Monday, December 8, 2014

Local ski hill

This is the local ski hill in my memories of Danvers. This is where I learned to ski. This is where I skied for years and years with family and friends.

I love this 1954 photo, which captured the scene very well. The photographer (David Brewster) was standing on the flat area at the top of the slope – the place where we started each downhill run.  Last year his son Dave digitized his father's old slides and shared this with me. Such memories!

The rope tow ran along the right side of the open slope. In the photo I can see (faintly) a few bodies coming up that tow, and I know that the little figures at the bottom of the hill are approaching the rope and getting ready for the up-hill ride.  The rope tow engine was, in those days, a Model T Ford that sat in a shed at the top of the hill, behind and to the right of this photographer.

The view here is eastward, towards (unseen in the distance) Summer Street in north Danvers. On the right in the distance would be the St. John's Preparatory School property; on the left, Bishop's Meadow. By 1971, bulldozers and other large earth-movers were re-shaping this landscape, preparing to build Route I-95.

This ski slope disappeared in the construction.  In fact (I discovered today while staring at a Google map of the area) I-95 now runs right through this location, though hundreds of feet lower. Much of the hill, containing good gravel, was re-distributed elsewhere, leaving behind a valley and a much steeper slope on what was left of the old hill. That new slope dropped 300 feet, my father said. He attempted to ski there, but highway officials discouraged the practice.

What hill was this?  We called it "Locust Lawn" because of the old estate that had once been built there. Some people called it "Nichols Hill" because so many generations of our family had lived on or near it. Older maps mark it as "Dale's Hill," probably for a similar reason. Today the fragment of it that remains is called "Conifer Hill."

Update: On Thursday December 11, 2014, the Danvers Herald published my column about skiing on this hill. The online version was posted December 14. See  Remembering Danvers: When family ran local ski hill.   Or, read that same text here:

Remembering Danvers: When family ran local ski hill
By Sandy Nichols Ward

The first big snowfall of the year, transforming the landscape to white, triggers memories of my childhood in a skiing family in Danvers.

My parents not only loved to ski, but also enjoyed sharing the fun of skiing with others. They cleared trails on the hill near our home, and invited friends to join them. They were old-fashioned skiers, accustomed to climbing hills under their own power.

Their equipment was simple: wooden skis and bamboo poles. They could go out skiing almost anywhere, as long as enough snow covered the ground. Even before the snow flew, they sometimes taught skiing to beginners on a steep slope covered with layers of pine needles. My role at times was to gather more pine needles from the woods and spread them on that slope, to fill in gaps, making the surface more uniform and slippery.

After a deep snowfall, especially one that ended with a hard crust on top, we’d all go out, put on our skis, and step sideways up and down the ski hill to break up the crust and pack down the surface, making it easier for people to ski. Although the preparation was tiring work, the benefit of having a ski slope right near home was worth it. This was do-it-yourself, low-cost, local skiing – no lines, no long drives to mountains up north, and everyday access to a family-friendly ski slope.

In 1950, my father and others formed the Locust Lawn Club, “a year-round recreation club to promote skiing and similar wholesome outdoor and indoor recreation, run for the enjoyment of members and their guests as an informal and no-profit organization” (Bylaws, Feb. 12, 1950). Dues were $5 per adult, plus a contribution of labor – four hours a year – to help the club.

My father rigged up a ski tow, using a Model T Ford to pull a rope, and skiers holding onto it, up the hill. As the popularity of this Danvers ski hill grew, more trails were cleared and a second rope tow, much longer than the first, was added, powered by an old Buick. These cars, mounted on blocks, were positioned at the top of the hill. In each case a tow rope was wound around a back wheel (rubber tire removed).

A series of pulleys and wheels guided the rope down the hill to an anchoring pulley at the bottom, where the rope looped back for the return to the top. The return part of the loop dragged on the snow in places and at the crest of the hill was prone to wear a narrow trench down to the dirt under the snow, so my father inserted metal rollers under the snow there to keep the rope from getting muddy.

Many children from Danvers and nearby towns learned to ski at Locust Lawn. Their parents liked the low cost (only $10 a year for a whole family, unlimited skiing). My sister and I enjoyed skiing with the other kids. We eagerly skied down the slope, turned toward the moving tow rope, pointed our skis in the right direction to go up, grabbed the rope with our mittens, and up we went, ready to let go at the top and whizz down the slope again.

Around and around we went, happily skiing for hours, reluctant to stop. We’d invent games as we skied, sometimes playing tag on the slope. Our parents outlawed the use of ski poles during the tag games, so we became very adept at skiing without poles.

Sometimes the skier who as “It” would be coming up the rope tow and see an opportunity to catch a downward skier by moving the tow rope sideways to intercept the skier on the slope. My father frowned on this practice, as it tended to be hard on the towrope. He was a playful father, though, and loved joining in some of the fun. He acquired a second-hand pair of “trick” skis: only 5 feet long, with both ends turned up. He liked to show off, turning in circles as he skied down the open slope.

By the time I was in high school, he had added lights for night skiing, and replaced the cars with an electric engine to power the rope tow. Club volunteers no longer had to haul gasoline and water up to those cars to keep them running. We could flip a switch to start the tow – much easier than the hand-cranking needed to get that old Model T going.

It was a joy to ski at night on that illuminated slope. I remember a blue tinge to the shadows cast by trees in that artificial light. I have many happy memories of the years of skiing on that small hill. As my father often said, we could get many more hours of skiing than the folks who went away to big resorts. They wasted time in lines, and time traveling to get there, while we just skied and skied.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Seasonal change

The first real snowfall of the season arrived the afternoon before Thanksgiving, transforming our neighborhood into a bright, white wonderland. I had barely had time to roll up and put away the hoses that had, in the previous season or two, been handy for transporting water from our rain barrels to our lawn and garden.

This seasonal transition, and the way it almost catches me unprepared (even though the general timing of it, in the big picture, is quite predictable), reminds me of the old days in Danvers. My mother used to comment about the overlapping of the seasons. She meant particularly the seasons of my father's favorite sports: sailing and skiing. There was a scramble each fall to get ready for ski season because he'd continued sailing until the last minute. Getting the boat hauled out of the water, brought home from Marblehead, and stored in the barn took up some of the weekend time that otherwise could have been spent in ski-trail maintenance and preparation of the rope tow. (My family ran the ski tow at Locust Lawn Ski Club in Danvers). The same problem happened each spring. My parents loved spring skiing, and delayed preparing for the sailing season, causing a last-minute scramble to get the wooden sailboat ready for the first races in Marblehead.

I am writing a column this week about skiing at Locust Lawn, remembering the fun and convenience of that local ski hill.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gingko trees

These bright yellow ginkgo leaves caught my attention yesterday near my home in western Massachusetts.

I recently enjoyed an illustrated talk about the history of the ginkgo tree by renowned botanist Peter Crane, Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, and former director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. He has written a book,  Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot.  I attended his talk because I was curious to learn whether a story I'd heard in my childhood contained truth or not.

A large ginkgo tree grew near our home in Danvers. I liked its fan-shaped leaves, which were unlike those of any other tree.  Its name was also unusual: "gink-go."  I never had trouble remembering the distinctive name of this tree with such distinctive leaves.

My mother said we were lucky to have only one ginkgo tree. With multiple trees we might have to contend with stinky fruit. She said it was important not to have male and female ginkgo trees in the same neighborhood. Then there would be fruit. Huh?  I couldn't quite believe her. That idea was just too strange. As far as I knew, trees were not male or female. (But I kept my thoughts to myself.)

Dr. Crane confirmed that there are male trees and female trees, and the ginkgo fruit has an unpleasant smell. My mother was right. Ginkgos are unique trees, unrelated to any other trees living today. They have a very long history, and many examples have been found in fossil records around the world.

Personally, ginkgo leaves are special to me for another reason. Beautiful yellow ginkgo leaves have been selected by my daughter in northern California as a backdrop for many photographs of her children, starting with this one of her first child at age one week:

I'll fly to California this week to join him for his 9th birthday.  Perhaps we'll play together in the ginkgo leaves.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cardboard creations

My daughter posted this old photo on her Facebook page this weekend in honor of the Global Cardboard Challenge. (See my previous blog entry).

Note the large cardboard house that she and her friends played with that summer of her 9th birthday.

She also posted some photos of her children and others creating with cardboard this weekend at the Children's Museum of Sonoma County (California) as part of the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Three generations (at least) of making cardboard play structures...

and having fun playing with the creations.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Making things

This week I've written a column, Creating memories with cardboard, recalling various creative projects including spaceships my sister and I used to build from cardboard boxes. We had fun adding knobs and levers and then taking imaginary trips from our base in that Danvers kitchen.

Making things from scratch – from freely available raw materials (found items, discards, recyclables) – is satisfying, especially if the resulting creation is useful, beautiful, or fun to play with. Sometimes the greatest joy is the making process, regardless of outcome. Creative concentration and hands-on crafting eclipses any other thoughts or worries we might have had on our minds.

You may have heard about "Makerspaces" or the "Maker revolution."  Some years ago my husband Ken subscribed to a little magazine called MAKE, devoted to do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. I enjoyed browsing through the issues and learning about fun and crazy projects that people could do at home, or in a garage, or in community "makerspaces" equipped with fancier tools. I learned about tool-lending libraries and other ways that experienced makers help beginners.

On September 21 Ken and I attended the “World Maker Faire” hosted at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY.  Called the "Greatest Show and Tell on Earth," this annual family-friendly festival invites the public to come make and play. I saw hundreds of examples of handmade toys and tools, mostly made from recycled materials. Young children and whole families were actively engaged in making things. Wooden blocks became cars that raced down a ramp. Cardboard tubes were decorated and taped at the top end to make paper rockets that were then propelled high in the sky by a blast of compressed air. Pots and pans hanging from trees became gongs and drums. Adults – including myself and my husband – became childlike again as we explored and played. Smiles and laughter filled the day.

Meanwhile my daughter in California is training to be a coach in Odyssey of the Mind, a movement which teaches creative problem solving to students. She also informed me that this Saturday October 11 is designated as a "Global Day of Play," culminating a month-long Cardboard Challenge, inviting teams of children to create games and structures from cardboard. The public is invited to come play on October 11.  For more information, see

For inspiration, watch this short video of an impressive arcade all built from cardboard by a 9-yr-old:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Stairway gates

Do you recognize these stairs?  Note the white gate at the top of each side.  

These stairs figured in a recurring nightmare that tormented me in my childhood.  I was trapped in a staircase that had white gates across the exits. I didn't believe such a stairway really existed. But over 40 years later, in 1992, I encountered them again and took these photos.  

Looking in the display case, I recognized my grandfather's name and picture. He was a supporter of this institution. That gave me the clue of why I'd probably experienced these stairs at a very young age.   

For the full story, read my September column about a Recurring Dream: "Trapped in a gated stairway."   This column was published in print September 18, and posted online 10/7/14.

Here is the full text:

Trapped in a gated stairway
By Sandy Nichols Ward

“Help! Help!  Let me out!” 

I want to scream, but my voice isn’t making a sound. No one is around to hear, anyway. I‘m alone on a staircase, going up and down, seeking a way to escape. I’m in a hurry, rushing with an anxious urgency, but my body feels slow, sluggish. Climbing to the top of the stairs is hard work, and when I get there, a gate blocks my way. I can’t open it.  I can’t crawl through it. I try to climb over it, but that is too hard. I turn and go back down the stairs, only to encounter another set of stairs that goes up, and another gate at the end.  This is frustrating, maddening. I panic and scramble up and down, frantically seeking a way out of this maze of stairs and gates. There is no way out.

During my childhood in Danvers this dream recurred frequently – always the same stairs, wooden stairs with white spindles (balusters) along the side supporting the railing, white wooden gates blocking the ends. I could see out into a big room or space beyond, but not get there. My rational mind, when awake, rejected this image. Staircases aren’t build that way; they never have locked gates at the top or bottom, I told myself. My mother said that on a tour of the House of Seven Gables, when I was three or younger, I had panicked inside a dark narrow stairway hidden behind a fireplace. I have no memory of that, nor is it relevant to this white, spacious stairway of my recurring nightmare. Eventually, as I grew older, this bad dream ceased. I don’t know when it stopped or why, but eventually I forgot about it. 

Forty years, or more, passed. Unexpectedly, suddenly, in October 1992, I again came under the spell of that awful nightmare.  Anxiety and dread swept over me. I experienced a visceral feeling of foreboding. My body froze in place, unable to take a step forward. I wasn’t dreaming. I was fully awake, walking from one room to another on the second floor of an old building in Salem. I had driven that morning from my job in western Massachusetts to attend a workshop taught by an Essex Institute librarian; during a break in the workshop, we wandered upstairs to view historic displays and exhibits. I’d often heard my family speak of the Essex Institute, so I was curious to see the place. I had recently moved back to New England after 21 years in California. I was enjoying this workshop and happy to have time to look around.  In that relaxed state of mind, I turned a corner to enter a large exhibit hall. 

Fear gripped me. An invisible force field held me back. I could not walk into that room. I stood stunned, tears in my eyes, staring at the far end of the room. THAT staircase! Gates at the top, white spindles along the sides, a double staircase going up to mezzanines left and right – EXACTLY as in my childhood nightmare. How could that be possible? Trembling, I backed out and returned the way I had come.  I took my place again in the workshop downstairs and tried to resume taking notes, but I was shaking all over. My mind was reeling. What had just happened?  

As the workshop proceeded, I calmed down. I resolved to confront that staircase. After the workshop, I walked with determination and confidence towards that grand exhibit hall. This time I had no problem entering the space. I crossed the hall and examined the staircase. I was able to climb up and down the double staircase without any fear. 

At the bottom of those stairs was a display case with a photo of William Stanley Nichols, my grandfather, an active supporter of the Essex Institute. Of course I must have come to this building with him, probably when I was very little, so young that I lack conscious memories of it.  Perhaps he let me play on the staircase or explore the mezzanines while he talked with people below. Perhaps he almost forgot me there once, or maybe I was so preoccupied in play that I ignored his request to leave. Perhaps, to get my attention, he feigned leaving without me?  Granddaddy was a kind gentleman, a retired minister, so I doubt that he actually threatened to leave me there. But I can imagine that if the place were about to close, lights were being flicked off and he happened to be out of my sight, I might have panicked about abandonment, thus providing fodder for my childhood nightmares. I was delighted to discover, at age 49, the source of that old nightmare and to put it to rest.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Queen A's nests

In my previous post, I described watching Queen Anne's Lace grow and change shapes in my yard. This sequence of photos illustrates the phases from a white Queen Anne's Lace flower cluster to a "bird's nest" shape and then to the tightly-packed seed head.

Insects active on flower cluster
Flower cluster has lost white petals -- all green

Beginning of the "bird's nest"

"Bird's nest" or seed head

Seed head of wild carrot (Queen Anne's Lace)
Here is a link to another woman's sketches and photos of Wild Carrot, including a recipe:  Wild Carrot/ Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota): A Pictorial Portrait. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Queen Anne's Lace

This summer I have become fascinated by Queen Anne's Lace, a common plant remembered from childhood, now growing profusely in my yard and along the edges of fields and roadways. I've always admired those flat lace-like flowers, which are really clusters of many small flowers together. They look like large horizontal snowflakes, or the white antimacassers older women crocheted and placed on the backs and arms of upholstered chairs.

All my life I've thought of those flowers clusters as flat discs, little lace doilies. This summer, with drawing pencils and my art sketchbook in hand, I looked at Queen Anne's Lace with fresh eyes. Careful observation led many interesting discoveries. The dark spot in the center is actually a single purple blossom (very deep purple, almost black). Those "flat discs" change shape on a daily basis, flexing to a hemisphere in midday sunshine, flattening again by evening as they tip sideways and then turn upside down, curving in the opposite direction at night!
Upside down at night
11 am, July 13
6:45 pm, July 13
How does this happen?

It is like an umbrella that can flex both up and down, without breaking.

The architecture of this plant is amazing.

For stunning close-up image, see Brian Johnston's photos and microscopic views.

Each day as I walked by the plants I'd note growth and changes. I enjoyed watching this "Dance of the Queen Anne's Lace," as I came to call it.

I noticed an interesting hierarchy. At first there was only one flower cluster open on the entire plant. Other branches had small clusters preparing to develop flowers, but only the one white disc was open.

Perhaps only one Queen Anne is allowed at a time and the others bow their heads away in deference to her? (See photo below)

After a few days, during which many flies, bees, and other insects crawled over the cluster, the whiteness of the "Queen" faded and she began to curve upwards, forming a green cup or nest-like structure. (Some people call this plant "Bird's Nest Weed.") By the time the old queen had folded up into a "nest," secondary blossom clusters had become prominent -- one on each branch of the plant. Tertiary buds further down on those branches await their turn.

Here are some additional photos of this same plant, later:
July 22. The original blossom (now green 'nest')
is near the center of the window sill, right. 

July 29. Same plant a few days after heavy rainstorm.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Water conservation

The July 21 article by Anne Burgess, River flow determines Danver's water restrictions, reminded me of drought seasons in the past, and prompted me to write a column about conserving water. I submitted it to The Danvers Herald today.

See As lawns brown, time to conserve water (posted 8/1/14).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Great-grandmother Nichols

Elizabeth Perkins Stanley, known to family and friends as "Lizzie," grew up in Salem and lived there until she married Andrew Nichols (September 1861) and moved into the house he had built for her at 98 Preston Street, Danvers. Their marriage lasted 60 years, and the house, expanded in 1880 to accommodate their large family, lasted over 110 years. We called it "Pine Knoll."

I've heard stories about my great grandmother, and even have some of her love letters to Andrew (1856-1861), but of course I never met her.  I well remember her house and many of her children -- especially my grandfather William and my great aunts May and Margaret.  I've inherited a few of her spoons (see Spoons from the past).   

Here is an undated photograph of her, found recently in a box of Pine Knoll papers: 

 On the back of this photo is the following writing:

I also found the February 21, 1929 issue of the Salem Evening News reporting the "Death of Mrs. Nichols" on page 18.  Within a long report of Danvers doings, her obituary appeared under the heading "DIED IN 93D YEAR."  See below (click on the image to enlarge it). 

Salem Evening News, Thursday February 21, 1929
Below is an image of page 18, with ads and full text. This old newsprint page is very fragile, ready to crumble. I've preserved the message of the text by photocopying and photographing it. I know the old acidic paper won't last.
Click on image to enlarge it.
This week I've learned that a collection of my great-grandmother's letters exist in the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. That's a surprise!  I intend to contact the library and provide more information about her life, based on this obituary and other sources from her Pine Knoll home.

Some of her diairies (from 1885-1889) are in the Boston Athenaeum, according to this catalog entry on Worldcat. Description:  "Elizabeth Perkins (Stanley) Nichols, was active in many clubs and organizations in the Danvers-Salem area including the Unitarian Congregational Church of Danvers (of which she was a founder), the Danver's Women's Association, the Female Charitable Society, the WCTU, and the DAR. Her daily entries record her social and family connections, her interest in reading, gardening, and continuing education (attending lectures and serving on Salem Athenaeum committees), and local and national politics."

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Today for my birthday I was given a set of drawing pencils.

When I came home at dusk, I sat out on our back steps and sketched the huge oak tree that towers over our back fence, and a few other trees and structures visible there. I worked very quickly, because the light was fading and mosquitos were biting. I grabbed pencils randomly, experimenting just for fun.

I've never before had a real set of drawing pencils, nor for that matter have I spent much time drawing. I don't think of myself as an artist. But recently I came under the strong influence of my artistic sister, and for the past three weeks have been enjoying the art of drawing. While visiting Jean in New Mexico, I spent hours in her art studio looking at what she and her fellow artists have created. We visited other studios, too, and the stunning southwest scenery inspired me to take many photographs. I began to imagine that "someday" I might take an art class and want to recreate those scenes.

Jean gave me a lovely book that she had made herself:
Handmade book by Jean Nichols
This book inspired me to try something different, to be more creative. Instead of just using it as a journal, scribbling words as is my usual habit, I began adding drawings. At first I drew with my pen. Then I asked Jean for pencils and an eraser. She gave me a few crayons, too. I sat in her yard and drew various scenes, enjoying the process.

Above is my ink drawing of the old bus, rusting at the edge of her hayfield. The next day I added a touch of color, because that old hippie bus had once been brilliantly painted. Below is my second bus drawing, this time in pencil. I tried to sketch the grasses that surrounded me, but that was hard to do. Drawing a bus was easier. 

In the Danvers schools I had been subjected to various ART teachers, and expected to copy exactly what they posted up in front of the classroom. I didn't enjoy art then, and concluded that I wasn't any good at it.  I preferred science. In 7th grade, however, I really responded to lessons in mechanical drawing. I loved doing perspective drawings. I recall creating one of a tree house, an imaginary tree house of my own invention. Last week, while searching for something else, I stumbled upon my 7th grade art folder!  I didn't open it until tonight, after coming inside from my twilight drawing session. Sure enough, there were examples of perspective drawing done with rulers and "vanishing points." I vividly remember those drawings and the fun of making them. 

I have no memory, however, of drawing the deer with her fawn (colored drawing above) --nor of most of the other art found in my folder. Gosh, I wasn't so bad at art. My preference for the mechanical drawing was much stronger; I had more confidence as I worked with a ruler and followed established guidelines about how the perspective should work. That part fascinated me.  

Now, at age 71, I have a fresh sense of confidence about drawing.  Any kind of drawing. I feel free to create whatever I want, without critical judgment from a school art teacher. This is much more fun!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Red Flannel Hash

In an airport in Minnesota, I encountered this dish:

I promptly wrote a column about it:  Rediscovering Red Flannel Hash

I hadn't thought of Red Flannel Hash in ages, not since my mother prepared it in Danvers long ago. Her version was not so bright red. She used more potatoes, so the look was pink, not red.

Last week at my sister's home in New Mexico we looked through an old recipe file box that had belonged to our mother.  Inside I found this clipping about red flannel hash:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rotary dial telephone

The Danvers Historical Society, for "3rd Grade History Week," requested donations of old items such as rotary dial phones and 45rpm record players. I've been invited to an exhibit tomorrow June 25, 4-6pm: "Exploring 125 years of Danvers History." Wish I could attend, but I'm in New Mexico. I've been visiting my sister Jean, who lives in the mountains of northern NM, and still has a rotary dial phone.
   So this week I've had occasion to USE a rotary dial!  It does take longer to dial the numbers, especially the 8s and 9s. A familiar process for those of my age.
    I wonder what my grandson, who is about to be a 3rd grader, would think?  I was visiting his home in CA recently.  No rotary dial phones in evidence there.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rescuing ducklings

Recent stories in the news about rescuing ducklings brought back memories of ducklings crossing Nichols Street in Danvers when I was young.  Wood ducks nested in a box at the little pond by our house, and one spring we had the priviledge of watching as the mother duck called her babies out of that box. One by one they climbed over the edge and dropped into the water beside her and began swimming around. We were so happy to see a whole family of wood ducks in our pond!  But soon our joy turned to concern. That mother duck led them out of the water and started to cross Nichols Street. Oops.  We ran from the house and positioned ourselves along the road to wave cars down, making them stop for the ducklings. We were successful, mostly.  The mother duck and her brood waddled away, down along a small steam that led to a larger pond to the southeast. My mother explained that instincts probably drove her to seek a larger body of water. We wished, however, that she had chosen to stay in our safer pond, which lacked snapping turtles.  The next day we heard a frantic peeping at the pond. Sadly, one little duckling had been overlooked, and left behind.  Again, we wished the duck family had stayed in our pond.

Recent news stories:
In 2012 I wrote about watching a wood duck family emerge from the nesting box. It was a school morning, with the added drama that I might miss the school bus if I stayed to watch ducklings. My mother's suggestion worked, and the bus driver brought the bus to our house, so all the kids could watch!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Signs of Spring, and old memories

This month's column is titled Celebrating signs of spring and includes description of daffodils in our Danvers yard. I have in my mind a colorful photo of my sister and I, and our parents, all dressed in Sunday clothes, mostly of navy blue, posing on the front lawn with beautiful daffodils beside and behind us. I think it was an Easter Sunday, and we were probably about to go to church. The brilliant daffodils provided a wonderful backdrop for this family picture. That's what I remember, but I'm still searching for the photo. Perhaps it was a colored slide; my father did prefer slides over prints. Meanwhile, here are some other spring-time images I have found.

This spring scene brings back memories:

That's the pond just south of our home on Nichols Street (today known as Conifer Hill Drive). You can see a pole and crossbar in the lower right indicating the edge of my mother's laundry yard, flooded by the rising pond water. She'd wear rubber boots as she hung out the laundry on spring days like this. In fact, she often had to wear rubber boots while operating the clothes washer (and wringer) in the cellar of our house because spring water frequently flooded over that cellar floor.

The pond photo above is undated, unlabeled. With a magnifying glass I can see two people (perhaps my parents?) in an inflatable boat in the middle of the pond. I note a patch of ice in the pond, and snow on the field beyond, so this was taken in early spring.

Below is a photo dated April 1944. Same pond, different angle. My father (with me in a homemade papoose on his back) is sitting on a log, looking west. Our house would be off to the right.

April 1944. My father with me strapped onto a back-board (home-made papoose). 
We loved that pond, and its changes through the seasons. We skated in winter, collected polliwogs in spring, watched wood ducks come and go, enjoyed the antics of the muskrats who swam back and forth bringing sticks to build their house in the water. When the water receded in August, we'd walk across the spongy pond bottom, navigating among the hummocks on which purple loosestrife plants bloomed. My father documented the seasonal changes with his camera and enjoyed showing guests his series of slides all taken from exactly the same vantage point, revealing a year in the life of our little pond.  (Someday I should find those slides, digitize them, and make an online slideshow to share via this blog. I'll continue today, however, with prints I've already found.)

April 1945: I'm in the boat (on dry land) in upper right; pond beyond.
Two of the photos above include glimpses of stonewalls that were such a familiar sight in my childhood. Last year I took photos of the new stonewalls constructed along Conifer Hill Drive, reminding me of these old ones, which preceded them.  See my October blog entry "Stone Walls." I'm happy today to have found quite a few photos that include the walls as they existed in my childhood.

In this one Jean and I are sitting at the edge of our front yard, with our backs to the street.

You can clearly see the stonewall running along the Locust Lawn property across the street.

1947 or 1948?
Next is a winter scene in similar location (slightly to the right of the above view), this time with our grandparents, William S. Nichols and Nellie ("Nana") Nichols, who lived nearby.

The wooded area visible in these two pictures has undergone changes in the decades since. Hurricanes knocked down some of the trees in the mid-1950's (including one that fell right across this road and brushed a window of our little house). Conifer Hill Commons housing now occupies that space. The Locust Lawn landscape had already changed dramatically in the 1970's with construction of Route 95, which split the property and carved down the hill. And an office park development replaced our little house, and constrained the pond to a smaller area with steeper banks. I doubt that they see spring floods of the type we experienced.

Monday, May 5, 2014

May 5

I am thinking of my mother today, May 5 -- her birthday. She particularly appreciated the flowers and new growth of springtime. I thank her for instilling in me a love of nature. She taught me the names of plants and animals; she taught me to observe and appreciate the natural world.

I am celebrating the arrival of spring, and will soon post some photos here. I have just written a column about signs of spring.  [Update: The column was posted online Sunday 5/11/14 with the title Celebrating signs of spring.]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Marion Anderson

This morning an NPR report commemorated the 75th anniversary of Marion Anderson's famous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  I was glad to hear the details, filling in some gaps in a history I'd known, vaguely, since childhood.

My mother admired Marion Anderson and spoke of her with such passion that her name became engraved in my mind at an early age. I learned that she was a famous talented singer who, because of the color of her skin, had not been allowed to perform at a major concert hall in Washington, DC. Mommy wanted us to know that such discrimination was wrong -- very, very wrong.

Another lesson Mommy wanted us to learn was about discriminatory groups like the D.A.R. (the Daughters of the American Revolution), S.A.R. (Sons of the American Revolution), and C.A.R. (Children of the American Revolution). When we were born, she said, application forms for C.A.R. arrived unsolicited in the mail. She tore up and discarded those applications. Although ancestors on both sides of our family had fought in that historic revolution, she didn't want us to have anything to do with organizations that would discriminate against people of differing races or lineage.

In the 1950's when the D.A.R. worked against immigration reform and a D.A.R. chapter in the southwest refused to allow a Mexican-American girl to carry the American flag in a parade, my mother was again outraged; she re-told the story of Marion Anderson and the D.A.R.'s refusal to let her sing in their hall. As a young Girl Scout at the time, I remember feeling empathy for that young flag-bearer in the southwest; she had been selected for the honor by her local Girls Scout troop, but the the D.A.R. had protested and spoiled that honor.

Today Susan Stamberg's report, "Denied A Stage, She Sang For A Nation" on NPR, was a pleasure to hear.  You can read it, or listen, at the NPR website:

Today I also looked at the DAR website, and I am happy to see many steps the organization has taken in attempts to right the wrongs of the past. I recommend the page, "DAR and Marion Anderson"

"The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution deeply regrets that Marian Anderson was not given the opportunity to perform her 1939 Easter concert in Constitution Hall, but today we join all Americans in grateful recognition that her historic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a pivotal point in the struggle for racial equality."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A walk in the woods

Today was a beautiful spring day, the first warm Sunday in April, and I took advantage of it. Instead of rushing off in the car (per usual habit) after a weekly band rehearsal in Florence, MA, I lingered a while, looking at the sunlit woods beside the parking lot. A well-worn path led into those woods, inviting me to enter and explore.  

Within a few hundred yards I noticed a large butterfly flitting among the trees. A butterfly!  What a welcome sign of warmer weather and the end of winter!  Stubborn snow piles still exist in shaded corners of some yards, so I wasn't expecting butterflies quite yet. This one flew near me and settled on the ground.

I stood watching the butterfly for a long time, waiting to see the wings open, revealing its colored patterns. It flew up high and then returned near me and landed on the path ahead of me. I'd see a flash of the open wings, but then it folded them upright. As I inched closer, camera in hand, it flew away again and repeated this dance, as if leading me further into the woods. What it really did was lead me back into childhood memories, back into the joy of un-rushed time and the beauty of the natural world.

I had grown up in Danvers near woods and open fields, a pond and small streams. I used to spend hours outdoors playing in the natural world, taking for granted the sights and sounds of New England woods. TODAY I reconnected with that world, seeing it afresh and pausing to appreciate (and photograph) scenes that evoked those days in Danvers.
Birch "bracelet" 
Amid the Princess Pine plants, oak leaves, and pine needles, I saw pieces of decaying birch branches -- just like the ones from which my sister and I made birch bracelets. We'd remove the soft rotting wood, keeping the outer ring of birch bark, which we'd slide over our hands, onto our wrists.
Moss so green and inviting that I bend to stroke it.
Fantastic shapes of fungus on a log

Lichen patterns on a rock

The wet areas especially appealed to me, reminding me of the pond by our home and the fun of watching tadpoles. (I didn't see any today -- too early.)  I also loved the reflections and the patterns of floating and submerged leaves.
Butterfly on branch above
When I walked back to the main path where I had first encountered the butterfly, I was amazed to see it still up on the same branch where I had last seen it, wings spread in the sun. Above was a blue, blue sky. I was warm, happy, and thankful that I had taken the time to enter the woods.

With that butterfly I had experienced a peaceful patience. I had stepped away from my overly-busy life and forgotten its cares. Time slowed down. I was able to sit on the ground without feeling foolish, just happy to watch a butterfly at rest. When it flew high, I stood joyfully on the trail with hand raised. Gradually that butterfly came closer, almost stopping on my head once or twice. I was entranced. When a young boy on a bike happened to enter the woods, I pointed to the butterfly, and he stopped to watch. The butterfly touched his helmet, and then came to land on my outstretched hand!  The boy and I marveled at the intense colors. The dark wings glowed russet, with hints of iridescence in the bright spring sunlight. This magical moment seemed unique, but later, after about half an hour of walking elsewhere, I returned and the butterfly again came to my hand. Overall I probably spent an hour with that butterfly, and another hour exploring bits and pieces of my childhood among the mosses, plants, rocks and wetlands of this woodland. I returned home relaxed, rejuvenated.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spoons from the past

This was an unexpected, and delightful, find on March 7, 2014.

These silver spoons belonged to my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Perkins Stanley of Salem (who in 1861 married Andrew Nichols of Danvers). Her maiden initials, E.P.S., are engraved on each spoon, so it is likely that these were given to her as a wedding gift.

On the back of each spoon "J.J. Rider" and "Salem" are stamped into the metal.

The pointed shape of these old spoons reminded me of "grapefruit spoons" and inspired me to write another Remembering Danvers column. In it I relate a childhood story about my reluctance to eat the sour fruit. I also explain how I came to re-discover these antique spoons.  See
   Eating grapefruit with a spoon.

After writing the column I bought some fresh grapefruit and enjoyed using these lovely spoons. For over 100 years these spoons were used in Danvers, at the Nichols family homestead we called "Pine Knoll."  I never met my great-grandmother, who had died in February 1929, but I have many memories of meals in that home with my grandparents, parents, great aunts, uncles, and cousins.

See photo of the Pine Knoll dining room in 1952  -- with grapefruit at every place:
 (Pardon the poor quality of the photo.)

I've asked some of my relatives what they recall about eating grapefruit at Pine Knoll.  Cousin Emily remembers "pre-cut grapefruit (with a Maraschino cherry -- my favorite part) at the Christmas dinners." I hadn't remembered about pre-cutting, which of course makes the grapefruit sections much easier to lift out with a spoon. No need for a serrated spoon if you use a knife first to sever the sections from the outer rind. I intend to use the pre-cutting method from now on. Then I won't risk bending my great-grandmother's lovely, but thin, spoons digging out pieces of grapefruit.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sears catalogs

Remember the old Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogs?

When a new catalog arrived, the older one became available for play. My sister and I used to make paper dolls by cutting out the images of people, and then cutting out clothing to fit the figures.

Fall 1950

I recently wrote a column about making paper dolls from Sears catalogs.
 It was a fun indoor pastime on a cold or rainy day.
Fall 1950
We had to be careful, as we cut around the clothing, to leave excess paper for tabs at strategic locations. Those tabs were necessary to hold the clothing onto the paper dolls.

I don't think we ever purchased ready-made paper dolls.  Today I discovered a website that celebrates the art and fashion of paper dolls.   See
Obviously some people collect and value old paper dolls.  The ones we made were not very special, and we didn't keep them very long. We just had fun creating them and playing with them for a while.