Mae's Real Stories
Memories for Miriam, Alice, Theo, Delia, Tessa
and anyone else who would like to be here
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Dinosaurs and Mastodons
Dinosaurs, mastodons, American Indians, birds, animals, and the Solar System: you can learn about them all at the museum.
Miriam and Alice looked at the T.Rex and the mastodon skeletons. They looked at the dinosaur lying on his side just as he was when people dug him out of the ground. They looked at the miniature Indian villages, dancers, copper miners, and other scenes. Alice liked seeing the babies and the people preparing pumpkins and acorns to eat when winter came. Miriam was interested in the igloo that the Inuit people built and the other types of Indian homes. They also looked at the real Eskimo clothing and boots made of warm seal skins, and some of the carved faces. They saw a real canoe on top of a museum case, and some Indian pottery.
Then we went to the planetarium to see the voyage of a space ship called Cassini. We saw pictures of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, the moons of Saturn, and its icy rings.
At first, Miriam liked seeing the pictures of the space ship and the planets, but she thought the planetarium show was too long.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Bringing in the New Year
On December 31, we celebrate New Year's Eve. The next day is January 1, and the number of the year changes -- that is, it's a "new" year. Children usually do not celebrate on New Year's Eve. This is a holiday for grownups. A lot of grownups dress up, wear party hats and stuff, stay up very late, and enjoy a grown-up party. At midnight they sing a very sad song called "Auld Lang Syne," which means Old Times Sake in the Scots language. They usually don't sing it sadly, though, they make it sound silly and whiny.
Some people imagine that the New Year is a baby wearing a diaper and the number of the year, and the Old Year is a very old man. This year, the baby is number 2007. Also, some people picture a man called "Father Time." At New Year's people like to think about time passing. Some people make resolutions, which means they promise themselves to do something better in the new year. Maybe they will try harder in school, or try to help their mother more.
Once when Arny, Elaine, and I were children, we decided to get dressed up and celebrate New Year's. We made hats out of newspaper, took a little toy horn and some noisemakers, and went to the neighbors' house to see the neighbor children, whose names were Kay, Chris, and Ann. Their father took our picture. That was the year that went from 1951 to 1952.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Before I went to kindergarten, once I visited Beaumont High School in St.Louis with my father, who taught math. Usually he walked out of our apartment every morning, down the steps, and over to the bus stop, and then in the late afternoon he came back. On the day before Christmas, schools had a half-day of school, so my father said I could go with him and see what he did while he was gone each day. I don't remember the bus ride, but I remember visiting some of his friends and students. I remember what a big building it was, as shown in this photo.
The physics teacher was Mr. Mitchell. He invited me to see his laboratory. He showed me a funny water container. It was made of three or four tubes, attached to a small container at the bottom. One was twisted, one was skinny, and one was fat (I think). When you put water into the top of one tube, the water came up in all the other tubes, and it always stayed the same level. He explained this to me: the shape didn't matter, the water always went up the same amount. He showed me other things too. Everything seemed interesting.
The Spanish teacher was Miss Moreell. She showed me some decorations in her classroom. I knew her already, and she always had interesting things from far-away places where people spoke Spanish. I visited an English teacher named Miss Childs. Then a bell rang. I had to sit still during short classes in my father's classroom.
The last part of that school day was the Christmas assembly in a big auditorium. We sat far in the back. The whole large room became very dark: someone had turned off the lights. On the stage, the school choir sang Christmas songs. They all wore dark choir robes and stood in very straight lines. I only recognized one or two of the songs. I think there was a big Christmas tree on the stage too. I tried to be very quiet and good while they were singing. I liked visiting the Christmas celebration at the school and seeing my father's classroom, the assembly, the other teachers, and the students.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Lighting Hanukkah lamps using oil or candles has been a Jewish tradition for 2100 years. Jewish people have lived in many countries, and artists have chosen designs that they liked for their own time and place. Sometimes people liked to hang their lamps on the wall, and sometimes they liked to place their lamps on a table. In some lamps the candles or oil holders stand up higher than others. Now museums have collections to show all these designs. Here are a few pictures from museum websites.
The above lamp is from about 100 years ago in America. Each candle is held up by a little statue of liberty, to celebrate both the Hanukkah freedom story and the American freedom story.
Friday, December 15, 2006
More Hanukkah Stories
Many books tell the story of the Macabees, who fought for the freedom to celebrate holidays and worship in the way they thought was right. After the Macabees won this war, they wanted to burn lights in the Temple.
They didn't think that they had enough oil to keep the lights burning, but a little bit of oil lasted for eight days and nights. This is why we have eight nights of Hanukkah. A miracle is something that people can't explain. The people said that it was a great miracle that the oil lasted so long. At the right is a picture of an ancient oil lamp like the ones at the time of the Macabees.
To remember the Macabees and the story of the oil that lasted, we light Hanukkah candles for eight nights. One hundred years ago, when my father was born, people did not have electric lights, so they always used oil or candles to light their houses. When my father was a little boy, people made oil lamps for Hanukkah, and burned oil the way that the Macabees did. The picture at the top shows a Hanukkah lamp from Poland a century ago or more.
Here is a picture from a book about Judah Maccabee, the fighter who won the war.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Tomorrow night we will light the first candle for Hanukkah. Every night we light one more candle, and we celebrate by giving each other presents and Hanukkah Gelt
which is either real money or money-shaped candy wrapped in gold or silver-colored foil. We also eat special food: either potato pancakes called latkes, or jelly donuts called sufganiyot. A special top called a dreidel is used to play a Hanukkah game. The reason for celebrating Hanukkah is to remember a real story about a group of people called the Maccabees who fought for freedom more than 2100 years ago. The children in our family have books that tell more of the stories about the history, foods, and customs for celebrating Hanukkah.
Miriam recently wanted to know why most of her friends celebrate Christmas but not Hanukkah. Grandma and Grandpa only celebrate Hanukkah. Miriam and Alice celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.
The reason is that Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, and only a few people in the United States, like Grandma and Grandpa, are Jewish. Most of the time, people who are Jewish do the same things as the rest of the people. They go to the same schools, work together, play on the same sports teams, go to the same ballet classes, and go to birthday parties together. But they have some holidays that are different, and one of them is Hanukkah. It's especially important, because in the United States (and many other countries) everyone can choose what holidays to celebrate. They can make many other choices about what they believe and how they act.
The Maccabees 2100 years ago had a big problem, because the king of their country wouldn't let them make these choices. He wanted to force them to celebrate other people's holidays and believe other things than their Jewish religion. In the 2100 years between then and now, there have been many kings and rulers who also tried to force everyone to be the same, and who stopped Jewish people from having freedom. Hanukkah was always a holiday that made Jewish people remember how important freedom is.
Since Miriam and Alice's other family members aren't Jewish, they get to celebrate both holidays -- Christmas and Hanukkah.
Friday, December 08, 2006
The Public Library
Across the street from my elementary school was the Public Library. Around the library was a beautiful garden with two ornamental ponds where small water lillies grew. One pond was up the hill a little from the other, and some stairs were in between the ponds. In spring and summer the gardens had pretty flowers.
In the winter, the ponds often had a thin layer ice on them. Under the ice was dark-colored water, so the grown-ups always said we shouldn't walk on the ice. Someone I knew did walk on the ice and fall in once. Luckily the ponds were only a little more than knee-deep, but the person who fell in had a very cold walk home.
Sometimes on the way home from school we went the long way and walked through the library's gardens. Sometimes we went into the library to get some books to read. The children's department of the library was on the lower floor, and the grownup department was upstairs. If you were going to the children's department you went in a special door on the side. Grownups went in the front door, on the other side from the gardens. Inside the library, behind a lot of bookcases, was an inside stairway. In the middle of each floor was a big wooden counter.
A librarian sat in the middle of that, and when you picked out some books, you went to this librarian and checked out the books by writing your name on a card. The librarian put the card in a little box and stamped a due-date on a paper inside the book. In libraries now, a computer remembers who has which books, but when I was a child, computers were not yet used for these kinds of work. Everything was done by hand.
In summer, I had to go back to the library really often. When you checked out a book you could keep it for around two weeks, but I would get four books and start reading as soon as I got home. Once I got three Nancy Drew mysteries, and read them all in one afternoon, so I had to go back the very next day. In summer I went to the library every few days. In winter when I had school work, the books might last me the whole two weeks.
Many of the books about the Land of Oz were available in the library. I remember one book where the Scarecrow dug a really deep hole, fell in, and went all the way to China. This was what kids thought would happen if you dug a very deep hole, but of course that is not really how the world works at all, only how things happen in imaginary stories.
I did like the Oz books. After the first author, L.Frank Baum's books, many other authors wrote more books about Dorothy, Glinda the Good, Ozma, the Scarecrow, and all the other characters. I remember one story about a creature called the Gump, which was made of two sofas and a mounted deer or moose head, which was able to fly and carry passengers. Dorothy and her friends rode on the sofas and traveled to somewhere they needed to go.
Magical things happened in Oz, and the characters were usually lucky and guessed what they had to do. Once there was a very bad man, and Dorothy (or another character) realized that if she threw an egg at him, he couldn't do bad things any more. It was similar to how Dorothy threw water on the Wicked Witch, or had her house land on the other Witch. Dorothy always came out ok.
Besides the Oz books and the Nancy Drew mysteries, the library had lots and lots of other books, and I enjoyed getting them out and reading them. Not far from the library were the City Hall and the Police and Fire Stations, but I do not remember ever going to any of those places.
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