Letters Home: A Crate and a Gate

A Crate and A Gate

Letters Home: A Crate and a Gate

The central focus in this quilt is a large crate. Our Mother tells the story of their sea shipment arriving in a large wooden crate, the excitement of having a few things from home: toys for the girls, personal items that touch heart strings and make a house a home.  

After the crate is emptied, she tells of trying to get the crate through the garden gate. As I worked on this piece, I thought about the crate and the gate as a metaphor for life – how often do we unpack our baggage and still try (in vain) to push the crate through the gate of our current reality? As the Persian workers struggled, pushed, had tea, brought in reinforcements and tried again, Mother watched and laughed. From her vantage point, she could see what they could not – just as in our lives, we often need a different way of looking. A crate can be moved, perhaps not through sheer force, but by a different way of thinking. Just as they eventually succeeded, we will too, with a step back and a new perspective! 

In addition to the crate and a garden gate, the quilt includes references to:

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  • “Dear folks…. With love”- the way she started and ended most letters
  • Silver napkin rings on a hand dyed damask napkin – “to keep all the napkins from being lipstick stained!” 
  • Green creme de menthe – Mother’s favorite after dinner treat -on a background of hand painted XX OOs that is included in each piece in this series
  • A pool for cool afternoon respite
  • And more flowers – here she talks about the zinnias. 

The quilt is 19” (h) by 24 (w), made of hand dyed and commercial cotton and damask. It is machine and hand embroidered, and made with love. 

A Crate and A Gate
A Crate and A Gate, Letters Home Series

May 23, 1959

Dust storms and swimming – our summer norm!

Letter #11

Dear Mom and Dad,

Remember that package you mailed April 16th? A great big thanks. It arrived here on the 20th. Very good time. I sure do love the placemats and as you know they are the color that I have wanted. Since no shipment has come in yet, they went right on the table and look so nice. This package was picked up in the Mailroom by one of the Iranians in Herb’s department. It seems he was in the Mailroom and the men there were in quite a state. They knew where to deliver the mail to Mr. Hand but what should I do about mail for Mrs. Hand. They really don’t think. Well, anyhow, this man got in on the conversation and was able to just take the package to Herb, even bypass Customs.

I adore the match. I sure appreciate the pretty paper. We also carefully folded and saved the brown paper and string and put them inside the box to save. The cardboard is saved too. You just ain’t able to get them things – nohow. Since it was our night for school, we went to the Farsi class on the 19th, then came home and had drinks and dinner. Jack Stauffer was here with us. He is a Gulf  man and his wife is back home visiting their first grandchild. Wine with dinner and then we went to the movies. Had creme de menthe after the movie and then fell into bed. The next day was when I hit the jackpot. Your package and four letters. Mail is a big thing and we really had an hour of fun with all of it that day. Jack brought me a book, I Sing in the Wilderness. It is very good and tells a pretty good story of life in Iran. Read it when you come when you have a chance. Herb got me very pretty silver napkin rings – four of them each one with our names on. Now we would all have napkins with lipstick on. Eshajh can read the names, so knows where to put the napkins now.

Detail of the silver napkin rings
Detail of the silver napkin rings and the pool

Have the pretty card in front of me now, it did arrive on the 19th. Mom, you opened Dad’s now and the day before it was supposed to be open. Shame on you. My toe is fine now. It took 2 weeks to get better and each time I saw a doctor it was a different Doctor. No socialized medicine for me.

The kids are getting to be like little drowned rats in the pool. They seem to love it and they particularly like it when we get to take them in the big pool with us. Herb has been trying to teach Bobbie to swim. Mostly it has been for her to hang on to the edge of the pool with her head under the water and kick. She does not like to get her sweet face wet. He has also tried to teach her to float, but she has a heavy bottom and sinks to the middle. Anyhow she does enjoy it and it has made me get wet and try to swim. Found out I was better than I thought and could really swim across the pool and back. Then I had to hold Lynn and play with her in the big pool. 

Today is a hot miserable day. By our standards it is cloudy, but it is really just blowing dust that blocks out the sun. If you go outside for a while your teeth and face are all pretty gritty, dust. For a while it was clear and I washed and hung out white clothes. The nanny is ironing some of them now and I just hope that the rest don’t have to be rewashed. This ringer type washer is a lot of work after being used to the automatic.

The Elin Horn is supposed to be at dock now. Don’t know for sure, but hope Herb has word that it has really docked. The second shipment was supposed to start up river this weekend. We do not know whether it will come right into Abadan or have to go up further. If it goes up to another port first, it will be about three or four weeks before we get it. Oh, well, at least it is not six months like it could be.

After a week of summer hours we are all tired. Little nap in the afternoon, but it is real late and a spanking or two before she goes to sleep at night. Bobbie is so tired that it does not take her long to go to sleep either time. As for Herb, he just about dies at night and we are both trying to take light naps for about an hour in the afternoon. But still this split sleep is hard, one hour in the day and six or less at night. I packed Herb a sandwich for him to have in the middle of the morning and then when he gets home he has some fruit or something to drink. I pack a sandwich or graham crackers for Bobbie and a bottle of Coke or orange soda for her to have in the middle of the morning. You can always tell the bottom of the page it won’t go straight.

We are sorry to hear about Bell’s house. But it’s better to know now than to have the whole thing fall in her lap in a few months. She was real smart not to take the second mortgage, despite the tongue-lashing. Do hope she will find a buyer real soon, if it all goes too long, she may change her mind and stay in the house. 

Notice that I wrote on Saturday last week too. Must not let this happen again. I think that the letters make the best time if they are mailed on Saturday, don’t know for sure. We got good service on a letter mailed from Holmes right next to Springfield, we got it 4 days after the post. And it had to go to Philadelphia, then to New York, to Abadan and to us. Better time than if it just had to go to Philadelphia! Two hungry kids, so must stop. We enjoyed the newspaper – thanks.

The Elin Horn has docked, unloaded and left this afternoon. The call from the customs should come soon and then we can wonder where to put the stuff. No basement!

Love from us all!


Wednesday May 27, 1959

Christmas in May and time to sew – at last! 

Hi Folks,

Another letter so soon! Don’t worry, it may be months before you hear again. Our first shipment arrived on Monday. Everything came through okay…. A few scratches on the side of the sewing machine, 1 chaise bent and part of the sewing machine head broken, but I can still use it. I have started sewing before the things are put away, don’t know where to put them, no basement, damn it all! Anyhow, we will really be snowed under in another day or two, the boat with the second shipment on it docked  yesterday sometime. At least we will have more drawer space when we get that. Well, I figured that I’d better write while I could still find the desk and the paper and know that you would all want to know just when our stuff got here. None of the cartons were opened in customs, thank goodness. They opened the big crate and looked over the list and asked Herb what we were bringing in, duty got charged on the trike, bike and sewing machine, since they are all used items the company pays.

Have you ever seen little girls’ faces on Christmas morning? They were 10 times better when they saw that the things were at the house. Lynn was here when the things came and just grinned and stood right by the front door and watched everything come in, when one man brought her chair he set it by the front screen and down she sat and watched. Her face, a picture.

When Bobbie came home from school and walked into the living room with all the cartons and things set around, she broke out in the biggest grin yet, and then she saw her bike – it really was Christmas again. Oh, they were sweet, and so few toys in this shipment. When the next one comes, don’t know where we will walk for all the stuff.

Can you stand  another story about the people here? If you can’t, just don’t read it. Well, all this stuff was packed in one big wood crate. After everything was carried into the house the boss man asked me what I wanted done with the crate and I told him to have it put in the yard, so we could knock it down and store in the compound. Six men tried to pick the thing up, no success, so they tried to pull it off the truck, still no luck. They finally all got behind it and pushed it off and it fell into the street. Much shoving and pushing got it to the front gate, they lined it up and all agreed that it was about seven inches wider than the opening. So did they pick it up and lift it over, too easy. They pushed and shoved and tried to squeeze it through. Lord, what a mess.

I was out in the front walk, outside the gate laughing till tears came to my eyes and wishing for the movie camera. Well, they kicked and shoved and finally tried to roll it and the thing got stuck really good in the gate and also in the tree. At this point, a number of Iranian people had gathered outside to watch and supervise. I just stood there laughing and calling them names. Don’t know how yet, but they finally got it into the yard even if it was in a lot of pieces. The next shipment is in two crates, both bigger than this one. I  wonder how they will get that inside? 

Detail of the crate and the gate
Detail of the crate and the gate

Well, that’s my big tale of excitement, except that I stopped in the Singer shop yesterday and tried to get the part that was broken. They don’t have it but are sending to Tehran for it and it should be here in about two weeks. Hope it will fit, but I can use the machine without it. They were really interested in the machine. I took the instruction booklet with me to show them the picture of what I wanted and the man looked all through the book. He had never seen the machine like mine. Most of the ones  here are electrified treddles, that is if they are electric. Boy, wait until they see the desk that it fits in, their eyes are really going to pop then.

When I went to the staff store to get candles today all they had were green or black. The dining room has yellow walls so I couldn’t see green – the black candles in the black holders look different. It really does look like a home now – those few touches of things that are ours make a big difference.

Even got three of the vases out and have them filled with zinnias and naturally the sewing machine is open –  I am itching to make something. Herb wants first rights, summer-weight shirts with short sleeves, collar band and button down. But until I can find the material, maybe I can make something else. Remember back to school days when the first thing they taught you was starting a paragraph for each new thought? I really learned my lesson!

Tell Bel we are sorry to hear of her troubles with the house. As you said, they can’t do anything to her just because she won’t take a second mortgage. At this point she is better off out of the whole deal. I wonder where the people feel they can fight her, they can’t even get their own money, and she is not a money lender. They better just go stick it. Hope this last sentence doesn’t get passed around the country.

On the packages, Mrs. Kuna won’t have her return address on them because we put my mother’s address as return on your packages and turn about. We don’t have mail delivery to the door. Herb has it taken to him at the office and that way we get it about 2 or 3 days sooner. No sense in sitting around Abadan when we could be reading it.

What a birthday dinner Dad had – some confusion! Did you all sleep well?  You know what I mean I’m sure. The toe is okay now – it should be after three weeks, but it does still act up if I’m on it too much. It’s not the one to run this sewing machine so I’m okay. That was sure a messed up sentence, my mind went much faster than the fingers. Barb’s problem with no more babies underfoot, she solved her own way, thanks but I’m happy just the way we are, two nice little girls and never another diaper bottle I hope. I did bring one maternity dress pattern just as an insurance policy.

We finally got chickens back in the store so now I can try one of your recipes, and my cookbooks will be here in a few days. Can’t think of another thing that we really need to ask you to send. Mother has a shoebox of little things started and I did send her a pattern number to send me. There should be no duty on them as long as they are not Simplicity. Ruby Draper went to Tehran and took the address you got for me and bought several patterns. She was thrilled and so am I, we wear the same size. I think I’ve answered all the questions in your letter 12, so now I’ll put this machine away for a while, and get out the other one and sew and sew and sew. At long last. Take care of yourselves and above all take it easy. Tell Dad not to overdo himself at the island. He probably has his tomatoes out the window to keep him busy enough with this summer. 

Love from us all!

Letters Home is a collection of letters written by our Mother (mostly) and our Father ( sometimes), that chronicles their life overseas, with two, then three, then four young girls.  The letters were written to their mothers and are full of daily life, unique challenges, and humor. As we live in uncertain and challenging times, it seems fitting to share.

Browse through more Letters Home and the art quilts inspired by our parents adventures.

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