Friday, May 30, 2008
While I'm paying homage, let me mention how sorry I was to hear that Sidney Pollack also died this week. The man was a genuis. Jeremiah Johnson, Three Days of the Condor and Tootsie are just three movies he directed that I now own on DVD and still enjoy as much as the first time I saw them.
I watch a lot of old movies and old television shows. With few exceptions, they are far more entertaining than the current fare available via 200+ cable channels. Yesterday, while I was lying in bed working on the laptop (backache, headache, knotted muscles, enough said), I decided to start working my way through a newly acquired collection of classic TV on DVD.
To set the stage for my trip down memory lane, you have to remember what television was like in the mid 1960s. There were 3 broadcast channels: CBS, NBC and a very young ABC in some markets. Our antenna picked up the San Antonio stations. Once in a blue moon when the wind was just right and you had your left hand on the TV and your right hand on the window frame, you could pick up KTBC in Austin. It was snowy, but it could be done and I would sometimes suffer the visual distortion for a chance to see a favorite program that had been pre-empted in San Antonio.
I had a very bulky black and white television set in the corner of my bedroom and I felt rich for this luxury. Not many folks had more than one set in the house at that time. (A small digression at this point - I remember when one of the more well-to-do families obtained a color set and invited little brother and me over to watch the telecast of Cinderella starring Lesley Ann Warren. It was a fairly new production at the time and a treat to get to see in color. I can remember vividly sitting in their living room, watching the program while their youngest son ground up sugar cookies in his new PlayDough contraption. Ah, memories.)
I remember being very enamored of a British import called The Avengers. I watched it faithfully, as did one of my close friends. We rehashed plots and discussed the characters at length. The show actually had several incarnations. Except at the very first, the male lead was John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee. The female lead changed several times, but the years it was broadcast in the USA were the years of Mrs. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg. She was one of those rare characters liked by everyone, both male and female. We were heartbroken when the announcement came that the character was to be written out because Diana Rigg was going on to bigger and better things. The show was never the same after that.
I had not purchased any DVDs of the series because I did not care for the non-Mrs. Peel episodes. Around the time of my recent birthday I became aware that a special set had been released of all the episodes involving Mrs. Peel. The furry kids got it for my birthday present (they have Amazon accounts and it was on my wish list, bless their little hearts). Yesterday was the first time I had settled down to watch a few episodes. I half-way expected to be disappointed. Memory so often makes things seem better than they were.
On the contrary, I am having a great time. First of all, there is a big deal made about the switch from black and white to color. According to the accompanying notes, the color episodes were the only ones that made it to the USA back when. That means I have about 30-40 episodes in the collection that I probably never saw at all. The ones in color I watched in black and white, so those should be a treat for other reasons. (I have caught a few episodes from time to time in the intervening years, but not many of them.) Yes, the stories are camp and the special effects laughable, but they were camp and laughable when they were new. That was half the fun and the fun is still there. The repartee between Steed and Mrs. Peel is witty and intelligent. In the 1960s the folks behind television shows had higher opinions of their audience's mentality and wrote accordingly.
The last time I so enjoyed revisting my television past was when they issued a complete set of The Persuaders, a spy show starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. Up until then, I had the feeling I was the only one in the world who had ever watched the show. While it was broadcast in San Antonio, the station had such a low opinion of it that they showed something else in its time slot and shifted its broadcast to 11PM on Sunday night. It was probably on the ABC channel, as I never got to see it without heavy snow being involved. I think that was the start of the dark circles under my eyes, because I would faithfully stay up until midnight, on a school night, with the volume turned down low enough that my parents wouldn't know what I was up to. I would be hunched over close to the set so I could hear and barely able to see what was going on. That, my friends, is the definition of a devoted fan. It was a real shock to get the DVDs and see everything clearly and in color. I had almost remembered that it was supposed to be snowy.
I will not confess just how much retro television I have collected on DVD, but I will say that I am never at a loss for something decent to watch in lieu of the garbage that passes for entertainment these days. I especially enjoy the shows that started out in England on the BBC: The Avengers, The Persuaders, Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers, and Keeping Up Appearances. Quality television is out there - you just have to look back a few decades to find it. It's just too bad how laziness and greed has caused the genre to deteriorate to the sad state of affairs it is now.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
But today I was running a little bit early on the trip home, I had my camera and the field was dry. I hiked out to get photos and got a surprise. Between last year and this year someone had done some restoration work. The photo I took from a distance last year clearly shows a barbed wire fence and tumbled tombstones. Today the cemetery has been newly fenced and all the stones have been repaired.
The field this year is planted in cotton and the little cemetery is quite picturesque surrounded by the healthy plants. It has been a long time since I've walked down rows of a full field of plants. I can remember riding in the back seat of the car as we cruised around the farm lands around San Gabriel when I was about 5 years old. I was always intrigued by the undulating motion of the rows of plants as the car sped by.
Someone with as much farming heritage as I have could not help but find such a sight beautiful. I was really tempted to take my shoes off and walk out to the cemetery barefoot. Is there anything more satisfying than the feel and smell of freshly plowed dirt?
These folks have a really nice place to spend eternity. I'm so very glad that someone cared enough to spend the time restoring this little cemetery.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Do you remember back in the good old days when you could count on certain things from the television writers? Like, for instance, Bonanza. You could count on the season ending with all the main characters still alive. Even when Pernell Roberts left the cast, his character Adam just moved away. Eventually they quit talking about him, but you knew he was still out there somewhere. When Dan Blocker died one summer while the show was on hiatus, his character died, but quietly off camera. By the time the new season began, you already knew what had happened and the shock had worn off.
The characters would get injured, yes, but they never just suddenly winked out of existence. Their guest stars were the ones who died abruptly, but it's not like you didn't know it was coming. You just knew when one of them got interested in a girl, she was a goner. God forbid that the winning combination of Pa and the brothers should be upset by a girl for longer than a 2-hour episode, for Pete's sake.
In the good old days, you could pretty much count on your favorite characters sticking to the end of the series, Pernell Roberts notwithstanding. (I missed him, but I don't think very many people did. Including the other cast members.)
In the good old days you could also count on getting to the end of the season. Nowadays the shows are judged and axed before you even realize they started. I find that I sometimes don't even try a new series until it is in reruns and I know there will be a series to watch.
Anyway, the point of this whole diatribe is that I am catching up with the last few shows of the NCIS season that I recorded on the DVR. There was ample warning that a major character would die in the last episode and I kinda knew who it would be if I were in charge, but I was wary. Nowadays the shock factor seems to be a big appeal and I was really anticipating that one of my favorite cast members might be disappearing for the sake of end of season ratings.
So, I confess, I poked around the Internet and found a spoiler to tell me who was biting the dust before I watched the final episode. I figured I would rather be forewarned instead of suffering an unwelcome surprise that would piss me off. As it turns out, my guess was correct so I can watch without dread.
I just don't like this new trend to kill off major characters. You get fond of your favorite characters and it hurts to lose them. It seems counterproductive to me to irritate your audience, but maybe the younger generation doesn't mind the lack of continuity.
I'll have to hand it to one show that breaks the mold. Lost regularly kills off its cast members, but then they keep coming back in flash backs or as ghosts, so they never really go away. I can handle that, although I really think they could have found a way to keep Charlie among the living. I miss that boy.
Is it any wonder I keep adding to my collection of vintage TV shows on DVD? I know I can count on them to make me happy. Everybody but the guest stars will be alive when the credits roll. That's the way it should be.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Back in the early days of my dollhouse hobby, miniatures were not readily available. A dollhouse enthusiast learned to look at everything around them with an eye toward what it could be used to represent in a 1/12th scale world. One of the best known full-sized item that fits in nicely in a dollhouse is a bottle cap. A fluted toothpaste cap or a clear cap from a bottle of hairspray makes a terrific dollhouse wastebasket. The metal cap from a glass bottle of soda fills in nicely as a pie pan. An empty jelly tub from a restaurant takes on new life as a kitchen sink. You get the idea.
I've been making dollhouses for almost as long as I've been a genealogist and the two areas have similarities. I'm not talking about the need for attention to detail, though that is certainly a common denominator. I'm talking about the access to needed materials. In the 1960s, in my early days of genealogy, you had to be really creative and persistent to get the job done. Records had to be sought via the U. S. Postal Service and rare trips to far-flung libraries. Nowadays newcomers to the hobby have it relatively easy with the ability to access many records from their home via the Internet. (Have I ever told you the story of scanning census microfilm page by page, Texas county by Texas county, hours on end, where indexes were not available? The newbies have no idea how hard we had to work back when. I think I'm beginning to feel like a geezer.)
Likewise, when I got into the dollhouse hobby in the 1970s, miniatures just weren't that easy to find. There was a corner in a toy store or two where a few dollhouse items could be found, but mostly you had to deal with mail order companies or make things yourself. If you were lucky enough to find miniatures, they were expensive. I didn't make a whole lot of money back in those days, so I wasn't able to indulge in the higher priced items.
As the craft stores began to spring up, miniatures were a little more readily available. I still couldn't afford full price very often, but when I found things on clearance that might be useful "someday", I snatched them up and put them back for future use. Over the years things have gotten even more readily available and I continued to buy basic things like wallpaper, flooring, doors, windows, and furniture sets whenever I found good buys.
As my income improved, so did my stash. I began to buy dollhouse and roombox kits when Hobby Lobby would include them in their weekly sales. I would find a dollhouse kit somewhere marked way down because of a few dings in the box. It would come home with me.
The thing is, I now have more miniatures and dollhouse material stashed away than there will ever be rainy days to work on them. My early dream was to someday have a "street" of shops. I'm making some progress on that dream. I currently have finished an antique shop, a knitting store, and a Southwestern store. I'm very close to having a completed Mexican food restaurant. In my stash are project boxes for a bookstore, a Christmas store, a gift store, a bed & breakfast and a museum. (Project boxes mean I am actually collecting the furnishings and accessories for the store. Project boxes are in addition to the dollhouse kit itself.) I have store kits for another 3 stores as yet unplanned. And I'm not even going to list the number of containers I have acquired with the idea of using them for vignettes that won't be a part of my "street". I won't even go into how many storage bins I have full of furniture and building components. Let's just say I have a portion of the garage set aside just for my dollhouse addiction. The guest room upstairs is almost wall-to-wall dollhouses and roomboxes. I'm getting ready to dispose of the bed to make more room for dollhouses. (If I have guests, I'll be sleeping on the floor.)
There is hope. I'm getting a little bit better about turning down good buys. Awhile back I passed on a fully built dollhouse on sale at the outlet mall in San Marcos. I patted myself on the back for that one. For some time now I've skipped visiting Hobby Lobby when miniatures are included in their sales. I've at least stopped buying "in case" and started buying for definite projects. Yes, miniatures are still coming in faster than they are being used. One of our last stops on the recent genealogy trip included a visit to a fantastic dollhouse store in Nashville. At least everything I bought and carried back carefully on the airplane in my carry on bag was destined for a specific planned project. Well, most of it anyway.
My hoarding does pay off sometimes. This morning I was contemplating a kit-bashing angle of the Mexican restaurant and decided I needed some Spanish-style tile for an accent piece. I dove into a storage bin and found just enough mosaic flooring to fit the bill nicely. When I found that the doweling they included in the kit for the roof vigas was bigger than the holes they had drilled, I found a slightly smaller dowel in my wood stash. I hated the kit flooring and found that I had 3 random plank flooring sheets purchased on clearance that will look fabulous.
I may be addicted, but I feel no guilt. I tell myself that the time to buy is when I have the funds (and storage room) to do so. When I retire, I won't be wondering what to do with myself. There will be dollhouses and roomboxes to build. And sweaters to knit.
And, of course, books to read.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Fifty-eight electronic files and three manual entry files processed in a little over two weeks. I even squeezed in a refresher round of manual entry myself while I watched tv this past Wednesday night.
Just in time to enjoy a 3-day holiday weekend without anticipating the need for a last minute sprint to the finish line.
I've lived through another May.
Now I can sift back through email and snail mail and spend some time reminding myself of good things that came my way while I was buried. Like this original decorative wedding certificate issued to my grandparents in 1928, a document I had no idea still existed:
It is worn and tattered, but it is the real thing. Many, many thanks to Cousin Amanda for sending this treasure to me for inclusion in the family archives. I never cease to be amazed at the wonderful things that have been tucked away for decades and then suddenly come to light and fill us genealogists with joy and hope that more family treasures are safely in the hands of relatives who kept them from ending up in wastebaskets and landfills. Forget raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Old documents are my favorite things.
I'm so very glad to be back where I want to be. At my desk. Surrounded by piles of old documents. Bliss.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
It reminded me of my own dress up days. When I was about 5-6 years old, a lady from the church gave me a box of assorted costume jewelry. Mrs. Pearson worked at some large department store and she had acquired an assortment of unsold jewlery, had added some of her own she no longer wanted and gave the whole lot to me. Some of the pieces were still in good shape and Mother swiped those for her own use, but there was still a very large pile of rejects that I sorted and played with for quite a long time. I'm not sure what ultimately happened to the collection. I guess some got played to death and some was passed along to younger cousins when I outgrew dress up age.
Along with the jewelry, I had some of Mother's old dresses that I loved to put on and drape with jewels. I was big on play-acting, so I spent many hours happily changing costumes and characters and entertaining myself. One of the dresses I remember especially. It was a gauzy lime-green dress with a full skirt and large collar that draped wonderfully well. I actually managed to find a couple of photos where Mother is wearing it.
I was particularly fond of that dress and kept it for many years. The last memory I have of playing dress up in that dress was when I wore it in a play my class put on for the PTA. I guess I was in the 4th or 5th grade and I played a queen. I always felt elegant in that green dress, so it was the perfect choice for that part.
I have no memory what became of the dress. For many, many years we moved a collection of Mother's old dresses, including her wedding suit of a cream color with navy piping. I guess she finally tired of hauling them around and gave them to Goodwill. I rather wish I still had that green dress and that wedding suit. They were heirlooms I didn't know I would want all these years later.
Come to think of it, I guess I still play dress up. I do love putting together outfits and accessories. And I still have a large collection of costume jewelry. A girl never knows when she will need to feel elegant. Or kitschy. Or retro. Or refined. Or gaudy. Or medieval.
I think I know why I have a clutter problem.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Fer instance - any real Texan understands that the word "y'all" is only appropriate when designating more than one of y'all. The instant you transplanted Yankees address one Texan as y'all, you might as well pack it up and go home.
My newest source of aggravation from the foreigners in our midst is the overuse of the phrase "fixing to". Newcomers seem to think this phrase is quaint. They start trying to fit it into their conversation frequently in their effort to fit into our culture. Unfortunately they don't understand that unless the phrase slides into the conversation unnoticed, it doesn't work. We Texans can use the phrase and you won't even notice that it was uttered. The faux Texans trumpet it out like "hey, aren't I clever to know how to say 'fixing to'?".
"Fixing to" is never, ever, a phrase that is appropriate to include in written format. I've noticed a disturbing trend developing amongst the columnists of the Austin American-Statesman. This morning a columnist used the phrase twice in the space of one paragraph. How gauche can you be?
I was amused a few years ago by one of the younger native Texans I work with. I usually monitor my Texas-speak fairly well in the business environment, but one day I popped out with the word "ain't". He looked at me appalled. The gen-xer Texans had been working hard for some years to eliminate their unique Texas-speak heritage. I told him to relax. I knew better, but I grew up in small town Texas and some of it was bound to come out from time to time. But while I may slip verbally, I certainly never let it creep into my written communication. I know where and when Texas-speak is appropriate. (Which is not to say I don't sometimes purposefully slip into local vernacular when a stilted conversation gets boring and needs a well-placed jolt.)
Ok, 'nuff said. Y'all stop saying "fixing to" until you know when and where it fits into context, you hear?
Friday, May 16, 2008
This year has been a little different because we have contracted our printing to be done off-site. The front end work load is still there, but we don't hear the incessant racket of the printer and we don't see the notices piling up in the mailroom and we aren't crossing every finger to insure that the mail inserter doesn't break down along the way and require a part to be flown in from Outer Slabovia for its repair.
A lot has changed in the 26 years we've had to hurdle this May mountain of work. In the beginning a lot of the data had to be entered into the computer by our data entry people, because our clients weren't on computer. Then the clients got on computer and we had physical problems creep in with disks that arrived mangled and tapes that didn't contain complete files. Nowadays about 3/4 of our clients are able to generate a file and get it to us within minutes via email or ftp. That has resulted this year in all the necessary files, save two, already in our office. Here it is the 16th of the month and I'm down to under a dozen that I still have to process. Those will be done in a day or two and there will be almost two weeks left in the month to handle the printing. Unheard of to get it behind us that quickly. Of course, there are still those two that haven't made it...
So, anyway, I get pretty grumpy along about now. I'm tired. I'm having allergy problems. (I think it's those gardenia bushes that are blooming their hearts out right now.) All I want is to have a free minute to decide for myself what I want to do, and it's not to tackle another pile of programming chores. Last night I found myself snapping at the dogs, and I don't snap at my dogs. We ended up going to bed early to get some needed rest. I plan to take the weekend off as well.
Maybe I'm getting too old for this stuff.
Nah. I've got a few more years left in me.
Lord, have mercy.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Friday, May 09, 2008
I don't know how I discovered their wonderful limeades, but once I did I enjoyed them regularly. Oddly enough I did not know what to call them. I just ordered a "dime lime" and Mayme would mix one for me in a tall glass. I would sit at the counter, drinking my limeade and listening to the ever-present group of local men who would meet there for coffee and conversation.
Most of the time I was with Daddy and he would sit and talk for a long time, so after I finished my limeade I would wander over to the magazine rack at the front window and leaf through the movie magazines. If I got too bored, I could always walk the 3-4 blocks home, but I loved those movie magazines and listening to the grownups talk. Mayme probably wouldn't have let many kids stand and read unpurchased magazines, but she adored Daddy and didn't chase me away.
The Drug Store was the social center for that little town. Everybody went to the drug store regularly, not only for prescriptions, but for anything in the non-grocery line that you couldn't find at Manford's Grocery at the other end of the block. The interior was full of antique counters, antique glassware, antique shelving and antique merchandise that had sat unsold on the shelves for a generation or two. There was a collection of antique bottles with antique medicines on display in the back.
But it was also a place where you could get stationary and cosmetics and jewelry and, of course, reading material and finish up with a triple-decker ice cream cone or a dime lime. It was a wonderful place.
We held fund-raising bake sales inside the Drug Store on Saturdays when raising money for our class trips. The tables would pile high with cakes, cookies and pies and everyone would come in early to get the biggest choice. One time Mr. Sample grabbed my apple pie before I had even reached the display table. (See, even then people knew I make great apple pie.)
There was one day when we were in Nixon for some reason and stopped in at their drug store for a drink before heading home. I had no idea how to ask for my limeade. I asked if they had a lime "coke" and they assured me they did. I got a Coke with lime in it, which actually tasted great and I still drink them that way to this day, but it wasn't the same as the handmade limeade at Rhodes'. It was a special treat I only enjoyed there. (It was a long time later that Sonic came on the scene.)
Rhodes' Drug Store is no more. Vic and Mayme grew old and retired. The building stayed shut up for awhile. Somewhere along the line all those antique store furnishings were removed, I assume sold. The building sits empty and unused. Many of the men who gathered there every morning to swap yarns have died. I don't think there is a daily gathering place for coffee in Smiley any more. If you want magazines, you probably have to drive over to Gonzales. That's the nearest place you can find a Sonic with limeade, too.
I wish I could go back and stroll into that drug store and order a dime lime from Mayme again. I hope that somewhere up in heaven she's still manning that soda counter and riding herd on a group of men who are drinking coffee and telling tall tales. If she is, I'm betting Daddy is right there with the Monday morning quarterback club. They were a great bunch of folks.
There will never be another place like Rhodes' Drug Store. The picture below is of the interior of the drug store before the Rhodes' tenure, sent to me by a descendant of one of the men in the photo. The furnishings are the ones I knew. In my china closet are two pressed glass candy dishes that were given to my mother by Vic out of one of those cases on the right. My own little piece of Rhodes' Drug Store. I would trade them for one of those dime limes. But only if Mayme herself made it.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
One chapter really hit home for me. I have long described my 11th year on earth as being one where I wasn't really here. It turns out I am not alone in that experience. Bill Bryson describes how he never could remember what day of the week to bring his money to buy savings stamps, could never remember to bring his signed permission slip for class trips, etc. That was me in fifth grade. Does every kid go through a spell of complete oblivion?
The bad thing is, the fifth grade was the first time I had a man for a homeroom teacher. This particular man, Mr. K, was partial to boys and didn't really have much use for flighty girls. So it was particularly unfortunate that my brain went on vacation that year. He was the only teacher who ever actually took girls out in the hall for paddling and I think there was a time or two when I feared I would be next, because I have vague memories of his irritation at my forgetfulness. (There's a vintage memory right there. Paddling?)
I could not remember anything. I annoyed my friends to the breaking point that year by asking every afternoon what we were supposed to do for homework that night. I simply had no recollection of assignments being given, much less what they were. Looking back, I have no memory of anything that happened in that fifth-grade classroom, with the exception of one afternoon when an older boy I had a crush on gave a demonstration of walkie-talkies. And the book rack. I can remember standing at the book rack picking out a new book to read. I guess that is where my 11th year went. I must have spent the entire year lost in books and daydreams.
Whatever the cause, by sixth grade I was more or less back in my physical body. I can remember that year clearly. I can remember the fourth grade clearly. So far as fifth grade is concerned, I was in another dimension. Now, thanks to Bill Bryson, I know I was not the only one that happened to.
Of course, it could be that I was a victim of alien abduction. Did we have UFOs in 1965?
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
If you look closely, the core of Austin is still special. But all the garbage you have to wade through to find the special just takes too much energy and I'm not getting any younger.
So, I am enjoying my present commute with new appreciation this week. I am watching the new corn growing a foot every day. I am watching the new cotton crop barely peeking above the ground. And I am enjoying the golden fields of grain that are waving gently in the breeze. It was a challenge to find a place where I could park safely and get up close and personal, but it was worth the search. (For the record, this field is just north of the SPJST hall in Elgin.)
Amber waves of grain, indeed. Beautiful.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
They have not gotten through the week unstressed themselves. A few days ago, Coco decided to smell something on our walk and I wasn't paying close attention. By the time either of us knew something was wrong, her leg was covered with fire ants. I scaped them off with my bare hands, but missed one between her toes and a few more yards down the road, we had to stop and dispatch him to the great ant heaven.
And poor Mojo. The first day or so after Mom returned from her trip was the midnight problem of the chirping smoke alarms. This week, while piled in bed and thinking he was safe, Mom was watching Lost and wouldn't you know one of the scenes involved a chirping smoke alarm. He was about ready to pack his bags and call Uncle David to come get him.
But this morning all is well. Mom finished the vacuuming (poor things don't know I plan to crank up the carpet shampooer after awhile) and they've had their sunbath on the deck. They are all ready to sprawl on the couch and nap the afternoon away.
Unfortunately, Mom has to work.
It's a dog's life.