The Rocking Chair

The Sugarbush Rocker by Nichols & Stone

In the 1950s and 60s, there were two predominant design styles for the American housewife; Midcentury Modern, and Early American. My mother liked the Early American aesthetic. She had picked up plenty of antiques at farm auctions and sales, and balanced them with modern reproductions. Mom only liked “really good” pieces.

She also sold furniture for a time, so she developed strong brand loyalties based on quality. One brand she admired was Nichols and Stone. Over her life, she had five pieces from this time-honored company, including a Sugarbush rocker she bought in the early 1970s.

The Sugarbush rocker had a very thick white pine seat with deeply carved indentations for a comfortable sit. The rest of the rocker was made of birch, including the high back with curved slats. It was usually offered in a dark oak finish, and stenciled in the best tradition of Early Americana with gold lines and a cornucopia across the headrest.

The Sugarbush starts to Spread

Mom was proud of this rocker. It sat nicely in her living room on the huge oval braided rug that was our carpet for my early teen years. It wasn’t just Mom, though. We all loved that chair. My teenage boyfriend really loved it. I suspect (no—I am dead certain) that he was on the spectrum, so maybe that’s why he loved it. Rocking, etc.

When we married in 1978, he received a large check ($150.00!) from someone on his side of the family. This huge sum demanded to be invested. We always rented furnished places, but we decided buy our very own Sugarbush. Off we went to the furniture store in Missoula, where for $165.00, we had our own. It had a lighter colored finish, possibly intended to be maple-like, and it was distressed (fancy!). This meant some knicks and dents, one of which had a little wood filler in it.

I thought this was fantastic. My then-husband was delighted to have his own rocker. He would come home from work, sit down, and fire up his bong. After he was sufficiently toasted, he would slurp down several bowls of cereal while I made dinner. Good times.

When he wasn’t sitting in it, our dilute calico, Shasta, would hop up into the seat and ask me to rock her. When I obliged, she’d slip and slide herself into a happy, writhing trance. The harder I rocked, the happier she was. Shasta was a tense, neurotic cat, but in that rocker? She was loopy and hilarious.

So Long, Sugarbush

When I left Montana, I took the cats, but I had to leave the rocker. No more Sugarbush for me. My loss was all the more poignant because a year earlier, when my sister married for the first time, my parents bought one for her, too. Hers had the dark oak finish without the stenciling. The women in my family had all owned giant microwaves and Sugarbush rockers. Now, I was just down to the microwave.

Scant years later, when I was pregnant, Mom loaned me hers. That rocker was where I rocked my first baby, the generous arm the perfect height for mine, where I cradled her head while nursing. My second child seemed to hate being rocked. She was a little goer, a mover and a shaker, and the rocker didn’t do a thing for her. So my parents reclaimed their rocker, and my household was without for a few years.

Luckily, by the time I had my third baby, my sister had fully embraced vintage Mid-century. Her house was a trove of the streamlined and atomic. “Do you want this?” she asked one day, pointing to her rocker. I sure did.

One More Round

It looked out of place with my own décor, which was pink and khaki, very southwest-inspired. I didn’t have a print of a howling coyote on the wall, but I had a print of a cactus. I’m not apologizing, as this describes many 1990 living rooms. That dark rocker didn’t fit in at all, but there was no other chair that could hold me so comfortably as I nursed my last baby.  

Eventually, my parents unloaded theirs. They might have given it to my older brother, or sold it, I’m not sure. It disappeared at some point. I kept my sister’s rocker. It moved from one room of my house to another. It was perfect for watching TV or reading alone in my room. It even served as a desk chair for a while. Eventually, after much wear and tear, it was demoted to the garage.

Where it Sat for Decades

When my last baby grew up and was pregnant with my first grandchild, I offered the old rocker to her.  We went out to take a look at it. Scarred, one arm wobbly, creaky, it looked pretty rough. I realized it was at fifty years old. She politely declined and I didn’t blame her.

It was like when I offered my mom’s wedding rings to my middle daughter when she was getting married. She popped into my room, found the ring, took a look, and politely declined. I had a mental image of that elegant white gold set with its knife-edge detail. Mom wore that set every day for thirty-five years, and it showed. The prongs were dangerously worn and the knife edge was smoothed. I had no idea. My mental image, formed when I was nine years old, hadn’t aged a bit. My oldest daughter wanted a very fine, rounded white gold band when she got married, so she took the band, and I recently had the diamond reset.

BUT I DIGRESS. AS I ALWAYS DO. This is about rockers. And one Nichols and Stone Sugarbrush is still out there in my garage. It needs repair, refinishing, it’s Early American. But maybe someday it will rock me again. Maybe on a front porch, or a back porch, and it will render me quaint. I will take up knitting, and quote the Bible. Or perhaps I’ll subvert gendered expectations and whittle charming hickory animals for my grandchildren and drink shine from a jug perched on my shoulder. Perhaps a banjo will be involved, or a fiddle.

Who knows what the future holds.

It’s the last Sugarbush in the family, and I’m not giving it up.

More info/if you want your own

Nichols and Stone went out of business in 2008 after 151 years in business. My Google searches mostly found some scraped together AI crap. “Pine seat” became “Pine seed” and so on. This reader comment at CollectorsWeekly.com seems to have the best information:

The 546 Sugarbush Rocker was introduced into the Nichols & Stone line circa 1970. The thick seat is made of White Pine and the structural members of the chair are made of Birch. The design continued in production through the 1980’s. This design was finished in a solid wood tone color stain and an optional stenciling application could be applied for an upcharge. The Sugarbush Rocker was the most popular selling item for Nichols & Stone in the 1970’s. It was named after Sugarbush Mountain in Warren VT.

You’d think if it was that most popular item they sold, the secondhand market would be swarming with them. These are completely out of fashion and basically indestructible! And yet, I found exactly one for sale. There might be some out there on Marketplace or Craigslist. I’m not sure. But here is one on Mercari:

https://www.mercari.com/us/item/m98241130362/,

1st Dibs has nice photos, but does not have one for sale, which is fine because their prices tend to be unrealistic: 

https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/seating/rocking-chairs/nichols-stone-pine-stenciled-windsor-rocking-chair/id-f_36286172/

Anyway, I’ll keep looking. Maybe I’ll find one like my wedding rocker.

Happy New Year!

Tuberous Greetings

vintage new year postcard potato man

Nothing says “Happy New Year” like a misshapen potato playing at dandyism with boots, hat, and umbrella, am I right? His trailing roots add a special festive touch. I also found a pickle man, but couldn’t capture the image for you (so sorry). I just showed this to my husband because it’s the weirdest one I found, and he said, “It seems like in the not-too-distant past, vegetables had more active social lives.” (So you can see why I married him).

And speaking of anthropomorphism…

vintage new year postcard - kissing bottles

Okay, that is almost as cute as it is weird. Like, getting so drunk that you drop your glass and kiss the whiskey when you’re clearly Chianti. Does that seem like you’re thinking of Glad Memories and Future Hopes? Or are you just trying to blot out a terrible year with some cross-spirits over-indulging? Either way, these tipsy bottles send New Year Greetings to one and all.

There’s also this one…

vintage new year postcard - giant wasp

There’s nothing anthropomorphized here. Just a giant wasp, its barbed tail curled and ready to strike, determined to wish you a “Joyous New Year” by stinging these innocent tots in their middy blouses and sailor suits.

I’m looking for deeper symbolic meaning here, like, the wasp is the old year, chasing away the new year as symbolized by these children? And there’s another umbrella for whatever reasons (the potato man is also holding an umbrella). Does the umbrella mean anything? So many mysteries, lost to Time’s unending march…

On to Happy New Year and Pigs.

This is German. I’d know that even if I didn’t recognize the phrase, which translates as Happy New Year, but looks like I’m being wished a Frolicsome new year, which sounds more fun.

vintage new year postcard - happy cooked pig

It’s the roasted pig on foot that gets me. He’s already roasted, so wouldn’t this be a New Year’s Pig Zombie? Right? There’s an old ad for sausage where the pig is slicing its own middle into perfectly round slices of sausage. This Neujahr Greeting reminds me of that, as if the pig is willingly participating in his own slaughter by running along with carving tools in his back. So weird, so German.

If the pig must be running, I prefer this:

vintage new year postcard - good luck sleigh ride

“Happy driving in the New Year.” Can’t you just hear the song that goes with this? Dashing through the snow / in a four pig open sleigh / mushroom by my side, and hey…why is that crow wearing pants? I’m not sure, but those piggies look as focused as sled dogs, really giving their all to the Swine Iditarod, or whatever this is. Clearly, pigs have skills.

vintage new year postcard - a monkey and a pig

“Feliz Ano Nuevo.” This one is in Spanish, I can tell that even without Google’s help. This is one fierce pig, just look at the intense focus in his wee piggy eyes. He’s been trained by a chimp, and we all know how smart chimps are. But again, my friend April, the vegetarian, is always telling me how smart pigs are, and how sweet, and how pigs have surprising skills.

I just reply, “Bacon.” But anyway…

I think this next card is taking it too far. I don’t know what language this “Boldog Ujevet” greeting is in, and if I weren’t so lazy I’d Google it (okay I Googled it and it’s Hungarian), but this is a dark, dark story, here.

vintage new year postcard - romantic chimney sweep with his piggy gf

That man clearly has designs on the piggy in the ruffled apron and fetching pink shoes. He appears to be a chimney sweep, what with the ladder and broom. So he’s going to clean the chimney, get her drunk and do something bestial before roasting her in the newly cleaned fireplace.

And then I thought, no, this is an even darker story of survival at all costs. A subversive effort on the part of the pig. She (or possibly he, it might be a male pig disguising himself as a sow because desperate times call for desperate measures) is going to use its porcine wiles so as to avoid being dinner. Get that sweep drunk and shove him and his Boldog Ujevet right up his own damn chimney. Start a fire and say, “Oh heavens no, I didn’t know he was up there!”

I’m cheering on this pig. Like I said, pigs have skills.

Unless they’re drunk.

vintage new year postcard - party at my sty

It’s a Piggy Party! This one is pretty funny, especially when you see the boy holding the switch gazing lovingly at the drunken pigs. Why is he so happy? He came out there to beat them into their sty (see: switch), and there they are drunk out of their little piggy brains. It’s a happy story! No pigs will die! He’s too charmed to even beat them! Oh, those silly pigs!

A drunken pig must be a sign of good fortune in the year to come. Why else would so many of us transform ourselves into drunken pigs on NYE? (Not me, we will be lucky to make it to ten PM, I’m a sleepy pig).

In closing…

vintage new year postcard - froggy pops the cork

This grinning frog and I wish you a Happy New Year full of many symbols of good fortune, including keys and mushrooms and four-leaf shamrocks and horseshoes, and of course (if you drink it), champagne. It’s been a difficult year for too many people I care about, which means it’s been difficult for me, but only because I care. My husband and I are fortunate enough to end this year healthy and happy and surrounded by family and friends. For that, I’m incredibly grateful.

Here’s to 2024!

Christmases Past

Merry Christmas!

Four siblings celebrating Christmas Eve in 1980 with our buttons. My brothers and I were really into big pin-on buttons, and my sister liked the small ones with ironic sayings, preferably regarding rock and roll. One of those is possibly hiding on the lapel of her velvet blazer.

Even if I didn’t give you the dates, you should be able to place this as the late 70s/early 80s by the frames of those magnificent glasses. This was taken at my parents’ home in Portland, a split-entry Capp Home they somehow put together from piles of lumber dumped at a muddy lot. We were all briefly jammed in there at this point, a situation that really couldn’t last.

I was 20, which would make my younger brother 9, my sister 23 by a single day, and my older brother 26. Babies, all of us. I believe I was still legally married to my first husband at this point, and I would have my first date with my second husband that coming New Year’s Eve. My third husband is probably reading this, and he dislikes reading about any men in my past. Honey, you know I love you best and always.

The kitty was Casey Jones of the golden yellow eyes and the rip-snorty purr.

An Earlier Christmas

Me and my mom, Christmas morning of 1979. This year, my mother, sister and I had matching robes (Cat’s was green). We celebrated in Eugene, where my sister lived with her first husband. I was nineteen, still married, still living in Montana, and profoundly unhappy. I would make my big break that next year, and head to Portland to reinvent myself. I would also cut off my hair.

An even earlier Christmas…

I was twelve here, and my sister was fifteen. We were living on Pine Street in Booneville, Arkansas. Our mom was in the hospital for this Christmas, so it was a low-key affair, and of course it was probably seventy-five degrees because Arkansas didn’t have a winter as far as we could tell. This was quite different for us, as we’d grown up in South Dakota and Minnesota. We loved wearing summer clothes on Christmas Day.

A friend of mine said once that we looked like we were tying bows with our prehensile toes, which made me giggle and still makes me smile when I look at our bare feet.

Speaking of South Dakota…

My sister and me at our grandparents’ farm house in 1966 or 1967, I’m not sure. I think 66. You can’t see it, but I’m wearing my favorite hair barrette in this photo..a pink dog, sort of reclining, with google eyes. My mother made the dress I’m wearing, and my sister’s dress is store-bought. The next year, I’d wear that pretty plaid number for the holidays, but a few years later I’d catch up and no longer wear her hand-me-downs.

My grandparents had an artificial tree trimmed with gold glass beads, gold satin balls, red velvet bows and spun cotton birds with real feathers. I found it unspeakably elegant. For this photo, we were instructed to hold our favorite presents. I selected my smallest gift, because I always loved miniature things. We opened presents on Christmas Eve following an all-white Norwegian dinner. I found Christmas Eve to be the longest day of the year.

This year.

I’m going to see the whole troop, since all my kids and their kids live in the Portland area again. The trees are trimmed and the presents are wrapped. The menu is planned but not provisioned, but I have days left to get that done.

I hope you all have a wonderful, magical, rambunctious and/or peaceful holiday. I’m hoping for all of the above.

Past Christmas posts:

What’s with those Christmas Lights?

Christmas Travel and the Christmas Fairy

Cats and Creches

A Short History of Frosty Windows

The Frost

(from a Katrina writing prompt, The Frost)

Image by Frauke Riether from Pixabay

The frost is here, and I want to park in my garage. I have rarely, if ever parked in my garage. Let’s take a look at why.

When my then-husband and I bought the house in 1988, my father broke a sliding screen, and his father immediately broke the lock on the garage door. I’m not exactly sure how. He manhandled something. After that the bolt never worked right. Rather than throwing ourselves against the stubborn thing, or paying someone to repair it, we mostly kept it bolted. The door is an old one, made of wood, and very heavy.

I could have parked in the garage, but I was a young mother with young children. Imagine a young mother pulling up to that garage in her minivan.  I wasn’t going to get out of my car, walk around to the back of the freestanding garage, make my way through it, use an enormous amount of strength to unbolt the door, then get back in, drive in, pull the door down, bolt it, get the kids out of their car seats and shepherd them through the garage and up some steps and over to the front door.

I didn’t use the garage.

This meant my car windows were often frosty on wintry mornings. But the nice thing about being a stay-at-home mother whose kids ride the school bus was that the sun took care of it for me. Frost melted away before I ever started up my minivan.

My ex did sometimes park in the garage, but once he moved out, that didn’t mean it was empty. It was stuffed full of his possessions for a good seven years after he left. Once I sold all of his remaining items at a garage sale, my sister sensed an opportunity. I wouldn’t call her a hoarder, but given a chance, she would completely fill up other people’s storage; my garage, her friend’s basement, wherever she lived, and of course, she also had two storage spaces. My sister had quite a longstanding love affair with my garage. I was always trying to get her stuff out of there.

So I could, you know, park my car in there.

During the ten or so years she monopolized the garage, I became an expert at scraping my windshield. I was working an office job, so I would go out and scrape, scrape, scrape my windows, and run the defroster, and curse my life and grumble about my sister at 6am on a cold Oregon morning.

I had good scrapers and bad scrapers. The best was a thin blue tool about the size of my palm and not much thicker than a business card. It was a freebie from my health insurance company during a benefits fair at the office. I almost didn’t take it because it looked flimsy. But during the three years I used it, it peeled off the frost with a scalpel’s precision and a blowtorch’s efficacy. Then it snapped in half.

After some rather dire threats, my sister finally removed her belongings from my garage. This was a difficult time in our relationship, but she rode the bus out and got to work, and she hauled and donated and finally, my garage was empty enough to park in. If I’d wanted to bother with that heavy, malfunctioning garage door, I could have started each day with clear car windows and saved myself all that bother. But I didn’t, so I still parked outside.

A helpful gift

While I was dating [Redacted], he found it upsetting that I didn’t park in my garage. I’d go so far as to say it was an affront to him. But once he’d lifted that heavy door a few times, he understood why I didn’t want to. So for my birthday, he helped me clear out my garage and then bought and installed a garage door opener for me.

This was truly a halcyon time in that relationship. Together, we enjoyed cleaning out that garage, getting rid of an old wooden bed frame I’ve written about (but not posted), clearing shelves of the many many things left by the man who built the house in 1984 ([redacted] took a lot of that, to squirrel away in his own stuffed-full garage), and rooting out the last of my sister’s belongings, because they haunted the corners.

The opener was a real gift. It made parking in the garage so easy. I loved it. I enjoyed frost-free car windows for five years. Five years of not having to scrape a windshield. It was heaven, I tell you. And then, my guy moved in. We began to commute together. In his car. Which was parked in the driveway. Where the windows frosted in the winter.

You see where this is going.

I spoke the words of self-sacrifice. “You should park in the garage. That way, your windows won’t be frosty.” That was mutually beneficial until 2020. We both worked from home that year. But in 2021, he began working somewhere else and I had to commute in my own car again. Which was parked in the driveway. With frosty windows, in the wintertime. But I still worked from home half the time the time. He had to go to the office every morning, so it only seemed fair to spare him the scraping.

Why didn’t we both park in the garage? Well, one daughter put a big ass desk in there. She just dumped it in my garage one day, and she left it. It was there for one year. And then it was there for two years.  “Honey, will you get that desk out of there?” “Sure. But I don’t have anywhere to put it.” “Well can you come get it?” “No, you should sell it.” We finally hauled it to the curb and gave it away. This cleared a lot of space, but not quite enough. With a little compression, donation, and rearrangement, we were almost there.

I could practically taste those frost-free windows.

It was going to happen!

Three weeks later, my youngest daughter and her son moved in with us. Guess where her stuff landed? Yes. That’s right. In the garage, where my car would be parked.

I work in the office three days a week. Most of the time, I’m fine parking in the driveway. But on mornings when it’s dark and cold, I approach my car with trepidation. Will there be frost? I replaced my nimble blue ice scraper with an orange behemoth of a tool that looks like I could use it to strip paint off a submarine. It is almost useless on a curved surface.

Another winter of frosty windows. But it’s so fun to have my daughter and grandson here that I really don’t mind at all.

The Whale, and taking things personally.

I’ve not seen The Whale, but here’s my review.

Sculpture of beautiful fat woman at Lake Constance
Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale is on streaming, now. It is supposedly a moving look at one man’s extreme obesity, caused by self-loathing over the abandonment of his family for a male lover. He’s killing himself with food out of grief and guilt. Sounds like a real feel-good flick.

Since I’m fat, I should probably watch it, but I was angry at this movie before I ever read a review for it. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus was pun-heavy: “Held together by a killer Brendan Fraser, The Whale sings a song of empathy that will leave most viewers blubbering.” Really?

Aronofsky Grotesky

Based on my sole experience with his work (Mother!) I assumed Aronofsky would handle this plot with a deft mixture of bombast, grotesquerie, and mental decay. My psyche still hasn’t recovered from Mother!, but the story here was not about how much psychological torture the director could inflict on his lead female character. No, the big story here was Brendan Fraser’s comeback.

Brendan Fraser had a decent Hollywood career, but gained a lot of weight after being groped by a producer type at a Hollywood party. I read his account of this assault. It was invasive and traumatic. It’s also familiar. I could rattle off a string of events like this in my own life, both verbal and physical. So could any other woman reading this.

Trauma and Fat

It may or may not be true, but it’s a common observation that traumatized women hurt themselves, and traumatized men hurt others. Fraser hurt himself. I wish he’d sued the guy instead, like Taylor Swift when that old DJ went under her dress to fondle her butt. She filed suit, testified, and publicly refused to take any blame whatsoever for his ruin, insisting that everything that happened to him was his own fault for taking it upon himself to grope her.

Fraser hasn’t even named the man who assaulted him. Instead, he withdrew and got fat, but apparently not fat enough. Aronofsky outfitted him with a prosthetic suit to approximate weighing 600 pounds. The weight was set by the source material, a play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also wrote the screenplay. Still, I wonder if this amount of obesity was really necessary. It doesn’t take 450 pounds of extra weight to crush a person’s self esteem.

The Celebrity Penalty

Sometimes it only takes ten pounds to convince a person that she must starve her body into submission. Just ask Britney Spears, who was publicly humiliated for showing off a five pound weight gain after her second child. I mean, how dare she. A modest weight gain is enough to sabotage self-esteem, and it’s also enough to end a career.

That’s a movie right there. A restrained but interesting story to tell about how a gentle softening of your chiseled edges can ruin your name in Hollywood.

However, Aronofsky is not known for cinematic restraint. Of course he was more drawn to a story that involved a quarter ton of fat caused by binge eating. And that’s another problem. Binge eating is far from the only cause of obesity, but of course it is the most cinematic. It ties in well with a general perception of fat people as moribund monsters, their stomachs distended by joyless stuffing.

Getting personal.

I take this way too personally. I have never been a binge eater—I don’t see the allure—and resent this being assumed as a “why” for my weight. Will people see this movie and think I sit at home with the often cited “whole pizzas and gallons of ice cream”? Because I don’t. I haven’t. I physically couldn’t.

I also worried The Whale would kick off a wave of “fat people suffering” cinema. Would these movies resemble the “Black people suffering” movies made by White people for other White people? Well-meaning White people who always identify with the one decent White character, so they can walk out of the theater feeling reassured that they are not the problem? Would there be movies about thin saviors? Magical fatties who have no lives of their own but just exist to solve thin people problems?

How far would this thing go? Would there be marches and demonstrations? Would there be obesity reparations? Could I punch anyone who offered them to me?

As I have said before, this new appreciation for the fact that fat people are human beings is annoying to me. I don’t want a bunch of thin people offering me their heartfelt sympathy for how terrible my life has been. I will punch anyone who tells me I’m brave for lumbering along under the crushing weight of my despair (and my fat). Jesus Christ, it’s not ideal to be fat but I’ve certainly managed to have a decent life.

But now there’s a cure…

I shouldn’t have worried, because since that movie came out, Ozempic and Wegovy and all the other injectable semaglutides hit the public consciousness. These new drugs will apparently cure fat forever. Whew! No need for a wave of Fat Cinema.

I had kind of a moment about Wegovy with an online book group. No one else in the group is fat, I am the only fatty there. And someone started tsking and tutting about how famous people are all taking these injections to get thin, so vain, so shallow.

Ahem.

I pointed out that we live in a culture that turns a microscope on famous people and penalizes them for every physical flaw, every line, every pound. And we also denounce them for anything they do to remedy those physical flaws. We can’t have it both ways, can we? We can’t condemn them for being human and then condemn them for trying not to be.

Then I spoke up about my own experience; how years ago I had talked with my gastroenterologist about what to do about my weight, how calorie cutting doesn’t work for me because I don’t eat all that much so I have to eat under a thousand calories to budge the scale and I can’t sustain that. I have a messed-up heart for which I take a possibly lethal prescription drug twice a day, so heavy exercise is not an option. My older brother died from complications from weight-loss surgery, his organs failing one by one, so I have zero interest in that.

I asked my doctor, what should I do?

And he said, “Karen, don’t worry about it. There’s something coming, a shot or a pill, and it’s going to change everything about weight loss.” He told me to wait for it. He retired before it hit the market, but once it did, I went right to my PCP and requested a prescription. She wrote one, but insurance wouldn’t cover it and that stuff was wildly expensive, so I didn’t pick it up.

Well, now these drugs have been approved for weight loss, so insurance will cover them. Did you all know that Weight Watchers immediately bought a medical company that can prescribe these drugs? They are changing their model from portion and calorie control to injectables. WEIGHT WATCHERS. But of course, the drugs carry side effects for some people, mostly nausea. And now I’m reading that these drugs can paralyze your stomach. So you’re nauseous all the time, and then you can’t actually digest food anymore, so I suppose you get really thin.

Yippeeee.

On second thought, I probably shouldn’t watch The Whale.

Halloween Postcards: Amorous Pumpkins!

Kiss a Squash Day

I’ve enjoyed finding Creepy Valentines and sharing them with you, because who doesn’t want a murderous or suicidal Valentine greeting, am I right? So recently, I came across a feature on antique Halloween postcards from the “Golden Age of Postcards.” I think this is the same era as the Christmas cards that feature dead bugs and homely suffragettes. Anyway, among the witches, I was surprised to see so many postcards featuring amorous pumpkins. I guess even way back when in the days of yore (just like now), nothing says loving like a squash (though wasn’t an eggplant in the olden days). So, here we go. Also, all these cards are in the public domain, so right click to your heart’s content.

Hairy Pumpkins

Vintage Halloween postcard of kissing pumpkins

Please note the handwritten note: “I send you a kiss-” And what a kiss it is. Two hirsute and swarthy orange globes, all puckered up. I can’t tell if this is a gendered osculation, but one squash has some mighty impressive sideburns. I mean, how romantic! Wouldn’t you be all a-flutter if you received this postcard? Romance galore! However, the cat doesn’t seem to agree. The cat actually looks a little freaked out. Shouldn’t we all be a little freaked out?

Jane Austen Pumpkins

Vintage Halloween postcard of kissing pumpkins

A more genteel take on the kissing pumpkins. Here, the pumpkins are a bit less androgynous, what with the breeches and skirts and whatnot. And look, he presented her with a posy of carrots, so that’s romantic, yes? I mean, a little on the phallic side, but at least they’re not eggplants. Also, the apparently male pumpkin is green, which is a nice variation. I like how their little stems perch on their heads like tiny hats. But again, the cat is really freaked out. Perhaps the black cats are a kind of Greek chorus, providing the audience reaction when seeing pumpkins kiss?

Yee Haw Pumpkins

Vintage Halloween postcard of embracing pumpkins

Okay, I’m a little more comfortable here because despite the clothes, these are actual Jack-o-Lanterns. I have to say, I like the carved pumpkins better than the smooching anthropomorphized pumpkins. These country pumpkins have a down home lovin’ kind of air about them, like scarecrows come to life. Even though the kiss isn’t shown, Jackie is pointing to the place where she wants Jack to plant a big ol’ pumpkin smackeroo. The cat appears a little wistful, instead of aghast. And it seems the moon approves…

Foot Fetish Pumpkins

Vintage Halloween pumpkin postcard

Okay, now, hold up. What in the Sam Hain is going on here? There’s a pretty girl sitting on a huge Moon squash, and a serpentine parade of pumpkin creatures with zucchini limbs and vacant eyes coming to…do what exactly? Take turns looking at her foot? Or are they going to bow? Pay Halloween homage of some sort? Or is it something more interesting than that? What are the pumpkin zombies up to? “Strange things will happen” for sure! If only there were a black cat to provide reaction and commentary on the action.

When Pumpkin Love Gets Weird

Vintage Halloween postcard with pumpkin man, goddess, and goblins

Okay, speaking of strange things…

“On Halloween your slightest wish

is likely to come true,

so be careful, or the gobelins

will spoil your wish for you.”

I’d like to know who is wishing for what, here. It seems like the pumpkin person is the most likely to be making the wish, what with the googly eyes and goofy smile. But there’s a chance it’s this Diana Moon Goddess person whose wish is the subject. Is she supposed to be a witch? She has moons on her shoes. Perhaps she’s hoping to animate the pumpkin man (though he looks quite animated to me) (all he needs is an eggplant at this point). The “Gobelins” give me no clue. I would hope they’d interrupt this pairing, but they look delighted by the budding romance between Moon Goddess and Squash Man. The little weirdos. What’s going on? Again, without a black cat to react, I am lost.

And…A Cute One

Vintage Halloween postcard of a witch kissing a jack o'lantern

Okay, even though this witch is making advances on a member of the vegetable kingdom, this still strikes me as relatively tame compared to the other cards. This Jack O’Lantern isn’t aggressively amorous. It’s just a nice Jack O’Lantern that seems completely amenable to being kissed. It probably helps that this pumpkin doesn’t have a body. Or sideburns. And the witch is pretty. There’s nothing overtly aggressive about her little closed-mouth peck, which almost seems innocent. Overall, there’s no foot worship, no weird leering going on. And we don’t have a black cat, but we do have an intense little bat speeding over like a traffic cop to break this up. Come on, little bat. This looks harmless.

Happy Halloween, and may all your pumpkins be normal.

The Brakes

Failing the Brakes

A woman walks on the beach.
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

It was Bozeman, Montana, in 1975. I was driving my boyfriend’s Plymouth Duster, bright yellow with a sexy black racing stripe that followed the curve of its bodylines. He’d taught me to drive in that car, and I loved it. Not bad for a girl who had just finished ninth grade.

I stayed with my older brother at the time. My parents had moved to Missoula, leaving me behind with Brother Steve. I had no idea what the future held, but when does that matter to a ninth grader? The sun shone, my stoned friends laughed, and David Bowie sang from the 8track. I was living my best life.

I’ve never understood what happened next. Suddenly the car fishtailed, brakes screaming, tires smoking until my foot remembered how the brakes worked. The only evidence was a trail of four S-shaped black skids on the west end of Bozeman’s Main Street.

Driving ever-so-slowly, I crept down Main to the gas station where my boyfriend worked, and parked the Duster. My friends left the car, swearing it wasn’t my fault, it couldn’t have been my fault, no way was that my fault. I was shaking all over as I solemnly returned the Duster’s ignition key to my boyfriend, the key he’d presented with more flourish than the ring I wore to signify our togetherness.

I didn’t drive again for months. It was time to pump the brakes.

Learning the Brakes

I’ve taught three daughters how to drive. Each had her own set of challenges behind the wheel. One was too anxious, so she rode the brakes. Another wanted to be told what to do long past the point when she should have been making her own driving decisions. She ignored the brakes until I told her to apply them.

The other daughter was emotional behind the wheel, speeding up and weaving through lanes when she was happy, jerking the steering wheel and jamming her foot on the brake pedal when frustrated.

After a particularly dangerous display, I yelled at her to pull over. I delivered my judgment in a cold, harsh voice. “You are not allowed to have emotions behind the wheel. It’s dangerous.”

“What am I supposed to do with them?” she cried.

“Whatever you have to,” I said. “Just don’t drive with them.”

We paused driving lessons for a week. It was time to pump the brakes.

Pumping the Brakes

There was a heat wave in my city that week, and everything was overloaded, including me. I was out with friends after a writing class, in an actual bistro, in person. All this felt new, precious, as had all social events since the spring of 2020. After recent bout with Covid-19, I was recovered, out and about again, basking in my temporary immunities.

We ordered fancy cocktails and delicious small plates. My expensive cocktail was absolutely delicious, but it hit me hard and I felt a little embarrassed. I drink so little that my tolerance is always low. Covid had only made it worse. Was I going to talk too much?

Our food hadn’t yet arrived when the server came by and asked if we were ready for another round. My friend raised her hands, palms out, and gently gestured. “I think I’d better pump the brakes.”

It wasn’t just me who found the cocktail potent. This pleased me, reassured me. I was even more pleased with her gentle miming of the metaphor.

Not long after, the power went out on the entire block. We sat in the darkened bistro, suspended in waiting, but our food arrived. We ate and talked, soaking up the drinks and each other’s company. No more cocktails came to our table. Thankfully we all had enough cash to settle our bills, since the registers were down. Two of us had to drive home.

We were relieved to pump the brakes.

A Tip for the Server

Servers at the Talkative Table

An alley with bars and neon signs.
Image by Daniel Nebreda from Pixabay

Back in the 1980s, my family had many intense conversations in restaurants. We were younger and more alive in both a metaphorical and literal sense. We were tall, smart people with the resonant voices of singers. If you put some or all of us around a table with cups of coffee, those voices rose up to discuss politics or history or music or real estate, loudly and at length.

At times, our conversations were spirited enough to invite participation from the wait staff. “I couldn’t help overhearing,” a server might say. “Excuse me, I heard you talking about…” a server would shyly offer. Of course, we listened politely, but I didn’t really care how the waiter voted, or what neighborhood the waitress grew up in. Backpacking in Italy was probably an adventure, but excuse me. I was talking to my mom.

Once, way back in the eighties at a Mexican restaurant, a young server stood at our table and recited a poem he’d written. It was a lengthy, worshipful ode to Oliver North. He may have been an actor, but he clearly did not know his audience. We never returned to that restaurant. Now it is long gone. Decades later, most of the places we used to go are gone.

The family has also suffered some attrition. Our most recent all-family restaurant gathering was after my father’s memorial service, when we filled a long table at his favorite restaurant–Bannings–for one last meal on Dad.

My Dad and Bannings

Bannings is one of those places we all hope to find in our neighborhoods–a family diner with good food and comfortable booths and the most attentive servers on Earth. All the servers at Bannings knew Dad. They vied to have him in their sections. They made him welcome, brought him sides of sausage gravy at no charge, and kept his coffee hot. He always tipped well.

At this post-service-last meal, with all the family and some friends ranged around a long table, meal, many of the servers came by to say they were sorry. They hadn’t seen him because Dad was housebound for months before he died, but they certainly remembered him. “I’d wondered when we didn’t see you.” “We’ll sure miss him.”

You forget, or at least I did, that his decline was pretty obvious from the outside. He changed rapidly from a relatively hale man who took smoking breaks after a meal, to a frail man wearing an oxygen tank. Of course they noticed when he stopped coming.

After that last meal, I couldn’t go to Bannings without Dad. It was just too sad to sit there and think about all the years we’d met there for breakfast, all our conversations about everything in the world. Dad knew so much about the mechanics of the world, and how our government actually worked. We met there nearly every week for fifteen years.

So I left Bannings alone. A year and two months after Dad died, Covid hit and everything shut down. It was 2021 before I started going there again. One August day, I was having lunch with my friend Sarah and realized it was my dad’s birthday. Our server, who I remembered, didn’t remember Dad when I asked her. It had been almost two years, after all. But she asked me what his favorite dessert and brought me a piece of strawberry shortcake as a gift.

This was so human of her. So kind. And yes, I cried.

Servers in Context

My husband and I were at a company Christmas party on the Portland Spirit years ago, and a young woman who looked so familiar came up to me on the dance floor and said, “Karen!” and hugged me. I knew her but I couldn’t place her, so I bluffed my way through the encounter, smiling and laughing and wondering where the hell I knew her from.

As I walked back to our table, it hit me. She was a server at Bannings. She was a doll. And I knew she was going to school, and she was bright and kind and funny, but I absolutely couldn’t place her out of context.

This made me feel like a real jerk.

In my home city, almost no one who waits tables does it for love. They do it while preparing for something better; a new job, an upcoming move, a leading role, or a paying gig. The people who wait on me are human beings with opinions and passions. I know that. I grant them privacy for that part of their lives. I think this is more dignified.

If you are a server or a waiter and you’re reading this, I probably owe you an apology for the fact that your dreams don’t concern me. I know you’re a real person who has tied on the apron. I appreciate you. But I only want your attention when I want it.

Swoop in with more coffee, more water. Bring me extra napkins. Don’t make me wait forever for my check, but reassure me there’s “no hurry” when you lay it on the table. I know some days it takes everything to show up, put on your apron, and tend to your tables. I admire the seemingly effortless ballet of your service, a dance that is actually a great deal of work. I like that you perform it with the invisible grace of a professional.

For what it’s worth, I always tip well, too.

The Ladder

Making a Living

Wooden ladder in an orchard
Image by Bryan Stewart from Pixabay

(This post is from a Katrina prompt, the ladder).

When I was fifteen and my boyfriend was eighteen, we moved to Yakima, Washington, part of America’s Fruit Basket, where picking fruit is an almost year-round affair. This fertile stretch of Washington valleys produces much of the country’s apples, pears, and stone fruit. Back then, most of this fruit was harvested by migrant workers who followed the harvests. They made enough to live on. Certainly we could do the same.

He had enrolled in an auto mechanic certification program at Yakima Valley College, and I went to high school. That next June, I’d finished tenth grade and his two-year program had let out for the summer. We lived on very small monthly draws from a trust fund his wealthy grandparents had set up for him at birth and whatever else we could patch together; babysitting for me, pumping gas for him. We were young, alone, and very poor.

So we thought it was time to make some real money by picking fruit.

Reporting for Duty

I’m not sure how you signed up or were dispatched for fruit picking, but the boyfriend handled that part of it and we showed up at a farm at 6 AM, ready to pick cherries. We were met by the orchard owners, an older married couple. They were White, and so were we (well, the bf was actually mixed race, but that’s another blog post).

Everyone else was from somewhere south of the US border. The youngest pickers were maybe five years old. Everyone got buckets that hung by straps around our necks and rested against our stomachs. “Don’t fall on those,” we were warned. “You’ll break your back.” Okay, then. We each took a wooden orchard ladder and went to work.

Orchard ladders are wide at the bottom, narrowing at the top, and have one leg. They are also known as tripod ladders or apple ladders. I looked them up on the internet to find the correct terminology, and discovered they are all made of aluminum now. I found a weathered wood version for sale on 1st Dibs for over two thousand dollars. Those orchard owners could have really cleaned up, because their wooden ladders felt antique fifty years ago.

I’m really not much for ladders in general. We decided that I would pick from the ground and the boyfriend would handle the ladder work. He was a young creature of muscle and bone, and clambered up with no problem. When his rickety ladder swayed out from under him, he simply grabbed a tree limb and hung there until I could reposition that wobbly back ladder leg, poking into the soft earth below the tree.

Learning the Ropes

Picking fruit requires skill and stamina, and I basically had neither. We were a source of amusement to our fellow pickers, and they were a source of valuable help to us. After watching me trying and failing to do anything right, a kindly man showed me exactly how to snap the cherries off in bunches.

Later, a kindly woman came over and told me to make sure I was picking in in the shade. Sun made the stems pliant. They snapped better when they were cooler. The children just laughed at us, but I suppose even that was kindly. In its way.

You were supposed to let anything without a stem fall. If you put too many stemless cherries in your bucket, the grower could reject it. I picked thoroughly but slowly, because I didn’t want my bucket to be rejected. I really don’t handle rejection of any kind very well at all.

The boyfriend continued to maneuver the trees like he was born to it, but he didn’t pick much more than I did. Well, he might have, but in my memory, he didn’t. When the lunch break came, I checked my tally. I’d picked half as many buckets as the five year-olds.

Taking a Break, and Making a Break For It.

The bf went to our car to get our lunch, and I asked the wife where the bathroom was. She expressed great embarrassment that I would have to use the worker facilities. I reassured her that was fine. I was a worker, right? But I understood her embarrassment when I saw those facilities. It was all concrete and filth. Asking an animal to use that bathroom would have been an insult to the animal.

I was most insulted by a hand-lettered cardboard sign advising me to “BE CLENE.”

We picked for a week (maybe less) and made very little money compared to our fellow workers. They earned the big bucks, as well as my deep respect for their skill and stamina. Toward the end of that week, I got a letter (we never had a phone in Yakima) from my parents asking if we’d come to Missoula and help them with their business of making and selling miniature furniture. They were way behind with their orders.

The boyfriend could run a saw and I could sew. We could both pack boxes. Best of all, there were no ladders. So, we packed up the cats, drove through passes, and came to Missoula, where we stayed for an entire month (and I learned to ride a bike). I might have been hopeless at picking cherries, but I could stuff a tiny sofa like a pro. And there were absolutely no ladders.

The Path to the Office

Back to work

(from a Katrina prompt, The Path)

photo courtesy Pixabay - a desk in disrepair

When I was 37, I started working at a business-to-business telemarketing office that has long since gone out of business. Because of that, and because I name no names, I feel I can write honestly about what went on there. Also, the owner got married, closed the business, and moved to a sunny retirement state twenty years ago. I’m out of her reach and she’s out of mine. Mostly.

Anyway, the office was located off Barbur Boulevard/Highway 99 on a sliver of land between 99 and I5 South, overlooking South Terwilliger. This is a hilly area. The building had a tall front entrance, but I would always walk around the building and scramble up a gravel path to the back entrance.

It’s hard to remember why I chose this route. I have a dim memory that this shortcut knocked off a set of stairs. I’m lazy about stairs and always have been, so this is possible. But it’s just as likely that I did this to avoid the smokers who congregated out front.

There was a man and two women who stood out there discussing “politics” and aggressively flirting with each other in ways that were downright graphic. The man liked to share details of his sex life, which was bad enough, but the women (one of them an ex-con, the other an ex-logger) both had unfortunate teeth and eating disorders. They were always angling to get their skinny limbs next to each other for size comparison.

You can see why I might bypass.

Office Politics

My preference for the back entrance prefigured my initial attitude towards working at this office. I quietly did my own thing, so it took some time for me to realize that the owner of this company yelled at her employees, especially one woman with a pronounced lisp. The owner would summon this employee into her office, close the door, and let that person have it over, I don’t know, like seven second pauses between calls, or too-frequent bathroom breaks, or two-minute conversations on company time. Once her bile was expelled, the door would open and disgorge a bile-covered, shuffling, often sniffling employee, who was then expected to go back to a desk and produce, produce, produce.

For some reason, she never yelled at me.

In addition to running her telemarketing business and berating her employees, the owner also offered business consulting services. I sat in on a few of her presentations to small business owners about how to improve their sales. Her answer was always the same: they needed to hire a business-to-business telemarketing agency. She just happened to own one of those.

Once she got the contract, skilled marketers like me (a single mother with a high school diploma who had not worked in an office since she was twenty) would deliver results. Leads. Sales. Signups. You name it, we’d give it the best effort that $8.00 an hour could buy.

It was grift at its finest.  

Why I stayed

First on the list was ease. The office itself was close to my home. The hours aligned with my kids’ school schedules. I was paid more than I earned at the mall. I wasn’t on my feet all day.

Second on the list was that I learned how to use a computer here. I had no idea how to do that when I started, none. I started on an old DOS based program. Within months, I almost Windows-literate. I was also learning the intricacies of business-to-business telemarketing—meeting with clients, writing scripts, assigning campaigns, analyzing data and then writing reports that blame the databases for the abject failure of all campaigns to achieve promised results—that stuff. For this, I received trifling raises and unofficial promotions.

Third, and perhaps most important to me, there were good people in this office. We had fun. Sometimes, when the boss was out on a sales call, we frisked and gamboled like giddy lambs, throwing Kush balls at each other and comparing Solitaire scores. Once, I wrote the office manager a check for a million dollars so he would mow my overgrown lawn (he mowed the lawn but never cashed it). One of our seasonal employees was incredibly intelligent (she’s one of two people I know who have been on Jeopardy). I became friends with another woman, enough to have her to my home off and on for a year. You can find her in the Gentry books (hint: she’s an English major).

So I stayed.

And then…

I’d been there just over a year when the owner called me into her office, sat me down, and offered me an exciting opportunity. She wanted me to join her in the consulting part of her endeavor. I’d be out there at her side, doing consultations and drumming up business. According to her, I’d be a natural.

I quit.

In the six weeks between when I left this office and when I started school, I wrote the screenplay that became my first novel, which quickly led to my second, and so on. At the end of the first book, Gentry has failed everyone and God, and he hates himself for it. He would need to be punishing himself in the second book.

I had an idea what that punishment might look like.

I remember jotting down a page of notes about the second book, back when I was still trying to hide the fact that I was writing from everyone. Most new writers do this. You don’t want anyone to know about your new secret addiction, so you hide it and lie about it because what if someone found out that you were writing???

Anyway, as I made notes, I was cackling. It was fun to imagine how terrible an office would be for Gentry. An assault and an affront and a perfect way to punish himself for his self-perceived transgressions in Oregon.

His purgatorial workplace held a sad woman who lisped, a creepy guy who said gross things, and Fanny, of course. Gentry was a beleaguered IT guy who committed small acts of secret rebellion. My characters were constantly berated by the owner of the company, who summoned them one after another for a good cleansing yelling session about how useless they were. My favorite bit was when Gentry summarized the PTO/health insurance benefits offered by his employer.

How can I explain my benefit package to Mike? It’s a complicated arrangement of smoke and mirrors, designed to give the illusion of benefits. I have health leave as long as I never get sick. I lose all accrued personal time off if I ever take any. I’m paid by the hour if I work less than forty hours a week, switching immediately to salary the moment I put in an hour over that. “Mike, I’m told that I have benefits, but I have no retirement, no life insurance, no dental, no vision, and my health insurance covers no prescriptions, no physicals and no illnesses.”

This was absolutely accurate.

Were there parallels? Clearly, yes. But my fictional office was in Oklahoma, not Oregon. I assumed I was safe, even though much of what I used would be familiar to anyone who had worked there. I couldn’t help myself. And this book has been my favorite of all the Gentry books, right up until I finished the fifth one.

Sorry, Confession. You’ve been displaced by Instruction.

Moving on.

I wrote a lot of first drafts while finishing my degree at Portland State. I mistook them for finished novels, but thankfully I graduated with honors and went to work in a different type of business. One that creates products, as opposed to grift. My company offers employee benefits, as opposed to that stuff I described earlier. I’ve worked there for over twenty years.

My office is downtown. When I take the freeway home, I pass the old building where I learned about B2B telemarketing. It’s right there, and perpetually hung with “FOR LEASE” banners. How could I miss it?

But sometimes, I drive right past without a glance. I’m thinking about my day, or singing too loudly, and I don’t even see it. Other times, I look over toward that back entrance and I swear, I can see myself as I was back then. A much younger me, dressed in the office attire of the day. A pastel striped top. A pale pink skirt. White pumps with one-inch heels, and pantyhose, by god, I used to wear pantyhose. I look like Easter Sunday, 1998.

But those one-inch heels dig into the gravel as I scramble up that path, on my way to wherever it is I’m going.