We were the back hall gang, taking pride in the fact that we didn’t really fit in with the rest of the school.    We had pens printed with our motto…. Back Hall Rules, Rest of School Drools…… We Have it All, in the Back Hall.  We did have it all.  More than we wanted some days.  Working with high school age at-risk students.  We probably should have said, “We have SEEN it all in the back hall.”

And there right in the middle of it all was Ginger.  She was technically a teacher’s aide to hundreds of at-risk students.  But she was a teacher in her own right.  Even though she lacked the credentials, she was a teacher.  She had unending patience.  Sitting with a student to assist them with homework, or listening to a struggling high school student try to improve their reading skills, Ginger was encouraging in her own special way.  She sometimes appeared a bit gruff but it was because she wanted what was best for the students and she knew they didn’t always get what they needed.  They responded to her gruffness because they knew she cared about what was happening to them.

Ginger was constantly telling me… “Oh I could never do your job.”  But  then she would turn around and do exactly what I would have done in the same situation.  Cooking, cleaning, recycling, sweeping, assisting students with their school work, always on the clean up committee, Ginger shared whatever she had with whomever needed it.

Together with everyone in our department we would cry and worry over our own children and grandchildren and wonder if they were all going to survive the world and find their way.  We were more than coworkers… we were family for the time we were together.

At the end of a particularly difficult day I would return to my classroom and everything would be shipshape. A short note from Ginger on my desk saying ” I tried to clean up.. hope its ok.”  It was more than ok.  It was above and beyond what others would have done.

I guess those three words best describe Ginger… above and beyond.  Never afraid to speak her mind when she felt it would help the situation, never ever saying, “That’s not my job.”  Never letting us down and never leaving a job unfinished.

Ginger, your earthly self is gone.  Your family may fall apart briefly but they will regroup,  because of the influence you left behind.  Your beautiful children and grandchildren, your husband, your friends;  they will  not forget what you have done for them and will not forget your giving spirit.    Fly high, Ginger….. into the above and beyond.


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The Wallet (Part Three)

With all the contents of the wallet spread out on my dining room table, I leaned back in my chair and studied it all.  It was amazing what I had learned about Ruth by just examining the contents of her wallet.  I knew what she looked like.  I read some of her thoughts and ideas.  She apparently had lots of friends.   She was a junior (there was a receipt for paying her Junior Class dues)  and she was  interested in nursing because of the poem she carried around with her.  She liked perfume and maybe the color red.  I’m assuming a lot, but Ruth was a typical teenage girl from the 1950’s.

sr pics

The biggest mystery was how did the wallet stay hidden surrounded by hundreds of people everyday?  Where had it been that no one had noticed it in over sixty years? My husband, the excavator,  said that on the day they discovered the wallet, they had been demolishing part of the building that included the furnace ducts.   Maybe someone was teasing Ruth, grabbed her wallet and threw it down an air duct?  Would the mystery ever be solved?

During the time that the demolition was taking place, I was busy getting ready for my granddaughter’s graduation party.  Sprucing up the yard, cleaning the garage, making posters, and signs and other decorations.  She was graduating from the new school building which had replaced the one we had just demolished.  On the day of her graduation party, there were many people attending that had gone to school in the old building.  So I began to tell the story of the wallet.  And that’s when the story took another turn.

My son’s father in law, Dan,  graduated from that high school just a few years after Ruth.  He was interested.  I took him in the house and showed him the contents of the wallet.  He could put a name to almost every picture I had rescued.  He didn’t remember Ruth, but he thought her brother still lived in the area.  He said he would make some calls and find out if Ruth was still around.

A couple of weeks later I got a phone call from Ruth’s brother, who lived nearby and had heard the story of the wallet from Dan.  He asked if he could come out and look at the wallet.  He and his wife came right out and they were amazed at the condition of everything.  And yes!  His sister, Ruth, was still alive and living in another state.  She had found that perfect husband and had had a long and happy marriage and family,  but her husband had passed away a few years ago.  She moved into a retirement community and got involved with the activities there. Then she met someone and is now married again and happy.  And she had spent her career as a nurse!

I packaged up the contents of the wallet and handed it to him.  He grinned and said he though he would put everything in a box and mail it to her to surprise her.  He had not said anything to her about it and wanted to see what her reaction would be.  I asked him to let me know how it all turned out.

A few weeks passed and I forgot about the wallet until I received a phone call from Ruth’s brother.  He laughed and said it probably wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for.

When Ruth received the package she called him and said, “Why did you send me all that junk in the mail?”  She had no recollection of the wallet or any of the circumstances of its loss.  We were both disappointed as was everyone who followed the story.

Ruth had moved away from this area shortly after graduation and nursing school so I guess its not surprising that the loss of a wallet 62 years ago was not fresh in her mind.  Though I was disappointed in hearing “the rest of the story”, it was comforting to know that her dreams came true.  That’s all most of us want, right?

to a young nurse





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The Wallet (Part Two)

Many of you know that I am the excavator’s wife.  It seems simpler to tell the rest of the story from my point of view.

The first thing I noticed as I emptied the damp wallet was an identification card dated September 1, 1954.  I was really excited about this find.  It was a piece of local history somehow buried for over sixty years!  My mind was flooded with questions.  Where had it been hidden for so long?  Why had no one found it until the building was demolished?  What can I find out about the owner and is she still alive?  Will she remember this wallet and how it went missing?  My excitement grew with each new piece  discovered.

I discovered that the owner of the wallet was named Ruth. That’s my name!  This young Ruth from 1954  had been a student at the school.  She was seventeen years old, was 4′ 11″ tall, weighed 112 pounds and had brown hair and hazel eyes!  All that information, including the date, was found on Ruth’s FHA (Future Homemakers of America) membership card.  We called it Home Economics when I was in school and the majority of girls signed up for Home Ec  learning how to sew and cook and manage a household.  My mind drifted a bit thinking how silly that must seem to young women today.  But it was the 50’s and that’s the way it was.  Many girls’ hopes and dreams revolved around home and family.   Women’s Lib was still a few years away.

Next I checked the coin compartment of the wallet.  Maybe some coins?  Lunch money?  Nothing but a red button with a tiny piece of red thread attached and a promise from Perry.

red button


I carefully attempted to remove several classmates photos which were carefully tucked in the plastic sleeves for pictures.  Because they were damp, some of the edges tore apart as they stuck to the plastic.  I continued to remove everything I could.  I was afraid if they dried inside the plastic they would be even more damaged. Several of the pictures had messages on the back; bringing  back memories of trading senior pictures with my classmates and trying to come up with something witty to write on the back.

I found a basketball schedule for the schools varsity team, a poem titled “To a Young Nurse”  and a absolutely wonderful handwritten list titled “What I want in a husband”. The list was well worn, folded so as to fit in the wallet, and looked like it was composed over a period of time.  I pictured her in study hall with a friend or at a slumber party, giggling and trying to come up with what she and her friends desired in a husband.

Must love to dance

appreciates music

Should not tell shady stories

Enjoys talking but doesn’t overtalk

not too mushy

considerate of my feelings and family

frank, truthful, intelligent

dependable and has a good job

responsible with money

fairly good-looking with a fairly recent model of car

has a nice place in society

must love children

Loves nature and sports

And then I discovered an old sample perfume card.  It was the size of a business card and the perfume was called “Desert Flower”.  I was amazed that I could still smell the fragrance! It must have been some potent perfume to have lasted over sixty years!

desert flower                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Stay tuned for Part Three…

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The Wallet (Part One)

A flash of turquoise in the huge pile of rubble.

“Stop!”  the young man shouted and waved his arms.  The equipment operator stopped the machine and the young man tiptoed through the pile of brick and stone to the tiny spot of color he had noticed.  He carefully picked it up and dusted it off.

It was a ladies wallet.  He stuck it in his back pocket and motioned the operator to resume.   The old brick school house was just a huge mound of debris.  Bricks, metal, stone, and wood all piled high where the building had stood for over a century.

There had been a stream of onlookers during the entire demolition.  Residents of the village, former students and teachers, community members; none of them could remember their small town without the old school house.  Just a year earlier, it was still filled with the children of the community.

The new building,  just a short distamce down the street,  now housed preschool through 12th graders in one neat, modern, location with plenty of concrete, bricks and glass and lots of blacktopped parking areas.  It was a beautiful new building and the school district was very proud of it.

But traditions and memories fade slowly and almost everyone was sad to watch the old building full of history come to an end.

When it was time to quit for the day, the young man remembered the turquoise wallet and pulled it out of his pocket.  He unsnapped the clasp and quickly looked inside surprised that the contents looked like something from a long time ago.  But because it was time to go home and he was tired, he handed it to the owner of the excavating business who promptly stuck it in his back pocket and  forgot about it.

After pulling off his dusty jeans at the end of his day, the excavator emptied his pockets and turned it over to his wife.  The wallet was damp because while the demolition of the building was progressing, the excavating team sprayed water on the remains of the building to keep the dust down in the neighborhood.

The Wallet

His wife carefully began to open it and noticing the wet contents, she began to take everything out of the wallet and lay it on a paper towel on the countertop to dry out. There was some damage due to the water but she was amazed at the condition of the wallet.  After emptying it she took a damp washcloth and wiped the dust from the outside of the wallet

It looked almost like new.

to be continued……





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The Table

My Grandparents, Orville and Ruth were married in 1917.  They raised 8 children together, the fourth one being my mother, Marjorie.  I don’t know when the oak pedestal table joined the family but I bet it could tell some awesome stories.

The table leaned against the wall of our garage for several years  Mom had  it refinished and from then on it was used at every family Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Like my mother and her siblings, I did homework on the table.It held my high school graduation cake. My wedding bouquet rested there briefly on a hot August afternoon, and baby carriers with grandchildren were placed on the table while we took off our coats for a visit.

The history of the table started long before I was around.  Orville and Ruth’s eight children were Dean, born  in 1917, Mildred in 1919, Leota in 1921,  Marjorie, my mother, in 1923, Burdeen in 1926, Glen in 1931, Paul, in  1935, and Norman, in  1936.   There were two  upstairs bedrooms in the old farm house; one for the boys and one for the girls.  Four in a bed meant some adjustments.  Mom would tell of sleeping on the floor sometimes when sisters disagreed or the older sisters pushed the younger ones out.  It was probably even worse in the room across the hallway although the oldest son may have been already gone by the time the younger brothers slept upstairs.  Everyone was forced to get along just to survive.  It defined my mother’s personality.  She was always extremely conscious of intruding on others; always careful not to bother anyone. Lessons learned in survival mode.

Thomas Family 03072017

Back row:  Burdeen, Leota, Mildred, Marjorie, Dean  Front Row:  Norman, Orville, Glen, Ruth, Paul.

Everyone had work to do on the farm.  There were cows to milk, chickens to feed, eggs to gather, and hogs to feed, sell, and butcher.  An old draft horse, Queenie, was still around when I was a small child, reminiscent of the days when farming did not include tractors and high technology.  Grandpa Thomas was a hunter and a trapper as were many farmers in that era.  It meant extra money and extra food.  The sons all followed this tradition as well. Everyone worked hard, and all eight children also earned a high school diploma.

The old oak table was used hard and long. There are three leaves to extend the table which meant it probably took up most of the kitchen.  It fed all those hungry children and provided a place for them to work on homework or maybe play a game of checkers.  I am amazed when I look at it today to see what good shape it is in.  After my parents were no longer able to live on their own, it traveled to my home.  Following tradition, it has been used at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the next generations, has been used as a craft table for my good friends and grandchildren, and is a reminder of loved ones, family get togethers, and days gone by.


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My Grandparents’ House

I knew my grandparent’s house as well as my own. I spent many hours there, especially in the summer when my Dad would go to help Grandpa with the farming.

Dad would park the truck out back and look for Grandpa in the barn.  I headed into the house to see Grandma. Just outside the back door was an old cistern and a tiny unique tricycle.  It didn’t have pedals; you pushed with your feet back and forth to make it move.   I was so disappointed when I outgrew that trike.

The back steps were typical of old farm houses. To the left were steps to the basement. If you continued up the steps it was a place to pile wood, old paper bags, a broom and dustpan – a catch all.  The basement was dark and cool, crocks of sausage covered with lard awaited preparation for a meal.  Jars of maple syrup.  Canned goods from the garden.  A little bit too scary for  me; I never stayed too long and was not encouraged to go there.  Then up the steps to the kitchen.  As you entered the kitchen, a distinct smell filled the entire house.  Dad said it was the hickory wood they burned in the wood burner down in the basement. Even now  that smell takes me back.

To the right of the back door stood an old blue dresser.  I’m not sure what was stored in the drawers, but the top was covered with Grandma’s seasonal floral arrangements and nature collections.  There were flowers from her garden (or from her sister Martha’s garden) arranged in old coffee cans or glass jars.  Dried weeds and flowers were things of beauty to her and she brought them inside to enjoy.  Hanging over the window sash was a collection of wishbones.  In bowls and old pie pans were pine cones, hickory nuts, buckeyes, milkweed pods, and more assorted items from the back yard or from the woods.  In the fall there were piles of colorful leaves and goldenrod as well as teasel, wheat, oats, and tall spindly, sticky weeds on long stems.  She somehow managed to arrange them into beautiful works of art.

Next was Grandpa’s bedroom which was always dark.  I’m not sure if there was a window in the room or not, but it was not a place where we were supposed to be. Of course we would sneak in just to take a look but there wasn’t much to see.  A bed, a dresser.

The kitchen table was always cluttered with small dishes that held mints or hard candy.   A newspaper or magazine was usually lying on the table as well as a sugar bowl and salt and pepper shakers.   The actual kitchen area was pretty small and consisted of a sink, stove/oven and cupboards above and below.  There were small shelves above the kitchen sink/window facing east,  On one of the shelves was a small plastic cow the you could submerge in water.  It would fill with water and you would pump its tail up and down and water would come out from under the cow into a small plastic bucket.  Milking the cow was always on the agenda when I visited.  Also tucked safely away in one of the cupboards near the stove was a piece of  dark blue Shirley Temple glassware. My older cousins tell me there was once a window in the north wall that could be opened and you could crawl into the hidden room at the front of the house.  It was boarded over eventually.

The living room was next to the kitchen at the front of the house.  Here is where Grandpa sat in a wooden chair with leather padding, next to a table that held his radio, a beautiful globed oil light which had been electrified, newspapers, his chewing tobacco and often a bottle of beer.  The radio was on most of the time, but the volume was up when he was listening to the Cleveland Indians or the Detroit Tigers play by play.  He always wore a pair of dark blue denim bib overalls.  In the summer he was shirtless and hairy chested, which always kind of freaked me out.  In the winter he wore flannel shirts or work shirts under the bibs.  On the floor next to his chair was a coffee can which he used as a spitoon.  A couch with wildly patterned upholstery and another easy chair, a couple of lamps rounded out the decor.  There was no television set for a long time.  I am guessing it was the mid to late 70’s when Grandpa bought their first TV.  The TV was seldom on, but he never missed a baseball game.

The next room was Grandma’s bedroom complete with a Jenny Lind bed and chenille bedspread, later replaced by a quilt  She had a small dresser next to her bed with a mirror and in the corner was a box of toys for us to play with.Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish, Dominoes, and Tinker Toys rounded out the collection along with some beautiful yarn cats that were made by my Aunt Martha.  It was enough to keep a little one busy for awhile and Grandma always found time to play a game of Go Fish or Chutes and Ladders.


My grandparents house was also where my love of music began.  Grandma had an old upright piano in her bedroom which she played quite well.  She would always allow me to pick out tunes on that piano. It was here that I discovered I could play by ear. As long as there wasn’t a baseball game on the radio in the next room, I was free to experiment on the piano.  My mother took note of this and signed me up for piano lessons when I was nine years old.  Eventually,   Grandma and I played duets as my skills improved… my favorite being “Fairies Dance” which we discovered in an old Etude Magazine.  I played the treble melody, while she played the bass ooom pah pah waltz.  I can still hear that duet in my head and have searched unsuccessfully for it over the years.


In the hallway that led back to the kitchen, there was an old long buffet where all kinds of treasures were stored.  The one thing I remember was the stereoscope that my cousins and I would always ask to see when we visited.  Pictures of Niagara Falls and early century bathing beauties turned into 3D images like magic.


Like most farmhouses of that era, there was a substantial front porch and the east wall of the porch formed one wall of the hidden room or as I liked to call it “The Secret Room”.  To the front of the house, a window was the only access to this hidden room.  I never remember ever being inside of it.  There was a scratchy bush in front of the window and it was too high off the ground for me to get a good look inside.  My older cousins brag about climbing inside of the room but I was too timid to attempt it.  Instead I stayed outside on the porch and made up stories in my head about why the room was no longer being used.

There was a stair door in the kitchen, with a removable step that stored old books and magazines.  The stairs were steep, the upstairs was not heated and all in all was pretty primitive.  There was a bed or two upstairs in the first room and boxes of vintage valentines and magazines which I loved to sort through.  One room was never finished with any type of wall covering.  Pelts and skins from my grandpa’s trapping business were hung to stretch and dry and later would be sold to help support the family.  Another room had the door always shut but held old furniture and books, papers, drawing, certificates, and old toys.  An old secretary with curved glass door was  a place for storage in that room and when the furnishings were distributed after my grandparents’ death, I was lucky enough to bring that secretary to my home.

I often drive a few miles out of my way when I travel north just to drive by the house.  It doesn’t look quite the same. There have been two owners since it was sold years ago.  But the bones of the place are still there and the memories have not faded.





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Wait for me


photo credit Peter Abbey

Forty seven years.

It seemed like yesterday. A long narrow walkway leading to a cage. Captive.  Treated like an animal. Hot steamy days, long dark nights often interrupted with cruelty.  He could feel his heart constrict with fear as he walked it one more time.  The only thing that got him through were the thoughts of what was waiting at home.  He turned and looked at her and saw the young girl with long silky hair and bell bottom jeans.  She took his hand, no longer smooth, but in a familiar clasp.  It had been worth the wait.


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