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Archive for the ‘Memory Lane’ Category

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Make a Memory

A few days ago I posted a poem titled Make a Memory and promised I would tell the story behind it. My sister-in-law, Tiz, asked me not to be too long about getting it up, especially after I told her that she and my brother, Mike are part of the story and Mike was a prime player in “the memory.”

Mike and Tiz live in Australia and last September, they visited us in Wisconsin for the very first time. I hadn’t seen my brother in far too many years and had never even met Tiz so this was a big occasion. A wonderful time was had by all but one incident stands out to me above all the others. It was a simple thing really but rich and very complex in meaning to me on several different levels.

We had gathered on the porch in the late afternoon just talking about this and that, enjoying each other’s company and my Gr-son Gabe was sort of lurking around the edges of the adults, listening to our conversation (I think we were discussing politics or something) and he had come up and leaned against me. I could see that he was trying to get closer but there was nowhere for him to sit so I invited him to sit on my lap.

Now Gabe had formed somewhat of a huge boy crush on my brother Mike and I had noticed he was trying to impress him so I wasn’t surprised when he informed me rather scornfully “I don’t sit on peoples’ laps anymore, Gramma.” To which I replied that I guessed he WAS getting a little too grown up for that but I sure wished I had known the last time he sat on my lap that it was going to be the last time. He asked me why and I said because I would have made a memory about it since I loved it so much when he sat on my lap when he was little.

At that point Mike chimed in with a comment about how important living in the present and being mindful of what is precious to you when you are with your loved ones is because you never know when the last time is going to be. We had a short discussion about that. That was probably the best–most meaningful–conversation Mike and I had that whole weekend. There was a whole lot that was left unspoken but was said nonetheless, in my opinion.

The conversation moved on and awhile later Gabe came up and nonchalantly sat on my lap. I didn’t say anything, just gave him a little hug but I knew what he was doing. After a few moments, he leaned in close and whispered in my ear “This is the last time, Gramma. Make a memory.” 

When they got home, Tiz sent me some pictures of their visit. One of them is the picture of Gabe and Daryn playing with some kangaroo boxer toys and there is Gabe, sitting on my lap. Occasionally I would look at that picture and think about sweet Gabe saying “This is the last time; make a memory” and think about writing a poem. Eventually that poem pretty much just wrote itself early one morning. I changed very little after the first draft. Mostly just line breaks and punctuation and one word.

So, Thanks Mike and Tiz.  You both helped make a special memory.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.  ~James M. Barrie

 

This is the last time, whispered sweetly,
leaning in, close to my ear
so that only I would hear.
This is the last time, make a memory.
And so I did: wrapped
up in September’s sunshine, kept
safe, a treasure, this simple act,

an expression of love so strong
my heart longs
to hold you back
even as you walk away from me
towards tomorrows I will not see.

 

 

There is a story behind this poem—aren’t there always? I considered telling it in this post but I think I will let this poem stand alone for a few days before I write about what prompted the poem in order to let it become what it will for whoever takes the time to read it. I like to make some of my poems a bit ambiguous as to their subject and just try to capture the emotions that surround the situation. Do you think I have managed that with this one? Who do you think whispered this in my ear? What was “the last time?”  Why are they walking away?

The picture I used to illustrate this poem is one I took of the sun shining on the leaves in the courtyard of my building in September of 2008 when we had stellar fall colors. I titled it September’s Sunshine and thought it would be a good companion for this poem.  It even illustrates this weeks photo challenge “Through” since the sun is shining through the leaves.

Thanks for reading…

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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There is all the difference in the world between departure from recognised rules by one who has learned to obey them, and neglect of them through want of training or want of skill or want of understanding. Before you can be eccentric you must know where the circle is.

Ellen Terry (1847-1928), British actor. Ellen Terry’s Memoirs, 2nd. ed., ch. 5 (1932).

MerlinsDad, my cyber friend in Atlanta, and I were discussing eccentricity as in me being eccentric. I think people probably see me as being eccentric. I know my children think I’m eccentric. Quirky. That’s a good word. I’m quirky.

My kids think I talk too much to too many people. I probably do. I’ve never really met a stranger, just someone I haven’t been introduced to yet. I also have a tendency to talk to myself if there is no one else to talk to. I have wonderful conversations with myself!

Then there is the matter of my verbiage. I hhave a huge vocabulary of $64 words that I can even usually spell correctly but I curse too much. I use the eff word with abandon. I say damn this and damn that and oh shit with every stumble. I have a potty mouth and I don’t give a damn. I come off sounding like the very well educated redneck that I am. I can control this tendency when I want to and I do until i get to know the people I’m getting to know and then I shock the living hell out of them when I loosen up.

I have a tendency to dress eccentrically too, like an aging hippie in tie dye clothes and long skirts or jeans that are worn out. At the age of 56 I have long hair that I wear long and loose in the winter or in a bun like Tyne Daly in the summer. It’s graying beautifully if I do say so myself. My daughter wants to cut it short and stylish and hates it long. She has training as a beautician and takes it personally when I don’t follow her advice.

My neighbor Max told me I project this Earth Mother, feel good, it’s a sunshiney day persona that draws everyone into my circle. I don’t believe that’s true because I apparently have plenty of enemies and besides, there are people I definitely don’t want in my circle which has caused more than a few awkward and some decidedly ugly moments.

The reason MerlinsDad and I got into this conversation is because I said I preferred to hang out with the people in the apartment complex that the so-called nomal people would consider eccentric and it was going to seal my eccentric label. But that’s OK because I’ve known, admired, and loved a great many eccentric people, many of them in my own family. One of my very favorite eccentric relatives was my Mother’s eldest sister Cleo Fate Flleschner (I cannot for the life of me think of her married name but she was married to my Aunt Christine Gavin’s husband’s second or third cousin twice removed. It will come to me,  See I told you it would come to me.  It took a couple of hours or more but I rmembered eventually.)

My Aunt Cleo spent all of her life on a farm until Uncle John died and left her with a reasonable sum of money at her disposal. She wisely turned this principal over to a broker and told him to invest it as he saw fit and told him to send her the dividends to live on.Then she went to work at the truck stop in Sutton Nebraska as a dish washer and bus girl on the third shift at the age of 56 and began living like a teenager. Before we knew it she was dating truck drivers and going on long haul drives with them. Why, she was having sexual relationships with them! Men she hardly knew! Men none of us knew!  She was getting a reputation!

All of the relatives were flabbergasted! All of her relatives were horrified! All of them except me. I was tickled pink for her. She was my favoritedAunt and she had worked hard all those years. It was good to see her having fun. It was fun to see her happy and excited! Her children tried to get her committed to the looney bin. That pissed me off. I wrote to her eldest son who was a preacher and told him off in no uncertain terms. He never answered me.

I was living here in Wisconsin while all of this was going on but when I went home for a visit I got a chance to tell Aunt Cleo in person that I was on her side and Hurray for her for having the guts to live her life to its fullest measure. We were standing out by her car as she was getting ready to leave and I told her not to let anyone tell her she was crazy because she wasn’t, she was beautiful and full of joy. She was still young and she should enjoy what remained of her life not sit down and get ready to die.

She cried when I told her that and said it meant everything for someone in her family to support her and she wished she had a daughter like me. Funny, I wished she was my mother instead of the disapproving wretch who sat in the house hoping no one had noticed her eldest sister had been in town.

B

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I was “talking” to “Iggie2Cats” over on The Delphi Forum Social Blunders about her Grandmother’s funeral. My Gran’s funeral (33 years ago come Thanksgiving weekend) was lovely too. Not as lovely her grandmother’s sounds though. It was paritally Quaker and the Friends believe in getting up and bearing personal witness to the departed person’s good life.

Our church was pretty staid. We had a “funeral dinner” that the church ladies cooked afterwards though and that’s where the story telling took place. The “remember whens.”My missionary cousins who grew up in Japan were horrified by all the laughing and undignified behavior going on. They kept saying their mother would not approve. I was perplexed by their lack of understanding of American Midwestern culture and their rigidity. They had been Japanized or their parents had lost touch with reality.

I have many good memories of my Gran. I was the only Grand-daughter who lived nearby for a good many years as she grew older so I was sort of her “favorite.” It wasn’t that I was more special than the other grand-daughters; it was just that I was there. Had they been there instead of me, it would have been they who benefited from my Gran’s needs instead of me.

I took piano lessons from about age 8 to age 13 and she not only paid for them, the dear heart had the piano and sat through the practicing. She would make me tea or cocoa and give me a “recess” during my hour so we could chat. I spent two hours with her every day. I suspect that she did this so that she would have some companionship and so that I was there while she cooked her dinner.

She was surely giving her poor ears a break during “recess” as I am dyslexic and could not play properly without watching my hands until I had the song memorized. I struggled to learn though because it meant so much to her and even if it took two weeks to learn one song, I carried on. Poor Gran. But she persevered as much as I until the piano teacher moved out of town. I can still sort of read music. But I have to watch my fingers while I play piano. Or type.

Quaker services are wonderful. I am agnostic/atheist. I have written out instructions that when I pass I want to have a Quaker-like funeral. On the cheap. My children are not to spend any money at some lavish funeral home. My children’s father had a funeral similar to a Quaker funeral. They said it was very moving and comforting to know how loved their father was by so many people. So was I.

I think mine will probably be held right here in the community room of the building I live in. Or at the Senior Center in case my “enemies” want to crash the party like they have been since I’ve lived here. I hope I pass in the spring so the flowering trees are in bloom in the courtyard and it is a sunny day. They can fill the room with lilacs! Or maybe fall because then my favorite Sunflowers are available and cheap. I want some songs to be sung and played on the boom box and I want people to be given some refereshemnts and then I want my kids to mingle with my friends awhile. No preaching. Maybe someone who is good with owords will get up and speak but I sort of doubt it. Ye gods and little fishes, it sounds like I am planning a wedding. <heh>

I am donating my body to medical science here at the University of Wisconsin-School of Medicine because I have a rare auto-immune disorder and I want them to study it so no viewing of the body and no real need for a funeral home to be involved. I hope that my children are present at my departure and so do they because that will mean I have time to prepare for it.

But then again, departing suddenly while I am doing something I love to do would not make me unhappy. Gran likely had a massive stroke making her pumpkin pies. My father on the other hand, had a brain aneurysm in the hospital. He must have had some inkling that something was going on because he buzzed the nurse and though he could not talk he smiled and squeezed her hand before he went into a coma.

They had to resuscitate him and hook him up to life support until the entire family could be notified and agree to turn those machines off. If even one of us had said no, he could still be alive today with machines breathing and feeding him. Terry Schiavo only worse. He was truly brain dead. Flatlined.

One of my brothers was a salesman and was on the road. We had no idea where he was and could not take any action whatsoever until we got state troopers in three states involved and they finally pulled him over on his way home. That was a horrible way to be told your father is dying.

I had to wait until my husband came home off the road to travel from Wisconsin to Nebraska. (I had faxed my notarized permission to the hospital) The last thing he wanted to do was get in a car and drive another 800 miles. So I did most of the driving while he and the kids slept. Daddy was already gone by the time I got there though.

I will have to be embalmed and if my kids want to use a funeral home and can afford to I guess that’s up to them but the University will do it for free. Seems silly to pay for it. But the funeral home will make me look nice and if the kids want to spend time with me after I die I guess I should look nice. <heh>

Well, in that case I wonder if I should plan what I want to wear or let them decide for me. I kind of got a bit of comfort going through Gran’s closet finding her favorite dress and beads for her. I had them put her worn Bible in her hands. I have so many memories of her sitting in her chair in the “front room” studying her Bible. Bless her heart. I guess I will let my daughter or my grand-daughter if I ever get one have the pleasure of going through my closet if they want to.

Whatever other medical research they can use me for at the University is OK too. Then-my body will be cremated and the remains will be returned to my children. They planted their father’s remains under an oak tree in my daughter’s yard. I want to be buried under a lilac bush or in a sunflower field.My son still has a small vial he carries around in the pick-up he inherited from him almost 10 years ago. I think that’s macabre but kind of sweet at the same time. He told me he is going to mingle his Dad’s ashes and mine when I die. Like *that’s* going to work some kind of magic. I just laugh at him but you know, in a way that is kind of a comforting thought. It’s like being buried next to your loved one.

BTW, everyone young and old should have a living will. Your family and significant other should know exactly what you want to have happen if you become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions for yourself or unable to communicate your wishes. I don’t care how old you are, you need to do this. Do NOT burden your family with these important and heart rending decisions during emotionally traumatic events. You never know when you might meet tragedy.  My father was 47 years old.

B

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MerlinsDad and I began this discussion in Email and I brought it to my blog because I thought it was a good topic for my legacy to my Grandkid(s). See Ain’t I a Woman too and Kiss of the Blarney Stone for the build up to this post.

I had a big crisis of faith thing going on when I hit my teens. I had always had “inappropriate” questions, even as a child. I remember asking things and getting a very negative reaction from my Mother. My Father was much more open to discussions about whether there was or wasn’t a god. He’s also the one who told me there wasn’t a Santa Claus when I got upset because my brothers had ruined a doll and I was afraid Santa would think I didn’t appreciate my toys.

I was raised in a very fundamentalist bible banging christian church sort of like the southern baptists but so arroagant that they call themselves THE Christian church. (My friend MerlinsDad sent me this link to the History of The Christian Church extant.) Seriously. They are every bit as bad as the Catholics they preach against and condemn to Hell from the pulpit which happened to be more than a quarter of my family. Not to mention the boy I happened to be dating. That was kind of freaky but I really didn’t pay much attention until…

I was a junior in high school when Sunday school sunddenly turned into this crazy dump on the Catholics free for all. We took up the subject of Revelation and according to The Christian Church’s teachings, every bad thing mentioned in Revelation is connected to the Catholic Church. I got seriously pissed about it.

I’d already fought the battle of evolution vs science as a sophmore and in spite of my doubts, I’d refused to cave. I stood firmly with the christians and would not write one word that did not agree with biblical teachings. Were they proud of me for having the courage of my convictions? Hell no, they were not, the damn hypocrites. They told me I should have written what was required to pass the test. Even the pastor called me in and counseled me to do that.

Do you want to know who told me he was proud of me for having the courage of my convictions? My biology teacher, Mr Hefty, that’s who. He allowed me to write a paper to make up for flunking that test. He told me he believed that evolution and creationsism could be reconciled but he wasn’t my spiritual advisor so he wanted me to argue my side of the equation and how creationists countered the theory of evolution.

Fast forward about 15 years. I’m now living in Wisconsin and have explored every kind of sect and denomination of christianity within driving distance, including Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science not ot be confused with Ron L Hubbards Scientology. Every damn one of them have left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a headache. So I gave up trying to find a church I liked and just did my own thing.

I was going to college and was sort of a professional student. I loved the art of learning in a setting where you surrounded by so much intelligence and could choose to go as deeply into one or more subjects as you wanted. One of the things I was studying was Cultural Anthropology.

Cultural Anthropologists look at the culture they are studying as objectively as possible. Every aspect of human life is supposed to be observed and examined in minute detail to gather the facts without judgement or bias towards a thesis. That’s the ideal situation. Eventually when all of the facts have been gathered The Anthropologists can begin to make hypotheses about a culture.

One of the aspects of a culture that gets studied in minute detail is religion. All known cultures have had a belief a in a higher creative power and a creation myth of some sort. Studying the religions and anthropology fascinated me and I beban to see a pattern emerging.

I wanted to see what else the halls of higher learning could tell me objectively about religious belief so I took a Political Science course about religion. I don’t remember its name anymore but it was about how various religions impact and influence politics and a real eye opener for me about separation of church and state issues.

My favorite class of all in this religious quest were two Sociology of Religions classes that discussed various religious movements and finally we arrive at the Civil War.

I lost all of my reference books due to the ending of a relationship so I’m flying by the seat of my pants here. In the early 1800s the United States saw the beginning of a great upsurge in interest in religious movements and evangelical fervor amongst the mainstream churches as well as experimentations with new forms of religious expression and beliefs. There was a great deal of fragmentation amongst the protestants in the United States due to the fact that none of them can agree on what my friend Max reminded me are called ordinances rather than Sacraments as the Catholics call them in THE Christian Church.

There were so many preachers and Pastors out there stumping for the common man to convert to the denomination dujour that the northern New England area, particularly in the New York area became known as the “burned-over area” becasue it was believe that every man, woman, and child worth saving had heard the message of Christ’s “Good news plan for salvation.”

Traditional Christianity was the main force but it was not the only religious movemnt afoot. Of particular interest to me because it was bizaare and eventually because of my interest in re-enacting is Spiritualism.

The Fox Sisters are usually given credit for having started the Spiritualist craze here in the USA but in my opinion, they just capitalized on something that was already afoot and got their pictures in the New York newspapers first. It’s exceedingly hard to point a finger at one person and say Him or Her but Emmauel Swedenborg seems to have influenced most Spiritualists although I doubt he would have had much truck with any of them.

There were many famous Spiritualists in the USA and Abroad. The Fox sisters are considered the “first” but I don’t buy that designation at all. They were just the most popular in the beginning of the Great Spiritualist movement that began before the Cival War and reached its peak in the late 1800’s. So you see, all of this “New Age stuff, isn’t so new after all. It’s just been pulled out of the closet, dusted off and dressed up in today’s fashions. Check out Theosophy for an example of a New Age religion that was begun by Madame Blavatsky under the banner of the Spiritualist movement.

There were many famous people who consulted Spiritualists for messages and guidance from beyond just as we see today. Ronnie and Nancy Reagan caught a lot of flak for consulting astrologists during their stay in the Whitehouse. Abraham Lincoln supposedly brought a Spiritualist into his Cabinet’s “War Room” and discussed top secret battle plans with him. Those rumors have not been substantiated.

What has been substantiated is that Lincoln and Mary Todd invited several different Spiritualists to the White house after their second son died. They had soirees featuring the most famous Spiritualists of the day complete with seances and the events were duly reported in the paper. It caused a great stir of excitement amongs the more fundamentalist christian voters and is probably partially responsible for Lincoln’s approval ratings sinking so low just before his re-election. That and the fact that the war was going so horribly–rather like Iraq today.

I became an agnostic (meaning I don’t know absolutely that there is no higher power with god-like abilities such as omnipresence and omni-prescience) atheist (meaning I absolutely do not believe in any of the gods that I have been presented with so far) while I was pursuing these studies. I was an English major so I was also studying the anciet mygthology of traditional Rome, Greece and Egypt as well as The Europeans and British Isles. It became very clear to me that not only were religions manmade but so were the gods people worshipped. It was so patently obvious that gods were created in the image of the men and the cultures they lived in. I simply could not force myself to “have child-like faith” and believe what I had been raised to believe. I never had bought that story about Jonah and the whale. Stomach acid and poop. What about all that poop? I realized I had been a heretic my whole life and I gave up all pretense of being anything else.

So when I became a Civil War Re-enactress I decided to portray a middle-aged (in the mid 1800s middle-aged was about 30 years old) Irish widow with several young children to feed who took up Spiritualism as a way to earn money. She’s a sham of course but she puts on a good show.

She and her husband were Irish Tinkers or Travelors which is the Irish equivalent of European Gypsies and may very well have been descended from the same ancestral stock. They travel around Ireland to this day seeking itinerant work such as fixing pots and pans or sharpening knives in the 1800s which is why they were called tinkers and oftentimes the women told fortunes and begged with thier children to supplement their incomes.

My Persona and her husband came to America because of the Potato famines and he was hired to take the place of a wealthy New Yorker who had been conscripted into the Union Army. This was not only legal, it was encouraged because Lincon’s government needed cash more than they needed men to fight and they didn’t want to tax the people anymore than they absolutely had to so they came up with this system of allowing the wealthy to buy their way out of the draft. They could pay a poor man to take their place and they had to pay a substantial fine to the government for the privilege. And everyone was happy.

I came up with this persona because part of this is the true story of how some of my ancestors got their start in the United States. My however-many-greats Grandfather was a paid substitue for some rich New Yorker in the Civil War. He then re-enlisted so he and his wife and children could claim citizenship. After the war he re-enlisted for the the Indian Wars in the Nebraska Territories so he could have first choice at a homestead and finally they all settled down out in South Dakota.

Re-enacting is putting on a living history event in which people like me and the guy I was dating dress up in ridiculously hot clothes and pretend to be people who lived more than 145 years ago. We try to live exactly the way they would have lived without killing ourselves with food poisoning or heat stroke. That means sleeping on the ground with maybe a feather matress or a pad with cotton batting. But usually not. Generally you make do wiith some hay or straw thrown down on the ground, a couple of quilts and a rubberized tarp to keep the damp off. As the weekend goes by your bed gets shorter because your horse has to eat.

Everything you eat is cooked over a campfire in castiron or directly in the coals. The wind is always blowing in whichever direction the smoke will get in your eyes. Your dishes are tin and rusty or enamelware if your character is rich enough to be able to afford that on a camping trip. The soap is homemade and harsh. It invariably rains at least one night and floods the tent getting everything you own wet so you have to wear wet clothes the next day which will be hot and muggy.

All of this is done while other people who have paid to see this event are watching you. In effect you are an unpaid actor or actress who has to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of equipment for the privilege of being uncomfortable for 3 or 4 days at a time while people stare at you and wrinkle their noses at your body odor. Gosh it’s fun! Winter is known as “The Grumpy Season.”

Since I’m not all that into the clothes I mostly chose to wear black widow weeds except for the dances at night and then I became a widow on the make and seduced my Sergeant so he’d let me sleep in his tent or vice verse depending on where it was convenient to pitch the tent. <heh> Lots of the women got into re-enacting so they could dress up in the hoop skirts and beautiful dresses that women wore in the first half of the 1800s.

This is the Brigade or what-ever you call it I was attached to in their civillian unit. He was with the Artillery Unit. He’s the one that is dressed up in those funny clothes with the goofy “Oh boy, it’s my turn to shoot the cannon look in his eyes! ” standing in front of the wheel.

I’m having a bittersweet Kodak, Hallmark memory lane moment here. My illness has taken such a toll on my life. I absolutely loved re-enacting but I could not do it. I would get sick for days after an event as if I had food poisoning when in reality it was sun poisoning and sheer exhaustion. I would feel fine while I was there but damn the hangovers were a bitch and I wasn’t drinking the water or liquor… We drank bottled water in stainless steel canteens covered in canvas. <heh>

B

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Della Hoyt Fate was my Grandmother. She was born in Ohio and traveled to Kansas in a covered wagon. She had a twin sister Nella who died of typhoid or cholera on the trip. Della lived to see a man walk on the moon and use a microwave oven although she didn’t own one and did not trust them. She would turn it on and scuttle across the room crying out, “That thing sounds like it is going to explode!”

She suscribed to Life Magazine and The Grit weekly Paper from which I read many serialized novels when I was a child including TRUE GRIT which I later saw twice at the movie theaters with my boyfriend Skip Lewellyn. It starred John Wayne and Kim Darrowby andsome singer I can’t recall the name of right off hand. He sang Rhinestone Cowboy though. He was cute but he died in the movie.

Gran did not get a television until she was in her late Sixties and could no longer read because her eyesight had deteriorated. Today she would probably have had surgery to correct her vision and missed the pleasure of her “stories:” “Days of Our Lives” and “General Hospital,” two of the longest running soap operas ever produced. My Gran had taste! She was also a big fan of Lawrence Welk and would be pleased to know that occasionally I will tune in to his show on PBS and remember the Lennon Sisters paper Dolls I kept at her house when I was a little girl.

My Gran had light blue eyes and graying light brown hair when I first met her or I should say remember meeting her. I must have have been four because I believe Jimmy, my youngest brother had been born but I may have only been three. Uncle Bobby, my Daddy’s brother had driven her and Gramma Gavin out to Ohio to visit us in Pleasant Plain.

I spent many many hours with my Gran as a child. On the North porch in the summer and in the big but crowded with furniture “front room.” She was much older than my other Grandmother and needed more and more help as the years went by. I was given more and more responsibility for her care as the years went by.

It began with me helping her do the house work she couldn’t manage like getting down on my hands and knees and polishing her beautiful oak furniture with Fuller Brush furniture oil and taking all of her many rag rugs (which she had made with her own hands) out to be shaken while she dust mopped. We also did her laundry every two weeks. I guided the clothes through the wringer of the old washer, hauled the heavy bushel baskets of wet laundry up the basement stairs for her and shook each item out for her so she could hang it up.

I don’t know if she and my mother just didn’t get along or what was going on there but my Mother didn’t show a lot of interest in her Mother other than to arrange for me to pick up the slack. Even after I was grown up and out of the house and Grandmother was too infirm to leave the house, Mother never went to see her much or called her. Grandmother didn’t call her either. It was strange.

Well, I didn’t think it was strange then. I just didn’t think about it at all. That’s just how things were. My Daddy was close to his family and we were at his family’s place for Sunday dinner nearly every Sunday but Gran Fate hardly ever saw us as a family unit. She got Christmas Eve and her birthday. That was about it. I suspect she had told my mother to leave my father on more than one occasion and that had caused the rift. Or maybe she had told my mother she had made her bed and now she could lay in it. I don’t think she would have done that though. She would have tried to get us away if she’d had known he was abusing us. I’m sure of it. I have to be for my sanity’s sake.

I know my Grandmother wasn’t all that happy with my Mother’s choice of husbands. She tolerated my father but she did not like his family and she made no bones about that. I can recall overhearing at least two arguments between my mother and my Grandmother about that. I think my Gran felt slighted by us kids because we always wanted to go to the other Grandma’s house when we got to Gran’s.

It wasn’t Gramma we were really interested in. It was the toys and the kids she had there. Gran finally “got it” and collected some toys for us. She also started heating the north porch while we were there in the winter so we could play out there and not get fussed at about roughhousing which was all my brothers seemed to ever do.

When we were old enough she taught us to play Chinese Marbles and would play with us. She also taught us to play Authors and Rook. Rook was a card game that only had numbers (4 suits of 13 cards) and one with a picture of a Raven on it so it was a game that was allowed because it wasn’t used for gambling and therefore wasn’t Satanic. I was telling my gal pals about this the other night and they started laughing and S said, “Sound Pagan to me!” Doesn’t it though. Gran would just DIE if she knew. <snort>

I am glad I went back to Nebraska after a brief respite in Michigan from ages 17-19 for those final years of her life. She really needed me. I needed her. She was the only stability I had in my life all those years.

B

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This was previously published in Living in the Edge of Madness, my sister journal about Madison but it felt out of place so I moved it over here. Hopefully I’ll finish the rest of the story today or tomorrow.

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

Sojourner Truth (1797 – 1883), Women’s Convention, Akron Ohio, 1851

I’ve recently begun corresponding via email with someone from Atlanta who I happened to meet on a Delphi political discussion forum. We were talking about our favorite periods in American History and how they shaped our political beliefs today. I told MerlinsDad that I had become intrigued by the Civil War as a child due to seeing Gone With the Wind and then reading the book and had thus become something of a Southern sympathizer because of it. What did I know, I was all of 9 or 10 years old.

Anyway, I thought this would make good fodder for blogging. So this post and all future posts on the Civil War are dedicated to MerlinsDad in Atlanta.

My father was a huge John Wayne fan and every time there was a movie starring the Duke at the Drive-in Theater, you can bet we’d load up the Buick with a couple of gallons of Kool-aide and sweet tea, some popcorn and bologna sandwiches and cookies and get in line. Especially on “Buck Night” when the whole car load got in for a dollar. Sometimes that line was 2 miles long on “Buck Night.”

Daddy was also a big fan of Henry Ford and Jimmy Stewart (oh those wonderful voices) and most of the ladies who starred with them but particularly Barbara Stanwyck and Margaret O’Hara. He liked Westerns best but a good war movie would do just fine and a lot of the movies I saw touched on the Civil War in one way or another.

One that I remember in particular was “Shenandoah” (starring Jimmy Stewart), a tale about the war between the states and every time I hear the title song it takes me back to the opening scene of Stewart and his six sons riding across the river towards me, hell bent for leather. Stewart’s character was against the war because he didn’t hold slaves and “it’s not my war” but he wasn’t on the side of the Union either. That confused the issue in my mind and I began to wonder what the issues really were.

My parents were absolutely abusive monsters, lousy parents, and horrible role models for the most part but I have to give them due credit. They provided us children with a good education above and beyond what the Nebraska public school system offered. We always had magazines and the daily and weekly local newspapers to read as well as the Omaha World Herald on Sunday (we might not get it until Monday after Gran was done with it but we had it available.) Daddy loved going to auctions and the one thing he loved to buy was books. He’d get a box of books for a dime or a quarter and bring them home.

I was more than just a little bit of a bookworm and somewhat precocious. My parents practically had to pry the books out of my hands to get me to eat and sleep. At one point, I was actually put on a book diet so that I would go outside and play to get some exercise for a couple of hours a day. I was in second grade. Learning to read was like opening a door into a whole new world for me.

One of those books Dad brought home was an anthology of autobiographies of famous people. It might have been just Presidents. I don’t recall exactly what it was but it had a lengthy piece in it about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s life and I think Benjamin Franklin was in there. When I started asking questions about the Civil War he handed that anthology to me to read.

When he scored a set of 1929 Deluxe edition of Encyclopedia Brittanicas I was in seventh Heaven! About that time we also started learning about the Civil war in our civics class and I learned about abolitionists and states rights for the first time and I could look the names up in my Encyclopedias and really learn something.

Back to giving my parents due: dinner time was almost always a good time. My mother couldn’t cook worth shit and she always burnt something–most likely her passive aggressive way of jerking my father around because he loved to eat and his mother was one hell of a good cook so he knew what good eats he was missing. But in spite of the indifferent fare we all sat down at the table together and my father brought the newspaper and his good sense of humor along.

He’d begin by reading us some human interest story or current event which we’d discuss that and each of us was expected to give our opinion on the matter from an early age. Our opinions were respected and never ridiculed as long as we could give good reasons for them. Then he’d read us all the riddle of the day and we’d have to try to guess it. Finally he’d begin cracking jokes. Inevitably he’d tell the punchline just as my brother took a huge swallow of milk; Timmy would bust a gut and I’d get milk sprayed all over me. Until I learned to anticipate it and lean to the left.

We could bring up anything at the dinner table and our parents would discuss it with us. They never talked down to us or made us feel as if we were dumb for asking a question. I learned how to debate and carry on a civil conversation at my parents’ dinner table and both sets of grandparents were the same although my at mother’s mother’s (her father was dead) house when there was more than just family present, children were to be seen and not heard and usually they were fed in the kitchen. You didn’t get a seat at the grown-up’s table for holidays and formal dinners until you were thirteen at Grandmother’s house.

At any rate that began my lifelong interest in the Civil War Era. My Grandfather Gavin (Dad’s father) further heightened it by telling me all about how his ancestors immigrated from Ireland during the Potato famines and both males were persuaded by a generous sum of money (known as a bounty) to take the place of rich New York City businessmen who had been drafted into the Union Army. This was quite legal and the Union government encouraged it because the rich men who could afford to do this also had to pay the US government a big fine to get out of doing their civic duty and the one thing the Lincoln as much or more than he needed men to fight his war was money.

One of my ancestors died in the war but the other one survived serving the rich man’s stint and re-enlisted to get automatic citizenship for himself and his family and went on to serve in the Indian Wars in the Nebraska territories in return for the promise of a homestead on prime river bottom land. He got diverted by the gold rush in the Black Hills of South Dakota for a short while but eventually his wife and children joined him on a fine spread in South Dakota and within a few years 2 of his younger brothers and a sister had immigrated to join him.

My mother’s family on both sides also fell victim to the Potato famines but in a very different way. They were much more wealthy to begin with so when they say they lost “everything” and were dirt poor, they really had no understanding of the true meaning of poverty. They traveled by first class when the immigrated and arrived in the USA with enough money to buy dirt–farmland. I think it was in New York and Pennsylvania but I’m not sure about that anymore. They migrated west in stages, heeding the call to “Go west young man! Go West!” at every opportunity. I know that just before they homesteaded to Kansas and Nebraska in the late1860s and early 70s, they were in Ohio and Illinois.

Since I had no Grandfathers on my Mother’s side I have no idea about those ancestors involvement in the Civil War beyond the fact that there are several old carteuches of long dead men dressed in Union and Confederate uniforms bearing witness to the fact that there was a difference of opinion on which side was right. My Grandmother who could be very Victorian in her opinions at times felt it was unseemly that I had such an interest in such an unfeminine topic.

Somewhere along the line I read a book about SoJourner Truth and the quote above struck me. Up to that point I had bought into the idea that slavery probably wasn’t so bad because if the slaves were being beaten, so what, so was I. Big deal. They weren’t going to be beaten bad enough to do them any real harm if they were worth all that money.

My Father and Uncles beat recalcitrant farm animals when they wouldn’t cooperate too and if they had to they’d kill an animal that was dangerous. My Dad had a sow that bore really nice piglets but she was a mean bitch and she had to be isolated from the other sows even when there weren’t babies around because she’d attack them.

We could ride our other sows like ponies and don’t tell my Dad but we ran the market weight off of his market pigs in the barnyard lot. The day that mean old bitch tried to come over the fence after one of my brothers when he was slopping the pigs was the day she got a bullet between the eyes and she was nursing babies. Dad didn’t even question whether or not it had happened and he was an old softie when it came to his animals. He just loaded up the gun. She’d tried too often to take a chunk out of him and he carried a club when he got in the pen with her.

Life is hard and right there in my 1611 King James Bible were instructions on who god said should be killed during war and who should be taken as slaves so apparently slavery was condoned by the Judeo-Christian god. But Sojourner Truth made me rethink all of that.

B

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