Summer Vacation Day 2: Sticks and stones

Sticks

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and stones.

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I had a completely different idea for today’s post. Then I took a break from writing and decided to take a hike. It was a stunningly beautiful June day in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Blue skies, 72˚F, cool breeze blowing, quiet. I grabbed my camera, my purse, my walking shoes and set off to acquaint myself with Mr. Moses Cone and his manor.

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I worked in a denim factory for two summers, making Wrangler jeans, with Mama Mildred.  My nephew was born in Moses Cone Hospital, I saw an exhibit of the Cone Sisters’ art, Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters, twice when it came to the Nasher Museum at Duke.  I watched a TV special about the exhibit, produced by UNC-TV, several times. I am very interested in French art and this period of time in history, the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, is fascinating.  Growing up in the mountains I knew nothing about the Cones and Vanderbilts and their palatial estates until I was in high school. Moses, the son of a Jewish German immigrant (his father’s name was Kahn), and his brother made their fortunes in the textile business. There is little mention of his sisters, Claribel and Etta, in many of the articles about him, but they inherited money when their father died and, later, their brothers provided them with an allowance that they used to purchase art. They probably raised at few eyebrows at the time- neither sister married, one became a doctor, and they traveled to Paris, befriending Gertrude and Leo Stein as well as several struggling artists, including Picasso and Matisse. I love this quote from an article written by Edward Cone (yes, a relative) in Forbes magazine about the sisters:

The Cone sisters’ use of the family’s prosperity to collect fine artwork was unparalleled among other women. They were known as eccentrics and had a comical presence clad in their long Victorian dresses. When they went to the opera in Paris, they would buy an extra seat to hold their day’s purchases.

I would have been a hoot to meet those two women.  Can you imagine sitting in a café having a drink with Dr. Claribel, Etta and Gertrude?

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Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein and Etta Cone sitting at a table in Settignano, Italy. June 26, 1903. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collection, CG.12.

I digress.  But I just can’t help myself sometimes.

Looking at that rock wall along one of the pathways on the estate and at the trees while walking along Figure 8 Trail and then during the hike up to see where Moses is buried, I started thinking of the old children’s saying:  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.  That is a lie. It may be interpreted as you can say what you want, but calling me names won’t hurt me. But I think that words can be very harmful and leave lasting scars and regrets. I wish that I had been more careful with my words over the years. And I wish that others would be as well. Every single day I work at watching what comes out of my mouth.  Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.  But I do try.

On the other hand, putting into words how you feel about someone is a gift.  I received several gifts of letters last week. I have two of them in my purse now.  They are from a couple of girlies I taught for three years, from the day they arrived as new 6th graders at my school. I am notoriously known as a tough, strict teacher. Oui, moi!  I tell everyone that I would not have survived 37 years in middle school otherwise.  I do set high standards, give nightly homework assignments, and expect them to practice in class what they are learning (learning a second language is not a spectator sport), but I temper it with care and respect. And fun. And food. To paraphrase the girlies…

From Girlie #1:

On my first day of French in 6th grade, I walked into class wanting to be in Spanish & pronouncing “bonjour” wrong. Now, I am proud to say that I can carry on a meaningful conversation in French and that French has become, by far, one of my favorite classes.  Even though it has been a lot of hard work and practice, taking French with you has taught me about overcoming challenges… I have been doing some thinking. And I have no idea where I would be without French & you as my teacher.  Not only have I learned French, I have been able to grow, bond, and make friendships outside of my normal friend group… So, madame, in conclusion, thank you. I don’t know if you knew how much you have done for me but I wanted to let you know before I left the middle school.

From Girlie #2:

I have come to realize that there are not enough words or phrases (in French or English) to describe and show how much you have influenced me.  French is, to say the least, one of the hardest classes I have had. You made me look forward to learning it though. It will always confuse me how much I loved the hardest class, but your passion for the language rubs off. You made the class seem like a love letter to the language that you just read out loud. I have heard around 540 love letters. Honestly, I’m very excited for high school, but the thought of you not teaching me is one of the only things I can’t let go of… Thank you for showing us all tough love because while in sixth grade I was slightly terrified, it showed us how much you cared about all of us. You care, and I would like to think that most people in my life do but the truth is there are only a handful that do…  This is my first fan letter.

They know that I write thank you notes and fan letters. From a note of appreciation to our computer guru (and my personal garlic dealer) to Pierre Hermé in Paris to thank him for making such delicious macarons. (I’ve yet to meet him, but there is always the next trip.) I feel honored that these two amazing young women took the time to write to me.  (And now that I have copied some of what they wrote here, it will be less traumatic if I misplace the letters, just as Claribel Cone lost a $15,000 check sent to her by one of her brothers by placing it in the pocket of one of her skirts, according to the article in Forbes!)

Today was also a day for wildflowers.  Much to my friend KR’s dismay if she sees this post, I do not know the names of but one or two of them.  Some are even considered weeds, I guess.

The purple rhododendron are my favorite.  I only found a couple of bushes in bloom.  A bit too early yet.

Can you see the face??

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And what does this rock, collected for the BFF, look like?

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North Carolina, of course!

I made it to Moses’ grave.  He is buried with his wife, Bertha.

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The view from his final resting place isn’t shabby.

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If you are out driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a stop at Moses Cone Memorial Park would be well worth your time.

And last but by no means last… on my way to the cemetery, I walked by a cow pasture. I am overly fond of cows. And I don’t mind the smell of cow patties.

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Now, with that in mind (or maybe not), I will leave you with a recipe for something delicious that is sometimes called a Cow Patty. Many thanks to my mother-in-law for sharing this recipe with me 30+ years ago.  I would love to make some right now, but it will have to wait. I am not in my own kitchen.

Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies
(recipe from my mother-in-law)

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. peanut butter
3 c. oatmeal

Combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa.  Bring to boil and boil for one minute.  Add vanilla and peanut butter.  Stir until peanut butter is melted.  Add oatmeal and stir until it is well-coated.  Drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper and place in refrigerator until cooled. (Lick the bowl just to make clean up easy.)
Makes about 3 dozen.

Bon appétit to all!  Write someone a genuine, heartfelt thank you note.  Heck, even write one to yourself.  You deserve it.