Sunday, November 13, 2011

Memories of Melting Glass

This image was 'lifted' from another site. It is a little gift shop in Houghton Lake, MI. It's so typical of the area when we moved there in the late 1970's. The area was rather desolate, 'up North' as we called the area. Where the up North boundary is, who knows? It seemed dark there after living in a much more populated area. Dark and cold, with more winter than I'd ever experienced. And it was a small town. Very few stores, one movie theater that showed the same movie for a month before they got another. Nothing really much to do except outdoor type sports. We went ice fishing and cross country skiing.
My husband and I would want a fast food burger and sometimes would drive an hour to the closest McDonald's to get one. The stores closed on Sunday but one grocery was open from 1-4. If we weren't organized, we'd have to scrounge for food on Sundays. If you needed clothing, you ordered it or you drove for an hour to a store to buy something.

When it was time to buy a gift for someone it was difficult, unless you had time to go 'down state' to a shopping center. So upon occasion, I'd shop at the tourist stores like this one that is pictured. This little shop was actually about a mile from where we lived and just shut down maybe 7 or 9 years ago. They sold moccasins. I'd take my daughter there to buy little white moccasins with soles and beads and fringe. She loved them when she was a little girl. I loved buying them for her. When the owner of this shop passed away, a surprise was given to our community in the form of a very large endowment for scholarships. Who knew that the little old lady running this shop had left so much for our students! To this day every student who lives in that particular township can receive some money toward college.

One shop I loved. The Fife and Drum gift shop is long gone. There is no picture to share. But it was a teeny shop that housed another big surprise. The front of the shop was the normal 'stuff' Little boxes made of cedar, postcards, ashtrays, shot glasses, pencils, trinkets with the name of the lake. A bit of jewelry here and there. Wandering into the second little room was amazing. A Christmas tree filled with glass ornaments. Intricately made trees, bells that rang, candy canes, icicles, stars, snowflakes, manger scenes, all made of clear glass. Behind a screen, wearing dark welding glasses, was an older man working with glass behind a torch. He melted these clear rods into his beautiful ornaments. People ordered them from all over the US. I didn't know that at the time, (nor did I know his wife had a large organ in the very back room and she would practice it when there were no customers).

My husband and I were scraping along paying college loans and surviving on small beginning teacher wages and there was no extra for glass ornaments. I looked at them often and finally began to buy one every year, which was all I could afford. I kept thinking 'someday there will be no more of these ornaments'. My kids gave them to teachers for Christmas gifts, some kids gave them to me too :-) and every year, I bought one, plus an icicle.

The older gentleman finally closed the shop. I think it's still empty although maybe something is there now. That teeny store. I used to think "I want to do that!" "Sit behind a screen and melt glass into beautiful creations" I would take my kids to watch him, and some teachers would take their class to see him melt his glass. The man never spoke to us, he just quietly sat and wove melted glass into filigree-like art. In some way this man was an inspiration to me to begin to work with glass. I think of him. Especially every Christmas when I unpack those special white boxes, marked with 'Fife and Drum' and hang my clear ornaments next to lights on our tree. The glass reflects the colors and sparkles like ice.

I've been making glass icicles. They are nothing like the beauties in the white boxes. Maybe sometime they will be. It's a struggle and I think of how easily this man melted and twisted the glass. A hidden gem in a little town 'Up North'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just found this article doing a search for Fife and Drum. Sad to see it is gone. I have my mothers collection for 30+ years ago. My wife just traveled to Houghton and I was hoping she could buy another for our home in California. "those little white boxes" :)