In 1987, my daughter and I traveled to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I kept a diary during that two week journey. Here are the entries from Salzburg, Austria.
Walking through the streets of Salzburg is like walking back into history. One sees houses with flower boxes, painted scenes on the exterior walls of the buildings, church steeples, roofs of clay tiles and bell towers. The streets are cobbled and many of the windows are made of leaded glass.
There are vineyards up on a nearby hillside and an ancient ivy covered building with sagging tile roof across the courtyard lends a medieval flavor to the view. Church spires peak out above the red tile rooftops on nearby houses and unconsciously we scan the faces of the passersby, perhaps expecting to see Mary Poppins. Dates carved on the churches range from the year 1200-1400. One church is said to be 1000 years old.
A kitty sits atop a nearby rooftop, meowing piteously, as tourists peer up and try to decide if he is stuck, hungry, or just bored and teasing the tourists.
We drive along a river and follow a road up the side of a grape-laden hillside to the very top. Below us, a park follows the curve of the river. We can see the tiny train below and churches steeples scattered among the rooftops. A storm is brewing and the sky darkens with rain clouds as we stand atop the mountain, looking down over the city which for hundreds of years is unchanging.
Yes, as modern times came, freeways and electric wires approached the city, the merchandise sold in the stores has changed, and automobiles replaced the horse carriages, which once clip-clopped along the cobbled streets. The narrow lanes remain the same, the lovely churches, fortresses, palaces, and hillsides are unchanged. The city will tolerate progress but it will not give in to it. Our modern conveniences are an intrusion on its medieval splendor.
Visitors from the United States marvel at the unchanging and apparently timelessness of this beautiful country. The land stretches out unspoiled as we compare it to our familiar busy cities. The mountains beckon hikers upward into the cold clean air. Though there are industrial areas, much of the land is still in its wilderness state, as it was at the moment of creation, lush and green and seemingly immune to modern marvels.
In the town of Salzburg, there is a town square where a street musician plays Ave Maria on a violin. Above us pigeons fly from rooftop to rooftop and the music echoes around the courtyard. I let my mind wander and it is easy to imagine the town filled with people coming and going up and down the tiny cobbled streets in horse drawn carts. Over here would be a peddler selling vegetables, and over there a princess is escorted by her ladies-in-waiting. Over here a group of soldiers march down the street, straight and tall, tired from slaying dragons on the hillsides.
Another day and music might have filled this same courtyard, not from the church but from the house down the street where a thin young boy named Mozart plays the harpsichord and writes melodies that will one day make him famous, even several hundred years later.
Over there a beggar sits by the church wall and begs for alms. Many pass him by, even as today, so many hungry people walk our streets and though we call ourselves “more civilized,” how many of us are guilty of turning away?
A horse cart clip-clops by, bringing me back to today as the last beautiful strains of Ave Maria fade into the sky. We give the musician money and move off down the street where we buy a watercolor painting of the church from a local street artist.
In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in considerable debt. Collection agency calls were daily occurrences. One month, I paid my house payment with the Visa card. We gave up a 1972 Cadillac convertible to settle a business obligation. The IRS emptied our meager bank account (without notice) to pay the overdue California sales taxes, resulting in bounced checks all over town.
That Christmas, we were financially challenged (as they might say now). We said we were "broke." No way was there any extra money for a Christmas tree.
My husband brought home a beautiful manzanita branch, mounted it on a base and decorated it with red Christmas balls. Not the traditional Christmas tree, to be sure, but pretty. We set our few presents underneath.
Hubby and I were prepared to deal with the substitute tree, trusting that things would be better next year. The kids hated it, calling it the Christmas Stick. They were embarrassed when their friends came to visit.
We muddled through that financial disaster, took a second mortgage on the house at 14% interest (true) and paid off all the debts. The next Christmas we were back on our feet, the kids had toys and we had a real Christmas tree.
I was thinking the other day that sometime in our life, we should all have a Year of the Christmas Stick. A year when we can’t afford to buy the children expensive gifts that break before New Year’s Day. A season where we do without the luxuries we’re used to, Christmas trees, lights in the front yard, presents and expensive holiday outings. A year when we walk in the footsteps of folks out there, by virtue of unemployment, natural disaster or illness, who are without a tree, and without gifts. For that matter, maybe some are without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down.
It’s been over fifty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. This Christmas Day, as our family stumbled from the table loaded down with ham and cookies and all the fixings and we gazed at our ten- foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled high, thought about the Year of The Christmas Stick. And we remembered its message.
We are grateful for the important things. We are blessed with our families, our health, our faith, all gifts from God. We remember to share our bounty with those who are in need. We remember that there are some folks who might think they were blessed to have a Christmas Stick with a few presents underneath, even if it was just sweaters and pajamas and sox, like my kids got that one year so long ago.
I remember how hard things were when we closed the business and struggled to make ends meet, wondering how we could make good on our business debts, keep our home and feed our kids. We struggled and persevered and made do with a manzanita branch for a Christmas tree. Looking back, I remember and can't help but thank God for the opportunity to experience the Year of the Christmas Stick. We all learned lessons that I hope we will never forget.
Once, in a faraway land, on a crisp winter afternoon, Kitty strode across a hillside, a contented pussy cat, her tummy full and her breath pungent with the after-flavor of this morning’s breakfast mouse. She settled on a warm rock for a snooze in the sunshine near a group of shepherds tending their sheep. As the flock moved down the hillside, the bleating of lambs faded into silence. With her tail curled around her nose, Kitty fell asleep.
The twittering of a bird interrupted her catnap. Kitty’s eye peeked open. The tip of her tail drifted from side to side. What’s this?
She slipped off the rock and inched toward the unsuspecting after-breakfast snack. Kitty’s whiskers snapped to attention. Every hair on her head stood upright. She was a silent warrior armed with experience, girded with strength, clad with skill. The bird was within striking range; distance calculated (ten feet, six and a half inches); wind velocity (twenty-one and a half mph from the south-southeast); thrust computed; muscles poised. She leaped.
The striped instrument of death hurtled toward the beautiful white bird. At the last moment, she fluttered off the bush. Kitty seized her wing and pulled her to the ground.
The white bird shrieked. “Wait! Don’t eat me I’ll make it worth your while if you spare my life.”
Much impressed by the bird’s bravery, as misguided as it was under the circumstances, Kitty paused, curiosity being a trait of her breed, often quoted as being the method of her kind’s demise. “What can possibly change my mind, my pretty?” She tilted her left ear as she licked her lips and tightened her grip on the bird’s wing.
The white bird lifted her elegant head, and folded her one free wing against her quivering body. “If you set me free, I promise, ere the night is over, you will receive a great blessing that will bring honor to you and all your descendants.”
Kitty loosened her grip and pondered the bird’s message. If true, a blessing would be a fine legacy to leave her descendents. Much more likely, the blessing was a ploy to escape. But, what did she have to lose? Intrigued, and frankly, still burping this morning’s mouse, she agreed. “I’ll let you go this time, but if you’re fooling me, next time we meet, I’ll show no mercy.” She lifted her paw.
The grateful captive fluttered from her grasp. She circled, dipping low over Kitty’s head. “Remember! Ere the night is over! I promise,” she cried and disappeared behind a puffy white cloud.
“A blessing! Indeed!” Kitty shook her body from nose to tail, dispelling the idea that she had been foolish to believe such a story.
As the stars blinked across the night sky, Kitty returned to town. She came upon a cave where cows and a donkey nodded, warming the area with their breath. In the corner, a lamb curled next to its mother.
Kitty jumped into the box of straw near the cow, turned around three times and then curled herself into a ball. Gentle snuffles from the lamb combined with the cows’ warm breath created the perfect ambiance for a long winter nap. Kitty was soon fast asleep and dreaming. Dots of white sheep ambled down the dark hillside. Overhead, the white bird darted across a yellow moon as shepherds moved their flock toward town.
Gentle hands lifted Kitty from the straw. She opened her eyes and saw a young bearded man who set her gently on the ground. “Here, Kitty, will you give up your warm bed? It’s just the right size for the baby.” He laid the swaddled infant in the straw where Kitty’s body had molded and warmed a circle of straw.
Kitty lay down beneath the manger, curled her toes into a semi-circle, fascinated by the sudden activity in the stable.
The father heaped up a soft bed of straw for the mother. He hovered nearby, brought her water and covered her with his cloak.
Shepherds from the hillside entered the stable and knelt at the feet of the Babe.
Two white birds fluttered through the open door, circled and came to rest on the edge of the manger. Wasn’t that the same bird she had freed that afternoon? Wonder of wonders, a brilliant light shone above the manger. Where the birds had rested, angels now hovered on each side of the Baby.
In the later hours, three men dressed in fine colored garments came to worship the Baby and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
When the worshipers had gone, in the stillness of the stable, the family slept, while the angels kept watch.
Kitty approached the angels and addressed the angel from earlier in the day. “Angel, I know this is the Promised One the world has waited for. I feel unworthy. The others brought gifts. I have no gift to give.”
“Kitty, Christ Child wants only the gift of our reverence and obedience. Tonight, you willingly gave up your warm bed for the Christ Child. In return you receive a great blessing you and your descendants can treasure for generations to come.”
Kitty curled her tail around her nose and began to dream of cat-things, naps in the sunshine, chasing mice, catching birdsperhaps she would forgo that pleasure in the future. One never knew when the bird might be an angelor when a good deed might turn into a blessing, but none as great as the blessing she had received this night. The chance to warm the bed of the Christ Child.
In my soon to be published novel, Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, Agnes is asked to carry a package for Colonel Farthingworth to President Roosevelt. She rides a train from California to Washington D.C, convinced the package contains secret war documents. Along the way, she encounters perceived Nazi spies determined to steal her package. Of course, nonsense and misadventure prevails where ever Mrs. Odboddy is concerned and Undercover Courier is no exception.
Thinking about a cross country train journey reminded me of the abandoned children riders of the Orphan Trains during the late 1800’s and early 1900s.
Because of mass immigration, poverty, disease, and human tragedy, thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were ‘on the streets’ in New York City, selling matches and rags or stealing to survive. Older boys ran in packs and gangs, committing petty crimes or worse. The few orphanages were overrun with infants and small children.
In 1849, a Presbyterian minister, Charles Loring Brace realized the children needed permanent homes, work and education. Because workers were needed in the Midwest, he determined that the orphans and good Christian farmers could be united.
Between 1854 and 1929, a quarter million abandoned babies and ‘street rats’ (as the older children were called) were boarded on trains headed for new lives in the country.
As good as this plan sounds, the consequences were debatable. The plan was to have town committees, pastors and doctors oversee the applicants to assure a good match between the children and waiting adoptive families. In some cases this worked well, in others, little oversight or follow through was given, to the detriment of the children.
The boys and girls would board a westbound train in groups of up to forty, accompanied by several adults. Circulars advertising ‘little laborers’ preceded them to the towns. The babies and pretty infants had the best chance of finding a good adoptive situation. Upon arrival to a town, the children were cleaned up and paraded into a local building, stood on a stage where they took turns giving their names, singing a little ditty or ‘saying a piece.’ The farmers looking for free labor then had an opportunity to prod the boys, examine their teeth and determine how suitable they were for the task needed, much like a slave auction.
Boys under twelve were ‘to be treated as one of their own children in matters of schooling, clothing and training.’ Boys from twelve to fifteen were to be ‘sent to school a part of the year,’ and given a stipend when they turned twenty-one. Older boys often ran away if faced with abuse.
In many cases, the children were far better off than if left in the big cities where their chance of survival was poor. Records show that Andrew Burke and John Brady, two Orphan Train boys, grew up to be the governors of North Dakota and Alaska, respectively.
In other cases, the children taken to the mid-west farms suffered emotional and physical abuse. Many children were used strictly as slave farm labor. Other children found fine families that loved them, and educated them.
Only the circumstances of the individual child could determine if the Orphan Train program was a success. Surely, left to the terrors of the inner city streets with no means of support could only have resulted in disaster or death for each child.
The Orphan Trains run until 1929 when a foster care program was instituted in each state.
Mrs. Odboddy–Hometown Patriot is available in e-book and print at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv
In my cozy mystery/adventure story,Odboddy–Hometown Patriot, is an elderly, eccentric woman determined to expose every villain and conspiracy threatening the home front during WWII. In addition to a charming story, we delve into life in the United States as citizens 'fought the war from the home front.' Agnes Odboddy was such a patriot.
American housewives willingly gave up their precious food, clothing, tires, and other goods to aid the war effort. Ration stamp booklets were issued and many items including sugar could only be purchased when accompanied with the appropriate stamp.
Just imagine how frustrating to find your coffee rationed to one pound every six weeks per adult. This was due to blockades affecting Brazilian ships attempting to bring coffee to the US (During part of 1942-43). The majority of the available coffee was sent to the troops.
Beef was in short supply and costly, as well as eggs, resulting in many resident chickens in suburban backyards. (Agnes obtains six chickens, but because she has no chicken coop available, she puts them in the bathroom. What could possibly go wrong?)
A limit to purchase only five tires during the entire war was put in place. By today’s standards, that sounds sufficient, but rough roads and poor tires were conducive to multiple flat tires. With a few exceptions for doctors and other public safety professionals, gasoline was rationed to four gallons per week, requiring folks to car pool, ride buses, use bicycles or walk. Speed limits of 35 mph were most common.
To appear patriotic and reduce reliance on the limited supply of vegetables and fruit available, citizens were almost required to plant a victory garden. Suburban front yards were converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Any vegetable with a high yield requiring limited space became the main ingredient of Meatless Monday. Even Mrs. Roosevelt planted zucchini in the White House Rose Garden.
Ever fearful of another Japanese air attack, watch towers were erected every several miles along the California and Oregon coastline requiring volunteers to be the eyes and ears for the military. Radar was invented during the war but was in limited supply.
As Agnes’s fantasy mystery-adventure progresses, she experiences every phase of rationing, growing a victory garden and manning a watch tower. As a dedicated hometown patriot, she is determined to root out a ration book conspiracy, identify a perceived Nazi spy and prepare for a visit from Mrs. Roosevelt.
With the return of an old lover who wants to re-ignite their romance, things heat up. With chickens in the bathroom and a search for a million dollars in missing Hawaiian money, this hysterical romp through the WWII era is a fascinating novel like you’ve never read before.
A child learns to read and during early education, we read about the history of our country, read the text of a lesson, read the question, “If you have three apples and take one away, how many apples are left?” At some point, we begin to read for fun.
As adults, we read everything from Hotrod magazines about a 400 hp motor experimental car that runs on Black Flag bug spray or about the latest dirt in Hollywood. We buy it, borrow it or pore over it at the beauty shop.
According to personal taste, many enjoy thrillers, romance, westerns, how-to, or cook books. Now, folks are reading on the Internet, I-PAD, Kindle or who knows what?
I collect vintage books. I buy them for the book cover–perhaps with gold gilt lettering or an embossed cover. They look wonderful on my bookshelf. I have vintage books that range from the classics…to fascinating studies of Science and Health with Keys to the Scripture (1905) and Audel’s Answers on Refrigeration (1914)… (If you want to know anything about your 1914 refrigerator, let me know!)
Have I read all these books? No, but I have read many of them. Some are just too boring. Some are utterly fascinating from cover to cover. My favorite genre is mystery, but I am often pleasantly surprised to find a vintage book most enjoyable and informative.
The Yacht Club or The Young Boat Builder by Oliver Optic (1875) is a beautiful little blue book with gold gilt lettering and an embossed gold yacht on the cover. It would be considered a Young Adult book by today’s standard. I bought it from an antique store for $9.50. It is still available through Amazon (2008 printing) for around $15.00
The preface reads, “The hero is a young man of high aims and noble purposes. But he makes some grave mistakes. The most important lesson in morals to be derived from his experience is that it is unwise and dangerous for young people to conceal their actions from their parents and friends.” The book has several lithograph illustrations.
The book exemplifies the morals expected of young people in 1875. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if some of those high standards were still expected of the youth in 2016? Hollywood has proved a poor substitution for learning morals.
If you’re interested in learning more about how people lived and thought in earlier days, I recommend reading a vintage book.
Have you ever read a vintage book that left a positive impression?
Guest Post today from Grace Freeman. Finding a word prompt to write an essay from the following statement, "How would you DESCRIBE the days of the week if they were PEOPLE?" Grace shares with us her thoughts on the subject.
Sunday was gentle. She smiled with the softest dimples at the corners of her cheeks. Her lashes were light feathers atop deep brown eyes that always seemed to know exactly what you were thinking. She was ivory with a smattering of freckles along her nose, where the sunbeams had left butterfly kisses in the spring. Her hair was golden, flowing long down her back like a gurgling creek . When you saw her, you were content. Maybe even a little shy. Being in her presence made the world seem warmer, the days seem shorter, and the air a little easier to breathe. We took advantage of it. Sunday was a place of rest, and praise, but many found no help in her loving embrace. They feared the days to come, and would not trust her soothing words or easing prayers. They would turn their back on her. On days like this, she would be tired. The kind of tired that sleep cannot cure. For Sunday was only welcome when they took her for granted.
Monday was irritable. He was never satisfied, always searching for something, but nothing would ease his hunger. He was handsome, dangerously so, for his smile was misleading, with small pointed teeth at the corners of his lips. His eyes were so startlingly bright that many groaned when he came around, never wanting to face him. Dark auburn hair spiked messily away from his forehead, as if he were always in too much of a hurry to comb it the right way. He never ate enough, so every bone fought to be free of his skin. Few people welcomed him into their homes, or hearts. They slammed the door on his face, pulled the covers over their heads, or turned the other way to his cries. He was angry, and anger in Monday made his blood turn to ice. All he wanted was to be loved, greeted at the door like a long-lost friend. But he was only a burden, and that was all he would ever seem to be.
Tuesday was quiet. He never talked much and truly liked to keep to himself. Few things made him upset, and many things made him laugh. He was shorter than the others, with sweet topaz eyes and a tender smile. He liked to wear sweaters too big for his wrists, and ties with colorful stripes down the center. Blue was his favorite color, and he left it everywhere he could. On his nails and his glasses, in his spiral notebooks and flyaway hair. He took care to organize anything that needed to be. Pencil shavings were often a trace he left behind, too focused in his work to clean them up. Many people liked him, and others didn’t. They found him boring, tedious, or downright annoying. But some smiled when he walked their way, pausing to give him a timid wave. Tuesday was undoubtedly an introvert, but at least Wednesday was his friend.
Wednesday was a jokester; a bit of a maniac some would say. He was obnoxiously tall, with many studded piercings and mismatched eyes. Startling green on the right and muddy, hazel brown on the left. His right eyebrow, his left nostril, and both his ears in many places, all shone with a hint of metal. The others would tell him he needed to dress better, but everything hung from his lanky frame like spider silk on a branch. He loved black jeans, he loved holey shirts, and anything with spikes made him gleeful like a child in a candy store. He relished in pulling pranks and painting on concrete walls, and the sound of police sirens to him was as thrilling as a game of hide-and-seek. Those who were unlucky enough to hang around him usually took the fall for these gimmicks. Many wondered how he could hang out with geeky little Tuesday so much, for their polarized personalities seemed to set them apart in their eyes. Truly, he was trying to corrupt his prim and respectable friend, but nothing seemed to work. So Wednesday would run with us, kicking up dirt in his wake and leaving us in the dust of his dreams.
Thursday was ever observant. He was eldest, with sun touched skin and broader shoulders. His russet hair was trimmed short, and when he smiled, crow’s feet would appear at the corners of his golden-brown eyes. Just about everyone liked him. He was quite sociable, and was never too busy to help someone in need. He held the door for strangers, he always made his bed, and he would remind you sweetly that you’re capable of anything. He wore his heart on his sleeves. He left sunbeams in his wake. He could tell with just a glance that you were having a rough day. However, in our frustration, we shoved him off, told him to leave us alone. We locked ourselves in dark rooms as the sun shone behind the clouds. We had the audacity to wonder why it always rained the next day.
Friday was mute. He was small cupid bow lips that never made a sound. What he lacked in words he made up in bright oil paintings and watercolor masterpieces. His art was like smoke, so impossible to grasp yet breathtaking to watch. Paint could often be found under his fingernails and behind his ears, for he had a habit of brushing the untamed hair out of his face as he worked. Fourth of July was his favorite holiday, for fireworks took their turn to paint his face in brilliant works of light. His blond hair always had a certain way of falling over those lilac eyes that made anyone smile his way. He took us to concerts, and threw parties almost every week, and left ghostly kisses on the backs of our eyelids. Late nights he would spend running or skateboarding down dimly lit streets under the glow of fireflies and streetlamps. Arrests were made almost as often as love when Friday came around.
Saturday was turbulent. Her dark chocolate hair fell over her back like rolling waves on a stormy night. Her eyes were the color of the sea washing against a rocky shore. She corrected you when you were wrong. Holding her tongue was not in her nature. No filter came to her mouth. And yet, that is what we found most attractive. She enticed you with her words, even if she were talking about something as simple as how terrible the taste of coffee was on her lips. She would come back with scraped up knees or busted knuckles only to kiss you on the cheek before she was gone again. Saturday was whom we waited for at the door, eager to see her stride by. She was always on your mind, a phantom we would never truly understand.
These were the Weak Days. A family divided by periods of the night. But when the stars shone just right, the Weak would glow.
Did I forget to mention? Grace is my granddaughter. She is FIFTEEN years old, a sophomore in high school. She is already working on two novels. Look out, authors. Can a best seller novel be far in the distance? Comments?
Elaine’s latest novel, Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot a WWII of chicks and chicanery, suspicion and spies is a riotous romp with Agnes Odboddy, a self-appointed scourge of the underworld. Agnes fights WWII from the home front, collecting cans, volunteering at the Ration Stamp office and knitting argyles for the troops, while seeing conspiracies and Nazi spies under every cabbage bush. When Mrs. Roosevelt unexpectedly comes to town to attend a funeral, Agnes is called upon to prove she is, indeed, a hometown patriot.
Mrs. Odboddy – Interview –
My friends call me Agnes. I live with my Siamese cat, Ling-Ling, and my granddaughter, Katherine. She works at the Curls to Dye For Beauty Salon and does the hair and make-up at the Whistlemeyer Mortuary, here in Newbury. Clyde Hoffelmeister just passed away. He fell off the roof trying to save a cat. Don’t worry. The cat survived. Clyde didn’t.
I spend my time volunteering. Several times a month, I go to the Boyles Springs Military Base USO, just up the Northern California coast. I also roll bandages, knit socks for the military and collect paper on the paper drive. My favorite service is at the ocean watch tower watching for a Japanese invasion, and let me tell you, that becomes quite an adventure.
As I’m sure you’re aware, every citizen is a home front warrior and must be alert to Nazi-Jap spies. They’re everywhere! Speaking of Nazi spies, I told Chief Waddlemucker, the Chief of Police, that I’m convinced that Sofia Rashmuller from our knitting circle at the First Church of the Evening Star and Everlasting Light is a Nazi spy with bright red hair.
My red hair? Quite natural, I assure you. I may freshen it from time to time with a henna rinse but I would never dye it, because only fast women and European spies do that. I should know. I saw enough of them during WWI as an undercover agent for the US government. My stars, yes! We saw some action, but I never hurt anybody. Well, there was that one time… Of course, I can’t talk about the details. If I did, I’d have to kill you.
Did I mention that I also volunteer at the Ration Book Center, sending out the ration coupon books to the neighborhood? I’m sure I ran across a Black Market conspiracy this week, while addressing envelopes. Someone is stealing ration books from the mailboxes at empty houses. We’re planning a secret mission to catch the thief in the act. How exciting!
Now that we’re at war, we must all endure rationing. Imagine! Only one pound of coffee per adult every six weeks! And the price of eggs! Actually, I’ve solved that problem. I’m getting six chickens this afternoon. I’m not quite sure what we’ll do with them until I get a coop built. Guess we’ll just stick them in the bathroom . They’re just chickens, after all. What could possibly go wrong?
Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot is available at Amazon in print and e-book ($3.99) http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv