Small Wonder


My zone for random observations,

musings and photos.

Doin’ the Rust Belt Hula

Gma Betty:grass skirt

This is my Grandma Betty, striking a pose in her backyard.

Imagine a creamy tulip magnolia tree blossoming to her right. Sturdy wooden lawn ornaments – a bright pink flamingo, a little Dutch girl with a watering can, and a mother duck with ducklings in a proper line – accented her tulip and iris beds by the driveway. A dirt floor garage held garden tools, with just enough room to pull the car inside. She had a rope clothesline and a garden for beets, greens, tomatoes, onions, peas and cucumbers. A small back porch and mudroom opened into her cheerful kitchen where we congregated for holiday dinners and birthday celebrations.

The Greenville Steel Car Company, where my Grandpa Clayt worked, is behind her. The Steel Car occupied several blocks and my friends and I walked to and from elementary school every day along its perimeter. The factory was filled with clanging metallic sounds from pounding hammers and iron wheels pulling cars over rail tracks. Arid whiffs of smoke escaped through open windows and doorways, and we could see flames in the furnaces and men using blowtorches to weld parts together. No one thought of lead paint poisoning, or the fumes and toxins pouring into the ground and into lungs and into the air. Greenville was midway between Chicago and New York City, and the railroad and building rail cars was how our small town workers created the good life.

Grandma Betty was raised on a farm. As a child, she ran barefoot through packed dirt rows of corn. She often talked about how different life was before electricity and running water were common in homes – not to mention television, record players, telephones and computers. She remembered when women got the vote. Her older sister Sally died at age 18, when a train hit the buggy in which she was riding.

Grandma worked retail, in our town’s most fashionable dress shop, and her boss once sent her and Grandpa Clayt all the way to New York City, where they saw Pal Joey on Broadway. She and my grandpa raised one daughter, my mother. When I was just a toddler, Grandma Betty lost Clayton, early, to a heart attack. After enough grieving, she sold their home, shared an apartment in a nearby town with her sister Alice, a hairdresser, and landed a job as a bank teller at a drive-up window. She told jokes to all her customers and laughed right along with them as she counted out their money and receipts. On Saturday nights, she put on a little black dress, spike heels, and her silver jewelry, and she started dating again in the swingin’ ‘60s. Before long, she met Al, a pharmacist, and they got married. At her insistence, they moved back to Greenville and bought a house so she could once again be near her family and friends.

Grandma Betty liked to tell stories, and she liked to laugh. People fascinated her, and she had a wide circle of friends. She was a good card player, and she crocheted colorful afghans, intricate doilies, and even lacey tablecloths. She loved to travel by car and visited many of the Mid-Atlantic seaboard states. She encouraged my interest in exploring other places, and we bridged long distances of miles and life experience by talking often and deeply.

Though she never made it to Hawaii, she brought a little hula and a whole lot of curiosity about the outside world to my little corner of the Rust Belt.

Seven years ago this month, she died just days before her 92nd birthday.

I keep this photo in my kitchen so I’ll see it every day. I think of my Grandma’s determination and her lively, spunky nature. I remember happy summer days playing in her backyard and know how much she loved me.

When I look at this photo, I hear her laughter and her voice on the phone, saying, “It takes less muscles to smile than to frown, you know. Even on days when I don’t feel a bit happy,” Grandma Betty often said, “I put a smile on my face. It lifts my spirits and I feel better. Try it – it works!”

Easy Open, Easy Close

Doorway 052013 IMG_2537

Advertising copywriters tout benefits like ‘easy open’ and ‘easy close’ to entice people to buy bottle caps, lids, windows and doors.

But passage through my own kitchen door was rarely easy. A bulging bag weighted the doorknob, making it difficult to turn. Too many “just in case” items hung on the convenient hook – and they swung into the doorjamb upon every opening and closing. The metal back panel once presented a blank canvas for artistic fun or visual reflection, but now little remained of the graphic designer’s coveted white space. That is, until last night’s doorway edit.

I deleted:

• A print of the “Irish Blessing” (May the clutter rise up to meet you . . .)

• Labeled photo of mountain peaks surrounding the Ashokan Reservoir (to learn their names . . . I haven’t)

• Naked magnet — Michelangelo’s “David” — with seasonal outfits (a gift from a friend after our 1987 trip to Italy)

• Two dog harnesses from Gemma’s puppy classes and leash training

• Orange lanyard from a music trade show that screamed ‘use me for keys!’ (I never did)

• Canvas bag holding several cloth shopping bags and two umbrellas

• Assorted kitschy magnets

Like descriptive words, these items served a purpose. But, layered thoughtlessly onto my door, they had become repetitive, boring, sentimental, distracting, ignored, and downright irritating – like using too many adjectives to convey a point.

Here’s the bottom line on editing, whether you’re trimming the words on your website or the possessions in your home: what is no longer there, no longer matters. No one will know, or notice, what’s missing. What IS there must serve a clear purpose, whether you’re selling products, explaining concepts or simplifying access.

What survived the final edit?

• One leash

• A tiny ‘80s Disco bag, re-purposed for dog walking essentials

• Upbeat touches of color

• Lots of white space

Best of all, full functionality and two clear benefits – easy open and easy close. Sold!

Banana Lessons

Banana Lessons soft tips

My dad watched me struggle. It was breakfast time and I was using my right thumbnail — the weak one that splits and bends too far — to try and pierce the banana. When I went for the paring knife to make a Quitter’s Nick in the firm yellow skin at the base of the stem, he moved a little closer.

“You know, I’ve never understood why people do it that way.”

His eyes were smiling as he took the banana and turned the far end close. With just a quick pinch, into soft ripeness, it was open for peeling.

Sometimes, what seems like the only way is really just the hard way.

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