Monday, April 13, 2015

Chess set

My grandfather had a very special chess set of carved wooden bears. He taught me to play chess when I was a young girl, and I loved those little wooden bears. Some bears were light brown, and some were dark, so we could tell the two teams apart.

I wish I had a good photograph of it from the 1950's.  By 2008, when I took these photos, the light-brown bears had darkened with age, and were almost indistinguishable from the dark bears. It would be too confusing to play a serious game of chess with them now.

Some people thought it was confusing to have bears instead of more traditional chessmen shapes, but in our family we were accustomed to playing with the bears, and we didn't always use the standard names for the pieces. For instance, a medium-sized bear leaning forward with one foot raised behind him was called a "runner" instead of a Bishop.

In this photo you can see a Castle, King, and Queen on the left front, and a Bishop (a.k.a Runner) and Knight (a.k.a. Horse) on the right.

This scene in my sister's home in New Mexico filled me with nostalgia for the past as I recognized the chess set (under glass cover) on her window ledge, and a familiar book end, left, and our favorite board game, Scrabble.

Closeup taken by my sister in 2015
Click on image to enlarge.

I've written a column, "Playing chess with Granddaddy," which will be published in the Danvers Herald on Thursday April 30.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Scrap of paper

While sorting some items in an old box from the attic yesterday, a small scrap of paper floated out onto the floor.  Oh!  A rush of memories came to mind. Wonderful memories of a special gift.

On that tiny rectangle of aging paper, in my sister's careful penmanship, are these words:

To Sandy

in view of 
summer nostalgia
winter storms


No date. No other clues, but I recognize it instantly, and recall sitting in the living room of our home at 121 Nichols Street, Danvers, that Christmas morning opening a large present. Inside the box was a huge furry thing, which turned out to be a vintage raccoon coat. And that little note with it was perfect, honoring my nostalgia for the baby 'coons I had rescued and raised in past summers.

The raccoon coat was heavy and warm. The fur on the outside was of variegated colors of brown, tan and black, arranged in broad vertical stripes – much broader than you would see on a live raccoon. Inside, under the cloth lining, I was able to see that the coat had been constructed out of many, many small pieces, often just half an inch wide, oriented to bring similar colors together into wide color bands. I realized that much labor had been invested in the creation of this thick, handsome coat.

The coat was well-worn, no doubt acquired from a local thrift shop. My frugal family had a long history of shopping for bargains at thrift shops, so I was accustomed to wearing second-hand clothes. I also knew that my sister did not have much money, so this was a very reasonable gift. She hadn't killed any raccoons to create it; she was rescuing an old coat and bringing it to me for a new life.

I was delighted. I wore that raccoon coat for years and years. When I was in graduate school in New York City, that heavy leather coat was just the thing to shelter me from the strong winter winds that whipped along the city streets. Riding subways and reaching high for an overhead strap or bar, I sometimes heard stitches snap or bits of the leather tear. Occasionally I attempted, with needle and thick thread, to repair the damage, but it was tough to sew through the old dry leather. The coat gradually deteriorated, but I continued to love it well past its prime.  My mother-in-law refrained from direct criticism, but gave me a new fashionable coat one Christmas, and another coat another year.  I think those were supposed to be hints. But, except for a few real "dressy" occasions, I continued to wear my old raccoon coat that carried such good memories of my sister and of summers with raccoons.

For photos and stories of my pet raccoons,
see previous blog entries:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


In my attic I have an old board that was used by my parents as a pack-board.  You can see slots where straps were attached or threaded through the board.

The cargo carried on this board was sometimes me, and later, my sister.  In the next image you can see how I (in snowsuit) was strapped securely to the board.

Click on the image to enlarge it. Note that I am smiling.
These photos do not reveal the shoulder straps which must be holding the pack-board to my parent's shoulders. My mother, left, and my father, right, were standing in our front yard (120 Nichols Street, Danvers) when these photos were taken. The next photo (same location) shows the pack-board and baby inside a knapsack carried by my father. Note that he was on skis. My sister and I were introduced to skiing at a very early age.

The next photo shows our whole family ready for a winter outing. My sister Jean was in the knapsack, and I was in a basket on the sled.  

Last week while cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks,  I observed young families carrying babies in a variety of special child-carriers, some carried on the back, some dragged on the snow.   I didn't see any home-made pack-boards in use, but there was a sturdy wooden pack frame on display in the ski lodge:
The pack-board in this display, seen February 2015 at Mt Van Hoevenberg, Lake Placid, NY, is oriented upside down, I think. Note the position of the shoulder straps.