Saturday, August 06, 2016

Cryptoquotes, matchbook covers, and where the puzzles went: A remembrance on the occasion of their son's birthday

In the garage on his workbench, Lucille stacked his to-dos. There were the crossword puzzles and cryptoquotes she saved for Stanley while he recovered from joint or pacemaker replacements. The saving stopped the morning after he went by ambulance to Sierra. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while his aide dressed and attended to his feet.

He loved a well-ordered garage and puzzles of all kinds. Lucille secured Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens magazines tied with twine into neat bundles. The inside of the pantry door held neat paper bags saved from the commissary. The magazines were worthy of safekeeping because they contained interesting knitting patterns and recipes. Each side to the marriage reflected a life of service, whether to family, church, or country in an orderly way. His was of service in the Army, at work in telemetry at WSMR, and at the VFW hall having beers with his sons. He taught them how to care for the home and vehicles. He propagated geraniums for school fundraisers, and stood guard with fellow Knights of Columbus for the departed faithful (also known as the
"Knights of Columbo" by one particular granddaughter). Lucille’s service was keeping the home, sewing prom dresses, presiding as deanery president, baking for church and school fundraising bazaars, and crocheting and knitting afghans and sweaters that we all still use and wear. The warmth of Lucille's skills remains scattered across the Pacific to Hawaii, up north to Minnesota and Colorado, across the country to Brooklyn, with many remaining here in El Paso.

Next to the workbench on Skyline in Northeast El Paso, a funky pine nightstand once stood. The small chest had three deep drawers. One drawer held a plastic bag of matchbooks, acrylic 3-D puzzles popular during the 70s, a Rubric’s Cube™, and a small green cover with "Bridge"  embossed in gold script to hold score pads. The matchbooks were the kind restaurants and bars once given freely to customers. Another drawer held cassette tapes of Big Band music Stanley had recorded. He played the tapes on a small cassette player kept on top of the bench. Part of a bedroom set used by more than one child, the nightstand now sits, stripped of lavender paint, and next to a small teak desk in our bedroom. We kept one puzzle we liked best along with the often-solved Rubric's Cube™, and the matchbook collection. A favorite matchbook is from The Iron Tender where VED once worked. It was well-known for its steak soup. Before the steakhouse closed, a family friend appealed to the newspaper to reprint its recipe and that clipping how holds a place of honor on the kitchen bulletin board.

Recycled newspaper rubber bands help keep the clear acrylic puzzles fixed and complete until they dried out and failed. Elastic rubber band pieces collected at bottom of the drawer—short, pale green worms. Miraculously, the puzzles continued to remain solved and refused to fall apart in solidarity for the five years between their deaths. In one case, however, masking tape continues holding our favorite puzzle together—a diabolical apple. Except for the transparent fruit, all the puzzles went to the originally named Crisis Nursery for its thrift shop.

Founded by Mary Russell around 1977, I recall her first appeal for support. Since it was after Fr. Vonder Haar's sermon, it must have happened anytime excepting summer. That priest never could give sermons as he feigned an aversion to the heat for the parishioners. But we knew better—he being from a wealthy Philadelphia St. Louis family. He kept a large number of parakeets in the parish front office, and co-officiated my parent’s wedding at Cristo Rey in Smeltertown. He instructed, baptized, and confirmed my father.

But on that cool Sunday, morning after his sermon, Mrs. Russell began her appeal by explaining that there was a need in the community for a nursery. The need was both great and personal for her—a grandchild was blinded in one eye due to child abuse. She explained that a child crisis nursery acts as a go between for emergency after hours care, how the children and infants would be found and accepted into temporary care. She next asked for both monetary and volunteer help.

Blessed Sacrament Church and the diocese lent use of a house that had long been used for storage. It was around the corner nearer to the parish grade school. A standout memory was how an old donated buffet held diaper, baby bottle supplies, blankets, and onesies. I used to volunteer after mass on Sundays and initially took Michaela with me to play with the toddlers and babies being cared for over the weekend until they could be transferred to Child Protective Services. That was the case, until Mary told us that a recent child was found to have lice. Perhaps it would be best that we kept our children home while we volunteered, she suggested.

Since it first opened that year and thereafter to its new constructed facility on Stevens, it sadly has never gone vacant. However, children remain safe, and over time, many uninitiated parents have been allowed short respite. Mrs. Russell, as my in-laws and parents, were children of the Great Depression. In them was instilled the life of service, daily acts of faith, decency, and love for family and country. 

Sometimes you need to get away from it all.

And sometimes, it's time to return and be part of the larger world.  Between the first of 2023 and February 14, I painted many watercolo...