In this collection of stories and verse, share in the joys, troubles, and sorrows that life brought to her and her family. The stressful news of the world interrupted daily life only in brief segments on the radio. Ain recalls a simple, four-room schoolhouse with six grades that offered exceptional opportunities for young minds and spirits.
In My Roots and Blossoms, you will follow a precocious little girl through the Great Depression during the 1930s, as she finds the inspiration, creativity, courage, faith, and ambition that eventually shape her entire life.
This charming collection of remembrances, poetry, and memories of years past will charm young and old alike.
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Read an Excerpt
My Roots & Blossomsin Chapter and Verse
By DIANTHA AIN
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Diantha Ain
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe House O'Four Winds
* * *
"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." Charles Dickens undoubtedly had good reasons for describing his times like that, and I feel the same way about the 1930s. The United States was feeling the brunt of the Great Depression in 1933, but I had some of the happiest, most adventurous times of my life. That was the year our family moved from Middletown, New York, where I was born, to Colonia, New Jersey, into my grandmother's twenty-two room house, which she called The House O'Four Winds.
It was a stately two-story home of brown, weathered shingles. It looked like it had been there forever. A huge roofed terrace went off the living room to the left, and a smaller building adjoined the house on the opposite end. The front entrance had a roof that offered visitors shade or protection from seasonal changes in the weather and caught any moisture that might fall from the main roof, which sloped toward the front of the house. Its huge expanse was only broken by the chimney that served the fireplace in my grandfather's library.
My grandparents had the house built in 1907, and it was designed for them to entertain large numbers of friends and business associates, and to host community activities, which they did for many years. My grandfather, Frank A. Pattison, and his brother Charles were two of Rutgers College's earliest graduate electrical engineers. My grandfather graduated with high honors and a Phi Beta Kappa key in 1887. They had an extremely successful engineering company, Pattison Brothers, in New York City. They were busy electrifying many of the important buildings and homes going up in the area at that time. My grandparents lived in New York City until their home in Colonia was completed.
My grandfather had retired from his business by the time we arrived, but my grandmother still busied herself with political, social, educational, and community activities. Their son, who became my father, was an architect and builder. He was planning a development of custom English Tudor and Normandy-Provincial homes in Colonia. My mother was his "girl Friday," doing whatever needed to be done to assist him, so my brother Munn and I learned initiative at very early ages. It was a time when children were expected to be seen and not heard, which was easy to do in such an expansive environment.
My curious nature was fed with a big spoon. There was so much to see and do inside the enormous house or outside in my grandfather's well-manicured yard. I was never bored. From the terrace adjoining my bedroom, I had a full view of the carefully landscaped backyard and the coach house. There was a tall, thick brier hedge separating it from our play area that I discovered to be an excellent hiding place, but the thing that impressed me most was the enormous circle of lily of the valley. When they blossomed in the spring, they immediately became of my favorite flowers, and the whole park-like setting became a playground for my brother and me with lots of trees to climb.
A long horseshoe driveway led from the street to the front entrance of the house. Bordering its far sides were full grown chestnut trees that seemed to greet people as they arrived. Between the drives was a sea of green grass. My brother Munn learned to hit golf balls down the length of it, and I can vividly remember getting hit in the back of the head with one of them. At the top of the loop, two enormous decorative planters stood like sentries on either side of the flat porch area that set off the elegant front entrance. My grandfather had made the planters from wood, concrete, and floral Volkmar tiles. They made a powerful statement to all who passed between.
Munn and I liked to climb the old cherry tree to the left of the entryway. It was a good place for us to see and not be seen as people came and went. That was how we learned that our father had pneumonia. We knew something was wrong, but everyone was too busy to tell us what. From our high perch in the cherry tree, we overheard the doctor exchanging instructions with good-byes. Fortunately, my father got better without benefit of hospital or antibiotics, which hadn't been discovered yet.
When he regained his strength and energy, he took on the project of turning my grandfather's Ford Model A coupe into a pickup truck to use for his housing development. He removed the rumble seat area and fitted a truck bed in its place. He may have had a helper who was experienced with cars and trucks, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did it all by himself. It certainly couldn't be any more complicated than building a whole house. He had laid a tile floor at age eleven and helped to build a mahogany twin bed set in his teens, so at thirty, for him to do a truck transformation certainly seems plausible to me. It was painted fire-engine red, and in my memory, it was outstandingly beautiful.
My grandmother, Mary Pattison, filled her home with a collection of beautiful furnishings and objets d'art from all around the world. Munn and I quickly learned the concept of "Look, but don't touch." All those precious things necessarily limited the rooms where we were allowed to spend much time, so I cannot share descriptions of all twenty-two rooms in the house.
One of my most vivid memories wasn't even in the house proper. It was a well on the covered porch of the small adjoining house. It was like a separate maid's quarters, which was called The Maisonette. My grandmother liked to christen the important buildings and people in her life with special names.
In 1909 my grandmother was serving as President of the State Federation of Women. She permitted the group to set up the New Jersey Housekeeping Experimental Station in The Maisonette. For a year or more, people came from all over the country to see how kitchens could be made more attractive and housework made easier with the use of electricity and other practical methods. Of course, I knew nothing of all that history when I was enjoying the coldest, sweetest water I had ever tasted from the well on the porch of The Maisonette. The history came to me many years later when I read the book my grandmother wrote in 1911, Principles of Domestic Engineering, which covered the entire experiment in elaborate detail.
In the main house, my grandfather's library was everybody's favorite place in the evenings, especially when a fire was roaring in the fireplace. The walls were lined with books, and conversations were always lively, or we all would be listening to the radio. It was a cozier room than most and considerably smaller than the foyer that led to it. From the front door, the foyer launched a broad staircase that led to the second floor, and to its left side was an archway into the living room. Oriental rugs were everywhere, and my grandmother had a giant Hoover vacuum cleaner to keep them all in mint condition.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland, stepping through one looking glass after another, discovering new and exciting things to see and do nearly every day. I even found a friend living in the house across the street, Marcia Kimball. She was a little younger than I was, but she was a delightful change from my brother. We could play "girl games," and her mother would serve us lunch on a little table in their back yard with the most delicious eggnog I ever remember drinking.
My grandma's ancient Hoover
was a choo-choo train for me,
while my modern spiffy model's
just a damned necessity.
Chapter TwoFamily Experiments
* * *
My mother and grandmother were both modern, liberated women at a time when it was frowned upon by many in society. They kept up with all the latest ideas for improving oneself personally, socially, professionally, and artistically. My grandmother never gave up adapting something new into her life, if she felt it would be an asset. She wrote a biographical fifty-year history, Colonia Yesterday, in her eightieth year under the pseudonym of "An Early Resident," and she positively didn't want to be called "Grandma." Her preference was "Umma," and my grandfather was to be "Umpa." Always.
My mother was more interested in enjoying what was currently popular and available. She was attractive, stylish, and outgoing. She always kept herself nicely attired, from her carefully made up face to the toes of her fashionable high heels. As my father's sales representative, she was always prepared to meet an interested buyer. Her regimen included getting a permanent or set for her hair and a manicure.
She would take me to the beauty parlor with her sometimes. I'm certain my fringe-like hair must have caught the attention of the beautician. While it was a lovely brunette color, it was so thin and fine and straight, you could see almost as much of my scalp as you could see hair. All my life, my mother referred to it as my "six hairs." I'm not sure it was that particular beautician who was the villain, but someone (it's just as well I've never learned who) suggested to my mother that if she shaved off my hair, it would come in thicker and more beautiful. At not-quite-four years old, I don't believe anyone asked me about it.
One day, in the relaxed atmosphere of my grandmother's house, the grand experiment began. My mother cornered me with tools in hand and shaved me bald. One would think that was enough of an insult, but no. She then proceeded to march me into my grandfather's beautiful backyard, where a shiny mirror ball rested atop a concrete pedestal. Then she took photographs for posterity. Were it not for them, perhaps I might have forgotten the whole dreadful incident. It was the photographs in my baby book with a sad, dissenting scowl on my face that gave me a lifetime memory to match that awful experience.
When I got a few years older, it was decided I should get a permanent wave to make my hair look thicker, but that left me with a permanent scar on the back of my head instead. At that time, they used electrified curlers that hung from above. When I felt one curler burning my head, I pointed to the place it hurt, but I think the beautician took out most of the other curlers before she got to the culprit. Beauty parlors have never been the answer for my unfortunate hair. Hats have done a much better job over the years.
My grandmother's experiment, at about the same time as the shaving, left me with a much more pleasant memory. In conjunction with her support of education at all levels, she helped the New Jersey College for Women establish a preschool in her coach house, and I was one of the lucky kids to attend. The college provided the management and staff. They believed that dramatic presentations created much more interest for children, whether storytelling or playing. They blended that philosophy into all of our activities. I'm sure it must have planted the seeds of creativity in me that eventually led me into studying the dramatic arts. But it was my grandmother who nurtured those sprouts at every level, poetically, musically, and dramatically right into my adulthood. I think I have proved to be one of her finest experiments.
My father built miniature director's chairs with wooden arms and canvas seats for all the preschool children to sit on for instruction and story times. He also cut oodles of wooden blocks in different shapes and varnished them, so we could build whatever our imaginations demanded. We also had a playhouse in the shape of a little store. There was a door at the front to enter and a rather large opening on one side of the store with a counter, where we could pretend to serve customers. Manufacturers at that time offered tiny sample boxes of their products, so the shelves were stocked with all kinds of familiar names. We could choose to be the shopper or the storekeeper, and I don't remember too many struggles for either position. They were both fun.
Since my brother was eighteen months older than I, he had started first grade at Colonia School and didn't get to enjoy the preschool with me. My turn in first grade would come the next year, but that seemed like a long time in the future.
My hair was never pretty;
it was thin and very fine.
It was not my "crowning glory,"
but every strand was mine.
I was three or four years old,
a quiet little girl.
My wispy locks hung straight as string,
without a single curl.
Some busybody told my mom
a scheme to make it thick.
There were no guarantees, of course;
'twas just a wicked trick!
They shaved my head of every hair,
and then, what's worst of all,
they took my picture standing
by a shiny silver ball.
My sad brown eyes and wretched scowl
could tell you at a glance ...
I'd have done the same darned thing to them
if I'd only had the chance.
Chapter ThreeReal Dolls
* * *
I was just four and a half years old when the Dionne quintuplets were born in Canada on May 28, 1934. It was almost like a miracle. Never before had five identical baby girls ever survived the birth experience, and the news excited people all around the world. The babies were named Marie, Cécile, Annette, Yvonne, and Emilie.
Since the media were far more limited in those years, news traveled much more slowly than it does today on the Internet, and often, details were lost in its journey. Radio and telephone were probably the quickest means for contact, but not everyone had one, and even fewer people read newspapers. Fortunately, my grandparents enjoyed all of them, so we soon learned all the details.
I'm sure the prayers of people around the world helped the frailest of the five win her fight for life, but almost immediately, the Canadian government took over the care of the quintuplets to insure their well-being. At least, that was the premise. Sadly, as it turned out, the girls were raised by a series of nurses and doctors in a hospital/laboratory setting, while others made millions of dollars in profits manufacturing by-products. Their lives were far removed from normal. They were put on display like freaks in a circus side show. Their family life was nil. Emilie, the frail one, only lived for twenty years.
But their birth brought great joy to me! For my fifth birthday, I received a charming little wicker perambulator with five baby dolls sitting in it. They were each dressed in a different pastel color. The carriage section was very close to the ground, but the long wicker handle stretched all the way up to my waist. I remember pushing my little quintuplets all over my grandmother's big house. My mother taught me their names (which I've never forgotten), and I assigned them their colors. I distinctly remember giving Annette yellow and Marie blue, but I'm not so sure about the others.
Dolls have always been an important part of my life. I never felt alone if I had one of my dolls with me. My first doll wore a snow suit with a hat to match. Her name was Suity. She was a plump, rounded baby doll, and my devotion to her nearly wore out her suit.
My Shirley Temple doll arrived on the scene a couple of years later for Christmas. She stood more than a foot tall and had quite an extensive wardrobe, which included dresses, a white fur coat with a hat to match, and a raincoat. Her dresses were tiny copies of the ones the real Shirley Temple wore in her movies. Since my mother loved to go to the movies, I was lucky enough to see almost every picture she ever made. Her talents were phenomenal for such a young child and definitely an inspiration for me.
One of my "mostly for show" dolls was my Princess Elizabeth doll. The real Princess Elizabeth was close to my brother's age and lived in England. She was destined to become the Queen of England. Her sister, Princess Margaret, was closer to my age. My princess doll wore a long white taffeta dress with a red velvet cape that was decorated with little white furry tails, made to look like ermine. On her head she wore a sparkling tiara. I may have removed her cape or tiara, but I don't remember ever taking off her dress. After all, she was a princess.
But the doll I played with the most was somewhat smaller than Shirley. I think her name was Carol Landis, not that I ever called her that. She arrived at Christmas, too, in a little standing trunk with a handle on top, complete with special places for all her paraphernalia. I could take her almost any place I happened to be going, which I did quite often. We spent many happy hours together, indoors or out under a tree in Umma's back yard.
Excerpted from My Roots & Blossoms by DIANTHA AIN Copyright © 2011 by Diantha Ain. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsI The House O'Four Winds....................1
II Family Experiments....................7
III Real Dolls....................11
IV My First Alma Mater....................14
V Extracurricular Activities....................19
VI Model Kids....................24
VII Fun and Games....................28
VIII I Believe in Santa Claus....................33
IX It's All Relative....................38
X Let It Snow....................43
XI Bad Things Happen....................47
XII Comings and Goings....................51
XIII A Stitch in Time....................56
XIV Eight Was Great....................62
XV Welcome 1938....................68
XVI Winter Wiles....................72
XVII Easter Time....................76
XVIII Taking a Dive....................81
XIX Stay Tuned....................85
XX Making Music....................90
XXI Stepping Out....................94
XXII The Thorns of Guilt....................100
XXIII On the Move Again....................105
XXIV The New Kids....................110
XXV Making a Mark....................114
XXVI Carrying On....................120
XXVII Sum and Substance....................126
XXVIII Dreams Come True....................133