Esther and Houtas

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: A recent delving into and wading through old cat photos online has produced some unusual purchases in the form of mostly snap shots. I assumed that was what I was purchasing when I acquired this, but much to my surprise, although it had been pasted into an album, the black photo album paper has torn away on the back to reveal that this was indeed a photo postcard. It was never mailed and written in a neat inked hand on the back is, Esther & Houtas sitting on the wood pile. Ground is covered with snow. I went to the trouble of looking up the name Houtas. I do believe that is her name (it is neatly written) and was able to find some nodding acquaintance to it on the internet. I assume it refers to one of these girls – who I further assume are sisters – as opposed to that nice gray kitty one is holding.

This photo has a timeless quality, and it isn’t until we look closely at those wooly tights and button boots that we realize how old it probably is. Those matching, layered wool dresses and heavy tights look a bit itchy when we consider them seriously, but were probably just the thing for that cold day – no need for overcoats. These girls seem a bit mismatched as sisters, but my own sister and I did not look more alike than this – she of very curly hair and I of very straight.

I have no idea where this card is from or where it was taken, but this spare snowy landscape could stand in for my childhood in New Jersey. This big woodpile is more substantial than the one we generally had out back, although during the course of my childhood we always kept a sizable pile of logs. Much of the cord wood was purchased each fall, although some of it came from limbs that had been trimmed off of our own trees, or as the sad result of a tree that had reached the end of its life and had to be cut down. My mother was always very responsible about the trees and their well being. They were tended to by professionals no less than annually. I personally would have been reluctant to play on the woodpile however, as it was the likely home of mice and even the occasional water rat who wanted a pied-à-terre on dry land. Perhaps for that very reason it was something of a favorite spot for the cats. Although as I remember, some form of wild catnip also grew in the gravel driveway near the woodpile and our enormous cat Pumpkin used to go into rolls of ecstasy over it in the spring. That would have added to the appeal.

The house I grew up in had two enormous fireplaces although we generally only used the one downstairs in what we called the family room. If I ever buy a house a working fireplace will be a must. (I have met New Yorkers lucky enough to have functioning fireplaces in their apartments, but I am not the sort of person who lucks into outdoor space, fireplaces or rent controlled New York apartments. It think it is a skill you are born with, like the ability to hold your breath underwater for a long time or whistle well and on key.) I am endlessly fascinated by fireplaces and will do what I can to migrate to them at restaurants or bars this time of the year. I will settle for gas fires, although there’s nothing like real wood, with the smell, popping of sap, steaming of moisture and the sighing and rolling of disintegrating logs. Oh such bad news for the unsuspecting insects and spiders who took up residence in those logs!

My parents recently moved to a much smaller house, on a cute little patch of property one town over from where I grew up. The house does have a small fireplace, which works at least in theory. These days my mom and dad are too elderly to mess with a fire, even with fake, store bought logs. However, I just promised them the Christmas gift of an electric space heater that looks like a fireplace to ease the drafts in their new house. If I like it maybe I will find room for one here in our tiny New York abode as well.

 

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