Tuesday, December 30, 2008

1956-The Red Coat with the Toggle Buttons

In 1956 I was actually taller than my brother "Little Wally"

In a family of seven children clothes were handed down on a regular basis—and Wally was happy to be wearing a red coat in this picture that was actually mine. It was a great coat as I remember—had toggle buttons and a hood. Great for sleigh riding—building snowmen. We were obviously heading out somewhere in this picture—in Mom's '53 Cadillac in the background. I probably wouldn't be riding out the window on this day as I did on others— because it was obviously a winter day—too brisk for that!

Fast forward to Christmas 2008—52 years! (..did I say that?)
My brother Wally surprised me with a gift that made me smile! He first presented me with the picture at the top of this post—and when I opened the box and saw the red coat with the toggle buttons I immediately recognized it. ......He was finally giving it back to me!

Just to assure you that the coat would not fit him now, here's one of my favorite picture of my "little" brother Wally—taken a "few" years ago when he was on the road with my Dad, Mr.Sawdust

Wally is son #4—named after my Dad. He is an incredibly gifted woodworker—and all around nice guy—a great brother!

These pictures were taken with my "baby" David—youngest of my four children.
Even he's taller than me!
(...and he always makes me smile!)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Jeff!

(This was a great 50's toy—it was a Doepke Yardbird—a little train
that ran on a track in our back yard.

The metal train car moved around the track by
cranking the handle between two kids—
definitely a team effort!)

I was blessed with SIX brothers—each one is special to me—each one so different; each having his own gifts and special qualities.
Today is the birthday of my older brother Jeff. Older, yes—but only by a year— born two days after Christmas. When you're born so close to Christmas, your birthday often gets lost in all the commotion.
I was born December 19th....not quite as close as December 27th.
Remembrance of the birthday of a brother as special as Jeff should never get lost—even for a moment.
He is a kind, gentle and compassionate person—always looking for ways to do do nice things for others.

I'm told that when I was born, Jeff was not thrilled. He was still a baby himself—only a year old. My mother tells the story of a time not too long after my arrival when Jeff tried to push my carriage down a hill...but all that is behind us.
Jeff is the brother who built the greatest forts and little houses when we were kids—and the brother who can restore just about anything. And he is the brother with the greatest imagination; creator of a family of "paint brush people"—each with its own individual personality.

A few years back he created a chair—a one of a kind creation—made up of numerous paint brush people.
But as they say-
a picture is worth a thousand words...

My brother Geoffrey with his incredible carved chair—
each head intricately carved-
Notice the spindles on the back of the chair-
each one an
individual "paint brush person" The seat was also hand-rushed by Jeff.

Happy Birthday Jeff!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Make-over: The Little Log House

Back in the 50's my brother Jeff (#3 brother in the line of 6 brothers) —could put together a fort or house in the woods that was quite unbelievable! He would take a few of my dad's tools, (pay for it later) hammer and nails, saw, spare lumber— gather some fallen branches and construct small houses that we could really play in.

His most advanced project though, for an eight-year-old, was the houseboat; complete with built in bunk beds and a balcony overhead. We were all excited on the day of the launch, standing on the banks of the swamp in the woods behind the house. It is a good thing we were not on board, though. It sunk immediately!
His creative endeavors have continued, now a master at carving and furniture restoration. Sometime I'll share some of his amazing carvings here. But this is about something nice he did for us last year just before Christmas....

We live in a log cabin and the original builder constructed a miniature cabin and placed it at the end of the driveway to the house. It was in bad shape after years of neglect. I wanted to find a way to restore it rather than put it out of its misery. The picture above is the "before" picture...it definitely needed a friend!

I asked my brother Jeff if he could put a new roof on it and he agreed to—loaded it up into his truck and drove it away. A few months later he brought the little cabin back and true to form Jeff amazed us! This is what it looks like now...

Jeff even installed lighting inside so the windows light up at night.

........Thanks again Jeff!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The "Happy Meal" of the 50's

PB&J and a cold glass of Bosco was the "Happy Meal" of the day!

Add a half an hour of Johnny Jelly Bean or The Merry Mailman and we were in Baby boomer heaven!

(...of course today the show would be called
"The Merry Mail-Person")

*The little folks in the black and white picture above are from left to right-Jimmy John, Carl, Suzanne and Wally.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The 50's-When Dogs Were Our Heroes-II

(Story continued from HERE)

The beautiful hand painted sign at the end of the driveway was different now. Our family name was painted over and replaced with the words "For Sale." The moving van was almost packed—the final pieces of furniture being carried out the front door—all of my Dad's treasures, built by him —especially for this house.

In order to fully understand the impact of this move on our family, you need to picture living in a rural neighborhood in the 5o's. There were about a half dozen homes, each situated on an acre of land; acres of woods and fields were left undisturbed behind the yards where we spent our days exploring—building forts, hiking bridle paths. Moms stayed home and neighbor mothers knew us almost as well as our own mothers.

We had tremendous freedom as children to go where we wanted. We were free to visit friends a mile from the house, out of our parent's sight much of the time. There was little traffic and child abductions were unheard of at the time. It's amazing what we've learned to accept as a "normal" part of life.
My two little friends next door were like sisters to me and I loved their mother as I did my own.

It was a tough decision, but my dad (Mr.Sawdust) was leaving his job as a salesman for AMF, for a new job in Pennsylvania. This was the only home I had ever known—my parent's "dream house"—a ten room colonial built by my Dad. When I said goodbye to my two little friends next door, I realized that this was the first time I had ever said goodbye to anyone.
Our home in NJ built by Mr.Sawdust in the early 50's

Our new house outside of Lancaster was situated in the middle of three cornfields—the ramifications of that fact not fully "appreciated" until the spring planting when the manure was spread generously on all three fields! But now it was fall. Chestnut Hill could be seen looming in the distance out our dining room window. Dad thought it was beautiful—to me it appeared dark and scary.

It was a long walk to the bus stop the next morning—our first day in the new school— around two cornfields now brown and dormant. The first day of school is always awkward, no matter how well adjusted a child might be, but starting school in a new state, not knowing anyone borders on terrifying!

The second day was cold with an early frost, Flash at our heels wanting to see us off. Perhaps he slipped out the door—dad and mom distracted by all the commotion of us getting ready to leave.
However it happened, Flash was determined to watch out for his "kids."

Four brothers and I stood eagerly watching for bus number nine. As was his custom back in Morristown, Flash chased a squirrel across the road— but this road was bustling with traffic.
A tanker truck screeched to a halt, but too late—we heard a thud—Flash was under his front tire.
He looked up at us, tail wagging, and then closed his eyes.

We screamed all the way home, and within minutes stood banging on the front door— my parents inside, only hoping we were all accounted for.

"Flash is DEAD!" we cried pounding our fists on the door.

We huddled together and cried and cried and cried. For the first time in my life, I was seeing my Dad cry too.

I remember a feeling finally settling over us and over the house that day. It left us with a message Dad conveyed to us often with few words, at serious times as a family—certainly this had been one. Yes, we had left our familiar and beautiful home, our friends, and here we were, in a strange new place; a place without the years of memories and good times attached. Yet, all nine of us were safe together. We still had what was most important—our family.

Dad did not leave the house at all that day, except for the unpleasant task of burying Flash. He carried him over his shoulder, up to a spot on Chestnut Hill and returned home that night exhausted.

Dear Mrs. Bechtel,
Please excuse Mary for being absent on Monday. Our German Shepherd was hit by a truck and killed. Mary was very upset.
Mary's Mom

"Mary, come up to my desk."
I walked to the front of my new third grade class—all eyes on me —and saw my mother's note on the teacher's desk.

"Class, Mary's dog was hit by a car yesterday and she stayed home from school. That was no excuse to miss school!
You may sit down now, Mary.
Now, let's get our red pencils out-we are going to correct papers."

In that one moment of time, I learned more than I would learn the rest of that year. I knew that this teacher could teach me nothing; and the day before—that tragic day in the life of my family, had taught me more about life than she had learned in her 40+ years.

Not long ago my mother shared a letter with me, written by my dad to our family following that difficult year. It was attached to the front of a large family photo album he was putting together.The fact that I had never seen it, confirmed to me that although I was quite young, the impression left on me was real- and that some of the greatest lessons in life are not taught by words.

Dear Children,

It seems to me that I should have something to tell you.

This writing will probably outlast me, though I'm entering the primary class of middle age, and I can imagine a time when you may gather together, in later years, and say, "I remember when Dad was putting this book together."

I hope you do remember--but there's more to this book than a collection of pictures. What we have here is a sort of record of love and understanding. That "times," for the moment (a very long moment!) were not so good for us--and our greatest consolation was each other.

This is no attempt to write a history of our family. I do not wish to. But we have learned so many things which should never be forgotten:

1) We have learned the valuelessness of material things.
2) We have learned the pleasure of time spent together.
3) You have come to know the greatness of your mother.
4)You have learned the meaning of "the tie that binds" and the closeness of family.
5) You have found some of the compensation that comes from and hour of creative effort.

These are not small factors in a person's life. Remember them, and increase their importance in your minds as years go by.

Trust in man, even though it pays you little. The occasional friend you gain through such a trust is worth it. Don't judge your friends. If a friend must be judged he is not a friend. Like a rose, "a friend is a friend is a friend." A friend comes into your life, and continues through your life--not by your design or his. Each man is allotted only a very few true friends in his entire life. Cherish each one, whatever else you do.

A good friend, like everything else, is a gift of God. Just as a man is alone without a sincere trust in God, so then is a man alone because he has no God given friends.

You have always been loved greatly by your mother and myself--and this love will increase as the years go by. But this love is not enough. You must have the love and friendship of others, outside the family. Keep your hearts open, smile with your eyes, as well as your mouth. Speak only the truth, even if it hurts you.....................

Most important, through all her days, love your Mother. God wants it that way.

FLASH...a once in a lifetime pet!

We knew we would never replace Flash-that would be impossible!
But three years later my dad wanted another dog—
and it had to be....... a Basset Hound!

...but that's another story.