Growing Up With Hats


I didn’t love hats as a little girl.  Growing up in the Episcopal Church, we were expected to wear a hat each Sunday.  For a young girl, already dressed in an uncomfortable dress with stiff petticoats, the last thing I wanted to deal with was a hat.


There was a woman in our church, however, who was not only a lovely person, but also wore the most beautiful clothing and had a particular flair for choosing flattering, gorgeous hats.  As I grew into my teen years, I tried to emulate her.  Of course, I could never begin to afford the quality wardrobe she had, but I found myself drawn to hats.  Each Easter I searched through the stores for a special hat that fit into my budget, thinking of Mrs. Oppenheim as I made my decision.

Life moved on and the world moved on, and it was no longer the tradition at our church to wear hats — women even began dressing in slacks.  My love for hats has never waned, though.  Through the years, there was very little chance for this stay-at-home mom to buy or wear hats.  However, I was very sensitive to direct sunlight, and as I worked in my garden I often wore straw hats to protect me from the sun.  Unfortunately, many straw hats are heavy and a bit warm for gardening. I was so happy when I found a lightweight, very pretty straw hat that was perfect!!  

I wore it in the garden, and I took it with me in the car to wear whenever I was walking in the sun.  How I loved that hat.  Somehow, as I shuffled my three little grandchildren around during the day, I discovered the hat crushed beyond repair on the floor of the car.  I searched for a year or two for a similar hat, but nothing was as lightweight or pretty or fit as well.  

Today, I walked into a store, looking for a new journal, and there on a rack sat the PERFECT straw hat.  I placed it on my head and looked into the mirror, and fell in love once more.  No longer will I work in the garden without a hat; no longer will I walk in the sunshine with no hat.  To most people, a hat to wear in the garden is just a hat – it doesn’t matter how it looks, but, I had Mrs. Oppenheim as a role model, and my hat has to be pretty as well as functional.  Hear we come, garden — me and my hat!!!




Gardening for Wildlife


Several years ago, I began taking the steps to make my garden eligible as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  I don’t remember exactly what the requirements were, but the most important were water, shelter and food.  My garden already had a small man-made pond surrounded by ferns, bird feeders and bird baths, and sheltered areas under bushes.  I have always been a haphazard gardener, and that actually is a bonus for a wildlife habitat, because small birds and animals must have sheltered areas to hide from predators.  Through the years, I have added to the gardens, and now attract a multitude of little creatures — birds, squirrels, chipmunks, bees, butterflies, the occasional woodchuck, rabbits, deer and even a frog or two — all who seem to coexist in my small space.  As I have gotten older, weeding has become more difficult for me, and while I bemoan the fact that the weeds come faster than I can pull them, they, too, serve a purpose for providing shelter as little animals and birds skitter beneath them to reach their water and food.

Recently I attended a Garden Tour in Saratoga Springs, a nearby town, known for its historic beauty and wealthy residents.  The gardens were breathtakingly beautiful.  Some were pristine, with perfectly edged beds of colorful flowers; some were a combination of natural and man-made beauty as flowers in pots surrounded lovely decks and pools.  Some were cozy and filled with perfect flowers and lovely lawn furniture that made you want to linger.  They all had one thing in common — NO WEEDS!!  

I came home to my own beloved garden and looked at it through new eyes.  Where the garden beds I had just seen were mulched and tidy, my beds, which had started out well planned eons ago, are now filled with plants that have sprouted in odd places — the “volunteers” of the gardens.  The tidiness with which I originally planted is long past, and the plants and flowers have spread of their own accord.  My long-time nemesis, goatweed, proliferates even more quickly than I can pull it from the ground.  My beautiful maple trees have grown tall and shade much of the garden, making it difficult to grow colorful, sun-loving flowers.  This garden is the antithesis of a Saratoga garden.  My heart fell as I looked at it all with critical eyes.


And yet, as the days have passed, and I watch the little sparrows each morning flitting from branch to branch on my old Rose of Sharon bushes as they make the journey from their birdhouses and nests to the birdbath and the feeder — their songs and chatter fill my heart.  I marvel at the tiny white butterflies which love the blooms on the oregano plants which have overtaken part of my stonewall garden and beyond.  I watch the bees industriously gathering nectar from the milkweed plants which surround my butterfly garden this year.  I love the little chipmunks who hide beneath the weeds under the finch feeder and eat up the seed that has dropped.  I love watching the sparrow mommy who comes to the old fountain outside my kitchen window, tentatively sipping as she keeps one eye on the window, then heads back to her nest in the eaves.  And I realize that I really don’t care that my garden is haphazard.  It is loved.  It is loved by all of the wildlife that finds nesting places and food here, and all of the birds that frolic in the birdbaths, and all of the bees and butterflies which find heaven in each blossom, and most of all, it is loved by me!!  



The River of Life


There was a little girl who was filled with the wonder of life.  Fortunately, she was born with a happy spirit, which is a gift, because as she traveled down the river of life, there were many times that this spirit was “almost” crushed, and yet, somehow she kept it alive.  She loved life, and she loved people, and, unfortunately many times along this river, she was hurt by the people she loved. Sometimes, the hurts were unintentional and sometimes not — she was a very sensitive girl, and grew into a sensitive woman who hid all of her hurts behind a smile.  

She loved the years when her house was filled with children, although a difficult marriage with many harsh words and outbursts made those very years a struggle.  But she moved on downriver, waiting for easier times.  She became an old woman, and somehow those easier times never came.  Life became more complicated and she could no longer dream of better days.  The river seemed to be trapping her in a swirling current, and she had no easy way out.  And yet, she smiled and she loved her children and her grandchildren and her friends.  Few knew or cared that she was trapped in this current.  And yet, somehow, her happy spirit continued to give her hope for better times downriver.

The moral of this story is that as you travel down your own river of life, always be sure to take the time to be kind and supportive to others — even those whose smiling faces may be hiding sadness and pain. 

“Mr. Rogers in Dreadlocks”


I was still in my bed in the early morning hours, as the birds sang lazily and the humidity seemed to muffle the everyday sounds of daybreak.  The radio came on, and I was immediately woken from my slow, peaceful rise from sleep.  Eleven cops were shot in Dallas overnight, five of them already dead, at a peaceful rally in reaction to the recent killings of two young black men by police in New Orleans and Minnesota.  However, last night’s shootings were not coming from the gathered group of protesters; they were from snipers high above the crowds.  

These tragedies multiply every day in our world.  They happen so often, we begin to lose track — Baghdad just this week, Orlando before that — our minds cannot keep them in order, because there are too many.  And yet, each tragic killing leaves behind a multitude of mourners who will forever remember and grieve.

We try to pinpoint the causes of these horrible killings; we think by passing strict gun control and providing more mental health care and by sending more soldiers to war-torn areas that we can stop the terrible chaos.  Personally, I don’t think there is one simple answer.  I think the core problems are hatred, racism in all of its forms, refusal to respect other religions, and feelings of superiority between individuals, groups, and nations.  

Unfortunately, we cannot legislate these problems away.  These are problems that have existed since time began, but are much more evident in our global society, where hateful words are disseminated almost instantaneously over the internet.  We see it on our cable news stations, we read it on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, we even hear it from the mouths of our politicians — hatred for those who are different from us.  

And, I have often innocently believed that we can change the world one person at a time — that my words of peace and love can have some impact on one or two other people, and there will be a ripple effect.  All we need are enough people uttering those words of peace and love and inclusion. But, this morning as I listened to the news, I heard the stories of Philandro Castile, the young black man killed by two policemen this week.  I heard people speak of his kindness as he worked with the young children at the school where he was employed.  One woman called him, “Mr. Rogers in dreadlocks,” and I cried.  One less kind voice in the world, among so many hateful hearts. 


The Memorable Ones


I read the obituary today of my former high school English teacher, Mrs. Jerry.  I was deeply saddened by her death, although she certainly had lived a full and interesting life in her ninety years on this earth.  She was a remarkable woman and a teacher with great warmth and enthusiasm for both her students and the courses she taught.  

I’m certain each of us has one teacher whom we feel had a great influence on our life.  For me, this person was Mrs. Jerry.  From the moment I walked into my sophomore English class, I was captivated by her.  She had a zest for life and a love for the subject she taught, which just happened to be my favorite subject.  Reading and writing had always been my greatest pleasures in school.  I can still hear her voice in my mind as she read passages from some of the classic American novels — how I loved those days when she would read to us.  

She encouraged me to write, telling me that I had a flair for writing, but in my fifteen-year-old mind, writing meant short stories, poetry, and novels.  I remember writing one short story and being crushed by her comment at the top of the page — “Lacks creativity.”  I didn’t realize then that the art of writing included much more than fiction.  I wish I had talked to her about her comment; I would have realized then that creativity was not my strength, but that did not mean I couldn’t write.  My best writing comes from my heart.

My family was fairly poor, and my goal in life was to marry and raise children.  I could see no value for me in going to college, and no way to pay college tuition.  I decided I wanted to be a hairdresser. Mrs. Jerry was appalled; she asked me why I wanted to work as a hairdresser when I could go to college and make something of my life.  The rebel in me (which, unfortunately still exists) dug in her heels and crossed college off the list of possibilities.  Oh, how I wish I had listened to Mrs. Jerry that day!!!  How different my life might have been had I gone on to college.  I would have realized that writing was my true calling.

Many times as I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and begin to write, I think of Mrs. Jerry, and feel grateful for the encouragement she gave me, even though I was too stubborn to listen at the time.  This is one of my biggest regrets.  I often wonder what twists and turns my life would have taken had I taken her advice.    

Although it has been many, many years since I sat in her classroom, I will always remember her enthusiasm, her style, her love for her family, and her passion for protecting our environment, and for urban renewal, but what I will remember most vividly is the sound of her expressive voice resonating through our classroom,  filling us with an appreciation for great literature.