Thank you, Hobby Lobby, for staying open

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The wall plaque I started Sunday in a manic frenzy of creativity. Only slightly ironic, since we can’t “Gather Together” right now.

The words on the Facebook post immediately caused my blood to boil. A social-progressive website smeared the CEO of Hobby Lobby as stupid and irresponsible for deciding to keep his stores open in states where he has not been ordered to shut down.

The blog on this website also ridiculed the Christian-owned company for founder David Green’s letter to employees last week. In addition to citing the measures the stores would implement to keep employees and customers safe, Green said his wife, Barbara, the family’s “prayer warrior,” had three words put on her heart by God during prayer. Those three words: Guide, Guard and Groom. As the letter explained, “We serve a God who will Guide us through this storm, who will Guard us as we travel to places never seen before and who, as a result of this experience, will Groom us to be better than we could have ever thought possible before now.”

Yarn and glitter are good, don’t they know?

Another smarmy comment from friendlyatheist.com: Unlike grocery stores, it’s hard to make the case that yarn and glitter are essential products in a time of crisis.

Oh, but they are! Yarn and glitter and scrapbook supplies and paints and sewing supplies are indeed essential during these days of social isolation and anxiety. Just as office supplies are now more important than ever while so many of us work from home.

In fact, art supplies are such a crucial part of so many lives that a local mental health institution has put together client coping kits that contain them. The staff has even put together suggestions for clients to make their own kits. They could include paper, crayons and markers, paints, pre-made design templates for coloring, old magazines or newspapers for cutting out words or phrases for collages, and, of course, household glue. I bet that glitter and yarn would also be good elements for a coping kit.

Beware the manic woman lost in the art aisles, kitchen

Since this worldwide crisis began, and since my scheduling calendar is suddenly bereft of appointments and deadlines, I have behaved like a manic Ever Ready Bunny lost in an art supplies store like Hobby Lobby. These days I have no excuse for putting my arts and crafts projects and unfinished home décor plans on the back burner.

Matter of fact, my husband expressed some mild alarm yesterday at my level of crafty multi-tasking. He watched me start embroidering a little wall plaque with the words “Gather Together,” (ironic now, isn’t it, since we can’t). I put it aside for a bit and hauled out the color-coordinated hoard of neckties left behind by my deceased second husband and began weaving them together to cover the faded cushions of a rocker in the living room. I also wove the red and white gingham ribbon purchased weeks ago into the wire slats of the kitchen pantry shelves, embellishing the kitchen with an additional spot of country décor already present in curtains.

My unfinished necktie chair, put together right now with loose weaving on the bottom and basting stitches on the upright cushion. If I can keep the cat off of it, it might get finished during social isolation productivity.

My excuse? The expired items need clearing out

When the stay-at-home suggestions first blasted from multiple televised news conferences, I went into a frenzy of baking and cooking. My intuition (God, maybe?) told me the freezers needed to be cleared of nearly expired foods so they wouldn’t go to waste. My husband’s reaction to discovering that the meatball package slowly taking on air on the top shelf of the freezer had morphed into barbecue sliders in the crockpot? At first, skepticism, then raised eyebrows, just before the first taste. Then he pronounced them good. Whew!

However, my use of the remaining off-brand Spanish peanuts and the holiday chocolate bark in the pantry (it was starting to take on that expired looking white coating) to make peanut clusters didn’t produce a report card of A; maybe a C+. He only eats them because no other sweets have materialized from the social isolation kitchen…yet. But, oh, the plans I have!

We will discover shortly just how much red and white gingham is overkill.

The hills are alive with the sounds of red gingham

Maybe I should warn him that I have watched Julie Andrews in Sound of Music many times and may find new uses for our curtains during this frenzy of creativity.

Unlike the atheist skeptics, I do believe that God especially touches our hearts during times of crisis…whether we are retirees or company CEOs, housewives or minimum wage retail workers. Even the Wall Street Journal opinion column yesterday noted that this time of fear, anxiety and social isolation could be meant to help us get our priorities straight. Ironically, I see it as a time when we can better connect with each other and our own souls. Now we have the free time to get in touch with our expressive needs through art, writing and music. We can talk to God or the walls or our fellow isolation inmates more often and on a deeper level. We can stay in touch with friends and family. We can pray more often, or perhaps for the first time. We can love ourselves and each other and find imaginative ways to do so, minus the important sense of touch through hugs. We can channel our energies into creative projects while we learn to send healing and hopeful energy waves to our loved ones on FaceTime.

We can do this, my fellow manic, creative bunnies.

Too bad that atheists don’t know it’s all so much easier with God’s help.

Is there a 12-step program for Facebook video suckers?

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If you could just affix this mobile microscope to your mobile phone (only after you’ve downloaded the corresponding app) you would be able to tell that instructions and shipping label are in Chinese. Let this be your own warning label BEFORE clicking the BUY button at the end of a Facebook video ad.

The FedX and UPS delivery guys make enough stops at our house that they almost qualify as family. I just wish they delivered a Chinese translator with the packages.

Months before I married my husband, he saw my raised eyebrows and my attempts to hide grins as I watched the packages appear on the front porch swing. He confessed, sheepishly, that he was following the yellow brick road to the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes grand prize. Shortly after his late wife’s death, he had found that the hours passed more quickly when he was marking an X in a box or tearing out a perforated seal to affix to an order, assuring he would win an extra surprise. Like many Publisher’s players, he thought that buying the offered merchandise would improve his chances of hitting the jackpot.

Consequently, when I moved in, the house was full of mysterious white boxes, full of cheap electronics and back scratchers, tiny flashlights and gel pens in assorted colors. This from the man who was embarrassed by his late wife’s “magic closet” in the guest room. It was so full of bargains that she had found on her shopping trips—all planned as future Christmas and birthday gifts—that they filled that closet to the ceiling and came tumbling out on a guest one evening.

So, organizing-freak-of-a-new-wife moves in and tries to banish some of offensive Publisher’s House clutter to the basement. That helped . . . until the day a visitor wanted to tour the basement she remembered playing in as a child. Now that was embarrassing!

But now it’s time for organizing wife to confess to her own horrible addiction. While Hubby wins the Publisher’s Clearinghouse unofficial prize for volume of merchandise orders, I am the queen of Facebook video advertising suckers.

In the last year I have hit the “BUY” button on things that looked so appealing and practical in the videos. And it’s not just Facebook ads. Sometimes the “gotcha” comes from a slick, magazine-ish flyer that arrives in the mail with the PCH junk.

Is there a 12-step group for people like me who think they would actually use that little detachable lens that fits over an iPhone and will allow you to take better, wider-angle selfies?

And when I ordered those supplements that promised to do away with varicose vein pain and the feet that go numb every Monday night while standing for hours on risers with my chorus friends, I did not check with my doctor until after the little capsules arrived. I know she tried not to laugh at me when she said, “You realize that nitrous oxide is basically Viagra, don’t you?” Duh, no, I did not. I cancelled the standing monthly subscription the next day.

I have no excuse for falling victim to these campaigns

I am truly embarrassed by my propensity to be a victim of smooth advertising campaigns. Especially since I spent a career helping put print advertising together for local businesses. Besides falling for those slick ads for hemp gummy bears and Viagra-in-disguise, I am most mortified by my tendency to unwittingly order merchandise from China.

Why is this a problem? Try ordering an article of clothing that looks so cute on the model in the Facebook ad, but when it arrives it will only fit tiny Chinese models. Plus, it takes a month of Sundays to get through our customs, so that when it does arrive, you’ve forgotten you even ordered it.

And then, there is the problem of deciphering instructions. I thought the little detachable enlargement lens that I ordered for a Christmas gift would be a great device for my husband, who is always looking for serial numbers on lawn equipment and tools. The lens was supposed to allow you to do micro-photographs, enlarging things like flower pollen and a gnat’s you-know-what. It did not arrive in time for Christmas. When it did arrive, the lens was accompanied by an instruction booklet printed in Chinese. It also contained two laboratory glass slides. Then I looked at the front of the box and realized I had ordered a mobile microscope . . . for $125. Another OMG moment. Adding insult to injury, you have to download an app to run the dang thing. What a fool I have been!

Guess what will be joining more useless paraphernalia in the basement?

Our kids will kill us when they find this stuff

Our kids are going to jerk us from our graves and kill us again when they find all this stuff. But before that happens, I am swearing off Facebook advertising videos, following the example of my husband in throwing away the Publisher’s Clearinghouse mailings before opening.

Now the only problem we have is what to do with all those cute little, colorful, multiple-page ads that come in thick mail packets once a month. You know, the ones that make you feel obligated to go through each one. Just so you won’t miss out on a practical tool that will defoliate your cooking herbs, then chop them. I just ordered one. Along with a citrus zester. Oh, and a cute little tea set for my granddaughter.

Happy holidays from an old, apron-wearing granny

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I never realized how ugly and outdated this apron was until I saw it on an old episode of The Brady Bunch. Housekeeper Alice Nelson was wearing its twin.

I got a rude awakening last night while watching a special ET report on the HGTV show about the makeover of the Brady Bunch house in California. Original cast members reunited to decorate the home for the holidays, in much the same way they did as kids on the hit series. The scenes kept shifting from current day to episodes of the popular sitcom that began airing in 1969. In one of the retro scenes, Housekeeper Alice Nelson was wearing my Christmas apron.

I did a double-take, because that exact same apron is hanging on a hook in the kitchen, next to its twin. I got the fabric for the two aprons on a bolt at Wal-Mart. The ties for the waist and the neck adorned the border of the 45 inch wide fabric. All I had to do was cut the aprons out and hem the sides, then sew the ties onto the apron body.

And that’s when it hit me. I am old and probably a living joke to younger types for all the things I still wear, make and use from the 1970s and 80s . . . Corning Ware, a lighted ceramic Christmas tree, my mother’s sour cream drop cookies and a fudge recipe from a 1981 issue of The Kansas City Star. Time keeps marching away from me and all I do is attempt to adapt. When I make my fudge now, I have to add a few more ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the recipe and subtract about an ounce of marshmallow crème from the concoction to compensate for the trend of food processors to downsize their packages so they can make a bigger profit.

My twin holiday aprons have been with me since the 1980s. The first year I made Christmas cookies with my grandson, I tied one of them around his waist and cinched up the neck so he wouldn’t be wearing sprinkles and frosting. Those aprons are as ingrained a part of my holiday routines as making fudge to a Manheim Steamroller CD. But seeing Alice Nelson wearing one of them in a 1970s flashback was embarrassing. If my grandson was any older than his five years, he’d probably die of embarrassment at having photographic evidence of wearing something so un-cool. Sorta like his dad felt when he had to wear plastic bread sacks on his feet at Grandma’s house when he went out to play in the snow. Sorta like I felt when forced to wear black-on-black saddle oxfords to school. (Pardon me for getting so carried away by the embarrassment thing).

And today, when I sat at the computer to start writing my annual state-of-the-union letter (aka holiday letter) I realized how anachronistic those things are also. The cards that come in the mail these days have slowed to a pathetic trickle, confined largely to ones from our investment broker and insurance agents. Still, there are a few people like me who have this Pavlovian response when the calendar flips over to December. Okay! Time to send the people you communicate with only once a year your “What the Dog Did Today” letter.

We got one of those letters from a friend of my husband’s early in the season. When I saw him put the typed holiday message that came with the card to one side, I raised my eyebrows.

“Aren’t you going to read it?” I asked in surprise. “Later,” he said. Translated: probably never. Wow! How many of the folks at the other end of my holiday letters have had the same response? The possibility that people might be bored reading what our grandkids and our four-legged, furry friends accomplished over the past year had just never occurred to me.

So, in mortification brought on by a pair of anachronistic aprons and the real possibility that a long holiday letter might get a lukewarm reception, this old grandma is herewith retiring. I refuse to be the poster child for OLD. I will still make fudge every December, as long as my arms can stir semi-sweet chocolate chips and marshmallow crème together. I will send out a few Christmas cards to those friends and family who send us one, sans a long, boring letter.

But it’s probably time to retire the threadbare aprons, the exact same pattern that Alice Henderson wore on the Brady Bunch, and resign them to the rag bag.

Wait . . . does anyone still have a rag bag?

Unleashing the beast within: An old lady’s mystical musical memoir

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My music muse/monster only came out late in life. Now he’s dancing on my head.

A holiday grinch would likely feel like pasting duct tape over my mouth these days.

No, I’m not counting down shopping days until Christmas. Instead, I’m a melody in motion. Either I have an ear worm singing lyrics, “The most fabulous, most marvelous, most joyously wonderful time, wonderful time… of the year” or I’m belting out that I’ll be home for Christmas.

Much to the chagrin of my husband, I’ve discovered the latent musical beast that has resided in my heart and gut since I was a child. It first came out when I discovered an old piano abandoned in an outbuilding on the 20-acre Kansas farm I lived on while a pre-schooler. I made up music for hours and sang nonsense while the dust in that old boat house swirled around, stirred up by the worn felt hammers striking the soundboard.

The day the music died

The muse got fed a little more when I took piano lessons in the private pre-school my mother put me in when my dad died. But my musical gremlin went to sleep a few years later on a family trip when the front seat occupants screamed at me to stop singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” There was an added postscript about my not being able to sing anyway. My poor music monster sniveled and moped to sleep that day.

Music muse did make a few guest appearances during my adult life. It whispered encouragement to buy that spinet piano for $25 a month and take lessons from a Juliard-trained teacher in Columbia, MO. It sneaked out again just before son Michael was born, when I took piano and organ lessons from my church’s music director. I learned to play easy piano tunes to my precious baby bump on an out-of-tune upright. In a few years I could play enough to get by as a substitute organist at church. But the singing side of the lurking music monster had to be content with hymn singing for decades.

Now I’m a bass/baritone

The “It” came out of hibernation when my second husband died and I funneled energies into a new church family, including signing up for the choir. There I learned the finer points of Gregorian chant and four-part harmony from two gifted teachers. When I remarried last year and moved back to the Kansas I left as a child, it was a given that my voice would join the small church choir. By then I had accepted the fact that my late-life range now fell in the baritone section. When my choir friends kept telling me I had a beautiful voice, I just looked at them in cross-eyed disbelief, figuring they were just glad to have another body in the choir pew. That old music beast must have been smirking all that time. Especially when two friends (they shall remain nameless for now) got me to join the Topeka Acapella Unlimited group. I questioned that decision every Monday night as my legs cramped while standing on risers way too long for the barbershop tune rehearsals.

But the music monster had it planned all along. He finally came alive and rose out of this 70-year-old body last weekend during a Sweet Adeline’s retreat. Actually, he came out shouting “Alleluia!”

About 25 of us mostly-mature-aged-wine barbershop women gathered in the great room of a lodge that normally greets wedding guests to practice music for our December 14 holiday show. Of course, the overriding goal was to improve our technique. Our coach for the weekend was Debra Lynn, a professional singer and voice coach, who uses a technique called Bel Canto. It originated centuries ago in Italian opera and allowed singers to belt out notes for hours without fatiguing their voices.

Debra and Bel Canto turned our former notions of singing upside down. We learned to forget about our vocal chords and forcing air through them. We tossed aside belly breathing, or tried to. We learned that 70-year-old voices can sound like 30 or 40-year old ones if you learn to plaster on a fake smile and thus open up your soft palette. The way I remember to set my face is by recalling the long-lost Sesame Street characters, those outers space dudes that went around going “Woop woop woop, Unh huh, unh huh!”

We also found out that if you alliterate or pop the consonants in the lyrics and think about resonating the sound up through your head and into the ceiling, magic happens.

Instructor Debra Lyn does Reiki as well as teaching the Bel Canto technique. The resident canine wanted her to scratch his belly.

The Bel Canto Technique

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. But as the bass section sat together on the front row Saturday, we tried to incorporate what we were learning in singing our sole melody line in “Some Children See Him.” As we crooned this beautiful lullaby about how little ones in different countries see the baby Jesus according to their own ethnicities, that’s when it suddenly happened. We heard a resonance coming from our vocal cavities that we never dreamed possible. The resulting emoting gave us goosebumps and made our hearts soar. We accomplished, for a brief moment, what my recruiting friends had promised: that instant when you are one sound, one unit. It sounded like the music was coming from angels above our heads.

Members of the Topeka Acapella Unlimited group at last weekend’s retreat.

Our job is to share

Now my danged music monster is skipping around, dancing on my head and the ceiling. He’s telling me, “I told you so.” At the same time he’s reminding me that I’m nothing special. Yes, I may have music in my soul, but so do many other people. Our job is to share it. If music is our thing, if it makes us happy, if it allows us to express joy and other emotions we’ve kept mostly to ourselves, it’s high time to join it with others and spread the love.

And now I no longer have the excuse of being too old to sing. I have found my voice and it ain’t half bad. I can even sing the Star-Spangled Banner in barbershop harmony now, as long as I have other voices to prop me up.

Wakarusa, the Town

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This is the town I now call home. Wakarusa was to have been named Kingston. Coincidentally, the place I lived and operated my newspaper in for 27 years has a county seat named Kingston.
I was forced to leave this place called Wakarusa as a child. That meant leaving grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the little church where I attended Bible school just across the street while staying at my cousin Linda’s house. Today, so many years later, I have returned to my early roots, living in a place I always loved. This blog by Evelyn Davis has helped ground me in my love of place.

Evelyn's Musings

Wakarusa, the Town

Nestled in the beautiful Wakarusa Valley lies the little town of the same name. It is situated on the brink of a meander of the Wakarusa River which enfolds the south edge of the town, then curves north cradling the town on two sides.

Wakarusa is now a sleepy little bedroom community, but it wasn’t always so.  Like dozens of other once thriving Kansas communities, it has lost its business base and all that remains is a cluster of houses lining the main street through the town with a few one block side streets and a post office.

 

Stone sign erected by Raleigh & Liz Trembly about 2000.

Paralleling the main street is the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Se Railroad tracks. It was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad that put Wakarusa on the map. Founded in 1858, Wakarusa was originally named…

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To keep, or not to keep, all those Valentines?

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My husband and I almost chuckle with glee when we both imagine our children coming across the boxes of greeting cards we’ve collected over the decades. Thank God they won’t be able to throw them at us in disgust when we’re both six feet under, even though they’ll probably want to.

We’re actually doing our best to add to the volume of the collections as we maintain a tradition of buying at least three cards for each occasion. My husband began this tradition with his late wife and I’ve joyfully adopted it. I was already a Hallmark-aholic after my late husband made a habit of picking out the most expensive and most beautiful cards for each special event. Opening the Christmas card that hid in the tree was the crowning touch of that gift-giving day.

And what’s not fun about going on a treasure hunt on Valentine’s Day? It all started last night when I got home from a trip to the city and saw the vase of red roses on the kitchen table and continued when I opened my iPad later to discover a Valentine card inside. I chuckled while brushing my teeth before bed to see a tiny box of chocolates with a miniature balloon on the bathroom ledge. It wasn’t too much of a surprise to find a heart-shaped box of chocolates and another Valentine card on my pillow. But I didn’t discover the box of chocolate turtles in my dressing room until this morning.

I did not do as well on hiding places, but one of the three cards I gave him with a gift of clothing and a cherry pie did have a spontaneous verse of my own creation inside. A fourth one is tucked under his pillow to be discovered tonight.

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Though they may be expensive, greeting cards are personal artifacts. If preserved and treasured by the original recipient, they can provide important legacy stories if our descendants are willing to sift through them and uncover their value.

I know, because I’m trying to preserve my grandmother’s scrapbook of Get Well cards from 1950. I have to admit this is the most unusual scrapbook I’ve ever seen due to its subject matter. But as I read the beautiful collection from family and friends I am uncovering a story of a time when neighbors went out of their way to take care of each other, in sickness and in times of other trouble. The cards came from Grandma’s church members, ladies she exchanged recipes with and who worked side-by-side to make ham balls at fund raising luncheons. On the last page I uncovered the reason for the cards. According to the patient bedside slip, Grandma had a thyroidectomy in 1950, a pretty grave operation in those days. Interestingly enough, her daughter, my Aunt Gene, also had her thyroid removed, and Gene’s granddaughter did as well.

GetWell

So there we have a side story inside the bigger story. Those cards depict an era. They depict a microcosm of caring and a capsule of health DNA. But the scrapbook pages that hold the cards are crumbling and the photo corners that held each one have dislodged. I have a new-old scrapbook where the cards will find a more secure resting place. They will soon find a prominent spot in the living room so they can be shared with visiting family members.

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I will also be sharing the crumbling scrapbook that Grandma may have assembled as a child as she cut out colorful advertising labels from flower seeds and medicine bottles. These “snapshots” of the Victorian era are similar to ones that I’ve seen sold in antique shops. To me, they’re all beautiful, artistic treasures that make me want to verify the identity of the child who pasted them in the book, and even more, the things she was feeling and experiencing at the time.

If our own children wonder the same things about us when they discover shoe boxes full of cards, we can rest well in the assurance that our love is reaching out to them after our deaths in the signatures and sentiments expressed on colorful pieces of paper.

I wish I’d been there when Braymer almost became Branson

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Over the recent holidays someone picked up an old thread on the Facebook page Braymer, MO Remember When. The discussion way back in 2011 began when I was asking for input on an article I was writing for The Caldwell County News seeking people’s memories of The Country Place. I promised the late-comers who wanted to read the article I wrote back then to reformat it somehow so they could read it now. It has evidently brought back lots of fond memories of a time when Braymer was the 1970s version of Branson. Here’s a little retrospective for a formerly “happenin’ place.” It  originally appeared in a regular insert of the newspaper called Rural Living.

The slogan, “Braymer—the Biggest Little Town in Missouri,” had a special significance in the 1970s. That was when Carl and Shirley Adams owned and operated The Country Place, north of Braymer on Route A, on a hill that spilled down into Shoal Creek.

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The late Carl Adams, owner of The Country Place 

All that remains of the hopping country music venue and local entertainment spot is rocks, rattlesnakes, weeds and the shell of the skating rink/music hall that burned down, and the steakhouse that was under construction at the time of the fire. Then there are the ghosts of people that spent their weekends letting their hair down and relaxing, listening to some of the great country stars before they really hit the big time. The ghost of Carl Adams may even roam the hill. He and wife Shirley were the heart and soul of the operation until Carl’s untimely death on the dance floor of a heart attack. But in its heyday, it was a golden time in local history when the likes of Barbara Mandrell, Porter Wagner, LeRoy VanDyke, Ernest Tubb and Billy Crash Craddock climbed the Country Place hill in their big buses to entertain huge crowds.

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An ad in the Hamilton Advocate Hamiltonian back in the 1970s

Jerry and Dixie McBee of Braymer had their first date at the Country Place in 1976 (they got married in 1978.) Dixie, who grew up in Polo, had already been a country music groupie, along with her extended family. Jerry was greeted by an entire table of Dixie’s relatives when they met that night. They’ve both been following Nashville stars since then. But in the 1970s, some of the stars were on a first name basis with Dixie and her dad. It almost blew Jerry away the night that Barbara Mandrell was entertaining at the Union Mill Opry in Edgerton and called Dixie by name from the stage, then told her to stick around after the show and she’d bring the baby out (her first child).

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Barbara Mandrell appearing at The Country Place

Other Braymer natives have fond recollections of Mandrell’s appearances at The Country Place. Mary Floyd recalls her mother working there for years and one night she stopped at the place and Carl took her with Mandrell on a tour of her bus. Jackie Clevenger Adkison remembers Porter Wagner’s appearance and Ruth Anne Proctor Matthes recalls the dances and the skating rink and an appearance by Cal Smith, who sang “Country Bumpkin.”

Jodie Carpenter recalls having birthday parties at the skating rink when she was little and Teena Britt also recalls a concert by Mandrell. Chris Summerville remembers a later time, after Shirley sold the business, when two area bands, The Chapter Four and Country Sunshine, played for close to a thousand people on Saturday nights. Deana Hughes McCoy remembers the Krazy Kats pulling big crowds too.

Debbie Rankin was fortunate to have a special friendship with Carl and Shirley; she was invited to the skating rink before it opened to get the floor broken in. She owned and operated Rankin’s Cafe in those days and accommodated the Country Place gatherings by opening the restaurant at midnight for people to eat breakfast.

The entertainment venue holds such a special place in the hearts of Dixie and Jerry McBee, not only because that’s where they fell in love, but because it was such a family-centered place.

There wasn’t that much to do in those days in town,” recalls Dixie, adding that the skating rink and movie theaters had closed in Braymer by the mid-1970s. When the Country Place first opened, Jerry was not old enough to get in. But the day he turned 21, he lined up at the door to have his driver’s license checked and was a regular from then on. Jerry and Norman Mallory had formed a rock ‘n’ roll band when they were in their teens, but McBee said they all still had their country music roots. One day he and Norman sat down at Tait Park and wrote a song for Carl, hoping he’d use it as a jingle in his radio ads. He never used it, but the song stuck so well with some Braymer natives, it’s still sung today.

When a bunch of us get together, somebody would always ask us to sing the Carl song,” laughs Jerry. He even had a hard time remembering the words he wrote, but he finally summoned them from his memory banks. Here’s how it went:

Carl built the Country Place for skatin’ and for dancin’

Carl built the Country Place for lovin’ and romancin’.

Carl built the Country Place for you and me and all,

So come on everybody and let’s go have a ball.

There’s two routes that you can take to get to the Country Place.

When you get there don’t be surprised if you see a Nashville face. 

So if you’re tired of hanging around and a good time is what you seek,

Just come out north of Braymer and you’ll find us at Shoal Creek.

Chorus:

Well I’ll bet your heart will come to a still

When you see the lights upon the hill,

But there’s no need for you to fright

Cause Carl and Shirley will make it right.

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The Country Place was built on a hill on Route A overlooking Shoal Creek. The building burned several years ago.

 

“She makes her own clothes!” Getting caught up on sewing technology

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Embroidering

You’re at least a baby boomer (or older) if you recall that sophomoric blind date saying, “All the girls really like her. And . . . she makes her own clothes!”

Yeah, I was one of those girls. Our family’s economic status and 4-H sewing projects made it almost imperative to fashion my own clothes in high school. That doesn’t mean I did it well or with any design flair. But on a galloping horse (as my ex-mother-in-law was fond of saying) you couldn’t tell how many times seams had been ripped out or how crooked the stitching was.

Economic necessity and my wedding dress

Economic necessity also drove me to make my own wedding dress (for the first nuptial anyway) and help my sister-in-law sew hers. The memory of spreading a huge sheet on the floor of the dank basement I lived in while going to summer school at Mizzou came flooding back to me last week. The sheet was to protect the beautiful white dotted swiss fabric I used to make the princess waist dress with long puffed sleeves, cowl neck and train.

I tapped into those memories while attending a class to learn how to use my new computerized sewing/quilting machine. The instructor wanted to know how much sewing experience we had and those wedding dress memories just fell out of my mouth, surprising even myself. I was a lot younger and braver back then and had no idea how challenging a big project like that could be.

Now I’m almost terrified that the beautiful precision Swiss machine that requires a rolling piece of padded luggage to transport will conjure up a “Fatal Error” message when I try to use it to finish the cross-stitch, king-size quilt my mother started decades ago.

Yes, the only reason I bought this amazing equipment was to tackle machine quilting myself and finish that heirloom . . . something I will then be afraid to ever put on my bed, because I have dogs with dirty feet. I can just see them snagging their toenails on the embroidery I spent another decade finishing.

Husqvarna and Viking? Is this the chainsaw store?

I just went into the franchise fabric and hobby store a few months ago to find out what in the heck a serger was. I knew I was totally behind the times in terms of the evolution of sewing, but was unprepared for what I saw on the Viking/Husqvarna showroom floor. Heck, I thought I had just stumbled into the chainsaw department when I noticed the brand on the showroom wall! The real halleluiah moment arrived upon seeing machines with computer screens sewing without a human behind the wheel. When the salesman told me about the features of sergers, quilting machines and embroidery machines, I knew I had to bypass the serger for something more versatile. Besides, my new machine has a bazillion fancy stitches that might come in handy some day.

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You have to understand, I made my wedding dress on a Montgomery Wards portable machine and thought I was in hog heaven to have a zigzag stitch or two on a dial. It even had three separate buttonhole settings! A few years after my wedding I found myself in the hinterlands of Brazil where I learned to operate an old Singer treadle machine. Can’t remember what I even made with it then, but at least overcame my fears and got into the rhythm of foot control.

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Now if our power grid ever goes down, the antique Singer I have in my basement could be unfolded and used to make a sackcloth garment for the end times. But in the meantime, I have a machine that almost walks on water. Or at least it threads its own needle and informs me, on its glowing blue screen, of operator stupidity.

And just as soon as I overcome my fear of hurting the shiny new equipment (it honestly feels like trying to learn to ride my bike without training wheels) I will tackle my heirloom. I just hope that my arthritic fingers and dimming eyesight will not contribute to an epic heirloom quilt failure. If it does, I’ll just trade my machine in on a newer one that sews by itself.

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Domestic divas make food for the soul; and maybe just a few mistakes

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The call of a row of Concord grapes and some unexpected wild elderberries that grew up beside Wayne’s barn lured me into burning in the kitchen this week . . . literally and figuratively.

Wayne’s late wife, my dear cousin Linda, had made a business of concocting 56 “shades” of jelly and selling them at the local farmers’ market. Her daughter and I (mostly her daughter) were determined to somehow carry on her legacy and not let those grapes go to waste.

It has been years since I made any jelly. Gave up that activity after many failures. Besides, who needs that much sugar, anyway? But boy, when I re-experienced Sure-Gel in action and tasted a spoonful of hot jelly, the joys of being a domestic diva came flooding back.

I forgot how soul-satisfying it can be to see a row of gleaming, burgundy-colored jars lined up on a counter and knowing that I had created the contents. Well, God and me anyway.

My friend Cheri supplied the recipe for the elderberry jelly and secured from another friend the loan of one of the most exciting kitchen gadgets I’d ever used . . . a steamer/juicer. This three-part thingy goes on the stove with water in the bottom reservoir. Fruit goes in the top and a steamer basket comprises the middle section. As the steam from the bottom pan causes the elderberries in the top to pop open and release their juice, the middle pan collects the juice and siphons it off through a clamped spigot coming out from the side. Ingenious! And so much easier and cleaner than squeezing juice through a cheesecloth by hand.

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Spurred on by a good, easy recipe and the ease of extracting juice, I was soon digging in a basement cabinet for jelly jars and lids. When my first batch flopped due to using liquid pectin instead of the powdered the recipe called for, Cheri came to the rescue with the advice to use that batch for syrup. She supervised the next batch, which was a success. I’m now a new veteran of 24 gleaming jars of grape and elderberry jelly, which could be going to new homes over the holidays. Or, I could save them to provide sustenance and energy when North Korea sends a missile our way. (Not funny, I know.)

Lest you think all this was a breeze, it’s time to confess to lessons learned:

  1. I learned you need a deep pot to cook jelly in. That lesson after a half cup of sticky jelly boiled over and onto the stove.
  2. I learned that pot holders can scorch and almost catch fire.
  3. I learned that pouring seven cups of sugar into a boiling vat of liquid can be tricky, especially when old, flabby arms don’t want to hold up that much weight.
  4. I learned that a quarter-cup of sugar on a hot stove makes for a difficult cleanup; but then so does half a cup of hot jelly. I am learning to live with new, permanent scratches in my stainless steel stovetop.
  5. I learned that an ample bosom can be subject to steam-scorching.

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I had probably already learned the above lessons in my thirties, when I was serious about being a superwoman who could hold down a full time job and make jelly on the side. And maybe next year when jelly time rolls around again, I can retrieve the memory of the missteps made this year and do a better job.

A woman I met at a national storytelling conference this summer is writing a book about the legacies that are carried through generations as found in family recipes and ethnic foods. Jelly making feels like a legacy thing. All canning and food preservation is, actually. I grew up listening for the satisfying pop of metal that signaled the sealing of cans of green beans my mother had just processed. And this week I listened for that again and sighed with satisfaction when comparing the number of pops to the number of jars of jelly pulled out of the canner. They matched!

Activities like canning and jelly-making are marked by love and a legacy of generations of women, many long-departed, who blazed trails with the same mishaps that plagued me this week. As we stir our “soul foods” we can remember the women who went before us and find satisfaction in knowing they’re probably watching us from the beyond and nodding in approval. Or maybe laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief.