Aunt Ida's Shroud

Gathering together Christmas memories.

What about you -- are you remembering your stories as you prepare for this holiday.

This is one of my favorites.

Christmas 1946 

Sister Mary John chose me for a role in the Christmas pageant - - - and it gave my mother a headache.

When I was in the Fifth Grade at O'Donoghue School in Charlotte, NC my fifth grade teacher chose me to be the "Mary" in the Christmas tableau after all the carols were sung by the entire school. This meant that my mother had to figure out how and make me a costume to wear.

But you could count on Mama. She was resourceful - - - she worked it out - -

and that's how I ended up wearing Aunt Ida's shroud.


Anonymous Artists Tell Family History

The Christmas Tree is a special anonymous art work that families make together and treasure.

In 2005 to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary my art show ABOUT TIME at Gallery 10 was all about our family. And, Jim worked with me to create it. People were not surprised. Albums and personal content have been a presence in my art work since the 1970s. Including the Christmas Tree was a natural - a perfect fit - an album - a living art work. Family art. The Christmas Tree is a special anonymous art work that families make together and treasure.

Christmas Tree Album, 2005, ABOUT TIME
 We installed the tree - family-style - in the smaller front room of the gallery. Jim reduced the tree to half a tree so that it fit flat on the wall like a relief - to set it up as an art piece. Karen and Monica and I strung the lights and added the ornaments. (click for a larger view - to see the memory pieces) 

 Another part of the show was a collage album - made as an abacus. 
About Time, Abacus Album, collage construction created by Jim and Ellouise Schoettler
Remember - About Time.

Jim made the abacus and I constructed the digital photo cubes and collaged them

Jim and his crew, Jimmy, Karen and Monica installed the abacus . 

 The photos spanned our fifty years together and included kids, grandkids, family, friends, art pieces and special events - with collage elements to embellish and transform. 


Tiers of Memories

Working with memories is like weaving or making collages - especially when I try to connect my memories with stories I might have heard when I was a child.

When I read this letter it reminded me of day I was visiting my grandmother, my father's mother, at her home. We were sitting in the "music room" when something sparked her to remember a trip to New York many year before with her husband. The most vivid memory I have of that conversation is her description of going to a Broadway theater to see "The Merry Widow." As she talked about her dress and a new fashionable hat her eyes were sparkling and she was smiling as she remember the evening.  I never forgot that afternoon.

In 1975 I went to Vienna with my friend Marie. One evening we went to the ornate Vienna Opera House to see "The Merry Widow" and the memories of the conversation with my grandmother flowed over me and I felt very connected to her although in real life I was not that close to her. It was a good feeling.

Finding this letter my aunt had given me was a "gift". So glad I wrote about it -so that I did not lose the memories of her again - - and that I connected to those days of WWI - - knowing more now about that time gives her letter more life for me.


Messages from the Past - 

Do you believe in "messages" from the past? I do. Its the mysterious part of working with history.

I have been writing this blog since 2005. From time to time I stroll back through old blog posts looking for a connection, a story, or something sweet to remember. 

I had forgotten about this letter my Grandmother Diggle wrote in 1918 and was startled when I read it last night. It is such is a strong connection to what I am absorbed with today. In fact the letter and what I later learned about her younger brother who died in France in 1918 may explain my fascination with WWI.  

Maybe there is something lurking here that I will be interested to find. Or perhaps "they" have something to tell me.

So - - - - I am pulling it back to the front so that I can think more about it as I wait to see what happens.


Letter from the Past - Part 1

I love old letters, whether I know the people of not. The handwriting brings you close to the person who wrote it and often there is a story hidden in an old letter. I have several storytelling programs built around old letters.

A few weeks ago an old letter fell out of some files I was moving. I recognized my grandmother's strong cursive handwriting before I picked it up. The paper is yellowed, the creases where its folded threaten to tear. The envelope is addressed to her mother, Mrs. J. W. Cobb, at 703 South Church Street in Charlotte and the postmark - 

the letter bears a purple three cent stamp and is postmarked April 30, 1918. Mailed from Madison Square Station in New York City. It is written on hotel stationery - Hotel McAlpin, Broadway and 34th Street, New York City.

On a first read the letter doesn't say much but as I thought about it I wondered if there was a story in it. I often tell people to use old documents to make a story. So, what about trying it.

First I will share the letter with you - then I will add bits and pieces as I discover them to flesh out th story.


Tuesday, April 29th
Dear Mama,
This won't be much of a letter because I am pretty tired, But I just want to tell you that think I am going to have "some trip." We arrived OK this morning, and I hadn't slept much on the train. I went to bed after a hot bath and slept until about one thirty. Sam spent the day at the office, so I crossed over to Macy's and spent quite a while looking 

around and shopping. Had dinner with Sam and then Uncle Fred and Florence came over to the hotel and took us out. We went to Vaudenville and then to a little place - a favorite of Uncle Fred's and had some beer and sandwiches. Believe me, it certainly tasted good. Florence is such a sweet girl. She has Friday evening off and she is coming to take me over to her house.

Cousin Nell called me this afternoon. She will be here about nine tomorrow morning and we will spend the day together.

Hope your finger is getting better and that the boys are not too much trouble. Won't write any more now as it is late. Everything here stirred up over Liberty Bonds. Hope to see the returned heroes from France before I leave.

Tell Grandma not to worry about Uncle Fred. He looks grand and says he never felt better in his life.

Kiss the boys and tell them to be good. Much love to you all. Will save some news until I see you.


First - Lets' consider the cast of characters:

Louise Cobb Diggle - the letter writer- my father's mother. At this time Louise was 32 years old, they had been married nine years and in that time she had given birth to six children and was now two months pregnant with her seventh child, who would be a daughter, Loretto. No doubt she needed a break.

Sam Diggle - her husband, father of all her children, was 31 years old.

Mrs. J. W. Cobb - Louise's mother, sister of Uncle Fred, was 59 years old. Her son Walter, Jr., 31, was in the Army and overseas in France along with his younger brother, Fritz, 23. Fritz was who was named for her brother, Fred - the Unlce Fred in Louise's letter

Uncle Fred Grose - Mrs. Cobb's younger brother who was 55 and had lived in New York City for some time.

Florence - his daughter
Cousin Nell - not sure who she is.

"the boys" - Lewis Diggle, age 7, Jack Diggle, Age 6 and Robert Diggle, age 4 - Robert is my father. The other children left behind in Charlotte were Mary Cobb, Catherine and year old Betty.

Grandma- Mrs. Samuel Grose - Louise's 83 year old grandmother and Mrs. Cobb's widowed mother.

One afternoon when I was about thirteen I was visiting Nanny at 826 Central Avenue, the house she and Sam build to house this large family. She reminisced about a wonderful trip they had made to New York. I listened vaguely, as a kid 13 would, but I do recall her saying that she had a new hat, a new Easter hat, with a wide brim.

Hoping for a new slice of history.


A Look Back

A look back.
This is a blog I wrote and posted September 7th, 2007 - 
Looking for something else today I came across it. 

I remember when I wrote this
I remember when Lynda tackled the alphabet
I remember when this picture was taken at Sacred Heart Academy - during WWII.
Lynda (5) and me (8).

In 1944 we were boarding students at Sacred Heart while Daddy was overseas (India) during WWII. He was serving in the US Army Air Corps.

Mama came to see us on Sundays. This Sunday my Aunt Catherine drove her out to Belmont for the visit and of course Koki had her Brownie camera with her. She recorded the family.

My necklace is an Indian Coin on a chain that Daddy sent to me. It was my first talisman. I wore it all the time thinking it kept him close.
When I think of that necklace I wish I still had it.

Lynda and the Alphabet

My sister Lynda, the younger, cute one here, can be the sweetest girl in the world. She can also be very stubborn and determined.

I was reminded recently of a time when her stubbonness led her to accomplish something very unusual, very difficult and questionably useful.

This past month there has been a challenge among some bloggers to create an alphabet of posts - writing a post a day in alphabetical order. Patti Digh, 37 Days has created a wonderful set of posts and I have enjoyed every word of them. I hate to see her approach Z - knowing the project will close.

Then I thought of Lynda.

Remember when you had to memorize the alphabet? We all did, you know.

Well I remember when Lynda came home from Elizabeth School - I think it was the second grade, and announced that she had to learn the alphabet backwards. And she wanted somebody to help her. She needed spmeone to listen to her recite the letters backwards. z - y - x - w - v etc.

Try it. I had to write that down to even get started.

No amount of talking could dissuade her from her task. She was determined. She knew that is what the teacher had said. She was not going to learn it forwards. She was going to learn it backwardsAnd, she did. She stuck with it until she could recite it strait through from z to a.

She and her husband Henry are joining us for the Storytelling Festival in Williamsburg in a couple of weeks. I have to delve deeper into this. Have I got my facts straight? Can she still recite the alphabet backwards? How has this feat of learning served her through the rest of her life? What other things does she do backwards?

Is it possible that the teacher really told the class to memorize the alphabet backwards or could she have said - "you're going to learn the alphabet backwards and forwards?"

Hmmm. One of the imponderables; one of the mysteries of life - I have a lot of those free floating through my brain at times.

They keep me occupied.

Its better use of brain power than trying to figure out what idiotdecided to announce to the world that the Air Force was grounding all our air protection on a certain day in September and then giving the date. Go figure. This is Homeland Security? (oops - a little blurt - sorry)

But, I stray from the topic. I wrote to Patti about Lynda's accomplishment - hoping that she will take up a new challenge and start again - z -y - x - w - ----

Patti wrote back: IF I ever do that, I will do it in honor of your sister.

Ah, Lynda!


Life is a Puzzle

Momento Mori, e.schoettler, fabric

Woke up this morning before my first alarm 
happy and smiling  
thinking about my grandson's stop-over at Dulles tonight 
on his way home to California from Amsterdam 

Then I opened my phone, 
scrolled through my email 
and was weeping 

startled by the obit a friend sent 
of someone I had known for years 
but had not known she was dying. 

The memorial service is Saturday but I will not be going - 

I am already committed to attend a shower 
for a band new baby girl 
who is expected anytime.
Life is just damned startling.

A puzzle.