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Aren’t Sock a Fun Gift?

“More dumb socks!” Molly shouted and threw the pink ruffled socks and cute tennis shoe socks across her living room. Then she ran to her bedroom. Her mother, feeding Molly’s newborn brother, shook her head and apologized.

I laughed and accepted the apology. As I had shopped for a baby gift, I chose socks for Molly and put them in a brightly colored, girly gift bag. Molly was four, adjusting to life as a big sister, and more dumb socks were not going to make her life easier. Better that she threw the socks than her baby brother.

Molly’s mother found her hiding in the back corner of her bedroom closet. No doubt, Molly knew throwing socks and screaming weren’t acceptable behavior. She flung herself into her mother’s arms and wiped her tears and nose on her mother’s shoulder. After a few minutes, Molly muttered, “I’m sorry,” and eventually held her head high and smiled.

I watched Molly grow up in church. She lit candles as an acolyte and sang with children’s and youth choirs. She led the congregation in worship as liturgist. Molly was a leader – confident and friendly to everyone: children, her peers, and adults. Her smile was exactly the same as when I handed her a gift bag years ago.

Last May when Molly graduated from high school, my traditional gift of a beach towel wouldn’t be in her gift bag. I found a pair of bright colored argyle winter socks, perfect dumb socks, on the sale rack, and I hoped the gift card, hidden inside one sock, wouldn’t be overlooked or thrown into the trash.

Husband delivered the gift bag to Molly’s father at his workplace, and I looked forward to hearing that Molly’s family’s sense of humor kicked in when she opened her gift. But I never heard from them. Not a word. Husband assured me he’d put the gift in Molly’s father’s hand and he’d expressed appreciation. Did he forget to give it to Molly? Was she angry that I’d given more socks? Did she find the gift card? I couldn’t bring myself to call her mother to ask.

Months later, Molly’s mother and I visited during a church gathering. “Did you get Molly’s thank you note for her graduation gift?” she asked. Silently, I breathed relief that she’d received the gift, and I hated to shake my head. “Oh, no. I was afraid of that. She loved the gift. We all laughed! Dumb socks is a family joke at our house.” Again, I was relieved.

“Molly wrote a note and I offered to mail it,” Molly’s mom said. “I had guessed you didn’t get it. I probably never mailed it. I’m so sorry.”

A week later, I received Molly’s note. Written beautifully and a P. S. stating, “I do LOVE the socks! J”  And her mother had written on the outside of the envelope, “I finally found it!”

Molly is now a college student and when she receives another diploma, she’ll get another pair of dumb socks. Maybe polka dot ones.


What’s a Loose-Neck?

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“Look what I found. My little kids will love them,” my friend said. Five college girlfriends and I were eating lunch and sharing our shopping finds at The Sponge Docks near Tarpon Springs, Florida. Jo set six little wooden-like critters on our table. Each would fit in the palm of a toddler’s hand and no two were the same animal.

All had long twig like necks that wobbled side to side from hollow bodies and black dot eyes and brightly colored bodies with designs. We blew gently to make their necks and heads rock. These happy looking little creatures made us laugh.

“What are these? Where did you get them?” I asked. These were the perfect gifts to take my little kids, my Grands.

I was surprised to see more than a thousand Loose-Necks displayed in a small souvenir shop. Wobbly-necked little animals set on shelves everywhere. Turtles. Giraffes. Penquins. Snails. Fish. Dinosaurs. Aardvarks. Pigs. And more and more turtles, which were the original and are the most common design. None exactly the same. Folded notecards on shelves told how they were created.

Loose-necks are made from the pits of limoncillo fruits. Farmers in southern Mexico harvest the fruit in late summer, usually August. After removing or eating the sweet, jelly-like fruit, they lay the limocillo pits out to dry. Then the surface of each pit is sanded to make it smooth and the bottom flatten. A pick and tiny scoop are used to clean the core of the hard pits.

The Loose-Necks’ small heads and necks are carved from real wood and each head is painted with a black pinpoint eyes. Legs and a tail are attached to the pit. The entire body is then coated with a protective seal and when it dries, the real artwork begins.

Each little animal is hand painted bright colors and decorated with intricate designs. Flowers. Dots. Lines. Circles. Abstract drawings. None exactly the same.

I was taken back to think how much time and effort went into making one little animal. The gathering, drying, sanding. Cutting out the heads, legs, and tail from wood. Attaching the head with a tiny rubber band so that it wobbled. And then painting.

“Are these really only one dollar?” I asked the sales clerk. My friend had told me the price and I saw a price sign, but I was stunned that something that required so much hands-on labor would be this cheap.

The clerk nodded. “Or six for five dollars,” she said.

This was supposed to be a five-minute and on-the-way-out-of-town stop, but I sauntered around the store to choose twelve Loose-Necks. “Choose another. You get 13 for $10,” the clerk said.

Now I have Loose-Necks all around our house. When my Grands visit, they blow to make the Loose-Necks’ heads wobble and we laugh. I’m pretty sure I like these little critters more than they do. I love that something so simple brings smiles and giggles.


What’s inside that Prince Albert Can?

When Granny tucked things into a Prince Albert tobacco can, I’m sure she didn’t think I’d look in that tin can 76 years later and find gifts.  But I did.

The four-inch tall, flat can is wrapped in thick grocery bag brown paper and penciled on the paper is Property Ett Rich Sept 25 -1941. I chuckle when I read Ett. Named Juda Etta Rich, her friends called her Ett, but she signed Etta Rich on checks. I never knew she referred to herself as Ett.

The red on the front and back of the can is worn off, imprinted on the backside of the brown paper wrapper. The can’s top and bottom are rusty. As I carefully force the lid open, I see fabric. A woman’s silk handkerchief, wadded into a ball, with black embroidered edges. The fabric so delicate, I fear I’ll tear it. It’s like others that Granny carried – stuffed in her bosom or sometimes she knotted a few coins tightly in the handkerchief corner and then stuck it in her apron pocket.

And a small, crocheted bag. Only about three inches across the bottom, a semi-circle shape with a one-inch handle. Surely it was white or cream colored at one time; not the dingy beige it is now. Was this someone’s change purse? Who made these treasures? Not Granny. She quilted, but never held a crochet hook. Maybe her mother, Elizabeth Huddleston Rich who died in 1921? Or one of Granny’s two sisters?

Tucked in the bottom of the can is a folded paper. Using tweezers I ease it out. A 5” x 8” blue-lined tan school paper. It’s a letter penciled in cursive in the traditional friendly letter format: heading, greeting, body, closing, and signature. Granny’s sister, Mary, signed it.

This family document is headed with Caddo, Oklahoma, dated June 28, 1922, and addressed Dear Sir. With no corrections, the one sentence body of the letter reads as follows: Please permit Ett Rich to take my part of Father Bank account To Pay expencies. Signed: Yours Truly, Mrs. Mary Pierce.

As I hold this crinkled old paper, I can see Granny at Pickett County Bank in Byrdstown, Tennessee, as she signed forms to transfer her father’s money from her sister’s name to hers. David Rich died March 1922, just months after his wife’s death. Granny and her sister Dona lived in Byrdstown; Mary and her husband had moved west.

So Granny was the executor of her father’s estate. I knew she continued to live on the family farm, the home place, for a many years. Where did Granny keep this document for almost twenty years before she stored it in the Prince Albert can? Why were that handkerchief and small bag inside?

I have to think Granny valued these items as family keepsakes. And reading the letter and handling the crocheted bag and handkerchief connects me with great-grandparents and a great aunt I never knew. Thank you for this gift, Granny.

Two Day Gift

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 8.03.09 AMNot all gifts are wrapped in shiny red paper. Not stuffed inside a gift bag. In September, I called Son and offered that he and Daughter 2 (some say daughter-in-law) take a mini-vacation while Husband and I stayed at his house. An offer of two nights away from home, from their three children, ages six, four, and two, and their dog, Baxter. A time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

So in November on a Saturday afternoon, Son and Daughter 2 kissed and hugged Dean, Neil, and Ann and said, “Bye and be good. Do what Pop and Gran tell you and we’ll see you Monday.”

As Son and Daughter 2 drove out of their driveway, two-year-old Ann wailed for thirty seconds and said repeatedly, “Bye, bye, Mommy.” Husband, Dean, and Neil were having a snowball fight, throwing baseball size white balls of yarn at each other. I hugged Ann. She wiped her arm across her wet nose, and then said, “Let’s play, Gran!”

These three Grands were all ours. Time to play and read and take walks and build wooden cars. To giggle and sing silly songs and tell Purple Cow bedtime stories. To wrap small clean, wet bodies in towels and help wiggle into pajamas. To rub backs at bedtime and cuddle in bed early mornings. To bend the house rules a bit and bribe with Skittles.

Dean, a first grader, repeated my plan to his younger siblings. “Gran said she’d put Skittles in a jar when we did what we’re ‘posed to and we can eat ‘em after supper. I’ll count ‘em and give ‘em out.”

Co-commander Dean asked, “So how many Skittles is that?” after all 60 of the yarn snowballs had been picked up. And he followed me to the kitchen to be sure I put five in the jar.

The Skittle jar sat beside the list of suggestions and advice Son and Daughter 2 had written. Schedules. Neighbors’ phone numbers. Bedtimes. Meal menus. Favorite play activities. TV cable channels. Baxter’s feeding directions. How to cook a hot dog so Dean would eat it. Snacks Ann likes, but Neil hates. What to pack in Dean’s school lunch bag.

Every moment with our Grands wasn’t perfect. When Ann and Neil had breakdowns, Husband and I fumbled for reassuring words, but we knew hugs smooth toddlers. And we struggled through Monday morning to get Neil to preschool and Dean to the school bus stop.

After her brothers had left for school, Ann held a play phone to her ear and said, “Hi Mommy. Uh, huh. Yes. Yes. No. Pop and Gran. Yes. Bye, Mommy.” She ran to me, threw her arms around my neck, and said, “Love you Gran.”

I cherish the time that Husband and I had with Dean, Neil, and Ann. That’s the gift. Our Grands’ parents gave us their children for two days and nights. They trusted us. And they left another gift: detailed lists so we didn’t have to call them, not even once.



Give a Gift and Get it BAck


screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-01-59-am            It’s a plain white ten-inch tall teapot with a hexagon shape base. I gave it as a Christmas gift and got it back. When Aunt Doris’s kitchen cabinets were cleaned out after her death, my cousin said, “Here, Susan, this is yours. It has your name on the bottom.” I gladly brought the teapot home.

Every Tuesday night in 1970, I scrubbed and glazed ceramic pieces and made many Christmas gifts and then years later, some were returned. The teapot is my style, but that’s not true of the tall vase with pink and blue flowers that I made for Husband’s grandmother. It looked at home on Granny Ray’s living room French provincial desk and now sits in the top of my closet waiting for the right place. However, I love that the white and gold Christmas candy dish was returned. It brings back memories of Husband and me taking Daughter to his grandparents’ house for her first Christmas. Granny Ray held Daughter, her first great-grandchild. The candy dish, centered on her coffee table, was filled with Granny’s homemade chocolate covered cherry candy.

I made other gifts. A green felt Christmas card holder, decorated with sequins and silver rickrack, hung in Mom’s kitchen. When the glue on the pockets gave way, Mom stitched it, as I should have done. It hung in my kitchen for a few years and now it hangs at Daughter’s house. On my sewing room shelf is a needlepoint purse made from plastic squares. Simple nature designs decorate each square. I did the needlepoint and stitched it into its box shape, and Mom lined it and attached handles. Maybe it’s time I carry it; the Grands would like the butterflies and frogs and birds.

One of my favorite returned Christmas gift is inscribed ‘Presented to Dad by Susan, Allen, Alicia, and Eric. Christmas 1983.’ I’m thankful for the large print in this King James Bible and treasure the few notes Dad wrote in it.

When I was thirty, I thought a gift given, stayed given. Now I know better. And if children are smart, they’ll give gifts they want. Things they’d like to own, but wouldn’t buy for themselves. So I’m making my Christmas wish list with that in mind. What would my children like?

Local artists offer some fine gifts. A wood sculpture or vessel from Brad Sells’ Bark Studio or Andy Lane’s Against the Grain Wood Sculpting workshop. Pottery from Addled Hill Pottery where Susan Stone takes her inspiration from nature. Or how about a piece of jewelry crafted by Lenny and Eva? And then there are artists, like Marilyn and Adrienne, whose paintings could decorate my walls.

How about a jigsaw puzzle or a book? Diamonds? Rubies? Silver? Gold? Or make something homemade? Whatever gift my children choose, I hope it’s something they like because someday it’ll be theirs. That’s just how it works. Give a gift and get it back.




5 Best Toys of All Time

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.29.59 AMIt’s birthday season around our house. Since all eight Grands were springtime babies, I’m shopping – almost like Christmas. Legos, paint sets, American Girl clothes, riding toys, super hero figures, play dough. Gifts for Grands from ages 1to 11. And I know what would really ignite their creativity and they love to play with, but can you imagine a child’s response after tearing open a birthday present and finding sticks?

This column is inspired by an article on wired.com and written by a self-professed geek dad, Jonathan H. Liu. He wrote that he worked hard to narrow down a long list to five items that no kid should be without. A list that fits everyone’s budget and appropriate for all ages. Time-tested and kid-approved. I’d add parent and grandparent-approved. Liu’s choices of 5 Best Toys of All Time are a stick, a box, string, a cardboard tube, and dirt.

I amend his list to include a stick, a box, dirt, water, and a balloon.

  1. Stick. All sizes. I rode one as a horse that went as fast as I could run and I never fell off.  A stick is a giant pencil to write in mud and sand. It lifts leaves from a running creek. And, even though parents prohibit violence, a stick is a sword and a club and a rifle. There’s something about hitting a large tree trunk or big rock with a stick that makes you feel good.
  2. Box. Who hasn’t created a clubhouse from an appliance box? Shoeboxes with doors cut in the ends are train tunnels and garages. Decorated boxes create a neighborhood – stores, homes, and businesses.
  3. Dirt. I’ve written about my Grands’ dirt pile. The one that’s a climb-to-the-top-of-the-mountain and a track for toy racecars and bicycles. A place to dig. When one Grand was five years old, she screamed, “Mama, Lucy’s in my dirt!” Her dirt, where she was digging a hole to pour water, another best gift. Hide a few treasures, shiny trinkets or seashells or colorful rocks, and watch a kid dig. And then there’s pretend food. During my childhood, I patted enough mud pies to feed the multitudes.
  4. Water. A creek. A swimming pool. A bucket of water. Kids like water. How many have been entertained all afternoon with a pail full of water and an old paintbrush? Paint a concrete driveway and watch it dry, and then paint it again. A bucket or sink full of water, a funnel, pouring pitchers, and empty bowls – all a toddler needs to be happy.
  5. Balloon. “Blow it up, Gran! Let’s play balloons!” my four-year-old Grand said to me. Hide the balloon. Take turns hitting it to keep it up in the air. Try to toss it like a ball. Sit on it, but don’t burst it. Make it stick to the wall. Punch it, but not Gran who is holding it. Blow up another and let it swish thru the air. Blow it up, tie a knot, prick it with a pin.

So eight birthdays and eight boxes filled with sticks, balloons, and two zip lock bags: one filled with dirt, the other with water. My shopping is finished.

But I won’t because my Grands have sticks, boxes, dirt, water, and balloons and they play with them daily. That’s how I know these are the 5 Best Toys of All Time – at least for my Grands.

A Surprise Gift

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 5.22.57 PMA Griddler. A surprise gift that I’d admired at a friend’s house. A countertop appliance that’s a grill and a griddle and opens with two sides or closes and cooks top and bottom at the same time. “We can cook everything on this!” I said. “Pancakes, hamburgers, quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, steak, fish, grilled veggies. Even bacon and eggs – bacon on the grill side and eggs on the griddle.”

Husband smiled and nodded. “You’re right,” he said. We checked out how the Griddler worked, switched the plates from grill to griddle, and then there was the question. Where will we store it? I don’t like countertops completely covered. Coffee pot, small toaster oven, cookbook stand, knife block, and a bowl for fresh fruit – enough clutter for me. Husband said, “How about in the cabinet over the microwave? Take out that griddle that Grannie Ray gave us?” A wedding gift – a griddle that is also a waffle maker and even though it’s 45 years old it makes perfect waffles. It stays.

I knew what Husband was thinking. The pantry, aka the mudroom*. A walk-through room from the front porch to the kitchen and with shelves on both sides. Filled shelves. Recycling, reusable grocery bags, canned and boxed food, paper products, serving platters and bowls, pots and bowls too big for the kitchen cabinets, baskets to serve chips, and more. Stuff crammed. Stuff falling.

“The best place would be in the mudroom,” I said. Husband raised his eyebrows. “And I know it needs cleaning out.” Husband nodded slowly. It’s my space. An annex to the kitchen.

Standing on a ladder, I started at the top, the shelf I stand on tiptoe to reach, but have avoided since two baskets attacked me when I grabbed for a package of Fourth of July napkins. How many baskets does anyone need? Certainly not one with broken reeds, or one with dried cheese stuck on the bottom, or four the same size.

I culled treasures. A grater, with a turning handle and small metal drums. A stovetop coffee pot. A set of flatware that I took out of my kitchen drawer years ago. A George Forman griddle. The perfect chip and dip dish, so I thought twenty years ago. It’s been used twice. Three bread-baking tubes. What a clever idea! Bake a 2” round loaf of bread. Slice it thin, toast the slices, and top each with cream cheese and green pepper jelly. I never got past the bake it; the dough in the middle didn’t bake.

Gone are plastic cottage cheese lids and more than a few take-out boxes. A can of sauerkraut dated April 2012. Packages of stuff to mix with sour cream for dips. A can of 2010 tomato juice.

I rearranged. I cleaned. I organized. And that brand new Griddler now has a home. On a mudroom shelf, right at waist level. All I have to do is buy a couple of steaks and Husband and I will have supper. Right?

*It’ll always be the mudroom to me. When my children were young, it’s where they sat on a bench and took off their snow boots or muddy shoes. They hung their coats on hooks and put gloves in baskets. Or they left everything on the mudroom floor.