Monday, April 21, 2014

I Miss Old Women - Oh, Wait! Am I an Old Woman?!

I was born in 1952, so I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, though you could argue that I'm still growing up.  My grandparents all lived over an hour's car ride away, a long trip in those days, especially for a kid who got car sick.  But Mr. and Mrs. Seiders and their dog Butch lived across the street from us.  Mr. Seiders was a retired English teacher.  No one liked Butch because he barked a lot.  I loved Butch and Butch loved me.  That's a story for another day.

Mr. and Mrs. Seiders were my surrogate grandparents.  I would ask my mother to take me over so I could see Butch, and I ended up spending many days with the Seiders, helping them in their garden, drawing with the paper and crayons they provided, playing with the tin soldiers that were kept in the closet.  Mrs. Seiders and I would sit on the back porch with glasses of tea and freshly made cookies.  Butch and I would sit on the back porch eating dog biscuits (I preferred the cookies but I didn't want Butch to feel left out).

Then there was Mrs. Stoner.  My mother had been friends with her daughter, Hilda, who had multiple sclerosis and died fairly young.  But my mother and I continued to visit Mrs. Stoner, a widow.  She had a wonderful grandfather clock with a moon face that revolved according to the time or day or month or something.  She also had a long, narrow overgrown garden behind her house.  There was a fountain that was activated by pushing a T-stick.  And she had parakeets.  After getting my mother's ok, she surprised me with my own parakeet one birthday.  Pepi, a little green guy all my own.

Rhoda Tuck was the head librarian at the library in Elizabethtown, PA, where I did most of my growing up.  Mary Karnes, a neighbor, introduced me to volunteering at the library when I was a young teen.  Mary knew how much I loved books and thought this would be a good way for me to help out.  She was right.  Mrs. Tuck had great stories about driving a bookmobile through the wilds of  Chester County.  She and Mary encouraged me in my reading and with my curiosity about the world, showing me how I could satisfy it with books.  (By the way, if Mary happens to read this, I didn't consider her an old woman back then.)

Jean Withers was tall and smoked a lot and wore trousers.  My mother never wore trousers, so I saw Jean as worldly and exotic.  She was also a widow and lived with a woman friend on a small farm,  where they raised sheep and had dogs and cats.  Animals were always a magnet for me.  Mom would take me out in the spring to see the lambs frolicking.  I was too young to know that shortly they'd be tiny lamb chops.  How could I have waited so long to become a vegan?!

My point is that I think I was lucky to have had all these old women in my life.  These women were all kind to a little girl who talked too much and could get into trouble at the drop of a hat.  They all had time for me and took the time to share their stories and to listen to mine.  I look around today and don't see old women like that anymore.  Old women now seem to stay active if they're able, playing golf, travelling, doing things they put off while raising families.  Or they're in poor health, tucked away in a nursing home, as my mother finally was.  But even if they were around, would children today, with their electronic buddies, their sensory overload, be interested in spending time with them?

I'm glad I grew up when I did, where I did, and with all those wonderful old women.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Out and About - But I Do Read, Too

This has been, for me, a busy week.  I'll be the first to admit that I no longer like travelling, even short trips.  There are lots of reasons, but I won't bore you.

But on Sunday, we took the short drive to Wilmington, Delaware, to Winterthur, the du Pont home and museum.  It's a huge country house, 145 rooms, most of which are not on the tour.  The house is preserved as it would have been in about 1929  -  roughly the same post-WWI time period as the past season of  Downton Abbey.  Henry du Pont, the collector, was also a horticulturist, and the grounds and gardens reflect his skill.  It was rainy the day we went, so we'll have to go back on a nicer day to enjoy the gardens.

In fact, until next January, there's a wonderful exhibit of the costumes from the TV show Downton Abbey.  Photos except videos were allowed, but I never remember to take them.  You'll have to go here   to get an idea of what it's like and when to go see it.  I highly recommend a visit if you're in the area.  See the exhibit before you tour the house or you may come down with museum fatigue, as we did.  The exhibit compares life in a house like Downton Abbey to life in the country home of a wealthy American family at the same time period.  I'd love to have been a weekend guest at either home.

Tuesday, we went to the National Clock and Watch Museum in Columbia, PA.  Go here to find out the particulars.  This is a fascinating place if you have any interest in clocks or watches.  We both like clocks.  I love mechanical clocks, the kind you see in Europe, with little people popping out and about.  I have a cuckoo clock I bought when we were in Germany in 1988 and I will admit to standing in front of it with a stupid smile on my face  when the little bird comes out to cuckoo.

This museum currently has an exhibit of James Bond watches, which is fun.  The clock you can't miss is the Engle Clock.  A local inventor and watchmaker spent twenty years making this masterpiece, from about 1850-something until 1876.  It's 11' tall, 8' wide, and 3' deep.  At various times, Jesus and the Apostles appear, the three Marys appear, the devil pops out, the three stages of man (don't tell Shakespeare) come rotating out, angles sing, and Molly Pitcher reviews the troops.  I'm sure I've forgotten some of the figures.  It's awesome!

But I prefer reading to travelling.  I've come full circle.  I read voraciously as a child and youth, really all my life.  Then I decided it was time to do or see as many things as I'd been reading about.  I was fortunate enough to be able to travel a lot in the 1980s, so I'm satisfied that I've seen as much of the world as I care to see.  I've returned to reading.

Currently, I'm back in history with The Count of Monte Cristo, I just finished the latest Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway mystery, I started a Val McDermid mystery, Retribution, but I can't always stomach her books.  I'm also reading a biography of Ngaio Marsh and the letters of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell.  Several people have read, reviewed, and enjoyed the newly republished John Bude mysteries.  I have them on my Kindle and am looking forward to trying them.