MORE ON WARSAW

PHOTO: View of a small museum from our apartment on Observatorow

 

EXCERPTS FROM A LETTER TO FRIENDS DATED DECEMBER 2, 1989

We get mail that comes to us through the American Embassy. If we wait until we’re home (to open it), we make a pot of tea, then sit with our feet up and relish every word.

Our life here can be described as a set of small victories. I have begun to feel as if I’m digging for Herkimer diamonds and find small (and large) perfect jewels. The hall of the opera house is lovely with great crystal chandeliers made in Poland. It has a huge stage canted uphill for a true life-like effect and the possibility of nearly any stage effect including someone jumping from a suspended bridge into the water.

At another concert hall we saw Garrick Olson, an American pianist born in White Plains, New York, who won the Chopin competition here in 1970. He played to a standing room only audience who called him back for encores several times. While I had not heard of him, the Poles certainly had and love him. He was excellent. On December 8 we have tickets to a symphony concert to hear Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, which I’m looking forward to.

I have been teaching English to a group of novitiates of Mother Theresa’s order. I will not go back now until January when I expect here will be a totally new group of girls. They impress me. They thoroughly enjoy life together. Mother Theresa believes in laughter. While these girls are very serious about learning English, they giggle and share silly things that have happened to them.

In addition, I’m singing in a choir led by an American expat. It consists mostly of Poles, so 98 percent of the instruction is in Polish, which I miss. I can understand the letters, so I usually know where we are. We sang Mozart’s Requiem. It was a thrill to be a part of it.

Shopping  produces jewels. I found a lovely plaid skirt, a blouse, and a sweater for 174,500 zlotys, translated is about $25. Clothing appears in strange places as do odds and ends one needs–Crest in local news stand, or slippers in an underground cross walk. I have also been able to get great haircuts just up the hill from our house for the equivalent of 75 cents.

Enough for now, another chapter to come later.

 

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DRINDL SKIRTS

I am nearly finished editing a historical novel for middle grade children. I deleted one large section  because I felt it slowed down the story.  Here is the first part of that section. . . a dirndl skirt is one which is gathered on a waistband. So here is the deleted section in two parts. What do you think?

After dinner when the girls sat together in the Adirondack chair reading, Aunt Belle came out and sat down on the edge of the porch. “I think it’s time you girls learn to sew. How would you each like to make a dirndl skirt to wear to school?”

“Could we do that?” the Sally and Jeanne said in unison.

Jeanne had never thought of making something to wear instead of buying it.

“Sure. I’ll teach you to use the sewing machine and help you,” Aunt Belle said.

“My mother has a sewing machine,” Jeanne said. “But she doesn’t use it much.”

“The milk check came today. Tomorrow we’ll go to town and pick out some material.” Aunt Belle stood up. “You can practice sewing a straight line on the machine today. I’ve got some old cloth you can use.”

Inside, Aunt Belle removed the dresser scarf that covered what looked like a small desk with drawers on each side of its iron frame. At the bottom was a metal grid that Jeanne knew you had to pedal to make the machine work. Her mother’s sewing machine was like this one.

Aunt Belle unfolded the wooden top to make a work surface. From underneath, she reached into the middle of the exposed center and lifted the sewing machine so it sat up over the treadle.

She pulled a chair up to the machine and reached into one of drawers for a spool of white thread. “I’m going to thread the machine so you can practice stitching.” She squinted at the needle, poked the thread through it, and pulled out several inches of thread. Next she removed the metal plate under the needle and pulled out the bobbin to check that it had enough thread on it.

Jeanne watched amazed. Her mother always had trouble getting the machine threaded. Aunt Belle had done it in just a couple of moments. “You do that so fast!”

“It comes with practice.” Aunt Belle now ripped one of Uncle John’s worn out tan work shirts in several pieces. She showed them how to steer the material under the sewing machine’s foot as her feet went up and down on the sewing machine’s treadle. “Make sure you keep your fingers away from the needle. That can hurt!”

“Can I try?” Jeanne looked at Aunt Belle.

“Yes, you may.”

Aunt Belle made it look easy, but remembering to keep her feet going at the same time she steered the fabric under the needle was difficult. If she pedaled too fast, she didn’t go straight, but when she forgot, the machine stopped.

Then it was Sally’s turn. She had to sit on the very edge of the chair to reach the treadle. Even though Sally had tried it before, her stitching was not perfect.

“I’m going to leave you girls to practice, but be careful. I’m going upstairs for a little nap.”

They spent an hour taking turns and watching one another.

“Don’t put your fingers in front of the needle!” Jeanne warned Sally when her fingers got close.

“Keep pedaling.” Sally told Jeanne. “It’s a little like playing the piano, you have to keep going at the same tempo all the time.”

“What’s tempo?”

“It’s how fast or slow you play.”

“I get it. Like when I run. I can go farther if I run slower.

As they learned to pedal smoothly, their stitching got a little straighter. When Aunt Belle returned, they showed off their efforts. “I think you’re both ready for good material.”

The girls grinned. Slap, slap, shake.

(To Be Continued)       

 

MY MOTHER’S MEMORIES

I found this bit of writing when looking through my mother’s photograph album.

The things I miss and the memories I cherish … .

I am an old lady and this is the day before Easter.

We only had one child, a blond-headed baby girl named Phyllis, who we called Dottie as she was very small.

I miss the first bouquets of spring of a few yellow dandelion and perhaps a violet or two, clutched tight in a grubby little hand and given to me in love to put in a vase.

I also miss the May baskets the neighbor’s children hung on our door, who would come in for ice cream and cake afterwards. Now it seems the children don’t have time for the simple joys of life anymore.

I also miss the country schools and the programs put on in the old country church, and the happy little faces when Santa Claus came in.

These are just a few of the things that take me back many years. They were the good old days when we lived on the farm and you had neighbors who cared about you, and would always help each other out, if needed.

We had lots of hard work, but many pleasant memories, never forgotten.

We have lost many dear friends through out the years and made new ones also, but the memories linger on–never to be forgotten.

Now it’s my turn to be the old lady. I too remember

those days as a child on the farm and the country school.

A CULTURE SHOCK

Note: My husband, Richard and I moved to Warsaw, Poland, where he served as pastor of the Warsaw International Church for four years. One of the first letters I wrote:

18 September 1989

Dear Fran,

I will send a headliner until I have time to cover all the news in depth.

We are here comfortably ensconced in our third floor flat (if you’re British). Yesterday afternoon we moved rugs and furniture around so that it now feels more like ours. Probably if the furniture had been this way to start with, we’d have moved it the other way, but one has to redo any nest to get it feeling right.

Last night we sat in our newly arranged living room with our tea playing Scrabble and the radio playing on a Polish station. It plays very nice music some of the time and sometimes it’s just talk, which we cannot understand, of course, but the voices are pleasant and well-modulated. They may be talking about the music, selling communism, political lectures, talking about great books, or telling jokes.

Shopping here is a major occupation and sometimes a chore, I would guess. I understand that most Polish women spend two hours a day shopping. Tomorrow, I’m to have my first outing at a Polish supermarket. I’m told one must often wait to get a basket or cart. That’s how they control the number of people in the store. Then you must ask for what you want and decide if you want it. Then you are given a slip of paper to take to another person and place to pay for your items.

Saturday, Richard and I went exploring up a major shopping street near us. We finally bought some apples from an older lady on a corner—drops I think that she found. They were cheap. Then we purchased cauliflower, onions, carrots, dried peas, lettuce, tomatoes and some flowers. We got home and figured we’d spent about fifty cents.

Today I bought a large plant, bread rolls and a crystal vase. In all, I spent 17,600 złoty, or about $1.75. I changed $100 bill for 970,000 złoty. It’s a real lesson in a different economic system.

Note: When we left four years later, Poland had gone from a state system to a private system. These amazing prices had gone away. For Polish low wage earners, it was causing problems.

AFTER THE BED IS MADE

 

The decision I must make each day when I rise. What will I do today? Because I’m no longer employed, it is more open than for people who must go to a job each morning. Still there are decisions.

How do I feel? Well? Happy? Tired? Sad? Put upon? The answer to this may choose my clothing for the day. How do I want to appear? Don’t care? Pretty? In charge?

An instance wanting to appear in charge happened to me one day when as an elementary teacher, I was scheduled to meet with parents who had demeaned a teacher at a previous parent-teacher conference.

I chose a skirt and blouse, a blazer, and took high-heeled shoes with me for the interview. Apparently looking professional and believable, those parents agreed with my assessment and offered no negative comment, as they had when the other teacher, dressed in less formal clothing, told them the same thing.  Was it my clothing? I can’t prove it, but I think the formality of my dress changed their attitude.

Think about a particular piece of clothing and why you love or hate it? If you hate it, do you feel grumpy wearing it? If you love it, do you feel happy?

An experiment to try. If you awake tired for some reason, put on something bright and happy—your favorite skirt of slacks. Choose bright colors. If someone says how nice you look, say “Thank you” and smile. I’m willing to bet you won’t feel as tired.

Give it a try!