Through the Front Door Week 20 of 2020

On the lawn in fr ont of the County Library, Springfield CO


Seven years lie between my sister and me.  Her first seven years was lived against the backdrop of World War II.  Growing up with turmoil, anxiety, and uncertainty: a father far away across the sea. I showed up after the war was won, growing up in a climate of confidence and optimism. It was more than a simple matter of years that made Linda my “big sister.” By the time she was seven, she knew more about life than I did at fourteen.

Springfield 1953 ages 7 and 14

She has influenced my life in so many ways.  My love of horses came from her, as did a love of books, a love of salted lemons, and those fat dill pickles that came in a sealed bag and cost a dime.

When I think of my sister, I always think of her hands. They are marvelous hands. Not the limp, long-fingered hands found in magazines, but hands broad across the palm with strong fingers that are deft, dexterous, and nimble. Hands that have a life of their own. Hands that can do anything.

Those hands made shadow puppets on the wall of my bedroom and told me stories when I was four and frightened by the thunder cracks of summer storms.

Those hands played the piano. I still see them moving with certainty across the black and white keys; the broad palms reaching through an octave. In the twilight, before dinner, I played on the floor listening as she practiced Paderewski’s “Minuet in G Major” and Debussy’s “Girl with the Flaxen Hair”. Those pieces belong to her forever.

Those hands held me upright and ran behind me when I learned to ride my bicycle.

And then there were the animals. Her hands have always engaged with animals. They milked goats, groomed horses, collected eggs from cranky hens, scratched dogs behind their ears, played with cats, and rescued baby birds.

I could go on and on: a full celebration of my sister requires reams. This has to be posted today, on her birthday, and so is only the smallest of sketches; a miniature inked with the smallest of pens. 


Playing the Artist

So, I open my front door one morning and a fairy grandmother is standing on my porch with a question. Given what I know in my elderhood, if not my dotage, what gift would I give myself as a teenager to carry forward throughout my life.

This is how I would answer today and maybe tomorrow as well. If there is something that I really want to do, then do it although you have no talent and less skill. Along the road, never compare yourself to anyone else.

In fourth grade, art class was every Tuesday and Thursday morning. My assigned seat was next to Bob Standard (Yes! I still remember his name, although I can’t remember the name of my first date.) Bob had red hair, a mass of freckles, artistic skills and over the top. He was drawing fully rendered 3-dimensional illustrations, while my best output was stick figures. Comparing my work to his work, I decided once and for all, that I was not an artist, could never be an artist, and never would be an artist.

       In college, I discovered “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards.  This book was written from the point of view that anyone can draw, and that learning to draw was simply a matter of perception and learning to how to “see” what one is looking at.  After completing the exercises in the book, my drawing skills expanded way beyond simple stick figures.  Sadly, the need to study for finals took me away from my artist explorations.

Housebound, I have returned to artistic endeavors and I am having a lot of fun!  Some days, I sketch with paper and felt-tip; others, I use Adobe Illustrator. Will you ever see my work in a magazine advertisement? No: neither will you see it hanging in a museum, nor will it auction for a thousand dollars.

My skills are limited: they always will be.  But day by day, the imaginative ways in which I can use these limited skills is expanding day by day.

The Front Door: Week 15 of 2020

Taking a Break from “Covad-19”

While fiddling with photos, I am listening to the original soundtrack of “Evita.” Mandy Patankin-such a voice. Personally, I like this Lloyd-Webber musical much better than “Phantom of the Opera.” To my ear, the P of O music was a bit “tum-te-tum.” Furthermore Tim Rice was no part of the team a lyricist, and Sarah Brightman sounded a bit thin in the upper registers. I am partial to women singers that have a metallic sound in the high notes.

Week 13 of 2020

Photo to illustrate trees in bloom
naval orange tree in bloom

Spring in Sonoma

It’s true, housing costs are sky-high, traffic is dreadful during commute times, drivers are insane, and the fire season has been disastrous the last two years yada, yada, yada. Still and all, Sonoma County is one of the most beautiful places west of the Mississippi.

From the middle of February through the end of March, it is breathtaking. Under turquoise skies, the hills are covered with green velvet and blanketed with acres of brilliant yellow mustard. The almond trees and the stone fruit trees are covered with pink or white blossoms. Navel orange trees are budding and tossing fragrance on the breeze.

The vineyards are waking from their winter sleep. For the next two or three weeks, they will be filled with grazing ewes and their new lambs. Since the county banned chemical weed killer two years ago, the vineyard owners run flocks through the vines to clear the weeds.  If you are lucky you can watch Border Collies rounding up the sheep and herding them up the ramp into the truck that will take them to the next field.

Half a mile down the road is a pasture filled with Clydesdales; a foal or two will be showing up next month. There is a horse, a cow, a pair of goats, or a flock of chickens every other block. A strange blend of down-home country folk and Euro/Arab/Russian multimillionaires.

Lots of problems in this huge county that reaches to the ocean, but for now I am lucky to live here.

New Month, New Year, New Decade

The Name is the Same BUT Who Were These People?

I was going through my box of old photos which I have bagged and dragged with me for years. At long last, I am sorting them, scanning them and saving them to my photo storage on Amazon.

Naturally, there were some pictures of myself. It was strange looking at those photos as they seemed to be of people who looked familiar, but with whom I had the faintest of nodding acquaintances.

It seems to me that once I lost the chubby cheeks of the toddler, my face has aged but the basic structure has stayed the same. If you knew me at twenty-four, would you have known me at seventy-three?


The Aldinger girls: Ethel, Norma, and Hazel circa 1915

Hundred Year Old Photos

The Aldinger girls of Titonka Iowa

Here I am looking at photos that have survived at least one hundred years. The toddler in the high-button boots and the expression of a bull calf is my mother (Hazel). Ethel, the oldest girl is on the left. Norma is in the center; she departed this life when she was 16.

Gertie Frank Aldinger

Gertie Aldinger, my grandmother was the mother of the girls above. Three other children arrived later. George, the first boy was next, followed by Lois, then Edwin.

Back to the Janssens

Jansssens: Wallace, Gordon, and Eleanor (Belinda)

This is the only photo I have of Aunt Eleanor. To me, she was a shadowy figure, as she made her home far away in New York City. She made one visit to our home when I was six. She nearly six feet tall, and had long, long nails enameled red. The boys grew up at a time when boys were kept in skirts until they were about five or six: at which point they “breeched” and dressed in their first pair of pants.

Through the Front Door Week 37 of 2019

Purpose of the image is looking backwards into the history of my family
Reflections of Family History. My father and my uncles circa 1927

The Burden of Old Photos

For years the question of old photos has weighed down my mind. I have toted a box of loose photos with me from place to place for decades. “To keep or to pitch, that has been the question.” Looking at pictures of those who once were and now are no longer creates a strange and unnameable feeling: is it nostalgia?

At any rate, the photos have taken up space in my closets for decades. It’s been on again and off again about what to do with them. Finally I have decided to store them with Amazon Pictures “in the cloud.” For a while I will be inflicting photos on readers of the Front Door. So take pour yourself a stiff drink, or take two aspirin and take a nap because the photos are here.

The Janssen Sons and Daughters of Lorraine Kansas

The above photo is of my father and his brothers. Although they are not in the photo, two girls “bookended” the boys. Belinda (who later used the name Eleanor) was the first child; Evelyn was the last. She was the unexpected afterthought and grew up as an only child with six siblings.

My grandmother was well educated for a farmer’s daughter from Kansas. She was an avid reader and something of a romantic because she named her sons after famous writers of the day. My father Wallace was named after Lew Wallace of Ben Hur fame. Gordon was named after the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron. Paul was named after the prolific writer of Gospels. Leigh was named after the poet and essayist, Leigh Hunt, and Homer, of course, was named for the poet of the Illiad and Odyssey.

For whom (or for what) the daughters were named is mere speculation. Belinda was the central figure in Alexander Pope’s satirical narrative poem “The Rape of the Lock.” Belinda is also the gentle and kind protagonist of the novel “Belinda” written by Maria Edgeworth. On the other hand, Belinda is also a kind-hearted sow who speaks pig Latin. As she is a Disney character she is far too young to have been my aunt’s namesake.

You have been introduced to one side of the family. For now I am out of photos. Excuse me while I scan some more on the world’s slowest scanner.