Tar Paper, Lath, & Storm Windows

Ventilation holes on bottom of old storm window...
Every fall, Dad would get the wooden storm windows out of storage in the shed, and swap them out for the screen windows; he did both the downstairs and the second storey.  It was during one of these bi-annual chores, up on a wooden ladder doing an upstairs' window, that the accident happened.

Another winter preparation chore was insulating the foundation with tar paper and lath.  There was even times that windows were additionally covered with plastic and lath. In 1966, during the period when we were still doing this (all the way until 1977 when my folks replaced all the windows), the house was already 60 years old.  My grandparents built it themselves in 1906. It needed some seasonal tender-loving care to cut heating costs and keep us nice and cosy!



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I grew up with people always saying, "Smile", or "Why don't you smile?" or "Things can't be that bad?!" or "It takes more muscles to frown than smile..." And it always bugged me that they'd said those things because I knew inside me there was so much going on I didn't have time to think about what my face was doing, which in most cases wasn't a frown by the way but just a relaxed face.

Like when they would say "Don't shout!" when they thought I was shouting. Shouting?, I thought. "Shouting?", I responded. "This isn't shouting. THIS IS SHOUTING!", as they covered their ears. Meanwhile I was simultaneously angry and laughing inside me - angry because I was sick of hearing that from people ("You talk too loud" or "Your voice carries") and knowing I was just talking - just, talking - but lucky me, I had a "voice that carries".

Anyways, back to smiling and happiness. I would say that there have been moments, maybe even hours or a period of some time, when I felt wonderful, for a variety of reasons, due to circumstances and/or other people's influences or actions in my life, but I never feel overly positive or what I have always imagined happy must mean, or what happy people are as a general rule. I have always had in the pit of my stomach, knots. Sometimes they get tighter, and sometimes they loosen, but they are always there. There is dread in the back of my mind, and I think is there something I should be doing, or doing better. I try to stay busy doing things that make me feel accomplished or needed. I distract myself by escaping into another world with books and TV and films. I write to get the thoughts that are crowding my mind out and onto the page to read and re-read and have them make some sort of sense to me or anyone else that might read them. I cope, distract, and escape. But happy? I don't know anything about happy.


Carpenter's Tool Chest.

A Studley Tool Chest* - a work of art!

My great grandfather was a carpenter.  I don't think he ever had a tool chest as grand as this one.  But he did have one.  I saw the remnants of it in my grandparents' main street home's upstairs.  By the time I went exploring up there, it was becoming like an abandoned building, except that the rest of the house was still quite alive.  But upstairs, there were just cast iron head and foot boards, frames, and open springs (as they did such things from the early 1900s or before), the odd small stand, wall pegs that clothes once hung on, and lots and lots of dusty hardwood floors.

In the top, open landing, right at the head of the stairs, there was a small rocking chair, and a closet of sorts - the only one there was in the whole upstairs - and in that closet were boxes of...books.  It was like finding a treasure chest to a little girl like me who had discovered the joy of reading.  I found out later that those books had belonged to my grandfather, who had been an avid reader all his life, although he didn't always have the time to read.  Those books he had bought and especially cherished had been saved in those boxes. He was a man of letters, although in his actual life he led a much more humble existence.

In the middle bedroom, there was an old chest.  There wasn't anything in it when I looked, except that I discovered a tray of sorts that could be removed so that you could access a good portion of the bottom of the chest.  I learned later that that was where my great grandfather's tool boxes, including the one with the carrying handle, were kept.  I'm not sure why there was a chest like this entirely for packing up tools, but now after all of these years, my theory is that this is what William Fitzgerald - father of my grandmother, father-in-law of my intellectual grandfather - had used to ship his livelihood in when he moved from P.E.I., Canada to St. Vincent, Minnesota, ahead of his bride Elizabeth Clow, in 1881.

I only have three tools of my great grandfather's that once were in the toolbox and the chest - a drawing knife, a small hand awl, and a combination square/mitre/ruler/level.  All of them show signs of much use over many years, long ago.  The wood handles on each one are polished with the sheen of hand oil, of being gripped and used, over and over.  The drawing knife's blade has been hand-sharpened to a perfect edge many times over, so that it is partially worn down, yet quite usable.  The hand awl's gnarled tip is still sharp, and is the best tool I've ever used to start a hole in wood, drywall, or plaster. I remember seeing an old lovely hand plane amongst my Dad's tools, that was part of my great grandfather's originally, that Dad used when he needed one.  I have an awful feeling it was part of my parents' 1998 auction when they broke up housekeeping.  Oh, how I wish I could go back and buy several things that day! Ah, well, I am thankful for what I do have.

* - O. Studley (1838-1925) was an organ and piano maker, carpenter, and mason who worked for the Smith Organ Co., and later for the Poole Piano Company of Quincy, Massachusetts. Born in 1838 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Studley is best known for creating the so-called Studley Tool Chest, a wall hanging tool chest which cunningly holds some 300 tools in a space that takes up about 40 inches by 20 inches of wall space when closed.


Missed Opportunity

Back in the fall of 1977 when I began going to school at NDSU, I was in a room at the Commons with other InterVarsity Christian Fellowship members when a young Arabic man came in, drawn by our singing about God. He began to discuss how he was a Muslim, and as a Muslim, he also respected and loved Jesus. He mentioned some other things and at that time, I was unable to say anything useful or loving, and I have regretted it ever since. But he left us saying as his main message, that we had more in common than we may have realized. I can see now looking back, he was trying to start a discussion, a healthy discussion, but none of us were prepared to engage in such a discussion, which is sad...


Simple, Hard Work

If only it was that simple.

I used to shell peas with my folks as well as Grandma. I miss that. 

I have tried growing a garden all my life and have never had much luck. I have found it to be a LOT of hard work and evidently Mother Nature has it in for me! But I have wonderful memories of our large family garden. 

Mom and Dad made it look so easy...


The Pot

I grew using a chamber pot.  But we just called it 'the pot'.  In fact, once I got a certain age, I was responsible for preparing it for the night, taking it upstairs, and then taking it downstairs and cleaning it in the morning, for re-use that following night.

My mom had me put in chlorine bleach mixed with water every night before taking it upstairs.  You may wonder why we did this. Well, we had no upstairs' bathroom for one thing.  The second thing is I had a lot of problems with my urinary tract system when I was a little girl growing up, plus I was a bed wetter on top of it all. I think Mom may have thought if I had a place to go to the bathroom close to me (right outside my bedroom door) it might help. It didn't - but it was much appreciated anyways rather than running downstairs and across the house to the far corner of the utility room at night in the dark!

Eventually, I stopped wetting the bed, and I had years of respite from urinary tract problems (to return later in life, but that's another story).  Mom and Dad built on and had a new downstairs' bedroom.  I was upstairs alone, a teen...no more pot.

But I have never forgotten sitting way down on the cold rim of that old iron/porcelain pot many a night those many years ago.  At the time, it seemed perfectly normal.  It was the way it was...


Sewing Machine Magic

I don't remember a time when someone in my home wasn't sewing either by hand or by machine. Needlework was integral to our daily lives - making new clothing or other useful household items, repairing them, or adorning them with embroidery.  Needlework extended towards crochet and knitting, as well as quilting.

Part of using a sewing machine was knowing your machine.  My mother taught me how to clean it, and (very importantly) how to oil the machine. Part of that meant knowing how to take the bobbin/shuttle assembly apart and back together again when thread became entangled in that mechanism.

The bobbin/shuttle assembly was always such a mysterious part of the machine, with several interlocking parts.  There is a special way you must thread it, so it will then be picked up by the top needle and brought through the feed, ready to begin sewing a new seam once again.  I had never seen a visual demonstration on how the assembly in action, actually worked...until now.



Radio Interview

Tonight, Christian Cassidy of the West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition, will be interviewing me about the St. Vincent Memories history blog.

In his own words...
...my guests are: Trish Short Lewis of the blog St. Vincent Memories; U of W history prof Dr. Jody Perrun and Susan Algie of the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation. Join me at 7 pm on 101.5 UMFM. Only three episodes left! If you want to listen: Since UMFM can be heard in Winnipeg at 101.5 UMFM but it doesn't go much beyond city limits, people can listen online or, tomorrow there will be a podcast generated. the link will be in a companion post on a blog for this episode.


She has Grandpa's Blue Eyes...

My beautiful daughter Eva, who is so beautiful inside and out. I know I probably vex you on a daily basis, but what's new? I am a very vexing person, although I don't mean to be. I love you deeply, am so proud of you, and continue to wish the very best for you in life...

Compassion, empathy, and love are written on your face. I saw them in you as a little girl, and your capacity for them has only grown as time has passed.