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Playing Papa’s Pump Organ

Papa sat in his easy chair beside me while I played “In the Garden” on his pump organ. My maternal grandfather, Paul Bertram, was a man of few words. When I finished the last note I knew he approved because he nodded, ever so slightly, and smiled. A closed mouth smile, his lips barely curved at the corners.

Papa’s approval was enough to encourage me to continue pumping the foot pedals to play “Rock of Ages.” After I played these two hymns, I opened the church hymnal and chose another. Papa sat as long as I played and I played as long as my twelve-year-old legs could pump the pedals.

I liked to pull out all the stop knobs to make the volume louder and it was fun to experiment by pushing some in. I didn’t know what Dulciana or Dolce or most of the other words printed on the nine other stops meant. I recognized the words Treble and Bass, but didn’t know what they meant when combined with Coupler and neither did Papa. He didn’t play any keyboard instrument, but he liked music and the organ was important to him.

Papa never talked about the days when he played musical instruments and I never saw him hold a fiddle, except in pictures, but I knew he had played one. Papa, his brother, and two sisters, Ervin, Mary and Martha, bought the organ about 1915 when they were all young adults, but not married so the organ sat in their parents’ parlor.   In the 1930s after their mother’s death, their father broke up housekeeping and lived with his daughter Mary and her husband. And the organ was moved to Papa and Grandma’s home.

During World War II, Papa and Grandma moved to Oak Ridge where he worked as a carpenter on war-related buildings. Upon their return home to Pickett County, Papa paid his siblings for their part of the organ and he took great pride in owning it. I wish I’d questioned him and taken notes. Who played it? Where did they buy it? Certainly not in the Bertram siblings’ hometown, Byrdstown, Tennessee. How much did it cost?

I continued to play for Papa every time I visited until his death in 1974 and about ten years later when it was time for Grandma to move from their home this dark stained, huge reed organ was moved to my house. Through the years I’ve played the organ occasionally and encouraged Daughter and our older Grands to play. Many notes stuck. The sounds were muffled. The pedals were stiff. But it played, until a few months ago when a pedal flopped because the binding connecting it to the bellows broke.

In his will, Papa excluded the organ from other property and left it to his three daughters with instructions, “One old organ shall be kept in the family if possible.” I believe family pieces are treasured only if they are used. So now what do I do with this family heirloom?

To be continued….

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Are you a Collector?

Everybody collects something. Even if we don’t intend to. I certainly didn’t set out to collect glasses, eyeglasses. When Dad passed away, I wrapped his glasses in a soft cloth and stored them in my bedroom dresser drawer beside Mom’s glasses that I had saved after her death.

A few years later, I discovered four pairs of glasses among a box of my paternal grandmother’s keepsakes. I recognized Granny’s glasses, but not the other round wire framed ones. One missing a temple and one held together with wire and a brown shoelace. And a pair of fragile, falling-apart glasses inside a hard black case stamped with an Oklahoma doctor’s address. Because these three pairs are small, I think they belonged to a woman, maybe my great-grandmother or maybe Granny when she was young.

Now, these eyeglasses are displayed in a glass curio cabinet in my home. It feels good to see something that my parents and grandmother wore.

So does only a few pairs of glasses make a collection? How many of anything is a collection? Some say three. Some say a collection is more than can be used or enjoyed at one time. There is no set number and that makes everyone who owns a group of things a collector.

The Cookeville History Museum recognizes that we are all collectors and its current featured exhibit is Collecting Cookeville. Collections owned by Cookevillians. When the museum asked for 3-5 items from collections to borrow for display, I took my ancestors’ glasses. Other people took vintage Coca-Cola items, antique silver trophies, silver napkin rings, vintage books, flower frogs and many more things. This exhibit runs thru February 24 and is in memory of Linda P. Carlen who was an avid collector and a friend of the history museum.

So does the History Museum have only this special exhibit? No. When you visit, take a few minutes to stroll through Cookeville’s past. You’ll see items reflecting pioneer life: farm and kitchen tools, spinning wheels, and arrowheads. Civil war items include a diary, bullets, and a lance. From World War I and II, there are uniforms, canteens, medals, draft cards, and trench art.

My Grands’ favorite displays relate to school. An old timey desk with a chair attached. Sweaters, beanies, and artwork from Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, TPI, and later Tennessee Technological University, TTU.

Stop by the History Museum (admission is free) located at 40 East Broad Street from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Tuesday thru Saturday to travel back in time. I applaud the folks at the museum for documenting our community’s history and I appreciate these collections loaned by regular, everyday people.

Everyone collects. Why? Professional collectors are usually motivated by money. The reason most amateurs collect is love. That’s exactly why I saved Mom’s, Dad’s and Granny’s glasses. And, yes, I have a few other collections.

Surely, collecting is a good hobby.

Ode to Crib

downloadFor twelve years a crib sat in the corner of the room that adjoins Daughter and Son-in-Law’s bedroom. A sturdy dark cherry crib. The room’s décor changed. From blues to golden and back to primary blue. Boy. Three daughters. Boy. The crib stayed parked in its corner.

And then last week, the youngest moved upstairs into his big boy bed. His very own twin bed. And the room will no longer be a nursery. It’ll be study room. A reading room. A library. A place to hang out. Baby and toddler toys were moved out. Bedroom dresser carried upstairs. Bookshelves moved in and still the crib stood, now in the middle of the room, until finally the time came to take it down.

So my guest writer this week is Daughter. After her twelve-year-old son loosened screws to disassemble the crib and the mattress was stored away, Daughter wrote to that small bed where her babies and toddlers had slept.

Dear Crib,
I don’t know how it came to be that your first occupant is dismantling you with real live man-tools. How many nights have our babes slept in your protection? I’ve done the math and it’s been approximately 4,532 nights. And days. Oh, the naps. The long nights. When I, so desperate for sleep myself, yearned to crawl in beside a restless babe.

            How our wee ones slept bundled, little baby burritos. How we all cheered the first morning or after naptime, when many months old they were first found standing, holding the rail. Smiling so proud. We took pictures and clapped. All 5 times.

            How one especially determined girlie went awol (climbed out) at just 18 months. It was in this crib she first tested boundaries and determined they were not for her.

            How many sibling romps and illicit jumps have been taken? How many songs have been sung, blessings whispered over newborns, giggly infants, squishy toddlers.

            We bought you, dear crib, as thirty-year-old first time parents who had researched far too deeply and visited more than many furniture stores (#blessourhearts) looking for just the right one. And we found it. You’ve been good to us, trusty friend. Now, you wait. Just pause. Rest in the dark basement. Because I strongly considered Pinterest-ing you into another useful thing…a chalkboard perhaps, or nifty drying rack, or a snazzy holder for matchbox cars.

            But I just can’t do it. So, when all these people bring me some grandbabies to visit, you will once again be hauled up the steps and I will lay those beautiful babes down to sleep in your well-loved, tear-stained, bite-mark self. So long, dear crib, until we meet again. #passthetissues

Pass the tissues is right. I cried when the room was in a shambles transforming from nursery to whatever is its new title. And I cried days later when Daughter announced, “Crib has a home for a few years!” It’s moving to friend’s house for her first granddaughter’s visits.

Crib has many more loving nights and daytime naps to give.

Can You Go Home Again?

It’s said you can’t go home again, but I did. I sat on a pew on the right side of the church sanctuary beside the middle window. Where as a child I sat between Mom and Dad every Sunday morning for church services.

Byrdstown First Christian Church in Pickett County celebrated its centennial anniversary and invited former members to Sunday service. When I stepped inside church, my shoulders relaxed and I exhaled. The same wooden pews. Light oak pulpit, front and center. Song books in pew racks. People welcomed me and greeted me by name.

The same tall bulletin board displayed the number of church attendees the previous Sunday: 79. But on anniversary day, every pew, even the ones added with a recent addition, was filled. The following week the number posted will be over 200.

The opening hymn, “The Church in the Wildwood,” reminded me ‘No lovelier place in the dell. No spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the dale.’ Mine is a red brick building with white porch columns, where I memorized the 23rd Psalm and Mrs. Crouch required teenagers to recite a Bible verse at the beginning of Sunday school class.

Bob Emmert, the minister in the 1970s, preached. “I’m just a small thread God has woven into the tapestry of this church,” he said. Aren’t we all? A recent pictorial directory includes pictures and lists of past ministers, deacons, elders, song leaders, trustees, pianists, organists, trustees.

Dad, Taskel T. Rich, was an elder. Many Sundays he made announcements and he taught the adult Sunday school class. Early Sunday mornings at home he sat at the kitchen table holding coffee in one hand, his Sunday school teacher’s book in the other, and his Bible lay open.

As stories were told, my cousin Tootie remembered sitting on the front pew with my older brother Roger during a Christmas Eve service. After the children’s play portraying the birth of Jesus, Santa Claus walked down the aisle offering peppermint candy canes to all. While Santa stood beside Tootie, Roger pointed toward the floor and said, “He’s wearing Daddy’s shoes.” I was probably a toddler, never knew Dad as Santa, and can only imagine my skinny 6’ 2” dad saying “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

Martha remembered Mom as her Sunday school teacher. Mom told the young children to close their eyes and hold out their hands because she had treat. Martha felt something touch her hands and when she opened her eyes, she was so happy to have vanilla wafers. “Ruth always brought something for us,” Martha said. Mom gave. Sometimes a simple cookie, and most often a bouquet of flowers for the sanctuary.

For a few hours, I was home where I was baptized and married. Where I grieved for my grandparents, my parents. Where, as the current preacher said in his welcome, “Over the years, the names have changed, the hearts haven’t.” But some church members are third generation and they welcomed me home.

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Sharing Granny stories

Elizabeth Rose, a storyteller at Storyfest last Saturday, reminded me that people never really die when we tell stories about them. Although Granny, my paternal grandmother, left this earth in 1982, she lives on when I share her with my Grands.

            Granny dipped snuff, quilted, and raised a garden. She watched Saturday night wrestling, and sometimes when it was too rough she’d cover her eyes with her hands and peek through her fingers. She knew all the characters, their flaws, strengths, and transgressions, on The Edge of Night, a weekday soap opera that aired from 1952-1986.

And Granny raised chickens. Every spring she bought baby chicks from the Farmer’s Co-op and they lived in cardboard boxes on the closed-in back porch until they were strong enough to thrive in the henhouse.

Some chicks grew to be laying hens and some went in the freezer on chicken killing day. I have no idea how Granny determined which three month old chickens lived or died, but she chose the fryers. She’d grab a chicken, hold it tightly, and with a quick twist of her wrist, she’d wring its neck. Dad then tied a string around the chicken’s feet and hung it on our metal clothesline until Granny was ready to dip it into a black kettle of boiling water to loosen the feathers so they could be picked off.

The best Granny story was one my brother, Roger, told. Granny was a cook at a Byrdstown restaurant and walked home after work. She wore a white nylon uniform and a bib apron, tied around her neck and waist. She walked home after work and she’d stop at the hen house to gather eggs.

Roger often ran out the back door of our house to greet Granny. One day, when he was about 9 years old, he noticed prickly dried sweet gum balls on the ground, and Roger thought it’d be funny to surprise Granny and stick her with a sweet gum ball. He hid behind the hen house when she went inside.

Granny held up the bottom of her apron to form a pouch, reached under the sitting chickens to get the eggs, and placed them in her apron. She usually gathered 6 or more eggs. As she walked out of the hen house, Roger crept behind her.  He stuck a gumball right through her thin uniform on her behind.

Granny screamed. She threw her hands high above her head. She jumped and stumbled, but she didn’t fall. Eggs flew into the air, then hit the ground. When Roger told the story, he’d imitate Granny’s screaming and jumping and tears of laughter ran down his cheeks.

Granny and Daddy didn’t think much of my brother’s antics. Roger said Dad made sure he never did surprised Granny again.

Telling stories also leads to questions. How did she get the chicken feathers off? Did you ever gather eggs? What’s a gum ball?

Everyone can tell family stories. Try it and keep those you’ve loved and lost alive.

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Chicken-coop Table

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-9-18-27-amIf furniture could talk, there’s an oak table that could tell stories. I first saw it, and four chairs, in Granny’s chicken coop in the spring of 1969 and it was completely covered with feathers and chicken poop. Granny said Husband-to-be and I could have the old rectangular shaped table, and my parents thought it’d make a perfect kitchen table for us. But I couldn’t believe anyone would ever eat a meal on it.

Using hot water and stiff brushes, Dad and I scrubbed the maple-veneered top, that was buckled and cracked, and discovered a solid oak top to match the table’s legs. Dad cleaned, sanded, and refinished the table and four chairs and he glued and secured every leg. It was the perfect size for a small one-bedroom apartment and had a pop-up leaf. Husband and I moved that sturdy, pretty oak table into our first apartment and took it with us when we moved.

In 1980, Dad made and gave us a round oak table so the chicken coop table went into storage. I like to think it enjoyed a rest. No doubt after surviving several moves, and our children’s toddler years, it needed some time off.

When Daughter was a college student and living in an apartment, the table was her desk. For three years it sat next to her bed and was covered with books, papers, a word processor, and everything that a college student throws onto a flat surface. And then back to storage for a short time until Son and his friend, college students, needed a kitchen table in their apartment.

After graduation when Son took his first job, the table went with him to Kentucky. Then Son married, and the table travelled with the newlyweds to Texas and then Colorado. When Son and Daughter-in-law bought a new kitchen table, chicken-coop table once again became a desk. But it was soon replaced by a new modern office desk. Now it’s back here in storage.

Chicken-coop table is well traveled. During the past forty-eight years, it’s made five stops in Tennessee, two in Kentucky, one in Texas, and two in Colorado. It’s ridden in vans, pick-up trucks, rented trailers, and professional moving trucks.

How I wish this table had a tiny recorder and could tell its stories. The chickens squawking in the chicken coop. Discussions around a breakfast table between newlyweds and Friday night pizza with friends. Those first meals with a new baby in the house. Birthday parties. Holiday dinners.

Stories told in the confines of a college coed’s room. Stories of studying and laughing and crying and celebrating. It could tell of life in an apartment of two college men. Late night talks and card games played. Life of a young man taking on his first job.   Second-generation newlyweds and their first child.

And I’d really like to know where that table lived before it was stored away in Granny’s chicken coop. And I wonder how long chicken-coop table will rest. When will it be used again?

Red Dirt and White Shorts

imagesLast week when I wrote suggestions for how parents can partner with their children’s teachers, I alluded to letting children suffer natural consequences. Ramifications of behavior and choices.

Mom and Dad parented by allowing my poor choices, my mistakes, to be followed by natural consequences. Like the Saturday I spent all my money on comic books and then wanted to see a movie, probably a Gene Autry western. Because I didn’t have money, I didn’t see the movie.

One time, when I was about 6 years old and Mom and I visited her parents, I wore a new pair of white shorts and a red and white stripe top that Mom had made. After greeting Papa and Grandma and playing a few notes on their pump organ, I went outside to play. The dirt bank between my grandparent’s house and the road was red clay. On that hot summer day, the dirt was dry and hard. Papa and Grandma’s yard was several feet higher, maybe about eight feet, than the road and although I knew to stay away from the road, I drew pictures with sticks on the hard-packed dirt.

Rain had washed gullies in the red clay because there wasn’t any vegetation –none, no grass, no weeds. I walked barefoot on the soft dirt down the gullies; the slope was steep and I crawled up to the yard.

Then I discovered I could sit on the dirt bank, push myself, and slide. I’m sure the more I scooted down the slope, the slicker it became. By the time Mom discovered how much fun I was having, my white shorts matched the red in my top. I had wiped my dirty hands on my clothes, my hair, my whole body.

I wonder what I would have done if I’d been the mother. I can see myself, a little kid, covered with red dirt, wearing a new outfit, and as the mother I would have been angry – really mad! And probably Mom was, but I don’t remember that. I do remember sitting in our white enamel bathtub for a long time and Mom scrubbed my skin so hard it hurt – especially my feet and knees. She scrubbed with a washcloth and a small brush, probably the one she used to scrub the bathtub. And she must have dug into my head with her fingernails. It wasn’t a gentle hair washing like most times.

Mom’s scrubbing on my body was something I never wanted to endure again. And it was a natural consequence that the new shorts I had really liked, I could only wear at home. The red dirt became pink stains that never came out, and I didn’t get a new pair of white shorts. I don’t remember, but I bet Mom made me scrub those dirty shorts, with an old toothbrush.

I wasn’t forbidden from Grandma and Papa’s bank. In fact, after that day I slid down the slope many times, but I’d wear my oldest clothes, sometimes sitting on a piece of cardboard, and I didn’t rub dirt in my hair or on my body. Then I’d wash myself using Papa and Grandma’s outside water faucet.

At my elementary school, Byrdstown Elementary, there was also a red bank – much longer and steeper than Papa and Grandma’s, and many kids played on it, but I didn’t, not while wearing my good school clothes. Being scrubbed hard and not having a favorite pair of shorts to wear taught me a lesson.

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