Category Archives: My Life

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.

A Slice of My Life: Veterans Day Memories, World War II

For most people reading this, World War II is an historic event that seems as remote as the Civil War.  I hate to shock you—but I was alive during World War II. Not only that, I have memories.

Here are a random few:

Handsome men in uniform–including uncles and cousins.

World War II Vets

Uncles Herbert and Bill Anderson and Cousin Frank Fair 1943

This picture shows my Uncle Herbert and Uncle Bill Anderson, both navy men, and my cousin Frank who was the most glamorous of all–a fighter pilot in the Army Air Force. He was incredibly handsome and married an incredibly beautiful young woman.  I thought they were movie stars come to earth in Ohio. The many war movies we were seeing at the Duncan Theater in Killbuck never had stars any more glamorous.

Frank and Ruth Fair 1942

Frank and Ruth Fair 1942

 

Frank Fair, WWII, 1943

Frank Fair, WWII, 1943

Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers

A Blue Star banner with three stars hung in my Grandma Vera Anderson’s window, and Blue Star and Gold Star banners could be seen in many windows throughout town.  Every mother or grandmother got a blue star.  I always thought Grandma should have a gold one, because they were prettier, but I didn’t understand that to get a gold star you had to have lost a son.  There was an organization of Blue Star mothers than grandma attended, too.  The women found comfort together.

Blue star banner

A blue star banner from the Library of Congress photo collection

Protecting New Philadelphia from Bombs

I was not more than three when I begged to go along with my Daddy on his rounds at a Civil Defense Warden. It was a volunteer position, put he had an armband to wear over his overcoat sleeve to identify him, and carried a heavy flashlight, hooded and kept pointed at the ground, as he walked around the neighborhood checking to be sure no light shown out of any window.

Of course, people were also not supposed to be on the streets at night–other than the Civil Defense Wardens. So of course I wanted to be out on the street!  One night I remember clearly, despite my young age, my Daddy relented and I walked alongside him, holding his hand, very proud to be the daughter of such an important person.

Remembering this scene now brings to mind so many of the things about World War II that were unique and that I have not seen repeated in my lifetime.

For one thing, it seems a little surreal that people actually thought that German bombers might be heading for the small city of New Philadelphia in Ohio, and therefore we had to keep the lights out when there was an air raid siren. (Most if not all were practice alarms, I am sure.)

Second, it is a reminder of how united the country was–how everyone felt they had a part to play in defeating the enemy and helping our troops.  People didn’t just cooperate by turning out the lights when told to, they collected tin cans and newspapers, women knitted socks, men and women planted victory gardens so that farm produce could go to feed the fighting men, we sold war bonds at school. The whole country was fighting that war. And it felt very close.

I am happy to report that no German bombs fell on New Philadelphia on my Daddy’s watch.

Raising Rabbits

Besides raising vegetables in the back yard, my parents experimented with raising rabbits. Daddy built a wood framed, wire cage that sat in the back of the garage. He stocked it with a pair of rabbits and they did their rabbit thing. Soon we had a cage full of baby rabbits.  Of course, I thought it was a windfall of pets, but I’m sure that mother and dad had in mind supplementing the meat they could buy with their ration stamps.

I am not sure that my mother had the fortitude to kill the fluffy little critters and cook them. At any rate, the baby rabbit managed to escape the cage, and one day my parents got a call from neighbors asking if their rabbits were missing.  I believe that was the end of rabbit farming at our home in New Philadelphia.

There are other memories–but I have to keep something for next year, don’t I?