Thank you for finding That Old House amidst the chaos of the Internet. We are delighted that you are here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Time Travel -- Part Two: The Gift

As I said last week, sometimes time travel whirls you back
to a time you don't even remember forgetting.

That happened to me a few weeks ago, when we had a party here to celebrate our daughter's engagement.
The happy couple at the sculpture garden in Princeton.
My cousin Judy brought me a hostess gift, something from her own home.

After dinner, as the grownups sat around the table in the dining room, I unwrapped Judy's package.

And suddenly I wasn't in my own dining room,
I wasn't my own ancient self.   I wasn't even in New Jersey.

I was in the little town of St. James on Long Island, in the tiny bungalow that belonged
to my mother's mother -- the grandmother we all called Ahmoo -- and I was about 6 years old.
This was the little house my mother and her brother lived in when they had a small chicken farm in the late 1930s.

We were spending our summer vacation there, at the house near the woods,
although Ahmoo was by then in a nursing home.

But I'm wandering away from my point -- Judy's gift.

Which was this:
I recognized them.
Two silhouette pictures, on the reverse side of curved glass, with colored scenes behind them.

I would not have put them on the list of things I remembered from the bungalow.
No . . . 
I remember the big metal heater in the living room, the stairs to the second floor that were so shallow and steep that my sister and I were not allowed to climb them.  I remember hearing Frank Sinatra sing High Hopes on the radio, and discovering the joys of honey and peanut butter on toast, including the knack of putting a little dam of peanut butter around the edge of the toast to corral the honey.

I remember the sleeping arrangements -- my big brothers in the attic, our parents in the only bedroom.
I slept on a cot, and Peggy, only 4, slept on two mohair upholstered club chairs
pushed cushion-to-cushion to make a bed; my mother called it a Thumbelina bed.

Peggy thought she got the Thumbelina bed because she was special . . . not because she was just short.
 So, no, I wouldn't have said that I remember these pictures from the bungalow,
but seeing them there, in front of me, put me right back in that tiny house.
"Turn them over," my cousin said.
And I did.
There was writing on the back.
You know those moments when time stands still?  When you almost, truly, lose your breath?
Yeah, one of those.
In December 1939, my mother -- Tina -- was 18.

Those silhouettes were a Christmas gift from my mother and her brother Marty, to their parents in Brooklyn.  When Ahmoo retired to what was then the country, they hung in the bungalow for years.  Eventually my cousin bought the little cottage -- she lives next door -- and she's kept them safe.

I passed them around the table.  My sister Peggy and my brother Lindy held them, turned them
over, read and re-read the simple message and felt
that thrill of recognition and communication, of connection to family.

They are a sweet glimpse into our Mom's teenage years.
The pictures are such kid things to choose as gifts for parents.
The silhouettes, hobnobbing with a china elephant my Mom bought for ten cents; it's still written on his foot in pencil.
We only ever know our parents in their grownup form; finding a link back
to the kids they were is precious, and a little startling when you aren't expecting it.

Mom left us on January 5, last year.  On January 5, this year, Josh proposed to Alida.
I feel as though Mom found a way to touch us, to be with us, at our celebration of that engagement.

I haven't hung the silhouettes yet.  I can't decide if I should ask Peggy if she wants one,
or if I should keep them together, as they've always been.

I pick the silhouettes up, turn them over to read the back, and think about my Mom,
so young and on her own, on that Christmas so long ago.

Last Thursday, March 31, was her birthday; she would have been 90. 

A belated Happy Birthday, Mom.
You always thought that it was the mothers who should get the presents on a birthday!
I'm sorry I never did that for you, despite all your hinting.

For now, the silhouettes can rest on the mantel, with Mom's elephant and a couple of my own.
And those 79-cent species tulips from Michael's.  My Mom would love those!

Thank you, Judy, for bringing these little treasures to me.

Speaking of treasures, visit Tam at The Gypsy's Corner for Three Or More Tuesday!  Click here!


  1. That is beyond cool. I don't even know what to very cool!

  2. Cass, such a special story and memory you have shared here. I am near tears. I hope the pair of pictures can stay together, it just seems that they should. My dear mother is 90 too, and my dad has been gone for over ten years already. Time just goes way too fast. Thank goodness for the younger generation and the promise of new family members who will inherit these meaningful treasures.

  3. Your story was heartwarming.
    Our memories are so special .

  4. That feeling is a powerful one isn't it. It is funny what we forget about until suddenly we see something or smell something that takes us right back to where we came from. Oh some of the gifts I have given my mom.

  5. I love these little frames that means so much to you; The photo of Josh and Alida is beautiful, full of joy and happiness.I am glad for them. Hugs Catherine

  6. What a lovely moment that must have been. You were so fortunate to have been given the glimpse of your mum as a girl. She has such pretty hand writing.

  7. l love the rounded glass too. Share or keep together, they are great.

  8. What treasures -- I think they both should be kept together -- if you want to SHARE with Peggy -- let her have them BOTH for six months and then you have them BOTH For six months -- of course, if you hang them and put NAIL HOLES in the walls -- they really shouldn't go anywhere should they?

  9. That is a beautiful story. I remember having one of those pictures in our home growing up - long gone now. Sweet memories for you. Blessings, Pamela

  10. Such a valuable treasure for you and your family! So proud that you have those great memories in your home... I would definitely keep the pair of them together, but then again I'm just OCD enough to believe that if they've always been that way, they should stay that way!

    Enjoy your memories!

  11. What a sweet story and so nicely told. Wonderful memories!

  12. Lovely story! Isn't it amazing how tangible things can bring back such a flood of memories, feelings, thoughts and smells?

    It is nice to have a glimpse of your pre-grown-up parents also!

  13. What a great, heart-warming story, Cass. How lovely to be transported back to another time with such rich memories. I found a note once from my mom - she must have been a teenager - apologizing to my grandmother for something or other. It was very touching to see her youthful handwriting.

    I'm so glad you have those in your home.


  14. Cass,

    This was one of the best posts I've ever read - "We only ever know our parents in their grownup form; finding a link back to the kids they were is precious, and a little startling when you aren't expecting it." My eyes teared up reading this. At one time this was your mother's entire focus. I imagine she was very pleased with her choice and excited to give the gift to her parents. Have you considered hanging them in the beach house?

    Your Friend,

  15. Oh Cass, I was glued to your story. You should send it in to a magazine. It's beautifully written and enchanting. Truly. I think you should keep the silhouettes together as they've always been. What a precious gift you received. Thanks for sharing your story.


Thank you for visiting That Old House; it's always exciting to find new comments -- they are treasured! Because of increasing spam, I have reluctantly eliminated "Anonymous" commenting. Legitimate anonymous commenters, please forgive me! You might try using "Open ID" instead. Blogger's spam software worked for a good long time, but, sadly, no longer.