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Archive for the ‘Sheep’ Category

This is another in my series of posts discussing the items that appear in the photo in the heading of this blog. After the stick kachina doll and the orange salt shaker, we now move on to the pair of folk art sheep.

Obviously, I collect sheep; and I have a lot more than those that appear in the above photo. That’s just one shelf. This pair I purchased, I believe, about five years ago at a local folk art fair. I like either really realistic-looking sheep or non-cute folk art sheep (nothing nursery-like with eyelashes!), so this pair caught my attention immediately. They’re handmade in the style of German nativity scene sheep that now cost an arm and a leg at antique malls and shows. The standing sheep has a rusty tin star tied around his neck, which adds a nice Americana primitive touch.

This  folk art fair was a nationally sponsored show held each spring and fall at the Sharonville Convention Center just outside of Cincinnati. I really loved that show and attended each season, if I could. Usually I made plans to go on Friday evening, by myself, arriving just after the doors opened around 5 o’clock.

It was rare for me to leave the show without having purchased something, whether for myself or as a gift. For myself, I bought various sheep, needlework supplies and kits (I began rug hooking by purchasing a kit for making folk art hooked ornaments), a loomed throw rug, wax figures and ornaments shaped in old chocolate molds, and other items I can’t even remember. I hovered around certain artists’ displays, mooning over paintings or prints I would love to have purchased but couldn’t really afford, returning every season to look again and again. I kind of regret a couple of purchases I never made.

The last time I attended one of the fairs , the number of vendors was way down. Finally I saw a notice that the folk art fair would no longer be booked at the Sharonville Convention Center , and as far as I know no other community staged it, either. Maybe online sales opportunities whittled away at attendance, and by now hefty gas prices and the tanking economy might have killed it anyhow.

But I really miss attending that show. Yes, I can go online and look for folk art sheep. But it’s not the same as wandering up and down the aisles and having a pair of tiny faces like the ones above peeking at me from a shelf, ingratiatingly suggesting I should adopt them and take them home.

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I was surprised when I found out that everyone doesn’t celebrate The Feast of St. Nicholas. It was common in our neighborhood, with the Catholic kids especially. My mother didn’t know about St. Nicholas until later in childhood when a neighbor introduced her to the holiday (she’s got a great post about that here). I’m glad it all made an impression on her so her children could enjoy the tradition as well.

Both of my parents had always gotten their gifts on Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas morning when they were children, and so our Christmases were celebrated the same way. We kids were fine with that; it was all we knew. To do it the “traditional” way of waking up on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought would have seemed unnatural to us.

That, though, was another reason to relish St. Nicholas Day. It was our opportunity to hang up our stockings and go to sleep excited at the prospect of what morning would bring.

We never had a fireplace, so some of our methods of “hanging” our stockings were inventive. The one I remember as most common was slinging the loop of the stocking over the nail that held the tiebacks to the window curtains. This worked well because it kept the stockings away from the family dog. However, on one of our early St. Nick mornings in East End, we found out that other creatures had been stirring. When one of us pulled a Nestle’s Crunch Bar out of our stocking, Mom and Grandma immediately noticed the foil wrapper had been torn away at the corner.

“Looks like St. Nick tried to eat this one himself,” they said, taking the candy bar away. At the time I didn’t understand that a mouse must have gotten into the stocking (or into the candy before it was distributed to our stockings). I thought it was pretty cheeky of St. Nick to be sampling our Nestle’s Crunch Bars (although I was very grateful to him for the magnet set he’d left me).

Sometime in the 1950s, Grandma Martha bought a cardboard fireplace and mantel. It was made of corrugated cardboard printed with red bricks, and on the chimney there was a Santa face with clock hands attached to his nose. The “fire” was cardboard flames with cutouts covered with red tissue paper. There was a contraption behind the flames consisting of a Christmas tree light bulb and a small tin propeller. The idea was the heat from the bulb would make the propeller spin, and that in turn would cause fluctuations in the light that would make the flames appear to be dancing. It didn’t work at all, but I didn’t care. That was the only “fireplace” we had in the East End house. When Grandma moved to her big gray house in Oakley, which did have a fireplace and a mantle, she passed the cardboard fireplace to us.

I know we used it at least one year, set up in the living room of our Oakley home (which also did not have a real fireplace, much to my exasperation; many of the houses on our street did have them). That year I finally got to hang my stocking up on St. Nicholas Eve on a real fireplace, or as close as I had ever come. Of course, our stockings were so heavy they pulled out the pin or thumbtack that held them to the cardboard mantel, so we came downstairs to discover our bulging stockings lying on their sides on the mantel. (That was the year I got an assortment of ten cent knickknacks from Woolworth’s, which didn’t help.)

The cardboard fireplace didn’t hold together well, and I don’t remember us putting it up much after that first year, if at all. Mom probably got tired of it and put it out for the trash one day. By then it was a stretch to imagine the fireplace was real anyhow.

I live in an apartment now, and I actually made myself a fake mantel out of an unpainted shelf, two supports I nailed together out of standard cut wood from the hardware store, and some old architectural details I’d bought on a whim. I really enjoy my little “fireplace.” I don’t even try to pretend its real; I simply decorate it for each season and enjoy the illusion.

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Note: The hanging pictured at the top of this post is from a design by Kindred Spirits. It combines rug hooking and wool crazy quilt section. As with all my projects, I didn’t plan this out ahead of time. Consequently, I kept running short of red and had to keep ripping sections out and working in other strips of wool in various degrees of red. It came out okay in the end. The hooked Santa now hangs over my mother’s piano each Christmas season.

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 Every Baby Boomer has their story of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

I’m a Boomer as well, so of course I must share my story:

November 22 fell on the Friday before Thanksgiving that year. In grade school we had to sell turkey raffle tickets all through October. Actually, they weren’t tickets; we were given cardstock sheets with numbered lines printed on both sides in two columns. When people bought chances, they paid so much per line and wrote their names and contact information in the numbered spaces. At the end of the selling period, we’d turn in our sheets and our money.

I never really knew how that worked. Did someone fill out tickets from our sheets? Often someone would buy several chances, and instead of repeating their information, they would simply “X” through all the blank lines they were entitled to. I remember the thrill of seeing relatives do this, little dollar signs dancing in my head. Hitting up family at First Communion parties was an October ritual (First Communions were an autumn ceremony then). Sympathetic relatives with cash to spare might X out an entire column of numbered lines.

That Friday before Thanksgiving 1963, the students were being treated to their own festival, starting at lunch time. I was in third grade, and there hadn’t been a kids’ turkey festival the year before, my first at St. Cecilia’s. There was an adult festival over the weekend, with games of chance and the drawing of names for the turkeys, but there was nothing there to interest a child.

One of my favorite lunches at St. Cecilia’s was their fish sandwich on Fridays. Somehow, Mom gave me extra money so I could have two sandwiches that day, which just added to the celebratory spirit. After lunch, we roamed the tables set against the walls of the cafeteria, playing fish pond and ring toss.

I was especially pleased because of a prize I won: a small white plastic mouse with a rubber band mechanism underneath. I could pull the elastic string, set the mouse down, and it would go scurrying. I loved it, and I couldn’t wait to show it to Mom as soon as I got home (even though she hated mice).

I don’t know where my first-grader brother was that day; I have a faint memory of seeing him at the festival, but he probably was running with his own crowd. We could leave whenever we’d had enough of the games (i.e., spent all our money), which was another bonus, so it was early afternoon when I left school. I forget now whether I walked home alone or with my school friends. All I remember is that it was a pleasant autumn afternoon and I was happy.

As I approached our house, my mother came out onto the porch holding my three-year-old brother. I ran to tell her about the festival, but she stopped me cold with the words, “President Kennedy got shot down in Texas.”

This is how a child’s mind works (okay, a child with an unusual imagination): I had a sudden mental image of JFK in a cowboy hat, hands hovering above his holster, ready for a showdown. I was rather indignant, thinking, “Why would the President of the United States get into a gunfight?”

Mom’s stricken face brought me to reality, and we went into the living room where the television was showing the empty banquet room where Kennedy was supposed to have spoken that afternoon. Soon we saw Walter Cronkite make his emotional announcement that the President was dead.

My mother broke down. “That poor woman with those babies!” she wept, cradling my brother. I was in shock. The fact that someone had shot the President as he rode down the street was more surreal to me than my momentary fantasy of JFK failing to outdraw an hombre. Assassination was something we read about in our history books, not something we lived. It was unthinkable that we were now participants in the same tragic drama that the people in Lincoln’s time had experienced when he was shot. I couldn’t get my mind around it.

I wandered up the street to my friend Roseanne’s house. It was common to say “Did you hear…” even when you knew the other person had already heard. “Did you hear about Kennedy?” we asked each other, incredulous.

Roseanne’s mother, with her own baby on her hip, was crying as well. She pulled out a prayer book and found a prayer especially for an assassinated President. As she read it out loud, her voice broke. Later, in the kitchen, she declared, “This is exactly when the Russians could attack us, when we don’t have a leader.” Everyone was always on edge waiting for the Russians to attack. It made sense that this might be as good a time as any.

Roseanne and I wandered off on a walk. We sat at the end of a downhill driveway that ended in a kind of drop-off. It was a mild day. The last leaves were drifting from the branches overhead. We talked about how strange it was, to be living the kind of history we’d only studied in books. We talked with some shame, and a little regret, of a pattycake-type playground chant (Went to Washington in a canoe, went to the White House and saw you-know-who. We–saw–KENNEDY!) and how we couldn’t say that chant anymore.

Wall-to-wall, 24/7 news coverage was a new experience. There was saturated coverage for NASA liftoffs and the like, but that took up a limited part of the day. That November weekend saw a total cessation of anything not related to the assassination. Most radio stations ceased to play popular music; only somber, classical music could be found on the dial. (To this day I associate “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with sitting at the kitchen table the evening of Kennedy’s death.)

It was a long, somber weekend. On Saturday evening there was a memorial Mass at church, which we attended. The parish was debating whether to cancel the adults’ turkey festival out of respect. For some reason, it went on. I forget whether we went on Saturday or Sunday, but I do remember the empty feeling in the school gym, folks milling around with no heart for the proceedings, the rackety sound of the wheels of fortune echoing into the high ceiling.

Jack Ruby shot Oswald shortly after we returned home from Sunday Mass, although we missed seeing it live. We’d been watching a station that wasn’t covering Oswald’s transfer, and suddenly they broke in with a bulletin. It truly seemed the world had gone insane. It was a frightening, confusing spectacle, all the more so because the adults didn’t have any answers, either, and seemed as shaken as the children.

By Monday, life must have been edging back toward normalcy, because I remember watching part of Kennedy’s funeral on the small, snowy black-and-white television at the bowling alley, where my mother was participating in her weekly Mother’s Club league. School had been cancelled for the day and my father was off work from his municipal job. The television was set up behind the counter where bowlers paid for their games and picked out their shoes. I stood with my arms and chin on the glass counter. I couldn’t hear what the announcer was saying, so I just stared at the screen, which was such a fuzzy mix of translucent gray that everyone looked like ghosts.

We’d watched the procession over the weekend as JFK’s caisson was drawn through the streets of Washington. I found the riderless horse with those backward boots in the stirrups positively haunting. My mother pointed out that the rhythmic drumroll was the beat to “Hail to the Chief.”

It was typical of the time that there was immediate talk of sainthood for John F. Kennedy, an American martyr. We schoolchildren knew nothing of his lifestyle, his peccadilloes, the many reasons the Church should not have honored him as a saint, regardless of how he died. We Catholic schoolchildren knew only that the first Catholic President, the one over whom the nuns led us in celebration on election day two years before, had been murdered. And our lives would never be the same.

Note: The sheep box above is something I made from a craft store thin wooden box. The black sheep was actually pried from a napkin ring my mother gave me last fall; she knew I’d like it because the sheep figurine itself was so interesting. I was going to paint it white and antique it, then thought it would be interesting to have an “autumn” sheep box. The box itself is trimmed with antique-looking scrapbook paper, some orange and black crepe paper that used to be the honeycomb limbs of a Halloween witch I’ve had lying around about 20 years, and ribbon trim. The backdrop for the box is a wooden triptych I painted from a pattern about 9 years ago. Naturally, it also has sheep. I used the “poster edges” filter on my imaging software to give the picture more definition.

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hersh_buggy_pumpkins-small-web-view.jpgExcept for shopping (especially at the quilt fabric stores) and eating at the good “home cooking” restaurants, Mom and I have never gotten into the “tourist” aspect of Amish country in the Holmes Co., Ohio area. We never toured a recreated Amish homestead, took a buggy ride in the middle of traffic, or went to an exotic petting zoo.

Last week, though, we were at the Hershberger’s, a produce stand and truck farm, on the same day they were having a “family fun night,” staying open past their usual five o’clock closing time until dark. They had pony rides, a variety of animals to pet and feed, and offered free wagon rides to their enormous pumpkin patch (with the purchase of a pumpkin).

I had my heart set on riding that wagon to the pumpkin patch. Even at four in the afternoon, though, it was blazing hot. I didn’t cotton to the idea of that open wagon under a fierce sun; and Mom didn’t want to ride at all because she has trouble getting in and out of wagons and wasn’t sure what kind of conditions we’d have for seating (a real hayride is impossible for her these days).

We walked around the produce store, inside and outside, admiring the displays of pumpkins, gourds, mums, apples, grapes, chili peppers, and more. We were going to dinner in awhile and resisted the temptation of freshly churned ice cream, and kettle corn right out of the black iron kettle.

We ambled over to look at the animals, including the horses in the huge barn, when I saw a sign offering buggy rides for $4 apiece. The buggy was covered, so we wouldn’t be melting in the sun, and Mom thought maybe she could endure the actual, secure seats of a buggy.

A bearded gent in a wooden ticket booth peered at us from beneath his straw hat and said hello. “Can we get a buggy ride?” I asked.

“Sure you can get a buggy ride!” The gentleman emerged from behind his window to take our money, then turned to unhitch the glistening horse waiting nearby. There was no stool, and the iron step on the buggy was surprisingly high. Mom hoisted herself up, then wavered when the buggy listed on its springs as if it was going to pitch her back out. I had as much trouble climbing up with my short legs and weak back, but at last we had settled ourselves within the narrow, but shady, confines of the buggy.

The elderly gentleman climbed in front. “Come, Dale,” he commanded with a ripple of the reins. “That’s Dale,” he said by way of introduction, and soon we were rolling through the gravel past a large pen of assorted beasts.

“We have some sheep there,” the gent explained in an economical effort at tour guide patter. “There’s some geese. Over there we have a brahma bull.”

Once we rode through the pasture gate and left the menagerie behind, I tried to break the ice by asking about the weather. Everything was so green here, while at home the grass was brown from the drought. “Yeah, we’ve had pretty good rain,” the gent said, relaxing. He sat sideways with his back against the side of the buggy and one knee propped up on the front seat and gave us a thorough accounting of the precipitation in Holmes Co. since the middle of the summer.

He also explained that we’d be detouring through the grass since an electric fence blocked our way onto the usual gravel run. “Have to keep out the goats,” he said, “they’d eat the pumpkins.”

He showed us where the Hershberger farm ended and the Troyer farm began, and related how the goats usually rushed the big wagon because they knew they were going to be fed by the tourists. “They climb right up on the wagon,” he said, chuckling, “but see, they don’t even look up when I go by. They know they’re not going to get anything.”

I enjoyed gazing at the variety of sheep, and asked about the spotted one the gentleman had pointed out earlier as a Jacob’s sheep. “Why is it called that?”

The gentleman hesitated as though turning the matter over in his mind. I thought maybe he didn’t know either, but then he spoke. “Um, there’s the story of Jacob and the spotted sheep in the Bible…”

“Oh, I remember!” I said quickly, groping back to dim memories of Bible history classes in grade school and a reference to the sheep I vaguely recalled from somewhere. I wondered if our buggy driver had seemed uncertain because he was trying to decide the most diplomatic way to explain the Jacob reference to the godless heathen who didn’t know her Bible.

We’d circled back to the pasture gate. Instead of returning us to our departure point, though, the gentleman guided the buggy into the big horse barn. We rattled between the rows of stalls, past a tethered colt so close we could have reached out and petted it. When we emerged into the sunshine, our buggy rolled on around the far end of the produce store, crossing in front between the mountains of pumpkins and parting the crowd of shoppers who were milling around.

“We have lots of pumpkins,” our driver said. “Lots of mums.”

Finally our buggy ride ended. “You’ve got another load waiting,” another bearded man in a straw hat and galluses called to the old gentleman. We thanked him, he thanked us, then he turned his attention to his new passengers while Mom and I executed several gymnastic maneuvers trying to lower ourselves down out of the buggy.

On the way back to the car, I turned and saw Dale drawing the buggy through the pasture, where no doubt the old gentleman was telling his passengers about goats and pumpkins and Jacob’s sheep.

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I don’t know when my love affair with sheep began. It certainly wasn’t a childhood thing. I mean, I saw them at the county fair, but they didn’t impress me that much. I probably paid more attention to the chickens. There weren’t a lot of sheep raised in this part of Ohio, either, so I never saw them out in the fields the way I did cows and horses.

Sometime about 20 years ago, though, sheep suddenly impressed me as aesthetically beautiful, one animal or a grazing flock. It might have had something to do with fantasies of Scotland and Ireland I was entertaining at the time. I remember driving past Shakertown in Kentucky (on the way home from a clogging workshop on Lake Cumberland), looking up and seeing a smattering of sheep on a grassy slope enclosed by a stone wall. I was enchanted (and it probably didn’t hurt that I was listening to a tape of the Scottish band Silly Wizard at the time).

The following May, in 1987, I made my first trip to Ireland. My God — sheep everywhere, even grazing on small patches of grass in the middle of a town. I’m sure it wasn’t long after that that I started seriously accumulating sheep.

As I said, for me there’s this aesthetic appeal about sheep. I love the way they’re shaped, especially their heads. That’s why I like realistic sheep figurines, not cutesy lambsy things with cartoony faces. The primitive style are okay, even though they can be rather mutant-looking. (Some of these creatures I would not want to encounter behind the hedgerows on a dark night!)

As happens with collecting things, each of my sheep has a memory or story associated with it. I’ll share those now and then. In the photo above is a pottery sheep I purchased at the Workshops of David T. Smith  in nearby Morrow, Ohio (if you follow the link, you can see the sheep in the photo under the “Folk Art” section). We were attending one of their summer folk art fairs about 12 years ago. I spotted this figurine on a shelf in their samples shop near the pottery wheels and kiln. I had to have this piece; it evoked fantasies of Colonial-era estates in America or old country houses in Britain. It’s easy to imagine this sheep leading a very different life a century or two ago, rather than being crafted by hand in Warren Co. in the late 20th century.

(I’m hoping to make it to The Country Living Fair at The Workshops of David T. Smith one day next weekend. If you’ve never been to the Workshops site, it’s a gorgeous place, and the fair looks really interesting.)

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