Saturday, May 10, 2014

Apron Strings...the ties that bind


If there is one thing that reminds me of Mom, it would be an apron. She wore them everyday...  at least for part of the day. For many years, you didn't see women wearing them—I guess they went out of style. But just like many things, they are very popular again and many ladies are wearing them as part of their everyday attire.

It doesn't seem like four years have passed since Mom's passing but the calendar on the wall tells me otherwise. Sometimes when I look at pictures of her, I could swear that I can still hear her voice—they way she used to call my name—especially when I was (ahem) in trouble for some reason. I guess I have always had somewhat of a mischievous streak in me, if you can imagine that. Anyway, it went something like this: "DEB-OR-AH. LYNN. BILL-HEI-MER!  YOU. GET. IN. THIS. HOUSE. RIGHT. NOW!"  I knew I was really in trouble when she would use all three of my names and emphasize every syllable like that. She was a strict mom but she never failed to demonstrate unconditional love to her children. Most of the time she was pretty soft spoken. Those were precious days...even when I did get in trouble. I miss her so much, especially as we celebrate Mother's Day. I guess that goes without saying.

So...back to aprons...Mom was the Apron Queen. It was a rare occasion when you didn't see her wearing one. When I think about it, I can name only a few times during a typical week when she didn't have one on—when she was just getting up or going to bed, when she went to do her weekly grocery shopping or when she went to church. Mom's aprons were just a part of who she was and she wasn't completely dressed until she put on her apron for the day.  Back then, almost all of the ladies of the house wore aprons—even the ones on TV. June Cleaver and Donna Reed wore them often—even Lucy, just to name a few. In fact, since I started getting my thoughts together for this post, I have been more aware of the aprons on these old shows. The only difference being that they usually wore their aprons along with a string of pearls and high heels!


Mom wore neither pearls nor high heeled shoes...she didn't need to.
She was already beautiful.

Mom...looking beautiful in one of her many aprons.
Most of her aprons were home sewn, usually from left over fabric from one of the dresses she had  made for either herself or one of us girls. It didn't take much fabric to make an apron. If there was enough of the remnant left, she would design one that went around the neck so as to give more coverage—those were the best kind.  She never threw away any scraps of fabric and if they weren't big enough to make a smaller apron that just tied at the waist, they would be put in a bag for quilt squares. Of course, they were never without pockets...big pockets. Pockets big enough to hold...well, just about anything and everything that she might have the opportunity to come across during her daily cleaning and other chores. She might find some change or a comb that had dropped out of Dad's pocket. Or maybe a curler or a spoolie that had fallen out of one of her girls' hair (you have to be a child of the '50's to know what a spoolie is). I'm sure you might find an extra bobby pin or two in there as well—keeping them handy whenever a wild strand of hair would come loose from her bun that she wore on the back of her head. Or maybe even a stray dirty sock that had gotten kicked behind the chair. There's no telling what wound up in those pockets during the course of a day. At other times those big pockets could be crammed full of clothespins to keep them within reach as she hung the laundry out on the line. Of all the things that found their way into Mom's apron pockets, there was one thing that she was never without—a wadded up Kleenex. In those days, many things were used more than once! :)

We always had a big garden every summer and it wouldn't be unusual to find the skirt of her apron brimming over with fresh produce as she would gather beans or tomatoes in her "basket". Even though I only have a faint memory of the chickens that we used to keep, I'm pretty sure she must have gathered many an egg in the tails of her apron back in the day!


Mom's aprons had many other uses. I can picture her now as she would sometimes use her apron to dry her wet hands when the kitchen towel was out of reach—or to wipe away a smudge or sticky finger prints from a window pane—or the sweat from her brow as she was on her hands and knees weeding her flower beds. I'm sure there must have been countless moments when she used her apron to wipe off a dirty little face or two...or three...or eight. I can only wonder how many tears she dried with the hem of one of her many aprons. Of course, she kept back a couple of her nicest ones for special occasions like when she helped in the kitchen at the church or when she prepared a holiday dinner at home. The everyday ones became so threadbare you could almost see through them.

Mom, between her twin, Edna (left) and sis Clara (right) who is
currently 102 years old. The baby on her lap is Barbara...I think.

When I was really young and learning how to do a few household chores, Mom would give me some simple ironing to do. She would let me iron the handkerchiefs, pillow cases and her aprons. Other times, when I tried my hand at helping her in the kitchen, I remember how special I felt when I actually wore one of her aprons. I learned to sew on her old treadle sewing machine when I was a young girl and one of the first things I made (in addition to clothes for my Barbie) was an apron for her. It certainly wasn't anything fancy, just a simple square of fabric sewn on to a waistband with a couple of pockets. Mom could always use a new apron! Here are a few other photos of Mom wearing various aprons. When I was going through them, it was actually hard to find one when she didn't have an apron on!

Mom in a gingham apron holding her favorite youngest.....me :)
I can tell that she wasn't too happy with the photographer :(

Something tells me she was expecting one of us in this pic...
those tell-tail signs of pregnancy are pretty apparent!

I'm not sure what became of the aprons she had in the later years of her life—my sisters probably have kept a few of them. I'm guessing that the last few years of her life she didn't wear aprons as often since she naturally wasn't able to do as much to actually need one. Since I moved away from Ohio and have been living almost 500 miles from home, I feel I missed out on keeping up with details like that. But the one thing that I do know is that keeping these memories alive in my mind and close to my heart is what I need to do until the day I see her again in heaven.

We are all familiar with that old saying, "It's time to cut the apron strings". What do you think of when you hear this expression?  Most of us would agree that it means for a parent to cut the child loose, so to speak—so they can become responsible and independent adults—to make their own choices. This is what she did. As little children, she lovingly nurtured us as only a mother could and when we became adults and left the nest to start our own families, there was never any interference of any kind. She didn't ever butt in or try to push her ways of doing things off on to us as we raised our kids. She knew that part of her "job" had been accomplished. She was though, always there with answers to our questions, to give advice when we asked for it and to offer solutions to our problems whenever we came to her with them.


There is a song that keeps coming to mind as I ponder these thoughts about apron strings and the symbolism they represent. It is an old, old, OLD hymn that was written in 1777 by John Fawcett titled "Blest Be the Tie That Binds". I remember singing it at the Old German Baptist church that we attended. There were no instruments in the church, only the human voices beautifully blending together—most of them anyway :) When I close my eyes in quiet reflection, I can almost hear them singing....

"Blest be the tie that binds, our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above."

"Before our Father's throne, we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one; our comforts and our cares."

"We share each other's woes, our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear."

"When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again."

"This glorious hope revives, our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives and longs to see the day."

"From sorrow, toil and pain, and sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign through all eternity."

So yes, I feel like Mom did cut those apron strings at the appropriate time. It's funny though, those same ties that were severed have also become the ties that bind...the ties that bind me to those people and blessed memories of where I came from—who made me who I am today. Those whose examples I try to follow.

I would like to take this opportunity to say Happy Mother's Day, especially to all of you moms today. But whether you have ever had children or not...whether you had a great relationship with your mother or not...I pray that everyone will still be able to celebrate this day and honor someone who has stepped into that role for you in one way or another. She doesn't have to be your mom—or a mom at all! Maybe you are someone who has stepped into that role for someone else. And finally, for those of us whose mothers have already left us, may we celebrate their lives today by always cherishing the precious moments we shared together!

I am so looking forward to the day when I see my sweet mom again... and if she's wearing an apron, I'm sure it will be one of her finest!








Monday, September 2, 2013

Fresh Country Air

Fresh country air. What does that mean to you? Is it the smell of freshly mowed hay as it swirls through the wind? Maybe it's the sweet scent of honeysuckle in the breeze as it whips through the trees. Or maybe it's the stench reeking from the hog farm down the road! Maybe it's all of the above! Regardless of what you classify as fresh country air, that term will always conjure up sweet childhood remembrances of a beloved aunt and the visits to her country home on Cowpath Road...that's right, Cowpath Road, (not Cow Patty :) near Christiansburg, Ohio. But here's the best part. Aunt Clara is 103 years old today! Isn't that amazing?!

Aunt Clara, a.k.a. Clara Davis Stagner, is the only living sister of my sweet mother who went on to be with the Lord a little over three years ago. She and the baby of the family, my Uncle Amos, are the only surviving siblings out of seven. As families go, we were quite close. There were eight children in my family and Aunt Clara and her husband, Mier, or Bud as everyone called him, were parents to seven and all pretty close in age to us. That made for lots of fun get-togethers, especially between our two families since we lived only a short drive away.

 

This picture was taken before my time on the porch of our home.
My mom is in the middle holding my sister, Barbara.
Aunt Edna, (Mom's twin) is on the left and that is Aunt Clara on the right.

This photo was taken on the same day as the one above...
...a bunch of cousins from the three families... 
...really, just a drop in the bucket...not nearly everyone got in the picture!

***********************************************

I can still visualize the house...with its wrap-around porch and how the swing would slam into the side of the house if you swung just a little too high. It sat pretty close to the narrow road which was lined with cornfields on either side and most of the traffic consisted of tractors or other farm vehicles...not much worry about getting out on the road and getting hit by a speeding car. It was pure country as far as the eye could see. The term "fresh country air" was really kind of a joke we kids made up because of that hog farm which was was just a short distance down the road! It was a thing we would always do...no matter where we were and we happened to notice the smell of fresh manure in the air, any one of us would never fail to say, "Ahhhh....smell that fresh country air!"  And while on the subject, there was no inside bathroom in Aunt Clara's house for several years so having to use the outhouse added to the fond memories! Just ask my sister, Barbara, she'll tell you all about it. It seems she was an uninvited guest one day when she had to go to the outhouse to sit for a spell. The yellow jackets who had made their home under the rim of the seat were not happy campers when someone came in and invaded their space! She came running out of there and into the house screaming bloody murder, bare butt and all! I don't know how many times she got stung...but (pun intended)...it really didn't matter. Have you ever been stung by a yellow jacket??? YEOWWW! At night time, an old enamelware chamber pot sat at the bottom of the stairway along with a roll of toilet paper in case someone had to "go".

There are many things I see that spark a memory of those days. Here are a couple more examples:

Duplex sandwich cookies could always be found in the cookie jar. She would serve them to us with tall glasses of milk poured into glass glasses with designs on them—unlike getting a half glass at home and we could get more if we drank it all. As funny as it sounds, this seemed like a real luxury to me. At home, Mom was always very cautious about giving us glass glasses to drink from. How can a glass be anything other than glass, you might be asking? Well, at our house, we drank from either metal or plastic cups...even though we called them glasses :) Am I confusing you? Regardless, the point being she let us drink full glasses of milk from glasses something like these you see below.


We would also love playing upstairs in our cousin, Sharon's room. It's always more fun to play with someone else's toys, right? I will never forget her doll house—it was the coolest doll house ever with the coolest furniture ever. We would play with it for hours and hours. When we got a little older and were young teens, we had a blast singing and dancing with Sharon as we listened to her collection of 45's on her record player up in her room. And I will never forget hot summer days as we worked on our "tans", slathering ourselves with Crisco... yes, pure Crisco... and proceeded to fry as we laid on blankets out in the yard!

Through the years, being able to visit with Aunt Clara was always a special treat for me, especially after I moved away from Ohio. My Uncle Bud had passed away several years before so she had been widowed for quite some time. I always looked forward to seeing her sweet smile and loved being greeted by her gentle, soft spoken demeanor. As the years passed, Mom's health started to fail and she was in and out of the hospitals and the nursing home on several occasions. Aunt Clara, being two years older had also started to decline a bit and was unable to stay at home alone after a while. As God would have it and to soften the blow, the sisters who had been so close all of their lives were "roomies" at the nursing home! Here are a few photos of us taken in 2009 when all of my children and grandchildren came for a visit. Mom looks like she could use a nap :)



Unfortunately, Mom went home to be with the Lord in the spring of 2010. 
She didn't get to witness her sweet sister reach her milestone birthday of 100 years...
... but I know she was rejoicing in heaven.


Oh, I just love this picture of her! Look at the joy on her face!


Here she is with her "baby brother", my Uncle Amos, 
who I think is now about 97 or 98 years young :)

 

Just look at that sweet smile and those bright, cheerful eyes!
I think this was taken a few days after the "Big 100" party and that was three years ago! 
I haven't been able to get up to see her for a while but my sis, Barb keeps me posted on how she's doing... 
and from what I hear, she is going strong!

**********************************************

There will be more partying going on today, I have no doubt. When you have lived as many days and years as she has, everyday is a gift and should be celebrated. Really, shouldn't we all be living like that regardless of our age? We are never guaranteed tomorrow...some of us are just blessed with more of them than others!

I thank the Lord for blessing this sweet woman with so many years of life. I am also thankful for all of those simple little things I have spoken of here that remind me of her. The memories of my childhood would not be complete without them!

Happy 103rd Birthday, dear sweet Aunt Clara! 

I love you!


UPDATE: It saddens me to say that less than 2 months after writing this post, my sweet Aunt Clara went home to be with Jesus. She is finally reunited with her loved one who went on before her.
The events that surrounded the day she died inspired to write Bittersweet, a post on my main blog. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Softer Side of Sandpaper




Can you imagine what life would have been like in 1911? That's the year that my dad, Joe Billheimer, was born. He worked hard from the time he was a kid growing up on the family farm until he suffered a stroke when he was 90...nearly 91. The cancer that was running rampant inside his body hadn't become evident to anyone yet until he was hospitalized for that stroke in the spring of 2002. About six weeks later, he would pass from this life, into the next. We hear all the time about how the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Lord was surely at work here. You see, the stroke my dad suffered had robbed him of his speech. Anyone who knew him would also know that just wouldn't work for him. Not only was he not able to do what he loved to do almost more than anything ...talk ...and whistle...(he did both all the time), he knew that the weakness that had taken over the one side of his body would also keep him from taking care of Mom, his princess. His queen. His precious bride of nearly 70 years. Now, if there was ever anyone who wouldn't consider herself anything even remotely close to royalty, that would be Mom. It didn't matter though. She was everything to him. We didn't know it but the cancer had already progressed to the stage where his time left would be only be a matter of weeks. I actually feel like the cancer was a blessing in disguise. Really? How could I possibly think that? How could we imagine Dad without a voice? How could we imagine how totally helpless he would feel not to be able to do his day to day tasks, and most importantly, take care of his beloved life-long mate?

One thing I always remember about him were his hands and how big and strong they were. Remember the popular song, "Daddy's Hands"? I think about him everytime I hear it. One of the lines in the song says "you could read quite a story in the callouses and lines, years of work and worry had left their mark behind". That would describe them perfectly. If you ever shook his hand you would know what I'm talking about. My dad was a strong man and he had big ol' hands and fingers! They were as rough as sandpaper due to the fact that he was always doing something with them....they were rarely idle. They were either working at his regular job, where he was tool and dye maker and machinist, repairing something broken, tending to the garden or they might be helping a friend's ox out the ditch, so to speak. I remember that tough skin came in quite handy when it came to lawn mower blades. One of the few times my dad ever stepped foot into a doctor's office or hospital was when he nearly cut off three of his fingers at one time when he was working on a lawn mower ...getting in the way of the blade...OUCH! Many times he would just come in the house, put bandaids on them and go back out and continue what he was doing. He probably would have lost those fingers had they not been so strong and tough.



I remember as a small child, his hands making mine look so very small in comparison. But even though the outer surfaces of his hands were sandpaper-like, there was a softer side to these hands of his. The way he "handled" his wife is a great example of what I am referring to. It was like she was made of glass, the way he would gently touch and embrace her. She might be standing at the kitchen sink, preparing food or something and he would walk by, giving her a soft kiss on the cheek, a little squeeze or maybe pat her ever so lightly on the behind. It was a scene that we witnessed almost on a daily basis. His gentleness towards her was constant and I never heard him raise his voice to her. Now, that was a slightly different story when it came to his children. I would describe him this way - his bark was worse than is bite. I don't know how much or how severely he disciplined the older kids...I will admit I've heard a few stories :) I am guessing he mellowed quite a bit through the years since I don't remember him putting a hand on me (in that way) or anyone else after I came along.

These other lyrics from that song tell the rest of the story:

I remember Daddy's hands, working 'til they bled
Sacrificed unselfishly, just to keep us all fed
If I could do things over, I'd live my life again
And never take for granted the love in Daddy's hands

I remember Daddy's hands, how they held my mama tight
And patted my back, for something done right.
There are things that I've forgotten, that I loved about the man
But I'll always remember the love in Daddy's hands.


Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin'
Daddy's hands were hard as steel when I'd done wrong.
Daddy's hands weren't always gentle but I've come to understand
There was always love in Daddy's hands.

I really kind of doubt they celebrate Father's Day in heaven but just in case they do, Happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you and miss you! 

You know, sometimes...I swear I can still hear him whistling :)


Monday, March 11, 2013

"P" is for....

Hello! It's been a while! The holidays are over, the earth is beginning to thaw and spring is in the air. Where does the time go? I have so many memories of when I was a little girl floating around in my head but not many of them have been making it to the surface recently... so I guess I have what you might call writer's block...well, maybe I should call it something else since I am NOT a writer. Let me just say that lately, nothing has really come to me to write about. Now, before we get too deeply into this, I must say that this post doesn't quite live up to the title of my blog, "Memories of My Childhood (and other blessings)". Oh yes, these are memories alright, but blessings? Not so much. Even though they do bring to mind that I am thankful for not having that "issue" anymore. Where am I going with this?...you might be asking yourself about now. Well, I will tell you.

You see, somewhere along the line, a few years after I was potty trained, this problem started. It seemed like my bladder wasn't growing quite as fast as the rest of me. I don't know if it was that, or if was the fear that my dear, sweet mother had instilled in me every time we were about to leave the house on any occasion... whether it would be to the grocery store, to church or maybe just for a drive in the country. I can still hear her words echoing in my brain as if it was yesterday. "Debby....you better go pee before we leave!"  Well, here's the problem with that. I have never been one to be able to pee on cue. I mean, when I have to go, I have to go but I just can't make myself go. Oh sure, if I wanted to sit there for a while with the water running in the sink and visualizing a babbling brook, I may be able to squeeze out a few drops but the family didn't quite understand why I was taking so much time in the bathroom! Back in those days, public restrooms were sometimes hard to come by, especially in the little "mom and pop" stores that we frequented. Rides in the country could also be kind of scary since many times, we would go far out in the boondocks, where there wouldn't be a gas station or restroom for miles. I remember on one of those occasions as we were rambling through the countryside in the old Buick and the urge hit me. I knew I had to go but I didn't say a word for a long time, sitting in the back seat of the car with my sisters. I knew that Mom and Dad would scold me for not "going" before we left the house so I just sat there quietly and squeezed (squoze?) as hard as I could to hold it in. Finally, when I had no more "squeeze" left in me, I quietly and sheepishly spoke up....."I gotta pee." Silence. "I gotta pee", again, a little louder as my eyes filled with tears, now that "they" could actually hear me from the back seat.  After I broke the news, I will never forget what my dad jokingly said to me after he coarsely reminded me that I should have gone before we left... "It looks like it's backing up 'cause it's comin' out of your eyes!" This is NOT what I wanted to hear at this very moment. There was no where to go except to pull off the side of the road and walk back into the high grass. Now, if you are a boy, this might work for you. Even as bad as I had to go at that very moment, nothing would come out, although eventually I do believe I was able to finally relieve myself and we resumed our drive home. There was just something about the grass tickling me and the fear of peeing on my britches that kept me from relaxing. Um...yeah!


During those growing-up years, there would be many other occasions that the utter fear of not being able to get to a restroom would literally haunt me so much that it seemed like no matter where I was, I had to pee at the most inopportuned times! Those that remain engraved in my mind of which I shall never forget are these two in particular.

I was in first grade, sitting at my desk in a dark classroom as we were learning how to tell time on a transparent clock that lit up so you could see the working gears inside. The urge hit and I asked to go to the restroom. The teacher asked  me if I could wait another fifteen minutes when it was break time. Like an idiot, I said "yes". The janitor was soon called for clean-up on ailse three, desk one :(

In second grade, during a spelling test...I didn't even ask the teacher this time, hoping that the urge would pass. It didn't and I did. You surely know how that story ended.



This was me at our annual family reunion in Troy, Ohio when I was about five or so. I don't remember who took the picture but what I do remember is that I had to pee SO bad—I wasn't even able to walk to to the restroom in the park for fear of wetting my pants—so I decided to just sit it out for a while. That's when someone came along and snapped that picture. See that smile? It's really not a smile at all. It's a grimace as I strained to keep from leaking!

My final and most humiliating experience was when I was a senior in high school. YES, THAT'S WHAT I SAID! My older sister along with my mom, had picked me up at school and we had stopped at a fabric store on the way home for some purpose. As I was walking the aisles of the store, I started to feel that "old" feeling again. Surely, there must be a restroom in the store, right? Nope. Not one. Not even a bucket.  I hid in the back corner of the store for a while, where no one could see me with my legs crossed, bobbing from side to side. Doing the "PeePee Dance" was not helping this time! Try as I might, I tried to "contain" myself (pun intended :) but no such luck. Then I felt it....that unmistakable warm sensation that was heading south, down both of my legs. I will never forget what I was wearing that day - dark brown corduroy jeans. They had just become a darker shade of brown in certain areas. I wanted to cut and run but there was no place to hide. There I was, a teenager in the middle of a fabric store and I had just peed in my pants!! I walked with closed legs as fast as I could to find Mom and told her my sad story. Within minutes we were out of there. I don't remember how long it took me to live that one down. Luckily, I don't think the people who worked in the store noticed and even if they did find a drip or two on the floor, they would never have known it came from me. For many years, my sweet mama would remind me of that event from time to time :)


I don't know when it happened but one day I realized I didn't seem to have this issue anymore. I still can't pee on cue either though. Like when the doctor needs a sample from you....that's not cool. Here's what I do know...when Jim and I take a road trip and we have to pull in at all of those rest stops every so many miles, we're not stopping for me!


One day soon, I'm sure all of that will change.








Monday, December 24, 2012

Lumpy Socks and Charlie Brown Trees


It is Christmas Eve 2012! Where has the time gone? While many of you are making merry with your family and friends about now, it's just me and the doggies hanging out here. When you have a hubby with a crazy work schedule like mine, you get used to it. It's okay though. Most of my holiday preparations have been made and now I have time to just sit here. Quietly. Reflecting. Thinking about what an awesome God we have. He who sent His only son to earth as a little baby so we could all have this wonderful Savior! Also thinking back to the Christmases of yesteryear and how truly blessed I am to have these memories. Oh, there are so many but here are just a few that come to mind.
It looks like it's dancing!
Christmas was without a doubt the most anticipated time of the year when I was a little girl. I imagine it is for most children.  First of all, the Christmas season didn't even begin until Thanksgiving was over. The stores didn't put the Christmas items out on the shelves along with Halloween decorations like they do today. Isn't that just ridiculous? We had to practically beg Mom and Dad to let us put the tree up well into the second half of the month of December. I've read stories and watched old movies where families didn't put any decorations until Christmas Eve since they left them up for the twelve days of Christmas. Now I must admit that there is something kind of cool about the idea of waiting until Christmas Eve to put your tree up. It brings to mind a picture of an old Victorian Christmas card ... a family gathering together, trimming the tree with real candles (yikes!), singing carols, all the while sipping on eggnog. Something right out of a Dickens novel. Anyway, when you are an impatient little girl, it's hard to wait. What am I saying? When you are an impatient big girl it's hard to wait! As I remember, it was usually about two weeks before Christmas when our family would drag out all the decorations and start decking the halls. Artificial trees were unheard of when I was really young so it wasn't until several years later when we got our first faux tree. As you can tell by the photo, our trees had c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r! Charlie Brown's tree had nothing on ours! Charlie hadn't even been born yet so we didn't actually use his name back then to describe our trees - they were just what we were used to. I remember it being an extra luxury when we had one that was actually tall enough to sit on the floor instead of on top of the desk in the living room! Oh and see that round thing on top? It is actually and angel standing on clouds. There is a reflective, prism looking thingy (the round part) and a glittery bulb when lit, makes it all "heavenly" looking. I just found out the other day that my sis, Barb has that tree topper now and uses it every year!

It was a family affair, the decorating of the tree. Dad was the boss. The boys were in charge of getting the lights on. We had those big ol' bulky colored bulbs that got very hot. Back in the day, they were hooked up "on a series" meaning that when one went out, they all did. It was a pain when one would go bad and it was usually the very last that was checked that was burned out. It never failed. We all had a hand in placing ornaments, tinsel and the rest as Dad sat back and eyeballed the scene, offering his supervisory skills. Mom offered her opinion only when asked. Once the tree was up and all decorated, the excitement of Christmas really started to fill the air, along with the smell of Mom's homemade sugar cookies and Dad's fudge.
The original Barbie Doll
Secret trips to Woolworth's or our local dime store followed by whispers between brothers and sisters kept all of the excitement going. We didn't have a lot of money to spend on elaborate gifts, in fact, we knew nothing of such things. Each one of us kids would get maybe 2 or 3 presents each from Mom & Dad. By then, some of the older ones had jobs and did some gift-giving as well. Most of the time our gifts were something practical like much needed underwear, new night clothes or socks. I remember one year in particular when I received a new baby doll. She was the kind that didn't have any "real" hair and what she had was just a textured part of the molded plastic. That little baby doll was precious to me and I remember so well the scent of the vinyl that she was made from. To this day, I love that smell! I think it may have been sister Janet who bought Barbara and I our first and probably only Barbie Dolls. These were the original Barbies too! Remember, Barbie just recently turned 50 so we really did get some from the first batch! When we got a little older and wanted to do some shopping ourselves, I remember Mom would always save back a little money and give us each a few dollars to go buy gifts with. Sometimes, certain scents still remind me of those days ... and those large bottles of cheap toilet water (yes, that's what it was called) that we would sometimes buy for each other.

Before my sibs and I (the last three of us at home) actually received our first ready made Christmas stocking with our names on them, we hung our white knee socks up and woke to find them filled to the brim with oranges or tangerines, walnuts in the shells and candy canes. What a sight they were! They looked like huge stuffed sausages hanging from our make-believe mantle! Regardless of how they looked, they were also filled with love and I will always remember those lumpy socks as one of my favorite Christmas memories. Mom always made sure she put the exact same thing in all our socks because she knew we would dump it all out and compare what we got with each other. Mom was very  careful not to show "partiality" as she put it, to any of us kids. I guess when you have so many children you must be careful to treat them all the same to keep fights from breaking out!

Thinking back to those Christmases of days past warms my heart and I can't help but miss the simpler times. I absolutely love the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" and I don't consider my yearly Christmas experiences complete without watching it ...the version with George C. Scott. The Ghost of Christmas Past came to remind Scrooge of the joy Christmastime had brought to him in years gone by...in contrast to the way he was living when the ghost visited him. His life was full of regrets because somewhere along the line he lost hope and became a lonely and bitter man. Oh sure, I too have a few regrets in my life ...most of us do, but when Jesus is your Lord and Savior, those regrets have no place because He takes them all away and replaces them with His love and grace.

Yes, the Charlie Brown trees, the lumpy socks and the smell of a plastic baby doll are all fond Christmas memories of mine. But all of those silly little things I remember would be just silly little things had they not have been wrapped up in a lot of love. Love for God. Love for each other. These things remind me that memories, Christmas ones especially, are the best gifts we could ever hope to receive.

Merry Christmas! And may God bless us...everyone!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's About Time

When I decided that I wanted to start journaling my childhood memories, I got a tablet and started listing them as they came to mind. Most of them came quickly. Some I had to ponder more. But they came to me, knowing that as time went on, others would make it to the forefront of my brain. It has been nearly nine months since I started this blog and it wasn't until just a couple of days ago that I inadvertently came across something that popped up on the internet. Something that I actually grew up with, yet somehow, I had forgotten completely about it! I guess that's how the mind works when we get...uh-hum....more mature :)

Anyway, some of you who visit my Facebook page, might have gathered that I am always doing some sort of decorating project in my home. You may have also seen my fireplace re-do and the large round clock hanging above the mantle. Well, I was looking on Google Images for some Christmas decorating ideas and typed in something like "Christmas fireplace with clock" in the search box. Of course all these pictures appeared and then ... I saw IT. The heck with the Christmas decorating ideas. What I saw stopped me in my tracks and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

 

The search of images for "fireplace and clock" brought up exactly just that - a clock shaped like a fireplace. OMW! Where had this memory been all of these years? When I was a little girl, this identical clock sat on the desk in the livingroom. Sometimes I think I remember it on the end table as well. After finding some old pictures, I noticed that it kind of shows up in several places throughout the room. As you can see, it is a darling little clock. The fire in the fireplace actually lit up and a revolving something-or-other behind the logs made it look just like a real miniature fire that was burning. I remember gazing into those flames and wishing that I could somehow shrink down so that I could sit in front of it and warm myself. Or hang Christmas stockings from the mantle. Or toast marshmallows. I envisioned a cozy little cottage with this little fireplace creating a warm, comfy atmosphere.

We didn't have a fireplace in our home and I remember wishing so much that we did...you know, so Santa could come down the chimney, of course! Instead, I just imagined that the old wooden desk in the living room which was always where we sat up our Christmas tree—as well as hung our stockings from—was really a fireplace in disguise. Don't ask me how, okay? I was just a little girl with a vivid imagination!

 
Here it sits on the old treadle sewing machine cabinet behind Mom's chair...
 
 
...and on the bookshelf behind Mom and Dad...
 
 
...and on top of the TV.
Oh, and let's not forget... there's that imaginary fireplace (the desk) I was mentioning before :)

Anyway, the day the picture of this clock appeared on my computer screen, not only did it surprise me but also puzzled me. How could I have forgotten such a fond memory from my childhood days? Isn't it funny how some things just seem to get lost in the deepest recesses of our brain? It doesn't happen to me often but it really surprised me that I had forgotten about that little clock. I immediately clicked on the picture to find out why this clock was even on the internet...OK what isn't on the internet, right? It opened up a whole page of them on ebay! I found out quite a bit of information about this little fireplace clock that day. First of all I discovered that this is one popular little collector's item. The clocks were manufactured in 1957 by Mastercrafters Clocks. The company actually made many different and unique types of clocks using various other whimsical elements. The main part of the body was made from bakelite, if you know what that is. I didn't before but I do now, thanks to Wikipedia as you see below.

Bakelite (play /ˈbkəlt/ BAY-kə-lyt), or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. It was developed by Belgian-born chemist Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907.
One of the first plastics made from synthetic components, Bakelite was used for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings, and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, and children's toys. Bakelite was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 1993 by the American Chemical Society in recognition of its significance as the world's first synthetic plastic.[1] The "retro" appeal of old Bakelite products have made them collectible.

Now that we have all been educated about bakelite and it's history, don't you just feel so enlightened? Anyway, back to the story...
 
Ebay has many of them to bid on and I got so excited when I went down through the list and found a couple for under $10.00! A closer look at the description and I was disappointed to see that they were not in working order but just selling them for parts. There was one for $149.95 that was in very good condition and another in mint condtion for $265.00! Wow! I couldn't believe that we owned such a gem! I don't know how my family acquired this clock but I know Dad surely didn't spend a lot of money on it...probably didn't cost more than $10.00 back then. 
 
I checked with all seven of my siblings and no one seems to know what became of this sweet little clock. It makes me kind of sad to think about it getting away from the family but it sure has blessed my heart for the memory of it to have re-surfaced.
 
After all these years, it is about time :)
 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Music To My Ears



Music has always played an important part of my life, especially as I was growing up in the Billheimer family. I think I was about three or four years old when I joined in with my brothers and sisters and learned "my part" in the family harmony. Now, family harmony is a little different than the typical harmonies that are learned in music classes or choir. Anyone who sings with family knows exactly what I'm talking about. The melody or lead part is always the same but there is no perfect tenor, alto or barritone. Sometimes anyone singing a part other than lead usually crosses over onto another one's part at one point ... just at the exact same time the other crosses over onto theirs. There is no written music to follow...I can't really explain it. It just happens. Somehow it just blends together perfectly. Finger nails on a chalkboard come to mind when I think of harmonies that don't blend together well...kind of like the music from the movie "Psycho"...if you follow. Many years later when I started singing in the choir at church and  since I couldn't read music, I had a hard time staying on my part when I wasn't singing the melody. That's why I decided to sing soprano. 

By the time I was probably about four, I had already recorded my first solo (hehe). The name of the song was "I Love My Rooster" and it was recorded in our livingroom on our family's reel-to-reel tape recording machine that weighed about 100 pounds...state-of-the-art technology, to be sure. Actually, at the time, it probably was! The following are the touching, heartfelt lyrics to that song:

                 I love my rooster, my rooster loves me
                 I cherish my rooster on the green bay tree ... (what?)
                 My little rooster goes cock-a-doo-doo
                 De-doodle-ee, doodle-ee, doodle-ee-doo

I swear, these are the words. After this first verse, it went on about a duckie that goes quack, quack, quack and a hennie that goes cluck, cluck, cluck. Really, I'm serious. I never did understand how one cherishes anything on a green bay tree. I don't even know what a green bay tree is, although they must grow somewhere in the state of Wisconsin :) All I know is the song must have bored me silly because during the recording, I was actually falling asleep...no kidding...I still have that recording to prove it. My voice would just trail off to places unknown every now and then. God bless those brothers though...they just kept on playing the accompaniment, slowing down and then speeding up to follow my every lead.

Doug and Jerry, all ready to perform
All three of my brothers played musical instruments. In fact, I think everyone one of us kids have played (or tried to play) a guitar or mandolin at one time in our lives. But the boys were our true instrumentalists. When Jerry and Doug were very young, they "toured" (I use that term loosely) with a local country-western singer from our area named Kenny Roberts and did a few performances on local TV and radio. Jerry used to have an old poster in his guitar case (I'm sure it's still there) from when he and brother Doug's performance followed the Zig-Zag Mountain Boys...I mean, we're talking about some big named talent here! In reality, it was "big time" for them! When they played their music at home, Dad would often join in on his harmonica, which he played very well. Mom just sat back and took it all in with a quiet smile.

My oldest brother, Bob, was married and living in South Carolina by then and it was always such a special treat when he and his family would come home for a visit because that meant only one thing...we would be having one of our infamous "jam sessions". When the weather was warm, we would gather out in the front yard - sitting on lawn chairs, the picnic table, the porch or where ever we could find a place. Sometimes our neighbors would come over into our yard or sit out in their own so they could enjoy the music too. Oh, it was so much fun...everyone singing and playing, acting crazy and just having a grand time! We all had our own special songs that we sang....some were solos, some duets or trios and then those that we all joined in on. Some were silly songs, some were love songs and many were hymns. When I was bit older, Janet, Barbara and I sang a Spanish love song titled "More". If we were to get together today, we could still sing every word to that song and still not pronounce them all correctly! We learned many of the songs we sang by watching "The Lawrence Welk Show" every Saturday night. The Lennon Sisters from that show were our idols. Out of all the of songs the family sang though, Mom's favorites were the hymns and sacred songs.

Doug, Bob and Jerry showing off :)

The Christmas season was without a doubt the most anticipated time of the year, at least for me when I was a little girl. On Thanksgiving Day, without fail, my family would usher in the season right by having what would become a Billheimer family tradition. Right after everyone had eaten and tummies were full, anyone who wasn't helping clean up the kitchen would find a seat in the living room and the boys would break out their instruments. We girls would chime in from the kitchen as we finished up the dishes and then made our way into the crowded space to join the others. Before too long, we had sung every Christmas song that was in our repertoire. I will never forget one certain Thanksgiving when while we were singing, the first snow of the season started to fall and by the time we were finished, the ground was covered in white! Never doubt the power of the song, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas"!

As the years passed and everyone was becoming busier with their own families, these special times of getting together became fewer and farther between. Our annual family reunions (on both Mom's and Dad's sides) were also times I remember looking forward to, knowing that we would all be together to sing as a family and the anticipation of it all thrilled me. These days, I don't get to enjoy those get togethers very often since moving away from Ohio in 1981. They are more special to me now than ever before.
                                                     
Janet, me and Barb singing at church
Today, music still plays a major role in all of our lives. Bob was minister of music in his church for many years and still has a prison ministry. He has worked up many different musical monologues that he performs which also opens the door to share the love of Christ with them. Jerry is currently and has been the worship leader at his church for many years as well. Doug and his wife, Iris, along with their daughters when they were young, sang together as "The Billheimer Family"....what a unique name! He has also written many really good gospel songs that are yet unpublished. Maybe someday, right Doug? Janet had lead roles in musicals in her high school days and in later years went on to become worship leader for a time. Lois, Ruby, Janet, Barbara and myself all add to each of our church choirs and praise teams.

I consider it a gift from the Father -  this musical heritage. In life, we face all kinds of trials and sometimes even tragedies. Speaking for myself, there have been many situations when I have been unable to even utter a word of prayer to God. When those times occur, I am so thankful for beautiful, uplifting worship songs that I have learned through the years. Somehow the songs will come when spoken words won't and often times I have found so much peace just by singing a chorus or two. We all have used the phrase or idiom (a new word I just learned :) "music to my ears" probably many times in our lives. Well, I got a little curious and decided to see what Google had to say about it. Here are some definitions that I found:
  • a welcome sound 
  • very pleasing information to hear
  • excellent news
  • a favorable outcome after some initial confusion or delay
I think these are all examples of how our Lord feels when we come to him, whether in spoken prayer or lifting our voices in song. Whether it is in a time of sadness, desperation, uncertainty or when we just want to worship and praise Him for who He is... this is music to His ears!