Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Family Camping-Are We Having Fun yet?


Family Camping....what a romantic idea! Bonding—building teamwork-facing challenges together–getting close to God's creation....economical... well...

Preparations for our first camping trip as a family in 1964— destination Lake George, N.Y.— were almost as exciting as the actual trip. Very characteristic of my dad, (Mr.Sawdust) we were going to do this right! One Saturday he escorted my six brothers and me to a large Army-Navy surplus store in Manhattan, a forty minute drive from our home in Upper Montclair, NJ. These stores were equivalent in the 60's to the sports outfitters of today. Each of us was fully equipped with a comfy flannel lined sleeping bag, a denim duffel bag, a compass, a whistle and a flashlight. Every purchase was multiplied nine times-the clerk was loving it! We filed out of the store wearing matching tee shirts and white sailor caps. ...Now if that wasn't a classic scene for the makings of a great family musical!
We had collapsible canvas water buckets, even a portable toilet with a curtain for the utmost privacy. All we had to do was dig the hole.
After careful consideration, figuring how much room the nine of us (..and the dog) would need for sleeping, Dad purchased a tent that would house a circus. Tents back then were not made of lightweight nylon. They were made of heavy canvas so this tent was not only huge but weighed a ton! I remember the center pole was about nine feet tall when the two hardwood poles were assembled. But not to worry—dad and the boys had built a car top carrier that was so big it would easily transport all we had purchased that day...and much more. It extended the entire length of the top of the Dodge wagon. My dad's excitement was contagious! By the time we returned home that night I felt like I had already been on vacation.
The actual camping trip turned out to be much more exciting than that trip to the city for supplies; in fact, it was far more exciting than Dad could have possibly anticipated. That "great family musical" was about to become a hair raising drama.
Dad was always proud to have the family together, crowded into the big Dodge station wagon, along with the family dog. Our basset hound, Boots accompanied us on this trip, claiming his spot behind the driver’s seat. He’d position his stubby hind legs on the edge of the back seat and drop a paw over Dad’s shoulder. Hanging his head out the window, he’d let his long, pendulous ears flap in the breeze. He would rest his head on Dad’s shoulder when the ride became wearisome.
“How many kids have you got there?” attendants would inquire curiously as we stopped for gas. “Seven! Six boys and one girl!” he’d reply. “She must be treated like a queen,” they’d inevitably respond.
It is remarkable how many times I heard that growing up. I guess it was, in fact, true. Taking my place in the middle of six boys, with the understanding that any mistreatment of the one daughter would result in an unhappy situation, made me feel like somewhat of a princess in a strong fortress. I’m sure my “special” position was resented at times, especially on nights when Dad found an interesting movie on television. I would sit up on his lap eating popcorn, slide down from time to time and run up the stairs. “Now, you boys go to bed! We’re downstairs eating popcorn.” I’d skip eagerly back down the stairs.
They loved that, I’m sure.
Yes, we were well equipped, no doubt, but totally unprepared for the violent storm that blew up and threatened to relocate our enormous tent in the middle of the night. I can still see my Dad leaning the weight of his entire body against the massive wooden center pole, in an attempt to keep it standing. The large canvas tarp that had been attached to the pole at the peak of the tent was being hoisted by the winds. Lightning flashes revealed our frightened faces as we sat clutching pots and pans to catch the dripping water.
Thoroughly exhausted from the night, we left the soggy camp site for a site-seeing drive the following morning. The day was damp and chilly and it actually felt good to be back in the crowded station wagon—dog and all. Dad still had his sailor’s cap on, pipe in his mouth, clenched securely between his teeth. He was no doubt a bit shaken by the storm, but didn’t show it. He was still ….on vacation! We drove until lunchtime. “Well, what do you say we head back to….wait a minute—I know where we are! We’ve got to stop up ahead. We’re at the Ausable Chasm!” There was that whisper of suspense in his voice.

Note: See the USA the Easy Way put out by Reader’s Digest describes the Ausable Chasm as follows:

“Here sheer walls of rock rise some 200 feet above the rushing waters of the Ausable River. A tour of the chasm includes a 3/4 mile hike on dangling suspension bridges and winding walkways, past plunging waterfalls and raging rapids, culminating in a boat ride through the swirling waters.


We received a few instructions. I was to keep the dog on his leash, Mom had my youngest brother Chris close by her side. Bruce, Jeff, little Wally and Carl were to follow Dad. We climbed carefully down some boulders, wet and slick with moss, not an easy feat for a basset hound. We could hear the deafening roar of the mighty rapids, rushing furiously due to last nights storm. Soon we could see for ourselves why Dad had made the stop.
It was breathtaking!

This great photo of the Ausable Chasm
by Bryce Koechlin, (AddVision Studios) is as I remember it!

As we stood together looking warily down into the chasm, I recall my Dad’s words, “I seriously doubt a man could fall in there and come out alive. Let’s head back.” With that, he turned to leave. Seconds later, my brother Bruce, who had been mesmerized by the water, was falling headlong down into the rapids. It was one of those moments in time when you are awakened with a jolt from a terrible dream, so relieved—but this was not a dream.
“BRUCE FELL IN!!” I screamed, straining to be heard above the water.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Dad made his way to the edge and jumped in. I could see Bruce’s arms flailing out of the water as he was tossed around and pulled under by the rapids. Within seconds, my mother made her way to the edge, jumped in and was pulled down the river as well. I grabbed as many little hands as I could and walked along the chasm, hoping to see all three, remembering all too well my Dad’s ominous words. Would they come out alive?
What a wonderful sight it was to see my Dad, sailor cap still on his head, and—I kid you not—pipe in his mouth, standing beyond the rapids in an alcove of rocks, embracing Bruce and Mom.
It was a very tearful, thankful, crowded ride back in the station wagon. Bruce cried the loudest however. Thankful, yes, he had not lost his life, but a comparable tragedy to him — he had lost his harmonica.
We sat quietly at the picnic table in the stillness of evening, humbled by the day. “Do you see this frail little mantle in this lantern?” Dad asked. We gazed in to see the delicate mantle providing the only light in the campsite. “That is how frail our life is. In one second, it can be taken away!”
We were dirty. We were tired. We were sick of being on vacation. But the following morning we filed into the nearest church we could find, just to say, “thank you” that we would all be heading home.



This picture of Boots and me was taken while swimming
in lake George-the day before the incident at the Ausable chasm.
*No wonder my teacher thought I was telling tales when I returned in the fall and turned in my “What I Did on My summer Vacation” essay....and hard to believe there would be a second family camping adventure.



Saturday, July 14, 2018

Mom's Cadillac






...It was big—it was real big. Shiny black with a white hard top—rounded fins in the back, rounded trunk—1953, a few years before the lines on the Cadillac became sleek and the fins sharp. It was very classy—but it was just too big.


Mom had learned to drive only the year before. Having grown up and lived in New York City until their move to New Jersey after getting married, she never had the need or desire to drive a car. When the older children were young, milk was delivered to the doorstep, our pediatrician came to the house, even groceries were delivered. But now, with growing children and a home in the country to manage, learning to drive became essential. She learned quickly, and before long was on the road, usually with a carload of kids. "Mr. Sawdust' was now bringing in a substantial income, and he wanted his Jeannie to ride in style.

As I said, the car was just too big for Mom. Maybe it was from where I was sitting in the back but it did appear that Mom looked through that great big steering wheel, rather than over it. She was a good driver, but as you might imagine this required her utmost concentration. And I do believe the car was as wide as it was long. Children in the back were merely 'assumed', because they couldn't be seen in the rear view mirror.

Seat belts had not even entered anyone's mind at the time, and our outings were very "relaxed." A little brother with a bottle hanging from his mouth would ride standing next to Mom, and another would occupy himself with a truck or two on the floor in the back seat. Of course there were not as many cars on the roads and not as many accidents, and we were young and oblivious to such things. I'm afraid we were not the only ones who were oblivious.

I had discovered the joys of an open window at high speeds. I loved leaning my head out and feeling the wind whip my pony tail just like a galloping horse. I'd pull it back in when I started to lose my breath. Then I discovered something even more exciting than that. I would very carefully stand up on the back seat, sit out the open window, hanging on to the roof for dear life. The view was wonderful from up there. I remember doing it several times and feeling quite safe. Apparently an off-duty policeman traveling behind us one afternoon, didn't have the same "safe" feeling. He was blinking his lights and motioning for my Mom to pull off the road. It took a while for her to realize he was behind her. When she finally pulled off the road, he ran over to the car and yelled, "Hey lady, do you want to lose that little girl?" Funny how his exact words have stuck in my mind to this day! Maybe it was that "Now I've seen everything" look that accompanied his words. He allowed me to sit up there just long enough for Mom to turn around and take a good look. She was stunned! I slipped down onto the seat and listened to the frantic conversation, but suddenly was hit with the realization that my Dad would be the next one to find out. This was not a good thought!

Only a few months earlier I had received a spanking from him that was still fresh in my mind. My dad rarely spanked me. It had to be a life threatening situation for him to do so. That casual stroll I took one afternoon with my two best friends, gathering flowers along the busy road in front of our house, was in his mind one of those situations. What would he do when he heard about this?

Funny thing, I don't remember ever receiving a spanking for my little joy rides. Certainly I was in much more danger than picking flowers along the roadside. Now I'm wondering if my Mom ever really told my Dad. I know he knew about it years later.

Maybe she decided not to tell him….for a little while.

….I'll have to ask her about that.

Update-August 12, 2013


 
My beautiful mother passed away March 23, 2012-a profound loss to me and my entire family.  This picture was taken at a car show in 2010 where mom discovered a Cadillac very similar to the one that she owned way back in the 50's!  She was so delighted, remembering the car and all the "fun" we had riding together!  I regret that I was not able to be with  her on that day-she spent the afternoon with her granddaughter Emily and great granddaughter Bella.  They had a delightful time!

(original artwork-all rights reserved)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"Quick Henry —the FLIT!"

(original artwork-all rights reserved)
…now my mom was probably among the most loving and caring of moms that ever lived; but I remember her doing something that would probably be grounds for child endangerment today!

Living in the country with seven children who were in and out of the house all day long on hot summer days—the screen door practically swung on its hinges. Flies were plentiful as I recall but were not welcome in our house. So my mom—along with other caring mom’s of the day, had her FLIT can ready for action!

She would pump the handle and spray directly at flies that landed on the kitchen table, or directly into the air—wherever she saw those little flying menaces.

In her defense, the advertising of the day was
very convincing.


Remember.. this was the same era when testimonial ads convinced my parents that Camel cigarettes were actually good for you!


Long before the Cat in the Hat ever made his appearance (..very interesting story there of the origin of the book) , Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr.Seuss) created very convincing ads for FLIT.


They are priceless!

This ad campaign actually began during the depression— my mother grew up hearing "Quick Henry the FLIT!"which became a common catchphrase.
So my mother, like thousands of other mothers in the 50's thought she was doing something "good" for her family.

..I have to wonder what I did for the "good" of my children that they will write about in the future!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Growing up as a kid in the 50's was..."romantic"!

...not in the sense you might think of when I say..."romantic." For example—my kindergarten teacher's name was Miss Bowers. She was up there in years but I did not know it at the time because she smiled a lot and dressed so colorfully. Our bus driver's name was "Mr.Pickle." (I assumed he was old because he was bald) At the end of second grade, Mr.Pickle asked Miss Bowers to marry him. She said "yes" and she became Mrs.Pickle—the kindergarten teacher.

...see what I mean?

But back to kindergarten...early in the spring that year, my older brother Bruce went to his Saturday Cub Scout meeting dressed in his little blue uniform, yellow scarf around his neck, held secure by a little metal ring with a wolf engraved in it— (boy was he proud of that!)

While he was there, he found an injured bird hobbling in the grass. It was a gorgeous red bird with black wings—a Scarlet Tanager. Its wing was injured and it was unable to fly—easy prey for any lurking cat.

I remember him returning home with the bird in a Buster Brown shoe box. He named the bird "Flair" and over the next month Flair became a part of our family. Each morning we would wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus. Flair sat perched on top of Bruce's head. Mr.Pickle would stop, throw open the bus door and smile from ear to ear—delighted at the sight! Flair spent the school day on Bruce's shoulder, patiently watching as he worked. Now today I'm sure there would be a dozen reasons why Flair would not be allowed in school—"fleas...bird flue...the other children do not have a bird like Flair to bring to school..." but in the 50's Flair was more than welcome!
After school Bruce sat and watched his afternoon shows—Claude Kirschner and his Terrytoon Circus-cartoon show...the Mousekateers with Annette and Cubby. Flair sat on top of the television set perched on the rabbit ear antenna until they were over.



Weeks went by. Bruce hoped Flair's wing would heal and he would be able to fly again someday —until that day actually came. Each day we would take turns running across the yard with Flair perched on our hand, to see if he would try to fly. One day my brother Jeff took his turn and Flair took off! Bruce was not happy. He wanted to be the one to see Flair off. Flair sat high in a tree top looking down at us, then up toward the sky—hesitant, as if contemplating what to do. Then he was off! Though we always looked for him, we never saw him again.

I'll bet there are a number of Baby Boomers today who remember the year a Scarlet Tanager rode the bus to school with them and attended third grade.


....now tell me that's not a romantic thought!



(my dad with Flair-we all loved him!)


Update February 7, 2017

Thought it would be interesting to post an update on the little Cub Scout-Bruce Kunkel.
From the time he could hold a pencil, we knew that he was an artist. If you Google his name "Bruce Kunkel-Gibson Guitar" you will be able to see some of the stunning guitars he has created over the years at the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville.
Here is just one of his many creations:




Saturday, May 5, 2018

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.Sincerely,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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

....The Medicine Cabinet

(original artwork-all rights reserved)



....Most days started and ended in front of the medicine cabinet, whether it was a school day or Saturday. The medicine cabinet was the place we ran to following those cateclysmic bicycle crashes, to doctor up skinned knees with that wonderful red Merthiolate and half a dozen Band-aids. There were always one or two gruesome scabs on our knees and Mom was right—they did get better before we got married.
It was where our mom sent us when we complained of a headache or toothache or sprained ankle with the instruction, “Take an aspirin!” Our moms were wiser than even they were aware of …we’re still being told to "take an aspirin"!
And of course we could always find the Vicks-VapoRub there for when we had colds. A little Vicks rubbed on our chests, a cup of hot chocolate—and seven days later we were just about all better.
Dad kept his shaving cream and razor in the medicine cabinet and when he left for work in the morning the bathroom smelled delightful— Old Spice aftershave..
Now this was a wonderfully care free time of life but there were some disturbing thoughts that occasionally entered my mind. I knew that my dad disposed of his used razor blades in that little slot in the back of the medicine cabinet made especially for the disposal of used razor blades. You can't see it pictured here, because the door isn't opened wide enough, but it's there.

*....What was going to happen when the wall was FULL of razor blades?!


And I was not the only child haunted by that thought.

*...and that childhood fear has come to haunt us—take a look at this picture taken recently by a Fort Worth Texas home inspector!



(note: the Merthiolate bottle in the medicine cabinet above is the actual bottle that was in my neighbor's medicine cabinet when we were kids...)