Tom and I, like my father before us, are graduates of the University of Alabama. We found ourselves in enemy territory recently when we spent a couple of nights in Auburn, Alabama’s greatest rival. My brother David and his son Daniel both went to Auburn, and Daniel’s mother Terri is a passionate Auburn football fan. Her walls and furniture bear testament to that. Among all the sports pages and signed photos and sports art and other items she owns, however, below are my favorite things.
These are renditions of Auburn University’s Samford Hall, with its clock tower. The bottom one was drawn by Daniel when he was five. The middle one was drawn by Daniel’s son David when he, too, was five. And the top one was drawn by Daniel’s younger son Steven when he was eight or nine. Some notes: In Daniel’s drawing, there is a subtle Mickey Mouse silhouette above the clock. That’s because a group of students snuck into the tower that year and put a Mickey Mouse face and hands on the clock as a prank. Also in his drawing, that’s not a plane flying close to the sun; it’s an eagle, for Auburn’s battle cry “War Eagle!”
I shot this photo of Samford Hall as we drove by. Auburn is a beautiful little college town. It’s just not Tuscaloosa. =)
There was a time in our twenties when Lynne, her sister Liz, and I were always ready to join a close group of friends and family in costuming ourselves for parties and home movies. One of those friends especially close to Lynne and Liz was Kathy C. She had the greatest sense of fun and approached every day with zest. I wish I had a photo of her in her Kermit the Frog disco costume. Since I don’t, here’s one from a Halloween party at Lynne’s.
Lynne shared the news with me today that Kathy died–way too young–in late February. I know she’ll be deeply missed by her family and friends. I will always see her, forever young, leading her high school band across the field as their drum major.
Her energy and spirit are in every smile, every peal of laughter.
When Mother was a little girl in Tupelo, Mississippi, the local theater, converted from its original use as an opera house, was named The Strand. I don’t know how old she was when she started going to movies there with her brother Gerald, but she remembered that the two of them could see a Saturday matinee for a nickel. They’d get their money from their father or an older sibling (they were the two youngest of twelve), and spend the afternoon transported to other lives, other places.
By the Depression years, the theater had been bought by a regional company and renamed The Lyric. As my mother recalled, her father and older brothers worked during those years, plus they grew so much of their own food, that they weren’t as impacted by poverty as many others were. They were certainly poor, but they weren’t hungry, and there were still nickels available so they could escape the grimmer realities of the time by walking through the doors of The Lyric. For her nickel, she’d get a newsreel, a cartoon, and at least one, sometimes two, features.
It’s easy to see that the era’s musical films and comedies provided escapism. Certainly the lives of the affluent were portrayed. But there was also a theme running through them: the belief that a person, no matter the circumstances, could get through hard times. A blend of luck, hard work, and right behavior: These might not make you wealthy, but they could help you make a good life. Hope was important to adults and children of the 1930s, and Mother’s favorite movies exemplifying that theme were those starring Shirley Temple. To her, Shirley Temple was a shining example of all that could be good and funny and creative in a girl.
One thing she wanted and couldn’t have was a Shirley Temple doll. She always said it was probably for the best, since it undoubtedly would have come to great harm at the hands of her rambunctious brothers. As the economy began improving for most Americans, Mother’s family experienced misfortune. Her mother became bedridden. Her father’s work situation changed. By the time she was barely into her teens, she had to leave school and become a caregiver to anyone who was sick or to newborn and toddler nieces and nephews.
Mother did eventually, with my father, use those values she learned as a child to build a good life. From the time I reached about the age she was when she had to leave school, I became her movie watching partner. We’d stay up late on weekends to see old movies, or spend Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons watching, on TV, all the films that she’d loved in childhood. We both preferred screwball comedies, and I also loved Shirley Temple along with her.
The Lyric still exists today, restored, preserved, and used for live community theater. And though Mother and I often found Shirley Temple dolls when we’d go antiquing, the thrift she’d learned by living through the Depression was too entrenched in her. She would never have paid the collector prices for a doll in good condition. And she’d have been furious with me if I had bought one to give her.
After all her kids were gone, and after my father died, she bought her first VCR. The first VHS tapes she purchased were Shirley Temple movies. Up until she died, we’d still turn on the TV and find old movies to enjoy together. In fact, the day she died, we had an old Western playing with the sound off in her hospice room. David, Debby, Lynne, Tom and I cracked ourselves up as we invented crazy dialogue for it. I’ll always be glad that whatever awareness she had in those hours included the sounds of her children laughing.
Two years younger than my mother, Shirley Temple outlived her by almost six years. As Shirley Temple Black, she had an amazing life. Rather than trying to hold on to a career that began to fade after her childhood years, she retired from films. She sometimes worked in television. She married and had children. She was politically active. A lifelong Republican, she once ran for office and lost. She was appointed Representative to the Twenty-fourth U.N. General Assembly by President Nixon and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana by President Ford. As the first female Chief of Protocol of the U.S. from 1976 to 1977, she was in charge of arranging President Carter’s inauguration and inaugural ball. Her last official position was as U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, appointed by President George H. W. Bush.
And thanks to the movies, she will always be that bubbly child of the 1930s. Growing up, my favorite Shirley Temple movie was The Littlest Rebel, but really, I liked them all. More than anything in the world, I wish I could curl up once more in the den with my mother–both of us drinking iced tea, maybe sharing a bowl of popcorn, laughing and shedding a few sentimental tears over whatever hardships Shirley’s character has to face and whatever happy ending is in store for her. Since I can’t do that, I am going to watch the movie I seem to recall was my mother’s favorite, Curly Top. And I’ll probably eat a few of these as I sing along.
Once Mother said My little pet
You ought to learn your alphabet
So in my soup I used to get
All the letters of the alphabet
I learned them all from A to Z
And now my mother’s giving me
Animal crackers in my soup
Monkeys and rabbits loop the loop
Gosh oh gee but I have fun
Swallowing animals one by one
When they’re inside me where it’s dark
I walk around like Noah’s Ark
I stuff my tummy like a goop
With animal crackers in my soup
Lyrics to “Animal Crackers in My Soup” from the movie Curly Top by T.Koehler & I.Caesar/R.Henderson.
This was one of my mother’s thrift store finds a dozen years ago: a cabinet that had held collectible bourbons. She couldn’t find a use for it and gave it to me. It’s the perfect size for storing my essential oils, and whenever I open that glass door, the aroma is definitely a favorite of mine.
After my father died, there was a year when my mother lived with my sister-in-law Terri. She told me that in the afternoons, the two of them would sit outside with neighbors, talking and drinking iced coffee. At the time, I wasn’t a coffee drinker, and the thought of iced coffee made me shudder with revulsion.
Recently my brother sent me a link to vintage postcard photos of the ship he believes we were on when we traveled from Germany to the US a few months after my birth, General Simon B. Buckner. I don’t know who owns the rights to these photos, but if you’re interested in ships, you can check out the full site here.
And if you’re interested in old home movies, here are three minutes of the last German scenes my family saw as they were leaving, as well as rescue boats coming to pick up injured passengers after our ship listed during a storm, and a few seconds of baby Becks dressed in high seas fashion. Arrrr.
I once gave my mother an oddly shaped wooden box. I like wooden boxes myself, so I tend to give them as gifts. It’s fun to fill my own with little treasures. I often forget what’s in them and get to surprise myself from time to time by exploring their contents.
When Mother died and I opened her various tins and boxes, I realized she did the same. Now I get to explore them, too, and the particular wooden box I mentioned is among my favorites. It includes this little homemade bag of jacks with a ball. I don’t think they’re jacks from when David, Debby, and I were kids since they have too much paint on them. Because they look newer, and the ball is certainly a more contemporary version of those we used, I suspect she found them, bag and all, at a thrift store. I do seem to remember her once telling me she used them to help keep her hands agile. But I think she just liked playing jacks, much the same way, when skates were the craze in the 1970s, she put mine on one day and skated around the carport to show that she still could.
No matter how old we get, I think it’s important to respect the child within us.
I might have even played onesies after I shot this photo.
This is the terrific card Timmy and Paul sent me on my birthday (thanks!), and it reminded me of Colorforms. Which sent me on another of my periodic searches for the set of Colorforms I remember having as a kid. I still didn’t find it, but I did find this Pinterest board with a bunch of old games and toys on it that you might enjoy. When I was scrolling through it, I found a game I’d forgotten from my childhood.
I LOVED playing this! I even remember the TV show, though I’m not going to age myself by admitting which host I remember. I always thought the game was based on the show, but apparently it was the other way around. I still remember turning the Rolomatic Puzzle Changer™ for a new game. Did they make additional rebus scrolls to be sold separately?
What games–or TV game shows–were your favorites when you were a kid?