Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bottle of Wine 1001:30

Some time back, a 107- year-old bottle of wine was snatched up for $3 at an estate sale.  A few days ago, it was subsequently re-sold to me, at a markup of $2.   A bargain for $5.   I had to have it. Several of my alternate personas ached to get their little fingers on it and begin touching it.  I share with you our happy fingers in this little story.                                             The bottle is 10 inches tall.  Inside are patches of sediment stuck to the side--and floating around, due to its recent travels.  The bottle cap is oxidized metal, capped like a soda bottle.  The wine has a deep gold color.  It's label reads "DANDELINE WINE  =  1905,  Made by Grandma Eckel." 
I acquired this wine at the regular Saturday Morning Sketch session at the Scarab Art Club in downtown Detroit. The transaction and product were eyeballed by a drove of visually acute individuals, with trained and interested consideration of its physical data: sediment, label, bottle, cap.  It's potability was proclaimed "vinegar."  All agreed it makes a pretty picture.  I do not plan to drink it.  I do love it, though.  My dad made wine, from any cheap, plentiful, and available source.  I myself have a yard full of organic dandelions, and every spring am tempted to utilize them, in some way.  Maybe this year.  Meantime, I make the acquaintance of Grandma Eckle's bottle.  The label, the bottle, the cap, the sediment, the age, the history, and Grandma Eckles' handiwork itself.   Closet Anthropologist, out of closet. 

I like the label. The label states the year, the vintner, and mis-spells "dandelion"--derived from French, "dent de lion", tooth of the lion (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=dandelion ).  The spelling as "dandeline" is mis-heard/ compression of foreign words, as well as limited familiarity with the word in written form.  Books weren't laying around as accessibly in 1905, to confirm standardized spelling.  It is fun to see this small example of the evolution of standardization of a language.  Closet Linguist. 

The label is typed by manual typewriter.  Mark Twain, fyi, was an early tech type.  Typewriters did not lend themselves to practical use until late 1860s, and Twain  bought one in 1874.  He didn't do all that well with it.  But it follows that the label on Grandma Eckle's wine was 31 years into accessible typewriter technology.  My mom has a manual Royal typewriter from the 1940's, and even at that date it was quite a prized posession at our house, up through the 60's.  It was like the telephone when I was a child: kids weren't allowed to use the phone for casual use.  It was, llike the typewriter, an expensive, mysterious, grown-up technology, by standards of a poor rural area.  So a reasonable conclusion about The Bottle is that pre-WW1, someone was urban, technologically involved, and well-off enough to have a typewriter.  Someone cared for their grandma's wine--and their grandma--enough to type out a label and name the year.  A-ha, Watson.
The label is interesting.  It is pretty certainly manufactured.  An internet search query of "when were gummed labels invented" turned up the surprising answer that back in the 1600's books of printed labels were appearing, meant to be cut out and pasted onto bottles (1).   I switched to a search for "history of manufactured gummed labels" and found several hits for Avery Dennison, a still-viable company which began its history by making paper boxes in 1864 (2).  They began making labels and tags in 1864, but it wasn't until 1935 that they began an official line of self-adhesive products.  So possibly the label was self-adhesive--it looks it. It is also possible that someone labeled it after it had been sitting around for a while.  That would explain why the label looks gummed, and why a typewriter was used in 1905.  But Who Knows.  Closet Storyteller, taking the bait.

 And then, theres the bottle itself. 

To Be Continued:  Oh, the Lovely Bottles . . .

1. Appearance of gummed labels.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Reflections 2001: 29

While laying summer to rest in ma jardin, I aimed camera  at my reflection in the pergola windows.  The reflection shows a figure with an oil painting-flower for a heart; a landscape trussed by the bones of vines;  windows reflecting windows; houses and lattices and flora enmeshed in a framed window-world.  The Burning Bush was burning nicely in the background. Scissors are lifted like my mini flaming-sword.   I like my accidental self-portrait.  It shows me things about myself that I would never have consciously seen.

Reflections are a classic way to see "what is, what was, and what might be," to paraphrase the Elven Queen in Fellowship of the Rings.  Frodo Baggins, the recipient of her advice, looks into a silver ewer filled with water to see his past, present, and possible future reflected.  "Possible" is an important word in the art of reflection.  We can't see for sure what will be, only what might be if the current juxtaposition of events is not altered.  This is the same psychology of reflection over Tarot Cards: we empty ourselves of expectation, open ourselves to the unkown, and try to pick out patterns that add up to possible ends. Similarly, our wizardly hero Harry Potter looks into a bowl of water --the Pensieve--and is able to see and sort his thoughts. Druids looked into reflective pools of black ink as a meditation tool.  Ancient Greek and Roman priests read goat offals.  Offals are of course not reflective in the sense of light, but apparently provide a focus and a pattern to meditate on.

Reflection is not Illumination, or absolute truth.  It is sign, open to interpretation and flux. The trusty Old Testament (a tool from my Baptist childhood) says that we see "through a mirror darkly."  The reflections we see of ourselves are not the Real Thing.  But reflection is the best that us mortals have to deal with.  We can't handle, or so we are told, the Big Picture, the Whole Truth.  We can make little jabs in the dark, or see ourselves in a reflected context.  Like the Burning Bush that Yahweh manifested himself in, so Moses could see just a little bit of the Glory of God--we have limited sensory perceptions. 

But in my limited understanding, I fully appreciate the added dimension of a chance reflection.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mom Breaks the Alone Barrier 1001:28

Sunday evening I called Mom.  She lives 600 miles away from me, but my brother lives only a few miles from her.  She lives independently in a Senior Condominium Community in a small town.  Dad died 2 years ago Valentine's Day, which put Mom in the position of living alone for the first time in her life.  She is a remarkably healthy, alert and opinionated 90-year-old woman.

A few weeks ago, at the end of the year, her beloved companion, Missy the polydactyl ginger cat, died at a goodly age.  "She left me last night," Mom informed me on the phone, and she cried a little.  The cat was one more link to Dad, to their farm, and to life as she knew it, gone like everything goes if you decide to keep on living as long as you can.  She said that she had cried for her husband, and she was crying now for her cat.  She felt alone, and I hated myself for not being there with her.  She is, indeed, alone, with no one to talk to at night.  Missy was a great listener, and understood things.

But Mom is not one to lie down and quit.  She goes to the church at the edge of her subdivision every Wednesday for choir practice, and every Sunday for church.  She has a beautiful voice, although the last year she has sadly noted that it cracks now and then.  She went last week on a trip to a casino, 4 hours one-way, which is a little difficult for her.  She went anyway, with an acquaintance, and "got out" as she puts it.  She sometimes goes to the Senior Site in her town, which serves inexpensive hot lunches every day.  It also offers a Pinochle Club on Fridays, which Mom attends pretty regular. 

However, there are times when she is alone.  She has been reluctant to go anywhere by herself.  My brother runs a nice Wednesday luncheon at the VFW where he is Commander.  The VFW is like a second home to my family; Dad was a Marine veteran of WW2.  We went all the time.  But after Dad died, it was hard for Mom to go places they had always shared.   For many people, sitting alone has a negative or even shameful tinge.  I suspect part of her reluctance comes from the social view, held through  the 60s, that any single woman who goes to certain places by herself is not respectable, and is looking for a man.  Its still a conservative area she lives in.  And 90 or not, Mom is very conscious of the social mores.

Since I live alone, I compare my situation to hers, and assure her that lots of people go places by themselves.  It takes practice, if you're not used to it, I told her.  Try going to the library, everybody goes to the library alone.  She agreed that that was true.  But, for whatever reasons, she wouldn't go out and be part of the community unless she had a companion to anchor her.

Until Sunday.  She was giving me a list of her Sunday activities--went to church, went to dinner, went home and started watching TV ministers.  She went right past the "went to dinner," but I still caught it.

"Who'd you go to dinner with?" I asked, cautiously.

"Nobody.  I just went by myself.  I left church and said, 'well, I'm hungy,' and I decided to go have a nice meal." 

So, just like that.  Her moment came of itself.  I patted her on the back over the phone with much fuss and joy.

She said, "I guess I'm getting better."  She described her venture.  She requested and got a booth at the local buffet restaurant.  A family she knew walked in shortly after her, and exchanged greetings as they passed.  Mom sat and looked around and finished her meal.  She went by and talked a bit with the friends, and then went home.  She said she had a nice time.  And she added that she could take as much time as she wanted to eat, when she was by herself.

I am going to visit my Mom in a few days.  A few yearly trips to see her is what I can do.  I and my siblings try to get her to come and stay with us, at least visit us.  She is cautious; one of her old neighbors from the farm went to live with her daughter in Denver, and she told Mom that she was miserable there, with no old friends to visit.  I think its a difference in personality, and in passion for life, that is a deciding factor with Mom.  I think she'd be fine whatever she made up her mind to do.  "Making up her mind to do" being the deciding point.

She is not a quitter.  Mom goes right on living.  She said to me after Dad died, "Some people want to die when their husband dies, but I don't.  I want to go on living."  And she does.  She keeps making necessary changes.  One giant step for one small woman.  Another barrier bites the dust.  I sure hope I can live up to her standards.