Monday, December 9, 2019

Christmas Shopping on Elm Street

In the 1950s when I was a child, Christmas shopping meant a trip to downtown Manchester, New Hampshire where the stores were wall to wall and decked out in their finest. Christmas Eve was the most exciting time to get on a bus and head to the heart of the city. I remember shopping with my mother. We would always go to Pariseau's, Leavitt's and Hill's, all dry goods stores where mother could buy on credit in those days before bank-issued credit cards. At Pariseau's she would go directly to the "basement" where all the mark-downs were located. With so many people to remember with gifts, any bargain was welcome.

A favorite store to browse in was Woolworth's Five and Dime. It was exciting to see the baby turtles they sold and over the years, I owned several of them. I had a plastic turtle "pond" that had a raised, dry area where the turtle could escape the water and also eat the raw hamburger I fed it. That was in the days before the scare of salmonella infections stopped the sale of the little guys.

Woolworth's had doilies, table runners and pillowcases and they sold embroidery thread. I loved working on those small embroidery projects! They also sold used postage stamps in big envelopes. I had a huge stamp collector's book and delighted in the many beautiful stamps. So on these expeditions out shopping, Mother would indulge me in some small purchase. We also indulged in a hot fudge sundae at the wonderful ice cream counter they had in the store. That was the best hot fudge in the world!

Of course, while the bulk of Christmas shopping fell to my mother, my Dad could complete his gift buying (for Mother) in one fell swoop. He'd simply visit LeMay's Jewelers which was conveniently located right near his office on Elm Street. My mother did a lot of holiday shopping at Moreau's, a hardware store that carried fancy glassware, casserole and serving dishes, candy dishes, etc.

Often, we would meet relatives who were also doing last minute shopping. Of course, that was only the beginning of the evening. Once home, the gift wrapping would continue. Over the years and at more affluent times, Mother got in the habit of collecting potential gifts during the year. Buying "gifties," as she called them, over time, makes more sense than frenzied shopping at the last minute.

Honestly, I don't know how she was able to get everything done what with all of her holiday baking, rounding up four children and making sure they were dressed nicely to attend Midnight Mass. Did I mention that Mother held a full-time job during the week? She would always start thinking about Christmas baking at Thanksgiving time when she would begin macerating fruit in rum with which she would make homemade fruitcakes! She always made a yeast sweet bread called Stollen, as did her Austrian ancestors, which is a lot of work! Then, there were the usual cookies and always a Coconut layer cake with peach preserves in the center. Mother loved to bake!

In the age before Shopping Malls and online shopping, Christmas shopping was a challenge! It meant having to physically go to individual stores in person and pick out gifts, one at a time.

Elm Street in Manchester is one of the coldest streets in the world in the winter! The North Wind blows down the street and brutally attacks anyone who is not prepared for the cold that it brings. Mother never learned how to drive, so without the opportunity to take a bus, we never would have been shopping together on Christmas Eve!

Times have changed considerably. Now the number of homeless people who live in city parks and hang out on the streets of Manchester make shopping the downtown area less desirable. The drug problem and the crime that is often the result of that has also infiltrated the city. For me, as a little kid, I felt safe shopping on Elm Street at night. People were honest and all there with a common purpose: to buy gifts for loved ones. I have only good memories of childhood Christmases but I realize now that much of what I remember was from the work and sacrifices of one person:  my Mother!

Here's hoping that you enjoy the holiday season and don't get so busy worrying about little things that you forget the meaning of the season:  love! Have a peaceful and joyous time whatever your beliefs or lack thereof. I love everything about Christmas especially the tree, the ornaments, the special foods, the music, gift giving, and the chance to be with the people I love! Joy to you!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Man Who

Back in the 1960s, my Dad served as clerk to the Board of Selectmen in a small New Hampshire town. On one occasion, he was to drop off some paperwork to one of the Selectmen at his home. Upon approaching the door, Dad noticed that the door was open with just a screen door in place. Shortly, he heard a woman's voice calling "Man Who," "Man Who." Dad did not know what to make of this strange call out. He knocked on the door and soon the lady of the house appeared. She explained that she was calling her cat and that she named him "Man Who" after listening to all the political pundits on television claiming they were the man who did this or that. Dad came away chuckling. He always did enjoy humor.

Humor seems to be what is lacking in our current election process. The Democratic debates showed no levity whatsoever. Not that there is a lot to laugh or joke about in today's America. We all know the problems and they seem to only be getting worse.

I like to think of the 1960s. There was much civil disobedience, much vocalization when it came to folksingers speaking out and singing out their hearts, trying to call the status quo into some kind of accountability. There was hope, too. "We Shall Overcome" and "Not Gonna Study War No More" were two of the more popular songs. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were oh so young back then, just "kids" really but people with a social conscience.

When I think of it, folk music has always been the voice of the common folk who have been concerned with issues bigger than themselves. Whether the topic was prison ("Midnight Special" or "Folsom Prison Blues") or the war in Vietnam, there was a song addressed to the issue.

A yellow rose, the symbol of insincerity but beautiful just the same. Let's hope for sincerity and truth in our politics. Rose photo by James Cummings taken in our garden.

Every Sunday night my husband and I have a "date" to do some coloring in my studio while we listen to the New Hampshire Folk Show on National Public Radio. Last week's offerings included many songs that had references to the city of Baltimore, nostalgic thoughts, all. The songs were appropriate due to the previous week's slammings by Tweet by the official Tweeter-in-chief which demonized the city as "rat-infested" and a place "where no one would want to live." These thoughts were followed up with personal attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings who is from Baltimore in retribution for political discourse. The songs leveled the playing field a bit, giving voice in a sense to a city under attack.

Baltimore has always been a fine city and in the mid-19th century, the place where the famed "Baltimore Album" quilts were made and presented to departing Methodist ministers. These quilts are some of the most prized in the world and have, in some instances, been duplicated by members of the Baltimore Applique Society (and other quilters) who wanted a challenge.

We need to start seeing the good in places and in each other. We need to bring back communal laughter which could bring on a sense of well-being again. Not laughter in a jeering and hateful manner but perhaps laughter at our own human condition, bringing on a sense that we are all in this life together and need to make the most of that fact.

And so, I leave you with my memory of a cat named "The Man Who." Let's hope that the results of the next election will bring us the man or the woman who can turn this country in a different direction.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

More Poetry from Sweetheart Pillows

In 2011 my book Sweetheart & Mother Pillows was published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. The other day, in going through my files, I found a few poems that were printed on some pillow covers that I would like to share with you today. These particular poems were not included in the book.

The first one is from Old Round Tower, Fort Snelling, MINN. It shows the image of a World War II infantryman, a tank, anti-aircraft, and a flying fortress. The poem is dedicated to "Sweetheart" and reads:  "Until you and I shall meet again/ Sweet thoughts of love to you I send/ And though I am so far away remembering/you day-by-day/ May all my blessings be with you/ Your sweetheart always true."

Another pillow cover is from World War II and has a blue background with 6 red roses and one bud and green leaves. The "Sweetheart" poem states:  "The hours I've spent with you, dear, /Are the happiest I've known. My happiest hopes and dreams are those/ I've shared with you alone / And as I wish you every joy.../ I'm looking forward, too / To all the future joy I'll find/ When I return to you."

Also, I saved the words from a WWI pillow pouch that shows three Doughboys carrying an American flag, Lady Columbia holding up a wreath and features a poem with the heading "Forget Me Not." It says, "O East or West/ it's home that's best./ The saying's surely True./ For when my thoughts would seek their rest, / They all come home to you."

Souvenir de France pillow cover that I acquired after publication of the book.
This shows soldiers marching through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and is from WWI.

My book features hundreds of poems that appear on military pillow covers and pillow pouches that were sent home to loved ones, usually when military personnel was deploying overseas to battle areas, especially during World War II. Not all pillow covers featured poems; some just name the military base of origin.

I was just re-visiting my book in preparation for a presentation I am giving this week on the topic. I cannot help but be impressed by my own work and the photographs of pillow covers (and a quilt) taken by my husband for the book. It was a lot of work! Captions are very detailed and I researched every military base named on the pillow covers. The book serves as an historical document, a price guide and a care guide for these specialized vintage and antique items from World War I and II and the Civilian Conservation Camps. I am happy to have written this unique book on an obscure topic that most Americans today are not at all familiar.

Patricia Cummings

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Gift of Redwork

I am so happy to have just completed a small quilt based on a quilt block done in Redwork by my friend in Germany. Tamara Shpolyanska decided to take the photo I sent to her which depicts my husband Jim and I wearing Civil War costumes and turn it into an embroidered piece. We had dressed up in these clothes while giving a presentation about Civil War quilts in August 2011 to a local historical society. By Christmas, we decided to don the garments again to take a "selfie" in front of our Christmas tree to send as the front of our Christmas cards that year. It is from that card that Tamara got the idea to embroider us. She has been a big fan of Redwork and enjoyed my articles in The Quilter magazine and the book(s) I wrote on the subject.

I layered the quilt block, hand-quilted the block, and added borders which are tied. Of course, I added a sleeve for hanging, as well as a quilt label which gives credit to Tamara for the Redwork and myself for the finishing of the piece, the place(s) where this object was made, and the date it was finished. I am very grateful to Tamara for this gift!

Jim Cummings and Pat Cummings dressed in Civil War costumes

The original photo from which Tamara worked

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Wall

For those who pay attention to the latest cause and effect of government policies, the proposed border wall is the topic of conversation. To some who live in border states on the border between Mexico and the United States, a wall would be an answer to a dream, that dream being the keeping out of illegal immigrants that flock to their communities needing food, shelter, medical care, and education for their children. Others who look at the cost of a wall that would stretch across the total border (an estimated $50 to 60 billion dollars in all) see it as a foolish exercise because a wall can so easily be breached by tunneling under it, climbing over it, or (in the instance of steel slats) cutting through it.

We have to ask ourselves what would be the goal of the wall. It is clear that it could keep some immigrants out. As far as controlling drug traffic, it would be ineffectual as most drugs come through legal ports of entry, by land, sea and even by air. Most of the fentanyl is being flown in by China, for example.

The president is portraying asylum seekers from Central America as murderous thugs, rapists, terrorists, and other lawbreakers. In reality, crime by illegal immigrants is statistically much, much lower than the general population. For the most part, the individuals coming to the border are arriving with their children and it is true than many of the women have been assaulted or raped on the perilous journey north, seeking the promise of a better life only to find no such "promise" in place.

Many on the left have said that the Statue of Liberty is "weeping" over current immigration policies such as the inhumane separation of children from their parents. In essence, the tent cities are making a lot of money for those who administer them. Word is that in some cases caretakers are abusing the small children in their charge. I am wondering if those caretakers even speak a modicum of Spanish? In two instances, sadly, two children have died of causes potentially linked to lack of water and nutrition and care when they suddenly got very sick.

The president says that he is all for immigration but the policies of his administration say something entirely different. He has also made the remark of not wanting immigrants from "sh*thole countries" and only wanting new citizens who are "smart" and can contribute to fields like technology. So, I guess he is for selective immigration or what he calls "merit" immigration.

This is all part of his "America First" policy, a thought that had its roots in the 1880s Republican party and led to isolationism which just about kept us out of World War I. Isolationism is based on fear of "the other." Some have called the president a "racist" because the people being targeted are non-Caucasians.

Whether one agrees with the president's thoughts or not, it is clear to me that a wall across the entire southern border is not a feasible answer. With steel slats that can easily be cut with tools from Home Depot, it does not seem like such a bright idea after all. And then, there is the question of eminent domain:  the usurpation of lands that are privately-owned along the border. Some people do not want to sell, at any cost, and have their land divided permanently by an obstructive wall.

There is a lot to think about. Immigration and "the Wall" are thorny subjects and both have now indirectly affected hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not being paid during this government shutdown. The president has threatened to declare a National Emergency. The problem is that while there is a humanitarian crisis involving people, there is no real "emergency." If anything, immigration numbers are way down from even 10 years ago. This is a manufactured crisis!

I hope that the politicians can figure out what to do. Meanwhile, while all this is in limbo, many people are being hurt while the president tries to bully others just so he can complete his ill-founded campaign promise. The result is chaos and disruption to the lives of many. It is a sad day when people who are mandated to work without pay have to resort to getting their food from soup kitchens and charitable pantries. Let's hope this mayhem can be resolved soon. May God bless America!