Collecting Memories

It all started with my new job.

We were responsible for the marketing for a wine festival, then the fourth largest in the country. I started that job only days before the event and barely knew what was expected of me, let alone what was the protocol at a wine tasting. One of the agency’s account executives taught me about sipping the wine, swirling it around in my mouth and spitting it back. That’s the proper thing to do at a wine tasting. It’s also a little unseemly.

Each of the guests, and the publicity team members were all guests, was given a hand-painted pewter winestopper and a small bottle of Pinot Grigios. What happened to the wine I’ve long forgotten, but that stopper started my bottlestopper collection, and what a collection it is.

bottlestoppers
The first winestopper I ever got is the one in the front row on the far right — the latest is also in the front row, but on the far left.

There are only ten, but each is a work of art. Or not — a few are very commercial. But the rest are made of finest crystal, hand-spun glass or, like the first, pewter. They are beautiful.

The second stopper I added to my collection was another hand-painted pewter piece my mom had received as a gift from a man she briefly dated. It’s the only one that’s been used. After that, I went to craft fairs, specialty shops and most recently, Pier One, to find the latest addition.

There’s the Map of the World, bought with a friend visiting me from overseas. The two made of Murano blown glass, given by different friends in the same year. The leaf I bought with my friend Karen.

The Versaci Medusa Head crystal stopper is the showpiece of my collection. My mom gave it to me years ago, and I treasure it. She also gave me the Arkansas Razorbacks souvenir bottle stopper for the other end of the class spectrum (it has none).

For years I searched for a way to display them, and finally my mom found a bottlestopper display rack, which she gave me a few Christmases ago. Or for my birthday. I forget exactly. It took awhile to find the space to set the whole thing up, but finally, I have it.

It reminds me of better times, of lost and lasting friendships, of challenges that seemed overwhelming yet were inevitably overcome. People who might otherwise be forgotten are brought to mind, and I smile at the memory.

The irony, although it will help preserve these pieces, is I rarely, if ever, drink wine, or any other alcohol, for that matter. But I love the stoppers.

Collections tell stories. They are worth more than their pieces. They are our history.

A Little Less Class, A Little More Kitsch

While my hand is healing, I’m re-publishing some favorite posts you may not have seen before. Here’s a piece from June, 2015:

If we’re lucky our homes will never look precisely decorated, because along the way we’ll accumulate campy pieces of kitsch,  treasured objects that speak to our hearts, and we’ll have to display them.

Ah, FranciscoFor me, it was an ashtray given as a joke by some family member, probably my mom or brother. It had a black plastic base with a hand-painted metal flamenco dancer screwed into the middle. Joke was on them. I loved it.

I don’t smoke, and guests in my home aren’t allowed to either, so instead I loaded it with red cinnamon candy and proudly set it on my coffee table.

No one, but no one, saw the beauty in Francisco the Fleet-Footed Flamenco Dancer that I did. It was frequently suggested I replace him with something a bit, shall we say, classier. I really didn’t see how Francisco fell short. (Okay, I did, but love is kind.)

Then I got a roommate. She was appalled, and went as far as trying to enlist my mother’s help to “get rid of that thing.” Mom warned her it was useless. Thus began a minor battle between my roommate and me.

“People will think it’s okay to smoke,” she’d say.

“That’s why there’s candy in there.” I’d reply.

“The colors aren’t right in this room,” she’d try later, standing in the living room as I walked down the hall.

“It’s so small, it’s an accent piece, it doesn’t matter,” I called back.

I never feared for Francisco’s safety, however, until I came home one day while she was on a business trip. He lay on his side on the coffee table, completely twisted off the base.

“Ooooh NOOOOO!” I cried. She forever denied it, but all the evidence said that woman had hired a damn assassin to do her dirty work while she was away.

I immediately called my friend Bud and asked if he could solder the pieces together. Within hours, Francisco sat upright in his proper place again. But I was resigned to the fact he needed a new home, somewhere safer in the apartment.

My kitschy little ashtray went into a box and stayed there for I don’t know how many years. He resurfaced every time I moved, but never made it onto the coffee table again. Eventually he disappeared.

I miss Francisco. Everything in my living room now is so…classy. It could use a little lesser art.

Image credit: (shadow image) © adrenalinapura – DollarPhotoClub.com

the elusive perfect gift

I’ve completed my Christmas shopping. In fact, I was done before Thanksgiving.

giftsNow, before any of you say (sarcastically or otherwise), “Well, good for you!” or mutter under your breath, “I hate you” here’s the whole truth: I only had to buy Christmas gifts for one person.

That’s one of the few advantages of being truly broke, the burden of picking the perfect gift is lifted. Nobody expects gifts from you. In fact, they don’t want them. My family knows I struggle to pay my utility bills, especially this time of year, and they couldn’t really enjoy anything I spent money on. Their concern would go so far as the money spent to mail the gifts to them.

At the same time it makes me incredibly sad. These are the people who are doing everything they can to help me get back on my feet, financially, emotionally, whatever I may need. They’ve been there for me in what was truly my darkest hour, suffered silently imagining what I was going through, and believed in me no matter what the cost.

My relationship with my mom has been strong for years, but events of recent years have established and reinforced a healthier, closer bond with both my dad and my brother. While times have been terrible, results, at least some, have been overwhelmingly good.

I long for the day I’m able to pay them back, if only in the simplest of ways, a Christmas gift or two.

Of course I have no idea what I’d get them. My brother lives on one coast, my dad on the other, my mom in the Upper Midwest, me in the South. We couldn’t be more widely dispersed, that is, in this nation, and as such, we don’t really know what gifts would be most appreciated by the other. Not even what gift certificates would be preferred.

Not to say anyone fails in their gift-giving. We figure it out and do just fine. It’s just that those special gifts you know someone would value because you’ve spent time with them elude me.

So this year I’m looking for a way to say “thank you” and “I love you” that will cost me what I can afford and be valued by the recipients.

Knowing me, I’ll think of that perfect gift in January. Fortunately, my brother’s birthday is just a month later.

giving girl

 

what’s in a name?

Growing up with a not-so-common name meant finding something personalized was going to be a noteworthy event.

That never happened. Of course someone could pay to print my name on a t-shirt or pen, but you didn’t find one in a store ready to go. I can’t explain why that mattered, but it did. A lot. For my friends with unusual names, such as Fonda, it mattered too. So I know I’m not alone in this.

Belinda Blackberry sm
I’ve heard the Tip-Top popsicle band has undergone some changes over the years, and Belinda Blackberry retired a few years ago.

My brother knew it was important to me, and when he had his chance to get me something pre-personalized, if you will, he went to unusual lengths to get it.

He was backpacking in New Zealand, and there in the grocery store window was a poster advertising “the latest fruity member of the popsicle band,” Belinda Blackberry.

With her slick haircut and wide-eyed smile, this singing sensation’s picture was destined to hang on the walls of my apartment. There was no doubt.

It took some persuasion and few phone calls to the right people, but my brother convinced the bewildered Tip-Top distributor to give it to him. Apparently the name Belinda is far more common in New Zealand than it is in America, so this man was skeptical of my brother’s insistence I would value the poster because it had my name on it.

I bet that man would be shocked, and maybe get a good laugh, if he knew that today, some thirty years later, this ad has been framed and now hangs over my desk at home, to keep me cheery on gloomy days.

No one could appreciate it more than me, for the name as well as the inconvenience & expense my brother was willing to go through to get it mailed to me. And oh yes, the pure camp value of the ad itself.

Thanks go to Tip-Top products, New Zealand’s premier producer of ice cream products & frozen treats. And they know nothing about this post. I’m just sincerely grateful they gave my brother that poster!

my best gifts received, part one

In high school, my friend Sue gave me an ornament for Christmas. I remember being a bit disappointed. It wasn’t much of a gift in my 15-year-old estimation.

angel ornamentSue assured me I’d value it more each year. What she didn’t know was her friendship had far greater value.

At a time when I was awkward and insecure, she made me feel important. The first time I met her was as the new kid in sixth grade. I huddled alone in the corner of the playground, the only girl wearing a dress, waiting for class to start.

Shaking, my back against the brick wall, hands clasped tightly together, I was wishing I’d worn jeans as my mom suggested. All these kids had gone to school together since kindergarten, I was sure of it. I’d never fit in.

Sue with her pigtails & bows and another girl, Nada, approached me.

“Are you new?” they asked in unison. We all giggled.

“Yes!” I said, incredibly happy someone had noticed me.

Turned out we were in the same class, with the same scary teacher. They gave me the scoop. She was fat (apparently important information for sixth-graders) and this was her first teaching job.

I don’t know if I was the friend to her she never stopped being to me.

The next summer Sue’s mom was killed in a plane accident. Her father remarried soon after, and certainly the adjustment must have been hard for her. I don’t know if I was the friend to her she never stopped being to me.

A seventh-grade diary entry early in the school year noted she seemed okay. At least I wondered how she was doing. I hope I asked her about it, gave her a chance to talk. I don’t remember.

In high school, my mental health problems arose. As I started to lose confidence, gain weight and sink into a series of deep depressions, she did her best to make me feel better. “You look real nice today,” she’d tell me on days when my dirty hair was held back with a scarf or my outfit played up the extra pounds. I saw through it and appreciated her thoughtfulness. It meant I had a friend.

Every Christmas I think of her and cry a little, missing our friendship and how much it meant to me.

The last time I saw her was about a year after we graduated. I was walking around a lake near my home and she came from the opposite direction, with a boyfriend, I think.

She was genuinely happy to see me. We had an enthusiastic and chatty catch-up conversation, then moved on in our separate walks. I haven’t seen her since.

I’ve tried to look her up, with no success. Every Christmas I see that ornament, think of her and cry a little, missing our friendship and the opportunity to tell her how much it meant to me.

Still means to me.


 

Photo Credit: (background) © Diana Rich; (ornament) © Stuart Monk, both — DollarPhotoClub.com

jaunty…or, my best gifts given, part two. my best gifts received, always.

Ten years ago my friendship with Mary began, and two years ago it ended when she passed away at the age of 53.

Mary had outlived the odds from the day she was born, when her birth mother was told she wouldn’t make it more than six months. Later, her adoptive parents were told the same thing repeatedly throughout her childhood — and as an adult, Mary heard it so often she stopped telling her husband, Mike.

Mary was one of those people who had hundreds of “best friends.” Selbu Modern - pink & gray tamShe would do whatever she could for any of them, including me. She was gutsy and kind. When she went into the hospital for what turned out to be the last time, Mike asked me to make her a “jaunty beret” because her treatment had caused much of her hair to fall out, and she was self-conscious about it.

I immediately set out to find the right pattern and right yarn — something soft for what I imagined might be sensitive skin — and knit up this little hat here.

Actually, this is the second hat I knit in this pattern. I never took a picture of the first one, which went to Mary. When I asked Mike if she liked it, he said she hadn’t had a chance to try it on. After a short time, I caught on. She was too sick for this to matter the least bit.

She maybe never saw the hat at all, or the slippers I included with it. However, I don’t feel anything but gratitude I had a chance to show her my love by knitting this for her, in the off-chance she knew about it.

Last week another Mary in my life died, one month shy of her 41st birthday. It was stunningly sudden. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been entirely surprised, however, for this Mary had lost her eldest son ten years ago to leukemia, and hadn’t been the same since. In many ways she’d moved on beautifully, but her heartache showed itself quietly. It’s possible that pain influenced the way she cared for herself. I don’t know, and it would be wrong for me to assume.

Kims Slippers red rose IIOne day on impulse I gave her a pair of slippers I’d knit from a pattern I designed. She started to cry.

“You don’t know what this means to me,” she said.

They were only slippers, so I really didn’t, but I was touched it meant so much. And oh-so-glad I’d done it. If my one small gesture made even a tiny part of her life better, I only wish I could have done a hundred times more. She was special and deserved to know it.

I’m lucky I have a skill I can use to show my love to others, and far luckier for those I have to receive those gifts. Rest in peace, my friends, your suffering is over. You were a gift and a blessing to me. My life is better because you were in it.

a little less class, a little more kitsch

If we’re lucky our homes will never look precisely decorated, because along the way we’ll accumulate campy pieces of kitsch,  treasured objects that speak to our hearts, and we’ll have to display them.

Ah, FranciscoFor me, it was an ashtray given as a joke by some family member, probably my mom or brother. It had a black plastic base with a hand-painted metal flamenco dancer screwed into the middle. Joke was on them. I loved it.

I don’t smoke, and guests in my home aren’t allowed to either, so instead I loaded it with red cinnamon candy and proudly set it on my coffee table.

No one, but no one, saw the beauty in Francisco the Fleet-Footed Flamenco Dancer that I did. It was frequently suggested I replace him with something a bit, shall we say, classier. I really didn’t see how Francisco fell short. (Okay, I did, but love is kind.)

Then I got a roommate. She was appalled, and went as far as trying to enlist my mother’s help to “get rid of that thing.” Mom warned her it was useless. Thus began a minor battle between my roommate and me.

“People will think it’s okay to smoke,” she’d say.

“That’s why there’s candy in there.” I’d reply.

“The colors aren’t right in this room,” she’d try later, standing in the living room as I walked down the hall.

“It’s so small, it’s an accent piece, it doesn’t matter,” I called back.

I never feared for Francisco’s safety, however, until I came home one day while she was on a business trip. He lay on his side on the coffee table, completely twisted off the base.

“Ooooh NOOOOO!” I cried. She forever denied it, but all the evidence said that woman had hired a damn assassin to do her dirty work while she was away.

I immediately called my friend Bud and asked if he could solder the pieces together. Within hours, Francisco sat upright in his proper place again. But I was resigned to the fact he needed a new home, at best somewhere safer in the apartment.

My kitschy little ashtray went into a box and stayed there for I don’t know how many years. He resurfaced every time I moved, but never made it onto the coffee table again. Eventually he disappeared.

I miss Francisco. Everything in my living room now is so…classy. It could use a little lesser art.


Image credit: (shadow image) © adrenalinapura – DollarPhotoClub.com

my best gifts given, part one

In fourth grade our student teacher, Miss Trillman, got married mid-semester.

As a wedding gift from the class, our regular teacher gave us each a 3×5 index card and instructed us to print our favorite recipe on it. It didn’t matter what it was, as long as it was our favorite. As I recall, every one of my fellow classmates gave Miss T the most complex recipe their mom was able to prepare. The cards were carefully printed, and no doubt just as carefully chosen, by their mothers. I took the idea to heart and instead got my mom to calculate the ingredients for my absolute favorite meal of all time, bologna & cheeses.

These aren’t simply bologna & cheese sandwiches, sliced and placed on bread. They are made from polish sausage, cheddar cheese, onions, ketchup and probably one or two other things I don’t remember, all put through the meat grinder and turned into a gooey delight. When Mom suggested B&Cs for dinner, the whole family went shopping with her, just to make sure she didn’t forget any of the ingredients. Each of us had one thing we picked out and brought back to the shopping cart, making the trip a quick one. Heaven forbid Mom should have too much other shopping to do. Our patience was limited.

Once blended, the mixture was then spread on lightly toasted bread (both sides) and broiled until it bubbled a little and the edges and part of the top turn just a little black. It takes a little practice to know just exactly how thick to spread it — too thin and it’s dry, too thick and it’s, well, too thick. But this is the best sandwich ever for kids and adults alike. It takes ordinary ingredients and turns them into something with a sharp taste, better than spaghetti or hamburgers.

If you’re a ten-year-old girl and have just an average appetite, you eat two. If you’re ravenous, you eat three and maybe regret it a little, because it’s too much in the end. The best part is, no matter how hungry the rest of my family was, the recipe made enough for plenty of leftovers, and bologna & cheese holds up well for a couple of days. So two more days of great lunches to look forward to, and you’re still not tired of them.

Miss Trillman, who became Mrs. Peck (distant relative to the actor Gregory Peck), told the class my recipe was her & her husband’s favorite. They all protested because their recipes were fancier and therefore, better, but she told them mine was best because it was perfect everyday food and besides, her husband was a big man with a big appetite and these sandwiches easily filled him up. Another bonus, he liked preparing them, and after a long day with 30 fourth-graders, she didn’t always feel like cooking. We groaned at that comment, but frankly, I’d never doubted my choice would win out over the others.

Image Credit: © Graphic Stock