Puppets With The Senior Groups
Just For Fun
Marionettes, Hand Puppets, Finger Puppets...
It was fun getting back to the Center and gathering with my morning group! They know how to have fun, with any theme!
I asked if any in the group had ever owned a puppet as a child. No one could remember playing with puppets... maybe that's why they had so much fun. They were making up for lost time.
A few began using puppet voices right off the bat. Love this playful bunch!
There were some amusing conversations between puppets. Mostly everyone just seemed happy to gather around the quilt, after a summer off.
Mr. Robert saw the Santa Claus finger puppet and remembered playing Santa Claus with his kids. The dog puppets led to lots of talk about favorite pets. The knitted puppets got a few off on a tangent, about crafts.
I pulled the flamingo out last.
I turned on some music and this furry-bird did some dancing before everyone took off for lunch! It was a simple gathering. So fun to see these folks after a whole summer.
I carried the same collection with me, to meet up with my Memory Care group in the afternoon. The serious looking group was already seated around the table when I arrived.
I introduced myself to the new folks and spread the quilt on the table. The proper looking group, looked like they were ready for a serious quilting bee. I reminded the folks (as always) that we wouldn't be sewing. "I just put out the quilt, to make our gathering space cozy."
I decided to avoid confusion and not cover the quilt with tons of toy puppets... yet. I put just a few on the table and asked, "What are these?"
All seemed drawn to the hand puppets and we talked about how they were made and how they were used. We talked about how shy children can become more talkative, with a puppets on their hands. This group was ready to observe and talk. They weren't exactly jumping in to play!
The group liked my little Knight puppet, with his velvet skirt.
I had some curious history about the famous rod puppets that have entertained for centuries in Sicily. But they wanted to talk about the puppet on the table. "How does he work?"
I figured no one really wanted to hear about how puppets were used in Greece or China, either. I had some fun facts. I had recently learned so much about the use of puppets in operas and vaudeville... Puppets weren't initially used to entertain kids.
But, like my morning group, the folks sitting around the table wanted to examine things. They didn't really want to hear me talk. They loved looking at the Chinese shadow puppet. They liked the colors and the slick feel of dragon.
We did talk about puppet shows and some of the memorable characters, like Pinocchio and Punch and Judy.
I remembered my older brother putting on shows with his handmade marionettes.
As I brought out more puppets, we talked about which were the easiest to work and which were the easiest to make.
Carol remembered making puppets from socks. I had totally forgotten about sock puppets. I'd also forgotten about how my dad's feet became puppets when he came home from work. I told the story of my 2-year-old brother, begging my dad to take off his shoes, so he could talk to "Feeties".
Which is Best?
We tried on hand puppets and compared. Our fingers could make some puppets clap and nod.
Our hands worked the mouths of some puppets. We all agreed that the puppets with moving mouths, were the most fun.
Puppets from Radio and TV
The folks who were closer to my age, remembered Shari Lewis and her sweet Lamb Chop. Ramona began singing, "It's Howdy Doody Time!" when I showed the picture of Buffalo Bob and his little friend, from 1947.
I was sorry no one remembered Kukla, Fran and Ollie, along with me. But I was thrilled when a few lit up to see the photo of Edgar Bergen and his "dummy" Charlie McCarthy. I actually don't have childhood memories of that duo, but I did wear my Charlie McCarthy ring, which amused everyone.
Most kids are too focused on the puppet, to worry about my lips moving. Older kids look at my face right away, but will play along if I wink.
Some had questions about a few of the older puppets. They looked like they had stories to tell. When they asked who knitted the finger puppets, I shared photos of the good humored children, who sold them in Peru.
They wanted to know which puppet was my favorite when I was a child. I told them I remembered hiding behind the couch, to let my puppets entertain my family.
I so wish that my puppets could have triggered some of their memories, but they seemed satisfied to hear mine.
By the end of the hour, my serious bunch was just as playful as my morning group. I turned on the music and brought out the dancing Flamingo.
Other hands got busy, dancing the puppets over the quilt. I heard a few "puppet voices" over the music, chatting with other puppets.
It was a fun way to end.
What Did I Learn?
Our puppet gathering was a fun one, but none seemed personally connected with the theme. With broader themes like Trees or School, everyone has a story. I love it when I see a face light up with a memory. I love hearing the stories that flow with more relatable themes.
But... once again, I got to use some stuff from my closets and storage. Yay! Now that these old puppets have been put to use, I need to think about finding them some good homes!
Puppet Kids on the Quilt
Last Day of Summer
Yesterday morning, I headed to the Women's Shelter with the Quilt and a pile of puppets. I knew school was starting the next day and the kids might be wound up.
Sister and Brother
Her 8-year-old brother studied the quilt and smiled at my name tag. "It's the same!" He said. That made my day! For some reason, kids and adults never seem to notice the quilt image on my tag.
"I'll bet the quilt has been to 81 places!" he said. He asked if each square was for a different place. What made him even think of that? It wasn't until clean up time, that the underside of the quilt was revealed. As the kids helped me fold up the quilt, the wise brother saw the words printed on the muslin and asked, "Look! Those are all the places, right?"
The group wondered what else was in the quilted bag. The puppet reached in with his mouth and pulled out a smaller sleeping bag. Pickles had his own little giraffe friend and he was sleeping inside. The kids named her Penelope.
What Puppets Have Strings?
Eventually the young girl wanted strings, too. The kids caught on faster than expected, lifting and lowering and wiggling their limp arms, when I pulled their strings. Even the 3 year old was able to imagine my invisible scissors cutting his strings. They loved it best when I lifted all their strings together... and cut them all in one quick SNAP! I lucked out. None of the puppet kids conked heads, when they fell to the ground.
I introduced two marionettes after that. Tennis Shoe Boy and Pink Flamingo were a big hit. The kids learned quickly that one of the biggest problems with marionettes was... tangled strings!
They named the flamingo, Flori. We put on some old ragtime music and he danced up to each child. Some danced with him. Others watched and smiled. All wanted to hug him. Oh, if only I could have taken a video of their gentle hugs. I usually expect at least one, playful bop or punch. Not one.
The kids stayed calm, even when I handed out finger puppets. I told the kids to close their eyes and hold out a hand and I would drop a tiny puppet in their palm. I tried to work swiftly to avoid the expected whining. I didn't hear, But I wanted that one!
The kids stayed focused, working to get their fingers into their puppets. No conflict! Then Pickles suddenly started greeting each puppet. Some of the kids attempted special voices and some were too shy. Then I said they could find someone to switch with. Again that was tempting arguments, but I lucked out. We switched a few times.
Dancing Puppet Man
We debated over whether this wooden guy was a puppet. As soon as he started kicking and dancing on the bouncy board, the kids insisted he was a dancing puppet!
The kids sang along with me, "Jump, Mr. Puppet Man! Jump on the board now.... Dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing..." Then the kids stood up and and jumped and danced along with the song. At the end of the song, they collapsed on the quilt, along with Mr. Puppet Man. Lots of giggles and only one bump. No tears.
My Old Puppets
The jumping and collapsing could have made the group wilder, but they sat back down and seemed ready to see more puppets. I warned them that the ones I had left, were old and sort of creepy... from my childhood. They didn't recognize any of the storybook characters, but one little girl pointed to Wendy. "I have a dress with material like that!" Surprisingly none of the kids cringed at the eerie Big Bad Wolf, or the faded, torn fabric.
I asked if any of the kids knew of a puppet character from TV. (I was thinking of Sesame Street puppets) Suddenly, the wise 8-year-old answered, "Rumpelstiltskin?" Where did that answer come from?
First of all, I can't imagine kids today knowing that character! And what are the chances that I would happen to have that very character puppet in the bottom of the bag? There is no way he could have seen my hidden puppet. I brought him out, along with the donkey and "maiden". How odd!
Then I told the kids I was thinking of a green puppet character, they might have seen on TV. They all recognized Kermit. The 8-year-old wise brother, lit up and spoke to the frog. "Kermit! How is Miss Piggy doing these days?" It was as if I had trained this young boy to be a role model for the others!
The kids were delighted when Kermit's mouth sort of smiled at the group. They were not so delighted with my Kermit voice. The older kids teased. "No that's not Kermit's voice!" "Make it lower!" "No, that's not it!" I need to work on a proper Kermit voice!
All the Puppets!
Then it was time to let the kids be the puppeteers. I did what I never do. I just let the kids pick a puppet... any puppet. Of course, I poured on the praise first. "You kids have been amazing, taking turns and listening and sharing..." Maybe that helped, a little.
But mostly, this was just a magical mix of kids. The older ones were calm, while the younger kids picked first. Then suddenly, every child held a puppet or two and the music began.
As some lively Dixieland jazz filled the room, the puppets partied. Some puppets danced on the Quilt. Some puppets chatted with each other.
My favorite moment was when the sweet 3-year-old, (with an adorable name that I will never forget, but I cannot share) asked if he could hold Pickles. Usually I keep my special puppet in the bag. But how could I say no?
I watched him put Pickles on his hand, then struggle to understand. "He won't talk." he told another child. "He's not saying anything." The other children were gentle when they explained, "He doesn't really talk." I told the sweet little puppeteer that I would make him talk again, after we cleaned up. I love a little innocence on the quilt.
Suddenly, we were running out of time. I used the not so clever bribery of stickers and asked all the kids to gently lay the puppets in the middle of the quilt.
I didn't get a photo of the Puppet Mountain they created, but they made a nice one... quickly. I lifted the mountain into my largest tote bag and the kids helped fold the quilt... without a single child suddenly deciding to dive into the soft center. That often happens.
What Did I Learn?
I've been coming for 15 years and I know to plan for short attention spans and to expect a little conflict here and there. Their lives are complicated. So what made this gathering feel so different?
It helped that it was morning and the kids were fresh. My usual after school slot, is not ideal. But mostly, it was just a lucky combination of kids, with good chemistry. The colorful props, helped get their attention, but they came to me with big, open hearts. They made it easy.
Sometimes I leave, wondering about the sad stories behind the children at the Shelter. But yesterday, I left hopeful about these kids and their futures. If they can enjoy and share so easily, with whatever family stresses they have had... then, I have high hopes for each and every one of these Little Puppeteers, for the future!
May Picnic Theme
Today, our table was covered with picnic cloths and baskets... picnic themed books and even a tiny picnic table. But inside the baskets, there were things, totally unrelated to our theme.
My morning crowd loves games, so I came with plenty of Picnic Bingo cards. Everyone took a handful of marker-squares from the small basket and got ready to win some prizes, from the large basket.
Lately, I've been sorting and clearing closets in my house. I've accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. I turned my stuff into prizes!
What fun to see these folks getting excited about the little goodies, that I've for some reason never used. As I headed off, my load was much lighter!
I simplified for my afternoon group. We did a little Bingo, but we skipped the prizes. We feasted on our own simple picnic of crackers and cookies, while we played.
These sweet folks were gathered around the table where I first began these gatherings, almost 10 years ago. My mom was one of the many residents, dealing with Alzheimer's. She taught me to just enjoy the moment. She helped remind me that there's no need to fuss over things like game rules.
So I joined these dear friends, searching the picnic images on the Bingo cards. We chatted and piled up squares and sometimes we noticed when there was a "Bingo!" and we cheered.
Enjoying the Table
We cleared the Bingo clutter and enjoyed some peaceful conversing. "What's the story about this man and woman, eating on the bench?" We all had ideas!
The books got some attention. Some studied the books quietly. I so wondered what their thoughts were, as they flipped the pages and sometimes smiled.
Some discussed the images with each other. I loved hearing these 2, talking about a picnic in the bed of a truck. That got the group talking about good and bad places for picnics. Most agreed that a beach picnic often sounds better than it is.
A Real Picnic
I left both my groups feeling content. Talk of picnics, always pleases me. A few days later, I was in St. Louis, the city where my mom grew up. She always knew the best picnic spots.
On Mother's Day I had time before I flew home, to stop and have my own little picnic in one of my favorite parks. Mom would have loved that. She inspired my love of picnics. Mom also inspired me to begin gathering with folks around the quilt, years ago. Thanks Mom!
Too Many Dolls!
I recently got carried away with a huge spring cleaning project at home. I sorted through boxes of stored dolls. I had an amusing time, trying to see how many I could display on an antique organ. I stopped at 69.
Around the Quilt
Most of these dolls have just been taking up storage space. I knew I needed to find homes for them, but I wanted to put them to good use first. I planned a doll theme with my senior groups. On Tuesday I lugged part of the collection, along with some books and photos.
No one remembered the Lonely Doll book, that I adored. My seniors all remembered paper dolls, but the high school volunteers had never heard of them. I told them how my mother used to make paper dolls from cardboard. My sister and I would describe the clothes we wanted Mom to draw. Then we colored them and cut them out. The young volunteers listened, but their expressions told me... "That does not sound fun."
I had a couple of men in my morning group. I was glad they weren't scared off by the theme. One remembered his sister sharing her dolls with him. The other never played with dolls, but he happily eased into the theme by looking through a book about doll history.
Kewpies, Barbies, Shirley and Chatty Cathy
Kewpie dolls and Shirley Temple dolls were popular when my mother was a child. Many in my afternoon group remembered them well.
Many in my morning group were closer to my age. They remembered what Barbie looked like when she debuted in 1959. A few remembered the popular Chatty Cathy and her robotic voice, when you pulled the string.
My young volunteers laughed at the 1959 Barbie image. They admitted they had collected tons of Barbies when they were younger. They seemed surprised that girls often just had one Barbie Doll... or Ken. They had never heard of Midge, Barbie's much more human looking friend.
Not everyone had a memory of owning a store bought doll. We brainstormed how you could make a doll at home... from wood or scraps of fabric, paper or clothespins. A few had made cornhusk dolls, but no one remembered carving dolls from soap, like the ones that Boo Radley made for Jem and Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird.
We talked about what makes a doll appealing. Some thought pretty baby dolls were the best. Others liked cuddly, soft dolls. One admitted that she never really liked dolls at all.
I was the kid who liked cute & little over fancy & expensive. I preferred Troll dolls and "Liddle Kiddles" over Barbie. I had to laugh when I saw my dear friend wearing my 2 favorites, like festive broaches!
The small dolls were fun to pass around. It was interesting to hear the group conversing, as they passed.
While we passed we wondered... Are all dolls toys? What do kids do with dolls? Where are dolls kept? Why are some dolls scary? How can dolls be used to teach?
Do Boys Like Dolls?
We decided that plenty of boys do like dolls ... especially this guy, with Elvis and Popeye.
I was glad I had a few of these fine gents to share. My son had these when he was younger, but he didn't just have boy dolls. We talked about how boys and girls can learn a little something with baby dolls.
Dolls that Teach
I got this crazy looking babydoll when my mom was expecting. I learned how to care for my baby, while I watched my mom with my tiny brother.
My morning group had fun listing all the crazy "performing" dolls. Dolls that walked, talked, drank water and wet! My mom gave my daughter a battery-filled doll that crawled. Somewhere on an old VHS tape there is a video of Heidi and the doll, racing in the grass.
Dolls for a Purpose
I was excited when Ramona could tell me about the "Last Doll" tradition. In some Mexican families, fathers give their 15 year old daughters their "last doll" when they celebrate their Quinceanera. Ramona said her granddaughter had a doll displayed on her Quinceanara cake.
No one in either group knew anything Kachina dolls and how they've been used to teach Hopi and Navajo children about the ancestral spirits. I didn't open up a discussion on Haitian Voodoo dolls... but I shared a happier version, that is more of a good luck doll. We didn't have time to talk about the "Johnny Walks Last" doll, that I discovered on the internet. I wonder if anyone would have remembered these sad looking dolls, that were used to inspire sympathetic donating, for St. Labre Indian School. My theme research always teaches me something and this was an unusual bit of info!
We talked about collectable dolls, that adults buy and display. Some collect antique dolls or dolls that look like famous people.
I shared character dolls that represented 4 generations. My grandmother's Uncle Sam got a few chuckles. My mother's Sonja Henie doll was less familiar. No one could guess my doll in pink was Caroline Kennedy, but a few recognized my daughter's Shirley Temple - Heidi Doll. We tried to guess which of these dolls was actually used for play.
Posing with Dolls
In my morning group, everyone grabbed a doll or two and I snapped some photos. I was surprised at how many thought the Doctor Dolittle doll was handsome. Rex Harrison was indeed handsome, but I always thought the smiling doll was eerie.
What I Learned
I learned that my senior friends are a lot more forgiving about doll flaws than younger kids. No one seemed a bit put off by dirty faces or ripped clothes. Both groups were delighted to spend time sharing and comparing and most of all, telling their own doll memories... dolls that got lost, stolen, broken or playfully tortured!
Now that we've had some fun, I will have to decide where these dolls go. I think I spied a few folks who might be up for adopting!
Masks on Mardi Gras
On Fat Tuesday, I met with a couple groups around The Quilt. My senior groups have always loved a Mardi Gras theme, with festive masks and beads. But this time, I decided to leave the beads at home.
During a recent closet cleaning, I discovered just how many masks I own. "This is ridiculous!" I told myself, "I need to use these or get rid of them." So... I planned a mask theme.
Starting With Mardi Gras
I was cautious. Some of my masks are creepy. Some are comical and some could be politically incorrect.
So, I started with just a few Mardi Gras masks and everyone was happy. We talked about the festive colors and feathers and designs. Everyone liked the idea that eyes and mouths were showing and we could see expressions.
Masks for Dia de Muertos
Some of my friends from Mexico, were excited to see the masks that reminded them of Day of the Dead festivities. We talked about how painted faces can become a mask. A face just covered in paint, can hide expressions... if the makeup is done well.
Masks of Mexico
My father collected many masks when he lived in Mazatlan. I know only a little about the history of Mexican masks and how they've been used, in ceremonies and celebrations. I brought the least scary of the collection, but still hesitated before sharing. I was blown away by the enthusiasm. Not only did both groups admire the artistry, but they seemed incredibly eager to try them on!
On Stage and in Film
A woman in my morning group reached for the unpainted wooden face and said it looked like a Roman mask. I was impressed. We talked about the use of masks in Greek and Roman theatre and Chinese operas. But most of the folks were much more excited to remember the mask-wearing heroes and villains from TV and movies!
Besides wearing masks, we passed photos around the table and tossed around lots of questions. "What does a mask hide?" "What kind of masks do people wear for work?" "What athletes wear masks?" "Are masks more scary or funny?" I was surprised at some of the brainstorming.
The groups came up with a long list of special masks... masks worn by welders and robbers, surgeons and scuba divers... beauty masks for skin treatment or sleeping... masks for patients who need oxygen or burn victims.
Masks for Kids
Most of my seniors had memories of wearing a mask for Halloween. But none remembered anything quite so deluxe as the paper mache granny mask, that my dear friend Diane, wore when we trick-or-treated. The mask fit over her entire head, so I, (as a mask-less bride) had to guide her from door to door!
I had some high school volunteers in my afternoon group. Only one of them ever remembered wearing a mask for Halloween. We teased the young girls, that they really missed out. Then we fessed up, about just how uncomfortable it was having a plastic mask strapped onto your face... steaming it with your breath... mumbling through the mouth hole and stumbling from house to house, when the eye holes didn't match up.
Masks From the Fifties
I had 3 vintage Halloween masks to share. Again I was cautious. I was concerned about how appropriate these masks would be. But the masks got everyone talking.
One man said he was part Cherokee and he wasn't insulted by the painted face of the Native American. One woman said the face of the woman was beautiful. No one could decide what the gorilla-man face was, but they were amused and nearly all in my morning group wanted to put it on. Dear Betty, in the afternoon group, pushed it away with a laugh. "Keep this away from me!" I was intrigued by the reactions.
Many fondly remembered making masks out of paper grocery bags. Even one of the high school volunteers had made one. These flat, paper masks showed a simple and clever way to disguise yourself.
We all agreed, they were less creepy on the table than on the face! We tried to figure out what made it so odd. There was something eerie about combining 2 images... the real and unreal. But again, both groups were more delighted than bothered! That surprised me.
What Makes a Mask?
We talked about the definition. A mask is an object that covers the face, for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. The morning group decided, these crazy noses and mouths were worthy of being called masks.
I brought out a few tiny masks for inspection. There were a few sweet comments about how cute they were... but all the attention went back to the big masks...
Why So Fun?
I honestly could not figure out what made my folks so happily entertained by the masks. The clown mask was kind of frightening and I almost didn't bring it. But many begged to try it on. I realized I should have brought a mirror, but they didn't even seem to care. They loved watching the others react. A few times I snapped an image on my phone, so they could see themselves.
My morning group wanted to pose for pictures, in every mask. I always bring them copies and I will have tons to distribute at our next gathering! My afternoon group just seemed so tickled to surprise each other. The full face masks were the most fun. There were no hints of facial expressions, but the body language and the muffled giggles, gave much away!
What Did I Learn?
I've always known that puppets and masks have something in common. They offer many adults and children an opportunity to play at being someone else. Maybe that's why we had so much fun with these masks. I didn't take the theme to my kid groups at the Shelter, but I may find a way to adapt for them. We'll see.
UPDATE: February 2021
I'm looking back on this post from almost 2 years ago. It's been nearly a year since I was last able to meet with these wonderful folks. It's still uncertain when we will gather again. It's odd to recall our fun Mask Day and realize we totally missed out, on one kind of mask. There was no surgical mask in our discussion... no pandemic mask.
Two years ago, I never guessed that a protective face covering, would come to mind first, when thinking of the word MASK!
As we begin February 2021, I have a new appreciation for the masks that keep us safe. I'm especially grateful for those who wear masks to protect others... just as Don did with his daughter, in 1986. It's amazing to know that "Baby Heidi" is almost a mom. She will be wearing a mask in about a week, when she gives birth to her daughter. The things I didn't know in Feb/March 2019!
Happy Chinese New Year 2019!
Three Groups on Tuesday
On Tuesday I met with 2 Senior groups as well as a group of children. It happened to be the Lunar New Year, so I chose China for our theme. Most of my young and old friends, had little connection to this theme, but they all loved the chopsticks!
Focusing on China
Masks, Hats and Dolls
Others reached for something curious to try on or examine. The Terracotta Army Warrior mask surprised a few!
I had a lot of props for our theme, focused on China. But, the chopsticks were the biggest hit in all groups. Everyone had their own style.
The chopsticks challenge put everyone in a good mood. We were more focused on humor than skill.
Watching all the creative techniques got us all laughing.
While hands were busy, we listened to different recordings of music. One piece had the sounds of a bright and festive lion dance. The other traditional piece was filled with eerie flute and plucking strings and a distant gong.
My youngest and oldest, had the most creative techniques! Luckily we had no eyes poked or sword fights with the kids. They were a fun and wild group at the Shelter that day, so I was taking a risk bringing out the tiny weapons. But they were very curious and so proud of themselves. The chopsticks ended up being a great tool for calming the kids!
Gonging in the New Year!
I actually don't know if gongs are used at all and I hope I didn't improperly use my Chinese gong. But, we created our own tradition by "gonging in the New Year" with special thoughts and words.
Fortunes and Wishes
We all agreed that the fortunes in fortune cookies are pretty useless. We read the words in one and decided we could do better. Each took a turn striking the gong and coming up with their own fortune or words of hope or wisdom. Some folks shared their thoughts and a few kept the "wish" or "hope" to themselves.
My morning group is often so enthused it's hard for some of the quieter folks to get a word in. It was pretty special to watch the focus change as we took turns with the gong. Because the vibration held the sound for so long, it gave each person a chance to hold onto their moment, to think or share their thoughts. My favorite "wish" came with a thoughtful sigh. "I just hope that somehow we can find a little peace with this country of ours."
In the afternoon, we weren't able to use our quiet private room on Tuesday. Our table in the middle of the living room had lots of distractions with staff and residents passing through. But this funny little puppet caught the eye of many and we ended up with more people in our group than usual.
We had fun, even without a screen or projector. The traditional Chinese music played and the little dragon danced on the quilt. We could even see his shadow on parts of the quilt.
I managed to get another woman to just come for a bit. She was also reluctant and kept her distance. Then her dear husband arrived for a visit and the two of them joined in together, with all the activities. At one point, I pulled out a card that explained matchmaking in China, using a compatibility chart. I knew it was beyond comprehension of most, but the sweet husband studied the chart for a moment. "I was born in the year of Rat and my wife was born in the year of the Pig!" He smiled at the conclusion. "It says our match is Quite Charming!" I have no clue how much his wife understood and how much sense it made to the others. But his wife was glowing as she watched her husband announce his sweet conclusion. It was a lovely way to end our gathering!
What Did I Learn? I've done this theme before, so I expected the positive reaction to the chopsticks and gong. I just wish I had lugged less and cluttered less. My Chinese New Year's Resolution should be about simplifying the Quilt Groups. Our gatherings should be more about the questions than the stuff. Props are good, but I only need to bring the special ones.
You've Got Mail
Letters... Mailboxes... Post Offices... Mailmen... Memories...
For a December theme, I decided to indirectly focus on the holidays, with a theme about MAIL. You have to be my age or older to appreciate that theme! I gathered my stuff and headed out to my senior groups.
As I drove to my morning group, listening to NPR, I had to laugh. The radio program was titled, Miracle on Your Street: How the Post Office Handles Holidays. By the time I met my group, I was full of lots of extra trivia!
I spread out my oddball stuff... a mailbox bank, here and a postman figure there. I told the group some curious facts.
200 million packages were handled, just this week alone... the first American post office was in a tavern... in the early days of parcel post, a few folks decided it was cheaper to send their children by mail, than train. So they did.
The idea of kids being handled like mail was a little creepy. I asked if anyone had heard of the book character, Flat Stanley.
No one had heard about the story of the flat child who had many adventures, including a trip through the mail. The story didn't creep my son out, when he was a child. He and his classmates made their own Flat Stanley cutouts and sent them in the mail, to have adventures with friends and relatives.
The thought of Flat Stanley only amused the group for a moment. They were more drawn to the stack of letters tied with a bow. We talked about why those letters were tied up with ribbon. "So no one can read them!" "Because they're special."
We talked about making letters special, with sealing wax or even a lipstick kiss! No one could believe that I had not opened these special letters that belonged to my mother. We debated. But I have chosen not to read them.
Where Letters Go
I doubt kids today would want to spend more than a minute looking at the old Golden Book, about the adventures of a letter traveling through the mail.
But my group around the table was delighted by the images on each page. It was a good reminder (to me, since I grumble a lot about mail service) about what an amazing thing it is, that we can write a note at home and have it end up in a friend's home, across the country... for 50 cents.
I may not have opened the letters tied with ribbon, but I loved sharing these family gems. There was a postcard my grandmother wrote in 1918. There was a letter from my great great uncle in 1889, typed on Ely & Walker stationary... reminding me of my family's odd connection with President Bush's family.
But my favorite letters have always been the ones that my grandfather sent to my mother when she was small. This one from 1932, starts with Dear Baby. I love his drawings. Oh how I wish I had met him!
Mom's Postcard Collection
My first Senior Quilt Gatherings, began when my mom was alive and she was able to join in the fun.
She is no longer here, but I pulled out her prized collections of oddball postcards. These are just a few of the old (and less humorous ones) in her collection of about 100.
Passing the Cards
In both of my groups, we had the most fun when we just sat back and passed the silly postcards around the table. We laughed and gabbed and showed each other our favorites... that squeaked, or told the temperature, or had crazy, moveable features...
I kind of like the kitschy one, with a baggy of Spanish moss attached.
Of course the best part is always hearing the stories. Many remembered their mail carriers fondly. They were always postmen, back in the day and they usually came to the door and were known by name.
Two remembered having no postal service. They had to make trips to the post office to get their mail. I kept my own mail service grumbles to myself.
Music and Cards
Before finishing up, we listened to a little Christmas music, while passing around vintage holiday cards.
Who doesn't like to look at some cozy pictures of snow, when it's 80 degrees in Houston? We sang a couple Hanukkah songs, too... even though we were a little late for this year's celebration.
What I Learned: I didn't overdo with a December theme this year. Mostly I was too disorganized to get holiday props pulled out. But our simple theme seemed just about right to me. I felt more relaxed and focussed and I think the others did too. Best of all, I did a lot of thinking about my mom. It felt like she was right there with us!
Pull Up a Chair
Chairs Around (and on) the Quilt
Pictures of Chairs
Before we really got started, a few conversations started up at once. Some were discussing the similarities of chairs in dental offices and hair salons.
Across the table, a few others were looking at pictures of men in chairs. One voice announced, "Oh Mr. Kennedy was our best president!" We all took a look at the president, in his famous rocker. In about 60 seconds the entire table was suddenly arguing about who the worst president is/was! Oh, how I wanted to learn more about their thoughts!
We talked about how chairs were once used in circuses, by lion tamers. Then we studied some photos of tightrope walkers, using chairs and acrobats balanced on crazy stacks of chairs. We built our own chair towers, with colorful plastic chairs.
In both my morning and afternoon groups, we let the small chairs spark memories.
There were more memories of rocking chairs than any other kind of chair.
A Grandparent's Chair
Many associated a special chair with a grandparent or their mother. "Nobody could sit in Papa's chair, but Papa!" "My mother had a rocker like this one. Later, I rocked my babies in that same rocker. I used to sing to them when we rocked."
A Romantic Memory
She continued with a story of sitting on those stools with her future husband... when he proposed. We had a fun time imagining a proposal over ice cream!
Janie loved the park bench and said she had one in her yard, once. We debated for a moment if a park bench was a chair... and was a porch swing, a chair? The group decided... "If you sit on it, it's a chair!"
Chairs for Kids
Everyone loved the potty chair. We heard a few funny stories about potty-training. The doll's rocker reminded June, of Dennis the Menace. We talked about generations of parents using chairs to discipline their children.
A few chairs reminded folks of sitting at kitchen and dining room tables. Were there rules about sitting at the table? Did you ever tip back on your chair? Pull the chair out for an elder relative? Put a phone book on a chair, like a booster seat for a small child?
The tiny Captain's chair, reminded me of the antique chairs that surrounded my family table, growing up. Our old chairs didn't exactly match and each had its own annoying problem... a wobbly leg, a nail that snagged, a warped seat. But I loved those chairs.
The Adirondack chair and the folding beach chair put smiles on a few faces. Some vacation memories were shared, but the chairs also inspired a little fantasizing. We changed our focus from remembering, to imagining.
Pass the Chair
Everyone began talking at once, so I grabbed the wicker chair and said I would start. I held the chair and thought a moment. "I'm imagining that I'm sitting on a wonderful chair, some place special..."
"I'm sitting on my lawn chair, in the carport, looking out at the yard." "I'm in a soft chair with lots of pillows and I've got a warm drink." "I'm on a porch in a rocking chair and I have a book."
What Did I Learn?
It's the familiar that delights people the most. The photos of unusual chairs didn't get nearly as much attention, as the basic rockers and kitchen chairs. The chair made out of books and the Queen's throne were curious, but people were drawn to the photos of the chairs they knew best. Even when allowed to dream of their fantasy chair and place, most chose a chair and place that they remembered.
Our chair theme was simple and all could relate. That is usually the best.
Too Many Shoes!
First Time Theme
It would have been easy to have just packed up my closet, for this theme. But I figured it might be a little creepy, putting adult shoes on the quilt. With the exception of a couple of children's shoes, most of the shoes I brought, had never been on a real foot.
An Enthused Bunch
Luckily, no one seemed to think my shoe theme was a bit odd. Right away, hands reached for favorite shoes.
The baby shoes were a big hit. Everyone had something to say about the white, high tops.
"I remember using white shoe polish on those!" "People used to bronze them and make them into bookends." "Some would hang a pair from the rear view mirror!" "They were the best for making a baby walk correctly." "Remember the bow-biters that clipped on, over the laces? And bells on the baby shoes!"
Tools For Shoes
I was surprised to hear the term "shoe spoon" when I shared my grandmother's old shoe horn. Everyone seemed to remember using a shoe horn of some kind.
The other tool was foreign to most. I knew my grandmother had used the hook, with the buttons or laces on her boots. At least 2 seemed to recognize the old tool and tried it out on the baby shoe.
The Old Classic
We wondered... "What were the first shoes made out of? Bark? Animal skin?" "Did the first shoes have a right foot and left foot?" "When did shoemaking go from cobbler-made to factory-made?"
We had fun coming up with some crazy shoe ideas, that really do exist... like ballet toe shoes and clown shoes. We found a few photos (from the internet) that helped us brainstorm some shoe ideas, that we'll most likely never see on a foot!
Thanks to a great find on ebay, I had some curious shoes to share. I'm not sure where these are actually from, but we had a good time guessing. The elevated wooden shoe looked like it was designed for a wet climate. The leather shoe, with cleat-like nails on the bottom, made us think about shoes... that can also be used as a weapon!
Kids and Shoes
No one claimed "Go-Go Boots" as their favorite, except me. Oh how I loved mine, in 4th grade! But many remembered the stylin' boots and the singer, who wore a taller pair, in the sixties. My memory care group surprised me at one point, when one voice began to sing the song, made famous by Nancy Sinatra. "These boots are made for walkin'..." Suddenly, the entire table was singing along! I love moments like that.
Quiet Shoes... Loud Shoes
I played a recording of a song called Fidgety Feet. I asked one group to imagine what kind of shoes you would wear, if you danced to the song. (I thought they'd think of tap shoes) But Connie had a different thought. She stood up carefully and with a secretive smile, she began to do a light and graceful "Soft Shoe" performance! Wonderful!
Then, I played Puttin' on the Ritz and we could actually hear the sound of Fred Astaire's tap shoes on the recording. A few used the children's tap shoes and some used gloves, with button fingers. We didn't use our feet, but we managed a little tap-dancing on the glass!
Stories and Poems
Most had a pretty good memory of the storybook characters, known for their special shoes. The idea of wearing glass or ruby slippers made us all cringe. Most agreed that house slippers were the most comfortable of all shoes. "Why would they call Cinderella's or Dorothy's breakable shoes, slippers? Slippers are comfortable!"
It was the nursery rhymes, that really pulled us all together. "One two, buckle my shoe..." "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe..." "Wynken, Blyken and Nod one day, sailed off in a wooden shoe..." It was especially fun to see my memory care group, chanting the words together... then laughing together, when none of us could remember what happened when that wooden shoe sailed off!
Put a Shine on Your Shoes
The shoe shine kit brought back a few memories. None of the women remembered shoe shining experiences, but all could recall seeing shoe shine stands in airports and train stations, barber shops and hotels. One dapper gentleman in my memory care group, smiled as he told us, he always gave an extra tip... if he got a little singing with his shoe shine.
I shared a video recording of Fred Astaire singing, Put a Shine on Your Shoes. In the movie clip, Astaire sings as he sits on the elevated chair. He and the talented shoe shine guy, both end up singing & dancing throughout the whole shoe shine process. It's a crazy scene, worth Googling!
Then we talked about horses (and even other animals) that wear shoes. Then, there was a lot of discussion about uses for horseshoes... from tossing horseshoes to hanging them (for good luck) on the wall.
What Did I Learn?
I learned... that we did not have enough time to talk about shoes! We didn't get to brainstorm all the uses for shoeboxes or shoelaces. We didn't get to play Blue Suede Shoes or eat shoestring potatoes! We didn't get to list off all the shoe sayings! "You never know a man until you've walked in his shoes... if the shoe fits... Goody two-shoes..." And we forgot about penny loafers and saddle shoes, stilettos and wingtips!
Worst of all, we didn't have enough time to hear all the personal shoe stories that were just beginning to surface. Next time, I will bring fewer props. We'll talk more about the shoes in our memories, than the shoes on the table. Props help to excite us and get us thinking... and then they distract us.
Back to School
...we become kids again, when I pull out the school stuff with my Senior Groups.
Even though the folks I gather with, come from different worlds, with very different kinds of experiences, we all seem to have a fondness for sharing school nostalgia.
Young and Old
Not all are the right age to have learned how to ready with "Dick, Jane & Sally" books. But all remember hardback books and spelling lists.
Some remembered walking home for lunch and others recalled buying hot lunch in the cafeteria. "I can remember just exactly what I used to have on my tray! The roll went right there and the spaghetti was the best! I bought a carton of milk to go with it!"
Ramona remembered hiding under her desktop, to sneak bites of her taco. A few others attended culturally mixed schools where the children who had sandwiches in their lunches, were curious about the kids who had tacos. "Lots of kids had never tasted a taco, so sometimes I shared."
We had fun trying to remember all the school supplies we used as kids... pencils and chalk, glue and a Big Chief tablet for many of us.
We laughed about how Crayola colors have gotten a lot fancier with their names, from sea green to periwinkle. We even noticed that the words on the labels were written in 3 languages!
The Black and White Quilt
In my morning group, we gathered around a black and white quilt, with musical notes and piano keys. The quilt belonged to Betty, who told us about her years as a teacher. Her music students made the quilt for her.
The table props always help with stories. I expected the school desk and lunch tray to prompt a few. I didn't expect any whistle stories, so I asked what kind of teacher would use a whistle.
She smiled even bigger when she remembered the young football player, who made a lanyard for her whistle. The well-loved coach passed away and Betty still has the whistle today.
Luckily no one had horrible stories of getting paddled or slapped with a ruler. But everyone in both groups decided, teachers have a tougher time with behavior issues, today.
It was interesting to hear from those who went to rural schools and felt like school was a break from all the farm chores and house work. "No one ever complained about school. We felt lucky to have it."
My dear friend from Trinidad, was so intrigued with the small bus. He never took a yellow bus to school, but he sometimes took a train.
He was one of the lucky ones who was allowed to go to school, in Trinidad. He actually gave our group quite an education, when he told us the changes in public schools, with Prime Minister, Eric Williams. "Now school is free for all children from Kindergarten to University!" He announced.
What Did I Learn?
I was reminded of how much our little gatherings remind of a classroom. When we gathered around the quilt this time, (after 2 months) it felt like we were all just a bunch of kids coming together after summer break.
Just like any class, we're made up of different personalities and temperaments. Some are loud, some need encouragement to talk, some are distracted and some like to clown... But there are no teacher's pets in our groups. We're all teachers and we learn from each other!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.