My Little Town

IMG_3934The popular saying is that it takes a village to raise a child. This is the village that raised my sister and me and left its imprint on everything we are today.

My little town is a mix of reality and nostalgia. It is inhabited by our family members, the people who lived on the farm and in the surrounding community, and who lived their lives in particular ways.

Walk down the street with me, and I’ll introduce you. As we walk, keep your eyes open to the beauty here, the details of architecture, and the lovely flowers and trees. As well as being a pretty town, this is a tour de force of stitching ability!

We come to my sister first—the flower stall is hers.

IMG_3947It’s good we start with her, since she is the person who stitched this lovely scene. She made it many years ago and when I look at it now, I’m amazed at the detail! The time and energy that went into this boggles my mind. She worked in crewel embroidery and customized this kit to reflect our family and the work we do.

My sister has never sold flowers but I think she’s always had a fantasy about doing so, having a small friendly business in a small friendly town. Her adult life went a very different direction—she has worked for years, on Wall Street and beyond, in the financial field. A small town girl, she learned to negotiate, and succeed in, one of the biggest cities in the world. And she raised one great daughter—talk about the important work of loving hands at home!

Behind her, at Wright’s Craftsman, we meet my maternal grandfather.

IMG_3940I’ve said before that he was a serial craftsman. He would choose a hobby and put all his considerable energy into mastering it, and then he would move on. He was a photographer and developed his own photos. He was a rock hound and collected rocks and gems. He built houses with his own two hands, raised tropical fish, painted in oils. And he made exquisite furniture.

Beyond the craftsman’s shop is Banker’s Orchards.

IMG_3944The Bankers are my paternal grandmother’s family and their apple orchard was in the family for years. The Bankers were farmers and the family had deep Dutch roots. The Bankers have now mostly moved away, some very far away as missionaries and college professors, but the orchard still bears their name and the descendants are all still farm kids at heart.

Next along the street is Evelyn’s.

IMG_3948Evelyn is our mother and, although she appears to have a shop front, that’s really a schoolroom. She taught generations of North Country kids to read and write, laying a foundation in first grade that provided them the chance to succeed. I regularly meet people who hear my name and tell me they had my mother as a first-grade teacher. Evelyn inherited the serial craftsman gene from her father and has always been a maker, too.

Evelyn’s schoolroom is right next door to Bowen’s.

IMG_3920Lydia Bowen was my mother’s mother and you can’t tell it from the storefront but Lydia would be busy inside, always busy, with her books. She was a meticulous bookkeeper for her young family during the Great Depression, making note of every penny earned and every penny spent. Later she turned that energy to genealogy and traced her family back to the Puritans. The inside of her shop would smell of old paper and books.

Next along the street of my little town is my father’s place–he really was the town supervisor for a few years.

IMG_3945He was also a dairy farmer, drove a school bus and then became the head bus driver and, ultimately, the business manager of our school system. He only lived to be 43 but he packed a lot into his years. My sister and I wouldn’t drink milk in restaurants for years because it didn’t come from Dad’s cows and didn’t taste right.

My small art gallery is the last shop on the street.

IMG_3943Although she stitched this piece when I was in grad school, getting a Ph.D. to teach in a field far removed from art, my sister knew that having a creative outlet and making were of central importance in my life. If you were to peek inside my gallery, you’d see an eclectic mix! You’d see drawings and some pretty amateurish paintings. You’d see handwrought jewelry, handmade chocolates, quilts, embroidery, weaving . . . and who knows what will be added next?

The stroll through town is a short one, although we could add a few more names now. The town itself remains sort of old-fashioned, quite small, attractive enough but not fashionable, much like the family. It’s a quiet place, filled with hard-working people who valued education and family and who made things, created things, and shared those values with each other.

What sort of village raised you? Was the “town” primarily your close family or was the broader community instrumental? Can you see the influences of that town in the person you are today?

IMG_3926

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62 thoughts on “My Little Town

  1. I have just finished my guided stroll with you and would love to sit with you, over a cuppa, and have you share oh so much more! It is easy to understand where your “intensity” comes from for I see it in your lineage. All of life was experienced with a total involvement that isn’t seen much these days. “Living in the moment” to the max!!!! Thank you so much for inviting us/me along!!! Have an awesome day and week (I know you will!) and hugs………………………….

    • Thanks for coming along on the stroll, Doreen! I can definitely see where a lot of my personality traits and habits come from, when I look at my family tree!

      • I could spend much time viewing your “Little Town” and entering in to all the nooks suggested by the stitchery. My mind is still warmed by the sweet stories attached to each representation.

      • I don’t now that I ever fully appreciated just how detailed this was and and how expertly stitched, until I started taking photos for the blog. Thanks for taking the time to notice the “nooks” and for your unwavering support here!

  2. Beautiful! and what a delightful way to honor the town that meant so much to you and a past that has had such a loving impact. The town I grew up in was much like this, everyone new everyone and families stayed in the same house for generations. I think there is a great comfort to living in a town that has this kind of familiarity and intimacy. Sort of an extended family living outside your door and around you. Thank you for sharing this lovely piece of work and memory!

    • In actuality, I grew up on a farm, not too close to a town. But my family was all right around and we were all engaged in each others’ lives so the “town” is a good metaphor for the experience. I’m glad you had a similar upbringing!

  3. What a wonderful memento you have! Yes, a community raised me, in many ways. My dad was absent, my mother was busy, my step-dad not very involved, in a direct way, with us kids. But Mom and Jack (step-dad) and two of my brothers were part of our amateur theatre community, as I was. Many people look out for the younger ones there. So while all the influences are NOT wholesome (!) there was a lot of love. Besides the community theatre, there were my brothers’ great friends. Again, not completely wholesome influences! But I was lucky to have a score of “big brothers” to help keep me from getting hurt.

    • You found your own “family” when you needed one! Your point is a good one–the people who reside in our “town” and make the difference in our lives don’t need to be blood relations.

  4. I envy you this stability and centredness in the community that raised you. Through force of circumstance, we moved 3 times before I was 5, then 3 further times during my childhood, and never within the same community. Of course you can find good in any situation, but I do envy those who’ve had the sort of stability you’ve written about here. I love this tribute by your sister to this ordinary, yet extraordinary community.

    • My husband’s childhood was much like yours. His father had a wanderlust, always looking for a greener pasture. I have to say, he’s more adventurous than I am and more unflappable–probably as a result of early experiences.

  5. Now THIS is a treasure. It tugs at my heartstrings on many levels but mostly, I guess, because we Army brats don’t have roots. That’s what this wonderful piece of art is all about: roots. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this tour and learning more about your family. How tragic your father only lived to 43. So very young.

    • You’re right, Barbara–roots. Even though I lived away from this region for 30-plus years, I still feel that sense of a tie here. I wish my sister still did this kind of stitching. She did several pieces all within a few years, and then just stopped. I feel lucky to have two of them!

    • As someone who does embroidery, you probably can really see how much went into this! That’s very interesting about the boarding school–but I can definitely see how it could be your “family.”

  6. Wow, this is such an amazing post, I love the embroidery and your stories. I love to visit art shops in small towns, In the future I will always think of you being a part of one of these places.

  7. An outstanding tour, Kerry. One of the best I’ve ever been on.

    I have always wanted to live in “your town”, but life has a way of taking us elsewhere. My word for your town is “Willoughby”.

    I wonder if you are familiar with the Twilight Zone Episode titled: A Stop at Willoughby.
    It’s 1960. An ad agency executive is in a failing marriage, and the demands of his oppressive and unrelenting boss have pushed him to the brink of—at best, a heart attack—at worst, a complete nervous breakdown.

    He falls asleep on the train ride from his job in the city to his home in the suburbs and wakes up in another place and another time. It’s July 1888, and the train has stopped in the village of Willoughby, a peaceful town where life is easy. The people are friendly. A boy with a fishing pole is a manifestation of the quintessential Tom Sawyer. We are allowed to infer that everyone in this idyllic town is trustworthy and dependable—and attends church every Sunday.

    When the executive wakes up, he’s back in his own time. But as the pressures of work and his home life continue to mount, he decides Willoughby is exactly where he would like to spend the rest of days.

    Thanks for giving me a few minutes in “Willoughby”.
    🙂

    • I don’t remember that episode–I think Twilight Zone scared me too much to watch it very often! What happened at the end? Did he go back to Willougnby? There’s also a Mayberry-ish aspect to my upbringing–I know I make it sound a little too good to be true but It really was a very secure, placid life.

      • SPOILER ALERT!

        I didn’t want to ruin it for anyone who might want to watch it on YouTube. But here goes (I hope my memory is accurate enough):

        He stops at Willoughby again the next night, and while he’s agonizing over whether to stay, the train jolts him awake, and he’s back in his own miserable life again.

        But he makes up his mind that he definitely wants live in Willoughby. So the next night, when the train stops there again, he gets off, never to go back to his shrewish wife or demanding and unappeasable boss. Life is going to be one long, beautiful summer day in Willoughby.

        At the end of the episode, amid a snowstorm, the conductor is standing next to the stopped train, explaining to the engineer that the executive had simply gotten up out of his seat and walked off the moving train.

        I love it! 🙂

  8. What a treasure! It must be so comforting and stabilising to know you come from generations that stayed in one place, worked the land, honoured one another and created – even if serially! It is the kind of background we all should have! There is a wisdom in your sister’s stitching that allowed you to see who you would come to be – I like that! And such a wonderful town, it makes me quite nostalgic for something I have never known 🙂 I have a little of your grandfather’s gene too – it is nice to know there are many of us!

    • I don’t like to admit it but I fear I’m a serial crafter, too. My grandfather and mother both went completely off their crafts, though, when they were done with them, never to look back. I tend to keep a “toe in the water” and my crafts overlap quite a bit so, what I learn in one often applies to another. And, yes, I know I make my background sound idyllic but it takes all kinds of people to make an interesting world–so it’s just as well we don’t all have the same childhood experiences!

  9. Oh Kerry, that was such a splendid treat seeing that. The DETAIL! And your explanation makes
    it all so much more precious. Thank you.

  10. What a precious family heirloom and absolute work of art!!! How wonderful that it not only tells a real story but also wishes and dreams like your sister’s flower stall. Interesting questions you asked at the end too. I read the post this morning and kept on thinking about it. I was raised in a little village in The Netherlands and my entire family still lives there. I left at 17 and ‘never looked back’ and moved with joy and excitement ever since and make a nest with my own little objects of love where ever we ‘land’ and…really little of that is from that village. But I always feel I have something precious from every place I have been too, in fiends,in learning, in memories. Great post Kerry!

    • Your little village in the Netherlands and your family produced a confident, happy person! And my sister and I both moved away from our family, too, but the “town” is still a part of us!

  11. A great post today. As I have said many times I am guided by all I learned growing up in Plattsburgh. I may have left but it has never left me.

    • Yes! That’s how I felt, too–I left Rand Hill, outside of Plattsburgh, many years ago but that farm and the family members are always a part of me.

  12. Your sisters piece of needlework is fantastic!! I was raised in a small town,where everyone knew each other. Go to the pop and mom grocery , people would be chit chatting and we would just join in. That’s how you find out all the gossip.☺️

    • Absolutely! And that can be the downside of the small community–everybody knows your business! But they also tend to look out for you so it all balances out.

  13. This is so lovely Kerry. My parents moved far away from their families so I had no connections to a small community, but love what you have shared. What an amazing thing your sister created with her stitching and to look a little deeper and to see the wonderful stories of the individuals! Really heartwarming!

    • I really do think the way my sister re-worked the pattern, to include the family names, is the best part of this. That and the hundreds of French knots . . .

    • I have another embroidery piece my sister did, equally detailed and interesting, but without all the connections to family. It’s very nice but this is the one that I really love!

  14. I have never seen a more beautiful needlework picture which pulled together so many family threads. It is such a beautiful post Kerry and the story it tells of your sister, parents and yourself has touched my heart.

  15. Sister, flower shop….hmmm. when she puts her mind to it anything is possible, for sure.
    Remember her scrapbooking, many years after the fabulous crewel work in your blog photos.
    Small towns have so much to offer. I too grew up in one, although it was a bit bigger than what you describe. We used to go hang out in the hay loft of the local dairy farm up the street and play with the farm cats! And bikes! We rode them everywhere. Lots of freedom to explore. Thanks Kerry. Beautiful writing, nice to share with younger generations.

    • Jane! Is that you? Thanks for commenting–you know my sister’s talents, too! And, yes, the freedom we had as kids was wonderful–it sounds like you had a lot of the same experiences Kathy and I did.

  16. Kerry, you have clearly struck a lovely chord with this post. Beautiful handwork, solid family, hard work and small towns.
    Truly lovely!

  17. That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. What a treasure! And, oh, how this struck a chord: “My sister and I wouldn’t drink milk in restaurants for years because it didn’t come from Dad’s cows and didn’t taste right.” My grandfather was a dairy farmer. And no milk has ever tasted so good as that cold, cold, cold stuff that came out of the tank just before they came in a truck to take it away.

    • You understand about the milk! Yay! The milk we kept on the farm wasn’t homogenized so the cream floated to the top and you had to shake the bottle hard to mix it in. There were always little specks of cream floating in the milk on my cereal.

  18. What a beautiful piece of work. And who were the Sangers? Their shop was upstairs. I loved the flowers. And as for milk, and yes, scraping the cream of the top, well it was delicious–unless the cows had got into onion grass!

    • Oh, sorry! I wasn’t clear. The sign says “Sanger, Town Supervisor” and I make the point that my father really was the town supervisor but I never really said that Sanger was our name. So, I’m Sanger!

      • I was so taken with the piece that I could have made that connection had I only been focusing on text. It was really charming and artful. Thanks for showing it off!!

  19. I can’t say that I expect to see much in the California suburb of “little boxes” that were part of my childhood. However, I have a painting from my grandmother, of her memories growing up rural Central Valley, California around the turn of the (20th) century. It is “Grandma Moses” style, flat landscape, including the house, gardens, orchards, train tracks, hobo passing by, and even my grandmother teathered to a tree to keep track of her. Thanks for the tour of your family-town.
    Oscar

    • The painting you have sounds like the equivalent to my embroidered “town”–you’re lucky to have it! Now I will have the “little boxes” song in my head all day!

  20. What an amazing family you have! And your sister created such a beautiful work of art! When she retires from the financial field maybe she will dabble in the florist field. I remember seeing a movie once, can’t remember the name, where the lead character delivered flowers for the local florist. Someone mentioned that perhaps he could do more with his life. He responded that he loved his job and looked forward to going to work every day. The people who received the flowers were always happy to see him and delighted with the bouquets. What better work was there?

  21. My grandfather made a tapestry just like this just before he died, and he personalized it like this one.. Sometimes I wonder if he saw the seeds of a crafter in me early, because it’s uncanny that he gave me a textiles studio, since I was too young to have really shown much interest in it as a child. Seeing this post brought back such nice memories, thank you for sharing this beautiful work.

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