Sunday, November 26, 2006

Closets

My bedroom when was growing up didn’t have a closet – not until my father built one when I was about ten years old. Everything I had fit nicely in my small white dresser. Actually, I don’t recall actually using that closet for my stuff, but my mother had it filled with dresses and shoes. My father built a closet in their bedroom, but he had his clothes in that one. My grandparents, who had the back bedroom had a metal cabinet where they hung all their clothes. Now that I think about it, that cabinet was awfully small…still they managed to be well-dressed. My grandmother kept her hats in boxes on top of the closet.

In that old house there was also a very large walk-in closet off the kitchen. It was a strange and mysterious place filled with out-of-season clothes, sheets and towels, the vacuum cleaners, and an assortment of things they had no other place for. Once a year they cleaned it out and it was a big deal.

The house also had a big walk-in pantry off the kitchen. They kept china and food in the pantry. One day I was outside and heard a large crash. A shelf in the pantry had collapsed and all of my grandmother’s fine china was broken. All I have left of it today are a few serving pieces that managed to escape.

When we moved to our new house, there was a closet in each bedroom and even two linen closets in the hallway. The closets were small by today’s standards, but luxurious by 1958 standards. There was no pantry, so my mother had one of the kitchen cabinets converted to a make-shift pantry – great for food and broom, however. She kept an overflow pantry in the basement consisting of metal shelves in the garage. She couldn’t resist a sale on canned goods, so we always had plenty of food on hand just in case of World War III. There were two closets in the entrance hall. She kept things like table leaves and baskets in one, along with tablecloths. In the other one, they had winter coats and all my father’s suit jackets. The basement had a huge closet under the stairs, but as time went on, the basement itself became more and more like a giant closet.

It’s funny, but I can’t remember much about the closets in my college dormitory, but I know we had them. What I do recall is that each summer we had to take all of our stuff home. I had a clothes bar that stretched across the back seat of the car – once I had a car on campus which wasn’t until my sophomore year. You could always spot the college students on the highways by their clothes rails.

When we first go married I had to share a clothes closet with my husband. That immediately proved problematic. Our first house, in San Bernardino, had two closets in the master bedroom, one of the house’s nicest features. It was luxurious! Still I overflowed my clothes into the guest room closet and had to do the seasonal closet swap.

But when we moved to Maryland in 1976, we bought a house with only one closet in the master bedroom. That was not a wise move. I gave that closet to my husband and for many years kept all my clothes in the guest room closet across the hall. Plus there was a large cedar-lined closet in the basement and I used that for my off-season clothes. It worked, but the seasonal trek up and down the stairs wasn’t fun. Finally, in 1989, I had had enough and we built another closet in the corner of the master bedroom and a huge pantry and two more closets. Life started looking up!

When we built our house in 1992, we knew we wanted LOTS of closets. We designed big walk-in closets for ourselves in an area off the master bedroom. Both have lots of built in shelving and mine even has a window. Recently I installed a small water cooler so I don’t have to go downstairs to get filtered water. Finally, I don’t have to do the seasonal clothes swap anymore. The result, however, is that clothes tend to accumulate unworn in the closet. Once a year I have to go through and get rid of things, otherwise that closet would totally max out and start overflowing to other rooms.

We put big standard type lighted closets in all the bedrooms and have three linen closets, plus a big walk-in pantry, a large entrance hall closet, office closets, and more. And, of course, we have managed to fill all of them.

The closets in my office are especially deep. They are designed to hold filing cabinets, and they do quite nicely. My office, on the main floor of the house, is designed for easy conversion to a bedroom if either of us should be incapacitated and unable to climb stairs. The filing closets quickly convert to clothes closets and the hallway closet, which now has shelving and a spare refrigerator, can be converted to hold a washer and dryer.

I guess with closets, you can never have enough. But in our house, we have sure tried to have to maximum we can. I love closets – they keep things handy, but out of sight. One of the hardships of being an early settler in the US was that most people didn’t have closets. I guess they didn’t have that many clothes and closets were taxed – so why bother! Oh, how the world has changed. Today there are whole stores devoted to closet systems.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Environment

As a kid in grammar school, I heard about Smokey the Bear. It was a clear message. Don’t burn down the forest. Not that this was something I had even considered doing, or might do even accidentally. I didn’t smoke, nor did any of my eight-year old friends, and we didn’t even make campfires, except possibly under adult supervision. But we were definitely committed to the cause of conservation.

The years passed, along with the Civil Right Movement, the Vietnam War, the Feminist Movement and all manner of cultural changes. Then, in 1969 – I remember it well, people started talking about the environment. I was grown and married by then. My first thought, was how nice – this is a subject that everyone can agree on. From my limited perspective, it was going to be like all the other raging movements in the country, with the one exception that everyone would be in agreement. Na├»ve – you bet!

The Hippies easily embraced environmentalism. Right away, that turned off many people. If the Hippies like it, it can’t be important. I wasn’t a Hippie, but I thought taking care of the environment made sense. Not that I did much about it, but I tried to be responsible in my own backyard – whatever that meant.

In 1971, we found ourselves living in San Bernardino, California. Talk about a life-changing experience! Air pollution was REAL. The air was so thick with pollution that you could barely see a block away. We didn’t know we had a view of the mountains from our kitchen window until three months after we moved in. I felt lousy all the time; I remember my joints ached. One of our cars, a Dodge Dart, came equipped with California emissions controls. It cost more money because of it. It was clear to me that pollution wasn’t a matter to be taken lightly, and I made environmental responsibility one of the things that was important to me in voting decisions.

In 1976, when we moved to Maryland, air pollution was not on the local radar screen. Environmentalists were called “tree-huggers” and many thought them to be “over the top.” I kept my own belief system in place and tried to make a difference where I could.

In about 1977 I wrote a newspaper article about Severn Run, the headwaters of the Severn River. The story required me to walk the land with a ranger. I saw the effects of water pollution with my own eyes. From then on, water pollution was high on my list of environmental concerns.

Through my community work, I found myself leading an umbrella association, the Greater Severna Park Council, and a good friend was involved in the Severn River Association at the same time. He got me to attend some environmental coalition meetings. The goal was to bring all the community groups who cared about the environment together to take joint stands. It was a great idea, but it never really worked because of the independent nature of each organization. Still, the result was improved communication. For this group, water pollution was the main concern; air pollution was on the list, but pretty far down.

My work with the community, however, made me understand that in our area there are two major forces – development and environmentalism. In simplistic terms, people see business as anti-environmental and environmentalists as anti-business. But, of course, it is not that simple, and anyone who takes the time to try to understand the dynamic knows that. In my view, it comes down to – you don’t foul your own nest. Business groups in our area have environmental committees who do some fine work. Environmental groups are not necessarily against business, but they do expect business to play by the rules.

We live on the water, in the Critical Area. The 100 feet of our lot closest to the water, we can’t change. We can’t, for example, chop down the trees and plant grass. On the other hand, we did get a permit to build a walkway down to our pier. The older the home, the more the likeihold that the lot was stripped before the law was enacted. Personally, I love our natural backyard. The view changes dramatically with the seasons and we feel like we are living in the treetops.

When I chaired the County’s Cancer Task Force, I learned a great deal about our local environment. One thing I learned was that we do have air pollution issues here in Maryland that are getting more and more significant. I learned that the water pollution is causing problems for our fish, oysters and crabs. But I also learned that you can’t prove any of this causes cancer – at least not any one individual’s cancer. But should we be concerned? Absolutely!

These days I manage a regional carwash association. I have learned that it is much more environmentally responsible to use a carwash than to wash my car in the driveway. Of course, I never have liked to wash my car in the driveway. It is too hard, wet, and messy. Now, I can take my car to the wash and be environmentally responsible at the same time.

I imagine the major effects of pollution will be felt long after I am gone, but it would be irresponsible not to care. My grandchildren’s world could be much better than ours if we put partisan politics aside and unite around environmental issues.

As for me – I recycle my trash; I go to the carwash; and I think my next car might just be a Hybrid.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Furniture

Furniture has a way of sticking around long after its owners. Not that it is a bad thing, but as the generations go by, the amount of furniture to be passed along to the next generation multiplies. Some items must be given up or wear out, others just keep on going.

I thought it might be fun to trace what has happened to a few pieces of furniture from my childhood. You know…. where are they now?

My grandmother’s rocking chair: I honestly don’t know where she got it or when, but my mother told me that they had it when she was a small child. On one of the arms there is a small round hole that my mother apparently whittled out. My doubt my grandmother was not pleased. This rocker had a stuffed seat and padding on the T-shaped back. From what my mother told me, the rocker had not originally had a padded back, but that the wood cracked and she decided to upholster the back to match the seat. The night my grandmother died, in 1957, she sat in the rocker awaiting the ambulance’s arrival. She was having a massive heart attack. I can still see her sitting in the rocker in her nightgown, her face dripping with perspiration. I think in those days, the rocker was covered in blue fabric. The next year, we moved to a new house and my mother “re-did” the rocker to match the new house. She replaced the fabric with a rose velvet. For thirty-two years the rocker sat in the living room of my parents’ home. When my mother died, I inherited the rocker. I found a place for it in my living room. Then, when we built our new house in 1992, I saw that it had a prominent place in the living room. It is still covered with my mother’s pink velvet fabric. The chair is big and comfortable, and very special. I don’t know what wood it is made of…maybe pine, but it is stained mahogany.

My grandfather’s chifferobe: My grandfather was born in 1878 and I have been told that he received the chifferobe as a young man around the turn of the century. I don’t know for sure, but was told that it was made in England and shipped on the Mississippi to his home in Memphis. I suppose he must have used it between 1900 and 1940, but from its condition in the late ‘40s it was not used gently. The chifferobe used to sit on the back porch. The back porch was really an enclosed room off the kitchen. It has twenty-eight windows, the freezer, the washing machine, the dryer, a green cabinet for garden supplies, and the chifferobe. We kept paint, tools, the DDT dispenser, etc. in the chifferobe. Some of the drawers were missing hardware, so we would stick a screwdriver in the hole to pull out the drawer. The bottom board was rotted, like it had been flooded. When we moved in 1957, my grandfather and I begged for the chifferobe to come along. It found a home in the basement garage. One summer day, at about age 17, I decided it needed to be refinished. It always upset me to see such a beautifully carved piece in such terrible shape. It was go grand – even put together with pegs. So I refinished one drawer (stripped), the bottom one. It looked great, but life intervened and soon I was off to college. My mother saw its potential and took on the task of refinishing the piece. After months of painstaking work, a replacement bottom board (which apparently was some sort of special wood that had been blessed for a synagogue project – but matched perfectly and was available), and new hardware, the chifferobe made its way to the family room of my parents’ home. And there is staying, always with a silk fern on top, for another twenty-five years. My parents used it for storing all sorts of miscellaneous household items. My father closed the house in about 1990 when he moved to an assisted living apartment. The chifferobe came home with me. It found a home in our family room. When we built our new home, we designed it with the chifferobe in mind. It stands proudly on the entrance foyer wall. Behind the small mirrored door, we keep all of our emergency supplies – lanterns, tiny TV, radio,flashlights, etc. We keep keys, candles, wrapping paper, batteries, lightbulbs, vacuum cleaner bags, cameras and more in the chifferobe. I just put a new silk fern on top of it. It is still my favorite piece of furniture in the house.

My grandmother’s library table: My grandmother grew up in rural Clay County, Alabama. From what I have read about her Hatchett Creek Community, every respectable family had a library table prominently placed in the living room. Books were scarce and the library table was a place to display them. Library tables were high enough so that you could stand and look at a book on the surface of the table. When I was little, the library table was in the attic room my grandfather used as an office. Sometime in the mid-‘50s my mother decided to cut the table down (two large pedestal legs) and use it as a coffee table. She hired a man to do the job. He removed the veneer from the top, but on the bottom he left it in place and tacked it down. Although the table looked good, my mother was NOT happy with him for tacking down the veneer. Still, the table (tacked veneer and all) came to be my mother’s living coffee table. When my father closed down the house, it came to me. Like much of the furniture that I inherited, the table was coated with a yellow film (my parents smoked). In the rental moving van on the way up from Alabama, the heat melted the fuzzy fabric of the pads into the coating on the table. It took me many hours to remove all the fuzz and the yellow film, but today the table looks fine. It is still my coffee table in the family room. My mother used to keep the center drawer filled with playing cards. I never really have enjoyed playing cards, but I keep playing cards in that center drawer. You never know…maybe someday I will take up bridge.

My house is filled with items with this kind of history. I love them all.