Grandfather versus the banks, or, Not with my money you don’t!

United States #bank failures

My grandfather came of age when there were few banks in our rural area. He was gradually warming to them when the Great Depression hit and so many of them failed. It was an attitude that he never really overcame. “They’re out … Continue reading

Grandmother learns to smoke, or, Hollywood must smell awful

#woman smoking #cigarettes #tobacco #cigars #women smoking

My grandmother was a fan of sophisticated movie stars, and one day decided that she should learn to smoke. And she never did anything halfway. With a determined look on her face, she planted herself in the rocking chair in the middle of her bedroom and applied herself single-mindedly to becoming the world’s greatest smoker. None of us will ever forget it. Continue reading

Grandfathers can be pretty smart too, or, If you fall down, go to Grandpa

#chicks #chickens #farms

Last time we talked, I told you about how my grandmother outfoxed my ambitions to be a queen. Well, she wasn’t the only one who knew a thing or two about children.
The story is often told in our family of “Grandfather’s Miracle”. I am told that I crawled early, walked early, and got around with a single-minded speed that could be pretty unnerving. But apparently one day I simply woke up, went back to crawling, and would have nothing more to do with walking. Continue reading

Happy family reunion, or, how to get in trouble without really trying

Little girl with a pan of corn #children #corn #summer #girls

A family reunion and a platter of corn on the cob earned me a reputation as a terrible dinner guest. Maybe I was, but in my defense I was only three or four years old at the time and my social graces were limited. Nevertheless, you would have thought I’d managed to violate every code of Southern honor and Emily Post rule of etiquette that ever existed. But maybe I’d better tell you what happened. Continue reading

Lessons from one special flower

Our home was surrounded by trees and flowers – a bed of hydrangea and snowball bushes rimmed with a ruffle of pink phlox, a wisteria vine so thick I could use it as a seat, fragrant jasmine and honeysuckle outside the bedroom windows, and a long line of redbud trees down the side of the house. A huge shade tree in the front yard made a wonderful place to play, and a beautiful, thick hedge rimmed the back yard. But the one plant everyone remembered best was my grandmother’s tiger lily.Orange tiger lily flower with buds

The tiger lily bloomed each year in its special place by the back door. It was a sort of family treasure, a little piece of beauty that only the family saw. I would sit on the back steps and just bask in the glory of the soft air and the loveliness of those few perfect petals.

When we moved to a new home, my mother continued the tradition. Right under my bedroom window, if you bent down low and knew where to look, was a patch of tremulous, pink, heart-shaped blooms – a beautiful bleeding heart plant.

Hot pink tear-drop shaped bleeding heart plant blooms

Bleeding heart blossoms.

My best friend’s father was a horticulturist. At their home, in its splendid, creamy glory, was a gardenia. He took us on regular viewings (even though it was right outside the front door) and explained to us how delicate the petals were. We wouldn’t have touched one for all the money in the world. Then he would get into the more technical aspects, such as soil acidity, and our eyes would glaze over. But we got the idea – Mother Nature has all sorts of complications and demands, and we’d better respect them. We could end up living in a desert if we didn’t play by her rules.

It seemed that everyone I loved had that one special flower that defined who they were. Name a flower, and I will come back with the name of the person I associate it with. The agonizing wait for the plants to bloom and the joy of their blossoming are memories I treasure to this day. What a wonderful thing to give a child, a thing of beauty to be anticipated and then reveled in. How marvelous to have one special thing, no matter how inexpensive, to provide you with joy and beauty.

Through these stunning flowers my mother and grandmother taught me that life is a cycle. I learned the value of patience, of waiting for things of value. Never give up in the dead of winter – Spring is coming!

Text copyright 2015 by Jill Teresa Farmer

Buttons – from pearl to hand crocheted

One by one, the sewing supplies my grandmother once used disappeared or became of such inferior quality that she wouldn’t use them. She had once been the seamstress of our little Southern town, and no cost-cutting measure escaped her sharp eye. She always complained that no one had “dainty” lace any more. Or soft enough cotton fabric. Then she couldn’t find eyelash cotton. Then all the dotted Swiss “got funny”. She was very particular.  “I wouldn’t waste my time sewing that up,” she’d often say. And one of her prime targets – after the quality of the fabric – was buttons.

My grandmother’s button box was filled with tiny pearl buttons, exquisitely small with minute holes that only the slimmest of needles could penetrate. When she and my mother and I would go on one of our marathon fabric shopping trips, she always went prepared.There would be her little sack of fabric swatches, sketches of what she wanted to make, all sorts of measurements and yardage notes. And her glasses were freshly washed. (“They’re not going to put anything past me!”) From the moment we hit the parking lot, she got that steely determined look that told us she was ready for the hunt.

One of grandmother's tiny pearl buttons on a baby dress she made in the 1920s. ©Jill Teresa Farmer

One of grandmother’s tiny pearl buttons on a baby dress she made in the 1920s.
©Jill Teresa Farmer

Her first target was always the notions counter. (She was always running out of those short, thin needles, her favorite tool.) She would “tsk, tsk, tsk” her way up and down the rows, and when she got to the buttons she would suddenly lean forward, squint, and adjust her glasses. “Awful, just awful,” she would proclaim. None met her standards. (Neither did ribbons, but that’s another story.)

“You have to buy buttons when you find them,” she instructed my mother and me. “You can’t wait. If you find a nice button in a basic color – buy enough to do a blouse that buttons up the front and add two for each sleeve. That’s the only way you can be sure you’ll have enough.” We filed this gem away. My grandmother’s proclamations about sewing were always right.

We rarely had “store-bought” clothes, but when something impressed one of us it inevitably had to be altered. Something was always wrong. Being short, with me it was usually adjusting the hem. A dress for my mother had to have the waist taken in. My grandmother was tall and thin, so she could usually wear anything as is, except for one thing – you guessed it, the buttons. I recall our finding a dress for my teenage self that was a real find. But of course the buttons weren’t good enough. On the way home we took the dress into a fabric store to find some of a better quality. Then we were so excited that we sat up and replaced every fastener on the dress. After that, my mother took it to her sewing machine and reinforced the sleeve seams. It didn’t seem so store-bought after all the extra time we put into it.

Various buttons

©Jill Teresa Farmer

Mother’s favorite designer was Coco Chanel, and she copied many of her beautiful suits. For these she bought gold dome buttons and white plastic rings. She would carefully cover the ring with coordinating fabric from the suit, nestle the gold dome inside, and sew it in firmly. Voila – Chanel-style buttons! My big love was covered buttons. To me they were the epitome of style. But the day came when they changed up the whole system and I could no longer get it right. I was blue for a week.

One day, after my grandmother had made her way to Heaven, my mother came to me with a beautiful linen suit she had made. “I made it, but now I can’t find any buttons to match. All of them are just so tacky.” I sympathized. She had some choices, but the elegant outfit lost some of its beauty with what she had on hand, and we knew there was nothing better at the store. The fabric had been an impulse buy because of its quality and beautiful, subtle color. But we had nothing in any of the button boxes to work with. But with an inventor for a father, I knew there was an answer to this. It took me a while. And then I hit on the answer – crocheted buttons! At first my mother was horrified. Crocheted buttons on a chic suit? But what I had in mind was a little more sophisticated than that. I got some of her scraps and unraveled the threads. Then I added one fine strand of gold thread. And with them I crocheted matching round buttons. She loved them.

Crocheted button made from fabric ravelings and gold thread

Button crocheted from unraveled threads with a strand of gold embroidery thread. I pulled the thread that holds it all together to one side so you could see its heaviness. ©Jill Teresa Farmer 2015

Looking through four generations of button boxes is a sweet trip down memory lane for me. My grandmother’s tiny pearl buttons, too rare now for me to bear using; the gold buttons in all sizes and designs; the cute little daisies with the yellow centers that we were sure we’d never use but were just too cute to pass up; the ones we cut off the men’s shirts before they became dust rags; the feminine pale blue buttons with the tiny rhinestones from a decades-old lingerie set….

Those were happy days, with my grandmother sitting on the window sill so she would have plenty of light to make her tiny hand stitches; my mother bending over the old Singer with her toolkit and oil can, overhauling the entire contraption; and me, wondering if I would ever grow up to be as talented as they were. I didn’t, but I have beautiful memories of the women in my family doing what they loved.

Copyright ©2015 Jill Teresa Farmer. All rights reserved.

Walks in the woods – Bring your bucket, shovel and the Guide to Wildflowers

forest with blue and pink wildflowers

(Image courtesy of Rob Wiltshire at

Some of the happiest outings of my parents and grandparents and I were treks in the woods. Sometimes it was a trip that ended in the Davy Crockett National Forest, where we walked under the many different types of pine trees and competed to see who could name the species first. I loved the “loblolly” pine. Who wouldn’t with a name like that? Then we’d rest on a bench and unpack our lunch of ham sandwiches, Fritos and Dr. Peppers.

Often we’d go to the woods for a different purpose – to get humus (not the edible hummus!), the wonderful soil that is produced by decaying leaves. Rich in nutrients and marvelous in texture, it is perfect for flowerbeds. Instant naturally composted topsoil! We’d bring our bucket and shovel and set out driving down the back roads, eyes peeled for side roads and a promising stand of  thick trees and healthy undergrowth. All the while we’d be watching carefully for the “Posted, No Trespassing” signs that we often encountered. We knew to steer clear of them, especially the homemade ones with a rifle sketched underneath misspelled words. “Trespassers will be shot on sight” was also effective.

But it would always end in a good tramp in the woods, as we carried our bucket, shovel and Field Guide to Wildflowers. You never knew, after all, when you might spot something you’d never seen before. Soon we’d be shoveling a bucketful of rich earth, inhaling that wonderful fragrance that is so dear to the heart of every country lover.

blue and orange wildflowers

Poppies and Bluettes
(Image courtesy of Dan at

The biggest thrills of these trips were the wildflowers we encountered. I still remember my first Jack-in-the-pulpit. And of course there were always the beautiful Texas bluebonnets that lined the highways. Indian Paintbrush was another favorite. There were so many. And if we hit a snag on naming one, my grandmother would whip out the wildflower guide, lick one long elegant forefinger, and turn the pages until she found it. Then she’d carefully annotate the description with the date, time, and place we’d first spotted it. Everyone would stumble over the Latin pronunciation of the names until my father could bear it no more. He’d take over and carefully pronounce the long, scientific name.

The most curious of all was one singular tree that grew in the woods, near the side of the road. We never understood why someone hadn’t dug it up and carried it off as a garden trophy long before. It was a Grancy Greybeard. Sound familiar? I didn’t think so. They tell me that up North it is called a Fringe Tree. In spring it is a small tree covered with lacy white blooms. The car would fill with “oohs”s and “aahh”s whenever we’d pass it.

Back then we lived among such a profusion of trees and flowers that it never occurred to us that we might be upsetting the balance of nature by taking home a bouquet of wildflowers and a handful of pine cones. Who knew that one day, in our lifetimes, these things would become endangered by their very admirers?

girl with a garland of flowers


Once home, my father and grandfather would man the shovels and work the humus into the flowerbeds under the watchful eye and direction of my mother. My grandmother would be making the ice tea – plenty of lemon and sugar, please – and getting ready for the best part of the day: a long time sitting on the front porch, aching pleasantly from digging, talking to gathering neighbors about what we’d seen, passing around the Wildflower Guide for everyone to admire all those dates and check marks. I would always be trying to make an arrangement or a daisy chain as the family dog pushed her nose into the blooms, trying to get the attention she’d missed while we were gone.

Those were happy days.

Text copyright 2015 by Jill Teresa Farmer. All rights reserved.