Kitty Burns Florey

The Daily Walk: Kitty's Blog - Castaways and Keepers


July 8, 2013

Tags: Books, Writing

The blog continues to languish, and I fear my blogging days are over for a while. I'm deeply immersed in two other projects: a memoir/family history about my lost grandmother -- I've learned much about her since the 10/24/2012 blog post -- and also (more…)

My apologies....

April 5, 2013

...for not posting in -- well, incredible but true, it looks like six weeks or so. My only excuse is the usual prosaic blah blah blah that you expected: I've been busy. I hope this photograph of Freddie -- taken by Bill Stanton, the incomparable photographer of just about anything you can think of: dogs, cats, trees, and the tallest tops of Manhattan's tallest buildings, to name only a few of Bill's projects. (You'll find a link to his website on my home page.) (more…)

Singer Sewing Machine: Castaway

February 23, 2013

Tags: Old stuff, Mom

My mother bought this in 1957 to replace the old foot-treadle machine on which she made, among other things, matching aprons (aprons!) for herself and me sometime in the '40s. That machine died, or perhaps she decided it was time for her to enter the modern world. At any rate, the old picturesque machine disappeared, the streamlined new one took its place, and as long as we had this fancy, newfangled gizmo, somebody had to use the damn thing. My mother finally admitted that it terrified her -- it went so much faster than the old one -- and so, as things turned out, that was going to be me.

I wasn't very enthusiastic about learning to sew, but Mom talked me into signing up for a course at the Singer Sewing Machine Store in downtown Syracuse. I picked out an ugly shade of woolen material -- the same bland green as the machine itself, I realized when it was too late -- and bought a pattern for a pleated skirt. What was I thinking? Why didn't anybody tell me that making a pleated skirt is not exactly a stroll in the park? That it's more like an uphill slog through the mud wearing flip-flops? The Singer course taught me a little something about patterns, thread, bobbins, and the idiocy of hand-crafting things rather than buying them better and cheaper from a store. But the fact remains that the skirt made me look like a green walrus, and I refused to be seen in it in public.

My mother considered it quite spiffy, however, and I became the resident sewing expert. She commissioned me to make a couple of sofa pillows; that went pretty well. If something needed hemming, I hemmed it. Sack dresses were in vogue, and I made myself one from a Simplicity Sew 'n' Go pattern that I actually wore.

But though Mom's streak of Martha Stewartism was much stronger than mine, she refused to tackle the machine. When she got the urge to make a pin cushion or another apron or a pot holder, she made it by hand until her arthritis really began to bother her. One of her last projects was a big brown fuzzy rabbit for my daughter's third birthday. The bunny was deeply adored, and named Big Brown. In 2008 a horse of that name ran the Kentucky Derby. Despite the fact that, like most horses, he was indeed big and brown, he was apparently named after the UPS trucks. Still, I placed a nostalgic bet and won $22. (more…)

Family Photographs: Pepsi Truck

February 7, 2013

Tags: Mom, Dad, Grandparents, Ancestors

Pepsi was, essentially, our family business. In the '30s, my grandfather, Frank Burns, was the vice-president and general sales manager of the Loft Candy Company, which produced a soft drink called Pepsi-Cola -- Loft had acquired the bankrupt Pepsi-Cola Company in 1931, during the Depression. As the decade rolled on, Pepsi became Loft’s biggest success and, in 1941, the two companies merged and were known simply as Pepsi-Cola. The rest is history -- at least in my family. At the testimonial dinner for Grandpa when he retired, one of the bigwigs said, “Frank Burns has done more than any other single person to make Pepsi-Cola what it is today.”

My father did PR for Pepsi in the ‘30s and ‘40s, until he was drafted into the Navy in WWII, but Grandpa worked for Pepsi most of his life, commuting to New York and coming home on weekends. He retired in 1955 as a company vice president. He liked his Canadian Club, but Pepsi was the official family drink, viewed as a cross between holy water and Veuve Clicquot. My cousins and I probably drank enough of it in our youth to float Grandpa’s motorboat (the Pepsi), and we had the cavities to prove it. (more…)

Dripolator: Keeper

February 4, 2013

Tags: Old stuff, Mom, Coffee, Tea

And now for another in the series of ancient, battered domestic objects that -- in lieu of blue chip stocks or a pied à terre in Paris -- I inherited from my mother.

This one is a Dripolator coffee maker from the ‘40s. Mom liked Eight O’Clock Coffee from the A&P, and she liked it weak. She grazed on coffee all day. This pot was always on the stove -- this one or the 8-cup model that I’m sorry to say did not make the downsizing cut. (What was I thinking?)

The Dripolator that came to Amherst with me is about 8 inches tall. Its embossed markings allow a choice of 2 cups or 3, with the understanding that these are the kind of dainty, saucered, flower-bedecked china cups my mother liked. (Her favorite, with violets [violets always reminded her of my father] got broken shortly before she died. She took it calmly [Mom took most things calmly] and switched to another, painted with roses.) In our highly caffeinated world of grandes, ventis, and supersizes in general, a 3-cup Dripolator fills one substantial mug, with a bit left over for a small refill. (more…)

Blog vacation

January 26, 2013

The blog will be on hold until February. I wish that was because I'm lying on a beach somewhere (actually, I don't like lying on beaches -- substitute sitting in a square in some sunny village watching people), but it's just the usual excuse: not enough time.

However, instead of a post, I'm happy to supply another image from the alarmingly huge collection of strange animal photographs that my friend Rich has inflicted on me. Whoever wrote the caption on this photograph must have been as befuddled as I've felt lately. Dogs? Cats? Hamsters? Who knows? Here are Lyman, Fannie, and Laurence Lyke, with their pets, call them what you will. The photograph is fascinating, as all old photographs are. Why was it taken? Where? By whom? And why include the cats? Then again, why not?

I'll get back on schedule when things calm down. (more…)

Keepers: Family Pictures

January 15, 2013

Tags: Mom, Photographs

On the back of this photograph, my mother wrote, "Rochester, NY -- Jerry Burns, Lee's back yard at 143 Milburn St. -- August 1942" and then, some years later, added: "P.S. I bought this dress in Filene's Basement, Boston, summer of 1941, for $2.88. A soft jersey. I loved it."

It was clear that she loved it because the dress, those earrings, and her white "spectator" pumps appear in several photographs of her in the early '40s.(See previous post.)

What fascinates me about this particular photograph is that when it was taken, in August 1942, my parents' life was about to be completely, unexpectedly transformed.

They had eloped in 1933, when they were both 23 years old, and were married in Joplin, Missouri, by a Justice of the Peace on their way to California in search of work. (He gave them a silver dollar, which I still have.) Neither had ever been out of Syracuse before. They hitched a ride with a similarly optimistic friend whose little boy rode beside her in the front. My parents got the rumble seat, in back. They drove south, and my mother remembered that the magnolias in Missouri were in full bloom. It must have been wildly romantic: they were embarking on a mad adventure, escaping the chilly Syracuse spring, the Depression, and the disapproval of my father's parents. (more…)

Keepers: Family Pictures

January 13, 2013

Tags: Mom, Photographs

A picture taken in 1941 of my mother and her best friend, Gene Rae, at a hotel in Massachusetts. Both women were company wives -- my father and Gene Rae's husband, Seward, worked for Pepsi-Cola, doing PR, which seems to have meant traveling around the East Coast, visiting Pepsi plants, thinking up new ad campaigns, and schmoozing, then taking their wives out dancing at night. Here they are at a hotel in Andover, Massachusetts, dressed almost identically in their little jersey dresses and spectator pumps, Mom in her earrings, Gene Rae in her pearls. It was a good life -- and soon to end -- though happily. See the next post. (more…)

Keeper: Wooden Crow

January 2, 2013

Tags: Old stuff, Crows, Freddie, Winter

Winter in Amherst is dazzling. For Christmas and New Year's, we had just enough snow--maybe 4 inches--to make the world look like winter. The chopped stubble in the fields is gold against the snow, which is perfectly flat, and shiny in the sun. The horses at the farm down the road are out in their plaid wool blankets, browsing for bits of grass. The air is clean and cold, and everything is enclosed by the dark, low mountains in the distance, topped with their fringe of bare trees.

This morning on my walk with Freddie, half a dozen crows landed noisily in the low branches of a tree near us: stark tree skeleton with a pattern of black birds against a bright blue sky. I thought it was beautiful.

Fred thought it was terrifying! (more…)

Yet Another Digression: Dogs and Cats

January 1, 2013

Tags: Freddie, Duke

My dog Freddie is a strange little guy. Unlike every dog I’ve ever known (and most cats), Fred doesn’t play. If I roll a ball toward him, he jumps out of the way, looking alarmed. When a friend of mine was here with her little dog, Cricket, Freddie was induced to frolic and gambol for an occasional minute or two, but much of the time Cricket found him a dull dog indeed. Fred is an observer, not a player. What he likes is to look at things and figure them out. If they’re people, no matter how benign or dog-oriented, he can find them scary. Approach him too quickly and he’ll back away; then he’ll sneak up and lick your hand.

I’d forgotten -- though it may have been at work subliminally when I named him -- that E.B. White had a series of dachshunds, and that his first one was named Fred. (more…)

At my new digs in Amherst, Mass.

Why the blog?

Well, it had to happen. Probably most writers are tempted at some point -- simply because, if you need to write, a blog is one more place to do it. And, despite the fact that there are something like 200 million blogs out there already, people keep telling you that you should have a blog. And so gradually, slowly, almost imperceptibly, your attitude changes from "That's a ridiculous idea" to "I have nothing to say" to "Oh, what the heck." (I'm surprised there's no blog called

So here's mine.

About that title: I do take a long walk every day, but this will not be a blog about going for walks. What I'm pretty sure I mean is that I'll be thinking about what to write in my blog while I'm taking my daily walk. As Nietzsche said (and I discovered this not by reading Nietzsche, which I have never done, but by a quick Google search for some profound quote about walking), "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking." I'm hoping that's true for the other kind too.