Mother’s Day “Ideals”

unnamed-1Ideals magazine was launched in 1944 with a Christmas issue compiled by Van B. Hooper, a public relations manager for a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, manufacturer. Over the years it has featured the writings of well-known authors such as Edgar Guest, Sue Monk Kidd, Chris Bohjalian, Susan Allen Toth, Garrison Keillor, and many others.

Now produced by Guideposts and edited by Melinda Rumbaugh, the magazine continues its nostalgic celebration of American holidays with timeless stories, quotations, poetry, recipes, and fine art illustrations.

Since 2008, several of my own essays (including a few from my book, Writing Home) have been published in several issues of Ideals and its hardcover gift anthologies.

This spring, my essay describing my son’s first year away from home (“Field Notes on an Empty Nest”) is included in Ideals‘ Mother’s Day 2014 issue — complete with a beautiful painting by Lee Kromschroeder. The magazine is available where books are sold, including Barnes and Noble, Costco, Target, Family Christian, Books-a-Million, and Mardel.  To purchase the magazine directly from Ideals, click here.

A feather in your cap?

Digging through my clip file last week, I unearthed an old Easter essay I wrote for the op-ed page of  The Christian Science Monitor. A tribute to hats, it was originally published on March 28, 1997. I’m reprinting a shorter version here. Happy Easter! — CL

On Easter Sunday, There Were Always Hats…

Along with impossibly shiny patent-leather shoes, my childhood Easter wardrobe wasn’t complete without a brand-new hat. I remember one in particular: a white straw number with satin flowers lining its brim and a long satin ribbon streaming down the back.

In those days, my mother always wore a hat to church, as did my proper Scottish grandmother. My favorites from their collections were fashioned from delicate tulle and feathers, reminding me of the birds’ nests I’d find in my back yard. No doubt, those hats would be highly collectible at our local vintage clothing shops today.

In his lyrics for “The Ladies Who Lunch,” songwriter Stephen Sondheim asks, “Does anyone still wear a hat?” These days, hats aren’t nearly as popular unless you are under nine or over 90. Which seems odd, and a little sad, considering that it wasn’t so long ago when men and women weren’t considered fully dressed without them.

“If, as the saying goes, clothes make the man, it might also be said that hats make the woman. Over the centuries and over the world, hats have provided a quicker way than clothes to identify a woman,” writes Nancy Lindemeyer in The Romance of Hats (Victoria Magazine/Hearst Books).

Veiled or wide-brimmed, tilted above one eye or pulled down over the brow, a hat lends an air of mystery. The protection it provides from the elements is of secondary importance.

And I can’t think of remarkable people without thinking of remarkable hats. Scarlett O’Hara’s coquettish garden hat. Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pillbox. Leslie Caron’s picture-brim in Gigi. Diane Keaton’s floppy fedora in Annie Hall. Charlie Chaplin’s dapper bowler. And, of course, the endearing Harpo Marx’s battered topper.

Earlier this year I hosted a “Women of Many Hats” tea party, hoping to get better acquainted with my neighbors while chasing the winter blues. On the invitations I asked my guests to wear “silly or serious hats” — only if they wanted to — just to keep things from getting too stuffy. Surprisingly, the majority arrived wearing hats — beautiful hats, crazy hats, lushly feathered hats, vintage hats. Just as I’d hoped, the hats lightened the mood of the party and launched some lively conversations.

One guest said she wondered why we didn’t wear our hats more often.

“We’re victims of what’s in fashion,” another answered. “Not many people are wearing hats now, so I just don’t feel comfortable putting one on.” I knew how she felt, as I own several hats but rarely gather enough courage to wear one unless I’m attending a costume party.

The fact that few of us wear hats, I think, is another sign that Americans have lost their flair for romance and mystery. These days, we have no problem baring our hearts (and sundry other parts) in public. Choosing comfort over formality, some of us even wear shorts and blue jeans to church.

In honor of Easter Sunday, though, I might muster the nerve to wear one of my vintage hats to church. For old times’ sake. — Cindy La Ferle (March 28, 1997)

— Top photo: One of several vintage hats from my collection. This one reminds me of the ones my Scottish grandmother wore in the 1960s, and is one of my favorites. Photo by Cindy La Ferle —

Fine-feathered Easter

“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have to at least consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.” — Douglas Adams

Americans do strange things to celebrate religious holidays. Consider Easter. There’s nothing particularly pious about hiding neon pink and blue plastic eggs in the back yard. And it’s not exactly Christian to give someone a milk-chocolate rabbit, especially if the recipient is on the South Beach diet.

But even more bewildering was the pair of live ducklings my uncle gave me for Easter when I was a child. I don’t recall the looks on my parents’ faces when my uncle handed me the cardboard box containing two fuzzy ducklings peeping at the tops of their tiny lungs. But I remember being told that I couldn’t keep them both.

A neighborhood playmate agreed to adopt one, but after a couple of weeks the poor thing was sent to her grandmother’s farm up north, where it became a holiday dinner entree the following year. For lack of a better idea, my parents bought a small swimming pool and reluctantly allowed me keep my duckling in our back yard.

Like most suburbanites, my mom and dad were totally clueless about livestock, so our new pet initially stirred up some gender confusion. As the weeks passed, the duck I had named Oliver matured and sprouted a mass of dazzling white feathers.

Raised on a farm in Scotland, my grandfather knew immediately that Oliver was really an Olivia.

“A male duck has a curl at the end of his tail,” Grandpa insisted. “The females have a plain tail like Oliver’s.” The tail story seemed far-fetched, at first, but it wasn’t long before Grandpa had indisputable evidence. One morning, Oliver left a large egg in the small shed where she slept. And from then on, we found a fresh egg in her bedding every day.

It took the neighbors a while to get used to having a duck in the ‘hood. Some were startled when they first heard Oliver’s daily wake-up quack at 7:00 a.m. Mrs. Ritchie, who lived behind us, says she still remembers watching the duck waddle next to me whenever I visited playmates around the block.

If her morning wake-up quack didn’t produce the desired result, Oliver would nibble at the screen on my bedroom window. When I appeared outside, she would bow and stretch her long neck in greeting, which always thrilled me. Later in the day, Oliver knew it was feeding time when she heard the sound of a spoon clanging on the side of a dish. Her dinner consisted mostly of dried corn from a nearby feed store, or a plate of finely chopped, hard-boiled eggs. For dessert she enjoyed the pansies in my mother’s garden.

Oliver wasn’t the easiest pet to care for, and today I wouldn’t recommend keeping a duck for a pet in the suburbs. Back-yard captivity isn’t fair to any creature that ordinarily thrives in a rural setting. (If you’re still not convinced, a phone call to our local Code Enforcement department confirmed that there’s an ordinance against keeping live ducks and chickens on residential property.)

So what happened to Oliver? At the end of her second summer, we returned from a family vacation to discover she had died in our back yard. The neighbor who was caring for her could only guess that she’d been attacked by a predatory animal.

Second only to the passing of my beloved Grandma Ruby, Oliver’s violent death was one of my first encounters with loss. I grieved for weeks. Her stay with us was brief but eventful, and it sparked my near-religious devotion to birds and animals. Years later, I can’t think of Easter without remembering her. — Cindy La Ferle

— This post appears in slightly different form in Writing Home. It was first published on Easter Sunday in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak; April 2004). —

P.S. My son is home for the Easter holiday, so I’ll be offline, spending time with my family. Happy Easter to all of you!