Archives for the month of: May, 2015

The rituals of our lives are the moments built in to make us stop and reflect, like it or not.  Births, birthdays, marriages, deaths…and graduations.  My oldest grandchild graduated from high school this week, the third generation to graduate at that school, the oldest generation being me.  A cause to pause.  Yikes!

My first thought is disbelief that these years have flown so quickly, these years from my own graduation through all those other rituals to get to this point.  All the memories flood back as everyone in the family compares it to his or her own graduation and all our memories become part of this present day.  My other grandchildren are watching and taking it all in.  I have two more graduating next year and a couple more a few years later and two more on down the line and then a gap until the last of the eight graduates in 2028.  Another moment to pause.  I’ll be in my 80s by that time.  Oh my…

My second thought as I listened to “Pomp and Circumstance” with the same teary eyes I’ve had for every graduations since my own was sadness for those in our family who weren’t here for this moment.  That was replaced with gratitude for all who made it.  This boy was surrounded by both his grandmothers, his parents and brother, three aunts, an uncle, and three of his cousins.  That’s pretty good.  At the party his parents had to celebrate his graduation, he had all the others, all the grandparents, parents, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins, along with friends and family friends.  You can tell he is feeling the love!

My thoughts rambled between happiness for him, hoping that all the good lessons and experiences he’s had are embedded in him to protect and launch him into college, that he’s learned from the less than great experiences along the way, and tremendous love for this kid who is off to see the world, one step at a time.  All of our emotions are running high as we take the last pictures with him in his cap and gown and watch him drive off to the all-night party following graduation.  A sigh, a smile and a full heart for me.

When I watched the seniors proceed to their seats to the music of the student orchestra playing that familiar piece, I saw them all looking around.  There were shouts and cheers and applause from family and friends as they entered the rowdily dignified atmosphere that is a graduation these days.  They all were looking for the familiar faces of those they love, those who were here to celebrate their success.  They all wanted to know where their parents, grandparents, relatives and friends were.  That says something about the experience, doesn’t it? In this picture, my grandson has spotted his parents.  His look says it all.


So another class has thrown their caps in the air…

DSC_0137The balloons have fallen, because who is ever too old for balloons…


Another ritual is in the books for my family.  More memories, more fun, more love.  We don’t forget these moments that help us measure the treasured minutes, hours, days and years of our lives.

When I was a child, we would drive by the most exotic place I could imagine – exotic for Tulsa, Oklahoma anyway.  I had no idea what went on in there, even when I was old enough to know that it was a bar.  It was called the Green Dragon Lounge and on the outside wall, the Green Dragon followed me as I stared out the car window.

green dragonEven when the door was open, all I could see was darkness with a few lights and people.  What in the world was going on in that interesting place? By the time I was old enough to go inside, it was gone and only the memory stayed with me.

I found this photo of the dragon and it all came back to me.  I’m imagining myself as a little girl, staring out the back window of the car, watching for it to appear and then following it as we passed.  I never asked my parents.  I quietly imagined and wondered.

Sometimes in life, having an imagination is better than the reality.

Putting together the puzzle of who you are is a lifelong process, if you like that kind of puzzle.  The older you get, the more you wonder…   The more you wonder, the more pieces you want to find…  Don’t we all wish we’d asked more questions of our grandparents and parents?  The information comes to us piecemeal and we don’t begin to connect the stories until later…when we wonder…

My mother didn’t tell me too many stories of her childhood until she was in her last years.  I didn’t ask her mother anything, although I spent a lot of time with her.  I studied the photos and put things together through my life, but we didn’t talk about it.  I knew my grandfather died when my mother was 5 and that she spent a lot of time with his mother, her grandmother, in the house my aunt and uncle later lived in, across from Central Park in Ardmore, OK.  I knew my grandmother had siblings she loved very much who lived nearby, less than an hour away.  I saw some of them at times during my life.  That was pretty much all I knew about my grandmother’s family until very recently.  To think how much time I spent with my precious grandmother, who gave me such a sense of adventure and unconditional love always, and to not have a picture of who she was.

I knew she was widowed at age 27, left in the depression with three children.  Her husband had left her a small neighborhood grocery and she owned her home, which gave them dignity even when the gas was turned off, according to my mother.  The kids always worked and all three turned out to be successful members of society.  When times got better.

The hard times were long back then.  We’re talking about Oklahoma in the depression years now.  Late in my grandmother’s life, she told my mother the story of her wedding day.  My mother didn’t tell it to me until shortly before her own death, many years later. I’m glad she told me.  My grandmother said my grandfather showed up at her parents’ farm in his wagon with a brown horse and a buffalo blanket, brown on one side and black on the other, to pick her up to get married.  My grandfather’s best friend, his best man, was with him and commented, “Where’d you find this pretty little thing?” My great-grandparents handed her a bouquet of flowers and she left to get married.  She was 18 and he was about 41.  Their short years together were sweet, although my mother said he may have known he was sick when he married her.  He died at age 50 of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease that is treatable today.

So, that’s the picture I have in my mind, even though I’ve never seen a photo of my grandparents together.  Here’s a photo of my grandmother (on the right) in a youthful moment

Artie Holt West (right) & friendAnd here’s my grandfather, swinging two lovely young things in his single days.Ben West & friends - Version 2Through the miracles of emails and internet and social media, I’ve connected with relatives I didn’t know before over the years and we’ve shared photos and stories.  My cousin, actually my mother’s cousin, sent me photos of my grandmother’s parents, which gave me my first look at those unknown pieces of my life puzzle.

Here’s my great-grandmother, Ida Mae.  I knew they lived on a farm, but had no clue what it looked like.  Not the painted picture perfect home I had in my mind…Grandma Holt 1IMG_6970Here’s my great-grandfather, Benjamin, working hard in about 1931.

Benjamin Mathew Holt 6 Benjamin Holt cutting woodThese pictures help form the pictures in my story.  It suddenly dawns on me what it really meant for my grandmother to leave the house where she and her many siblings lived and worked so hard to move away to start a new life.  I had pictured all of them standing in the living room of their home while they handed her the flowers.  Now I see what that scene really must have looked like…much sweeter really.

I’d seen statistics on my great-grandparents on my family tree, slightly wondering why they died in Vinita, a long way from home. My cousin filled in the details for me.  Not long after the photos were taken (and I’ve always wondered who had a camera and who took the pictures out there in the country), my grandparents were taken to the asylum in Vinita, Oklahoma.  They were admitted for exhaustion and dementia.  I don’t know what that meant back then, but can understand the exhaustion.  In 1932, my great-grandmother, the lovely woman in these photos, died and was buried in the asylum cemetery with no marker.  There was no money in those hard years.  My great-grandfather died in 1934.  I’ve seen his place of death listed as Vinita, but my cousin said her father went to get him and he’s buried near them, near home.  My cousin has visited the site in Vinita and seen the records, kept in a box on little cards, which she wasn’t allowed to take or photograph.

This news brought it all home and connected a lot of pieces for me.  I see the women I come from, strong in all that life threw at them.  I’ve written of my father’s family in Kentucky, where my great-grandmother was married to an alcoholic tobacco farmer, blacksmith and died when my grandmother was 12.  I looked for her grave and realized that she must be buried in an unmarked grave either in the Catholic cemetery or on the land where she lived.

I could go on about the lives of the women in my DNA, the stories I’m discovering about the lives they lived before I either knew or discovered them, but we probably all have this in our lives.  There were hard times for all of them, even the ones who had easier lives, just as we have our own brand of hard times in each generation.  I know that what I’ve learned gives me strength and fills in blanks about my parents, my grandparents and those before them.  I doubt they realized their stories would pass on to me and to my children and grandchildren.  While we’re living, we don’t think of ourselves as chapters…do we?  We are…

My ancestors, my family, me.  So many more pieces to find…

Winter evolves into Spring with the most dramatic and the most hopeful of changes.  In the city, there are beautiful flowers and trees, but most of them have been specifically planted for the effect.  Not that I don’t love seeing the gorgeous azaleas and flowering trees and popping flowers.  I love them!

I’ve been through some long sad winters in my life, life changing seasons when I had to trudge through loss and hope I could make it into the next phase.  But Spring always comes along to brighten my outlook.  Always.

This year, I’ve had the lovely experience of driving a state highway at least once a week, making the changes in the countryside even more dramatic.  One week there was snow, the first week in March.  A couple of weeks later, I noticed the trees were fuzzy, small leaves pushing their way out.  By the end of the month, we were having warm days, punctuated with the kind of clouds we watch explode in the sky, the ones that show the atmosphere is in turmoil and we have to watch carefully.  The beauty of the massive clouds can easily turn into dark skies with swirling tornadoes dropping towards earth.  DSC_0344A week after I see the leaves pushing at the ends of branches, I’m overwhelmed by the sense of the baby green colors of the trees around me as plant after plant shows its new colors.

Then the redbuds bloom in the forests, our state tree showing its colors, fuchsia and white, wild along the roadways.

DSC_0007 DSC_0006

The ground is turning from brown to green for the babies, calves and colts, that arrive.  I drive into a mass of young green…the lacy profile of the branches from winter is filling in…

DSC_0255We still have wild skies and are enjoying a rainy season, needed for all that grows from the earth…DSC_0333The Cimarron River is filling and the trees along its bluffs are softer…DSC_0256I call this the “Sky Barn,” a place I see from the road at a country intersection.

DSC_0254And then, there was color along the roadsides, Indian Paintbrush starting to bloom.

DSC_0160DSC_0164Over the past two weeks, the flowers are spreading and growing brighter as I suddenly see fields of the wildflowers…

DSC_0162 IMG_6943And other flowers are coming, purples and whites and yellows along the way.

DSC_0168The baby greens of early spring are now lush shades of deep green, the trees full.  And my heart is full of hopeful new feelings.  Welcome Spring!