Friday, October 30, 2015

Spooks, Goblins, and Fun

Cleaning Away Soap
   Th's the season of cats and bats, witches & cauldrons, spiders, snakes, and haints. It's Halloween and Trick or Treat is the theme.
   Going back to my generation that grew up during WWII much of the fun of the season was digging around in the rag bag to create a costume. Ghosts were, of course, a worn out sheet that could be thrown over one's head to cover leggings and sweaters. The fairy queens and princesses were little more exposed to the winds, but they left their coats at a font gate to exhibit their splendor and hold out an old pillowcase for a treat.
   You were allowed to work both sides of the street in your neighborhood. Your mode of transportation were your own two feet because gasoline was limited for emergencies and no parent would have even considered taking their children around to other sites in the car.
   Treats were the home variety: popcorn balls, apples from the back orchard, a slice of molasses cake, or a piece of peanut butter fudge wrapped in wax paper. Sugar was a rationed item and used sparingly on only special occasions for candy. So if one was careful to hide it away where no one could find it, and took a little nibble each day you could make it last for an entire week after Beggar's Night.
   Moving forward a generation in my life was a period when I taught sixth grade. It was a widely observed secret that if a student (mostly boys) were bad actors for strange reason they all ended up in my room. The principal once observed that we had the same mental level.
   I owned a small house with high windows so each season I'd get some of the boys to help me change from screens to storm windows. A couple of the boys stopped by my room after school one day and asked if I minded if they soaped my windows. I reminded then who has cleaned them in the first place. No, I didn't mind the soap, but they had to clean them again for free.
   Before the rounds started they showed up at my house and asked if they could help me pass out treats. Every kid that came to the door was frisked for soap before they were presented with a treat. The boys consumed a couple of quarts of hot chocolate and cookies as they worked the crowd. My windows stayed bright and clean.
   The next day the guidance councilor from the junior high stopped me in the hall to tell me "my boys" had spent the night in jail for harassing the little kids and stealing their candy, except for two who were no where to be found. I laughed and told him about their previous evening of passing out candy.
   Halloween brings special memories and I always think of "Black's Bad Boys." I know not what happen to some of them, three died from drugs or auto accidents before they reached adulthood. Five were killed serving their country in Vietnam and Desert Storm. Others grew up to become professionals, parents, and grand-parents facing the same problems their own parents faced and doing a fine job.
   Tody, "Trunk or Treating" is highly organized and run by adults that leaves little space for life's lessons learned without being institutionalized. It is for the children's safety, but is it in the child's best interest to have everything provided for them?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dinning on a Legend

Did your grandmother have a plate or platter with a blue picture covering the entire surface? An oriental design with a temple, a willow tree leaning over a stream, a man in a boat, a bridge, two birds, bushes, and a fence. If so she had an example of the china pattern that holds the record for the longest unbroken line of production -- Blue Willow.
   Somewhere in the world manufacturers are still making the pattern that began in the early 1700s, which over the years has changed very little, if at all.
Blue Plate Special
   The famous Blue Plate Special was so named because it was originally served on divided blue willow plates in railroad dinning cars. The example shows a standard menu of meatloaf, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, and a corn muffin. The plate was manufactured by the Moriyama company of Japan with the special circle to hold the bread when the dinning car swayed. The cup and saucer are from the American manufacture Homer Laughlin of Newell, WVA restaurant line.
   The unique pattern has come to symbolize hearth, home, family, prosperity, and security. While watching television or a movie it is easy to spot when any of the players sit down to a mean or a snack. Most of the Western films made by John Wayne have blue willow on the table, Miss Ellie's kitchen on the original Dallas used this famous pattern as the film musical Gypsy. It was also in Jessica Fletcher's kitchen on Murder She Wrote. It is fun to watch a meal being eaten and see willow patterned china on the table. It is not always blue, Jimmy Stewart (Cheyenne Cattle Company) and the Cartwrights of Bonanza used red willow to drink their coffee.
   The willow pattern on china is found not only in blue, but a full rainbow of colors (red, green, pink, yellow, brown, black, burgundy, lavender, multi-colored, and fine gold inlay.) It has been manufactured in nearly every country in the world where the clay for fine china is obtained.
   The distinctive pattern is used on book covers, record album covers, napkins, flatware, etched on crystal, imprinted on bathroom sinks, engraved on brass bed warmers, clothing and upholstery, soap, wallpaper, thimbles, hairbrushes, shaving mugs, etc. and the list goes on and on.
   The pattern tells a story of a young man, the girl he loves, her father, their escape from her home, and their deaths. It is a tale that is associated with China, but it has original literary roots in the annals of the King Arthur legends of Tristan and Isolda. The willow story is told in song in Shakespeare as an old folksong. It is one of the major loves stories of the ages.
   Few pieces show up at garage sales or in antique malls today and those that do are invariably over priced on the extremely high side for perfectly ordinary ware that was produced by the tons in the Untied States, England, Japan, and China during the 19th and 20th centuries. In some cases it is easy to tell the country of origin by the birds, Japan's have fat birds where most of the US and others have skinny birds.
   Nash Black spent a week last summer in Dallas, TX visiting with other international willow collectors and have enjoyed their fellowship for twenty-five years. Somewhere in all their mysteries and ghost stories you will find willow mentioned.
   Jim Young was introduced as a character in Sandprints of Death when he finds a shard of the willow birds in the sand on a winter beach. Edisto Island, off the coast of South Carolina was struck by a hurricane and a hotel was swept into the ocean in 1893. Pieces of the broken china from the dinning room still wash  up on the beach after over 100 years.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cricket on the Hearth

Have you ever awaken to repeated sounds of "chirp, chrip?" Somewhere is your home a cricket has sought refuge from the dropping temperatures of oncoming winter. Their lair is difficult to locate, but the constant sound will keep you awake for many hours.
It's difficult to tell the shiny black House (Acheta domestica) from a Field cricket. The house cricket is an immigrant, introduced to the Americas from Europe. The field cricket is native born. Most crickets are nocturnal, but the house cricket will sing at any time the mood strikes them. They both live outdoors in warm weather and can frequently be found in garbage dumps. They lay their eggs in the ground during the summer to hatch the following spring.
Their addiction to warm temperatures begins their fall migration indoors where they announce their presence with a cheerful sound. The incessant chirping, which is produced by rubbing their wings together like grasshoppers may at first be greeted with pleasure, but after a day or so becomes a nuisance. The sound of the house cricket is faster than that of a field cricket and will increase or decrease in volume depending on the temperature.
What to do when your patience wears thin listening to the repetitive sound is a major dilemma and depends on where your superstition level lies.
Throughout history the cricket has been revered or disdained according to popular culture. In China and the Far East they are a sign of intelligence and good fortune. They are caught or raised and then sold in small bamboo cages for children to admire and keep as pets. They herald the coming of money and to kill one is misfortune.
The American Indians are divided, Eastern tribes consider them good fortune while some Western tribes consider them an ill omen.
Crickets are a source of food in some cultures and many a fisherman has used them as bait with good success. Money coming is a persistent belief when a cricket sings in your home.
Appalachian lore holds that if you kill a cricket its relatives will invade your house and eat your socks. We don't need crickets for that, the washer and dryer do a fine job of making socks disappear.
Take you pick, but for sure the chirp of a cricket in your home is another harbinger that winter is on its way.
Nash Black adopted and designed a logo for a roadside diner where their characters meet for meals and to tell stories, though they spell it The Kricket. See Haints for their award nominated collection of ghost stories.