Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chance Connections with Women of Words: Small Simple Things of Life

When I started this project of "Virtual Gifts" it was about women bloggers I had met in the last year...but it seems to have taken on a life of its own, and now I am back two years.  It is kind of like painting a picket fence--when can you stop?
 I started blogging regularly for Preservation in Mississippi in April 2012.  Beth visited from there to my post on mapping the Mound Bayou historic cemeteries.  As a result, we discovered a mutual love for history, and our connection to Texas and Mississippi.
Image used with permission of the United States Post Office
A post on MissPres about restoring the Picayune post office mural led to her commenting about the Eupora mural, where her grandfather worked when she was a child.  A few days later, she posted her story of the Eupora mural, and my interest in the post office murals was born.
Image used with permission of the United States Post Office
I started with The Wedding of Ortez and SaOwana-Christmas 1540 by Joseph Pollet, in the Pontotoc, Mississippi post office--discovered quite by chance.   That would begin the many road trips to photograph murals in Mississippi post offices, and the discovering of the Living New Deal and efforts to document every New Deal Administration project in the US--in one location, accessible to people.  I made my first submission to Living New Deal in January 2013.
Beth began photographing New Deal projects in her region, and has contributed numerous projects and photographs to Living New Deal, including most recently, documentation of WPA involvement in work on the Alamo.  During the summer of 2013, I had a contact from one of the LND administrators after a submission I made about a Texas project asking me if I knew of any documentation on the Alamo.  I did not, and actually forgot about it.  I was elated to see Beth's submission on the Alamo recently.

It is another of those chance connections that led to more connections that resulted in linking us all together in yet additional ways that we cannot foresee.  It is also an example of how relationships form behind us, so we should be careful about how we approach them--we never know where or to whom those chance relationships will lead.

Happy New Year, Beth, and thanks for all those historic doorways into the past you open up down your way!

Monday, December 29, 2014

My coolest Christmas present in 12 years

 I will not belabor all the issues with this house we bought 12 years ago, just as we were about to depart to Texas for our first Christmas trip "home."  Let me just say that closet doors were not part of the deal, and though we thought they were necessary, and put them on the list of things that had to be done prior to close--welcome to Mississippi: "closet doors are not an essential nor required agreement in houses, and thus, we do not have to provide them even if you asked for them in the contract."  I will leave it at that.
 So, imagine my delight, my joy, my absolute euphoria and undying love for this man I married who was willing to follow me to Mississippi 12 years ago and give up our lovely home (I know, I cannot help it, but note the home had a pool, garage, bathrooms that worked, view of the lake, laundry room inside the house, and, oh, doors on all of the SIX closets...I better stop here...) to discover my present was
ta da!-- closet doors!  First off, Libby really had a bit of difficulty trying to figure out her twin sister, but once she accepted Libby2 was friendly, it has been calm. I just hope I can remember why when I get up in the night to go to the bathroom, there is another woman in here.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bridges from Ireland to the World: Social Bridge

The Emerald Isle of the Bering Sea: St. Paul Island, Alaska
In the third of my series of gifts to women bloggers whose work I enjoy and admire, who inspire me and delight me, today's post is for Jean at Social Bridge, in Ireland.  I hope you will read the full post at Suzzassippi: Red Shutters.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Studio is Open: Hickory Ridge Studio

 I admire women, whatever their talents.  I especially admire those women who make things with their hands.  Hickory Ridge Studio is a showcase for a woman who makes things with her hands. (No, that is not Lana weaving a rug, but I am certain she could if she wanted to.)  Weaving rugs and hangings is one of the ways the indigenous women of South Africa provide for their children--they found a niche (i.e., tourists will buy weavings) and meet the need in a way that is mutually beneficial.  I think a lot of women do that.

Rather, these photographs are a virtual gift to Lana to say thanks for the recipes (especially that apple skillet cake!), jewelry ideas, photographs of lovely sunsets and sunrises, meeting your horses, and a tour inside some of the buildings in your neck of the Mississippi woods.
 She cooks, bakes, invents recipes, makes jewelry, sews, quilts, paints, does photography, all whilst working full time and taking care of a toddler who clearly has inherited her mama's independent spirit.
And, she loves tractors.  You have to admire a woman who loves tractors.  Keep on cooking, baking, inventing, nurturing your artistic talents, and nurturing that little baby girl--who has a great role model for her future years!  Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Calm of a Christmas without Drama

 I was delighted to be able to stay home (so far!) during the month of December.  It meant Christmas at home with just the three of us for the first time in years--first time our unique family of three has been together at the same place and time.  I am pretty low key about Christmas in recent years, but thinking about my sister and how much she loves the holiday season just made me happy to extend myself a bit more than I normally would.

I wanted a white tree for my red ornaments--ornaments bought 3 or 4 years ago and never taken out of the packages.  The only white tree I could find had multicolored lights on it, so it looked pink when lit...or as I put it, like a rainbow threw up on the tree.  The more I have looked at the substitution for which I settled, the more I like the bright aqua tree with not only red, but the touches of green, gold, and blue.  I turn on the tree lights, turn out all the others, and sit in the dining nook each night and just enjoy looking, thinking, feeling the calm and the restful peace of it.
 No mantle since moving to Mississippi, but the cup rack made a good substitute for hanging stockings...new stockings.  I don't even know where the red and white ones are, and I impulsively bought these the day I found the now deemed perfect aqua tree.  Rand and I had a pleasant and enjoyable day in Memphis Tuesday, doing the last of the shopping after getting the oil changed in my car for the trip to Texas after the first.  J and I will head down for a few days while this time, Rand takes over dog duties.
 Last night after a simple meal of chicken portobello, baked sweet potatoes, and green beans, we watched White Christmas.  It was a family tradition for years when I was growing up, and I loved the dancing and singing numbers and yearned to be Vera Ellen, who played the younger sister Judy.  One year, Rand and I drove to the theater in Eastland to watch it "on the big screen."  I have not seen it for years now.  One year at my folks' house, settled in the living room, I just announced the tradition had come to an end for me--that I thought I had seen White Christmas as many times as I needed to.

Turns out I was mistaken...I needed to see it at least one more time. 
 Even though she is not a blogger, today's "gift" goes to my sister, whose presence and stability and stamina and commitment allowed me to the opportunity to be home with Rand and J for this holiday.
The sun is shining, the sky is blue, so is the Christmas tree!  What more could you ask for?  Bread pudding?  Okay, that's coming up, too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gifts for the Women of Words: Between the Gateposts

A few nights ago, I was reflecting on the women I have come to know through their blogs in the past year, the gifts they give to me, the camaraderie we share across time and space.  They are in different states, different countries, just "down the road in Mississippi" and everywhere in between. 
Photo used with permission of Michael Popek, http://www.forgottenbookmarks.com

 Between the Gateposts is a blend of family history, stories of African American history, and community, all tied together with the identity of community researcher.  That resonates with me--the importance of community, family both by blood and by relationships of choice, and how they are woven together through our experiences across time.  I like to think there are those of us who are joined in a process of re-weaving those threads that have become so unraveled, or perhaps, were never even in the same cloth to begin with and yet, could be.

When I first saw the photograph of Jake's hands, I thought of LR, and her work to preserve the history of not only her own family, but that of other African American people in the communities where she lives.  I am imbuing the photograph with my own interpretation, but that is what I do: give meaning and explanation to what I observe.  So, here it is again, with my story of who Jake is, and what this photograph represents:
Jake was from Rockland County, New York.  The faded photograph displayed a cake with a flag with 48 stars.  It was found in a book published in 1941, The Long Christmas.  In my story, Jake is a young man, most likely 18, who had just enlisted in the Army; it is 1942.  It is his going-away party, and his family and friends have joined together to send him off.  He is only 18, and likely filled with both dread and fear of what is to come, and at the same time, a sense of adventure as he leaves the New York county which has been home to him for the possibility of Europe, or later, India, China, or the Pacific islands.

Rockland County in 1942 was home to at least 5,000 African American residents.  One of the "Stars for Victory" shows was staged in Rockland County, December 10, 1942, by local African Americans to support aid for wounded Russian soldiers, allies of the United States.  Helen Hayes served as chairwoman, and the star line-up included Lena Horne, Billy Banks, W. C. Handy, Joshua White, Edna Thomas, and Abby Mitchell.  One of the songs presented was Langston Hughes' "Freedom Road" with guitarist Joshua White.  The show was
...expression of gratitude by the American Negro people for the heroic resistance that the Russians have placed in the way of the Hitler advance. (Rockland County, 1942)
Langston Hughes' song "attempts to link the war abroad to the struggle for racial justice at home" (That's why I'm Marching: Mobilizing African Americans for War).

Jake would know segregation and discrimination in his time in the service, an irony not lost on the African Americans who served during World War II whilst they were allegedly "striking their blows for democracy" (That's Why I'm Marching).
The challenge for African-American leaders was to remind white Americans that a struggle for racial justice abroad must inevitably lead to a closer look at injustice at home.  African-American leaders constantly reminded their fellow citizens, and themselves, that this was their country, too; they had shaped its history in profound ways. (That's Why I'm Marching)
For your efforts to preserve that shaping of history, and the profound ways in which you and your family have contributed to that history, my Christmas gift to you, LR--Jake's hands.

Sources: Rockland County Negro Citizens Put on "Stars for Victory" Show to Aid Russians.(December 12, 1942). The New York Age, p. 9.

"That's Why I'm Marching": Mobilizing African Americans for War. (n.d.). Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.  Department of History and Art History. George Mason University. Fairfax Virginia.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Gift that keeps on giving...Cats

 Things have been busy here around the Taylor Hill zoo in the past couple of weeks.  Translation: too much to do, and thus, nothing gets done.  Cinco and Son House have taken to enjoying the perch on the fence post at Libby's kennel.  I have glanced out a time or two and been startled to see them sitting out there, looking in the window. 
 Cinco is the fifth of the calico cats who have called the hill home since the winter of 2010 when two pregnant calicos showed up and gave birth on the porch, so calling her Five seemed to be fitting.  I have previously noted that calicos do not seem particularly friendly, although Cinco has warmed up and will actually come over, rub up against my legs, and lie down for me to scratch her tummy.  Her mama has even calmed a bit, and will come over on the steps, meow for a pet before she runs off.
Cinco kept an ever-watchful eye on Libby's pet door, though, just in case a little red dog came barreling out of it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Gift of Words

I opened my latest McMurry University alumni magazine last night, and started flipping through.  The words "Lila Senter" jumped off the page.  I was flooded with the memories of the summer I worked with Lila at Hospice of Abilene--while completing my second internship for my Masters in Social Work.  That experience at Hospice was one of the most significant of my life, and the early formative years in my career as a social worker.

Lila was involved with the volunteer program, and I would have occasion to make home visits with her over the course of the 3 months I spent completing my internship hours.  During the course of that summer, I would get to know a lot about the people who staffed the small office (Hospice was a relatively new concept at that time).  Lila, like the other social workers and nurses and chaplains who staffed the program--many of them volunteers--was kind, gracious, and caring, but also much fun to work with.  My grandfather was fatally injured during that summer internship, and I think that the experiences and caring to help me deal with my grief were instrumental in my personal and professional grief during that time of my life.

In addition to the many other experiences that I recall from that summer, I remember a new "fashion trend" that I adopted from Lila, and the head nurse, Libby.  At that point in my life, I had always worn high heels--we are talking the 3 inch high heel--it was just my preferred footwear--mostly closed toes/closed heel classic pumps, but 3 inch heels nonetheless.  One day at Hospice, and I knew that was not going to work, along with the short, straight skirts I preferred.  Much of the day took place standing at the side of a bed, or sitting on the side of a bed, needing to reach across, bend over, help someone walk or stand.

Lila and Libby both wore plain white Keds canvas tennis shoes--the old fashioned kind, with crew socks folded.  Sometimes the socks were white, but often, it was two pair of crews of different colors, and the tops scrunched instead of folded, with just a portion of the different color showing.  Skirts were long, flowing, allowing for graceful maneuvering while engaged in caregiving activity.  I adored them both, and how classic they looked each day.

While reading the article, Lila mentioned receiving a "word gift" from Professor Caroline Couch Blair--whom I also had for speech classes.  Professor Blair was amazing in front of the classroom, and the memory I have most strongly of her is one of her standing, teaching us to pivot while speaking.  The lesson must have stuck, I still pivot.  Of her gift from Professor Blair, Lila said,
I had always been enchanted with the magic of words and this was a unique and wondrous gift.
Lila has now presented her own gift of words, in a recently published book, appropriately called The Gift, and it contains a collection of word gifts from her to family over the years, and art and photography.  The sales of the book benefit Abilene Hope Haven, established 20 years ago and still in the business of helping end homelessness.  You can order a copy from the publisher link on Hope Haven website.  Perhaps you know someone who appreciates the gift of words, or just want to give a gift that passes on along with the present itself.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Going inside the Jermyn Methodist Church

 It is rare for me to go inside one of the many buildings that I photograph.  In fact, my first instinct was to photograph the church from the car, thanks to the two very large and barking dogs that came running up when I pulled to the side of the road after spotting this carpenter Gothic abandoned church on First Avenue and Wise Street.  However, a drive down the block and return and the dogs had gone home to nap in the pleasant sun of that afternoon.  Feeling emboldened by their non-attention while I was walking around the outside, I decided to just step up to the open door of the vestibule and take a quick peek inside...which turned into a full-fledged visit. 
 While shingles have fallen from the ceiling, there did not appear to be external roof damage, sparing the sanctuary from the ravages of rain.  In an instant, I was reminded of my first childhood church at Newcastle, and the wooden chancel rail that separated the worshipers from the choir and clergy.  I would kneel on that step in front of the rail for many an altar time or communion at our church in Seymour or Graham.
Entrance to the sanctuary was at two angles, due to the corner entry.  One set of doors opened toward the side of the sanctuary, creating a path toward the other part of the building and the choir loft, and one opened directly to the side aisle of the sanctuary and pews.
While the roof is still intact, the broken and missing panes in the windows have opened the building to birds, who have determined the backs of the pews are a fine roost.  I felt a sense of sadness, seeing streams of bird droppings where people once sat while contemplating their inner spiritual lives, the outer demonstration--or lack of--and planned and hoped and dreamed...and yes, some who impatiently waited for a final Amen and the end of a weekly ritual.
I tried to imagine having sat in that sanctuary in 1910--albeit in different seating.  The folding wooden attached chairs debuted as early as the 1890s, and came in a variety of simple styles, and some with decorative cast iron end pieces.
American Seating Company manufactured many of the ones sold in the US.  Had I thought to look, I could have searched for indication of the manufacturer.  Hind sight is rarely helpful, unless it is recalled in the next opportunity.  All too often, though, we forget the little details that later we wish we had thought to check.
A few of the windows remain intact, and evidenced a variety of color patterns.  Each window, viewed from varying vantages, cast different reflections and highlighted different focal points--a poignant reminder of life.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Jermyn Methodist Church

The Gothic Revival style Jermyn Methodist Church was built at the present site in 1910.  In 1968, it was awarded Texas Historic Landmark status.  First organized in 1909, the Jermyn Methodist Church was the first organized congregation in the area.  (Texas Historic Landmark plaque)
The church still held worship services as late as 1974, and held a monthly music "jamboree"--a family music event common in the region (Olney Enterprise, August 29, 1974, p. 3).  I don't recall attending one in Jermyn, although I remember going to them at other area locations, including the Newcastle High School auditorium, the Fort Belknap community building, and the Stovall Hot Wells outdoor pavilion.
The Gothic Revival style was popular in the late 1800s in the US, and due to plentiful lumber resources in most areas, and the lack of money for masonry construction, wood framed churches, called Carpenter Gothic, were frequently erected.  I located two churches in an identical style to the Jermyn church in other areas of the US.  The style remained popular for churches until the 1940s.
Common characteristics include board and batten siding, pointed arched windows, and towers.  In the case of the Jermyn church, the tower serves the purpose of the entrance vestibule and to house the bell.  Pointed arches adorn the stained glass windows.  Clapboard is under the asbestos shingles in this building.  Asbestos-cement shingles for siding were introduced in 1907, as a fire-resistant construction material, but the textured surface of the siding on the Jermyn example were not introduced until last 1930s.  Up until then, they were smooth.  The wavy bottom edge was available beginning in 1937. (Wilson, R. February 2008. Early 20th-century building materials: Siding and roofing. Facilities Tech Tips. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service., p. 4-5.)
Tomorrow, I'll step inside, which provides an entirely different perspective of this rural Texas church.