Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Tribute: Capt. Ray Kidd

Captain Raymond O. Kidd.

On this Memorial Day weekend, I thought you might be interested in the story of a World War II officer my father knew. His name was Raymond Kidd and he was an engineer from Bedford, Virginia.

The two men met when their reserve units were activated just before the war. Then, they roomed together on the ship that took them to a "secret destination" in March 1942. Though Kidd was a few years older, the two young men from the South had a lot in common. They were both quiet, studious, Presbyterian, non-smoking teetotalers. Ray had dark red hair and a Cary Grant cleft in his chin.

My father is standing at right in this wartime photo: Capt. Ray Kidd is standing at center. I think this photo was taken in the States before the two engineers went overseas.

It was only at the very end of their journey that their CO told them they were headed to Ascension Island where they had an airport to build and ninety days to build it in.

Times were tough at first: the men worked twelve-hour shifts, twenty-four hours a day. Their heavy equipment didn't arrive for several months so they made their tools out of what the desert island had to offer--which wasn't much. There was very little water on the island, so they were limited to the drinking water they had brought with them in large oil drums. When their resupply ship was sunk, the men went on half rations of chow and were limited to a quart of water a day. When they had time, they swam in Comfortless Cove to wash in the seawater.

Captain Ray Kidd, far right, with Lt. Herb Schiff, just out of the sea on Ascension Island.

The location had one thing going for it: nobody bombed Ascension during the war. It was a dry, windy, dusty, jagged piece of volcanic rock in the middle of nowhere: but the only men who were killed in action there, fell off a bulldozer.

Kidd, as the senior of the two friends, outranked my dad. In fact, he was the envy of all his friends because he already had a sweetheart back home--though it was seventy days before any mail arrived on Ascension, and when it finally did appear, the first batch was all second class mail! You can imagine the groans as the men opened those advertisements, circulars, and Army training manuals that had been forwarded from home. It was another month before the real mail appeared and by then, it had been piling up so long, some of the men like Ray, whose sweethearts had written them daily, had 200 letters arrive at once!

The two engineers from the South, Ray Kidd and Ashley Chapman, in a grainy photo taken on Ascension Island. I found it in my father's things after his death in March.

The 38th Engineer Combat Regiment completed the airfield by its deadline and once that was done, the Army needed a team to run it. The command split off the 898th Engineer Aviation Battalion for that job, and Capt. Ray Kidd was named CO.

By this time, my father was ready to take orders to go just about anywhere else--even though that would inevitably mean a much more dangerous assignment. But Ray Kidd asked him to stay for another year to help keep Wideawake Field running, and my dad agreed. They were close friends by then and--I think it is only fair to add--the chow on the island had improved considerably. One of the mess sergeants had commandeered a compressor and they were now serving ice cream for dessert.

In the spring of 1944, Captains Kidd and Chapman were finally sent back to the States for leave and retraining. Kidd made a bee-line to Huntington Park, California where he married his sweetheart. Next stop was Geiger Field in Spokane, Washington. Dad checked into the Bachelor Officers' Quarters and Ray and his bride found a small apartment. The men trained on the new specs of the planes the Allies were building for the expected invasion of Japan.

After two years on an island inhabited only by soldiers and sea turtles, almost all of the men got married that summer. My Dad was no exception. He met Faye Ellen Latta at a dance. Six weeks later they married, with Ray Kidd and Herb Schiff standing up for Chapman at the altar. Six weeks after that, he and Kidd and the other engineers were on a ship headed to Okinawa. It was the spring of 1945 and the years on Ascension were a cakewalk compared with what lie ahead.

In March 1945, aboard ship in the Pacific, Kidd got word that his wife had had their first child.

At left, what was then known as "V-mail". In it my father tells his parents about Kidd's new baby.

Dad wrote home: "Poor Ray Kidd doesn't know whether he is a papa or a mama. I guess it is pretty hard on him ... " I think that means the men didn't yet know whether Ray's baby was a boy or a girl. It was a boy, and the son was named after him.

At right, Capt. Ashley Chapman on Ie Shima.

The 1902 Aviation Engineer Battalion landed on Ie Shima off Okinawa one day after journalist Ernie Pyle was killed there. Captains Chapman and Kidd were company commanders and there they faced daily and nightly air raids. The Americans soldiers jumped into slit trenches when the siren wailed; but sometimes they just had to keep on working. Often the raids took place in the middle of the night. The night of June 24, 1945 was one of those times.

On June 26, 1945 Mrs. Raymond Kidd got a letter from Chaplain J. Loftus who was himself in a hospital recovering from a shrapnel wound:

"It is with deep sympathy that I write to offer my condolences on the death of your husband and my good friend, Capt. Raymond Kidd. He was killed instantly in a bomb shelter during an air raid, when a bomb exploded about fifteen feet from the entrance to the shelter. I was with him at the time and know he did not suffer, because he did not utter a sound. This happened at 2:45 a.m. on the 24th of June."

The war ended six weeks later.

My father with his company in Ie Shima. Behind them to the left you can see the channel and beyond that Okinawa. Behind them to the right you can see a flag flying and beneath it, the American Military Cemetery. Capt. Kidd was buried there in Row #11, Plot #2.

Capt. Kidd was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star. "By his keen judgment, technical skill and devotion to duty, Captain Kidd made a substantial contribution to the success of the Ryukyus campaign," the citation read. Col. Branner Purdue pinned the medal on Kidd's widow. My grandmother saved the clipping and a copy of the chaplain's letter in her scrapbook.

The awarding of the Bronze Star.

Most of the things I know about this story, I have learned since my own father's death, as I've read through the piles of old clippings and letters he left behind. We didn't talk about this much nor think about it as the living history that it was.

On Memorial Day weekend, 2010, I wanted to share Capt. Ray Kidd's story with you. He and the others who sacrificed with him made the relative peace and enormous prosperity of the last six decades possible for all of us. I hope his family won't mind my telling it. I know they paid a terrible price for his courage.

But there must be a special place in heaven for guys like Ray Kidd. I'm hoping he was there with a handshake to greet my father when the two old friends were finally reunited.

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Meaning of Memorial Day

In this vintage postcard, an aging Union soldier doffs his cap at a Confederate Memorial where a wreath lies in remembrance.

Memorial Day was once called Decoration Day, and its origins go back to the War Between the States. It is something worth thinking about as America gets ready to hit the road and light up the barbecue on this three-day weekend.

The U.S. Civil War was the worst war in our nation's history, with the total number of dead in that war approaching 700,000. To compare, the total number of U.S. soldiers who died in World War II battles was 291,000. And that war was global.

Thus, with a total population in the U.S. in 1860 of about 30 million, you can imagine what a loss of 700,000 soldiers would mean to families in both the North and the South.

Before the war was even over, many women in the South had begun to set aside a day to decorate the graves of the war dead. It was a spontaneous gesture and various days were set aside for remembrance.

This vintage postcard depicts two soldiers, one from the North and one from the South, joining in saluting those who gave their lives in the Civil War.

At war's end, there was a gradual effort at healing as families in both the North and South found union in their common losses. In 1868, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John Logan, proclaimed May 30 as Memorial Day and it was then that the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery were decorated with flowers and flags, a tradition that continues to this very day.

States in the North and the South didn't get together on the date for Memorial Day until after World War I. Later, in the 20th century, Congress decided to make the original day, May 30, into a three-day weekend by declaring that it would always fall on a Monday. It was then that the meaning of the day began to be lost.

There is a movement afoot to return the day to something more than a day for Memorial Day sales. In December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution that urged Americans to set aside a brief time, at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, to pause and reflect on the blessings of freedom and to silently thank those who died in its defense.

It is not much to ask to thank those who gave their highest measure of devotion "...that this nation of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." On Monday at 3:00 p.m. take the hand of someone you love and say a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for those who sacrificed for us. And another that this nation will one day find peace.

My father's flag. He was lucky. He survived World War II without a scratch and died a peaceful death. May it ever be so with our veterans.

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two Classic Films are Green and Delightful

The "green" in this film has to do with the color coding of oxygen tanks.

"Any classic film you've never seen before, is a new film to you." I think Robert Osborne, of Turner Classic Movies, said that. Since I think that is true, I thought you might be interested in a couple of old films I've seen recently, that were not only new to me, but excellent, and ones I thought you would very much enjoy.

The first is a British mystery called Green For Danger from 1946. It stars Alastair Sim as a Scotland Yard detective called to investigate the death of a postman on the operating table of a rural hospital outside of London.

The film takes place near the end of World War II, in 1944. Every star of the British cinema whose face you know is in this: Sally Gray, Trevor Howard, and Leo Gen are some of the talented people who join Alastair Sim in the lead roles. But the additional stars of this show are the dark, noir setting of a makeshift hospital set on a creepy old estate, and the wartime hazard of "doodlebugs," which were the Vengeance weapons blasted across the English Channel by Hitler.

The V-weapons were early rockets. And after one was launched, it would continue overhead as long as its fuel lasted. As soon as the engine cut, everyone on the ground had learned to duck for cover. For, it was then that the "doodlebug" dropped and killed those on the ground below.

What a terrifying and capricious setting for a murder mystery!

In this dark atmosphere, the director and screenwriter, Sidney Gilliat, manages to break up the tension with the dry humor of Inspector Cockrill, played by Sim. An early exchange between the inspector and the hospital administrator goes like this:

Dr. White: I do hope everything can be arranged discreetly.
Inspector Cockrill: Umm, shouldn't think so for a moment.
Dr. White: Why not? Press? Do they have to be seen?
Inspector Cockrill: Can't keep 'em out.
Dr. White: Oh, dear.
Inspector Cockrill: I don't mind; they always give me a good write-up.

Director/producer/writer Sidney Gilliat also wrote the screenplays for The Lady Vanishes (1938, directed by Hitchcock) and Night Train to Munich (1940). In Green For Danger he uses the intricate plotting, murder and mystery, and humor that can be found in both of those better-known films. This one, created almost a decade later, has better production values as well.

I've seen a lot of mysteries and can usually guess the end (there is a scene of the inspector reading a murder mystery that refers to this particular feature of mystery stories) but I didn't guess this mystery's ending. Inspector Cockrill, with his eyebrow slightly arched, and his black umbrella over his arm, gives little away. Early on he tells us: "My presence lay over the hospital like a pall--I found it all tremendously enjoyable."

I think you will too. (The movie is available on Amazon and from many of the usual suspects--I mean places.)

John Ford (1895-1973) at work: the green of this next film is the green of his beloved Ireland.

The second film I'm recommending is a little-known John Ford film. That right there makes it pretty remarkable. It was shot in Ireland in 1956-57 and is a collection of three Irish tales called The Rising of the Moon (1957). It recently aired on Turner Classic Movies.

Ford was an Irishman born in the United States and whose original name was Sean Aloysius O'Fearna. When his brother (one of his twelve siblings) went to Hollywood in about 1913 and changed his name to Francis Ford, Sean joined him and became first Jack and then John Ford.

As John Ford he won Oscars for The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952). Two of his wartime documentaries also won Oscars: The Battle of Midway (1942)and December 7th (1943).

He is one of the greatest directors in Hollywood history: many of the movies that didn't win him Oscars are among the best movies ever made. These include: Arrowsmith (1931); Wee Willie Winkie (1938); Stagecoach , Young Mr. Lincoln, and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939); They were Expendable (1945); Three Godfathers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949); Mogambo (1953;) and, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). I've left out quite a few, but I know you can Google him for the rest.

The Rising of the Moon is fascinating because it was filmed in Ireland five years after Ford made his award-winning The Quiet Man there, and it captures the green island at its most beautiful. His film features only two stars you'll recognize: Tyrone Power is the narrator and ties the three tales together. He was in the UK and Europe at the time filming The Sun Also Rises and Witness For the Prosecution and must have been available to help out his friend and fellow Irishman, John Ford, by lending the film a "name" actor. Cyril Cusack is another familiar face. His films include Harold and Maude (1971), The Day of the Jackal (1973), and My Left Foot (1989) among many others.

Of the three tales the first is a very quirky story about a proud man and his brief confrontation with the law. The second is a glimpse of the oddities that happen in a little Irish town when the train stops "For Just One Minute." But it is the third one I liked the best.

That may be because this tale, like all of the best of Irish stories, involves the Irish quest for independence from the British. It is called simply "1921" and is about a young man who is sentenced to hang for his role in some sort of anti-British activity. Perhaps only the Irish could make such a serious subject into a sweet comedy full of lessons: how husbands and wives can still love one another after many years of quarreling; how occupiers of a country can almost never find their way among the locals; and how each person will often come to a day when he will have to choose between his security and his conscience.

Lest you think it is too lofty a tale, there is a donkey in it who eats a policeman's lunch, a nun who wears high heels, and an IRA man who gets away by singing an Irish ballad. When the final scene arrived of the rowboat gleaming against moonlit waters, as the crew raises its voices to sing The Rising of the Moon (" ... with the pike upon your shoulder at the rising of the moon ...") I actually clapped.

The only disconcerting thing about the story involves American advertising. The folks at Colgate-Palmolive long ago appropriated the tune from the ballad "Rising of the Moon" for the soap Irish Spring, and now, with the tune going 'round and 'round in my head, I'm feeling an uncontrollable urge to go out and buy some green-and-white deodorant soap. The original tune, as the police constable says in the film, "had a little treason in it." And that's much more fun than soap suds.

You will have to hunt for this one: I didn't find it available in any of the places I checked. Keep your eye out for it in garage sale bins. It must be out there somewhere.

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rebuilding Without Destroying

The living room of Fort Chapman in the morning light.

Long ago I began to buy books about cottages, and often spent quiet hours poring over the pictures of these charming little houses. Most of the cottages were in England or France, but some were in America too. San Francisco. Nantucket. But, I knew, they might have been anywhere.

What I liked best about the houses in the books, was that each one of them was beautiful to live in now, and yet maintained its continuity with the past. Each successive owner may have modernized, but each one did not rip out his kitchen and install marble counter tops and a Sub Zero refrigerator. The cottages had a unique integrity.

Old did not have to mean dilapidated or bad.

When my sister and I inherited the house our parents bought in 1959, I was not sure, at first, that I could stand to live in the place. It had not been filled with happy memories, for one thing. And for another, it was a little down-at-the-heels.

"I'll have to take a baseball bat to the kitchen and the bathrooms, for starters," I said to my sister. She just nodded and said quietly:

"Well, why don't you just think about it?"

Fortunately, I had some months of closet cleaning as her advice rattled around in my head.

For, as I removed the layers of cobwebs and old clutter, I began to recall the pictures of those old places I had seen in my books. In my imagination, I began to see my parents' home in a different light. Why not, I said to myself, apply the same principles to a 1952 ranch style house in California, that I had seen used on an English cottage?

Not only would this idea save money, waste, and disruption, it would also build on the past. Perhaps the results would be unique, I thought. Perhaps I might create a little place that didn't look like everyone else's home.

And so I began.

Hall bathroom during its rehab, as seen through the doorway.

Hall bath with new paper and new accessories. But the hard scape hasn't changed.

You've seen some of the things that I've done here. I didn't gut the bathrooms and kitchen after all. They don't look new. They look like old rooms that have been updated and are prettier than before. At least that is how they look to me. And in each of our homes, I have come to believe, the right way to decorate is to make it the way we like it. Who else lives there? Who else is there to please?

Late in her life my mother said to me several times that a decorator she had consulted told her she should immediately get rid of the copper hood over our living room fireplace. "I suppose she's right," my mother said. "I think I probably should do it."

I didn't say anything to my mother about this, because it wasn't my place to do so. In fact, if you saw the room in isolation, I could see why a decorator might say that about the copper hood.

Living room at Fort Chapman just after the death of my father.

But if you looked at the house as a whole, you might have a different opinion. The handles and drawer pulls in the kitchen are also made of copper. The ceilings are high and beamed. The vision of the architect seemed to be a 1952 ranch house that had been crossed with a Norman farmhouse. So in the end, the copper hood remained right where it had always been. And it looks beautiful to me.

Certainly: no one else on my block has one!

And I finally understood why, after my mother's death, I kept finding ancient copper pots and kettles and watering cans tucked away in boxes, in the garden, and in the backs of cupboards. My mother liked the copper hood too, she just wasn't quite ready to trust her own taste. I shined up all the copper things she collected and put them around the living room. Probably have a few too many of them now. But I'm enjoying their vintage charm.

The last thing I've completed is the restoration of the red Spanish tile in the kitchen. It was a rich, beautiful color; but tile is porous and it had absorbed half a century of dirt and grime--and, probably, some cleaning products, too. I found a young man who knew a lot about tile and he and an assistant spent last Friday cleaning the old tile and repairing the grout.

Jason, cleaning the red Spanish tile.

The kitchen tile, cleaned and restored. On the island, I added a similar tile to complement the original.

I believe there is a metaphor is all of this. I think when we endure profound experiences in our lives--the loss of a spouse, the death of a parent--we often believe we must "start over." And that in "starting over" we must tear down what we've lived so we might build anew.

That certainly is the American way. But I'm not sure it is always the best. What we've lived is what we've lived. As an old home is renewed when it is filled with new love, so it is with our lives. In this old place I am surrounded by the things my mother and father loved and worked for. And now, I've added a layer that is mine.

A house with a good foundation can endure a pretty good shaking. I think most of us can attest to that.

The kitchen after the red tile restoration. My father's old family clock is at right.

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Are You Wearing Around Your Neck? Or: Widrow's Wonderful Array

My Dad and me on Hilton Head. His sister Helen is behind him and he is, as usual, making a wisecrack.

One of the most interesting things that happened to our family in the last decade of my father's life was a curious-looking invention he wore around his neck. It looked like a black plastic necklace. But it was a high tech hearing aid, invented by Professor Bernard Widrow of Stanford University.

My father's hearing was badly damaged during the years he served on the Sixth Army Pistol Team, where he won dozens and dozens of awards firing .22s and .45s in competition. If you can believe it: nobody wore ear protection back then.

Major Chapman, far right, at a shooting competition at Camp Roberts, 1956. In that whole row of competitors, not one is wearing ear protection.

So, by the time Dad was in his sixties, he was wearing hearing aids. By the time he was in his late seventies, even the best hearing aids in Silicon Valley were not helping him enough.

His audiologist told him about a professor at nearby Stanford University who was working on a "microphone array" for use with hearing aids. My mother and father were nothing if not resourceful and determined, so they got in touch with Professor Widrow of Stanford's electrical engineering department and the next thing we knew, our Dad was wearing his black, plastic necklace.

Ashley Chapman and friend at Ghirardelli Square.

I'm not an engineer, so I can't tell you exactly how it works. I get the idea it is a sort of stereo speaker system for the ear. Professor Widrow's website says this:

"This method enables the design of highly-directive hearing instruments which are comfortable, inconspicuous, and convenient to use. The array provides the user with a dramatic improvement in speech perception over existing hearing aid designs, particularly in the presence of background noise, reverberation, and feedback."

The only part I'd disagree with there is the "inconspicuous" part.

Dad with his first great-grandson, James Ashley, in the Los Altos garden. I would say you could see that "array" pretty well, even if you were James Ashley's age.

In going through my father's things after his death, I found the Widrow array and some notes Dad and Mom had made on the instruction booklet that came with it. I knew my Dad had ceased to wear it during the last two years of his life. And I wondered what had happened to the project. It had helped my father extend the time during which he could hear our voices. Yet I had never seen the microphone array on anyone else.

So, since I figured Professor Widrow would want a follow-up on my father's case and would be interested in the positive difference it made, I mailed the microphone and my father's notes back to Bernard Widrow at Stanford. I thanked him for the work he had done that improved my Dad's quality of life.

Dad with Al the Barber, who was his friend for more than sixty years. The two veterans met as young men after WW II, in Palo Alto, California, just around the corner from Stanford University.

The good professor called me up immediately when he recieved my package to tell me he is hoping to get the device into production very soon. He was interested to learn more about how my Dad had used his, and how long it had continued to work for him. I sent him lots of photos. You can't exactly miss this inconspicuous invention.

William Ashley Chapman at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, chatting up a bloke who appears to be installing an exhibit.

I wish Bernard Widrow all the best in his effort to market and sell his device. My father was lively and intelligent and it was devastating to him to find himself treated as if he were stupid because he couldn't hear. Watching his struggle taught me so much about how callus we all are to the disabilities of others, especially the disablities of the elderly.

And every invention that comes along puts us one step further toward understanding. Each person who asked my father what that funny-looking thing was around his neck had a small lesson in what it must be like, for a bright-minded senior, not to be able to hear.

In the end the most joy my father got from the device was to be able to hear my mother's voice. It was just a little thing, when you think about it. But it meant the world to him.

Faye and Ash at the beach.

Bernard Widrow's Web Site

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Adventure of Stove Island

Stove Island looked like this for three weeks. The advantage was that you didn't have to open the cupboard doors below to reach the pots and pans--you just put your hand right into the cavity to pick them up. The disadvantage was that there was no cooking surface in the house on which to put a pot.

I was beginning to think my Stove Island was like Pitcairn and would be isolated and uncharted forever. And then Sebastian the Tile Man sailed into port--on a Saturday, no less--and put Stove Island on the map.

He had been at Fort Chapman once before--on April 22 as scheduled--to demo the original tile on Stove Island. We had to do it because the old cook top--a 1952 Thermador--was a 48" monster that had seen better days, and I couldn't find a reasonable replacement to fill its enormous dimensions. Cook tops these days run to about 36" when they are on the large size.

So, I picked out a white GE cook top with grey burners--similar to one I had in my old home in Winter Park, Florida--and arranged with a local company to re-do Stove Island to the new dimensions in a tile that was complementary to the other tile in the kitchen. I was going to have them install a nice piece of granite on the Island, but then they smiled and said I could just pop over to San Leandro to pick it out, and all of a sudden the tile that I saw before me in the shop looked better and better.

After the demo, I had the plumber add a gas line so we would be ready for the re-install date of April 27.

And then, somewhere between Italy where the tiles were made, and Mt. View, California, where they were to be picked up by Sebastian the Tile Man, the "Durango" tiles were mislaid. Honestly, I was beginning to think the tile company was jiving me, and had the great Sebastian far too busy working on other, much more lucrative projects to stop for a day to work on Fort Chapman's tiny Stove Island.

Finally, one day last week, the tiles turned up in Reno (divorcing themselves from Italy, perhaps?) and once they headed down Donner Pass, the tile company called to say Sebastian would be here on Saturday. Ten days late is better than nothing.

On Saturday it wasn't long before I heard the happy sound of Hola Senorita! And oh! What a joy it was to see Sebastian using my pretty front lawn as his workshop! Ordinarily I would have smacked him for strewing wood chips and grout on the green; but, at this point I wasn't about to find his divots anything but delightful.

Sebastian at work using the front lawn as his job site. And oh well for that.

Once he got cooking, which was something I had been unable to do for several weeks, the work proceeded apace.

The Stove Island repaving project begins.

The one thing that worried me the most was that he had to remove the stove from its packing case in the garage--so he could measure it to create the Island template. And I worried, as it sat in the driveway under the spreading arms of the cedrus deodara that it would end up with scratches and nicks and pine sap all over its lovely face. I checked on it regularly. Alone as it was, and vulnerable, sitting on the asphalt.

There lies a thousand dollars of my old Dad's dough, I would say to myself as I checked on the pretty, lonely cook top.

Sebastian had to run an extension cord into the garage to power his tile saw, and in the course of that he noticed--how could he not?--the gargantuan pile of furniture my sister and I had stored in there for our upcoming garage sale. After three or four hours he asked me about a couple of chairs he saw in there, and how much would we be asking for them?

I thought about it and called my sister. I had disliked those faux Victorian chairs for decades. Not comfortable. Not, in my opinion, very pretty. Oh, and my college boyfriend Bill had sat in them one summer evening, waiting for me to appear and accidentally pulled one of the arms off when he rose to greet me. (They needed to be re-glued.) (And he was 6' 4".)

I had this idea. I had nine tiles that needed to be replaced in the grey bathroom shower ... My sister agonized a while then called back and approved the trade. The bathroom shower was repaired while Stove Island was drying before its re-grout. And we traded Sebastian's extra work for the old, red, chairs. Deal! I was happy and so was Sebastian.

My sister always worries that we've missed our big chance on the Antiques Roadshow, and there is something to that. But my feeling is that "things" only have a theoretical value, unless you are willing to make finding their actual value your full-time work. And unused "things" have almost no value at all. Sitting in our garage is not what a chair was made to do. Sebastian had a family who wanted to sit on them--much more sensible. And we got our shower repaired.

So, later Saturday afternoon, we wrapped the day up with a happy ending. The "Durango" tiles (a Colorado name they've adopted in Italy?) looked ab-fab and so did the cook top when it had recovered from its brief stay in the driveway.

Sebastian, in a flurry of sealing the tile.

The darn thing still has to be properly installed and connected to the gas line by the plumber. And it needs a little piece of moulding around the bottom of the tiles. (Why not? Every project so far has been missing that one final thing.) So, I still can't boil water anywhere in the house, except in the microwave.

But we moved several steps forward. Got Stove Island well on its way to joining the League of Nations. Got the shower-that-has-been-bugging-my-sister-for-three-decades on its way to having a new mixer and faucet.

And I got to say Adios! to a couple of things that were taking up space in the garage. And a very nice young man took Mom's old red chairs home to his family.

The Adventure of Stove Island turned out to be an excellent adventure indeed.

I warned Sebastian, as he drove away, not to let his daughter's boyfriend sit in the chairs, until he gets them properly re-glued.

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Moustache Men and Other Oddities

When I bought this Hunt Board, did I remember my mother's table with the Moustache Man on it?

I've finally had a few days off from the workmen, who seemed to move into my house with me, the way Eldon the Painter did at Candice Bergen's house on the old TV show Murphy Brown. My workmen were here with such regularity, I was beginning to think I should start grocery shopping for them and doing their laundry (if they could ever get my washing machine connected.)

In wandering around the house free of plumbers, electricians, and cable technicians, I noticed my office. What a dump.

I started to tackle it and bring it into some semblance of order. These days I don't just have my own work to organize, my own writing projects to sort and my own decorating ideas to execute, I also have my parents' estate and the Family Trust to sort through. We have a secretary who comes in twice a month to help with the family stuff, so I decided I should at least clear a path for her to the files.

I confess I would much rather be doing the decorating part in what you might call the public rooms of the house. That's much more fun than figuring out where my computer table will fit between the guest beds, my memorabilia trunk, and my Dad's old boxes of documents on his war time experiences on Ascension Island.

So, from time to time on that beautiful California day, I would wander into the sunny living room and walk around. That room is coming together nicely--though I know there is too much furniture in it right now.

The living room on moving day plus eleven.

I follow Coco Chanel's advice on style, translated into my own decorating dictum: she told women that they should put on everything they wanted to wear that day with all the accessories, and then, just before they walked out the door, remove one thing.

That's a bit like the way I do a room: macro before micro. I put everything in there I like, and then I take things out until it looks the way it should. So I have several more steps to go in the living room. But as I was standing around looking at things, I zeroed in on the big hunt board I bought on the East Coast. How could you miss it? It is eight feet tall and intricately carved. I didn't need such a huge piece, but I loved the carving and my excuse for buying it was that I could hide my television and its various accessories inside the hunt board's upper cabinet.

The hunt board: there are tropical birds carved into the two lower panels. One is fishing and one has a snake in his mouth.

As you can see it has two center drawers with carved drawer pulls in the shape of a lion-faced-man with bushy eyebrows and a big moustache. I've always thought he looked a little like a fantastical drawing of the West Wind, blowing a storm into the sky.

Here's the curious part: last week I moved a small, elaborately carved table of my mother's next to the hunt board, mostly because I decided to take her table out of the entry, and this spot in the living room was the easiest place to push it for the time being. I thought it might be a little too much carving, tête-à-tête, but I figured it was temporary. My mother's carved table.

You'll think I'm a dunce, I guess, but it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed why I had really put the two pieces together. By now I'm sure you, at least, have noticed the center drawer pull on my mother's carved table.

Was I copying my mother when I bought the hunt board? Since I didn't remember her table, I can't honestly say that I was. I've never actually liked that table. But the subconscious sometimes just pushes us along, like the West Wind blowing the clouds across the sky.

It is clear for now that the two Moustache Men will have to remain together. They are made of different wood and stained with different stains but they are too similar to separate. The alliance may be an uneasy one. But my mother and I knew a lot about that. And those West Wind Moustache Men must have had a powerful need to be together. One Mom's. One my own. Who am to part them now?

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News