Friday, December 31, 2010

Love and Joy Come to You ...

And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you and send you a happy new year,
And God send you a happy new year.

I first heard this song when my children brought it home from school after we'd moved to Kentucky. I think the music teacher had included it in the holiday songs she was teaching her classes. Somehow the meaning of the word "wassail" hadn't stuck with them, and so they would go into fits of giggles as they sang it about their play, sometimes varying it with, "And to you your waffle, too."

Ah, well, that was over 50 years ago.

Friday, December 24, 2010

African Warrior for Christmas, with 1920s Backstory

About this little doll: It was presented with much fanfare to my older sister by one of our first cousins, at a family reunion a number of years ago.

African Warrior Doll

When our father was still trying to make it as a farmer, he and his younger sister and her family lived in adjacent houses on their respective farming acreages. My older sister was six years old at that time, and her little cousin next door was four.

One day when they were playing together, he accidentally broke the porcelain head of her cloth-bodied baby doll. Of course, she was inconsolable, and, as an adult, for many years she would claim, with a straight face, that she'd never forgiven him.

Finally, at a family reunion where her teen-age grandsons were present along with her sons and many other relatives, this cousin, in desperation, made an elaborate speech, apologizing profusely for breaking her baby doll 70 years earlier. And he then presented her this new doll to replace the one with the broken porcelain head.

She regarded the African warrior as extremely ugly. But I think he's charming. And this year he's recycled as one of my Christmas presents from that beloved older sister.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Great Depression Christmas

My father always managed to convey a sense of optimism and excitement to his children as Christmas approached. It began with bringing a tall spruce, or sometimes a pine tree, into the house, with all the bustle of getting it situated in its corner. South Texas afforded no proper Christmas trees, so my parents bought one that had been trucked in from East Texas. Then came the ritual of putting on the strings of serially wired colored lights and hanging the glass baubles imported from Germany and arranging the tin-foil icicles to everyone's liking.

In 1937 an extra step was added: papering the wall behind the tree with Christmas cards. The rooms of our house had been hung with wallpaper in pleasing neutral colors. But this particular wall was covered with ugly brown stains from the leaking roof which he had not had the money to repair, nor, of course, the money for hanging new wallpaper.

But he did have many friends and acquaintances, and cards from them were overflowing the living-room's library table. To my ten-year-old eyes, the sight of him gluing all those cards to the wall behind the tree, ceiling to floor, was amazing. It had not been that long ago that one of my younger sisters had been reprimanded for marking the hall wall with a crayon. And here was my father, pasting up cards in such a way that they could not be removed without destroying the wallpaper. I had no idea that his thought was he'd soon be able to fix the roof and redecorate, after the hospital bills had been paid.

Those hospital bills had piled up during the past year because my younger sisters had developed severe complications from their bouts with scarlet fever. And the youngest was still in the hospital.

But, on Christmas Eve, just at dusk, with the Christmas tree baubles sparkling and all its colored lights glowing, he brought her home, so tiny, wrapped in a pink blanket, and carried her into the living room and laid her tenderly on the sofa where she would have the best view.

And I can't remember the rest. Surely there were presents, if only one or two apiece, but in my memory there's only my youngest sister, home, happy, and getting well.

Thelma Sue Roberts, age 14

Here she is, in all her sweet seriousness, seven years later, towards the end of World War Two.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great Depression Memories: Canned Meat and Lollipop Songs

I have a very vivid recollection of the layout of the Cage Hardware and Furniture Company where my father's office was suspended, as if in a treehouse, with a good view, through its surrounding glass, of the hardware counter and of the fine china displays in the front of the store. On either side were balconies, running the store's length, where sofas and chairs and tables were displayed for sale.

Out the back door, beyond the hardware counter and the offices floating above it, was the weedy lot where tractors, plows, harvesters, and other farm implements were kept for convenient shopping by the company's farm and ranch customers. And through a side door under the balcony to the right was yet another storage area.

One year, at the height of the 1930s depressed economy, Mr. Cage set up a miniature steam-canning factory in that storage room for himself and his employees to use. I remember quite well my glimpse of the adults hard at work in there, canning beef in tin cans, in a project that was meant to cut down on cash spent at the grocery store. (Vegetables and fruits. such staples as tomatoes, beans, corn, and peaches, were canned at home in glass jars.)

But we were four lively little girls, about 4 to 7 years in age, and we were soon sent home in the care of our 16-year-old big sister. And the afternoon turned into an enchanted one for all of us. Our sister was a proficient pianist by then, and to entertain us and keep us corralled, she stood us in a semi-circle to her right as she sat on the piano bench. And she painstakingly taught us to sing "On the Good Ship Lollipop," from a music book that contained a number of songs from the Shirley Temple hit movie by the same title.

All four of us loved to sing, and we loved the attention. Furthermore, when our weary parents arrived home hours later, they applauded the little concert we put on for them with great enthusiasm. Over three-quarters of a century later, the memory is as fresh and as sweet as ever. And I'd be as happy to sing the entire chorus for you, about bon-bons playing "on the sunny beach of peppermint bay," as I would have been that afternoon when I first learned it and sang it with my sisters.

Five Sisters

This old snapshot shows us at a slightly younger age, the 18-month-old baby in the oldest sister's lap.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Great Depression -- How My Father Started Over

The mid-1920s drought in South Texas caused my father to lose his cotton crop three years in a row, and a barn fire resulted in his losing the farm itself, in the end, by destroying his tractor and all his mortgaged farm implements.

The Cage Hardware and Furniture Company, which also sold farm equipment, held the mortgage on those implements, with the expectation of being paid after the crop was sold. My father went to see Mr. Cage and asked if there might be a way he could pay off the debt by working for the company. He was given a job as clerk in the hardware store. Within months Mr. Cage promoted him to the position of bookkeeper, and within a few years my father had risen to be vice-president and general manager of the entire company.

Below are some old snapshots of my father and mother. She was helping to bale hay for the horses, with which he tried to finish making the third year's crop after the barn fire. The loss of that farm was a bitter one to him. But he carried on and brought up a family of six children on the income from his new career. He was 40 years old when he lost the farm.

I used to ride my bicycle to town and go up to see him in his glassed-in office above the store, from about age 11 on.

On the San Patricio County Farm


Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Home Front

In the Upstairs Office

Here is my father, standing in the office which adjoined his, upstairs in the hardware store. His employer, who by that time had made him a vice-president of the company (which had expanded to include lumber yards, filling stations, an International Harvester Dealership, and a Hudson dealership, as well as a funeral home), is seated at the desk beside him. The glassed-in area overlooked the hardware and furniture display room which one entered from the street. Fine china was displayed nearest the front, hardware in the back, with a long counter and packaging supplies in the center of the downstairs area. A few feet beyond the counter, centered, were the wide stairs which led up to the offices. This 8x10 photo is glued into an album sent to me by my mother, some years after my father's death. The note "July 3, 1941" is in her handwriting.

I scanned it into my hard drive with my HP scanner. The glossy photo is so clear that it required no further processing at all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Texas Bluebonnets to Brighten a Tennessee Winter

Happy Bluebonnets 2

I shot this springtime view near Victoria, Texas, several years ago, looking up a roadside slope towards a rancher's field.

The camera was a Minolta SR-T 101* and the image is from a somewhat faded Kodak print that I scanned to my hard drive with my HP Scanjet 7400c. Afterwards, I enhanced the colors to suit my memory of them, using the image processor Irfanview.

This picture brings back one of my favorite memories. I was with one of my younger sisters at the time, and, if you look closely, you can see her little dog, Happy2, in the upper right-hand corner.

*See a description and picture of the camera here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remembering John Lennon

On the 30th anniversary of his death, the official website.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor Day

On December 7, 1941, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor preempted a live radio broadcast by my high school band. Completely unaware of this, in the soundproofed studio, we played blissfully on for the allotted hour. I was playing second horn, and my younger sister -- who always excelled me, especially at practicing -- was in first chair.

After we finished playing, our band director told us about the radio announcement. We still had a long time to wait before we could get on our school buses to go back home. The powers that be were, justifiably so, afraid of an attack on the nearby Corpus Christi Naval Air Station.

Just my own memory of that time. I hope my fellow U.S. citizens and I have not survived WWII, and so much else -- including the murder of John Lennon exactly 30 years ago tomorrow, on our soil -- only to lose our freedoms to the fear of "terrorists" now so rampant across our land.

Domestic Old Glory

Sunday, December 5, 2010

For St. Nicholas Day,

December 6, 2010,

Have a look at Dierk Haasis's slideshow at Picasa.

And there are more delightful images for December on his own website's home page.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Day, Morning After

Yesterday's overcast skies have spent the night consolidating their clouds into misty rain and sleet, and my brain has used its dream time to solidify my astonishment at a nephew's reminiscing tale of his grandmother and the tarantula in the playhouse.

Playhouse, March, 1938

Mind you, he was talking about my own mother and my very own playhouse that Santa Claus brought me and my little sisters the Christmas I was five years old. You can see it in the background, on the left, behind the swing set, in this old snapshot from about 1937.

Never in my whole life have I personally encountered a tarantula, and I had no idea, before yesterday afternoon, that the Texas coastal prairie was a suitable habitat for these large, hairy arthropods, but yes, a quick search easily turned up a Wikipedia article on the Texas Brown Tarantula. And this species is common throughout Texas (and in neighboring states). It can get to be four inches in body size.

A gentle giant, it defends itself by standing up on its back legs and waving its two top legs like threatening pincers, while menacingly displaying its hairy abdomen.

So I'm sure my nephew's remembrance is accurate. At about age six, on a hot afternoon, while playing in the old playhouse with his four-year-old brother, he flipped back the corner of a quilt over a cot that had been left in there after most of the furnishings which had been the delight of my sisters and me were long removed. And there it was.

He thought it was a big black spider -- in the shadowed corner of the little room, no doubt it did appear black to him. And there was certainly no doubt in his mind that it was about to bite him. Frozen with terror at first, he finally got his legs to move and ran screaming to the house, where he poured out his panic to his grandmother. She took him by the hand and went to look.

"That's not a spider," she told him. "It's a tarantula, and it won't hurt you. See?" And scooping the little terrorist onto the palm of one hand, she tossed it out the open playhouse door.

A fine ecologist, my mother, though her assurance to her grandson wasn't completely accurate. Tarantulas will bite you, if cornered or harassed, though, according to Wikipedia, the bite is no worse than a bee sting.

Still, my nephew said, although in awe of his grandmother's bravery and prowess, he never played in that playhouse again. Where there's one tarantula, there's bound to be another, he prudently concluded.

Texas Brown Tarantula
Photo used under Creative Commons license:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Last of the Fall Garden Flowers?

An elderly gardening friend stopped by before the rains came last Saturday and brought me a small handful of her little border flowers, garnished with sprigs of rosemary and sage.


You can see the little Tiffany rosebud at the bottom of this shot and, perhaps, just make out a pansy and a leaf of sage among the miniature yellow chrysanthemums and the daisy head drooping over them.

Below, the pansy beside a rosy miniature mum, plus a cropped version of the pansy's golden heart:



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Plants in the Sunshine

On yesterday's walk, I saw flats of bedding plants set out on the grass, ready for transplanting, and a tiny white moth, perhaps half an inch long, flitting above the golden hearts of the flowers.

Moth Between Two Pansies

Pansies, Closer View

Flats of Pansies  Yet to be Planted on Lipscomb University's Campus

Nearby, the old Magnolia grandiflora was dropping its leaves and seed pods onto the lawn of Avalon Hall:

Magnolia Grandiflora

Magnolia Grandiflora Seed Pod Closeup

Fallen Magnolia Grandiflora Leaf

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fun in November

Autumn Bounty

For the top of my refrigerator:
A miniature pumpkin, a 2-inch ceramic toddler, an antique little red wagon, and some grocery-store grapes.

Against a hard freeze, a harvested stalk of November-blooming iris:

November Iris Bloom

November Iris Bloom, close up

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A New Feast for the Eyes

Here, Dierk Haasis's November, 2010, home page slide show. I'm lucky enough to have a print of one of these images on my own hall wall.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Halloween Approaches

Halloween Scene

Halloween Scene, Second View

So here's a Halloween scene with a Beanie Baby, on top of my freezer in the kitchen

M&M, October 19, 2010

And, for good measure, an M&M, my twelve-year-old black cat, at breakfast in her bedroom

Friday, October 8, 2010

Crabapples, Roses, and Dogwood -- a noontime walk

On Avalon Hall's side porch, across from Lipscomb's campus school, a group of young boys were enjoying their noon recess, adding the loud laughter of playtime to the scene. Meanwhile I walked along the edge of the campus, photographing the brilliant colors of the young ornamental crabapple's ripe fruit and trying to show the struggling October roses to best advantage.

Ripe Crabapples, October 8, 2010

Young Ornamental Crabapple Tree, near Avalon Hall

Avalon Hall, Side Porch

Tree Gall

Notice the large gall on this aged elm tree on the corner of Avalon Hall's side yard.

From the Ruth O'Brien Rose Garden at the back of Avalon Hall:

Pink Rose on October 8, 2010

Yellow Rose on October 8, 2010

And so, home again, to the dogwood nextdoor, in my sister's front yard:

Dogwood in Noon Sunlight

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Save Cummins Falls

The Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation is a cause well worth supporting. They are trying to raise a million dollars to buy this beautiful place and preserve it as a state park. (September KnoxNews report here )

I learned about the Cummins Falls project when Mack Prichard gave an informal talk to the Lipscomb-Lea Garden Club on October 1.

He holds the title of Tennessee State Archaeologist and State Naturalist Emeritus and is the holder of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tennessee Environmental Council . Their words of praise are a fitting tribute: "Mack has been preserving the majestic places of this state from the time he was 16. From his work protecting Radnor Lake to the South Cumberland State Recreation area and the Forever Green Tennessee initiative, Mack Prichard has become a treasure among the Tennessee treasures he has worked so hard to protect."

I can say just from the time our small group got to spend with him that he's a very knowledgeable and compelling speaker, and, additionally, excellent lunch-time company.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Forgotten Sonnet Revisited

Swimming Hole Mermaid

If words were artifacts of flint or bone
Within the tailings of a gravel mine,
She'd spot them all and claim them as her own,
Then lug them to the place where dreams align
With daytime thinking in a fine excess.
In that still pool, a quarry filled by rain
For months and years, as raindrops coalesce,
She'd float, then sink below the mossy stain,
The algae streaming past her opal eyes.
A rattling sharpness—clashing edgy bits—
Would bear her downward, weighted by her prize:
Her ancient tools, now polished clean of glitz.
A thrush upon the bough might see her there,
Where gills are needed, just to breathe the air.
© 2006 by Mary R. Bull
Revision © 2010 by Mary R. Bull

I finished writing this in October, 2006, but on re-reading it, I decided I could make it better by changing a couple of lines, here and there. I still like the way it encapsulates my memory of picking up surface artifacts left by the Woodland Indians, long ago in Kentucky.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Noontime Walk

Roses, young apples, and a fallen magnolia leaf near Avalon Hall on the Lipscomb University campus:

Yellow Rose at Noon

Pink Rose at Noon

Young Apple Tree

Young Apples

Fallen Magnolia Grandiflora Leaf

Magnolia Grandiflora

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Windy September Walk

I caught the flag:

Catching the Gleam

And some roses with raindrops on them:

September 11 Rose

September 11 Rosebud

And myself, in a close-up with my Canon G2:

Playing with my Canon G2 Camera on a Windy Walk

Friday, September 10, 2010

September Tuberose

Waxy white blossoms on a light green stem and intense fragrance mark the beautiful tuberose. I used to see it growing wild in pastures and roadside ditches in South Texas, as a child. It's a native of Mexico and thrives there, also. This one was blooming today in a friend's garden.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Face Recognition Tests

Oliver Sacks has an article in the current New Yorker describing his own symptoms of so-called "face blindness," or prosopagnosia. He pointed to as a good place to get more information.

Since I identified many of his experiences with some I frequently have in my own day-to-day life, I took the two on-line tests offered in the research section of

On the memory of unfamiliar faces I scored 75 per cent, or slightly below average. But on the recognition of famous faces, I identified a very low 11 per cent of those whose names were familiar to me, as the test site revealed after I'd made my choice -- either by clicking "I don't know" or by typing in a guess. Explains a lot about my inability to keep up with the characters in many of the TV series I watch, or those in movies when I watch them for the first time. To say nothing of remembering the names and faces of people I've recently met.

My difficulties are not severe -- nothing like those encountered by Dr. Sacks. But it's nevertheless a help to have something to blame my troubles on besides my own distractibility -- or, heaven forbid, laziness.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Short-lived Surprise Lilies

August bloomers, these spectacular flowers were already past their prime by the time I could walk out to photograph them. The blistering heat and windy rainstorms seem to have hastened their maturing.

Surprise lilies, past their prime

Closeup of a withered surprise lily blossom

But just down the street, a spectacular planting of drooping white flowers offset the draggled naked-stemmed lilies. I don't know the name of these large, white drooping clusters.

Plant Bed with Hanging White Blossoms

Unidentified White Blossoms

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