Monday, December 24, 2012

Last Time the Rich Hijacked the Economy - My Father's Story
These are my father's memories of the money woes of the 1930s - caused by the same type of people who are doing it today.
  Most know the movies were silent until the late twenties and that color came to the silver screen in the late thirties, but I doubt they grasp the shock most of us experienced the first time we heard voices from the screen.  What these folks don't understand is how hard it was to come by the 15 or 20 cents required to get in a movie house if one went early in the day - at night the cost might be as high as 35 cents, a staggering amount then for a picture show.  By the time I was scrounging for picture-show money, most workers were fortunate to be making twenty to twenty-five dollars a week, and there were a dozen men for every job.  The thirties were hard times, I can tell you, but for fifteen cents one could dream in a movie and forget the hard times for a while.
If one was laid off at work, there was no unemployment compensation nor job bank to turn to; you were on your own in a non-welfare state.  Until the FDR years, there was no minimum wage law, and you worked for whatever a business was willing to hand out.  These were indeed the 'good old days', but only for a very few.
The economic difference between the twenties and the thirties was almost one of daylight and dark.  Hardly anyone really understood the 'stock market crash of '29', surely not us children, but every home I knew of suffered greatly, and even we kids knew the world had changed indeed.  For adults, the crash and the resulting depression (which forever altered the meaning of the word) was a life or death struggle, and quite a few of them never made it.  My family was more fortunate than many, for, while Dad was out of work for some time, he did land a career job in the Madison Water Works.  The loss of the home on Fairfax was a disaster he never got over.
In the first years of the '30s, I was able to see a host of men and young boys 'riding the rods' as hard-time hoboes.  I had not then heard of Woody Guthrie, but I knew the bad times he wrote about.  Mother fed many of these formerly well off people on the back steps of our home.  They, and the people I saw at the improvised soup-kitchens set up in Centennial Park are still clear in my mind.
And we have people in Congress who would see us like that again.  Raise your voice!   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What My Parents Told Me About Religion in Public Schools
Okay, I've about had enough.  I opened my email today to find this notice from Faithful America:
And speaking live on Fox News, Mike Huckabee said that this shooting happened because "we've systematically removed God from our schools." He added, "Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end, and we wouldn't have to call him to show up when it's all said and done."
These words are an insult to the victims, an embarrassment to sincere Christians, and a dangerous distraction from the national scourge of gun violence. Hateful and unchristian rhetoric like this has no place on a major television news network.
 Going to public school in the 1950s and early 1960s, I was exposed to plenty of prayers, special assembly sermons, and hymns with accompaniment - many of them contrary to what the Church of Christ taught and disturbing to me.  When the same rhetoric started up while my son was in public school, I decided to take a private poll of my parents.  Both went to Nashville Public Schools in the 1920s and 1930s.  Did they have God in school?

My mother recalled an occasional scripture reading and one address by a missionary just returned from China.  She also recalled a teacher stating that all the apostles were Baptists, which made her very angry because she was a Lutheran.  Regular prayers and Bible reading were definitely not part of her schooling.

My father's memories were even odder.  He could recall no scripture reading, public prayers, or religious assemblies that had made any impression on him.  What he did recall was that, when he attended Ransom School in the 1920s, the morning assembly always included singing of "Aurora, Goddess of the Morning".  How this came about, I don't know, but it caused no uproar from either Christian or Jewish students.  (Ransom at this time had a large proportion of Jewish students.)

Actually, I think Religion in School must have finally turned up when we started worrying about Godless Communism.  I remember well that I had just learned the Pledge of Allegiance when Eisenhower added the two new words "under God".  This was just like a grown-up, I thought, changing things when you'd just memorized them!

I was always taught the supreme importance of separation of church and state, and I saw for myself how religious exercises could make difficulties in school.  One year at Jere Baxter, we had Christmas and Easter pageants.  Being of the Church of Christ, I was forbidden to participate in these.  My mother arranged that with the teachers.  I felt cheated, of course - all those costumes!  The next year, no such pageants were presented.  I suspect this was the influence of the ever-vocal Jehovah's Witnesses, whose children attended public schools.

For certain, we have not always had the Bible and piety in public schools. 


Friday, December 14, 2012

Blanche Greene Peay - A Poor Kid in the City
This is my father's mother, a rare portrait taken when she was about 17.  She probably paid for it out of her earnings; she had been working since she was 11.  Most of her earnings went to help out at home.
My great-grandfather Greene worked for the railroad, but he died young at a time when there was no such thing as a pension.  His widow (the lady my father wrote about) was left  with a house, three small children, and her parents to care for.  Great-great-grandfather Greene had made what turned out to be a bad career choice - he was a cobbler.. About halfway through his working life, everybody started buying cheaper factory-made shoes.  He still occasionally got a commission to make a pair of shoes and presumably helped with the heavy household chores men normally do.
Blanche's mother Nettie and her grandmother Parthenia immediately started taking in boarders; plenty of railroad workers wanted a room near their work.  They also took in laundry and sewing - anything to make a few pennies.  The household was so busy that no one noticed when little Blanche, sent out to draw water from the well, let the well handle get away from her.  It hit her on the back of the head and knocked her out.  When she came to, she got up and drew the water.  No one had missed her.
Jessie Allison Gobel was lucky to grow up in the country, where school was part of the agricultural year.  She spent plenty of time chopping weeds, but also got a high school education.  Blanche went to elementary school in the old Falls School Building (now a restored historic monument), but she never got farther than the sixth grade.  Her mother sent her out to work.  At eleven, she was sticking labels on coffee cans for Cheek Neal Coffee Company.  She was so small her fellow workers could put her into a 50 pound coffee bin and close the lid.
There was no such thing in those days as vacation or sick days.  I still have a very courtly letter written to her by one of the company owners at about the time this picture was taken.  He wrote that he understood she had been sick lately, and that she could spend a week convalescing in Franklin (where my grandfather's relatives had a farm) without losing her job.  Everyone appreciated her hard work and good example, he said.  She cherished this letter.
Of course, she met my grandfather, Joseph Baugh Peay, at Cheek Neal; he eventually became their chief coffee roaster.  As was expected, she quit work upon her marriage, and my grandfather took on the responsibility for her mother and her surviving grandfather.
Would you want to live in a world like this?    

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Tale of Jessie Allison Gobel - How It Still Resonates
My maternal grandmother wrote a short account of her life to give her grandchildren some insight on the world in which she had lived.  She was born in a little country town in 1883, so it was hard for us to imagine life in that time and place.  An important part of her story is how ordinary people fared before Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  I will quote her own words:
But alas; the first phase of my life is about to close.  I am seven years old and Ola and I are having lots of fun.  [This would be 1890.]  One day in April, the first to be exact, we were playing under the front porch when we heard a terrific blast.  Blasts were almost everyday occurrences, but this was not the usual, as Pa always gave the signal of "all clear" and sent one of the men to the house to tell Ma to get us inside.  [ David Crockett Allison was supervisor of a road building gang.]  We knew something was wrong.  Ma started down the hill and met men carrying Pa on a stretcher.  One of the buckets of powder [black powder used in blasting] had accidentally been ignited and several men had been killed and some injured.  The doctor from Iuka [Mississippi] said that if he hadn't had a wonderful constitution he would have died instantly.  He lived until the fourth, but never regained consciousness.  It was a sad day for us.  I am sure Pa had never considered the probability of leaving us at the age of thirty-four.  Few men carried life insurance at that time, so we were left not only bereaved but practically penniless.  Uncle Andrew, Pa's younger brother, came from Birmingham to help about the funeral, and Ma's brother John came to accompany us back  to Tennessee to Grandpa's home, after laying Pa to rest in a beautiful cemetery in Iuka [grave donated by his employer, who valued him].  The trip by train would have been an adventure at any other time, but we were all dazed and the goodies Uncle John bought for us on the train didn't taste very good.
For months after our return we were like chickens without a roost.  Everything was so different; but the thing most lacking was Pa's presence.  Understandably, there was a marked change in Ma, too.  Besides her loss she had been suddenly thrust into a home other than her own, with five noisy offspring.  We were made welcome, at least as much as is possible to accept that much change in number in the family. Our grandparents were kind, but we were soon to understand that there were rules and customs to live up to.
 Grandma mentioned life insurance because she later worked in an insurance agency.  I later realized that under the Workers' Compensation Act of 1911 the family would have had some monetary settlement.  Union activity and the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Law would make things much safer for road workers.  For one thing, we no longer use black powder (Civil War gunpowder) for blasting and have regulations about storing and handling blasting materials.
You say government oughtn't to regulate business - yeah, right!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What My Mother Taught Me About Social Security
Mama (Eugenia G. "Bonnie Gene" Gobel Peay 1920-2004) knew all about what it meant to be without income when you were old.  Her maternal grandmother was a frequent guest for months at a time, though Granny Allison preferred to stay with her oldest daughter nearer Nashville.  But she was not the only poor relation who came for long stays.
Mama's family lived in what was then the country (1102 South Graycroft, Madison, TN).  They lived in a wooden house of six cavernous rooms with an outhouse and a farm.  Nobody had much during the Depression, but they always had food, so poorer relatives came and went.  I asked Mama how in the world the family managed to live like that.  "We just fed whoever turned up," she replied.
The relative who impressed her most was her Aunt Ellen (actually the daughter of her great-grandfather).  Aunt Ellen Elmore would come with her trunk, stay a few months, and then go around the rest of the rota of relatives.  She had been born in Eagleville in Rutherford County and had never married.  All the Elmore family possessed sewing skills, and Aunt Ellen had worked as a dressmaker for as long as she could work.  There was no pension.  She was, not unnaturally, a cross and snappish old lady, and Mama was the only person to pay her much mind.  Mama loved to listen to her stories.
In the mid 1930s, Congressman Jo Byrns managed to steer into law a measure that gave Aunt Ellen a small pension, about $7 a month.  When the Congressman came to Nashville, Mama was one of the schoolchildren taken to meet him.  She shook his hand.  When Aunt Ellen found out, she said, "Let me shake the hand that shook the hand of the man that got me my pension."
I still have among the family papers the opened out envelope Aunt Ellen used to write a note to congratulate Mama on her sixth grade graduation.  The note had $1 in it - a touching sum.
Now, imagine being left like that in your declining years, and go call your congressperson.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What My Father Told Me About Social Security
My father, Fulton L. Peay (1919-2001) had very strong opinions on Social Security and Medicare.  These were largely based on his experience as a child with his widowed grandmother living as a member of the household.  He wrote his memoirs of this at my request:
This was before the days of Social Security, and, aside from my father, Nannie had no income at all.  My Dad would not welcome her other children on the place [Note: They did not contribute to her support. CFH], and it was a sad and painful thing to my Nannie, something I learned early on.  I suppose providing her a home and clothing seemed to Dad all he was required to do, and so Nannie had scant walking around money of her own.  One result of this was she learned to write a long letter on what was then a penny postcard, using eyeglasses she bought from the dime store - but she never complained, to my knowledge.  She helped Mother cook, clean house, do the sewing on a machine she could make all but sing (It was a Singer sewing machine).  She nursed me when I was sick and comforted me when I was scared, which was often.  She went to bed with the chickens and rose with the birds all of her life, making the morning coffee which she drank with the steam still rising. 
It is my observation that there really were never any 'good old days', nor a house large enough to hold more than one generation of adults with ease.  I am also happy that true democracy has brought us Social Security and Medicare, and the righteous conservatives may refuse it if they choose and justify their violent opposition both then and now.  There were no 'good old days'.

I will say for my dear Father that, even in the dark days of the Hoover depression, when he and untold thousands were out of work for so long, he never once considered ditching my dear Nannie upon a state which was itself broke and destitute.  In those dark days,  Nannie must have felt her dependency very much, as her other children and their families were as bad off as the rest of us - and there was no one to help.  My Mother's faith in God was solid, and she provided the moral support when she must not have had anything in her but blind faith, and Nannie was ever quietly supportive to me.  Perhaps these dark days were, in a way, their finest hour.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cats and Mirrors

Cats and Mirrors
Since I have two mirrors in my bedroom, I get some interesting cat effects.  I'd get more, of course, if the cats would cooperate, but they usually run off or change position when I come up with the camera.
The two in these pictures often sit like this.  They like to be close together and interact with each other frequently.  Nubi, the long-haired black cat in the lower position, is in no way related to top cat Hollywood.  In a way, they are rivals.  In winter, they often play push-paws for a good position on the bed. Both are neutered males.
I especially like the top picture, where you get three images of Hollywood.  I wish I could have gotten a clearer shot, but cats are lousy models
One reason the two are close is that Hollywood has a large semi-bald patch at the base of his spine.  Since he is otherwise in exuberant health and has a filthy temper, I've no desire
to try to get him  into a carrier to see the vet.  He spends much of the winter under the cover, with Nubi curled up on top of him.  Often the boys sit back to back.
Do they know they are the same color, I wonder?  Do they know how fabulous they look together?   

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Looming for Christmas
I had become disenchanted with knitting boards; casting off was always a giant pain in the neck.  It seemed almost impossible to cast off without dropping stitches.  Still, knitting boards can do two things you can't do with ordinary needles and hooks - circular knitting and double knitting.  I especially wanted to use circular knit to make tote bags, so I got on YouTube.
Never depend completely on the written instructions in the packages, no matter how thorough they seem to be.  Go to YouTube and watch the knitting board videos.  Here you can see the knitting process step by step, with more varieties of knitting than you ever dreamed of!
First, I learned to cast off circular knitting peg by peg, using the working yarn.  I had to watch that video several times to learn it!  Then I learned the crochet method of casting on, shown in detail in the top picture.  Here, I am using a circular board (or loom) to make a Christmas cap.  The crochet cast on method provides a perfect roll-up brim for a cap.
In the lower picture, I am using an extra-large knitting board to make a tote bag.  All I'll have to do is sew up the bottom and add handles to the top!  You will note how the acrylic yarn has rolled up.  To counteract this, I've had to wet block this piece.  (You can also see how to block on YouTube.)  Once it's dry, I'll finish off a very nice Christmas present.  I even plan to throw in a cap to match!
When you use a board for double knit, you do have to cast off as shown in the knitting instruction packet.  I've found it is much easier if you use a crochet hook rather than the yarn tool you've used to complete the project.  You will need to use a small hook; I used a Number 5.
The plastic boards are much easier to use than the wood and metal ones.  For one thing, the plastic pegs have a channel to lift the lower yarn over the peg.  Martha Stewart has a deluxe board set-up you can form into different shapes and place the pegs for different kinds of projects.  This looks like a lot of fun, but it will have to be a Christmas present to the knitter!     

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Son's First Gig with Tennessee Line
My son Lawrence Hill has recently become - to everybody's surprise - a member of the Country group Tennessee Line.  This group, started by Randy Wayne Dallas, also includes Arlene Fowler and features amazingly close harmonies to compliment Randy Wayne's guitar mastery.  The photo above is from their first gig at Ri'chard's Louisiana Cafe, where they performed 14 of Randy Wayne's original songs.
The big surprise here is that I trained Lawrence as I was trained (and as his pianist grandmother was trained) - classically.  My own preference is opera, since it reflects much better than country the types of feelings I've experienced.  Over the years - many times from experiences I've shared with Lawrence - I've learned that many varied types of music are 'real' and valuable.
For me, there are two criteria for a musical experience to be 'real' and worth spending your time on.
  1. The music has to express real feelings somebody somewhere felt sometime.
  2. The performers have to be fully invested in expressing that emotion, involved in the music, and involved with each other. 
An exciting performance only happens when all the musicians feel the music and each other.  Just as hunting dogs know instinctively where all the others are, a musician should become part of a larger whole.  This is the electrifying 'it' that can bring  spontaneous applause.
Tennessee Line has 'it', even if it's not my personally preferred version.  I was especially moved by 'Where Sorrow Goes to Cry', a rather deeper bit of emotion than generally found on the Country circuit.  
I'm so glad Lawrence has this kind of experience.  He got just enough musical experience in school and various choirs to want more of it - and a little chance at the spotlight.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My First Large Embroidery Project
I designed this embroidery piece for a large hoop, using Aunt Martha's Flour Sack Tea Towels by Colonial Patterns, Inc.  (  Several times I have despaired of trying to find a practical use for it.  Who the deleted expletive wants an embroidered tea towel?  You put them out when you have guests and hope they don't actually use them.  The cloth lends itself well to embroidery, though.  I like it better than Aida cloth unless you're having to count the little squares.
I thought of turning the towel into an accent pillow.  This would be doable, but the pillow would be a rather odd shape.  Also, I hadn't positioned the drawing in the precise middle of the cloth.  Had it been in the precise middle, I could have sewn two tea towels together into a pillow.  Still, that's a predominantly white pillow in a dirty world.
Finally I hit on using tote bag blanks, which are inexpensive and readily available.  For numerous reasons, I would not advocate embroidering directly on these tote bags.  You need to be able to see the back of your embroidery, especially if you are using specialty threads that are likely to tangle up.  Also, you don't want to leave the inevitably snarled and knotted back on the inside of the tote where people will be putting things.  Some embroiderers prefer not to use knots; they leave a tail of thread instead of a knot.  They finish by pulling the leftover thread through the back of existent stitches. This method works, but the back of your embroidery will never be pretty - or secure, if somebody can get an object hung in it.
With a tote bag this size (roughly 13" by 13"), I was able to make a complimentary split stitch frame all around the picture.  The picture itself uses every kind of thread I had available - cotton, satin (rayon), acrylic, and the heavier pearl cotton.
Here is some useful art!  Get your creativity going!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Christmas Projects
This month I've been making and writing about craft projects that would make nice Christmas gifts and could be finished in time for Christmas.  I showed an incomplete version of the top one in an earlier post; this is how it turned out.  Working with embroidery and shapes on felt is something even children can have a part of.  I cut out and dressed the cat lady head shot just like I used to cut out paper dolls.  It is easy to attach these little creations to a tote bag blank.  You can find my hobbies articles with step by step guides at

On, I write careful instructions for people with little craft background who would like to make something.  Here I write about the experience and joy of the thing.
The second item is a handmade hosiery bag, a project I came up with out of desperation.  I had bought a couple of balls of 86% bamboo viscose yarn.  As you can see, it's so beautiful and satiny!  It's also very comfortable to crochet with.  There is only one problem - this yarn must be hand washed and dried flat.  What useful small thing could I make with those limitations?  Finally I remembered a crocheted bag I use for my nylons.  That's the ticket!

Of course, a good hosiery bag needs lining, but I had that covered.  Once I bought a lined skirt that didn't fit and saved it for its beautiful fabric.  That ought to be enough lining for a project no more than 13" long!  (The ball I bought contained only 63 yards; bamboo yarn is expensive.)

I hand hemmed and attached the lining; you don't want a sewing machine anywhere around hand crocheted or knitted products.  This made for a rather convoluted set of instructions, and I had to use Paintbrush for my slideshow:

I included the minor tutorial on buttons because so many people don't understand the difference between types.  When I first learned sewing in seventh grade, I was the only one in the class who sewed the flat button on right. - I read the instructions!
These are just small items and small hobbies, but they can make appreciated gifts. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Christmas Cards
These are three Christmas card and accessory designs I've put up at my* store.  I am still struggling to get the proper size image to make the Zazzle products I'd like to.  These pictures are historical Christmas fantasies - one a French shop in the 1820s, and the other two a department store scene from the 1920s.  As always, I'm trying to produce something colorful, eye catching, and amusing.

These two smaller pictures were drawn from a book of old fashioned Christmas cards.  Thank heaven for Dover Publications!  they are always there for anybody interested in art and costume history.

I'd love to see some of these cards being enjoyed by actual people.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Christmas Projects
 These last two weeks I've been dreaming up Christmas projects that can be done relatively easily.  Above is a 4" square tote bag blank.  I decorated it with this Aida cloth embroidery which I did on my 4" by 8" embroidery frame.
 When you use an embroidery frame, the cloth will not slip out (unless you give it a really hard yank).  It does, however, move around a bit when you use standard Aida cloth.  I've begun a new approach to the frame:
This image is made of craft felt and crushed panne velour.  This is sort of my own style, inspired by church banners and religious hangings.  I have used a stencil to draw in some appropriate flower and leaf designs.  These stencils, by the way, are really meant to be painted over, but you can draw around them to get a general idea of what you want.  On a background of light blue felt and placed a cat cutout of tan felt with clothing of panne velour.  As you can see, I am having to satin stitch around the edges of the velour.  Felt is virually the ONLY fabric you can cut up without it raveling.  Velour and fleece do fairly well, but you still need to satin stitch.

As you can see, I'm only partway through this project.  It will go on another of those tote blanks to make a nice Christmas present.  I'll show how it turns out later.  The good news is that the felt holds almost completely still in the frame, so the work is easy.  The satin stitching is in satin (rayon) embroidery thread which will knot up at the slightest opportunity.  Working it on felt has been easier than usual.  I've made large tote bags this way in the past, but right now I'm just trying for quick, unique  projects for Christmas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Embroidery on the No-Slip Hoop!
I honestly didn't believe a no-slip hoop existed!  They are made by Morgan Quality Products of Chanhassen, MN ( and cost more than the average hoop.  But are they ever worth it!  You will note the huge screw and nut apparatus on the side.  That, combined with cleverly molded smooth plastic, makes a hoop that is a joy to work with!
Here is Nubi performing the Cat Test - leaning his weight against the stretched fabric.  It stayed in place!  Hollywood sat on it for some minutes yesterday, but I was on the phone and couldn't get a picture.  You have to get used to this sort of thing with cats.

I designed the picture after Mucha's 'Le Reve', using one of the sack cloth tea towel blanks.  Then I became discouraged.  The hoop I had was old and wouldn't hold the fabric taut, and then there was another problem.  Who the deleted expletive wants a tea towel?  I finally decided to sew the thing together and stuff it as an accent pillow; people actually enjoy those.  A hobby is a lot more satisfying if somebody is likely to enjoy the results.

I've used a full variety of embroidery thread to make this project special - metallic, acrylic, satin (rayon), and cotton, including heavy, single strand pearl cotton.  I even used (ssh!) fine knitting wool.

When I was first learning about knitting threads, I had a chance to buy some baby alpaca.  I'd read about alpaca all my life, so I wanted to try some.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize that 'baby' meant a very thin, fine yarn, also known as 'fingering'.  Obviously, some people knit and crochet with it, but that tiny thread just turns into knots and snarls for me.  It does, however, embroider beautifully and provided me a nice leafy effect.

You can make art with cloth and thread - just make sure it's art somebody would want in their house.