those bubble lights, again, but the size of this current model will definitely not support them. I saw an ad the other day for a single bubble night-light and was tempted, but shoved the idea aside in my mind, since I was getting ready to go out-of-town for the holiday. To my utmost surprise, one of those very lights, fashioned in red, was proudly bubbling away in the room when I reached my destination. Might be fate or life trying to tell me something? Not sure, but I think that a bubble night-light is on my shopping list for next season. Something to look forward to…small but special.

If you’re celebrating, have a safe and pleasant holiday. I hope that each and every one of you will experience a healthy, productive and happy 2019!   ~Becky

holly-tree-1030595_1920

 

Only Sweaters Required: a Thanksgiving Story

autumn joy green shows full plant more                                                                                                                Unknown to the woman and man, it was to be their last good Thanksgiving. While she sifted through cookbooks for new side dish and dessert recipes, he planned the main course. Menu was written, shopping list compiled, and ingredients purchased.

Fall weather in their northern location was typical. Rain and winds had brought down most of the yellow and orange leaves. Halloween delivered a few lazy flurries. Beyond the French doors, the Autumn Joy plants in the garden provided a natural tracking device for the unyielding progression of the season. Summer buds of green turned to pink flower heads, which every day bled into a darker tone of red. Seeing the perennials had already turned a deep shade of crimson, the couple regretted that hope of a warm day had surely passed.

autumn joy red

Thanksgiving dawn was hopeful. Temperatures outside continued to rise, and the baking oven warmed their home from within. Eat outdoors on Thanksgiving? Unheard of for that location! In smiling agreement, they readied the terrace: swept leaves from the table and chairs, added a tablecloth, lit the chiminea. Only sweaters required.

Dinner was savory and dessert was sweet. Red wine matched  the Autumn Joy’s blooms. Reflecting on a few remaining leaves, the sun began its descent beyond the tops of trees. Slight breeze, crackling fire, and easy conversation. Sundown lowered the temperature, moving them closer to the fire, while shrugging into jackets. When the addition of a new log was insufficient, they finally relinquished their claim on that remarkable Thanksgiving dinner.

The view from frosty French doors the following morning offered a scene of white. A weather front had produced heavy snows, and autumn changed to winter overnight. The world had turned cold and stark, with sharp edges of ice. Shrouded in a pale cloak, the Autumn Joy had given in to the ravages of the seasons. Winter would remain, and wishes otherwise would go unanswered.

Sedum Autumn Joy Herbstfreude in winter snow with grasses & Rudbeckia seed-heads

Magic from that day is gone, but not forgotten. The warmth of their world is remembered. No longer sharing that kitchen, that terrace, that garden, the memory still connects them.

~ Becky ~ 2018

Activism: never too early or too late!

a is for activist full cover

Originally written for his own children, this board book, read here by the author, Innosanto Nagara, introduces young kids to the positives of social change. Children can begin to see themselves as activists when they stand up for someone who is being  bullied, help with the family’s recycling, or when they ignore the color of a person’s skin to see the heart, inside.

In July of 2017, NPR Books said of A is for Activist, “Every letter is the definition of a different social movement. For F — kids learn about Feminism, when we get to G – kids learn about the meaning of grassroots organizing and why it’s important. This beautifully illustrated ABC book uses rhyming and alliteration to get your little reader excited about social change. If your child loves this work they may enjoy the author’s new work My Night at the Planetarium, which illustrates the important role the arts play in resistance.”

At that same time, NPR also noted a list of books for “woke kids” of all ages that you might want to check out!

As the title of this blog post suggests, besides never being too early to explore activism, it’s also never too late. These last several years have served as a real wake up call for me, as I’m sure they have for countless others. This past Thursday I attended my very first protest, in support of protecting Robert Mueller’s investigation. This was a small action on my part, but very important for me. I’m tired of all the lies and feeling so helpless. Being part of a like-minded group of citizens at this demonstration gave me a sense of purpose, along with cautious hope for better days.

~Becky

Protest! Nov. 2018
Just a few of the protesters before the march. I’m the ‘turquoise sleeve’ just left of the woman in the red jacket:)

 

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #2

dick and jane

If you learned to read at school in the U.S., sometime from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, there’s a good chance that you learned with the help of Dick and Jane, their little sister, Sally, and the pets, Puff and Spot. By today’s standards of instructional materials for reading, this basal series was quite dry and some might say boring. I loved those books in my first years of school, mainly because…I WAS READING!

Dick and Jane pages

Fast forward many decades, when I trained to become a teacher and landed my first elementary position in Michigan. Although we still used a basal series in fourth grade, that year, it was packed with “real literature” and was supplemented with sets of award-winning chapter books, in addition. By the time I served as a Chapter I reading teacher in North Carolina and later taught kindergarten back in Michigan, sets of charming leveled books (like “Mrs. Wishy-Washy“) had replaced all basals. Reading instruction methods, assessment, and progress tracking had been fine-tuned, as well.

During my years of teaching and even after I retired, collecting vintage children’s readers was a hobby that I enjoyed immensely. Many of those 30+ books were the Dick and Jane variety, while some featured other children, pets, and retold folk literature. I had a few favorites, like the cover that’s pictured above, which I can actually remember from childhood. I had read an article, once, that revealed the Dick and Jane characters originally were a part of other collections before they appeared in their “own series”. These early books were known to be quite the collectors’ items and sometimes brought hundreds of dollars. I stored this information in the back of my mind, but didn’t really remember the details.

One day, as fate would have it, I was looking through shelves of used books in a little shop near St. Louis, Michigan. I picked up an old school reader that was in pretty rough shape. My heart started beating a little faster, since the Elson-Gray name on the scarred cover rang a bell. I leafed through the book, being careful not to tear the somewhat brittle pages any more than they already were…Billy and Nancy, Alice and Ned, DICK AND JANE!!!

pages inside oldest Dick and Jane

I tried not to be too overjoyed, since I couldn’t tell if the price penciled near the front of the book said $2.00 or $200. Yes, I really wanted that 1936 edition, but it wasn’t in great shape, and I’ve never spent that much money on a book in my life. Holding my breath, I walked up to the counter. Luck was with me that day, and I still have the receipt for $2.12, with tax.

When I moved from Michigan to Texas a few years ago, I was forced to dramatically cut back on the books that I would pay to ship, since I had collected many different types, over the years. As an end result, I saved just five of my children’s readers, including three regular Dick and Jane books and this very special precursor of what they would later become. I’ll treasure it forever, along with the memory of that day.

oldest Dick and Jane

I’d love to hear from you in comments if you learned to read with Dick and Jane, or if you would just like to share a memory about learning to read!

 

 

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #1

hattie

Many of us are in agreement that we love bookstores. My favorite establishments are those that also offer used books and assorted vintage goodies, such as magazines, music and other miscellany. Although not widely traveled, I have wonderful memories of great bookshops spread from Duluth, MN, to Williamsburg, VA, with many in Michigan and Canada sandwiched in between.

As you can well imagine, I’ve made memorable “finds” in those visits. These items tend to fall into two groups: something specific I was looking for, or a totally unexpected piece. The coup that I will relate today definitely falls into the “unexpected” category.

Prior to my recent move to Texas, I had also lived and worked in this state for some years when my children were young. Before heading back to my home state of Michigan, I began studies toward earning elementary education certification and fulfilling my quest to become a teacher. Denton, Texas, being the home of two universities, is a logical place for a used bookstore, of course. Recycled Books, Records, & CD’s , at the time I lived there, was already bursting its seams at a small location, and is today housed in a larger spot within a former opera house in the picturesque town square.

That day, I had at least one of my daughters with me, and we were just scanning the small children’s section. An author’s name on a hardcover picture book caught my eye…Don Freeman of Corduroy fame. The title, Hattie the Backstage Bat, wasn’t familiar to me, so I decided to take a look. It was a former library edition, in good shape, with no tears or other visual damage. I then looked toward the front of the book to notice that it had belonged to the local, Emily Fowler Library, and at one time been sold out of the library’s used bookshop, before ending up at Recycled Books and priced at $1.50. Turning the page, I was astounded to discover this:

Don Freeman jpeg 001 (2)

I can just imagine Mr. Freeman visiting the library during the year following publication of this book, meeting the eager listeners, and producing this original drawing for them right on the spot. Yes, Hattie’s blue hat did get a little smudged, and unfortunately an uninformed or overworked library worker  stamped “discard” in the middle of her left wing. I love it, just the same, and will treasure this book always! As an added bonus, the story is charming, and I shared it (along with other Don Freeman titles) with countless children during my years in the classroom.

In doing a little more research on this author, who died in 1978, I find on a lovely website, run by his son, that he was not only an author and illustrator of children’s books, but also a painter and lithographer who “vividly portrayed the street life and theater world of New York City in the 1930s and 40s.” That site contains a wealth of information and images, so you may want to take a few minutes out of your day for a visit.

What is your favorite “find” from a bookstore?

~Becky

 

Ding Dong School: before Mister Rogers & Sesame Street

Miss Frances Ding Dong School
“Miss Frances”

The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school in Michigan. One of my earliest memories is of my older sister, Terri, heading out for school the year I must have been four. I can see myself sitting in the bay window of our living room, and she alerted me that she was leaving for school, but mentioned how “lucky” I was that I got to stay home and watch “Ding Dong School” on television.

It all seemed rather dubious to me, since I WAS looking forward to kindergarten the next year, but it was kind of her to make the attempt. My mother looked on and seemed to be trying to gauge my response. I suppose it was hard for me to face summer’s end and be the only child remaining at home, since my younger brother was not yet born.

I DID love the show, however, and since we only had clear reception of one network in our little town in Northern, Lower Michigan, I was lucky that it ran on NBC through 1956 (followed by syndication for some years after). The presenter, Dr. Frances Horwich, known to the young viewers as our teacher, “Miss Frances,” had a calm, soothing voice that seemed to be aimed directly at me. The show always began with her ringing the large school bell, of course. She read books to us, presented various types of interesting lessons, and demonstrated art projects. Children often sent their drawings and other works in to the show, and Miss Frances would sometimes share those, as well.

a suitcase with a surprise

Sources reveal that she was an experienced educator, but had very little familiarity with working in front of the camera. From a kid’s point of view, the show felt very natural and real, as if I was actually there in her classroom. Due to the show’s popularity, many different types of products carrying the “Ding Dong School” name became available, like finger paints, balloons, valentines, and records. I don’t remember having any of those, but we did own some of the “Golden Books,” such as these shown. Titles often focused on family, community, and the use of imagination in play.

The Big Coal Truck

My afternoon kindergarten the following year paled in comparison, naturally. With a large room full of actual children and no helpers that I can remember, I’m sure that our teacher had her hands too full to give us much individualized attention. I kind of missed those mornings spent at home in our sunny living room, with my mom nearby and Miss Frances talking to me out of the black-and-white television like I was the only kid in the world. Little did I know at the time that my future would also find me as a teacher in the classroom with young children.

When Ebay was still a novelty, I often looked up collectibles that interested me. One day, I saw some of Frances Horwich’s personal items related to the show up for auction, following her death, such as a custom-made chair with her name on it, her collection of school bells, and awards that she had received. I did some research and learned that she and her husband had no children, so I suppose there was no one in particular to leave these types of things in a will. At first this seemed very sad, that her belongings would simply go to the highest unknown bidders on the Internet. After giving this some more thought, however, I realized how insignificant “things” really are and how many thousands of individuals, like myself, remembered this woman for providing them with a pleasant first education experience. That seemed much more important, in the grand scheme of things.

~Becky

Collectible Stickers from Roller Rinks of the Past with “Atlas Obscura”

Growing up in the small town of Tawas City, Michigan, in the early to mid-1960’s, Friday night at the East Tawas Rollerdrome was THE place to go! My best friend, Jean, and I practiced skating without falling down and flirting with boys who were also trying to act cool and make it around the rink without hitting the wooden floor. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the rumble of wheels, smell the dust, and also hear the corny music, which thankfully evolved into “by request,” for teens who were willing to bring their own records from home. Here’s an image of the sticker from that establishment of long ago.rollerdrome

Now, on to the great article at “Atlas Obscura” that initiated this blast from the past!       ~Becky