Knew it was coming… but damn this summer went fast. And this one is different. He’s the baby – the male bookend to the two daughters sandwiched in between. He’s the delineator. His departure puts us in another league.
This final summer we had the pleasure of seeing Joe in a baseball uniform once again. As a senior who came to the team without the benefit of the intervening years of high school play, he could not expect and did not receive much playing time but he was a class act, a beautiful site. A few weeks after the season ended, Shannon’s medical emergency called us all to Connecticut. We shared close quarters in Brian and Kelly’s home, under Kelly’s gracious management. While Shannon convalesced, we enjoyed watching Joe be a territorial uncle with Kiera, carrying her in strong and sure arms. Back home again, we attended my nephew’s graduation party and listened to Joe break the silence of my late brother Tim’s guitar with a sweetness that made my heart stop. We rounded out the summer with a long weekend at a cabin up north. It was Joe’s request and God’s grace granted that it could happen. His girlfriend, Kaycee, came with him and we were also joined by our daughter Katie. There we soaked in the peaceful quiet of the lakeside, swimming, fishing, campfiring, jigsaw puzzling, eating and laughing. Joe and Kaycee left a day early and it was in watching their departure that the first note of the impending change struck – the realization that my years of active parenting were over – really and finally over – and not in the yippee, kick-up-your heels kind of realization, but the dawning of the fact that for all intents and purposes, our kids had all left our orbit path – we were entering the years of scheduled and planned visits.
This last and final weekend, it was just Joe and I, his Dad doing some volunteer work at a men’s prison in a neighboring county. Our move-in time slot for the dorm was scheduled for 4:30 pm Sunday afternoon. The previous couple of weeks had seen the shopping for and acquisition of all the requisites: the shower caddy and its contents, the dorm bedding set, the towels, the laptop and carrying case. I did my best all weekend not to be the hovering, advise-giving, directing/suggesting Mom that is so irritating, particularly it seems between mother and son at this point of separation. Joe had his plan and asked only that I get all of his laundry done which I gladly did. By 2:30 Sunday afternoon, everything was neatly and efficiently packed into one large cardboard box, one humongous duffle bag, one large plastic storage container, his backpack, shower caddy and laptop case. He and his girlfriend loaded it into the car.
The goal one year ago was to have a “good finish.” Before we drove away from the house Sunday afternoon we had a prolonged hug in the driveway, initiated by him. Once in the car and headed down the street, I asked him if we’d met the goal. He said we absolutely did, that things had come a long way, and I was able to believe him.
I sit here at this moment with a resounding echo in the house. Echo of a summer gone way too fast; echo of a life gone way too fast. Cliche, cliche, cliche; but there you have it. All the good intentions, all the wisdom I thought I would impart as a parent, all the mistakes and imperfections now realized. The fact is that Joe did not get the best of our years nor the best of our selves. He had to swim in some very choppy seas and, quite frankly, so did we. There wasn’t always a shoreline in site and it wasn’t always clear that we would be able to recognize each other once we got there. Yet, by the time his Dad met up with us at the dorm last night and everything now unloaded and unpacked; we accomplished one final parental errand and drove together with Joe at the wheel to a Walgreens for some plastic hangers. Returning to the campus, we said good-by, clear and unfettered, confident in his ability to make his way.
To paraphrase Bob Dylan: And there you are going my blue-eyed son.
And there you are going my darling young one.
Thank you, Joe, for all the teachings you have brought into my life. Thank you for knowing who you are. Thank you for the new music you have singing in my head.
“Yup” is most often the laconic response I receive (usually in the form of a text message) from Joe to my variety of queries in numerous formats. I want details whereas Joe likes to operate in brief and sufficient terms. There is a yin and yang to my mother/son relationship that differs greatly from my mother/daughter relationships. There are thesis papers to be written about that but I am not going to go there now. This is about celebrating Joe’s accomplishment and wishing well for his future. I stand at the Mother Ship watching him leave this orbit path.
Joe is all about the road less traveled. He is about using the bargaining chip until it is worn to a nub. Deadlines and due dates are for those who are going to remember to meet them. “No” has never been an acceptable answer. His perception can be so searing it burns a hole through rock. Joe has taught me how to pray.
When Joe was four years old, he wanted me to let him climb on top of the refrigerator. He was convinced that if he could just be allowed up to that perch he could fly from there. No amount of admonition about broken bones, landing on his head and knocking himself unconscious or , worse case scenario, unbalancing the refrigerator to the point that it would topple over him and crush him to death, would dissuade him from his belief and desire. We had the conversation many times.
One evening, I was folding a load of laundry in my bedroom when I heard a quiet plea from a distant space.
“Could you come out here?”
“I’m busy, Joe. What do you need?”
“Mom! Please! Just come out here! Please!”
I knew that voice. The last time I had responded to it, I found him standing in the basement summoning every ounce of strength he could muster into his four year old biceps to keep a TV set from crushing his skull. Tonight I followed the voice to the kitchen. There, on top of the refrigerator, squatting like a big fat toad, was my son Joe. He wore a look of semi-terror that said: I know you told me not to climb up here and I did anyway and I’m in a world of shit for that but could you please just not make a big deal out of this and get me down now? (Yes, Joe is capable of saying all that with one facial expression.)
I stood bemused for a moment and then I asked:
“What are you doing up there, son?”
“I don’t know”, came the plaintive response, “I just magicked myself up here!”
Well, fourteen years and countless escapades and discussions later, it is more likely to be me summoning him to help with some physical task beyond my capability and what I want to say today is this:
Joseph Meade Mahoney – may you always know your magic!
It was a simpler celebration this year. We didn’t get the strawberries dipped, but we had chocolate fondue. We ordered pizzas, but we also had shrimp. The drink glasses didn’t have gold bows tied on the stems, but the fruit juice sparkled. Shannon was in Stamford; Peggy Bull and Keri Bull were sick; but Katie and I, and Debra, Megan and Thea, put on our makeup and gowns and later de-gowned to pajamas. We feasted and lounged and watched the whole show. Another Oscar night was duly observed.
The young women - short view.
The seasoned women - short view.
The young women - long view.
The seeasoned women - long view.
Mother and Daughter (Debra and Megan) - vintage 1970's.
Mother and Daughter (me and Katie) - vintage current.
“There is an angle in our family,” were the words of my husband, who flew to meet her only hours after her presence commenced in this life. This first grandchild has forever changed all of our long-held titles: Mom and Dad to Grandma and Grandpa; and sister, sister-in-law, brother, brother-in-law to aunts and uncle. Indeed we have been promoted.
To the Hospital!
Upon receiving the message in the wee hours this morning that labor had begun and my daughter-in-law and stepson were enroute to the hospital, I began reciting Hail Mary’s as I rummaged for candles to light and cleared spaces for them to reside – you cannot have a sacred space in the middle of a pile of tax work (or maybe you should for a better outcome).
When I went into labor with our own firstborn, nearly 24 years ago, we called my mother-in-law before leaving for the hospital in those pre-cell phone days when calling, let alone texting, as we drove was a futuristic concept. My mother-in-law responded by saying that she would go to the church, light a votive and say some prayers. I was comforted by that. I thought it was lovely. I’m sure that her Irish Catholic sensibilities were rooted in something that existed long before the tiny isle converted. Today my friend Peggy Bull responded to my text that labor was underway with the reassurance that she would light a candle and say prayers. Continuous love poured in with texts from my sisters and friends. As I lit a pillar candle in the middle of the living room, then placed a taper in the east direction on the sun porch and finished with a trio of tea lites on the mantle to summon the three sisters of destiny,
Three Sisters Candles
I felt bathed in the softness of spirit. “ It’s all about love”, my Dad once told me from the other side. I perked a pot of coffee and drank from the china cup and saucer he used in his last days here.
There is a children’s book about “on the day you were born”. It tells of how the awareness of the moment resonates in every being in every corner of the kingdom on earth from the sea turtles to the arctic terns. I felt this sense of the “talking wires” sending the buzz around the world. I’ve often reflected how in times of birth and times of death, when the stuff of life comes to a halt for those most entwined, the rest of the world goes maddeningly on while you are paused in the ordinarily profound.
Today in the midst of my pause for Kiera Ann, I was electrified by a harbinger of good things to come. There is a different movement deep in my being that is a simmering cauldron of things like: furniture sold on Craig’s List being carried out the door, a change in financial habits, a welcoming of new healing in my physical body, a willingness to seek out new perspectives, the movement of my son’s adolescence into adulthood and my daughters’ young adulthood into adult lives and livelihoods, my husband’s decision Monday to fly to New York for the birth in spite of the fact he is just two weeks into recovery from knee replacement surgery which was affirmed and complimented by the fact that he was able to purchase a cheap ticket just hours before the faires went through the roof. So many odd little things are adding up to a belief that things are going to be more than okay along with an overall sense that some long broken things are going to be fixed. The affirmation of all that on this day of Kiera Ann’s birth is that: for weeks now – since before Christmas – I could not find heart to write any blog posts. Then last weekend when the first inspiration in a long time came to me, I posted it - only to find that my blogsite had been infected with a virus for weeks. I have been ditzing around for days trying to straighten it out, feeling clumsy and inept and fearing I would have to start from scratch and lose all my posts, but last night Kiera and I had a secret conversation and I knew that Kiera’s early arrival today signaled that we understood each other. I started writing this post with some sense that my blogsite would heal enough to share it. Before I was through writing the piece, my webhost security was able to clear the virus. My website is back and better than before with updated software.
This was the post I put together when I discovered my blog was infected. I posted it to my writer’s group blog but in case you didn’t get to read it and with Dad’s 80th birthday coming up, I thought I’d share it here.
Yesterday I bundled up without regard for fashion or vanity to spend some time in the snow with the puppy (11 months old today and pretty big). He’s been getting neglected while I have centered my energies around nursing my husband as he recovers from knee replacement surgery. So I klunked around the yard with the dog, decked in somebody’s old snow pants, wool socks, Columbia boots, Irish sweater, a red, hand-me-down, granny winter jacket, with thick gloves and a fitted stocking cap.
Once I felt that Cody (the big puppy) had had sufficient attention and snow romping, I resumed my Florence Nightingale role. Still dressed in my duds, I went out to the garage freezer to fetch the two frozen terrycloth tube bags filled with corn kernels that my husband and I had constructed for the purpose of icing his knee and leg while he rehabbed. Those bags turned out to be heavier than one would think. I slung them over my shoulders. As I trudged back into the house, I caught my reflection in the garage window and, for a brief second, I saw my Dad the way he used to look coming up the back steps at the end of a winter construction workday in his signature combat boots and his cuffeed stocking cap shrunk back on his head so that his ears were sticking out from under it.
“Hi” I said.
It was nice to see him.
Daddy’s Girl Part II
It was Valentine’s Day when I wrote the above, I followed it up with this:
I recalled a story that would have been perfect to include and very in tune with the holiday. I share it now. It is a story my Mom has liked to tell for as long as I can remember.
Being the firstborn of eleven, I enjoyed some substantial quality alone time with my parents for the first twenty months of my life. My mother taught me colors and shapes and numbers while we waited on the porch stoop for my Dad to come home from work each day. My Dad was a mason, a bricklayer. He worked with heavy block and concrete and often came home covered in concrete dust. He liked a good soak in the tub at the end of his day, besides which we didn’t have a shower. As a toddler, I would regularly go in the bathroom and chat with my Dad while he soaked and when he dried off. In February of my second year, my mother had been spending a lot of time with me cutting out heart shapes and teaching me about “Valentines”. Apparently after one of our father/daughter tubside chats, I came out into the kitchen and reported to my mother, in that high-pitched voice that toddlers have, that “Daddy has a very nice Valentine!”
As to exactly which angle of which part of his anatomy I was astutely observing, well, that remains pretty much up for grabs, so to speak.
It’s Foodie Tuesday theme on the www.opensalon.com blog where I also post. In keeping with that, I try to do a piece about one of the vintage coffee pots in my collection each week. The coffee set featured here was given to me by Hawk and the kids for Mother’s Day some year’s back. It is a “Forman Brothers, Inc” creation. They did not stamp their pots with a serial number indicating the manufacture date, but based on the dome and the internal parts, my semi-educated guess would be a 1930’s vintage. Like its chromium cousins, the ceramic holds and conducts the heat for a superior clear black brew. That may seem like an oxymoron – clear black – I don’t know how else to express the quality of its appearance; but there certainly is clear, black, hot coffee and then there is tepid, brown/black mud. This coffee pot produces the former. I still maintain that it has something to do with the degree of heat achieved by these old appliances before the days of energy saving ratings and lawsuits for hot coffee in the lap. And again, as with coffee pots of this vintage, there is no thermostat controlled shut off, the unplugging/done level is the call of the maker. I chose this particular set for feature this week because I thought that the colors of this design went well with the Thanksgiving Holiday theme. The fact that it was a gift given to me in love by my husband and kids; coupled with the emails and comments left on my blog by my children, their cousins and my siblings; honoring, comforting and sharing my renewed grief at this time; reminded me that something is profoundly right in our little world in the corner of southeast Wisconsin.
Our lives do not play out on the grand stage, but are filled with the vignettes of “Turkey bowl football games, cleverly hidden Easter baskets, raucous Christmas grab bag games, marathon euchre or casino nights, gatherings for the various life events of birthdays, graduations, or the fact that one of the out-of-towners has made their way back; or to welcome a new arrival, our third generation now 10 strong with another on the way. On so many levels, I keep experiencing the fineness of the young people we’ve brought into this world; their unabashed affection for their aunts and uncles, their willingness to get to know them better and to be known better by them; each of them so unique and gorgeous and at the same time so full of many little familiarities that have been the stuff of my life.
I was prepared to wrap up my recent grieving with this writing, articulating the sense that in the big scheme of things, we are abundantly blessed at the small level, and this is true, but then a rogue wave hit.
Last week in the comments on Open Salon when I posted the recent piece titled “Grief”, Traveller1 shared: “A loss in the family can keep one screaming for a long time.“
That scream is here in my throat at this hour.
On Sunday my sister Linda left this comment on my midriff muse blog: “….I can only say that my heart aches, air does not fill my lungs, and nothing fills the void deep in the core of my being where my brother Tim held space. Not all days are like this anymore but moments still are. Sometimes it is like my world stops and I want to deny it happened, that somehow a mistake was made, and he will be returned to this earth. Now, I know that cannot be so but that would be so much easier:-( He was my big brother and I looked up to him so with awe and amazement all of my life. I was so looking forward to hanging and jamming with him when our children got older as we had talked about doing. I have noticed that my breath this past few weeks has been labored and air seems unavailable because of the days nearing … ”
It dawned on me then what it is that is hurting me so much. This Thursday’s Thanksgiving will be the last first – the last of a year of first holidays without him and I don’t want there to be a last first because then it becomes too real. I don’t want it to become one year since he died, then two, then three. I don’t want it to become an anniversary. I don’t want it to become something quieter – with less upheaval; more acceptance. I don’t want him to become more memory than a person among us. And even as I write this in the dark, secluded on the sun porch with selected “Timmy” songs playing on my itunes; my daughter Shannon, home for the holiday, peeks in to tell me that the favorite and “missing-from-her-life lately” scalloped potatoes and ham that I made in the crock pot for her earlier is: “Good stuff, Maynard.” This brings me right back to the little picture in the big scheme of things again.
Also last week on Open Salon, AtHomePilgrim tenderly reminded: “Remember him at Thanksgiving, yes–but remember, too, to be with the people who are there. Loving them each day is the finest tribute you can pay Timmy.”
… and so we will gather. I imagine we will talk about him, laugh some, cry some. We’ll remember about him dunking his cookie in other people’s coffee, flicking the lids of the water bottles all over the Tricia’s house last year. There will probably be fishing stories told. At some point I will find my way to Tricia’s dining room table, one of several employed for the occasion; and I’ll remember a few years ago when Linda, Amy and I, along with some of our children chose this particular table to situate ourselves. As we sat after eating with our finished plates in front of us, the telling of a story brought up the concept of couples cuddling in the “spooning” position. Amy insisted she never, ever heard of spooning before and as Tim walked through she asked him what he knew of it – joking that she was sure that Tim knew all about forking but had he ever heard of spooning? Tim paused for just a second and then drawled in that Sam Elliot voice of his: “Well, my philosophy has always been …. when you’re that close ….insert!” Tim then exited the room leaving a wake of pre-teen and teen nieces grossed out, nephews looking down and smirking, my sisters and I shrieking protest while laughing our collective asses off.
Grief doesn’t keep a schedule. It doesn’t look in and ask: “is this an okay day for you? Cuz if it isn’t, I can come back another time.” Grief pretty much comes by when it needs to. I guess.
I knew this was coming and I thought I had it worked out. My plan was to finish my Sedona Series (the travelogue of our adult sibling vacation in Arizona last summer) before Thanksgiving. I was going to throw in a few more coffee pot pieces and on December 3rd, the one year anniversary, I was going to repost “We Lost One”.
Well, as it stands, I only have Parts 1 and 2 of the Sedona Series posted. Parts 3 and 4 are in my head and a jumble of notes here and there. Yesterday I did a coffee pot piece that didn’t require a lot of description. It was more about sentiment than vintage craftsmanship, but this particular coffee pot happens to reside on a little table in my living room sharing space with the picture of my brother Timmy, as a young man, that was resurrected for his memorial service. I included a picture of that little shrine in my piece. This morning there was a comment from Tricia, saying that Tim had been in her thoughts a lot lately. I echoed that and then Mary dropped by the site and said that she has been missing him too.
It has been a rainy day here today. Fibromyalgia has kicked my ass and humbled me again. I am sitting with my laptop and a heating pad and the itunes I’ve downloaded over the year to remember Timmy by: some John Prine, some Jim Croce, and “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues. Thanksgiving is next week and the reality has been looming at the edges and rims of all my thoughts for days now that our Thanksgiving gathering a year ago was the last time I saw Tim. So easy to take little morsels of conversation for granted, to give and receive hugs as though there will always be another one, to look at someone without the conception that it will be the last look.
One week after Thanksgiving will be the one year anniversary of Peggy calling me to tell me that Timmy had had a massive heart attack. I was ready to rush right there.
“Is he at Lakeland or did they take him to St. Luke’s?”
“Terry” she said, sensing my lack of comprehension, “He didn’t make it.”
I am to this day, on some level, still dumbfounded. My heart still spasms at the thought. I know that it is okay – has been – will be – but it is still not okay.
I don’t know why this should remain so raw. And it is not like this everyday. Many, many days, it is a smile with tender memories, but there are those days when grief still demands its due. This is one. So I am asking, if you would indulge me; walk with me awhile. And thank you ahead of time.
From December 15, 2008 …
We lost one of our own. My brother, Timmy(top left), 52 years old, collapsed and died of a heart attack, catching us all by surprise. That was last Wednesday, December 3rd. It seems incomprehensible that it has been over a week now. One of the things that always gets to me in the midst of the two most significant life events, birth and death, is that the rest of the world goes on as if nothing had happened. I want to yell out: “Hey! …. Hey! ….. Stop it!”
There are 11 of us and it feels strange as hell to have one gone. We have, each of us, from time to time secretly marveled at our seeming immunity. Our brood has existed intact for 38 years now, a 17 year span from oldest to youngest – no car accidents, no life threatening illnesses, no loss of limb or faculty, and even though our Dad passed at the age of 60 after living with lung cancer for five years, our mother is still with us, her attractiveness and cute little figure, belying the eleven pregnancies and some very tough years over the course of her own seven and one half decades.
I have been trying to write this piece off and on since around midnight on Monday night. Talk about wanting to get something right. So I rip off a few thoughts or phrases and then get frustrated because it’s too hard and switch to numbing myself with electronic solitaire. And while I know that my grief is real and I am entitled to it, I am also chastised by the selfishness of my focus when it is my sister-in-law, Jodie and my nephews, Andrew and Jack Thomas who must cope with the daily absence – each day reawakening to the reality that he who used to dwell with them no longer dwells there. The strange thing for me is this: I am the oldest of 11 – have been since the age of 17 – and I feel like one of my limbs is missing.
My sister Mary and I are the only ones who can refer to Tim as our little brother or younger brother. She was just 1 and I was not quite 3 when Tim joined us. Throughout those toddlerhood years he was often a source of giggles and an easy playmate. Mary had a story to share at the funeral service. It was about the time that she and Timmy were sitting on the back stoop, each with a bowl of strawberries to eat. When Mary finished her bowl and then lamented, Timmy scooped a spoonful from his own bowl and held it to her lips. Such things worked out to a pretty simple equation with him: “Oh, yours is all gone? I’ve still got some. Here!” Of course in later years, Tim would trade liberally on some of that good will with such antics as dunking his cookie in your cup of coffee as he walked by.
Tim’s prankishness was legend – not the mean kind – just the kind that caught you off guard and made you smile. One time he moved the suspended tennis ball hanging in our sister Peggy’s garage to insure that she parked in the right place. A receptionist from his work told me at the visitation of the time he rigged the phone with scotch tape so that when she lifted the handset to answer, the whole phone came with it. Our sister, Tricia who now hosts the annual Thanksgiving Dinner reports that she is still finding plastic caps from the water bottles showing up in her drawers and various other nooks and crannies.
One of my own stories is from the time that Tim was a groomsman in our brother Joe’s wedding, the summer of 1986. The ceremony was a Catholic High Mass and during the serving of communion, the groomsman filled the front pew on the right of the church, the bridesmaids on the left and as the communicants filed to the front of the church, they lined up in front of the pew on either side while waiting for the previous section to vacate the communion rail. As I stood waiting my turn, I felt myself pinched on the butt and I whipped my head around to be met by Timmy’s grin. He later told me that he and a fellow groomsman had been “girl-watching” as the communion line moved forward and when I rounded the corner of the pew, the other guy had elbowed Tim pointing me out. Tim had agreed with him that, yes, I was great looking but also informed him that I was his older sister and had just had a baby four months earlier. The guy didn’t believe him, so Tim felt that the best way to prove his relation to me was to pinch my butt and let the guy see my indignation turn to big sister irritation/grin. I think that Tim took a little pride in the fact that his sisters are/were attractive and enjoyed having some fun with that at another guy’s expense. I also think that he knew that in the split second before the indignation registers for a gal like me, there is that teeny, tiny little thrill to think that somebody still finds you pinchable.
The remarkable thing about our family, aside from the large number, is the fact that all but three of the 11 live within a fifty mile radius of the family home. In addition to spouses and significant others there are 25 grandchildren, 5 step-grandchildren, and 9 great grandchildren. Thanksgivings and Christmas Eves continue to be celebrated en masse and while 100% attendance is not guaranteed, a comfortable 2/3 majority is consistently present. Each year also has its share of birthday and graduation parties, weddings, showers etc. – life events that are celebrated. At any and every occasion for a gathering of the clan, Tim greeted you as though he had been waiting specifically for just your arrival.
As an entity, our family can be diva-ish. Many of our spouses would say that we are stubborn, that we have difficulty admitting we are wrong, that we never let you forget a weak moment, that we can be critical and judgmental, that we always take too long saying good-bye, and that we girls, in particular, have a certain neurosis about how we look and whether our outfit is working “for us or ag’in us”.
Every family has their skeletons, squabbles and less than stellar moments. What I have been learning through my own children is that most of the individual idiosyncrasies that my brothers and sisters and I can find irritating in one another are the things that our nieces and nephews find endearing and humorous. Watching their Moms or Dads interact in each other’s company in a way that reverts back to some childhood hierarchy revealing untold misbehaviors and quibbling is sometimes a funny, funny show. Such was the case this past February, gathered for Mom’s 75th birthday, as we tried to shush each other and make each other obedient to get lined up in birth order for a family photo – as it turns out – the last photo of us all together.
The gift of Timmy’s passing has been the opportunity for us to have the ability to stand back and see how good we have all truly done. Throughout the five day odyssey that began with receiving the news on Wednesday through the funeral service on Monday, it seemed that our children and spouses kept gathering us all into metaphorical lifeboats and rowing everybody to safe shores again and again, solicitous of our needs and comfort. Our children – the grandchildren – the collective brood of our brood – demonstrated such soulful maturity in so many different ways. On the day of the wake, they grouped themselves to carpool to our sister Peggy’s, whose house became the central meeting place, to lay out and set up the buffet to be ready and waiting as we made our way back, exhausted and spent after five hours of sharing our sorrow, memories and tears with the hundreds and hundreds of people who came to mourn with us. Our children filled our plates and emptied our dishes and comforted each other in between with unyielding tenderness. It was such an unbelievable gift.
My brother Joe, who delivered an exquisite eulogy at the funeral service the next day, spoke of the number of people who remarked that they never heard Timmy say anything bad about anyone. Not only that, but if you yourself were starting to dog on someone, Tim had a way of just moving you along to something else. Tim just seemed to prefer waking up on the sunny side of the bed and staying there.
Many people use to think that Tim looked and sounded a lot like the actor, Sam Elliott, especially during the years when he had that thick mustache. Tim’s voice had that same deep, sort of unruffled drawl. I can’t believe I’m never going to hear that again, breaking through the din at family gatherings.
In his late teens and early twenties, Tim played the guitar. John Prine was on of his favorite artists. I wish I were better at doing some of these technical things. I would have liked to have set this up so that a John Prine song was playing in the background while you are reading this post, but for now, click this video.
One of the interesting things about having a hobby such as collecting old coffee pots is that people tend to think of you whenever they spot something that they think might belong in your collection. It’s sort of a warm fuzzy in many ways. A few years ago, my mother spotted this coffee maker at a garage sale and gave it to me as a birthday gift.
It has never been used, the cord, as you can see, never uncoiled from the manufacturer’s packaging. The box has a handwritten shipping label on the side addressed to “Smith Home Services; Elkhorn, Wis.” The return address preprinted on the label is From “Standard Electric Supply Co.; 1045 N. Fifth Street; Milwaukee, Wis 53203.” There is also a 7 digit phone number (272-8100) and underneath it a statement: “Wholesale Only.” A Google Search indicates that the company still exists at a different Milwaukee location, but with the same phone number. The web page indicates that they are out of the appliance, housewares and lamps business and into control panels and automation systems and such things that I do not find nearly as charming as vintage coffee pots, however I do think that it is charming that they have an updated version of the same logo as the one on the shipping label of my box with the additional boast of 90 years of tradition and service (1919-2009).
I know for a fact that the addressee: “Smith Home Services” no longer exists in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, although I do remember when it did. I recall looking in its display windows as I walked by and admiring the light fixtures for sale. I suppose that it was the kind of place where I might have taken one of my vintage coffee pots for a replacement fuse, back in the day.
The serial number on the bottom of the pot indicates it was manufactured in 1967. It is made by West Bend and the container further boasts that: it makes 5-9 cups; brews coffee to flavor-peak; is made of Sparkling Aluminum; keeps coffee serving hot; and features a “no-drip” pouring spout. I can see that it is sparkling aluminum but the rest of the highlights will go untested by this writer as there is no intent to ever brew coffee in it.
I do not think that this coffee maker has nearly the beauty of design, curves, and lines as do most of its predecessors in my collection. Its beauty, for me, is in its reminder of my mother’s thoughts of me.
I keep this coffee pot on a little display table in my living room along with a picture of my brother Tim. A keen observer will note that Tim is holding a bottle of beer in this picture rather than a cup of coffee, but again what matters to me, is the sense I have whenever I walk by, of having shared a cup of coffee for a moment with Timmy.
Yesterday I joined my sister, Peggy and my mother for a road trip to Geneseo, IL to visit Peggy’s son Mark and his wife, Kyle and their three children: Connor, Cailin and Carson.
This morning we learned that the city honors its veterans by displaying a flag for every citizen who has served, each flagpole identifying the name of the veteran, the branch of service and the war/wars served in. There were some 657 flags lining the walks of the city park. We noted at least one flag for a veteran of the Civil War.
There is much to admire in this small city of about 6000 citizens, but the above display of respect and honor tells a story all by itself.
My mother, sister and I enjoyed a great day strolling the sidewalks of Geneseo with Cailin and Connor. We also squeezed in some quality time with the newest arrival in the family.
A woman’s body expands at the mid-section during middle age and not in a way that is charming like a pregnancy. I’ve tried for years to accept this thickening philospohically. The fact of the matter is that no matter how much I wax poetic about accumulated wisdom, a broadened perspective or even the subtle layering of my thinking; I miss bending over to put on my shoes without the feeling of leaning over a basketball. While I have nothing new to say on this particular topic, what I have to offer here today is some beauty from a by-gone era that is, to my eye anyway, a perfect embodiment of well-roundedness.
I have been doing some post recently featuring my vintage coffee pot collection. This seems like a win-win on a couple of levels, especially since I am about to begin selling some of my pots on ebay to bolster our finances. Doing stories about them will create a sort of archive for me to preserve their memory.
So it is and here I am today with 3 more gleaming examples of a perfect marriage between form and function. Actually, the small one in the middle is sort of a repeat. It is the same model as one featured in a previous post, except that it is non-functioning. I include it because this is the one that got me started. This is the one that I found at a garage sale in Albuquerque, NM in the late 1970’s. I mean, have you ever seen a round globe coffee pot before with a round glass bubble at top? I hadn’t and the perfect symmetry coupled with that charming wooden handle just had me at “hello.” And once I got it home, I found that it still worked and it made fabulous coffee for several years until its vintage circuitry could carry on no longer. Now if you want to read how damn good the coffee is from one of these, I covered that previously here.
Once the pot stopped working, I could find no one who had any idea how to fix it and everybody was pretty much using Mr. Coffee’s by then (I won’t even get started on that, but believe me, I will have to have my say sometime). So my sweet percolator was relegated to decorator shelf and novelty item discussion. For decades, I kept my eyes out for another such coffee pot at garage sales, antique malls, used goods shops and along the way, I picked up other old model percolators which eventually evolved into a collecting hobby of sorts, but none of them – none of them that I could find – were spherically shaped, and sadly, none could replicate the taste that I remembered and craved.
It was not until the fall of 1996 when my husband and I were visiting my in-laws in New York and we spent a day along the Hudson taking in the fall colors of the palisades and stopping in some small town shop of the aforementioned ilk, that I spotted the medium sized one that you see pictured above. You cannot imagine my thrill – a larger orb, with a spigot instead of a spout, same gleaming chromium, same round glass globe at the top – oh my, oh my! Did I swath this in yards of bubble wrap and every other soft packing material and hand carry it on the plane like it was a newborn – you bet!
The really fun part about this acquisition was that at the time, I was a co-proprietor of a small shop in downtown Waukesha called “By the Light of the Moon”, dedicated to honoring and acknowledging the cyclical nature of female embodiment with an inventory of books, music and nurture items focused on feminine spirituality and wisdom. We had a cozy sitting area in which we served complimentary coffee and tea to all who entered. How perfect could this coffee pot be in such a setting? (We were a little ahead of the curve as far as providing cozy seating and beverages – Barnes and Noble was just building its first store in the area and it never occurred to us – no I shouldn’t say that – we weren’t entrepreneurial enough to charge for the coffee and tea.) But still, the coffee pot was perfect! Sadly, our little enterprise only lasted 2 more years.
Now it may seem really obvious to you that these two pots would be related by manufacturer. For some reason, I never made that connection. My vintage coffee pot collecting continued in the same hap hazard manner as it had been, with no further luck spotting or acquiring any other globe shaped coffee pots. From time to time, I would describe in detail, my first little treasure to someone I thought might have a clue, to no avail. It wasn’t until the early spring of 2007, that an empathetic antique store owner thought to ask if I had ever googled the name of the manufacturer. Well I had never even thought to look for a name of a manufacturer – some collector am I! Back home, I scoured the surface of my first coffee pot love and etched on the bottom, legible with a magnifying glass was the name Manning Bowman. Well I wondered whom might be the manufacturer of my other globe pot and I went to look … there is Manning Bowman etched right there on the spigot! I’ll be damned. Googling led me to the Pandora’s box of ebay and there lo and behold did I find an image of my first little round coffee pot, as well as, many other gleaming models by Manning Bowman.
I now have a total of four the smallest round pots with wooden handles in my home – only one functioning (I have been sipping a steaming black brew from it all during this writing). I have acquired and gifted two others to friends, trading parts between the several that I have to get them functioning. One of the recipients, my dear friend and former neighbor David, refers to his as “the diving bell” pot and he has featured it in posts on his own blog (Waukesha Sewer Raccoon News) several times. On another forum where I post, a fellow blogger has given me hope of eventually restoring all to functioning state by virtue of the potential know-how of her electrical engineer husband. I personally have non-existent mechanical aptitude, but it does just seem to me that there must be some technology available to keep heat going to the metal of those early electrical appliances. I’ll keep you posted on that.
The third pot of this featured trio, another globe, and of even larger capacity than the first two came into my possession via ebay. I couldn’t resist the orange Bakelite. I have, at least for the time being, bypassed the acquisition of matching creamer and sugar set with same round orange Bakelite handles that appear on the spigot, but I wouldn’t mind to own a pair some day. I have a book on Art Deco Chrome which pictures this pot and values it from $175-250 – pretty sure that I paid between $40 – 60. I know that I purchased a second one in that price range and gifted to one of my brothers for his 50th birthday. I have seen them go for well over $100. Many auctions refer to these pots as being part of Manning Bowman’s “Atomic Pot” line, but I have yet to confirm that as an actual reference from the manufacturer. Other manufacturers made round urns , but the most common I’ve seen are the MB ones. An elderly friend once explained to me that the smallest of these used to be called “breakfast pots” because they only make enough for 2-4 cups of coffee depending on the size of the cups – in other words – just enough for breakfast. The three pots I’ve featured here have three different years of manufacture. The original small “breakfast pot” has a year of 1946, the one I have currently in use is engraved with 1948. The large urn with the orange Bakelite was made in 1951 and the middle size one, the only one with an automatic shut-off and red light, has a manufacture date of 1955.
A vintage ad site proffers this 1949 Manning Bowman Christmas ad. The smallest and the largest of these three pots are featured, retailing for $14.95 and $37.00 respectively. The ad says that the smaller pot makes up to 8 cups, but in my experience they would be very dainty cups, similarly the description for the large pot boasts a production of 32 cups. When I have used my own for parties, it yields about 18 mugs full.
Lastly, I do not intend to sell any of these three pots on ebay – they will be the last to go, if ever!