Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dialoging with readers

8/26/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Looking back on my brief 13-year newspaper career, I find that I’ve covered a lot of ground that I never anticipated. After I left the front office of the Cottage Grove Sentinel, I moved into the newsroom. There I began writing three weekly columns —The Chatterbox, Cook’s Corner and Neighborhood News — covering news stories, writing a ‘society page,’ composting and editing a faith page and more.

Different times, different owners, different management styles, different editors and retirement dramatically changed all of the above. About the only thing in my writing career that hasn’t changed is my interaction with readers. I still enjoy dialoging with the reading public whether on the telephone, via email or chatting in the aisles of local shops!

Certain columns evoke more responses than others. A mistake in a Cook’s Corner recipe is sure to bring a few phone calls. I sometimes forget to include exact quantities in a recipe ingredient list. More than once I’ve had a phone call at 5 p.m. asking me how much evaporated milk to put in a quiche or if I really meant to put ‘that much’ chili powder in something.

This year’s Mother’s Day column mention of Bullock’s department stores garnered interest and triggered memories from men and women alike. One reader, Donna, fondly remembers taking the Red Car from Long Beach to shop at downtown Bullocks. Many readers had fond memories of the tearooms and we all nostalgically agreed, “Those were the days.”

My friend Lynn informed me that her college roommate had been a ‘gloves buyer’ for Bullocks. Of course, that was back in the day and in a climate where we wore gloves to look good rather than keep warm. We collected them in white, black, brown and cream colors; wore short and medium lengths to church and luncheons; longer ones to the theatre.

Gretchen Hill shared an employee viewpoint of the organization. She and her mother worked for Bullock’s Wilshire where the elite shopped. Her mother was a buyer in children’s wear in the late 1920s and 1930s in an era when women seldom worked outside of the home. In fact, it was simply an assumed policy that as a woman, no employee should be dependent upon her earned income!

Thanks to her mother’s connections, Gretchen was hired at the age of 16 as an office employee to work after school, weekends and summers. She began in the training office and worked her way up to becoming a relief executive secretary to Virginia Knox who was the only female manager of a large department store in the United States.

As an impressionable young girl she remembers many of the company’s genteel ways. It was suggested (but not demanded) that employees wear navy blue. Days off were called a day ‘away.’ Vacations were referred to as ‘holidays.’

Women of high society would schedule annual or seasonal shopping sprees at the store, staying overnight at the Biltmore Hotel. In the personal shoppers office, she and others would contact customers all over the nation about the event. Long before email, they would give fashion updates and introduce the latest styles such as Capezio shoes.

This summer between a woodborer infestation and the voracious deer, my 125 rose bushes began dying. So, we amped up our two strands of electric charged wire fencing; then we strung wire across the walkways; overturned tomato cages for another physical barrier and put sparkly stuff everywhere. The deer kept coming.

My frustrated “Dear deer” column garnered a variety of sympathetic responses. The suggestions were divided into two camps: One side wanted to erect a physical barrier. The other side recommended potions to make the foliage repulsive.

I received the first suggestion from my neighbor Susie who said to try “Deer Away,” a commercial product developed by Weyerhaeuser. She said that it was expensive but the only thing she had found to keep the critters from eating her flowers.

A homemade hot sauce repellant was very popular. A sweet lady outside Wal-Mart shared a recipe that went something like this: Mix together 1 egg, ½ cup milk, 1 tablespoon cooking oil, dish soap and hot sauce. Add one-gallon water and shake well. Spray or sprinkle on plants every two weeks or after heavy rain.

Other suggestions included scattering blood meal or mixing it with hair clippings in muslin bags; deodorant soaps and spikes in the ground were frequently mentioned. And almost everyone agreed that a gigantic fence was the best deterrent although not aesthetically pleasing!

Because I didn’t want my roses to smell like rotten eggs, we went with the “Deer Away” repellent idea. Chuck sprayed the product around on the ground outside of the rose beds. So far it’s working. We have now removed most of the fortress cages and the roses are almost looking healthy. Now if we could just get rid of the woodborers!

The column on Steve Lopez and helping the homeless population elicited minimal response. I think the subject is so overwhelming that there’s little we can say or do. In fact, Lopez, who became involved with Mr. Ayers, the mentally ill musical prodigy chronicled in his columns, book and movie “The Soloist,” suggests that help is best left to the professionals.

Mike, a reader of my archived blogs, lives in Guam and wrote to echo those sentiments. “We, too, would like to do something, but what?” he wondered. He went on to say that his wife approached a panhandling woman with an offer of food. The woman became extremely hostile saying she wanted money not McDonald’s! And there you have the age-old dilemma: what to do when offered help is not enough? I guess we just do our best and leave the rest up to God.

Isn’t it nice to know that we’re all in this thing called ‘life’ together? Thank you for your emails, cards, phone calls and sharing your stories. Keep them coming!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.
Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel

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