Because this surely is of paramount interest, here’s an update on the bells: You’ll be pleased to know I’m keeping right on schedule.

Actually, I’m ahead of schedule (that’s because I’m approaching this like my job and I’m usually quite efficient when it comes to that). I’ve finished 12 bells: four gold, four silver and four red. I think I’m going to redo the gold bells, however, because they were my initial attempts and they’re not as good as I’d like. The fact that I’m saying this means I truly am my grandmother’s granddaughter and my mother’s daughter, because perfectionism runs deep in those genes.

So, how’s the bell-beading going, you wonder?

It’s going great. After eight weeks, I can now bead one of those babies up in a single evening. That even includes the intermittent breaks I take to do a few rows of knitting whenever I’m bored of beading. Ruth would likely shake her head at such a short attention span, but that’s what today’s required multi-tasking does to the brain.

I’ve adjusted the bell pattern a bit. I’ve also experimented with the monofilament line and beads. Monofilament is actually fish line, and I beefed up the weight of it compared to what Herrschners sent in their kit. Fish line at .0185 diameter thickness (20 lb. test) makes a nicely shaped bell but is still thin enough to fit through those tiny bead openings. And yes, I really need to take up fishing with all these rolls of line I experimented with.

I also wanted to step up the quality of beads. I explored various sources, but, wow, beads are expensive. Thirty-two beads per bell, times 60 bells…I’m back to the cheap, plastic 340-count bags at JoAnn Fabrics, Hobby Lobby or Ben Franklin. I like Ben Franklin, Oconomowoc’s selection best.

And here’s the thing about those beads—they’re migrating everywhere within my house. If any of you were foolish enough to allow your kids BB guns when they were young, you appreciate what I’m saying. Like BBs, these beads show up in the most remote and unexpected places.

Surely they’re breeding and multiplying.

I tried to capture the idea of beads multiplying by photographing them on a mirror. Instead, it turned out rather a mess. Actually, these bells aren’t that beautiful to begin with (it’s a craft from the 1970-80s, don’t forget), so coming up with good settings for them has been rather challenging.

Family Heirlooms

February 18, 2010


My grandmother Ruth, as well as her sister, Charlotte, was big on passing along family heirlooms. Granted, neither of them were exorbitantly wealthy. But over their lifetimes they acquired meaningful items—some of them of quality and value, some of them not so much—and they both were generous in giving them to the next generation.

Along with the heirloom gift, there always came a note.

Ah, those notes! In some ways, they hold more value than the heirloom itself. Sometimes written in a distinct handwriting, or sometimes formally typed (because both women did things very correctly), the notes explain to whom the item once belonged, from where it came and what sentimental value it holds. They contain its history.

Yesterday was my 31st wedding anniversary and I thought of the heirloom gifts I have from my grandmother. I have her silver. I have one of her anniversary rings. I have some furniture pieces, miscellaneous dishes and photographs. And, of course, I have her needlework—table linens, pillowcases, doilies and clothing—all of which are a small representation of her creative life.

I also have the notes.

Thankfully, even in my younger days, I’ve had the foresight to save the notes because they are the heart and soul of my grandmother’s gifts.

I received these pearl earrings from my Great-Aunt Charlotte (Ruth’s sister) and wore them for my wedding. Note the posts – they’re like screws! And thick. I was wearing spacer earrings before spacers were even cool.

Enter George

February 11, 2010

February is the month of love, and it certainly was for Ruth. February is the month George Larson came into her life.

“Grandpa and I met in February of 1929,” wrote my grandmother in a letter to me, dated 1979. “We met when I took a job at C.A. Burnette Co., in Chicago. Grandpa was the bookkeeper and I was the switch board operator.”

Nine months later, on Thanksgiving Eve, they were married.

Who was this George who obviously swept her off her feet? Or perhaps she swept him?

George was originally from northern Indiana—a farm boy, he was. As a teenager, he and his brothers grew pickles (cucumbers) and hauled them into Chicago to sell. As a young man, right after he graduated salutatorian of his Grovertown high school class, he moved to Chicago to look for work.

George had been living in the big city for more than ten years before he met Ruth. In fact, family lore has it he was previously engaged to another woman. Well, thank goodness that didn’t work out!

Ruth was just shy of 20-years-old that February day when she met George. He was almost 30. What began then was a unique relationship that would last the next 54 years.

And beyond.

Handwriting. I love it. It’s one of the things that touches me most as I sort through these old photos and letters. Each distinct style personifies the writer and in its own way brings that individual back to life.

Today, handwriting is a lost art, is it not?

The handwriting in the top photo is Ruth’s. By the look of that smudge, I wonder if she was using a fountain pen? The careful handwriting in white is my Aunt Judith’s, a teacher. And the handwriting in the last photo is my mother Carol’s. With such an obvious backhand, one might assume she was a leftie. Nope, she was not.

Genealogy Junkie

February 4, 2010

“Genealogy junkie” may be a bit of an overstatement. But, even though life-in-the-now commands most of my time, I’ve always had an interest in history. Whether it’s of people in general, or the specific people of my family, I enjoy learning their stories. Because, after all, that’s what history is—a story.

I’m formulating a plan of action for the story on my grandmother, Ruth. I’m being very scheduled and very orderly, because that’s how I strive to operate in my work life. The effort ends there, however. My personal life is hardly orderly, and as I dig out the random family history notes, photos, newspaper clippings and obituaries I’ve collected in the past 35 years, I find them all chaotically stuffed into a box. The photos I’ve taken of my husband and kids are the same way. And weren’t we advised to always label and date everything? How did time slip by so fast without me keeping up? Ah, but I digress…

Anyway, due to my recent beading of bells and blogging about Ruth, I’ve reverted back to a state of “genealogy junkie.” I must say, gathering information now is so easy compared to the 1970-80’s. Back then, I would write to people and then wait, and wait, and wait for their response. Talking on the phone was limited because there was this fee called “long distance” (unbeknownst to us nowadays). Now I can just go online and instantly find whatever fact I need.

One of the things I’ve done is set up an ancestry.com database with a family tree for Ruth. It automatically waves a green leaf next to any name that has available ancestry hints. The leaves have pointed me to census reports, ship steerage lists and other fascinating data.

Are you on Ancestry.com? If so, let’s share information.

Looking up news articles is now a breeze, as well. Simply bring up Google News and search a person’s name and a resource, such as a newspaper. I find going into the advanced search is quicker and more direct. Some of the newspapers offer the files for free, like the Owosso Argus Press, where on page 5 of the March 5, 1947, Area News Briefs, we can read that “Mrs. George Larson spent Monday in Fowlerville visiting with Mr. and Mrs. George Lewis.”

Isn’t that cool? (Mrs. George Larson, by the way, is Ruth.)

On the other hand, the Chicago Tribune is much less giving and charges a fee.

But as quick and easy as the internet makes genealogy, it’s no substitute for the actual human exchange of stories. And because I’m Ruth’s granddaughter and am limited to my own subjective view, it’s important to see her through others’ eyes as well.

So please share! Make comments. Correct my facts, when I’m wrong. Add to them, when I’m lacking.

P.S. Also, please share suggestions for archiving those photos, news clippings and such. What’s the best way to mount them, and in what kind of book?