How Did This Happen? June27, 2022
In 1991, I was thinking about retiring from my career in costume designing. The idea of getting out of the wild and stressful world of dress rehearsals and singers who couldn't find their pants but were supposed to be out on stage, RIGHT NOW! seemed very appealing. My husband Tom and I had just built our dream log house on 20 acres of woods, north of Duluth and we had plans to hunker down by the fire and read for the rest of our lives. However, my friend, Jan had other ideas. She was convinced that I should become a quilter. Whaaaat? Was she crazy? I wasn't interested in those calico log cabins. I had drapes to make, and trails to cut and a garden to plan.
My friend knows how to get around me. She invited me to a quilt show to meet her visiting cousin from Oregon and I really didn’t feel I could say “no”. I didn’t know anything about quilts except I had heard some women talking about having made quilts as teenagers and entering them into the State Fair. A couple said their grandmothers taught them hand piecing when they were five. I had none of that. As far as I knew, none of my ancestors had touched patchwork, confining their sewing activities to clothing and yes, drapes. So, when I walked into the show and saw my first actual "show" quilt, I was surprised. I was stunned. This wasn't what I expected. This was an amazing piece of artwork. Nobody told me quilts could be like that. I left the show with my basic rotary rulers in one hand and a book of Art Quilts in the other. I had no idea how to merge the two, but I've never looked back. And I've never been sorry. I went home and made my first quilt. It was really awful. Truly. Beyond “unfortunate”.
In talking to other quilters, I have found that most of us started sewing when we were 6 to 8 years old, and we started with clothes for our dolls. Those little bits of clothing had teeny weeny seams, but we also had teeny weeny fingers. Most of us moved on to making real clothes, which required great poise and bravery to wear out in public - "why yes, I made this mis-matched plaid skirt that keeps riding up around my butt--why do you ask?"
After clothing our entire families in mis-matched plaid, some of us (me in particular) veered off to making costumes--first for our children, then for local theater productions and then for professional Costume Houses, who would rent your pieces out until they were rags! Obviously, people of different height, weight, girth, bust size, neck size and inseam length would be wearing these costumes that you had just made, so they had to be adjustable and made with LARGE seams, so they could be let out - or taken in - or put up or taken down. When I say LARGE, I'm talking a 2 1/2 to 3 inch seam allowance, instead of the normal 5/8”.
So, what does this have to do with my first quilt, you say? Well, when I scurried home after the Quilt show, determined to start my first quilt the next day--I hadn’t a clue about 1/4 inch seams, which are one of the Quilt Police Rules in quiltmaking. Mine were four times that wide. I wasn’t making a quilt, I was making a shelter for the homeless, here.
I knew what colors I wanted to use, and I didn't have any of those. So, off I went shopping at Minnesota Fabrics, where I always shopped for costume fabric. I was thinking burgundy, navy and off-white. I found a navy cotton with a white polka dot--that was a good start. The burgundy was more difficult. I could only find the shade I wanted in rayon--but, hey! the color was perfect! The off-white was even harder, but there was a really nice upholstery fabric (on the sale table!) that worked pretty well--and had some texture to it. Plus, I knew that at home, I had an ivory silk Japanese kimono with a small burgundy and navy print on it that I'd bought for a costume. I could take that apart. Did someone tell me quilts had to be 100% cotton? How boring is that? Did I wash any of it? Was I supposed to? My Art Quilt book didn't say so. Boy! the rayon wiggled a lot when I was trying to cut it into strips and the upholstery fabric sort of shredded--but I forged ahead--because I was going to become a QUILTER!
After a bit of time--okey, a large bit of time--I finished the top and folded it carefully and laid it out in the bay window in our bedroom--where it slowly faded from burgundy and navy to Pepto Bismal pink and mud. It was truly awful. Poor thing. I couldn't finish it--I didn't know how to do the quilting. To make matters worse, when we were moving back to town, this quilt disappeared. Packed up, misplaced, was kidnapped, I don’t know. Personally, I think it ran away from home. And I don’t blame it one little bit. Poor poor thing.
Next time-To Show or Not to Show
Life’s Little Mysteries -June 14, 2022
One of my all-time favorite comedians happens to be Steven Wright, he of the deadpan delivery of Life’s questions and answers. Example: Steven-“I called Telephone Information, I can’t find my socks.” Operator- “They’re behind the couch.”
So, do you think the operator knows the answer to these?
Why are there never any ball point pens to be found, when your kids are still living at home, but when they move away, suddenly drawers-full of them appear?
Same with screwdrivers. And, how come you don’t remember to get the screwdriver out of the drawer until you are at the top of the ladder, with a mouthful of screws?
Why, when someone calls with complicated directions to their house, can you only find four non-functioning pens, a broken pencil and a piece of Christmas tissue? I once wrote an important message from the bank with a purple quilting marker. You know, the kind that disappears in about an hour.
Why does your cellphone die just as you are about to complete a two-page Garden Supply order? Related to that-why does your Kindle shut down just before you are going to find out who-done-it?
Why hasn’t anyone written a warning instruction manual for new brides, containing things like:
*Three full boxes of uncooked spaghetti noodles are probably too many to cook for four people.
*Do not put corn cobs down the garbage disposal. You'll be sorry.
*Never use dishwasher detergent in the clothes washing machine.
*There are little secret paper bags of turkey entrails hiding inside the bird. You should probably remove them before roasting it. Unless you like your entire bird tasting like liver.
*No matter what the recipe calls for, do NOT pour out your Christmas peanut brittle onto your kitchen tabletop to cool. Even if it’s a Formica table. Even if you grease it. Just don’t. And don’t use green food coloring in it because you think it will be festive. It won’t be.
How come people always know when you are doing something dumb and they catch you in the act? Like drinking the orange juice out of the plastic carton, because you didn’t want to wash another glass? Sniffing your armpits to make sure your deodorant is still working. Knocking over the bakery rack because you were digging through the hamburger buns at the very back looking for the freshest ones.
How come people I’m traveling with keep asking me to be Navigator? I have been fired from that position more times than I can remember. I always try to give the driver an overview of the turns, stoplights and street names, just so they’ll be prepared. “No, nonononono, just give me one step at a time! I can’t remember that far out!”, they say. Then, I hear, “We must have gone too far—I know it’s not this far. Could you please get out the map and tell me where we are?” Map? I can’t even find it in the glove compartment that fast, let alone get it unfolded. So, there went our turn and I hear, “I thought you’d been here, before.”
How come, when someone asks you for a restaurant recommendation and you gush over this place where you had the great pasta dish last week, does it turn out that the regular chef didn’t make it to work that night and sent his nephew, Winslow, instead? Winslow works at the local 7-11 and knows how to turn on the bratwurst grill.
Why, when you have agonized over upholstery fabric selections for a month or more, purchased and rejected enough samples to slipcover your Volkswagen Beetle and asked everyone you know for their opinion, do you get a sincere apology note from the fabric shop saying they are so sorry, but the fabric you ordered 14 yards of only has 2 yards left on the bolt?
Why do sewer systems back up, water pipes burst and electricity go out specifically on Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings?
How come, when you finally make that recipe for the kolachkes your Mother used to make and they come out perfectly after many years of trying, you misplace the piece of paper and never find it again?
You get all dressed up for a special occasion, wearing the new outfit you are pretty sure looks good on you. You have a great time, having a nice dinner and laughing all evening, life of the party. When you get home, you look in the mirror and see the toothpaste spatters across your front and your hair sticking up in the back, like Alphalpha in the “Our Gang“ comedies.
AND -speaking of hair,
Why does your hair ALWAYS look wonderful the day before your haircut appointment, and just awful the next day, after you have called to postpone and make a new appointment?
Why when you get up early, shower, fix your hair and make it to your eye appointment just in the nick of time, does the receptionist look at you quizzically and say, ”Hi Mrs. Myers, nice to see you, but your appointment is 8:30 *tomorrow* morning.”
Why do you always lose at least two boxes of “stuff” with every house move? Where does it go? And why don’t you notice until a year later, when you are looking for the turkey baster? I wonder if it’s behind the couch.
I’m assuming that some of these things have happened to you and may cause a small chuckle. Unfortunately, almost every single one has happened to me.
Next time- The World of Quilting, where everybody’s “NICE”.
How Much Is It Worth and What Is It, Anyway?
Pricing items for my antique booth and tagging them for sale is my very least-favorite thing to do. Finding out all about that item and what it’s worth, is one of my very favorite things to do.
You know. You’ve all had garage sales where, unless you put similar items in a box and mark it “Take it All-$2.00”, you wind up putting those little sticky circles on baby socks and pickle forks and a garage-full of stuff you’re hoping will disappear by the end of the day. In the 1970s, I used to do a yearly garage sale with two friends, and we would take bets on what was going to sell and what wasn’t. The plastic flowers were always the first thing out the door. Plastic, not silk. The valuations and identifications for the sale stuff was sketchy, at best. One person would hold something up and another would ask, “What is it? Ohhhhh, okey. How about a dollar?”
Selling antiques and collectibles is a whole ’nother animal. You more or less have to know what you are talking about and be able to defend your opinion. Or have enough information to instill confidence in your buyer that they are at least getting something close to what they think they are getting. And you have to get that description, the inventory number, Dealer ID and price on a little bitty tag that won’t be bigger than the item itself. And don’t forget to mention if something is wrong with it, because it will come back to bite you, if you don’t.
The customer likes to pick it up, check it for damage, try it on, try it out, measure it, see if it fits, and see if their companion/husband/wife/other approves of this purchase. Usually that person provides the dissenting voice or the comic relief. And they always say “But, where are you going to put it?” About 20 years ago, I learned to say, “If I want it badly enough, I’ll find a place when I get it home”. There’s also, “If you like it, take it home. It will settle in.”
I said before, it’s important when buying things to sell, that you recognize an item as being “Something”. You don’t have to know what, as long as you know it is not “nothing”. Unless you are an “off the top of your head” expert on everything, you take it home and start researching. I have lots of books on many subjects of collectibles-old advertising tins, vintage celluloid jewelry, beaded purses, Scandinavian glassware, Art pottery, you name it. BUT, the thing that has happened is, in one word-eBay. Values have plummeted from the book prices because, if you want Weller Art Pottery, there are 386 pieces of it online at any given time. No longer hard to find or HTF in the antique vernacular. If you are looking for a value on one of the online auction or selling sites, you can’t look at the “asking” prices. Those are the owner’s “pie-in-the-sky-this is how much I would like to get” price. Ebay has, up in the right-hand corner, a place to find similar items that have sold, and for how much. Just click on “advance” and Reality comes up. You were so sure this glass rabbit was Scandinavian Iitala, hand-blown, or possibly Lalique, worth maybe $65 to $100, so you look him up online-nope! Imports, made in China, $14.95 new. You just paid $15 at a thrift store, and there are 8 of them selling for as low as $4.00 plus shipping on eBay. Whoops! So much for knowing it’s “something”. Never trust rabbits.
There are many theories about how to sell antiques. Some dealers go for the messy, “chuck it from the doorway and see where it lands” theory, hoping customers will think there must be a treasure the dealer has overlooked in all that mess. Others are neat, tidy, well-dusted and arranged by categories, thinking the busy customer will not take the time to rummage around, searching for that thing they always look for. Other dealers sprinkle similar objects, maybe vintage flashlights, around their booth, hoping the customer will think they are one-of-a-kind. I have a large booth filled with Persian rugs but at one time, I had a small booth filled with Persian rugs and to relieve the crowded-ness, I laid some of them on the floor. I noticed that people were avoiding my booth, walking right past, even though there were carved boxes, jewelry and other interesting things. I said to one “C’mon in” and he said, “oh no. I don’t want to step on that beautiful rug.” Huh. One thing I have learned, however- if I go in and push stuff around and rearrange, I will have a surge in selling. As long as there’s not a Persian rug on the floor.
Some dealers mark their items high, so they can “come down” and give the buyer a deal. Others have a percentage they will give off, but only if the buyer asks. Some do a once or twice-yearly sale and some go by “book” prices. That whole thing gives me a headache. I just double how much I paid for it and mark it “FIRM”, period. That pays the booth rent and makes the “tagging time” go faster.
Next time-Life's Little Mysteries
Claudia Myers column: One man’s treasure is another guy’s trash
We had a short history of buying furniture that was, let us say, out of the ordinary.
DULUTH — In 1969, we moved here and bought a big old Victorian house, complete with stained glass windows, antique chandeliers and a grand entrance staircase. We owned a few bits of furniture but not enough to fill even a quarter of this old house. New furniture was not an option, since the cost of that many pieces was prohibitive and also the 1960s were the hardrock maple Early American era. This house needed oversized carved walnut.
Then, I discovered estate sales. Rushing to get to a sale before closing time, I almost fell over the last piece of furniture left. Well, isn’t that strange? I wonder why that’s still here. Can’t believe no one had snapped up this amazing table. It had an octagon marble top held up by four hand-carved women with wings and large bosoms. I ask you — who wouldn’t want that in their living room? The person running the sale was eager to close and get the heck out of there. She noticed me hovering around the unusual table. “You can have it for $35,” she sang out. Oh boy! That did it! “Look what I found, Tom! A bird lady table!”
Since we had a short history of buying furniture that was, let us say, out of the ordinary, my husband didn’t even blink at a bird lady table. Back in 1961, our first year married, Tom and I had found a “treasure.” There it was, in the window of a secondhand store in Minneapolis: a massive solid oak Empire-style gentleman’s chair, complete with curved wood back, big carved lion claw feet, tattered leather upholstery and erupting springs. We were pretty excited about it and spent many Saturdays scrubbing and sanding on the poor old thing. We got it down to bare wood and stood there looking at it, wondering how you put back the springs and the padding. And where did you get the leather for the upholstery and how did you even get it on there, anyway? So, we loaded it back into the car and gifted it back to the same thrift shop that it came from.
Much of my antique furniture came from Sally, who had an in-house antique shop, about five streets over. She had walnut drop-front desks, marble topped dressers and Victrolas with brass horns. All things I loved. But, you couldn’t just buy whatever you wanted, willy nilly. There was protocol. You visited Sally’s shop, several times, each time hinting at things you might be interested in. Then, finally, Sally would reluctantly put your name on those things, (unless someone’s name was already on there) just in case she ever decided to sell them. No prices were ever discussed. Then, sometimes she would call you up and say, “You know that bedroom set you have your name on? Well you can come and get it, now. The price is $$$” — period, no bickering, no offers. You felt like you had won the lottery! You got to buy the bedroom set. Sally was a smart cookie.
In the 1970s, the American Academy of Dermatology, of which my husband was a member, had their annual winter meeting in Chicago. It was glorious! Staying at the Drake, eating at the Palmer House, getting there just in time to see the many-storied Marshall Fields Christmas tree go up in the center of the department store atrium! While Tom was in his meetings, I would go to the Art Institute and the Science Museum, and usually take a cab to the antique-shop neighborhood to look around. On a nasty, cold day, with wet snow blowing sideways, I found myself in an iffy neighborhood not too far from Old Town. I had already let the cab go a block or two back and the shop I really wanted to go to was locked. The sign said “To the Trade Only.” So I was standing there with my nose mashed against the window, probably looking very pitiful, when the owner poked his head out and said, “Why don’t you come in and warm up?” And that’s how we got the enormous, solid-oak sideboard with the carved people, ornate brasswork and marble top. Just like the bird lady table and the Victorian house, it was just hunkered down there, waiting for me. I asked if I could bring my husband the next day, just to see it. Tom’s first words were, “Well, if you want it, we’ll have to put off the kitchen remodeling another year.” I was astounded! I had no idea we could actually have it! When all 1,200 pounds of it arrived, it was just shy of hitting the 13-foot ceilings, but it couldn’t have been more perfect for the house.
Most of our oversized Victorian Renaissance furniture, including the prized sideboard, made the move to the log house that we built in 1990. And it worked beautifully with the massive Lodgepole Pine logs. But, 23 years later, when we moved back to town, into a one-level house, not only didn’t it fit with the 1950s Prairie Rambler style, it literally “didn’t fit” through the doors.
One thing leads to another, they say. Selling the furniture and other Victoriana led me to rent a booth at a local antique shop and I became a bona fide antique dealer, just like my mom.
Next time: Can I sell you this lovely piece of junk?
Claudia Myers column: A Jock I'm Not
Duluth News Tribune , April 19, 2022 04:32 PM
When I was growing up, there was a group of kids of all ages who hung together in my upstate New York neighborhood. It was a semi-rural area, a new development backed up to a farm. In the winter, we’d gang-up with snowball fights and sled down the hilly, seldom-used street. In the summer, we’d play hide-and-seek, vacant-lot baseball, and roam in the woods that, supposedly, went all the way to Pennsylvania.
Even though I was the youngest in the bunch and a girl besides, I wasn’t a prissy little girl. I could pick nightcrawlers and whittle an arrow with my pocket knife as well as any 12-year-old boy. But, I wasn’t what you’d call athletic “draft material” either. I was always the very last one picked for our baseball games. Always.
That was bad enough, but there was an unspoken rule that whoever wound up with me on their team got compensated in some fashion, that is: extra bats, handicap points, maybe even cookies, because no question, they were going to lose. You might ask why they didn’t just shoo me away, not let me play? Because they were nice kids, that’s why.
This black cloud followed me to high school, where I was the girl in gym class who would run up to the soccer ball, trip over it and fall down. Yup, that was me, in the baggy, one-piece gym suit. You remember those: navy blue, snapped up the front, one-size-fits-most! We tried really hard to fix them up, sneaking stuff into class: a nice little stretchy belt, a pretty silk scarf knotted under the collar, couple sparkly scatter pins.
But noooooo, the sharp-eyed gym teacher, Miss Gianetti, policed the door and back you went. “No Nonsense-Out You Go-Four Times Around the Track-Gianetti.”
In those days, believe it or not, women were still playing half-court basketball. It was explained that women could run neither long enough nor far enough to cover the full court. We’ve been big fans of the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team since they started, and let me tell you, those women could skate 43 miles up and down, back and forth and still have enough steam left to get dressed up for a rock concert.
Maybe we just didn’t like running. Maybe we just didn’t feel like running. In the 1950s, most women didn’t sweat, you know. There was that thing about “glowing” rather than sweating. We (big generalization, here) didn’t run, lift weights, do aerobics or even swim laps just for the exercise. What a silly thought. And by and large, we were pretty thin, until we were over 45, when we became “stout.”
We did our walking to get somewhere, usually carrying something: groceries, books, a kid. We swam for pleasure and to show off how good we looked in our new swimsuit. We mowed the lawn and dug in the garden, maybe played a little tennis or badminton, but not to get our heart rates up. The only people I knew who ran with purpose, every day, rain or shine, were on the track team and usually boys. They were fun to watch. They sweated.
However, did you know that in 1955, in my hometown, you could get excused from gym class if you were a cheerleader? I guess they figured cheerleading was enough exercise for a girl.
So, I practiced and practiced and miraculously made the team. I had friends on the squad who could do flips, handstands and cartwheels. Whoa, not me! But, I was a loud yeller. I could jump up and down, wave my arms and so I did just fine, until I tripped and fell over the sideline benches, sprained my ankle and had to get carried off the field by the football team. Heh.
It's easy to see that I hadn’t inherited my dad’s athletic abilities — he who bowled in tournaments and played in several golf leagues. But, I took up golf anyway. What could happen to me in the wide open spaces of a golf course? And I could get out and do “guy stuff” with my dad, instead of staying home making potholders and making sweaters for my dog. Besides, it was refreshing to be out on the manicured course with the beautiful trees, ponds, sandy pockets and cute little bridges.
Trees on the right? Yep, I’m there!
Sand trap to the right of the green? Whoosh, ka-dunk, ka-dunk.
Water hazard just over the rise? Plop!
When my dad refused to play golf with me anymore, saying I had the worst “banana ball” he’d ever seen, I gave it up and sold the clubs.
But, everybody’s good at something, right? Me? Bowling! I know, hard to believe. But I could get everything moving in the right direction at the right time, zero in on that spot just to the right of the head pin with my atomic-red, marbleized, 14-pound ball and pow! So much fun!
Until my arthritic thumbs started dropping the ball behind me. When your team members quickly move behind the benches every time you stand up for your turn, it does tend to take the fun out. Gave it up, sold the ball. Back to sweaters for the dog.
Next time: Everybody’s junk is someone’s antique.
Claudia Myers column: Hazardous duty in Baltimore
Working in Baltimore was not all champagne and Bertha’s mussels.
April 06, 2022 10:01 AM
For those of you not familiar with dress rehearsals, they are the pits.
Usually, you have been up all the night before, fixing the problems that showed up in fittings that day, or completely rebuilding something the director decided wasn’t working. Getting everyone into their costumes, all at the same time, was like trying to put a whole herd of octopus (octopusses?) into three-piece suits … with ties. Usually, dress rehearsals culminated in big piles of alterations, “things” that had to be rushed out and found, and laundry, always laundry.
Fortunately, in Baltimore, where the opera performances I worked on took place, there was a whole platoon of people whose job it was to help get the production through dress rehearsal.
As I said last column, my job was to fly out to Baltimore, do the final fittings of the pieces I had made and sent, run the costumes through the dress rehearsals and then get all gussied up and attend opening night. My friend, John Lehmeyer, the director, would spend the entire opening night pacing back and forth the length of the lobby, getting his clues about how the performance was going by listening to the noises the audience was making. Then we’d go and squash down our anxiety with food until the reviews came in.
But working in Baltimore was not all champagne and Bertha’s mussels. Any construction or alterations were done at Jones’ costume house, on Howard (pronounced Haird) Street, where the people were wonderfully friendly, but the conditions were 18th century. The walls of the three-story ancient warehouse were single-layer brick. Winters were finger-numbing and summers were covered in sweat. The industrial sewing machines we used were way older than me and only sewed forward. But, picture the magic of being surrounded by Traviata ballgowns and Orioles mascots bird heads. Over there were authentic suits of armor, complete with mace, flail and longsword. Madam Butterfly silk kimonos, Renaissance uniforms and every Halloween costume of every character you ever wanted to be. Not one square inch that wasn’t occupied by a costume that could change your persona into someone else. Yes, magic!
The performances took place in the very old (1894) Lyric Opera House, which had started life as a music hall, featuring the Victorian songbird, Nellie Melba. The first few years I worked there, the old main-level private boxes with their heavy, fringed draperies, were still there. It took a while before someone finally told me about the night watchman who had been “done in” in one of the boxes and still appeared there, now and then. They said you could smell his cigar as he took his break in “his” box.
The theater dressing rooms were not exactly star quality and were down a level from the stage. There were matching, curved staircases, one on either side of the wings, leading to them, and I spent rehearsals racing up and down the stairs from one level to another. Until I was stopped short by a small, wizzled-up man with a huge air of authority bellowing at me, “Hey! Hey, you, girly!” He stomped over to me, as I wondered what I had done, now, and very gently removed the scissors that I always wore on a ribbon around my neck, handed them to me and said “Slow down, Huun.”
My main job, while I was working the rehearsals, was to stand next to the director, and take notes about anything having to do with costumes, that he was unhappy about. That trip, the Baltimore Opera was doing “Kismet” and the costumes were truly over-the-top. The main set piece was a 20-foot-tall, rotating Pike’s Peak of a mountain with stairways leading up and down, surrounded by a circular scrim fabric that could be lit so that the mountain appeared and disappeared. The 30-person chorus was arranged on the stairs, wearing the long robes and the very odd headpieces I had made from John’s sketches. They were hard skull caps supporting large, upstanding flashlights that shown off the tops of their heads, lighting the scrim from the inside. John, the director, turned to me and said, “I hate those headpieces. Take them off.” I said “Okey” and wrote in my notebook. Silence. “No, take them off now!” “What! Now!?” I squeaked. “Go!” he said. So, up on the stage I went, wrestled with the scrim and started climbing the stairways. The chorus was singing to lung capacity, as I snatched each person’s headpiece off and tossed them down. Some of the singers objected and tried to hang onto their headlamps with both hands. Others were angry about this deranged woman climbing all over their set and were hissing at me, “Get outta here!” I got back to my seat and John turned to me with a big-eyed look and said “Now what are we going to put on their heads?” Huh! I for sure knew who “we” was going to be.
Another trip, John was doing costumes and directing “Martha” for New York City Opera and we took the train from Baltimore to the Garment District in New York City to “shop the show.” After being on the train for that long, I needed to use a restroom, so, as we were hurrying through Grand Central Station, I started to veer off to the right, where it said “ladies,” only to find myself jerked up short with an “Oh no you don’t!”
“Uh uh, people have gotten kidnapped from that bathroom and I’m not losing you, now!”
“You’ll just have to hold it!”
Talk about hazardous duty!
Next time: “A Jock I’m Not”
In the 1970s, The Duluth Symphony was supporting a once-a-year, pull-out-all-the-stops Grand Opera Performance, complete with rented sets and costumes, the orchestra, opera chorus, soloists and up-and-comers from the New York City Opera Company plus a professional director to put the whole thing together. The year they did “Fledermaus”, the organization was missing their “wardrobe manager”. She had burnt out, after many years of unpacking and organizing the costumes, doing the fittings and the alterations, getting everyone into their rightful costumes and out on stage. They looked around and saw me doing much the same things for the Duluth Civic Ballet company and asked if I would jump in and help them out. And so I did.
The man who was directing the production had a reputation of using his immense imagination and lavish costume designs to accomplish his “over-the-top” versions of the old classic Opera stories. I had not met him, yet. The gorgeous costumes had arrived from A.T. Jones, a Baltimore Costume rental house and I was working away in the DECC wardrobe room, altering someone’s pants, when I felt a large presence fill up the doorway. There stood John Lehmeyer, guest director from the Baltimore Opera Company, scowling at me. He came in, poked around, checking how I had the costumes organized and examined some hair ornaments I had whipped up for the chorus, looked me over and made up his mind right then, that I was the one he’d been looking for, to build his hats, millinery and bring his wild costume sketches to life. And so I did.
My first set of hats for John was tame. They would be for “La Boheme”, performed by the Baltimore Opera Company and then owned by A.T. Jones, who would then rent them out until they fell apart. Now, I had watched my mom make her own hats in the 1950s. with the ready-made hat frames in funny, little shapes. However, Opera hats and headpiece frames have to be “made from scratch”, because the singers usually wear costumes that make them look “larger than life”. So they usually wear wigs—very large wigs—and their hats have to fit over the enlarged heads. Because I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, I made the frames from Ace Hardware wire screening, edged with folded masking tape to keep the pokey wires from jabbing me. I was sure the opera folks would think I was a real “Bumpkin” for using the wire screening, but no, they were impressed, because those hats were virtually indestructible. John was happy.
But, here I was, in Duluth, Minnesota, with a husband and children. We were not moving to Baltimore. So we worked it out like this: John would come to Duluth twice a year, at Christmas and in August and take up residence in one of our spare rooms, and relax. I’m sure we became a deduction on his income tax. For two months a year, he became “Uncle John”. He would shut himself away to do his costume sketches and study his librettos for the coming season. When he was ready, we would make a day trip to S.R. Harris Company, in Minneapolis, to gather the fabrics, trims and hardware needed for that years’ costumes. He would leave me with fabric swatches and costume sketches. And I would make the hats and headpieces, body armor, belts, Elizabethan ruffs, whatever went with the costumes. I would ship everything to Baltimore and then fly out to do the final fittings, work the dress rehearsals and go to opening night. I couldn’t work the actual performances because I was not union—I was just “John’s friend from Minnesota”. This cycle went on for about 22 years, two or three operas a year. I loved it. Yes, I did.
One memorable fitting was on a man singing the role of the villain, Dr. Faustus, who sells the magic eyes to the puppeteer smitten with his own doll creation . This six-foot-six bass/baritone was an imposing man, wearing a long cape and tall stovepipe hat that I had made. Someone took a picture of me standing up on a stepstool, doing his fitting. just before he unfurled the “Magic Cape” and showing the inside. It was covered with 3-dimensional eyeballs of every size and configuration. He strutted around, swishing the cape and you could tell-he loved it.
Another one was for a very famous soprano who would be costumed for “Kismet” in a sequined and painted body suit and a turban I had concocted, which sported a high cloud of wired ostrich feathers. She was late, but here she came. She rushed into the sewing studio, where we were all waiting, stripped off every stitch of her clothing, struck a pose and sang out “I’m here! Do me!”
And the Italian Diva singing “Aida” who loved my Cleopatra headpiece, made with a gilded rubber snake coiled on the front. She refused to take it off, even to wear the other two headpieces that went with her costume changes. She wore it to the “after the show” party. I think she wore it on the plane, back to Italy.
How could John know that I was going to love making his outrageous designs? But he was right and so I did.
Next time- Hazardous duty at the Lyric Opera House
Claudia Myers column: What makes you laugh?
It’s the opinion of a few people on Google that the humorous TV sitcom is dying. Why is that? Do we no longer think something that’s funny is important?
Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 6:00 am, Nov. 3, 2021
My husband would tell our adult kids: “Find someone who makes you laugh.”
Makes sense, but, why do we laugh at what we laugh at? I always thought I had a pretty cerebral sense of humor, yet I chortle and snort at the Laurel and Hardy movie that shows them trying to move a piano from a third-story narrow building. You just know the piano is not going to make it in one piece. But I know people who don’t think Laurel and Hardy are the least bit funny.
My husband and I have watched “The Producers” so many times, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder schmoozing little old ladies into supporting their flop Broadway musicals, and “Young Frankenstein,” with Peter Boyle as Frankenstein, in his top hat and tails, doing the soft shoe. I will admit that “Laugh In” doesn’t do it for me as much as it did 40 years ago, but “Pink Panther’s” Inspector Clouseau driving his car into the lake for the umpteenth time starts helpless laughter. All pretty slapstick, if you ask me.
Here’s my friend, Jan, and I in the fancy Minneapolis hotel elevator, visiting the Big City to celebrate our birthdays, talking to beat the band. Finally wondering, after 10 whole minutes, why we weren’t going anywhere. Huh! Hadn’t punched the “up” button because we were talking so hard. Uh, oh. Try not to make eye contact with all those people waiting for the elevator.
Same trip, we somehow set the timer on the TV. We’d click the “off” button, hop into bed, settle down — and the TV would blare back on. Get up, turn the TV off, hop into bed, settle, TV blaring. Over and over, until we were hysterically laughing and crying. We had to call room service to come up and turn off our television. How embarrassing!
MORE BY CLAUDIA MYERS:
Here I am, at a quilt retreat where I was requested to bring a multi-plug to use. Everything set up, machine, iron, light — but dang! Nothing would go on. Check everything — yep, all “devices” plugged in. Nothing working. Housekeeping came by and pointed out that I had plugged the multi-plug into the multi-plug. That’s when you sneak a look around to see if anyone noticed.
Facebook is a great source of “ha, ha ha’s!” Like the woman in a bathing suit and rubber shoes, shower cap on her head, clutching her closed-up ironing board under her arm and charging into the ocean. Caption: “Ironwoman Contest”.
Another one that reduces me to giggles is the big sheepdog seated at the computer, which shows a picture of a rowdy group of sheep. Caption: “Morty’s been working from home, these days.”
And the “True Meaning of Dogsledding” as the two dogs race uphill in the snow, flop on their sides and shimmy down the icy hillside. Again and again and again. That’s right up there with the backyard full of open cardboard boxes, each holding a cat. Caption: “The cat traps are working.”
It’s the opinion of a few people on Google that the humorous TV sitcom is dying. Why is that? Do we no longer think something that’s funny is important?
Are we so serious now, that we can’t see the silly humor in “Seinfeld’s” Elaine and her “Big Salad?" Can we ever say to someone “No soup for you!” without breaking up?
Forget the gory crime shows, the ridiculous “Make It In the Jungle for a Week Naked as a Jaybird” shows. Just think about the final closer of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the “Group Hug,” as a clump of six sniffling people “group-shuffled” their way over to the desk for the Kleenex box. Ha, ha, ha! Which makes you feel better?
How about Tim Conway, tiring of the long-winded speaker, climbing up on the banquet table, pulling the tablecloth over himself, sticking his thumb in his mouth and gently dozing off?
Or Carol Burnett, in the green drapery dress from a Scarlet O’Hara take-off, but with the curtain rods left in the shoulders.
“I Love Lucy” and Ethel working in the candy factory, keeping up with the accelerating assembly line by stuffing chocolate creams into their mouths.
Tell me a “Sven and Ole” joke and I’m your friend forever. Cerebral? I think not!
So, here’s a little joke to hopefully brighten your day, with a guffaw, a chuckle or maybe just a snort! Ahem.
My friend Georgia is a loopy, all-in grandmother, crazy about her only grandson, Georgie. She had him out for a walk by the ocean when he was 3 years old and oh, no! A huge wave came up and sucked him in! He was gone! Really gone. My friend looks up and says: “God, I know that was you.”
So I’m asking, begging, pleading with you to give back my one and only precious grandson. I’ve been a good woman, going to church, donating quilts to the needy, working at the food shelf. Please, please give him back.
Ploop! Just like that, the big wave tossed out the little kid, right at her feet.
Georgia looked up, paused for a deep breath, and said: “He had a hat.”
Next time: The story of the 55-pound Thanksgiving turkey.
Saturdays in Western Germany
One of the first things I learned, while living for two years in Germany, was that the German folk had many unwritten, unspoken rules about the right way to do something. And that doing them the wrong way had not to do with your stupidity, but something to do with the quality of your character.
In 1964, German families spaced their children’s arrivals. New baby, wait seven years, another new baby. Done! I was already on the suspicious list, wheeling my new-born and my toddler around the neighborhood, in the lovely, big-hooded German baby carriage we had purchased. Later that year, when I became pregnant with number three, hands were thrown up, eyes rolled. Ach! Americanischers! All except for our 2nd German landlady, Frau Ludwig. She was a widow, raising a teen-age son. When the new baby turned out to be a little girl, Frau Ludwig was delighted and quickly turned into a doting grandmother. She and teenager, Hans, were the best babysitters, ever! Hans, had made friends with the American soldiers. He spoke English slang and wore his hair in a “D.A.” to go with his Levi jeans. Hans was Henry Winkler before Fonzi was Fonzi.
Here it is, Saturday morning. We had moved from the huge old, Empire-style, coal-gobbling house, and were living in a brand-new four-plex and this time lived upstairs, where heat rises. Our entrance was shared and didn’t include our own outside porch steps, stoop or “Vordertreppe”. Important, because every single Saturday, before noon, you were expected to be seen outside, “schrubben der Vordertreppe”, and also washing your car. If you didn’t get out there in time, well, you know, roll-y eyes. I was excused—no treppes. Tom washed the car on his day off, not usually a Saturday, but HE was a doctor, so he was forgiven, also..
Speaking of, Tom had only finished a few months of his Dermatology residency, and anyway, Bitburg Fighter Wing Air Base, under Col. Blood (nope, not making that up) didn’t need a Dermatologist. They needed an Obstetrician or a 2nd Pediatrics physician, which would he like to be? When he chose Pediatrics, the Real Pediatrician did his best Snoopy dance of Joy and immediately went on 30 days leave to someplace warm and quiet, leaving Tom to carry around the textbook and deal with the waiting room full of sniffling children whose mothers had gone to the px grocery after dropping them off.
Your average “Deutscher-bub” (German citizen) did their food shopping every day, walking to the butcher shop, bakery and das Milchgeschäft (dairy). Everyone carried their cloth bags, recycling before we even knew how to spell the word. Everone grew their gardens in their front yard. Grass was a waste of space. Everyone grew the strange Atomic-looking vegetable, kohlrabi, growing on its’ little stilts.
Another thing you could set your clocks by, was the big draft horses delivering their wooden wagon-full of locally-brewed Bitburger Pils to the house around the corner---every Tuesday, just before noon. Most families got several different barrels of beer. There was one for breakfast, one for lunch and a different one for dinner. One for nursing mothers, one for elderly folk, even one for little kids and babies, who were nourished on milk, beer and great quantities of carrot juice, which accounted for their slightly orangish skin tones. Really. After the customers were taken care of, the horses got to take a break and have lunch. Out came the big canvas nosebags full of Bitburger Pils and left-over mash. Happy horses.
Besides beer, the German people excelled at cakes mit “schlag” (whipped cream) and many other varieties of baked goods. When I was large and pregnant with baby Three, I would visit the obstetrician weekly. Once I had gotten weighed and measured and been given the finger-wagging pep talk about watching my diet, I would make a detour to the Bakerei, where I would devour everything in sight. Ahhhh. Schlag.
Every base “post exchange” in our area of Germany had their specialty as far as what you could purchase there. One base had an impressive array of stereo equipment, another had jewelry, another had camera and darkroom supplies. My husband was lured by the latter and purchased a lovely Nikon camera and all the trimmings to set up a darkroom in our 5 foot by 5 foot only bathroom. Tom loved finding things to take pictures of. A close-up of my face, showing every pore, the boys carrying rocks, his own fingernails. One day, leaving the Hospital/clinic, he noticed an unusual airplane landing inside a fenced area, so he retrieved his camera from home and hurried back to take pictures. He was really getting some good shots, when he felt a presence behind him. There, keeping a no-nonsense eye on what he was doing, was a whole squadron of Military Police, each holding very large firearm, accompanied by a few serious-looking dogs. After marching him to headquarters and confiscating his film, he was told to be on his way and “Don’t Do That Again”. We must have had a discussion about it, because few days later, our baby boy finally said his very first word. Sitting in his highchair, he pointed his chubby little finger out the window and said---- “Aow-plane”!
Next time-Have guidebook (“Europe on $5 a Day”) will travel.
CELEBRATING NEW YEARS’ DAY-1964
I’d never been on a plane before, nor been out of the U. S., not even to Downtown Chicago, where my taxi was headed, on December 31st, 1963. It was one of those nerve-wracking times you just grit your teeth and get through, stashing it away in your brain, under “Things I Don’t Remember”. I’d seen glamorous pictures of women who travel on airplanes. So, here I come-Dress, hat, high heels and pantyhose, toting a newborn, a toddler, purse and diaper bag. I was new at this flying stuff.
My traveling companions weren’t any more experienced than I was, since they were 18 months old and 2 and ½ weeks new. We were barreling down the highway trying to get to the courthouse and back to the airport before the plane took off again, on its’ way to Germany. Our mission was to get the new baby added onto my passport. Not enough time to get him one of his own. Starting in Minnesota that morning, headed for Wiesbaden, where hopefully my husband, Tom, would come to our rescue and drive us to our new home for the next two years, Bitburg Air Base. He’d made it through medical school and internship on the Barry Plan-a deferred military draft agreement that allowed you to finish your education. He had started his residency in Rochester when the government called in its’ favors and sent him to West Germany. He had the option to be there only two years, but we’d have to cover traveling and live off-base. We can do this, we said! This will be fun, we said! Silly us.
I’m sure the Chicago cab driver doesn’t remember me, but I certainly remember him. He parked in the cab stand, carried the baby and the diaper bag and waited with me while we wrangled with the red tape and papers. He must have been a dad, himself.
He got us back just as the gates were closing and off we went! The boys were so good during the long plane ride, the newest one sleeping most of the way and the oldest chattering to the flight attendants, who kept him supplied with crackers and soft drinks. When we finally landed, the fellow behind us tried to put his shoes back on, splosh, splosh! My son had stashed his extra ice cubes, there. Oops! Sorry.
And there was Tom, a huge smile on his face, looking so distinguished in his uniform! He took charge of our bedraggled selves, piled us into the car and headed down the dark highway, eager to show us the place he had found for us to live. The boys and I heaved big sighs of relief and promptly dozed off. Hearing Tom say, “Here we are!”, I opened my eyes and tried to make sense of what I was looking at….a very large dark building with no lights anywhere. Rather foreboding and Adams Family-ish. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could make out that there were tall windows, but they seemed to be all boarded up. Oh no! Here I was, on the other side of the world, with my little guys to take care of and I’m going to live in a condemned building in a place I never heard of before.
“No, not condemned!”, Tom explained, “Just very old, maybe 1850.” and the boards were outside rolling shutters that were closed at night. 1850 wasn’t old by Bitburg standards, which was celebrating its’1250 Jahrseit (anniversary as a city) that year and it turned out that our house and the school buildings across the street were some of the few left standing after the Battle of the Bulge, WW2. Our landlady, Frau Dressler, lived on the second floor, up the majestic cast-iron stairway. The unheated stairway hall was home to the one and only toilet, a high-tank, pull-chain monster, offering an icy-freezing seat, October to March. Not the best incentive for a toddler-in-potty-training.
But, it was a lovely, old house- marble floors, leaded windows, carved woodwork, no running hot water, no closets or cupboards and spiders the size of soup cans.
We, on the first floor, were in charge of heating the building. In the cellar, was a behemoth of a coal-burning furnace, bigger than a Volkswagon bus, with octopus arms on four sides. We bought the coal, shoveled the coal, kept the coal burning 24/7 and, when Tom was at work, guess who “We” was! Us guys! Hot water was through a small electric boiler machine and after the baby and toddler clothes were washed, they got hauled up to the 3rd-floor attic, where the clothes lines were hung and the ragged holes were still visible in the stone walls from the tank shells of WW2.
After getting on that plane in the Midwest of the1960s, I felt we had entered a time warp and come out, not in the New Year of 1964, but in the mid-1800s. Clothing and buildings were different, even the food and of course, the language. I spoke a little college German. I could discuss the weather , ask how much something cost and if I happened to be riding on a bus, I could read "Nicht Mit der Wagenfurer Sprechen"-do not speak to the bus driver. Evidently Verboten. Good thing my Chicago cabbie didn't mind chatting, or I probably would still be in the Chicago courthouse.
Next time- Saturday mornings in Germany.
Claudia Myers column: 'I solemnly resolve'
We should vow to do things we actually have a chance of accomplishing.
Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 7:00 pm, Dec. 28, 2021
I’ve been thinking about good intentions, “meaning wells,” as in “she meant well, poor dear,” and New Year’s resolutions. I think they are all related and greatly overrated.
New Year’s resolutions are sort of like campaign promises to ourselves. They sound so noble, so uplifting. We say just what we know we want to hear. But deep down they are really just so much hot air. Why is it we think we can ignore that two-pound box of Russell Stover’s chocolates hiding in the cupboard? It certainly won’t help with that 20 pounds we think we can lose.
Going to the gym and going to church are also biggies. We proclaim our resolutions loudly to our friends because they make us feel so “goody two shoes.” Ever notice how quiet we become after missing four days lifting weights and spending several Sundays sleeping in?
Here’s the answer! We should vow to do things we actually have a chance of accomplishing, like remembering to plug in our cellphones or putting out the garbage on the right day! I’m talking resolutions that would give us some positive feedback, instead of scolding ourselves for that maple nut ice cream. Yay me! Four days in a row I’ve remembered to make my bed! Yessss! I’ve gone a whole day without saying anything stupid and earning myself a “Motherrrrr!”
You know, sure as sunshine, you’re only going to ride your exercycle three days in a row, then you are going to go back to piling your clothes on it, so make your resolution for only three days. See? That works!
Speaking of feedback, I’m going to take just a small detour here and climb on my soapbox. The first time most of us encountered feedback was on eBay. It seemed like a good idea at the time, letting the general public know if you had a bad experience or even a good one. Now, every time you go to a doctor appointment, hire a plumber, read a book or purchase something from an online catalogue, you are expected to sit down and write all about the experience, wonderfully gratifying or horribly disillusioning.
To me, if I return to your business and buy something over and over, that’s great feedback. If you never see me and countless others again, it should give you a clue that you’d darn well better check and find out for yourself what’s going on with your business. But, I’m not going to bad-mouth you for the world at large to know about. Maybe you had a toothache that day. Maybe your cat died. Maybe the person packing up your orders has a new, dreamy boyfriend on the other end of her cellphone.
Whatever. When I was in junior high, we had something called a “slam book.” Friends and not-really-friends would circulate these spiral notebooks with a name on each page and you were invited to give your anonymous opinion of that person. It was a rather cruel rite of passage and quite often hurtful, but there it was, in writing, that nobody thought your jokes were funny and your eyebrows needed plucking. I think it was meant as encouragement to better yourself. Sort of like feedback, huh?
Sorry, I got off track. Resolutions. Question: Why do we only make them once a year or, with practicing religious folk, twice — one for the new year and one for Lent? When people make these firm statements about “no more pizza” or even “no more beer” they must know that they are only going to make it through the first week or so before their determination slinks off into the sunset and they feel bad about themselves.
So why not make a weekly resolution? Or daily? “Wow, look at me, World. I went a whole week without eating the Butterfinger candy bar I know I have hidden under my bed!” See there, a positive ending, not a negative. Maybe an hourly would do the trick.
Some people find it helpful to keep journals, as in “Here, let me just write down that I have drunk 15 glasses of water today.”
Or, “Oh, Tom, sorry, I didn’t have time to fix dinner tonight. I was too busy getting caught up with my lists, journals and feedback, but look at all the high-minded comments I’ve made!”
Or, here’s an idea, you can just keep your resolutions and lists to yourself. That way, it will be easier, less embarrassing and you won’t feel so guilty when you rip them up and throw them away. Because you know you probably will.
I make a weekly to-do list, then break it down into days. OK, sometimes Tuesday things get shifted to Thursday when I can’t get them done on Tuesday, so you might be right in saying these are not resolutions, they are merely suggestions. I call it “being flexible,” but it works for me … sort of. By the way, has anyone seen where I put the note to myself that reminds me where I put my list for today? Wait! Maybe I hid it in the box of Russell Stover’s. I’ll go check.
Next time: It was New Year’s Day, 1964.
Claudia Myers column: Oh, Christmas tree!
Marriage is hard enough without having to argue about tinsel.
Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 6:10 am, Dec. 15, 2021
My childhood Christmases were dark and warm, smelling of pine, as we opened our presents by the lights of the tree, which never appeared until early Christmas morning. Now that I’ve been through many Christmases with children, I am totally amazed that my parents pulled that off, waiting until the kid was asleep to quietly drag the tree in, set it up and decorate it. No wonder I had to wait upstairs while my dad went down to make sure Santa had been there. Probably my mom was still struggling with the tree lights.
For years, my mom only decorated with blue lights, blue glass ornaments and tinsel. Tinsel is like bagpipes — you are either a fan or not a fan. Tinsel should be one of the deciding factors in choosing a spouse, like the Miracle Whip vs. mayonnaise question. Marriage is hard enough without having to argue about tinsel. Angel hair is not even to be spoken of.
Flocking. We were not flocked-tree people. We never had a pink tree, not even silver, and I know people who will only have a Scotch pine or a fancy tree trucked in from the Great Northwest. We had plain old balsam pines that would start shedding their needles as soon as you put them up, but they always smelled like Christmas. Oh yes! We also had bubble lights. They usually hung upside-down, like bats, and didn’t work. So it was always a big surprise when all of a sudden, they would start to bubble! Whoa! Who poked the bubble lights!?
Imagine my disbelief, our first Christmas, when I discovered that my bridegroom had been raised in a Scotch-pine family with no tinsel! How had I not noticed that? At that time, I was working at a flower shop and had learned to make bows as big as your head. So, we got a Scotch pine tree and I decorated it with huge orange ribbon bows — and tinsel! Make it work, we said.
Then, came a military move to Germany for our little family, where Christmas is celebrated with much enthusiasm and often includes liquor-filled chocolate ornaments for the Tannenbaums. And yes, our two little boys had eaten most of them before I figured that out.
The late 1960s saw a succession of small trees jammed into the living room corner of our medical resident's housing unit, as we returned to Minnesota. The trees were dwarfed by the pile of toys for three children, dolls and bears and Legos and trucks and pull toys that made dreadful noises. Wak-wak! Our tree was always up before Christmas morning, because: "Maaahhmmm, everybody else has their tree up. Santa won’t even come if we don't have a tree!"
Our first Duluth Christmas in the old Victorian house, plaid ribbons and sparkles covered everything! We had no furniture and all three children had the mumps. There they were, wearing their first skis, wistfully gazing at the snow outside the windows, standing in front of the huge tree. The house had 13-foot ceilings, which to me, meant 12½-foot Christmas trees. One year, I exceeded the tallness limit and the marks were still on the ceiling when we sold the house.
Early '80s, my daughter and I went to the estate sale at the bishop's house. Down in the cavernous basement was the specially made 30-pound rotating tree stand — $25! How could we leave it? But now the tree had to be ram-rod straight. If it was the least bit crooked, it wobbled like a guy on his third bowl of Tom and Jerrys. But, it was magical! When we built the log house, there was no question, the tree stand came with us. We sold many things, but never that!
The first Christmas in the woods saw us camping in the almost-finished house and the snow was getting deeper and deeper. In a burst of holiday cheer, Tom said, "I think there are some good trees just behind the garage," and he trudged off on his snowshoes, returning with a large, snow-covered lump. We got it into the rotating stand and the snow began to melt. This tree had to be about 18 feet tall, with maybe 12 branches. We called it "Wilt the Stilt" and hung a few ornaments on it. Lights were too heavy and it would have taken many packages of tinsel to make it beautiful. After that Christmas we bought an artificial tree. Tom said he just didn't want to cut down anymore of his trees, even the ugly ones.
The artificial tree had to be put together branch by branch. We devised a color code with ribbons to try to get it together in order. One year, we misplaced the list of colors and it wound up looking like a porcupine on a bad hair day. For years, we grumbled about that tree and so, when we moved into our present home — the 1952 "Prairie Rambler" — we decided it was time to simplify our lives, so we sold the tree stand and gave away the tree, with our blessings, thank you bishop, for all those years of magic.
Next time: Good intentions and lofty resolutions
THANKFUL FOR THANKSGIVING
“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go” always floats its way into my mind when I remember family Thanksgivings, because we did, indeed, go over the river — the muddy Susquehanna in upstate New York, to be exact — to get to Thanksgiving celebrations at my Gramma’s. The women would all be in the kitchen, each making their specialty to serve at dinner. My oldest aunt made the creamed onions. Dreadful, slimy things that my father thought were the best thing on the whole table. My mom was right up there with the shredded-carrot orange Jell-O salad. Whoever heard of crunchy Jell-O?
The men would be in the living room, doing whatever men did before television and the all-day Football Marathon. The children (four cousins: The Twins, Me-the-Only-Child and Sharel-Everybody’s Favorite) were playing “Hide the Button.” Really. I kid you not. Hide the Button. Having fun, too. After dinner, there would always be a “discussion” between my father and his sister, shouting and interrupting, posturing and laughing. Because those two loved to argue with each other, like a debate team event that they looked forward to every year. Everyone else just ignored them and went to clean up the kitchen. I never remember any leftovers. Except the creamed onions.
When my family moved to Rochester, Minnesota, one of the most amazing things we found was “The Thanksgiving Smorgasboard.” Instead of piling all the food on the table and trusting that the turkey would get passed to you before all the dark meat was gone, you could just waltz right up there, get in line and take whatever you wanted — and then go back for more!
In Rochester, the Carlton Hotel put on a Sunday smorgasbord that was legendary. It looked like one of those famous oil paintings that get made into puzzles. You know, the groaning board heaped with fowl and fish and split-open melons, tipped-over wine glasses — well, maybe not the wine glasses, it being Sunday in 1957 and all. But you get the decadent drift.
The first time we were invited to my husband-to-be’s family Thanksgiving was my first encounter with the lowly rutabaga. On the East Coast, we had turnips. In Minnesota, you have rutabagas. And I have to say, they are a vast improvement. Nothing’s more divine than warmed-up rutabaga for lunch, the day after Thanksgiving. The other new experience with the Myers’ Thanksgiving was the raspberry sherbet, served right before dinner, in lovely little crystal-stemmed goblets. Didn’t matter if the turkey was getting cold or the gravy lumpy — you ate your raspberry sherbet. I told you before that I married up, didn’t I!
Several times after Tom and I and the kids moved to Duluth, we tried driving to Rochester to have Thanksgiving with our families, but the weather was never cooperative. The last time came as we were going over Thompson Hill, keeping an eye on the glaze of ice on the highway. I was knitting a pair of gloves for my dad, just to keep my mind off the road. There were cars in the ditch on either side, the kids were being very quiet and the gloves were getting more lumpy and deformed. We started to slide and that’s when we turned around and came home — Kentucky Fried Chicken for Thanksgiving dinner never looked so good.
And so began the Duluth celebrations in the big old Victorian house. It was perfect for large, boisterous gatherings, no matter if the woodwork was being stripped or the wallpaper being peeled. The house always seemed happiest when a party was going on. Most years there were guests at the table — dancers, usually, because Thanksgiving falls right in the middle of “Nutcracker” rehearsals, when no dancer could even think of going home for a holiday.
I remember one year, they taught us to play pinochle, and another year, the new puppy threw up under the dining table, complete with loud sound effects. The kids would compete to see who could stick the most black olives on their fingers before someone said, “Hey! Who took all the black olives?” There was one young man from out east who was so excited to have wild rice and said over and over how good it was, until I noticed he was eating the green bean casserole.
Now that our kids are adults, everybody brings something and is also responsible for fixing it. My daughter brings the desserts and sometimes appetizers, too. The middle son brings the wine, plus potatoes and rutabagas, which means peeling, chopping, cooking and mashing them. The oldest son now brings the wild rice casserole and the Baileys, but for several years he contributed the turkey. He had friends from the Renaissance Festival who had free-range turkeys.
One year, he came with a worried look on his face and started by saying: “Mom, it was the last one they had.” OK.
My son: “Not sure how we are going to cook it, but I think it will be really good.” OK.
My son: “It weighs 55 pounds.” Omg!
My son: “There was a bigger one, 75 pounds, but it died of a heart attack just before I got there.”
Next time: Speaking of the Nutcracker …
March 09, 2022 07:19 AM
Did I hear you ask how I got started working in the theater or did I make that up? I never meant to work in the theater. I had no theater training, no costume design classes and certainly no desire to be a performer. But, I wound up in a 29-year backstage apprenticeship.
Well! It was like this: The year was 1972, and the Youth Orchestra Lollipop Concert was featuring the “Duluth Civic Ballet” performing “Peter and the Wolf.” They were looking for someone who could build a climbable tree that would support two dancers, Peter and the cat, while they lowered the rope lasso down around the wolf’s tail to catch him. A good friend asked me if I knew of anybody. I said, “Sure, I can do it.”
Just like that. Did I have set-building experience? Not that I knew of. But I had asked for and been given my own electric saber saw for Christmas, so I was armed. And I had an idea.
With our 6-foot wooden step ladder, a purchased two-by-four, a huge refrigerator cardboard carton found in a dumpster, some paint and a rope, I built my idea. And it worked. If you squinted and gave it your best benefit of the doubt, it looked like a tree, it didn’t fall over and it worked.
The ballet people were over the moon. They’d been looking for someone to make sets and props and costumes and there I was. Who, me?
There were 10 different directors in the years I was with the ballet company and I learned something from each one. I learned that, yes, you can paint all over a dancer’s body, cover them with macrame or floaty rags and have them stand in a loop of rope hanging from the fly space far above. But they like to have a unitard on first and don’t make them wear anything on their head. It affects their turning ratio or something.
I learned to make long classical tutus from one director who gifted me with a secret eight-panel bodice pattern. I started making tutus and men’s tunics with wiiiide seams, so that they could be let out, taken in, let out taken in. Although when you are right around 100 pounds, as most ballerinas are, unless you are very, very tall, you are all pretty much the same size. Bone structure is bone structure.
I learned from a director’s wife who had danced with the Metropolitan Opera Co. how to make the multi-multi-multi-layered flat tutus that are a mystery of netting engineering and take many days to make. She also taught me how to cram over 15 yards of netting through a little Singer Featherweight sewing machine without sewing yourself into the whole thing. When I was finished, I always put a tiny blue satin bow on the inside bodice — for luck. Just my way of saying, “Do your best; don’t fall down.”
I learned to be creative and make do. For instance, if you are on the road with the company and you forget the black socks for the men’s first act of “The Nutcracker,” you can paint their ankles black with the shoe polish you did remember to bring. Amazing how long that takes to wear off. And amazing how tolerant dancers can be.
So, I learned how to make unitards; character heads that could be danced in without knocking anyone over; Pied Piper’s capes; ballet “boots” for princes to leap around in; Renaissance gowns that looked heavy and sumptuous but had to be light enough to be lifted in the air and flow like a soft breeze; big band shimmy dresses; zoot suits; and many, many swans.
I learned to paint pointe shoes with magic markers and dye underwear with tea bags.
Fascinated with the full-face feather masks I saw at the Renaissance festival, I figured out how I could make them so they could be danced in without having the dancers crash into each other and they became the signature costume part of one of my favorite ballets.
A few other costumes were not so successful. I learned to never put sleeve cuff buttons on men’s shirts, lest they get caught in their female partner's fishnet stockings and result in a funny little chicken dance with wrist and ankle melded together.
I learned not to make the flat tutus from crinoline net. The stiff, cut edges are like razor blades and they quickly earn the nickname “Tutus from Hell.”
I also learned that when the male principal dancer comes leaping out onto the stage for his impressive, athletic solo in “Le Corsaire,” his costume can sometimes be a liability. I thought I had a winner with this new idea. Instead of the usual trite little bolero the character wore with his flowing “genie” pants, I designed a wrapping of gold drapery-weight chains and elastic around his upper torso. Sexy, right?
He came barreling out from the wings, feather headband blowing in the breeze, exploding into the huge leap, which marks his grand entrance. This required him to take an enormous, chest-expanding breath and with a “Pow! Chinkle, chinkle!” the chains broke and fell to the center-stage floor in front of many hundreds of horrified eyes.
Lesson learned. Some things work and some things don’t.
Next time: Dr. Faustus and the “eyeball cape — working for the opera.”
READ MORE FROM CLAUDIA MYERS
“AUF WIEDERSEHEN. I WILL REMEMBER”
You know when a temporary life situation starts to wind down, how you begin to think about the things you have seen and done? You wonder what will stick in your memory and what will just fade into a large blur. You take pictures, maybe write a journal, but, in the years to come, you might be surprised at what images stay with you. Here are some of mine from our two years in the Air Force, stationed in Germany:
I remember the strange bed in that first 1800s house we rented. Similar to a sleigh bed, but, instead of a mattress, each side had three, separate, upholstered cushions, like two sofas pushed together. On top of those, you used a single sheet and then a Stepdekke ( a puffed-up quilt, stuffed with goose down) or a wohldekke (stuffed with sheep’s wool). This bedding was part of a family’s fortune, very costly and usually a one-time purchase in any marriage. They were covered with beautiful fabrics and required high maintenance. Once or twice a year, they would be taken apart, the down or wool would be cleaned and then put back together. You usually saw them hanging out of the upper windows of houses, airing out.
I remember pulling a child’s red American Flyer wagon around the house with a large, grey metal AC/DC transformer in it. The electrical current is different in Europe and we had purchased several American appliances at the Bitburg PX, all needing the transformer in a different room.
I remember the wonderful carved wooden children’s toys and vintage Hummels in our landlady’s gift shop, downtown. And I remember the cold day when the toddler slammed the door, locking us out of the house, baby still inside. We had to walk downtown to that gift shop to get a house key to get back in. Baby was fine.
I remember the schrank we brought home with us, that lived in our Victorian house attic for many years. German houses did not have built-in cupboards or closets. They had “schranks”, which were large, wooden, stand-alone wardrobes. During the War, the schranks and the large, elaborately-carved sideboards were wrapped in oilcloth and buried in the back yards to save them from being destroyed or used for firewood. If you moved, you took all your closets with you.
We were close to the Mosel River and the wineries. I remember buying Liebfraumilch for 75 cents a bottle and going to the Hoffbrau for a Chateaubriand dinner for two, costing under $10.
No speed limits in Germany, so automobile driving was like racing at the Nurburgring! People drove 90 to 100 miles an hour, even banking into the curves of the round-abouts. I had never seen a round-about, before. In Italy, no speed limit either, but also a test of wills, similar to the U. S. game of “chicken”. In Jerusalem, we had a bunch of exuberant cabbies who took charge of driving us to and from all the sights. I think they competed to see who got there first, extra points if they still had all their passengers!
Here’s a bizarre memory: Flying to Jerusalem, we had to make a stop in Syria so that our plane could pay a toll for flying over the country. All passengers had to get off the plane and march into the airport while this was happening. As a 7-month-along pregnant woman, I always needed to use the facilities, anyway. The scary part was walking through the “tunnel” of armed soldiers to get there. Oh boy, I remember them.
My mental picture of Jerusalem has stayed with me, because it wasn’t what I had expected. It was Spring and the rainy season had produced gardens full of flowers. The newer buildings were white stone or white stucco and they glowed in the sunlight. Our hotel was brand new, had its’ own dining room, where we must have eaten more lamb than either of us had consumed in our entire lives. Most memorable was walking the Stations of the Cross, starting at the top of one mountain, down through the city, into the lower, ancient levels and up, up, up again to the top of the mountain on the other side. Waddle, waddle, groan.
In June, Baby three was late and taking her time. So I had a few people over for dinner, including my obstetrician and his wife. I remember, we had gotten through the main course, when the baby decided to join the party and I said to my Dr., “Sorry, no dessert. Time to go”.
And so, in October, we were four on our way home to Minnesota. Tom stayed behind to get “mustered out” or whatever military people do. If I could have clicked the heels of my red sneakers and had us all back in Minnesota, I would have. Like the trip getting to Germany, I remember nothing about traveling that day, except buying the boys some McDonald’s burgers in the Chicago airport. Ahhhh, Home.
It was a perfect time in the World to live in another country. It was a perfect time in our lives to live in a country on the other side of the world, where everything I can think of was new to us and we were young enough to enjoy it.
Next time-“Working for the Ballet”.
“Have Guidebook (“Europe On $5 a Day”) Will Travel.”
You may think my title is a joke, but in Europe, 1964, you could actually sleep overnight, get a decent meal, visit some museums or entertainments for $5 American dollars a day. Honest. I’m not going to write you a travelogue of the trips we took while stationed in Germany. I’m going to tell you about some things that happened while on these trips. After all, if you’ve been to Europe, you probably went the same places we did.
I always refer to our first trip in Europe as “our Honeymoon”. By the time we got to Germany, we had been married three years and had two children. It was time for a Honeymoon. We arranged for the babysitting services of “Lorbach”, a Bitburg Air base medical corpsman. We figured a medical corpsman should be able to cope with two little boys, right? With that, the two of us took off for Paris for five glorious days in the “City of Light”. In the guidebook we found a small family place, Hotel du Suede, (yes, bathroom down the hall) friendly and quaint. We found if we leaned over our wrought-iron balcony far enough and strained our necks to the right, we could see the breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris—Our Lady of Paris. Yes, the one that burned. We could also see the “other” Ladies, plying their age-old trade, up and down our street, the Quai St Michel.
We walked everywhere, trying to suck it all in. We just happened to turn the wrong way and stumbled across the Rodin Museum. We recognized the stone-faced guy sitting out front, pondering the state of the World, chewing on his fist. Being Rodin fans, that counted as a high point of the trip. We spent an entire day in the Louvre, seeing a fraction of what’s there, visited the Mona Lisa but were disappointed to miss “Winged Victory” who was out having herself re-gilded. So, here we are, at the top of the Eiffel Tower and I am clutching the center structure and trying to not look at the view, a scream bubbling up in my throat. Who knew I was afraid of heights?
At the foot of the Sacre Coeur Cathedral, in the Montmarte, where artists have been painting and selling the same picture for generations, I was delighted to discover the Fabric District—they who supply simply Everything the Paris couturier could possibly want. I thought seriously about hiding under some loaded tables, so I could live there forever.
For two weeks in September, we wandered London, went to some shows in the West End, visited the silver vaults, ogled the Queen’s jewels in the Tower of London, and made it to Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum. We were at the huge Flea Market, when all of a sudden, I was holding somebody’s monkey, all dressed up in a little coat and hat (the monkey). Well! You can’t just dump somebody’s monkey on the ground! Of course his owner was there to take the picture and my order. I still have the picture. It’s really good of the monkey.
Next trip- Amsterdam, where all the houses are 30 feet high and ten feet wide and have wooden winches above their top-story windows so they can haul their household goods and furniture into the building without climbing the winding, teeny staircases. We decided to take our then-2 ½ year old with us. Did we think about the fact that squirmy 2 ½ year olds can easily get away from you and wind up in the watery canals that are in front of those tall houses? Of course not. I spent most of that trip keeping track of the little kid and don’t remember much else.
In August, we took the train to Italy from Luxembourg, where everything is run on schedule, you’d better believe it. The train was so crowded that we had to sit in the aisle, perched on our luggage, the entire trip to Florence. Somebody forgot to tell us you never travel in Europe the first two weeks in August. Why? Because everybody else goes on vacation the first two weeks in August. The Italians go to Germany, where it’s cooler, the Germans go to Italy, where its hotter, the French go to Spain, but I’m not sure where the Spanish go. Florence was pretty much closed. But, Eagle-Eye Tom spotted the small, discrete sign for the Galileo Museum, so, while he was communing with Science, I managed to purchase a lovely pair of pink lambskin gloves and a bikini that I wore twice.
Then we took the train to Rome, starting two hours late, because the engineer wasn’t in the mood to come to work that day. We were in a small compartment with a large Italian family-Mom, Dad, Ancient Gramma, 3 kids and a baby, all making noise. Halfway there, Mom changes the baby’s diaper and hangs the wet one up over the luggage rack to dry. She then whips out a whole cooked chicken and proceeds to dismember it with her bare hands and pass chunks of it around, while making a salad in a huge ceramic bowl and nursing the baby. She was impressive. She should have been in our guidebook under “Entertainment”.
Next time-Our selective memories. Yes, that happened, no it didn’t.
HA, HA HALLOWEEN!
Written By: Claudia Myers, For the News Tribune | 12:00 pm, Oct. 19, 2021
I don’t get all worked up about Halloween, but I know people who do. I have friends in the theater world whose year-long project is how best to astound their friends and neighbors with their Halloween costume extravaganzas. They even send postcards with pictures!
I got over that in sixth grade. My mother had made me a perfectly lovely witch costume, pointy hat and all, so I was excited to show it off at school. Halfway through the day, the kids who had brought costumes were allowed to go to the washroom and put them on. So, here I come in my spiffy witch outfit and, right behind me comes Irene, prettiest girl in class, all tricked out in her sparkly, jingly belly dancer outfit, with makeup on and her long, curly hair bouncing around.
Talk about feeling like a dud. Yikes! I’ve never, since then, felt comfortable in costume, even though I designed and made them for many years.
When we moved to Duluth and bought the big old Victorian, it had been completely empty for eight lonely months. The neighborhood kids were circulating the story that it was haunted. They’d seen lights, heard noises. So it was that it took several years before anyone under age 12 ventured up the long driveway on Halloween night, even though we offered “the big candy bars.”
Our kids had no such problem and were able to turn out the best and most imaginative costumes, using the “findings” in the big packing boxes left in the “haunted” attic, with maybe a little help from Mom. For instance, prom dresses, Borgana fur coat, bathrobe, antlers, Ace bandages, sunglasses, draperies and foam rubber sheeting became a fairytale princess costume (drapery fabric, some fake pink fur and sparklies); an elk (Borgana coat, antlers, button from the Elks Club and beanie with a chin strap to hold on the antlers); and the Invisible Man (completely wrapped in Ace bandages, including his face, wearing a bathrobe and sunglasses), and out they would go!
Usually with their snowsuits covering whatever they were wearing, because, of course, in Duluth, Minnesota, it almost always snows the day before Halloween. They would present themselves to the neighbors, unzipping and showing them, “Look! I’m a bunny rabbit!”
When we moved out into the woods, the driveway was a quarter-mile long, so the only Halloween-ers we got were our grandboys. They would storm up onto the back porch in their spotted dog, (made by their Mom) Batman and Underdog costumes and we would act surprised and try to guess who they were — followed by liberal offerings of “the big candy bars.”
But, I’m here to tell you that no place does Halloween better than A.T. Jones Costumers in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to theater production rentals, Halloween is their big moneymaker — the place everyone goes for their costumes. So they decorate for the holiday, have moving figures here and there, making unearthly noises, all appropriately scary. A true shopping immersion experience!
Jones was where I would travel to as I finished up the hats and headpieces I made for the Baltimore Opera productions. The owner, George, had been a professional magician before taking over his wife’s family costume business. Up on the third floor of this very old brick building on Howard Street was where he kept his mysterious props and costumes, and it was always dark up there. There were suits of armor waiting to jump on you, silk scarves wafting in any breeze and lots of mirrors to make you think there was someone over there, watching, when it was really only you.
If you had to ride up the creaky, cantankerous, wooden freight elevator to retrieve something from the third floor, you always:
Never went unless there were at least three or more things you absolutely had to have.
Told someone where you were going and how long it was going to take you.
Tried to take someone with you. Nooo, they all ran past you, shaking their heads-deadlines, deadlines! Where are all the heros when you need them?
So up you went, all alone, into the mysterious darkness of disappearing victims, persons being cut in half and screaming “things” flying towards you. Okey, I probably imagined that last thing.
But, for all that, Best place I ever worked!
A Halloween column originating in Duluth, Minnesota, would not be authentic without mention of “The Great 1991 Halloween Blizzard” that dumped 36 inches of snow on us, over a four-day period, beginning on Halloween afternoon. It’s one of those folklore things.
People remember where they were, what they were doing, and most of all, what they couldn’t do for four days, like turn on the lights, cook dinner, make coffee. Some of us couldn’t flush our toilets or take showers — we had wells with electric pumps.
In our case, we had moved out to the log house in the woods the winter before. Tom came home early from work and said “storm coming.” And it did! It came and came and came! Three days later, Tom snowshoed out to the main road — a quarter-mile, wading through the waist-high drifts — and was picked up by a friend to get food and go to work.
That night, around midnight, came one of the prettiest sights I ever did see. Around the bend in our driveway trundled an enormous front-end loader, lights flashing like an unidentified flying object. The cavalry had come to plow us out! I swear I heard the “Lone Ranger music” playing. Really!
Next time: Does Dilbert make you laugh? How about Abbott and Costello or SNL? Here’s what does the trick for me!
Whose Big Idea Was This, Anyway?
Remember the poor River’s Bend front porch, leaning and wobbly from all those excited sale participants and their heavy purses? We decided we should probably strip the 2 inches of accumulated lead paint off the pillars, railings and posts, before re-building it, right? But wait! We had just finished stripping the salmon pink paint from the inside woodwork and were heartily sick of the smell, the mess, everything about that process. I think we sent all of the kids in the Zip-Strip family to college. When a handy-man friend said, "you should get a heat gun. It’ll burn the stuff right off." WHAT A GOOD IDEA! I can do this myself! So I went to my local Sears Store (woof, woof) and wandered through the tool department (woof, woof, woof) admiring those gorgeous red metal tool cabinets that I had always lusted after. (owooo woof woof). I had to ask the guy with the tool belt (yes, woof) where to find the heat guns. When he asked did I want the regular one or the extra heavy duty one, I, of course, answered in my best "one of the guys" voice that I'd take the biggest and the best, because I had a whole front porch to strip. He seemed very impressed. Or maybe stunned, would be closer.
The first day nothing went right. I kept shorting out the circuit breakers, the cord was not long enough and the dog ran away with my milk carton full of curled-up paint layers. BUT-by the second day I was sort of getting the hang of it! By 3 o’clock I hadn’t burnt myself once! The 7 layers of outside grade oil paint that had been there since 1895, just seemed to peel off like butter. This was easy-peazy! Why didn’t I know about this before? The third day, I was on to the pillars and the fourth day, I set the whole thing on fire! Whoops! Another good idea bites the dust. Or goes up in smoke. Oil paint, dry rot and blast-furnace heat-not a good combination. But, I had fun, fun, fun ‘til my family took my heat gun away-yay-yay. Sorry Beach Boys. On to other misguided helpfulness.
Here's one BIG gross IDEA, destined to be a trainwreck from the first glimmer--Our daughter and her husband also built a log house, not far down the road from us. They are both very handy people and can do almost anything, so they did a lot of the work, themselves. The land had to be cleared, trees and shrubbery cut down and hauled away, all before the foundation could even be stepped off. The only objection to the land-clearing came from the Army Worms who had been nesting in those very trees and shrubbery. It was the year of the last and greatest Army Worm invasion. They were everywhere.!! In the concrete that got poured for the foundation. In the sub-flooring. A board would get laid down and you'd have to sweep the worms off before you could wedge it into place, because they'd be squished in between if you didn't.
I got a wonderful "Mom Will Help You" idea of what I could do to save the day. I got a heavy metal coal shovel, two large garbage containers and green plastic bags. I would shovel those green wiggly slimy things into the garbage bags, put them into the containers before they knew what hit them and then our kids could haul them away to the Dump. So I did that---for hours and hours. But the kids didn't notice what I was doing. Didn’t see the two big cans-full of my hard labor. Didn’t haul them away to the dump. The garbage cans sat there in the burning sun, all closed in tight, all dying, all fermenting, for about a week---until one unlucky soul happened to say-“Hey what are these trash containers doing here and what is that ungodly smell??” Y'know they still bring that up at family gatherings. 20 years later! YOU WOULD THINK by now, they would have gotten over it, wouldn’t you?
They sound so sensible at the time—those good ideas! Some are innovative, some interesting, some do-able, and some are only pretending to be do-able. But, you know, a disaster masquerading as a good idea is just like cleaning out your closet. You start out with all the flurry and good intentions in the world. However, things start to go bad when you hit the clothes that you haven’t been able to get into for ten years, but you wistfully think that when you go on that new diet you will surely need something smaller to wear. As you sit on the floor, bogged down with each and every garment, you know it's going to get a lot worse before it ever starts looking better.
Cue the creepy music-next time it’s Halloween!
My good ideas seem to expand like foaming Gorilla Glue—starting small, sensible and manageable, but quickly becoming puffed-up monsters running their own show. In the 1970s, I noticed all the orphaned lace and doilies at rummage sales. Nobody seemed to want this labor-intensive beautifulness. IDEA! Buy it and make Victorian-style pillows! After all, you can’t just leave it there. People saw the pillows and wanted to buy them, so I jumped, feet first, into business, naming my new endeavor- “Confections”. This thoroughly confused people, who thought I made fudge. My pillows were Cream Puffs and Jelly Rolls, the pincushions were Sugarplums. Okey, yes, the smells from a bakery can suck me in, everytime. My Rorschach answers always have to do with hot fudge sundaes.
Pretty soon I was no longer making one-of-a-kind fun projects. I had two sales reps and was stocking 165 shops across the Midwest. I had just caught the beginning of the “Country Home/Habersham” look. I was gathering supplies, overseeing construction, shipping and bookkeeping. My family would wake up to the CLECHHH sound of the tape gun as I tried to keep a step ahead of the UPS man. I would get orders- “We would like two dozen pillows exactly like this one”. There was a whole family sewing for me in Barnum and a UMD student coming in the afternoons to cut ruffles. My children were earning their spending money tagging pillows, making the inner pillow forms and going with me as I “Dumpster-Dived” for shipping boxes at the Mall. “Motherrrr! What if someone sees me?” The enjoyment and creativity had left the building! Well! That was fun while it lasted, let’s try something else. But what shall we do with all the fabric, lace and stuffing inventory?
I know! NEW IDEA! I’ll make up the last of the pillows and get some other craftspeople together and we’ll have a BIG sale. This was in 1984-not a lot of craft sales, yet. My good friend was easily convinced to join me in this new project! She would be the business side, since she was the only person I knew at that time who was computer-literate. I would be the other side-whatever that was. And The River’s Bend Sale was Born—named after our Victorian house. It was invitation only and no crocheted potholders, if you please. We had lovely handcrafted silver jewelry, beveled glass boxes, and kaleidoscopes, hand-painted clothing, beautifully-lined baskets and hand made pottery. Twice a year, I would clear out my house, giving space to the vendors to come in and create their magic. We eventually numbered 32 participants from Duluth-Superior and the Twin Cities. Some of the original Art Dock artists were with us from the beginning. We sold thousands of dollars-worth of merchandise in a two-day period, twice a year. The invitations were so coveted that, during an un-related event that I was hosting, a neighbor, seeing all the cars, banged on the door and demanded to know why she hadn’t gotten her invitation! The last sale occurred when husband, Tom, looked out the window at the waiting crowds and noticed that the front porch was listing to one side. Time to call it quits and re-build the front porch. Well, that was fun while it lasted. But, what shall we do with all the left-over stuff?
Up pops another BIG IDEA, right up there with putting all your money into a collection of Franklin Mint beer steins. This idea has to do with downsizing all your left-over “STUFF”, so your kids won’t have to do it when you’re, you know, “no longer with us”. You’ve heard this before, right? So, in gathering my STUFF together to get rid of, I noticed that most of it qualified as antique, or at least “vintage”. Most people, at this point, decide to have a garage sale. Singular. A one-time sale, maybe two days. All in all done!
Not me. “Oh look! My favorite antique shop has a booth for rent”, sez I. I have an IDEA. I’m thinking I could rent that space and sell all my interesting “stuff”. It’s just a very little space, it probably won’t even take that long. Period. Ten years later, I have roughly 154 square feet of booth space, own three glass cases, lighting fixtures, shelving and various display aids, plus my accountant is raising his eyebrows at my inventory of STUFF all stored in ½ of my garage or in my storage unit that I had to rent to put all those things that have mysteriously multiplied themselves over the years. Another puffed-up monster, you say? Yes, except that I happen to love this one and I’m keeping him as long as I’m able!
THE THING ABOUT CARS
August 11-Duluth News Tribune
The Thing About Cars, part 1
My dad was a Ford man, yes, he was! He always drove a Ford-- except for the two-tone blue 1952 Mercury hard-top with the dual exhausts that he bought from a teen-age kid. He sure enjoyed that car, driving it around and making it rumble. He's the reason I didn't learn to drive until I was 19, because he would use any excuse to drive his hotrod--he drove me to school, to babysit, to the library, wherever I needed to be and he drove my friends to and from our house, Vroom, Vroom! When we moved from upstate New York to Minnesota, in 1957, the first thing he did was to buy a new car--a grey and white Ford Fairlane 500. I was 17. You KNOW he wasn't going to let me learn to drive in his brand-new car!
My husband's Dad was a Buick man. So you can see right there, that I "Married Up". Dad Myers had an old Buick coupe that he called "the Wildcat" and when Tom would come home from medical school, he would borrow his dad’s car and pick me up. We'd go and park in the Presbyterian church lot and steam up the car windows. It was a sweet day when Dad Myers traded in the Wildcat for a sleek little German Opel and gave it to Tom as an early graduation gift. We discovered that being in a small car, steaming up the windows was much easier.
We were married just before Tom's last year in medical school. The draft was still in effect, but you could get a deferment through the "Barry Plan". So you could make it through college or medical school, as long as you PROMISED to enlist the minute you turned in your cap and gown. So it was that Tom found himself on his way to Germany for a stint in the Air Force, with the little Opel in the hold of the ship, going back to the Motherland.
I showed up in Germany two months later, as soon as I had delivered our second child. After two years there, we came home with three children--and the Opel. But, the poor, poor Opel was never the same after leaving home for the second time. Immediately, it started having electrical problems. Then, it developed a horrible scabrous skin problem that looked rather like leprosy. It was also having psychological problems, I knew, because every Sunday morning, when I had the three kids all spiffed up for church and in the car, it would refuse to start. Time to trade it in.
By then, we had moved to Duluth--where 4-wheel drive was not a charming luxury, but sometimes the only thing keeping bread, milk and dogfood in the cupboard. We were working on the old Victorian House, which meant transporting paint, boards, old furniture to be stripped. We had never bought a car before, but had a friend who thought Travel-Alls were the only way to go. So we listened to him and bought one. An ugly brown one. My husband is 5'5", I am 5'2 1/2" and now we're driving a tank. You know Travel-Alls are built from the pieces and parts of other vehicles, right? I would say at least 30 per cent of its' life was spent in the repair shop waiting for its’ pieces and parts to arrive. The first thing we did with it was pile everyone in and drive to Hartley Field to see if the legendary off-road vehicle could make it to the top of “Hartley Rock”. Yes! Yes it could. And did.
With the kids going to dance classes, skiing, Cub scouts, we needed a second car, so for the first time in my life, I had my very own car. It was used--I didn't care. It was huge and difficult for me to drive--I didn't care. It was impossible to park and back up--I didn't care. What I did care about was that it was RED. Bright Red!! Okey, a little faded, but yes, it was a red, Buick LeSabre, two door. Had black leather seats and the doors were so enormous that I had to be careful where I parked or I couldn't get out. No seat belts, and three rowdy children and Clancy the dog in the back seat. Every Winter, Tom would put chains on the tires and they would go ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. I didn't care. It was MINE and--well, you know! RED.
Eventually, we replaced the Travel-All with a blue Pontiac station wagon, which morphed into a green Buick station wagon. This lucky vehicle was the one all three teenagers used learning to drive. When we sold it to a man who hauled it away for $100, he loudly commented that it “looked as if it had been driven on all four sides”. Possibly he was right.
There once was a Buick named “Buck”. At one time, he was proudly possessed by my husband’s dad, who willed him to our oldest son. Somehow, this once-luxurious Buick vehicle had lost his “i” and so was known to all as “Buck”. He was from the era of large, gas-guzzling engines and even larger trunks, generous passenger capacity and relative to their age, great reliability. Buck made his reputation as “the Renaissance Transportation Tank” carrying our 0ldest son, five of his friends, costumes, tents, cooking utensils, food, musical instruments and other assorted equipment necessary to performing and participating in the Renaissance Festival in Minneapolis, every weekend. Buck, bless him, made it through two Summers of regular trips, before he broke his heart and his axle on the shoulder of 35W, homeward bound and heading North.
Buck was replaced by a sleek black Camero which was purchased with the idea that the three teen-age drivers in our family would share it. I ask you-how could that possibly have worked?! In reality, the Camero spent most of its’ time parked in our driveway, hood up, with a teepee-like log structure hoisting up its’ engine block. You could just see the top of oldest son’s head as he sat in the engine space, modifying and/or improving it. I’m not even mentioning the box of left-over parts that didn’t seem to go anywhere. This mystery box went with the Camero, as sort of a bonus surprise package, when it was sold- -to another young would-be mechanic who immediately parked it in HIS driveway and took it all apart.
About that time, my husband, the avid reader, was following the development of the Wankle engine, the piston-less wonder that powered the new Mazda RX7 sports car. It didn’t take much arguing with himself before deciding he really needed to have one of those. Vroom, vroom and all that! It was a lovely electric blue, sleek little 2+seater and those in our family who could drive a stick shift immediately began thinking up excuses why they needed to borrow it. Prom, somebody’s birthday, “I forgot my homework in my locker” and “Mom, I think we’re out of milk. I’ll just grab Dad’s car keys and be back in a few minutes”. Two hours later…..
One thing that did get settled, however, was the question of who got to put their car in the one-stall ancient garage that came with the Victorian house. After all, you can’t expose a delicate flower of a sports car to the elements, so the Mazda got priority-right behind the raccoon family that lived in the garage attic. My Landcruiser and I settled for the driveway.
Then, there are members of our family that are card-carrying “Subaru people”, from the turbo-charged , to the racers, to the off-the-roaders. One of us, being of a practical nature, had driven their mud brown Subie station wagon for many years, through several re-locations and over many states. The vehicle was showing its’ age, -roughed up around the edges, a few dings here and there, not as fast on the get-go as it used to be. Maybe time to get something new, right? Now, getting a new car is usually a very exciting prospect for most people. They make the rounds, doing test drives, deciding which company, what model, which bells and whistles and most importantly, what color. Leaving several people anxiously awaiting to see what will come driving back up the driveway, they set off in their old, ratty brown Subaru station wagon. Aaaand-here they come back, not even 2 ½ hours later, in a NEW mud-brown Subaru station wagon, exactly like the old one-except. NEW.
Toyotas do seem to be a family favorite. Especially the bigger variety-Highlanders, Land Cruisers, pick-ups. Our middle son purchased an old, heavy-duty red and white hard-top Landcruiser and proceeded to un-bolt the non-removable roof section and turn it into something that, except for the color, you might have seen on the beaches of Iwo Jima during WWll., transporting the officers and generals.
I had my Land Cruiser for many years before it threw a rod on a country road north of Grand Rapids. When I got it, the rage was to have custom paint jobs, like lightning bolts or swoops of color, so of course, I did. I had it long enough that it began to look like Hippie Transportation and my obliging husband had it painted bright red. I DO love red cars! When we finally got it to the dealership to get something to replace it, we settled on a 4-Runner and were sitting in the office, waiting for the paperwork to be done, when the salesman who had given the Land Cruiser the required once-over said “Do you know there is a large caliber bullet hole in the door frame of your vehicle? Uh, well no, actually, we didn’t.
Home to the kids, line them up. All right, now! Who knows something about a bullet hole in my car?! Blink. Blink. Blink. Who? Us?
Disasters I Have Known-- June 16th, 2021 The Duluth News Tribune
I've always felt that I have led a pretty great life. Most of the good things have come about because I was in the right place at the right time. I met my husband because I was working in the flower shop when he came in to buy flowers for his date that night. That was a good thing---right??
However, just like everyone, I’ve had those “End of the World” catastrophes when the only thing that will make it better is a “do-over”. They sound like this:
“OMG, OMG, OMG!” DEEP BREATH, SIT DOWN---and THINK! How can I fix this?
Disasters are a relative thing. They come in all sizes. There is the bad-hair-zit-on-your-nose-while–having-your-Senior-picture-taken type of disaster. At the time, this might seem monumental, but in the grand scheme of things, it probably isn't. Then, there's the "new neighbors across the street coming for dinner, when you've just burnt up the main course" type of disaster. This takes a little creative thinking, but you can deal with it. There's a can of Spam and some cooking sherry in the pantry.
Then, there are those pretty spectacular disasters that involve significant injury and broken parts. One of mine had to do with being at the top of an 8 foot stepladder hanging onto a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, sucking up the sawdust from the new shelving in our renovated kitchen....and falling, splat! on my back with said vacuum cleaner coming two seconds later. My husband, being a physician, said the same thing he always says--"you're okey. I'm sure it's just a sprain", resulting in a few hours spent with a bag of frozen peas on the part that hurts, until making the inevitable trip to the ER.
Usually those kind of disasters can be chalked up to #1-Stairs or ladders. #2 armloads of things #3--Moving backwards.. Yessss- I know-"Stupid!! That was really Stupid!!" I am currently banned from ladders
Then, there are the "memory lapse “ type of disasters. You drove all the way home, 10 miles out in the country but forgot to load up your groceries at the supermarket, 'way back in town. Again. Even worse when it involves waiting children.
Here's a “faux pas disaster”. You make a big to-do about your son-in-law's birthday--delivering a nicely wrapped present, a hardware store gift certificate and a sappy birthday card, only to have your daughter text you with this message--"MOtherrrr his birthday is NEXT month." Dang!
My husband is very serious about having everything packed just right for a road-trip, leaving within 4 minutes of our specified leaving-time, arriving when we said---all that grown-up stuff. So, here we are, all in the car, driving south on Hwy 35, kids in the back, fighting over who gets the peanut M and Ms and who gets the plain. It’s a VERY hot Summer day. We're all in shorts and minimal clothing, on our way to Tom's sister's wedding. We're both attendants. It's pretty formal, big church ceremony, Country Club reception, all that whoop-dee-do.
We got a late start because the dog was hiding and had to go to the kennel. BUT we're making good time, now and we should get there with minutes to spare before we have to change clothes and head to the church. Clothes?? What clothes? I think we took the clothes out of the car to take the dog to the kennel. I have the long dress I'm wearing for the ceremony, plastic-wrapped, no shoes. The kids are okey--they're young enough to be Summer-scruffy. Tom is in gym shorts and sneakers--no long pants, no shirt, no tie. His sister's wedding. Church. Country Club. DISASTER!
OMG,OMG,OMG. DEEP BREATH, SIT DOWN, THINK! Where's the closest men'swear shop? I'll drive, keep the motor running, you run in, grab the first pair of grey slacks. Try to not make it the $300 pair--maybe a shirt, too? Forget the tie! Let's go!
AND-- my favorite---going to the drive-through car wash, you accidently leave your cross-country skis strapped to the top of your car. You leap out half-way through the wash cycle to try and rescue your skis from the soapy octopus that's trying to gobble them up. Arriving home, dripping suds, carrying 1 and 1/2 skis, sporting the beginning of a black eye, you find your spouse waiting--"the Scrub and Dub called, they're closed until the parts come in for their broken car wash machine. They'd like you to stop in and have a little chat with the manager.”