Tag Archives: Memories

Mother’s Day Memory Jar for Mother

A fellow genealogy blogger, Jeanne Bryan Insalaco, recently blogged about a Memory Jar that she made for her mother. With Mother’s Day coming up, it seems like a particularly timely idea. Jeanne wrote down her memories of their past and put the individual slips of paper in a jar. She meant for her mother  to read one per day–but of course her mother couldn’t wait and read all of them right away.

My mother would have done the same thing. Unfortunately, she is no longer here to share these memories.  Thanks goodness we had opportunities for long talks when she was in her last decade. Here are a few of the things I remember about my other, Harriette V. Anderson Kaser. I have organized them by different places that we lived.

Ames Iowa

My earliest memories for the memory jar come from when I was nearly three years old in New Philadelphia, Ohio, but other than stories mother told me, I don’t have any specific memories of mother in New Philly.

I do remember the little house in Ames, Iowa where we lived for a short time during World War II. I was a few months short of four years old. Mother was teaching me to read.  She probably needed to do some teaching, because she had set aside her teaching career to follow Daddy to Iowa for his job, and she was VERY bored.

I remember the thrill of recognition of squiggly lines become letters and words and stories about Dick and Jane and Sally.

King Avenue, Columbus Ohio

I remember when mother got her first hearing aid.  We were living in a two-story brick house that in its grander days in the early 20th century had served as the home of managers of a beer company.

She knew the hearing aid was inevitable.  She had inherited a hearing problem from her father, Daddy Guy, who wore a hearing aid. His was a big clumsy thing (I was going to say the size of an early transistor radio, but some of my readers would not relate to that) with a visible wire to his ear. Mother’s Beltone was smaller than a pack of cigarettes and she wore it clipped to her bra and hid the wire in the bun on the back of her head. Much later she had the in-ear type, which is what I now have.

In the same house, when I was about nine years old,  I learned that a third child would join my brother and me.  My parents cheerfully announced the expected new arrival, but I had overheard their earlier conversations, so it was not a surprise. Not only that, but I did not greet the news with the enthusiasm they wanted. Not because I didn’t want another baby in the house, but because mother was 42 and I had heard their conversations worrying about the dangers of pregnancy at an advanced age. The memory jar reminds me that worry goes both ways between mother and child.

Loretta Avenue, Columbus Ohio

Next my memory jar turns to the late 1940s. I remember soft summer nights with my mother sitting with her friend Leona Culshaw on the back steps of our house, overlooking the lawn and gardens my dad had planted. Kids ran up and down the streets or alleys until it got too dark to see. Fireflies blinked, garlic smells drifted from the kitchen of the Italian house next door. It would have been idyllic, except to me as a vulnerable pre-teen, their conversations about cancerous ovaries and failing hearts and other icky things made me nauseous.

Again, mother had taken a leave from her teaching career, and filled her time with doing crafty things, which she loved. For PTA (as a parent rather than a teacher) at Linden Elementary School, she took charge of the organization’s scrapbook.  During later years, she made creative centerpieces for ladies’ luncheons at church or at her golf club. And when I married, she created the headpieces worn by my bridesmaids and put her creative touch to other parts of the wedding.

Killbuck, Ohio

We had lived in Killbuck off and on before, but our longest stint took place in a hundred-year-old house on the Schoolhouse Hill.  I attended eighth grade through high school there, so of course the memory jar is packed with memories–but being a teen at the time, the memories are pretty self-centered.

Mother sewed, despite her full-time teaching jobs, a succession of formals for me.  I belonged to Rainbow Girls (a girl’s auxiliary to the Masonic Lodge) and needed to wear a formal every four months.  Of course it would be out of the question to wear the same dress twice!  Like a wizard, mother would take off a ruffle here, add an overskirt or shawl-like top there and give new life to an old dress.  I loved her creativity and all my “new” dresses.

Hilliard Ohio

The family moved to Hilliard, a suburb of Columbus, in the summer of 1956 to relieve Daddy of the commute to Columbus and to be closer to Ohio State University, which I would attend that fall.  Mother immediately got a job teaching at Hilliard High School and the family stayed put long enough for my brother and sister both to graduate from Hilliard.

Mother’s history of loving word games predates the move to Hilliard, but I relate her love of Scrabble to that time.  She was a formidable opponent, because she would make up words and who could argue with an English teacher?  If you dared say the word did not appear in the dictionary, she would scoff that dictionary was no good.

After she retired from teaching, she started every day with the Word Scramble found on the comic page of the newspaper, while Daddy did the crossword puzzle.

Tucson Arizona–the Final Years

After retirement, Daddy and Mother moved to Scottsdale Arizona, following her migrating children west. There they played golf and enjoyed apartment living.  When their health began to fail, they joined Ken and me in Tucson living first in an independent living apartment, and after Daddy died, mother lived in a nursing home.

The transition was made easier for her by her love of poetry.  She had to have a bookshelf of poetry books beside her bed, and took joy in letters from old students about how she had planted a love of poetry in them.

Like all aging people, she liked to reminisce, and we went through her old picture albums and she told me stories.  How she loved cars! One day she told me about every car she had owned, starting when she was twenty-one years old.  She had to have new ones every couple of years, and in her nineties, she remembered every one.

Her other love encompassed all of nature.  “The world is so beautiful,” she would say as we took short road trips to a nearby national park, or looked up to the mountains surrounding Tucson, or drove along roads rimmed with wildflowers.

I suppose that is the most important memory I have of my mother to put in the memory jar would include–her enthusiasm for the world, for people–particularly teenagers, and the way she threw herself into her activities with enthusiasm.

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 Memorial for My Father

MEMORIAL: Paul Kaser 1909-1996

My father,Paul Kaser, died twenty years ago today. A Memorial is supposed to be a solemn affair, bordered in black. But that is not who my father was.
This is who my father was. He told stories. Especially shaggy dog stories. This is my free form version of one of my favorites.

Grass Shack

Grass Shack and Coconut Palm by Forrest and Kim Starr

“There once was an island far away in the South Pacific. The King of the Island lived in a grass shack like all of his subjects. But his grass shack was bigger and grander. His grass shack had three stories, a separate room for sleeping and another for eating, a breezeway, a patio, windows looking out on the surf and a double door made of pieces of driftwood.

“Being a king, of course, he had to have a throne. When he first became king of the island, he had a modest stool which served as a throne, since everyone else sat on the ground. But after a year, he thought he should have a more impressive throne, so he stored the stool in the third floor of his grass shack, and had a wooden chair built from pieces of a shipwreck. The chair seemed quite grand to him until one day he visited another island. That king sat on a chair that had arms and a high back. It was much more impressive than the island king’s plain chair. So when he went home, he commissioned a new chair with arms and a high back and he stored his old chair in the third floor of his grass shack.

“For a year or so, he felt quite grand, but then a tourist happened upon the island with a magazine that showed a throne in a far off country. It was carved ornately and decorated with precious jewels. Of course nothing would do but that the island king have a more ornate throne. He commissioned his finest craftsmen to build a new throne with carving of dolphins and waves. Since there were no precious jewels on the island, he asked them to inlay colorful seashells in the wood. He stored his previous throne (the one with arms and a high back) in the second floor of his grass shack, since the third floor was getting rather crowded.

“Of course by now you can guess what happened in another year. A shipwrecked sailor staggered ashore carrying a wireless set. The king, who by now had learned a bit of English from visitors, listened to the stories on the radio and heard the description of a throne that had a high back, and carved arms, was covered with jewels but also had rare and wonderful fabrics covering the seat and the back. He had to have a throne like that. Buying fabric from a passing ship, his craftsmen built the new throne and stored the old throne that was decorated with seashells in the second floor of the grass shack.

“The King proudly sat down on the soft fabric and leaned back on the carved wood frame. But as the craftsmen left the grass shack palace, a wind came up, the building swayed, and it came crashing down on the king seated on his throne and killed him.

“The moral: People who live in grass shacks should not stow thrones.”

Can’t believe you have been gone for twenty years, Daddy. Because you are still in my heart and my mind. And you still make me laugh.