Saturday, May 1, 2010

Stitching Away

My sixth grade granddaughter entered this poster in "Sight is wonderful" and I copied the dragon, on the left side of her poster, to canvas-using a variety of stitches and threads.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Meeting Ralph

Today is the 83rd birthday of Ralph Norman, my first husband, who died in 1973. I want my grandchildren to know how I met him.

Meeting Ralph

It was 1946 and the boys were back from the war. I walked into registration at Evansville College, not knowing what to expect but I noticed immediately there were a lot of men around. The GI bill had been passed and millions of veterans were enrolling in colleges. As I looked around I figured there were at least 10 men to every girl. And I was engaged! On this first day of my new life, however, I’d left my ring in a drawer at home.
In the busy hall, full of tables and crowded with young people, I stopped at the first table. I was asked,
“What is your major?”
I hadn’t thought about this, but guessed I should be practical and said, “Business.”
After filling out required papers, I looked around and saw a table marked “Band”. There I met the band director and told him I played the marimba. He welcomed me and suggested I might like to join the group at a rehearsal in the band room later that afternoon.
I easily found the band room next to the path I would take to go home later that day. I saw a wooden one-story structure with three doors – one to the office area and two to a large rehearsal room. I avoided the gaggle of students crowded around the first two doors and chose the one farthest to the right, entered and sat down in a chair. I looked around the room that was rapidly being filled with students holding various instruments: a clarinet here, flute there. I listened to squeaks and howls as the group warmed up. In the back I saw the percussion section, three tympani’s sprawled across the middle of the rear row; a dark haired boy turning knobs with one hand while thumping on the surface with a mallet on the other. Next to him stood a bass drum on a stand, which another boy pounded with a larger mallet. Then came a snare drum and a third boy whisking over its surface with a brush.
“I bet my marimba will fit over there in the corner. This is going to be interesting.”
I’m sure the entire band was giving me the once over, this strange girl from some unknown town – maybe Oakland, just outside Evansville, or even as far away as Terre Haute. No one would guess I was from an odd place called Rhode Island.
The warm-up began with the long notes of a scale, the director pointing to various players to adjust their tone. He announced the music to be played and I heard rustling as students flipped through their stack of tunes. Soon he led them, swinging into a lively march and I smiled, I loved military music.
“Dum, de Dum”, I hummed when I felt a warm splash on my face. I turned, surprised and looked at a plump young man holding his trombone in one hand while he squirted its slide with an atomizer, flipping it up into my face. I looked away but glanced again and noticed his moustache, full face, and brown hair swept back to lie long at the back in the current ducktail style. I wasn’t impressed.
Sometime later we talked and he asked to drive me home. Mother always warned us girls not to take a ride with stranger, but it was only two blocks so it couldn’t hurt. We walked toward a beautiful, sleek, dark green roadster convertible. He flipped his hand to the mufflers sticking out beneath the rear bumper -
“Twin Smittys,” he said.
“Wow, twin Smittys,” I said trying not to display my ignorance.
He ran his hand over the side of the car.
“Seven coats of lacquer.”
“Gee, I can see my face in it.”
He smiled and led me further, tapping on the top of the car.
“Lowered it four inches.”
“Gee, wow, four inches,” I echoed.
Reaching the front of the car, he rapped his knuckles on the hood.
:Dual carbs.”
I’d run out of exclamations and reached for the door handle, but he said,
“Wait,” And opened the door for me. In the twenty-seven years I would know him, I never opened a door when this man was around.
As we drove the two blocks to my home, I opened a textbook on the floor and discovered his name: Ralph Norman.
“Strange,” I thought, “Two first names”
Later that night I excitedly told my mother and sister of my first day adventure at college, the buildings, the band, the many men, and the classy convertible.
I finally mentioned its owner. “But, wouldn’t you know, with all these men around what do you suppose I get but some fat boy with a moustache!”
I have often wondered what my life would have been like, had I instead of taking the door to the right, sitting by the first chair trombonist, took the door to the left and sat beside the last chair clarinetist.
©Natalie Norman Baer

Thursday, April 29, 2010


The Bats
Forestdale, the birth and death of my security, has been my family home since the late sixteen hundreds when three brothers came from the ironworks in Lynn, just south of Boston, Massachusetts. They weren’t the first to arrive in Sandwich, the pretty village at the head of Cape Cod. But they were most likely the first to ask Plymouth, the mother town of Cape Cod, for permission to settle and to cultivate the land just south of that town and call it Greenville. Here some ancestor built the house now lived in by my Great Grandmother Fisher. As their families grew, they added on to what would be called the “new part”. Here I live with my three sisters, the big girls – Nancy and Doris who ride a bus each day too school – and the baby – Edith. I see her on the table, waving and cooing as Mother powders her, lifts her, and puts her in her crib. Daddy is somewhere called “Down south.”

I’m in bed, and beyond the kerosene lamp, the room is dark. But Mother is here, folding my hands and fingers into a steeple, to hear my prayer of

Now I lay me down to sleep
I Pray the Lord my Soul to Keep
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I add countless God Blesses to keep Mother with me but at last, I have to finish with “Make me a good girl.”

Mother tucks my blanket under my mattress, kisses me on the forehead, picks up the lantern, and leaves me in the dark. I am two and hate to see her leave because I know what comes next: streaking out of the attic through a hole into the hallway, bats flutter around the bedroom I share with my older sisters. What a chit-chit-chit sound they make, their wings whirring. I hide my head under the blanket, fearing those little creatures will fasten their claws in my hair, as we all call for help. I peek out and see Nanna, my grandmother, in her green mobcap and long cotton dress as she waves a dust mop at the bats, saying “shoo, shoo”. The pests fly out the window. She leaves us alone again in the dark to the creaky sounds and musty smell of a very old house.

No one tells me they are gentle creatures. They are simply part of a dark world with shapes and shadows ready to pounce and frighten me. My fragile security has been shattered, not to return until morning comes with its bright sun and warmth.
I like what it is saying, but on its own, it feels incomplete, it’s mmissing its context – how it relates to you; your life.

We lived in our Great-Gramma’s house. It was old when the boys in Blue marched south to fight those in Grey, smells of rotting wood, mildew and mold. At night bats streaked out of the attic. They flapped and fluttered through our room as we cowered under our covers. Nanna came in with her dust mop and shooed them out the window for their midnight hunt. We slept and never know when they returned to their attic roost.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Does anyone remember the Real Old Songs?

"I'd love to live in loveland with a girl like you - dadidadidada. Dahdihdahdida" One of those songs we kids would sing while we made the beds or walked from the bus. That was before Frank sinatra and the beginning of WW2 (to my generation there is only one war) when more serious sentimental songs were written.
We'd sing, "I want to wake up in the morning where the rhododendrums grow," as we drove from our home in Rhode Island to the old family homestead in Forestdale, Cape Cod. It would be Memorial Day and time to put flowers on the graves. We didn't know a Rhododendrum from an Azalia, and still don't, but the song had a pretty lilt.
Earlier times it would be "Red Sails in the sunset" with our cousins - the Italian ones in Shawmut. That was in the thirties when we could still swim in the waters of Narragansett Bay. We could run right into the water, it was bathtub warm, not like the clear water of the lakes at home in Greenville, a few miles away. One summer we were splashing in the bay, and the next year signs were up of "polluted water." Seventy years later the signs might still be there and the lakes still clear.
What were the other songs before "Red Sails"? I remember sitting somewhere on a porch when I was very young. Time and place whisper in my memory. We could just hum along with everyone, before anyone criticized us for not having a voice:
"Just two of us together, we'll plan our honeymoon." "Just cruising down a river on a Sunday afternoon."
We had our own version of rap and no one knew it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I want you to know your Grandfather

I wrote this to my grandchildren ten years ago.

Dear Children,
Today would be your grandfather Ralph Norman’s 73rd birthday. A good man, a talented, gifted man, he achieved much in his short life of forty-five years, He was an only child, born when his mother was in her thirties, a much loved child. He was the only grandchild and only nephew – hovered over by doting elders. What chance such a child had to grow independent and resourceful is amazing to me.
Up to the time we married, (he was 23 and I 22), each day his mother laid out his clothes to wear. I refused that task and let him drop his clothes where he wished each night. There they lay, trousers on top of shirts and shirts on top of trousers until nothing was left to wear except what lay wrinkled on the floor. He said not a word, just picked up a crumpled outfit and walked out the door. I was so embarrassed!I could have handed him the iron but instead I began to hang his clothes in the closet. Somewhere along the life of our marriage, habits shifted and we both mellowed - me out of my self-righteousness and him out of his sloppiness. To be kind to both of us, let’s say we grew up a little.
Ralph was musical and played a wide range of horns from trombone to French horn, clarinet and saxophone to bassoon with miscellaneous instruments in between. The war years of 1941 to 1945 gave him many opportunities for professional playing. He was in the Evansville, Indiana Symphony at the age of thirteen; led his own band when I first know him in college.
Ralph was overweight most of his life. Considering his childhood, I’m not surprised. Of German background, his family ate food soaked in grease on liberal grease; beans in bacon fat, the table loaded with two or three meats, potatoes. I don’t remember a simple salad – just loads of fattening, good old German cooking.
Till later,

Your Grandmother