Category Archives: My Life

A Slice of My Life: Music of My Youth

Today a program on Public Radio featured this year’s nominees for the Grammys.  Nothing makes me feel older and more out of it, than hearing the names of  wildly popular, hot new musicians. I realize I don’t have a clue who they are or what type of music they produce.

But I pulled myself out of my funk by realizing that for all my ignorance of contemporary music, my children and grandchildren probably are similarly clueless. What do they know about the music of my youth?  Yes, there was music before MP3, streaming, or even before CDs!

My Parents Music

As a child, the cheerful nonsense verse of the Depression and World War II hung on, and I would sing “Marzy doats and Dozy coats and Little Lambseativy” with my father, giggling all the way. (Trans.: Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy).

Growing up I learned to love my parents’ eclectic set of 78 rpm record albums.  As a teen, I added my own more modern music, but never lost my appreciation for the records of my parents and never looked down on their choices–most of their choices, at least.

Gilbert and Sullivan

Poster for Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Patience.’

For instance, Mom and Dad had several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. To this day, I love the word play and can sing along with many of the songs.

“I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,”

They also had various classical albums that I remember listening to while I was in grade school.  My father took me to see José Iturbi, Spanish pianist in a Columbus Ohio concert when I was about ten.  I was as star-struck as my grand-daughter might be going to a Beyoncé concert.

Side Note: In the 1940s through 1960s, people still considered music education an essential part of a child’s growing up, and everyone I knew took piano lessons if their parents could afford it.  Likewise, although I went to a tiny high school, we had a school band, a boy’s chorus, a girl’s chorus and a mixed chorus.

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in movie “Sweethearts”

The operettas sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (and anything  that Victor Herbert wrote) stole the hearts of Americans in the late 1920s through the 1940s, and my parents owned those records, too. I drew the line at the syrupy songs of that period.

When I was in college, I know that my parents had quite a few albums of jazz, but I was too busy with college to pay attention to exactly which ones they had. But I do know that when I got married, an album by Dave Brubeck was the one of the first to be added to my own collection, and I have been a lifelong fan of all jazz.

The exception to accepting rather than disdaining my parent’s musical choices (Besides MacDonald and Eddy) would be the old folks’ Saturday night viewing of Lawrence Welk playing polkas and oldies.  I did agree on one of the family’s favorite entertainers from that period, Victor Borge. He never failed to crack us up, while providing a fresh look at the classics. And Grandma (and everybody) loved Liberace, who sold classical music by mixing it with plenty of kitsch.

Junior High

Although future generations may have heard of some of the musicians I name in this article, I probably can stump them with my Junior High hearthrob. I fell hard for a singer named Johnnie Ray.  He was known for singing sad songs–“Cry Me a River,” “The Little White Cloud that Cried,” and the very romantic “Walking My Baby Back Home.

Ironically, since I was not a big fan of Rock ‘n Roll, many, including Tony Bennett, have said that Johnnie Ray was a precursor of Rock and Roll.  Even Ringo Starr reportedly said that the three singers the Beatles listened to early on included Johnnie Ray!

Totally star-struck, I attended a live concert by Johnnie Ray in Cleveland in 1952 and joined his International Fan Club. The crowds of squealing girls who greeted him echoed the earlier Frank Sinatra sensation and the later Elvis and Beatles mania. My attempt to start a fan club in Killbuck, Ohio didn’t catch fire, but I collected various fan memorabilia and mooned over Johnnie for a couple of years.

My Teen Years

Every generation finds a particular music that forms the soundtrack for its high school years. In their adulthood, that music generates nostalgia. My generation–the early to mid-1950s–saw a radical shift from the mellow crooning of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher, Patti Paige, Rosemary Clooney and others to the electricity of Elvis Presley and the birth of Rock ‘n Roll.

I distinctly remember Rock Around the Clock (1954) by Bill Haley and the Comets and Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill (1956). I had the sensation that pieces of music like these would change the whole musical world. And they did. Besides, in northeastern Ohio, we were close to the source of the excitement. Disk Jockey Alan Freed from Cleveland gets credit for being the first to feature and promote the new form–Rock and Roll. Of course it helped that parents thought it was despicable and dangerous music.

Not so incidentally, we knew what songs we should be listening to by listening on the radio and watching on TV (1950-1959)– “Your Hit Parade.” (The Grammys did not exist until 1959) The Wikipedia article on the Hit Parade refreshed my memory about some of the musicians, but it does not mention Rosemary Clooney, who along with Giselle MacKenzie is the one I remember the most.

Elvis

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley became the heart-throb of my high school girlfriends. Elvis’ first big hit, Heartbreak Hotel dominated the airwaves in January of 1956, the year that we graduated from high school. Some of my friends no doubt dreamed of Elvis as their date for the prom. After all, at just 3 or 4 years older than us, he understood our generation.

Confession time: I never liked Elvis, and I never became a big fan of Rock. When I whined to a friend that I wanted to listen to meaningful lyrics and hear a tune, she replied that she wanted something she could dance to.

In another conversation with friends, we argued about Patti Page. He thought her music excelled. I judged her based on a nonsense song, “How Much Is That Doggy In the Window.” It must have been the country edge to her songs. Peggy Lee’s bluesy jazz appealed to me more.

The music world was moving to Rock ‘n Roll. Nevertheless, some of the earlier stars continued to have hit songs and from the fifties into the sixties, we (some of us at any rate) continued to listen to the gentler styling of Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Dean Martin, ‘Frankie,’ Perry Como. The choral music of Mitch Miller was also popular in the 50s and 60s–although not so much with the youngsters. You could find a variety show with popular musicians nearly every night of the week on television.  TV introduced new musicians, and radio disk jockies helped popularize them. Ed Sullivan introduced Elvis Presley to the nation, and later introduced the Beatles. But as Rock prevailed, live concerts became more important than TV as a medium for artists.

So, even though I may not know who the Grammys are going to in 2017, I definitely could have told you in 1954 who would be on Your Hit Parade that week. I collected 45 rpm records–little disks about the size of today’s CDs.  With high school graduation money, I purchased a portable 45-record player to take to college with me. It, and the 45s I played on it–Eddie Fisher, Johnny Mathis, etc.–are long gone. But whenever I hear “Walking My Baby Back Home”, or “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, I will remember those days.

A Slice of My Life: A Very Special Christmas Gift

Christmas Scarf

Knit Scarf heirloom Christmas gift.

Really? 1986?  I got this keepsake Christmas gift thirty years ago??

Yes, it is true.  I have not had occasion to wear it in southern Arizona, I seldom have to swaddle in a woolen scarf. And on those rare occasions when I did wear a warm scarf, I chose one in colors that I like better than green.

But of course this is green–it is a Christmas gift.  And a very special one at that.

Christmas Scarf

Both ends of Christmas scarf from president Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan , 1986

Nancy Reagan sent it to me as a reminder of our meeeting at the White House.  Me and several thousand other people.  The party I attended was just one of a dozen or so Christmas parties given by the President and his wife each year.

In 1986, I was working for Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona.  When he got his invitation to the White House Christmas party that year, his wife, Sarah Dinham, was unable to fly from Tucson to Washington D.C. to attend, so he needed “a date.”  I was the lucky choice of staff members.  I flew into Washington from Tucson where I headed up the District Office, and spent a few days on Congressional office business with some excursions for Christmas shopping at the Smithsonian Museum gift shops.

However, the highlight of the week was getting all dressed up and going to the White House.  Several weeks before, we had to submit my name, address and social security number to the White House so that the Secret Service could be sure I was not a menace.  We arrived that evening and passed through a metal detector and a cordon of watchful men in suits and uniformed marines.

We made our way up the grand staircase to the main level.  At the top of the stairs, president Ronald Reagan and Mrs. Regan stood shaking hands with every guest that came into the hallway.  The President was as friendly as his familiar smile and his warmth took away some of the nervous feeling of actually being a guest at the White House.

It was an interesting moment when Jim Kolbe introduced me to the President.  He used my nickname, Bunny, which all my life I thought I would shed when I became a real adult. After that evening, my fate was sealed. I had been introduced to the President of the United States by that silly child’s name.  I knew I was fated to be known by some people as Bunny for the rest of my life.

Nancy Reagan left quite a different impression than president Reagan. Many people comment about how tiny she was–particularly standing next to the robust “cowboy” figure of Ronald Reagan.  But despite being beautiful and tiny as a doll, Mrs. Reagan, while formally correct, did not radiate the warmth that her husband did. In fact, as she limply shook my hand, she was quite obviously looking over my shoulder to see if there wasn’t somebody more important coming.

There were quite literally hundreds of people packing the Blue room, the Red room, the Green Room, the Grand Foyer, the enormous East room and every hallway in between. After all there are 535 members of Congress and each attendee brought a guest.  Even the most jaded old- timers could not pass up the opportunity to be able to chat with old friends and frenemies at the White House.  Some probably even had plans for lobbying the President on some pending piece of legislation.

Since my Congressional “date” was an old hand at visiting the White House, he graciously asked me what I wanted to do.  Without hesitation, I told him that I wanted to be able to meet George Bush, then the vice president.  We wove our way through the crowd, Jim stopping to chat with Congressional friends, and then I spotted George Bush.  He towered above the crowd–people don’t always realize how tall he really is.

When we got there, the two men–Kolbe and Bush are two of the most gracious men I ever met–had a semi-awkward moment.  Jim, trying to make sure that Bush would not be embarrassed by assuming that I was Jim’s wife, stumbled over an introduction in which he wanted to say “Mr. Vice President, this is Bunny Badertscher, my chief of staff, not my wife, who had business in Tucson.”  Instead, he only got out, “This is not my wife….” when the vice president enveloped me in a hug and said, “Oh, that’s all right!”

Our conversation was brief because a mob formed around the vice president, but I was satisfied that I had been able to say hello to the man I admired.

Reagan Christmas Tree

The Reagans in front of the Christmas Tree in the Blue Room in 1986

I am sorry to say I do not remember a lot of the details. There were tables of refreshments in the East room where the Marine band was playing and we even managed to dance briefly. The towering official Christmas tree was decorated with vintage children’s toys that year, I believe. [Click on the photo to see the real story–I was close–it was Mother Goose characters.]Gorgeous decorations filled every room, but is all a blur–a blur of faces and bodies filling every foot of floor space.

And I got a keepsake Christmas gift to prove that it was not just a dream, but a real Cinderella experience.

———-

Details of a 2016 White House Christmas party for the volunteers who did the decorating.

A Slice of My Life: Home Sewn

Hattie Morgan's Sampler

Hattie Morgan’s sampler, Age 12 (circa 1854)

This pretty piece of needlework has challenged me ever since my mother first showed it to me.  Young girls  showed off their needlework skills in samplers like this.  “Sampler” because the girl  stitched samples of several different kinds of embroidery stitches, in addition to showing off her knowledge of the alphabet and counting, and perhaps a memorized  Bible verse as well. This piece introduced me to the joy and skill of home sewn.

The sampler says:

Prefer solid sense to vain will. Let usefulness and benificence direct the train of your pursuits.

When you mean to do a good action, do not deliberate upon it. When you are about doing a dishonorable act, consider what the world will think of you when it is completed.

Tis virtue sweetens all our toils/ With joy our labor crowns/Gives pleasure when our fortune smiles/and courage when it frowns.

[I actually Googled that last little poem and got no hits, but it is oh so typical of Victorian virtuous poetry.

This particular sampler was made by my great-grandmother, Harriet (Hattie) Morgan, then about twelve years old.

I felt like an underachiever compared to Hattie when I started practicing embroidery , but I determined not to let down the female line of my family. At a very young age, mother taught me some plain stitches.  In Girl Scouts, I had sewn a “sit-upon”–a pillow to carry for outdoors activities. My grandma Vera had taught me to sew on buttons (and how to properly hang clothes on the line to dry outside. ) In eighth grade, I signed up for a 4-H group where I could learn sewing, and began making basic home sewn items like aprons and pot holders.

Side note:  I would NOT take home economics in high school because my mother taught it and that would be the ultimate embarrassment. Much worse than wearing home sewn clothes.

The Singer Sewing Machines

I learned all the tricks I could do with my mother’s old featherweight Singer portable sewing machine. She got it in the 40s and used it for 30 or more years.  I still have it in storage, but haven’t tried out the portable Singer for many, many years.

That portable electric Singer was a big step up from the first sewing machine that I used–my grandmother’s pedal sewing machine.  How I wish I still had THAT machine! I remember the fancy gold trim–which is also a feature on the portable electric.

Sewing Machine

Singer table model pedal sewing machine 1920s Picture from ebay.

Because these treadle machines were first marketed around the turn of the century, it is quite possible that my great-grandmother Hattie Morgan Stout had been the first owner of Grandma’s sewing machine.  If so, she might have used it to slightly speed up the work of making the incredible crazy quilt, she created with her mother-in-law,Emeline Stout, one of my great-great grandmothers. It looks to me as though the pieces were stitched by machine, but then decorated with the fancy embroidery stitches.

crazy quilt pillow

Crazy quilt pillow by Emeline Stout

Of course I had no idea of this possible history when I was pumping away on the treadles in Grandma’s big kitchen. She would not have mentioned it because my Grandmother was not one to dwell in the past.  Although my Grandmother (and my great-grandmother) loved everything new, other people did not immediately embrace the new machine for sewing.

It was also thought that women might be too excitable and perhaps not quite bright enough to manage such a complicated instrument. In addition there were concerns that women would go wild and spend their days shopping, playing cards with friends and who knows what else if they no longer had to spend much of their time making bedding and clothing.

For more about the early history of the sewing machine, see the source of this quote.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know how those predictions turned out. Women indeed , no longer spend their time making bedding and clothing!

Making Home Sewn Clothes

From potholders and aprons, I progressed to making some of my own home sewn clothes, inspired by the pictures on the pattern envelopes and beautiful materials.

It had been popular for sewing for a long time. So much so that the smart flour mills competed to print pretty patterns on their flour sacks. And by the time I started sewing in the 50’s you could buy the material without the flour.  I made gathered skirts from that lovely soft cloth and also made a peasant blouse with a neckline that could be worn off the shoulder–which I wouldn’t dare to do (blush!), and elastic gathered puffy sleeves.

Fortunately, gathered skirts were in style. The home sewn versions were so easy to whip up and the material was so cheap that I could make them in many different patterns and colors.

The Red Dress

During high school, I continued to make clothes for myself from time to time.  I particularly remember a red dress with white collar and cuffs. Since this is a black and white picture, you’ll have to take my word for it that the dress was RED. That’s me as a high school freshman on the far left, one of my best friends, my father, my mother, and in front, my little sister.

Kaser famkly at Easter 1953.

Easter Picture. Vera Marie Kaser (Badertscher), Nancy Martin (Orr), Paul Kaser, Harriette Kaser, Paula Kaser , 1953

This picture illustrates some fashion notes of the 1950s. I accessorized my home-made dress with a very trendy elastic waist-cincher belt. Although I had splurged on new wedge sandals for Easter, my girlfriend wears the teen uniform of the day for feet–saddle shoes.  My little sister wears white socks with her Mary Janes.  My mother’s dress looks like it is one of the factory-made materials so popular after World War II–nylon or rayon perhaps. Our long skirt length came into style in opposition to the short, fabric-saving skirts women wore during the war. By the fifties, fashion had turned to the New Look, which meant lowered hemlines.

I am surprised that my father is wearing his shirt tail out and no suit or sports jacket, since we were coming from church and he usually dressed more formally.  My frizzy hair did not come naturally–it comes to you courtesy of Toni home permanents, the cheap beauty shop perms alternative  that left the house smelly for a week.

Fifty years after this picture was taken, I learned that I was not the only one who remembered the red dress.  The man who had been my very first boyfriend showed up at my mother’s funeral.  As we chatted about the old days, he said that he remembered seeing me in a red dress and thinking it was the prettiest thing he had ever seen!  Of course he didn’t say that at the time when I saw myself as an ugly duckling, with my home sewn dress and ridiculous home perm. If only we could  know some of the good things going on around us when we are young and insecure.

Sewing as a Young Housewife

When I went off to college, I took a recess from sewing. After I married and had three little boys, I took it up again. It was not out of necessity, but out of an urge to do something more creative than cook formula and baby food and deal with diapers.  After I tucked the boys in for the night, I would pull out my latest yardage of beautiful material, unfold the tissue paper patterns and get to work. Because I hated to stop before finishing a project ,I once took a night and the following day to sew a taffeta skirt and jacket with matching silk blouse. I wore it to a wedding the following day. I also made formal wear, like this long blue satin gown I’m wearing–along with big hair–in this picture from the late 60s. Yep, still wearing white gloves!

Blue dress source of border for crazy quilt

That’s me in the blue satin dress in the middle of the front row. Scottsdale Jr. Woman’s Club 1967

I fashioned one of my favorites projects, a very short dress (hemlines had jumped up in the late sixties,) from a piece of heavy silk that my brother brought me from Vietnam. He served in that country during the war.

I might have made clothes for a little girl, but since I had boys, I felt no temptation to try sewing their uniform of sturdy pants and t-shirts. However, I get points for  making home sewn costumes for Halloween.

Halloween costumes

Halloween 1966 Gypsey Mike and Ken Rabbit

A new house called for learning to make drapes and curtains. One year I made home sewn aprons as Christmas presents for everyone in my extended family.

Inevitably, I also went through my crewel embroidery phase and my needlepoint phase, and some pieces from those periods surface now and then. Although I dreamed of replicating great-grandmother Hattie’s sampler, that has yet to happen.

Turning away from sewing when the boys were older, I moved on to various other pursuits.  But I will never forget the sense of accomplishment that comes with putting together a whole garment, or learning a new skill like pleating or making buttonholes. I now knew how to secure those buttons that my grandmother had taught me to sew on so many years before.