Archives for category: Family

My maternal grandfather’s parents settled in Indian Territory, near where Ardmore is now located. It’s hard to find many details, but I know they lived on a farm where my mother was born. My maternal grandmother’s parents lived on a farm closer to Durant, where they must have moved from near Bonham, Texas, where my grandmother was born. I keep finding little details to put this story together.

My grandfather’s parents married in 1876, when my great-grandfather, E.Z. (Ephraim Z.) West married Hattie Artie Mills. My grandfather was born in 1876 in Denton County, Texas. E. Z. and Hattie had two more sons who died young, George at age 8 and John at age 20. E. Z. opened one, possibly two or more, wagon yards, including the West Wagon Yard, in Ardmore and built a house on the property of the wagon yard. The house was on the corner of 1st St SW and E St SW, across from Central Park. My grandfather worked with his father in the wagon yard (kind of an early motel for people coming to town by wagon) until the wagon days were waning due to automobiles and then he went to work for the telephone company, which must have been a pretty new industry.

I’ve seen photos of my grandfather, Ben, mostly at play with other young people or with his lodge. He looks playful and fun and at ease with everyone. In 1915, at the age of 38, he found my 18 year old grandmother, Artie, married her and brought her home. They soon had three children, two boys and a girl, my mother. My grandmother didn’t speak of my grandfather much, but I always think of her telling me how he would get up and start the fire and then wrap her up in a blanket and bring her downstairs. That may be all I need to know about him.

At some point, my grandfather became ill with Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease that could probably easily be cured today. I don’t know how long this lasted, but I know he purchased a small neighborhood grocery store for my grandmother to run after he was gone. Neighborhood groceries were still around when I was a child and they were small, about one room, and located in neighborhoods. I guess they were the first convenience stories. My grandfather died in 1927, leaving his young widow with three children. My great-grandfather had died in 1920, so my great-grandmother was also a widow with only her daughter-in-law and her three grandchildren left. I have a much earlier photo of her, but this is how my mother knew her.Scan 2At some time, between 1930 and 1940 (according to census records), my grandmother moved her family to the house I always associate with her. My great-grandmother owned property around town and made sure that each of her grandchildren owned a house. My mother told me they had dignity during the Depression because they owned their home, even when the gas was turned off. My mother also spent a lot of time with her grandmother and could describe her, her clothing and everything in her house and yard in detail. My great-grandmother died in 1940 so I never got to meet her.

I’ve written about my grandmother before. Her name was Artie but she was so prissy as a child that her brothers nick-named her Dude. She was Mommie Dude to me. She was the cutest thing, always curious, always ready for adventure. With only about a ninth grade education and great strength, she faced the world that was given her. My mother told me once that she thought she never remarried because she was afraid another man might hurt her children. Here she is at the corner of the house in about 1940.Artie West - June 5, 1942My mother left home after high school and sent money home to help her mother for the rest of her life. Mommy went to business school, returning during World War II to work at Ardmore Air Base, where my grandmother worked packing parachutes. My father was a Squadron Commander, a Lt. Colonel, assigned to Ardmore after he had completed his 50 missions, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. They were a glamorous couple when they married and moved to his home in Oklahoma City, where he was in business with his father, brother and brother-in-law.

I was a tiny baby, born at the end of 1945. I was in the hospital for several weeks until I reached 5 pounds. My mother had never been around babies, so she wasn’t surprised when Mommie Dude came to help and ended up taking me home with her. That was the beginning of the bond between us as I was her first grandchild. Until I was married, I spent time in Ardmore with my grandmother and my aunt and uncle, who lived in the house my great-grandparents had lived in until they sold it and moved to a new suburb. My memories of that home are vague, but I remember being in it. When I see photos with a glimpse of the house behind me, I realize how old it was.Scan 1By the time I was 2 1/2, my family had moved to Tulsa and lived in a nice house with modern appliances (well, modern for 1948). We were comfortable, my parents each had a car, and my mother had help with my baby brother and later my sister. It was a different life from my grandmother’s, but I didn’t really think too much about it. I realize now how much I learned from my visits with her.

At some point, my grandmother gave up the neighborhood store. By the time I can remember, she rented out rooms in her house and rooms in another, bigger, two story house across the street from her mother-in-law’s old home. The house I knew had a front porch that I could hardly wait to see. Here is my mother in  about 1940 in front of the house.Scan 63I spent hours alone, with my brother and sister, or with my cousin, swinging on that porch swing, playing on those stairs, catching horned toads in the yard. In the back yard was a pear tree where we ate the juicy fruit right off the branches. She even had chickens for a short time. Her garage was another source of amazement, where we could explore the boxes and trunks. My grandmother also had a wringer washer and a clothesline in the back yard. We had a clothesline at home, but the fun of running clothes through that wringer out in the yard never ended for this kid from the big city. We walked down the street to the ice house for chips of ice in the summer, visited a neighborhood store nearby with the nickels my grandmother gave us, or walked downtown to see the big stores or visit my uncle at First National Bank where he was a clerk and later Vice-President until his health made him retire early.

There was a living room, a bedroom behind it, then the kitchen and a sleeping porch. There was a door with a screen door in the kitchen that led to the hall and the bathroom at the end. I remember one bulb which made the hallway a little dark and scary when I had to walk down there alone. The other side of the hall had rooms, also with screen doors. I can’t remember if there were three or four rooms. These were the rooms that my grandmother rented to older men. I finally got curious enough to ask my mother who the men were way too many years later. She told me they were pensioners. I asked what that meant and she said they were veterans, living on a government pension. There was a porch on the side of the house where they could sit outside. Their rooms were tiny with a bed, chest of drawers and a table, as I remember. I think this is the side porch behind my mother.Scan 58

There was another room at the front of the house that you entered either through the living room or from the hall. My grandmother rented this to a lady for a few years and then reclaimed it for another bedroom. I think it may have been my mother’s room when she lived there. Because of all these people in the house, we weren’t allowed to use more than a few inches of water when we took a bath. At night, my grandmother kept a chamber pot, actually an enamel bowl, under her bed for us to use rather than walking down the hall. I never got used to that.

In the kitchen, my grandmother had the phone on the wall that was used by everyone in the house. It was a party line and I loved to quietly pick it up and listen to the local ladies’ conversations. For all I know, they knew I was listening, but they continued talking anyway. At some point, my grandmother got a black phone like we had at home, which wasn’t nearly as interesting. On the window sill, she had various items, including this little pitcher, which once held syrup, and this small enamel coffee pot. They have been on my kitchen window sill or window shelves as a sweet reminder of those days. I also have my great-grandmother’s coffee grinder.IMG_4267I don’t remember what else my grandmother cooked in that kitchen, but I know she made Kool-Aid and poured it into ice trays before we arrived. We called them squares and we could take a couple of the frozen treats in a bowl to suck on while we pushed ourselves as high as we could on the porch swing. I spent my days listening to her old 78 records or looking through her cedar chest where she kept a fur stole and a tissue wrapped piece of her hair. I don’t know how she got a fur stole and why people kept their hair when it was cut, but it was endlessly fascinating to me. Her cedar chest is in my bedroom. I can’t remember if the fur stole is still in there or not, down at the bottom.

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The other piece of furniture I have from that house is my great-grandmother’s desk, which I have had since I was 12. I need to think about passing that along to one of my granddaughters, if either is interested.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you can tell, I am more than sentimental about my family. The older I get, the more fascinating their stories are to me because they explain so much about who my parents were and who I became because of my ancestors. I like the links to my ancestors and I like having them around me.

My last vivid memory of my grandmother’s house was soon after I was married and my husband and I stopped by. It was early 1967. We probably didn’t visit much after that, being busy having our own kids and getting our first home and building our life in Tulsa. At some point, my grandmother sold the house and moved to a smaller house a couple of blocks away until she was crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritis, almost overnight, and spent the rest of her life in nursing homes, dying in 1981 in Tulsa. At least my children got to meet her, although they didn’t get the joy of being around her when she was at her best.

With no relatives in Ardmore, I hadn’t returned for years until 2014, when a friend of mine and I made an impulse trip to that area. I started driving around town, finding the cemetery and then the houses my grandmother lived in. I found many familiar places and the memories flooded my mind. My grandmother’s house was looking ragged, but was still standing. When I was taking a photo, someone walked up to me on the street and said it was probably a crack house. The neighborhood had definitely changed, but it had been decades since I had been here. My friend and I ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant downtown before we left. The restaurant was in an old store downtown and the food was good, the people very nice. I didn’t think anything else about it.

Last month, I was driving to Texas and had a glitch in my plans, so I ended up with an unexpected stay in Ardmore. The drive down is different with the Interstate highway. When I was young, we drove through small town after small town until we hit the Arbuckle Mountains with the winding roads and steep drop-offs. Large trucks met us as we drove around the curves cut through the rocks. Here’s an old postcard I found showing part of the road. I have to laugh now since I’ve driven through the Alps and the Rockies, but it was scary to a little girl in the back seat looking down the slopes. IMG_4269Once we got through the Arbuckles, we kept our eyes open for the standpipe, signaling that we were in Ardmore. I can’t tell you how it delights me to see it to this day, even though the highway is located a few blocks away.DSC_0011My summer stop this year left me with an evening of daylight, so I drove to the cemetery and then looked for the houses once again. To my delight, my grandmother’s house looked like someone new had moved in and was taking care of it. The whole neighborhood was starting to look a little better. They closed in the front porch years ago, but I can look at the house from each side and see how it used to look. DSC_0016I have no idea what possessed a 71 year old woman, me, traveling alone to suddenly stop and ring the doorbell. I was greeted by a man who wasn’t unfriendly, but was surprised to see me. I started pouring out the story of my family and the house to him and he took interest. He had to leave and I wasn’t going to intrude, but he asked questions about the house and I told him I would send him some more information. He told me his family had moved to Ardmore from Central American and found the house taped up. I think they were able to get it if they agreed to fix it up.

About a week after I got home, I wrote the family (whose name I didn’t catch, but I knew the address) and sent them a rough drawing (I can’t draw) of the inside of the house as I remembered it and a little history and the few pictures I could find. I thanked them again for taking care of the house that had meant so much to me.

This week, I received a letter from the 21 year old son of the family. First of all, how many 21 year old boys would write to a stranger, an old stranger at that? I was immediately touched. He told me the story of his family’s move to America in 2015 from El Salvador, where it had become too unsafe and too economically insecure to stay. I can’t imagine what it took to make that decision. His family consists of his father, mother, and three sons, ages 25, 21, and 19.

The oldest son is a computer programmer and has taken some courses in Oklahoma City since moving here. The middle son, the one who wrote me, had a year of college in El Salvador, studying electrical engineering. He is trying to get into college here and is studying to get his ACT scores high enough to get a full scholarship. He has set a goal for himself and is sure he can reach it. The youngest son just graduated from high school as the Valedictorian (after being here only two years). The mother happens to work in the Mexican restaurant where my friend and I had eaten and makes the tortillas and cleans the tables. The father works as a handyman, learning new skills which are helping him with the house remodel. All the boys have jobs in either restaurants or other places around town. Here’s the family.family - Version 2

In a year when I have questioned what is happening to our country, when I have wondered how I can make a difference or help or educate myself or do something, this is a pretty strong reminder of what America is all about. My relatives on my mother’s side made their way from Europe and worked their way across the south farming until they ended up in Indian Territory before it was Oklahoma. When the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and all the other hard times of the 1930s and then the War in the 1940s came to test this young widow and her children further, they found a safe haven in their home in Ardmore, where they took care of each other with love and hard work through those years until the children all grew up into productive adults with very nice lives.

Decades passed and that house still stood strong with who knows what families moving in and out. When the house was about at the end of its use, this lovely family arrived in America with new hopes and dreams. They reached out to me with warm hearts and open arms, inviting me to come see the house and meet them in person. The photos they sent show me the work they have done on the house and how delightful it is. Although I can see where walls have been knocked out through the years (such as from the kitchen to the sleeping porch), I could recognize certain things. The kitchen sink is right where it always was and those may be the original cabinets. I knew that spot in my heart immediately.

As my new friend wrote, “We are working little jobs right now because we just haven’t had the opportunity to do something bigger, but we’re making our lives change little by little and one day we’ll be in a better position.” Isn’t that what America offers all of us – the chance to work and make our lives better?

I now have an email, so I wrote back immediately. My new young friend sent me photos of the family, their cat, and the inside of the house. I reciprocated with some of my own family. The photos show a home much like any of ours, including one of a birthday party of his brother where the Santa placemats on the table are similar to some I have and the cake looks like one we would have in our family. We aren’t different at all when you look at it.

Of course, I’m going to find a time to visit again when all of our schedules allow us to be together. A line jumped out at me from the return email I received.

“Is nice to know that there are still nice people in this world!”

Isn’t it?

You can call it a road trip, but I was mostly meandering my way from Tulsa, OK to my sister-in-law’s in Spring Branch, TX. Truly, this is something I inherited from my mother, who loved to take off and drive. Something about getting out of the city into the countryside… Remember when everyone used to take Sunday drives?

The interstate was great for what it is great for – getting there as fast as you can. As far as relaxing, forget it as you dodge the semi-trucks and try to keep the pace of traffic going much faster than the speed limit. Sometime during the past few days, I had a memory of our family driving back and forth to Oklahoma City every weekend with no air conditioning listening to the radio on Sunday nights as we came back from visiting our cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents. When my kids were little, my husband drove a lot for business and got a CB radio. Think Smokey & the Bandit years. His handle was One Tall Tree (he was nicknamed Tree for being 6’4″) and I smiled listening to him use the lingo to talk to the truckers on the highway. Everything is faster now and there are cell phones and the truckers don’t give us a friendly on their air horn as we pass. Sigh.

I stopped in Davis, OK at Bedre Chocolates, the only chocolate factory and shop owned by a Native American tribe, I believe. The Chickasha do it right, selling their fancy sweets to stores like Neiman Marcus.IMG_3062

Down the road, I left I-35 to stop for a fried pie. This trip will begin to seem like it’s all about food, but it’s more about the smells and tastes and memories of a lifetime. Anyway,  I was in the Arbuckle Mountains, the route I used to take to get to my grandmother’s in Ardmore. In my childhood, this part of the drive was curvy roads with trucks zooming around every turn. They’re not exactly the Rockies, but a fall off a mountain is still a fall. Two lanes with no shoulders was a bit of a scare to my little girl view. I found this old postcard with a view from above, although it doesn’t show the S-curves.IMG_3303I had a sense of the old days when I left the interstate. Back to the fried pies. They come in every flavor from meat to fruit to custards and are warm and yummy. IMG_3061IMG_3290I wound through narrow roads, passing old fashioned cabins where hot Oklahomans excepted the brutal heat of summer in the cool waters in these hills (well, mountains). I stopped at the Turner Falls lookout for a glimpse of the people playing in the water below the falls. There was so much more water after the spring rains. It looked like Niagara then. DSC_0001The playground goes above and below the falls in a family favorite place to visit. Delightful!IMG_3286Leaving the falls, I was surprised to see that wind farms have taken over. I’m not sure what my feelings are, but I do think they are mesmerizing to watch, like giant pinwheels. I hope they prove to be a great alternative to the dirtier fuels we use.DSC_0099The Arbuckle roads are carved out of rock and I remember my mother telling us how geologists studied the layers that had been cut through for the roads. When we left these curves, the drive was a straight shot into Ardmore, where the first thing I looked for was the standpipe. It almost makes me cry to still see it, even though it’s surrounded by new business and development. There was a sign saying Happy 108th Birthday on it. You like some things to never change. In the olden days, you could see it from a long way away and it meant we were almost there…DSC_0011Having started later than I planned, I found a motel, checked in and then left to see Ardmore, where I spent many a happy summer day catching horned toads, walking to the ice house, walking downtown with my grandmother, picking pears from the tree in her back yard, swinging on the porch swing, sucking on Kool-Aid squares (made in an ice cube tray, but we called them squares). My aunt and uncle lived in my great-grandmother’s old house, across the street from Central Park with it’s old fashioned band stand. Before they were born, the house was attached to the West Wagon Yard, owned by my great-grandfather and my grandfather. The Wests were early Ardmore settlers and owned property around town.

Before it turned dark, I headed for Rose Hill Cemetery to visit the relatives. I still don’t believe in burial because, after all, I’ve only been to see them about four times in fifty years. I came through a few years ago and wrote down the location so I didn’t have to wander around like I did before. There they were: my great-grandparents, their son who died young, my grandfather and grandmother, my two uncles and their wives. It seems strange that my mother isn’t there, but she was cremated and wanted to be scattered with my father’s ashes. IMG_3065I drove around town, looking for places I remembered. There was the bank where my uncle worked, first as a teller and then as vice-president before he had to retire early with health problems. It still looks like it did when I was a child, although I didn’t want to spoil my memory of the fancy teller cages with the brass and iron by going inside.IMG_3080The high school my mother and uncles attended is run down and for sale. I hope they repurpose the structure to save the history, but I’m one for historic preservation.IMG_3082The Tivoli theatre still stands, but not for movies. Daube’s Department Store is long gone but was one of our favorite places to go with my grandmother.DSC_0019My great-grandparents’ home was sold years ago and is now an art center, which is nice. I found both the houses my grandmother lived in. One looks much the same, while the other one is dramatically changed. I can still tell it’s the house and its familiarity warms my soul. Here is a photo of my mother in front with the porch swing and steps I remember so well. This was maybe 1940.Scan 63Here’s the front of the house today. Driving to see all sides, I can place every room even with the dramatic changes. The biggest mystery is how the street is so much narrower than I remember (Ha), but, it’s been about 40 years since the changes started.DSC_0017Really, I saw this house a couple of years ago and it looked much rougher. I was taking pictures on the corner and someone told me it was probably a crack house. I was so delighted to see that it was being taken care of again and still standing that I pulled up and rang the doorbell. Here is the amazing story of that conversation.

A man peeked through the blinds and answered the door. I told him that I used to live there – or my mother and grandmother did – and thanked him for taking care of it. I could see behind him that the inside is a work in progress so I didn’t ask to come in, but stood there pouring out the story of the house and it’s occupants back in my childhood. He told me that he and his wife and three children had moved from Central America and found the house with a note saying it was unliveable unless someone fixed it, so they took it on. He asked if the house was 50 years old and I told him that I’m 71 and played here as a baby and my mother grew up here. It has to be around 100 years old. He asked if I have pictures and I thought I did, although the one above is the only one. At least I can tell him the stories. He was very pleased and thanked me and I thanked him. He told me the family’s name, but now I’ve forgotten. I was so delighted that this lovely family was caring for the house. My grandmother was widowed at age 27 with three children during the depression. My mother said the only thing that gave them dignity when they were struggling was owning this house. It’s nice to see that it will help another family as they find their place in our society. A fitting ending no matter what happens next.

The next morning, I went to a cafe that was one of the first drive-ins back in the 1950s. My grandmother wasn’t a very good driver, but she had a big old car and piled my brother, sister and one of our cousins in to go there for hot dogs and a Pepsi (her favorite). I have a vivid memory of the day when a reporter for The Daily Ardmoreite wrote a short piece describing us coming to the drive-in. Such was news in those peaceful days – I have the clipping to prove it. DSC_0013Now it’s a cafe, the kind of place that you know is good by the locals who are there. The biscuits were lighter than I have had in years. The folks were talking with friends and I warmed to the lyrical sound of their voices, the sweet sounds of my childhood. When’s the last time you heard someone say “my land” to show surprise? Or talking about gittin’ to work? IMG_3092I left Ardmore where they fly their flags proudly to head to Texas.DSC_0015DSC_0020I was tiring of the Interstate, looking for the way to the back road I prefer. Going towards Ft. Worth, I saw a Buc-ee’s at the next exit. If you’re not familiar with this Texas-sized stop, try one. Hard to explain, but you’ll find everything you could possibly need on the road – from gas to food to gifts and clothing. It’s a road stop shopping extravaganza.DSC_0041Anyway, as I took the access road, Dale Earnhardt Way, or something like that, I realized that I was smack in the middle of the Texas Motor Speedway. Since nobody was around, I drove through, taking in the huge facility. I can only imagine when the races are actually happening. I had the luxury of being the only driving around, so I took it all in. IMG_3109DSC_0028IMG_3102Moving along, I looked for my exit, only to be caught in freeway traffic and construction. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I circled the city and headed into Texas country. At one point, I turned on my directions on my phone and soon found myself directed out into the hinterlands, off on farm roads. What the heck? It was ok. I was in beautiful country, ranches hidden in the trees.

When you get out away from the interstates, you find wonderful roads with few trucks, not much traffic, and gorgeous views of all that is big ole wide Texas. Here are roads with mailboxes lined up on the posts, indicating that there are more homes down that dirt way. In Texas especially, you make a statement as people enter your property. Sometimes there is a small ranch with an elaborate gate. It’s all fun to see. I wanted to collect them all, but only got a few. Here’s one with the American and Texas flags flying. You see a lot of flags out here.DSC_0054Here are two that are across the road from each other…IMG_3281IMG_3283Those are slightly more elaborate than some, but interesting. Here’s my favorite of all time, located in Johnson City. El Ranch Not So Grande says it all, doesn’t it?IMG_3233Speaking of this place – who knew there were so many goat farms in this area? I saw more goats than cattle for a long stretch.IMG_3234I made my way south on Highway 281, enjoying the green views, watching thunderheads build from the summer heat, hawks flying across the sky. Little towns, cowboy towns, western towns. I didn’t stop except for gas and the Dairy Queen. What is a road trip without a dip cone in the summer? Driving without dripping all over yourself is fun.IMG_3240I arrived at my sister-in-law’s, deep in Texas Hill Country, where she lives on 7 1/2 acres of rugged beauty. Deer jump the fence and come to the house, birds sing, and you can see only the beautiful Live Oaks and cedars everywhere you look. She doesn’t have a horse any more, but the barn is now her art studio. Since I was last there, the area around has grown up. We debated whether it is better to welcome development in a small town or let the town die. There used to be nothing and now there is a Walmart, Home Depot, medical care, and everything else. She doesn’t have to drive so far, so she’s happy. Her view hasn’t changed, so all is good for her. It’s changing though.IMG_3130The area she has lived in since 1977 is the part of Texas where Germans settled to create their own society. The towns reflect that heritage with names like New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, and so on. In the middle of Mexicans and Indians and cowboys, there are Germans. It’s America, after all.

We went to Boerne for lunch the next day, a hot summer day in Texas. We ate in an old building that has been brought back to life as it started with a cafe, bakery and store. In between, it has served many purposes, even as a garage. Outside, it looks like its early pictures with a new coat of paint. It’s located at Hauptstrasse and Main deep in the heart of Texas. IMG_3158With German names everywhere I looked, I thought this statue must be one of the old German settlers. Nope – Wild Bill Hickok. Of course. Note the gazebo where German music has been played for a century in the background.IMG_3162After a day relaxing in the pool visiting with my sister-in-law and her long time neighbor, also from Oklahoma originally, and a dinner of chicken-fried steak at the local restaurant, it was time to head home the next day. Which way to go?

When I got to Johnson City, with these unassuming signs indicating the most famous son, I decided I needed to visit the LBJ Ranch. DSC_0097I’d been around during his political years and there is much to be admired about that old tough cowboy. In Johnson City, the National Park Service offers information and tours of his boyhood home and an old settlement. I drove around and then headed 14 miles out of town to the ranch. On the way, I stopped to take this picture. The town lists pop. 150. Hye, TX.IMG_3181The LBJ Ranch is run by the National Parks and the Texas Parks, so it has to be good. I LOVE the parks, by the way. There is much to see and it can be easily driven, so I gave it a quick look, having visited farms before. After passing the first Head Start School and Lutheran Church, I crossed the Pedernales River to the ranch. There was the one room school house LBJ attended and the house where he was born down the road from his grandfather’s place. The most peaceful place was the Johnson Family Cemetery. What a lovely spot to be, under the spreading Live Oaks in a little walled off cemetery. IMG_3186You couldn’t enter, but there were all the headstones. The flowers are for Lady Bird, our lover of wildflowers.DSC_0070Entering the actual working ranch, I thought it looked too perfect with cattle on both sides of the road as I went through the gate.IMG_3192Those wide open spaces, the cattle, the big skies…I could picture LBJ riding this range with ease. It seemed so natural for him. At one point I spotted a mother deer and fawn in the trees by the road. As a city girl, I still get excited about seeing deer, but I understand when people live with them all the time. They multiply, eat the things in the yard, and can be a nuisance. I still like to see them.DSC_0082DSC_0076I passed the show barns where LBJ’s prize cattle were shown. The park ranger had told me I could stop and learn how to rope steer, but I passed on that. It was hot, for one thing. By the house, I got out, gulping water to walk a bit in the searing middle of the day. First was Air Force 1/2, as LBJ called it. They couldn’t land a big plane on the property, so they used this one. It was so small compared to the luxury of Air Force One. I had to stoop to get through the door and I’m only 5’4″ these days. IMG_3199IMG_3200I walked to the house, checking out the very small command center for the Secret Service. The house is a big ranch house, but nothing too imposing really. It fits nicely on the property, overlooking a pond, big Live Oaks all around. There was a house adjacent that may have been for guests with a swimming pool between. I didn’t wait around for the ranger’s tour.IMG_3205Leaving the ranch, which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing, I made the turn to go to Luckenbach. I’ve been there before, but, hey, I was in the neighborhood. The scenery had changed since I was last here. Now it’s wine country and I probably passed 50 wineries in ten miles. There was even a wine shuttle taking people between the tasting rooms. I passed wineries and peach stands along the way. Peaches and grapes in the Texas Hill Country in the summer are the thing. I stopped on the way back to get some peaches because my mother always stopped at fruit stands and I absolutely cannot pass them by. The peaches were Texas huge. I had just purchased peaches in Oklahoma from one of our orchards, so I was in a peach kind of mood. These were yummy.IMG_3232Luckenbach, Texas is a mecca for tourists and music lovers. It consists of the old Post Office and a couple of buildings for restrooms, food, and one selling cowboy hats. There is a stage for musicians to gather. It’s cute and fun and one of those gotta stop places. On the way, I passed this farm with a front patch of dead trees (pic doesn’t show them all). Must be eerie at night.DSC_0095Luckenbach was as I remembered with more parking places for when it’s hopping. There were people on cycles and tourists galore, picking up souvenirs, just as it should be.IMG_3226There is a bar at the back of the old post office and I greeted the sleeping cat, the bar cat that catches the bar mice, as one man noted.IMG_3217IMG_3218I headed back to Johnson City and then north again, stopping to drive through a few of the towns. My final destination was Hico, Texas, a little western town. Hico has a scenic Main Street with a large Mexican restaurant on the corner. I have to note that when you go through these towns, you should look for the local cafe or the local Mexican restaurant if you want a good meal. It’s true everywhere in the country!IMG_3265I toured the Billy the Kid Museum, which has a fun story since who knows if Billy the Kid really lived there,IMG_3254and checked out the old Opera House around the corner.IMG_3258I circled back to the road and found the famed chocolate shop and walked across the street to the Koffee Kup Family Restaurant. It had to be good. IMG_3270When a menu says their specialties are Chicken Fried Steak, Onion Rings and Pies, you just know. Yes, they were all excellent, especially the pie. I chose chocolate meringue (so rich), but they have a bunch of flavors. People were buying whole pies, by the way.IMG_3277The place was the real deal, complete with some of the owner’s aunt’s salt and pepper collection. IMG_3271IMG_3278I was full even though I didn’t finish everything, but it was time to move along, leaving this charming town behind me. Now I needed to see how far I could get…heading north. Was I too tired to drive all the way home? Probably. The question was answered after I hit the Chisholm Trail Parkway, which follows the old cattle trail but doesn’t resemble anything about it, and headed into Ft. Worth. Everything was pretty smooth for a Saturday night until we screeched on our brakes. I was then trapped on the freeway with no exits, construction for three lanes beside me, inching along, for 45 minutes. I played Dice with Friends on my iPad with my sister-in-law to kill the time. We rose higher and higher on the freeway, locked in place. This was the most tiring part of the whole trip. When I finally escaped, I had to find a motel and ended up back in Ardmore in a complete turn around.

The next morning, I slept late and headed home, leaving the Interstate as quickly as I could to cross Oklahoma in a leisurely, if slow, way. It was beautiful with green hills all around. I drove through into Davis in a quick downpour that caused me to pull over because I couldn’t see. Then through Sulphur, next to the beautiful park that used to be Platt National Park when I was young and played in its creeks, where Little Niagara Falls still runs. Heading north, the highway was smooth and empty and delightful. What a refreshing drive with green all around me.

As I pondered the lakes and creeks and rivers, trees and hills and fields, I was back in forests of Blackjack Oak, rugged trees. I passed from the Chickasha Nation to the Seminole and then Sac and Fox Nations, where I passed a casino across from a beautiful park named for Jim Thorpe, out in the middle of nowhere. I had passed through Ada and Prague, where the Czechs settled in Oklahoma and they hold their yearly Kolache Festival in May. I entered Stroud, where three sizable earthquakes had shaken the land from Oklahoma City to Tulsa to Claremore a few days before. Stupid man-made earthquakes are beginning to damage homes and businesses. A tough issue in an oil state. Stroud looked ok – at least the famed Rock Cafe on Route 66 was still standing. I headed home on Route 66, now lost in thought as I absorbed all I had seen. All the little towns I’d passed through, all the people I had seen. There was a tiny tow-headed girl practicing riding a horse in a small pen while her father watched. There were old buildings, some falling down, all with some kind of history. Through the little towns, heading to the big city, I was almost home.

I take drives when I can. It refreshes me and gives me time to think. Going off the highways, back where the people live, helps to bridge some gaps. We are a nation of immigrants and natives, finding our way, different but the same in so many ways. It all makes me think and hope. Thanks for going with me.

 

 

In 1997, three boys entered my life, my first grandsons. Matt, Alex and Zac were all born that year, the same year that we found out that my husband had cancer. He died a week after Matt turned 1 and these three boys are a big portion of the glue that helped mend my shattered heart that year. In my heart, they are Alan’s boys, the ones he got to meet. I love all eight of my grandchildren, no one more than the others, but these boys just happened to be the first and are part of that year of my life.Scan 20Now I have eight grandchildren and my family all lives in Tulsa, but it’s hard to get us together for a vacation with baseball and soccer and school and work. Besides, when we are all together, the kids tend to hang out together and I don’t get to visit with them as much as they visit with each other. As I get older, my realization of time gets more frantic and I feel the urge to go and do before I just can’t. So many adventures out there…

Last winter, I asked the boys if they would like to go on a road trip with me. I’m not sure what their reaction was. Can you imagine? Your 71 year old grandmother asks you to go on a trip with her? Is that even cool? Sitting together with all three of them as they pondered this made me smile. I ran it by them several times, asking them where they would like to go, over the next few months. I kept expecting them to bail on me, but I persevered. It’s hard to duck out when your cousins are going – who wants to be that one? I chose the week after all their college finals were over, while their siblings were still in school, before they had jobs. And I began to plan. I’ve taken many road trips over the past decade, everything from 6,000 mile trips to day excursions around Oklahoma, so I had ideas. I sat with my iPad, mapping out places and times, trying to schedule things I thought they would like, while leaving flexible time to explore. I didn’t want to waste a minute of this precious time with them.

We took off on a Monday after I picked up a rental car, a big SUV. Did I mention how big these guys are now? 6’5″, 6″4″ and 6″ with athletic builds. There was no room in my little hybrid and the rental car was like a toy for them with all the gadgets new cars have. They took to it like the new computer it was, programming maps, music, and figuring it all out. We took off, heading west.

While planning, I was asked if I was going to have them put their phones away. This was a thought, but I decided we would play it by ear. I’m as glued to mine as they are, so I can’t exactly preach. Besides, this wasn’t about me having a bunch of rules. The first things we figured out is that they would each take turns playing their music. During the course of the week, I told them that they owed a lot of their music to my generation, the 50s and 60s rock. I listened to Matt’s country mixed with some rap, Alex’s blend of pop, rap and a little country, and Zac’s rap and harder rock, all loud. At one point, I figured out how to make my own play list and they were treated to some Beatles, Chuck Berry, Motown, Willie Nelson and others. I liked it all.

Being in the front seat, I got to talk to each one of them for awhile. Sometimes, I turned the music down to tell them something. As we drove through western Oklahoma, I told them a little about the Land Rush. When we got close to the Panhandle, I told them stories and pulled up photos from the Dust Bowl. There is nothing like being able to look things up while you travel rather than waiting until you get home to find answers. I would look up the history of towns we drove through and point out things they might miss. They started to look more closely at the old houses we passed, wondering out loud how old they were.DSC_1169After eating in a small town diner, rather than a fast food place like they are used to, we made a quick stop at Gloss (or Glass) Mountains in Oklahoma. DSC_1141I’d wanted to stop here before and we discovered that the rocks that shined in the sun looked like pieces of glass close up and were selenite gypsum. The boys read the signs and seemed genuinely interested to have discovered this new fact about their home state. I was tentatively seeing how they reacted to stopping with no warning, exploring a little along the way.

We crossed through New Mexico and on to Colorado, commenting on the ever changing scenery as we went from the plains to mesas to snow topped mountains in our first day. We stopped in Trinidad, CO for the night, across from a mountain range, next door to a pot shop. I posed them in front of the sign so we could text it to their mothers. All I said was “We’re in Colorado.”IMG_2409I thought it was funny, but it went right over their mother’s heads. I pointed it out to my girls and they sent funny emojis. The boys and I talked about alcohol and drugs while we drove. These three are pretty smart about it and I hope it stays that way. Not saying they’re innocent, but they’re smart.

For dinner, I learned that this wasn’t like trips I take with my friends where we share meals. These boys eat. A lot. I have new appreciation for their parents’ grocery bills. I also learned that fitting them in beds was going to be interesting. The best bet were suites with two queens and a sleeper sofa. Zac brought his laptop and hooked up video games for Matt and him to play each night and they sprawled across whatever beds we had. I felt a little, just a little, guilty taking up a whole bed for myself. Well, not too guilty – I’m old.

Conversation was interesting. These three guys’ mothers are sisters and they have grown up together, but they couldn’t be more different. They went to the same elementary school and the same high school, where Matt played baseball, Alex played soccer and Zac played football. They have different friends. Matt just finished his sophomore year and Alex finished his freshman year, both at Oklahoma State, where both are business majors. Matt wants to be an entrepreneur and dreams of flipping houses. Alex isn’t sure. They belong to different fraternities. Zac is following his dream of being a filmmaker and finished his freshman year at Tulsa Community College, trying to decide if he will continue on to the University of Tulsa or head on into his chosen profession after next year. Their talk went from Alex and Matt comparing classes or fraternity experiences to all of them sharing videos on their phones to talking about people they all know or remembering things they had done together. It was like those days when I drove carpool and just listened as the kids talked as if I wasn’t really there some of the time – and that’s ok with me. Sometimes, I spoke up and told them about something from my time that was so much like what they were talking about. Not everything changes from one generation to several on down the line. There’s always the realization that I’m 2 1/2 times their age, but I didn’t point that out. Yikes!

Mornings were the hardest because I tend to get up early when I’m traveling and hit the road, eager to not miss anything. Traveling with three college boys gave me plenty of time to get dressed and wake up – an understatement. Trying to pry three big old sleeping giants out of bed was cute. I tried not to bug them too much, but we had to get moving. Day two started with driving by mountains, while they patiently waited while I stopped to take pics. We saw a herd of antelope and some elk by the road and beautiful scenery. I was traveling with giants, as you can see.IMG_2433In Ft. Garland, we ate breakfast at the Old West Cafe and toured Ft. Garland, where Kit Carson was once in command while protecting the settlers from the Indians. Here is where we had a big generation gap. Not only did they not know who Kit Carson was, but they weren’t familiar with the old westerns my generation grew up on. There was a Kit Carson television series, Kit Carson comic books, and the history of the west, no matter how skewered it was by pop culture. The American West was something embedded in our cultural sense. We played cowboys and Indians, we had images of the west in our minds. Oh well. We toured the old fort and the boys played around with the old soldier stuff, getting a feel for it all. IMG_2444I told them several times, probably once too many, that travel is the best way to learn history, geography and geology. Duh!

Our first big stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, which I had been wanting to visit for years. My only mistake was having them sit through the film in the visitor center. Usually, these are excellent and informative, but this one was too long and repetitive. They were good sports about it and we got to the river with little expectation. Being kids at heart, they crossed the water, which was freezing cold and running fast. DSC_1236They came back to help me across, which was good since my sandals weren’t all the way on and I would have washed away. They decided to at least climb to the top of the lowest dune and I decided to stay behind and watch. I could have made it, but I could see rain coming from behind the mountains behind us and I didn’t think I could retreat as quickly as they could. Dang. I should have remembered how hard it is to follow them since my husband was 6’4″ and I learned a quick step and a half to keep up with him when I was younger. Now, think how big these guys are as you spot them on the dunes with ant sized people on the higher dunes beyond.DSC_1245They stayed there quite awhile as I could only envision what they were talking about. I know they laughed about filming Star Wars in that environment. We left with the rain moving in and moved westward, climbing higher on mountain roads where snow was falling and spring thaws brought running water down rocks and in the creeks running beside the roads. Beautiful change in scenery as we drove to Durango for the night. After dinner, the guys found the hot tub and that became their nightly routine, while I showered and relaxed. Once again, one can only imagine the hilarious discussions these three had in their hot tub sessions. Did I mention that they are all funny and know how to crack each other up?

Another morning to get them up as we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. The visitor center had been redesigned since I saw it about 8 years ago and it was spectacular. I took over the wheel since I felt very responsible for my three kiddos on the curvy roads. Not that I love driving like that, but I can do it and it is nerve wracking as you wind upwards, looking down into canyons. The archeological museum was as interesting as I remembered and they got their first look at the incredible cliff dwellings. We didn’t get to climb down due to rock slides, but we drove to see the canyons and dwellings. The boys were starting to get more interested, I think. The canyons are beautiful and the experience is fascinating. DSC_1318We took a 3/4 mile hike to get one view and I fell victim to the altitude since I hadn’t had enough water, but was able to follow them reasonably well. Those long legs! Once again, weather started moving in, so we cut our drive a little short to get off the mountain before the rain and snow.

The landscape changed from mountains and mesas to more flat land as we stopped at Four Corners. I told them it was one of those things that you have to do because you are there, and I read them the history of the monument. It is kind of fun to stand in four states.IMG_2518Once again, we left as the rain began to fall and headed for Monument Valley, listening to heavy rock, my stuff and rap as we covered the desert. I had the foresight to book a room for the night, thank goodness. We had a cabin that overlooked Monument Valley and we could see the stars at night. I couldn’t imagine anything prettier.

Monument Valley was a place they had no knowledge of – at least they didn’t think they did. I love the place, so I was hoping this would be the highlight of the trip. As we approached, the weather changed again and the clouds dropped down to cover the tops of the buttes. Hmmm. Where was our starry night? As I ran into the hotel to check in, freezing rain pelted me. By the time we reached the cabin, it had changed to snow and it was getting heavier. Wow. This was unexpected, but one of those unique experiences that you learn to appreciate. At dinner, we watched the snowflakes get bigger and bigger. By the time, we settled in for the night, the snow was covering the ground. This was the view from our cabin before it got to the heaviest point. IMG_2523I was lucky to get the cabin, the last of two rooms, which had a queen bed and bunk beds. We had also brought a blow up bed. The room was tight with a small bath for the four of us, but it would have been perfect for a family with two kids. There was no tv (horrors), but they had phones & laptop. The hilarity of sleeping that night…none of them fit in their beds.IMG_2539Morning was spectacular, as I had planned (hoped), and we had a tour scheduled at 9 with a Navajo guide. We had to get up, although they cut it close. None of us looked too fancy. IMG_2556I had been to Monument Valley twice before, driving it in my car. This time, the roads were muddy and rough, so I was glad for the guide and jeep/truck. This time was the best and I will never go there again without the guide, who drove us into restricted areas and shared Navajo history, stories and songs. Our companions on the trip were a woman from Manhattan and her parents from Columbia. The kids were learning how many people from foreign countries tour the US. Our guide said 70% of the visitors to Monument Valley are from foreign countries and we heard French, German, Japanese and other languages spoken.

The scale of Monument Valley is what I wanted them to see. I’m a firm believer in getting into nature, finding places that are bigger than you are, to put your life in perspective and to restore your soul. I can find God in lots of places, but in nature, I agree with John Muir as to the beauty of natural cathedrals. I love this picture of the boys, huge men, in perspective. DSC_1396Or this one, taken by the guide, showing them near a huge arch. They are the dots under the tree branch. He and I climbed up another spot where he showed me this shot. IMG_2570At this stop, he had them lie back to look up and see the image of an eagle’s head above them. Then he told a coyote story and sang a Navajo traveling song. As we left, he showed us the image of the Mohawk in the rock – can you spot it? The braid is on the right. IMG_2580This tour changed the trip in exactly the way I had hoped. They got it. After we left, we drove to Goulding’s Trading Post across the highway so I could show Zac all the movies that had been made in the valley. They started to recognize it. I love this picture of the three of them with a model of the valley, locating all the places we had been. IMG_2602From there we drove to Albuquerque for the night, where they headed for their hot tub night while I kicked back. Whew. I knew the trip was a success. The next morning we took a detour and spent a few hours in Santa Fe for lunch, tour of Loretto Chapel and walking around before we hit the road, traveling the freeway along old Route 66 to home. Oh, it snowed on us as we got to Santa Fe then cleared for a beautiful day as we ate lunch. We hadn’t expected so much snow in mid-May.IMG_2619A much anticipated stop on Route 66 was the Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo. I had brought a can of spray paint and we hit the iconic spot with a rainbow beside us. I wish I could say I planned that, but who plans snow and rainbows?IMG_2624The boys had fun painting whatever on the cars, IMG_2627before we headed to the Big Texan in Amarillo for a perfect last dinner. They consumed 18 oz steaks each with only a tad left on Alex’s plate. Big boys with big appetites. One more hot tub visit, sleeping late, and a final stop at the VW Slugbug Ranch, east of Amarillo, for our final stop. Perfect! IMG_2667At home, they were out of the car and back to their friends and lives. As they should be.

What were the lessons of this road trip?

  1. Maybe they will remember that they spent 6 days with their Mimi, visiting 6 states and seeing new things every day. I hope so. I hope they realize that they are never too old to have adventures and to have them as long as they are able. You never know how many years you have.
  2. I hope they learned to explore, look up information on places they might just drive by otherwise, and take the time to stop.
  3. I hope they learned to take a deep breath and restore their souls in nature. I also hope they respect our natural resources and vow to protect them.
  4. I hope they got a new look at our beautiful country and want to see more.
  5. I hope they want to return to these places with their own families and I hope they want to find more places of their own. I told them the only thing you can give your children is memories, so make them good ones. A friend told me that bit of wisdom.
  6. I hope they know that I am proud of them and love them very much.

I can’t wait to plan the trip for the next group of grandkids. I’m already working on it!

My college roommate once told me, way back in college, that I had a great ability to see all sides of a problem. I’m going to consider it a gift to be able to have empathy for people, even those I don’t know. An adult male looked at pictures of me as a little one and said all he could see was a little girl who wanted to please. karen-1948You have a little girl who wanted to please and could empathize with people. A girl who graduated from high school in 1963, right as the world, our world at least, was about to be shaken to its core.

As the events of the 60s occurred, I watched in fascination. In college, we discussed – of course. We also were watching history unfold in real time on television which was new. The assassinations were very real, the war was very real especially since we had the draft, and the student reactions were way too real.

I marched for Academic Freedom in college and signed petitions to get more equal campus rules for females (female students had to live in university housing or a sorority house until they were 23 unless they were married while male students could live off campus at 18. That was one of many rules that were meant to protect us, but were beginning to rankle). I was sensitive to inequality but wasn’t raising my fist in anger.

By the time the Vietnam War was being protested, I was a young wife and mother with a new home starting the life I had been raised to live. A housewife with a college degree who supported her husband by keeping the home fires burning. I had four children while I was in my 20s, even with birth control, so I was busy. Kind of.

For those of us who were fortunate to have occasional help, the newly formed coop nurseries to give us a day off (basically 9-2) for errands, life wasn’t too bad. But, personally, I was bored. I played bridge for awhile, had a wonderful discussion group that kept me up on the world outside, and read a lot. Sigh.

Here’s the thing. I was watching the protests with mixed feelings. I was empathetic to the causes and could feel the unfairness of life for those who weren’t as fortunate by birth as I was. I was learning that it takes a revolution to get the attention of the establishment in order for change to occur, but I couldn’t see me being so radical. I was basically the second line. I wanted to change the world from within the establishment. Or, at least, I wanted to work for my own little corner of the world and make it better.

Starting very conventionally, I worked with children in my church by teaching Sunday School, working with Vacation Church School, helping with the Christmas program to bring food and gifts to needy families. This worked up to me being the Chair of these programs and a Deacon in the church where I could help directly through our reach out programs. Through my mother, I became involved with the symphony, which I had attended growing up. I also ended up being president of both the junior women and the senior women’s auxiliaries, serving on the Board of Directors with the privileged older white men and a couple of token women who kept the orchestra alive. Those early experiences were my first brushes with what it takes to make things happen in communities from both fundraising to administrative responsibilities. I had a lot of admiration for these leaders even though I knew I would always be there because I was smart and did the work rather than just wrote the checks.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against successful people and admire them for the more part. I make my observations based on their character and how they use their money. There are many incredibly generous people who have worked hard and are giving back. On the other hand, watch a few episodes of American Greed to see what else can happen.

As my kids grew up, I was more involved with their school, serving as homeroom mother, classroom volunteer, and PTA volunteer reaching the super high level of PTA President. That was another learning opportunity as I was close the teachers and the administration, learning how parents advocate for their own children without often caring about the needs of the entire school. That empathy trait was in full bloom as I was introduced to my community from all sides.

To cut to the chase, I spent the next couple of decades working with a variety of causes that appealed to me. The Junior League gave me opportunities to work with the city on opening a nature center, water conservation and city planning, opening a women’s center, learning about the impact of historic preservation, and domestic violence. I chaired committees that worked with all of these issues and my work with domestic violence led to terms on their board where I served as President. I also served on the American Red Cross board and volunteered with disasters and to do some of the earliest AIDS education. I had great opportunities to learn and serve. I wanted to make a difference in my idealism.

As my family grew up, they watched me and I tried to set an example for my three daughters and son. I exposed them to the work I was doing, hoping they would see the value. If you think I was neglecting them, I don’t think so. I was the mom who drove to sports and school and was involved in everything, as women do. Yes, we do.

Eventually, I went to work and had a variety of careers that also taught me a lot as I went from corporate to my own business and back to nonprofits in the years that saw me become a grandmother and a widow by the time I was 52. A lot of life going on.

All of my life history has brought us to the past year and an election that changed everything again. All the causes I’d supported and cared about seem to be on the verge of destruction and I found I wasn’t alone in my concerns (that’s a mild word for it). After the election, I heard about the proposed Women’s March on Washington for January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration and knew I wanted to go. I suddenly felt that I needed to march this time – my days of working within the system seemed to have done no good.

I couldn’t go to Washington, so I signed up to go to Oklahoma City for our state march. Yesterday, I put on my shirt, texted my kids a photo & said that I was leaving, img_0763and set out early. In the usual chaos of my life, I also had a grandchild’s performance to watch in the afternoon so I would have to leave early. I wanted to be counted no matter what.

Getting to the Capitol early gave me an opportunity to watch the event evolve. I fought the urge to volunteer since I had to leave. As I walked to the line to sign in, I saw this first little girl with her sign. I had to smile. This would have been me at her age, wanting everyone to be nice to each other.img_0772My kids had told me to be careful. I hadn’t forgotten that there are crazies out there and you can’t predict what will happen, but I wasn’t worried. Remember, I’m the 2nd tier kind of radical, the ones who wait for the revolution to be absorbed into the establishment to help with the changes. The rules were posted online and as I entered.img_0764For those of you who have preconceived ideas about a march, I’m sharing some of my pictures and thoughts to help you understand what was happening. This was in the very so-called Red State of Oklahoma.

My first images were all the children and families who were there. This was very much a multi-generational event as I stood in line behind a mother and young daughter as the mother explained very calmly why we should care about women’t issues. There were no raised voices or clenched fists. There was something very loving about everything around me. This little girl wore her Girl Scout vest with badges and carried a sign for women’s rights. Seemed appropriate to me.img_0845There were people of all ages, all races, and all economic levels. I looked around at women wearing expensive running shoes and outerwear mingling with others who obviously had other fashion statements to make. There were actually no social tiers at this march. We were all in this one together. There were the usual women’s rights signs and a few anti-Trump signs. Mostly, this was about being for issues and causes, being pro-active! This man was a veteran of protests and I watched a very stylishly dressed African American woman ask to take a picture with him and her young daughter.img_0809Yes, it was a women’s march and there were lots of women and lots of pink pussy hats (which were just the kind of humor this serious issued needed)img_0798img_0917The biggest surprise, although it shouldn’t have been, was how very many men were there. This man was registering voters.img_0853There were men of all ages and they made up a very big part of the crowd. You saw generations and families. I think that was the most heartwarming thing I witnessed – all the men who understood why there was a march and why the women were there. They were so very supportive.img_0863dsc_0530img_0838I ran into a friend and we spent a few minutes talking about how long it had been since we felt the need to protest like this. She commented that she had always been a Republican and I said I had too. We laughed at how we had left the party as it drifted and were now Independents. Who ever even knew an Independent? That shows something.img_0893I was delighted by all the signs for so many issues but some of these said it best. We were all there for everything!img_0889img_0925img_0865As with all of the marches across the country and around the world, the crowd was larger than anticipated but everyone was content to visit, take lots of photos and enjoy being with people who also cared. There was hope and joy in the air, to tell the truth. As the march was finally starting, I had to make my way to the car, but had to empathize with those of us who thought we had some of these issues solved.img_0861dsc_0517When I got to the car, my phone had died so I reached for my big camera and watched a bit of the march go by me. It came in waves that washed over me. No loud noises, just people who cared and shared and came from all over the state to be heard. This one broke my heart and brought me back to the reality of this for many.dsc_0526So several thousand Oklahomans who couldn’t make it to Washington D. C. came by car and bus on walkers and wheelchairs, carrying babies and pushing strollers and holding children by the hand. They carried homemade signs with messages that were powerful in their many diverse messages for so many concerns. They came to be with others and share something that became more powerful as word started spreading about the size of the crowds in Washington and the numbers of similar marches around the world. The sense of hope built and the strength was palpable.

What’s next? For this unmilitant marcher, this was another step to our hope for a better world for those who follow. We are all on alert now to watch and make things happen and it was proved by the women who organized that it can be done peacefully. This is OUR country and our lives. Here we go…img_0940

The reality that struck me, struck me hard, when my son died was how many many people I know who have lost a child. It’s not that I didn’t know these people, family and friends and even strangers, had suffered as I was, but that I was so clueless. I hadn’t known anything.

Now it’s been six years since I got the early morning phone call that my son was gone and I wish I had some wisdom to share or some comforting words or something clever to write. I don’t. This past year was the worst…but, of course, it wasn’t. There’s no way to compare one year to the another because there’s always the surprising realization that it’s so real.

I’m not sitting around in mourning black or locking myself away and I have fun just about every day of my life and I’m eternally grateful for each and every beautiful moment I get to share with my family and friends. My sense of adventure is alive and I treasure my moments alone to read or enjoy the world around me.

How to describe it? It’s a part of who I am now, implanted on who I was, but it’s not the worst part or the saddest part. It’s a strength that came from losing a child, the strength that pushes me every day to make sure that my children and grandchildren understand the value of each other in their lives and the strength that this gives them to withstand whatever is next, whatever life will throw at us next, because it will.

I feel him in my heart and all around me more than ever. What is that? I just know that it’s true and comforting and yet I miss him all the time. It’s ok…well, maybe not so ok sometimes. It’s what it is and will be and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

The truth is that I see a picture of him or a recording of his voice and it’s sometimes real and sometimes seems to be some strange unreality. I see his daughter and catch something that smacks of his personality or see a familiar expression on her face and that’s nice. He would get such a kick out of her. Or he does get a kick out of her. What do I know?

I know that I had a son I loved and continue to love and he loved me and continues to love me. I know that in my heart and soul.

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I was born in December, 1945, which makes me 71 now. At this age, I have enough life lived to look back and get perspective on the good old days of my life. I can understand the good, the bad, and the ugly of the times, seeing how it shaped the world and my life and me.

My parents married at the end of the war, my father having served in the Army Air Force as a pilot, a Lt. Colonel returning heavily decorated for his missions over Italy. My mother had worked through the war for officers on the air base in Ardmore, Oklahoma. They met there and married soon after. He was 33 and she was 24. They had both lived through the Great Depression with his family building a business and her widowed mother raising three children in the worst of it. Without too much detail, I understand that this is why they didn’t talk about the past much. Their lives were about the future.

Actually, nobody talked much about anything, at least in front of children. We were sheltered from just about everything to do with the real world, which was nice when your life was pretty great, as mine was. The trouble was that there were other things going on that we didn’t see at all until years later, things we couldn’t begin to understand from our narrow world view.

My family moved from Oklahoma City to Tulsa in 1948 and lived in a nice house with a large yard and the white picket fence. 2501-s-birmingham-pl-tulsa-okMy father had his branch of the family business and my mother stayed home with me, my brother and, soon, my little sister. She had help in the house, the first Negro (as we knew them), I ever knew. We met others when we went to the country club where my father played golf and we dined, played golf and swam in the summers. More Negro helpers that we knew so well but didn’t really know at all. I don’t remember meeting any other people of different races or even different religions through the 1950s. It was a pretty white life in my little world, even when I went to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma City or my grandmother in Ardmore.

Everybody’s parents seemed nice in the 1950s. We played away from the grownups who were busy talking. In the 1950s, lots of grownups smoked and drank. The men came back from the war as smokers since the government practically gave them cigarettes. Daddy smoked a pipe, cigars, and finally just cigarettes. My mother never did. People drank a lot back then, but we were used to it. Daddy kept a bottle in his desk at the office and came home and had a drink. Everyone did that in those days. Except my mother, who wasn’t a drinker either. She made us clean the ashtrays when we were little so we could see the nicotine which was stuck to the ashtrays as it would stick to our lungs. It was an effective lesson for me at least. We didn’t know about cancer from cigarettes until later and we didn’t really know what an alcoholic was except that some of our parents’ friends seemed to drink a lot more than others and slurred their words. For most of us, drinking was something you would do when you were older to be as cool as our parents were. It was a rite of passage.

In the 1950s, we didn’t know much in my little world about the real world that would come soon enough. We had news on the radio, but what little kid was going to sit and listen to that? By the time we got television, it only came on at about 5:00 and went off the air at 10:00. There were short newscasts, but those weren’t too interesting either. Actually, we got most of our information from newspapers and magazines. In my home, we subscribed to just about everything, so I grew up reading both the morning and evening newspaper and magazines that ranged from my mother’s (Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s), my father’s (Argosy, Field and Stream), my brother’s (Boy’s Life) and the children’s magazines (Highlights). And there were Life, Look, Reader’s Digest, and Saturday Evening Post. I read more and more of them as I grew up, learning much about the world that way. We still didn’t talk much at home about anything in the world. I absorbed by listening and reading.

In 1955, my parents built a beautiful home and we moved to a new neighborhood. We changed from private to public schools so we could meet new friends and the world began to open up. I went from a class of 24 kids I had known forever to a class of 650. I was eleven years old and my world was changing. I was in junior high, thrown into a world of pre-adolescence that I embraced with great excitement. I made my first Jewish friends, I met kids who had grown up in other parts of town. I was exposed to the “facts of life” through raging hormones, changing bodies, and the giggling of girls as we awkwardly learned to dance, talk to boys (we always had but this was different). Everything was emotional, our parents didn’t understand, and we thought we were grown up. We were typical kids, living the American teen life.

I realize now that we learned so much from each other about love, sex, relationships, but our information was scattered. My mother talked to me a little, but I probably didn’t want to hear it from her. How embarrassing! We still didn’t know so much, so very much. One of my dear friends lost her mother and I went to the funeral. I remember it well, but it was hard to absorb. I had no frame of reference for anyone losing a parent. By the time I was in 9th grade, I lost a friend to suicide. I didn’t understand why until 40 years later when I learned she was pregnant. Nobody talked to us about it. And, how sad is it that she thought she had to die rather than face her friends, family and society. Such were the norms in those days when your family’s reputation was everything. Everything. You didn’t say anything that would make anyone look bad. You keep secrets.

In high school, we still kept secrets. If you didn’t, it was gossip and nothing could destroy you more quickly. If you were fast or wild, you got that reputation and I can guarantee that we will still remember you that way today, even if we can at least understand now. There was no perspective when everything was black and white. There was little compassion when you were either right or wrong.

Years later, I learned a lot of the things I didn’t know back then. Gradually through the years, friends have talked about the abuse in their homes, the alcoholism, the secrets. There were fewer divorces because there was really no place for the women to go. Whether you agree or not, a lot of people stayed in marriages that were damaging to everyone stuck there. The abuse of women and children was hidden. What could women do? Where could children go if their mother or father was destroying them at home? We didn’t know anything. I found out later that one of the popular boys used to spend his nights at a relative’s, sneaking home in the morning so that he could be seen leaving for school from his parents’ home so that nobody knew the hell he was living in. We didn’t know.

So many things I’ve learned since those days. I made a new friend when I was in my 50s who is Native American. She grew up across town from me, left on a doorstep and raised by foster families. We didn’t know that was going on and nobody admitted they had Indian blood back then. I live in Oklahoma and didn’t know that friends of mine were Native American. It wasn’t the popular thing to admit because people would look down on you.

By high school, we had lost friends to car wrecks (driving too fast with no seat belts because there were none or driving while drinking) and everything in our world was changing quickly. We danced and listened to music our parents hated and drove around in cars looking for other teens to follow and flirt with. We were the kids you later saw in American Graffiti. Here is the music we were listening to my senior year. kakc_1962-10-15_1Most of it was fun and silly. Some of it was sexy. We had learned to do the Twist and we were listening to folk music. We had progessed from The Kingston Trio to Peter Paul & Mary. We were on the verge of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and songs with messages. Our world was about to be rocked.

I graduated from high school in 1963 and left for Oklahoma State University, formerly an agricultural school but known for engineering and business by now. It was the heartland and the university was in the middle of the Oklahoma plains, formerly land rush country. Now I met cowboys, real cowboys, for the first time. My first roommate was from a class of 6 in a small town. I had traveled to Europe for the first time when I was a senior so my world was expanding and now I was learning the other side of my own state, meeting kids who grew up away from the cities I knew. We talked for hours, sitting on beds in the dorms, learning about new people.

In November of that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the shock and horror. We had never experienced anything like this in our lives. Presidents didn’t get assassinated and here it was being shown over and over on television. We watched the accused assassin shot in front of us. To be on a campus of young people when this happened was the rude awakening we didn’t see coming. Our world was not what we had been led to believe at all. Everything we felt secure about was thrown up in the air and floated down around our confused young selves. Our music changed and the messages got deeper. By spring, we had met The Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s show and the sounds and the beat was driving us. We had rock & roll, folk music, and now the British influence. As those college years went on, we were shaking up our parents’ ideas, questioning everything.

In the 1960s, we faced the Viet Nam war and the boys in my class could suddenly be drafted. The ways to at least postpone it were to be in college or to be married. If you left college, you could be called up immediately. To say this had an impact on us is an understatement. Although many of my friends served since the war dragged on, many were able to avoid it. There were weddings all the time, either because the guy was leaving or to keep him from going.

For girls, college life was restrictive in these days when we were testing our new sense of idealism. On my campus, girls had to wear skirts and couldn’t live off campus until they were 23 unless they were married. We rebelled. As fashion changed in those years with skirts going from mid-calf to mini and micro-mini, the rules eased. We signed petitions for more realistic curfews and questioned why we couldn’t do what the guys could. During my college years, Gloria Steinem visited campus, bringing us the messages of women’s liberation. I listened to her and absorbed so much, wondering how this would fit in my life. The world was changing all around us. There was the sexual revolution and birth control and so much to absorb. Abortion was around and girls got them. Some of my friends were unable to have children afterwards. Do I believe in abortion? It’s a private and personal decision and it should be safe. Abortion will always be an option, but let’s make it safe.

I married my high school sweetheart in December 1966, soon after he was home from the Navy. As he worked on his degree, I taught English as a graduate assistant, and we had our first child, our oldest daughter, while we were in school. I was the oldest mother in the hospital at 22 in this time when birth control was new and everyone was marrying at a younger age.

By 1970, we had moved back to Tulsa, where my husband went to work for my father, we purchased our first home, and had our second daughter. I stayed home with the children, leading a life much like my parents had done. The difference was that I was one of a generation of women who had gone to college and been exposed to all these new ideas. We had birth control and education and degrees and what were we going to do with it? I played bridge and kept the house and did all the things I was supposed to do. I was bored and found volunteer work, which was to sustain me for the next couple of decades as an outlet to use my brain, network with the community, and expose myself to the rest of the world while growing into leadership positions. I worked with women, domestic violence, the arts, a nature center, water conservation, historic preservation, and diversity while working with community leaders, the media, and donors, developing skills and relationships I had used as I entered the work world in the 1980s and 90s.

My other salvation in the early 1970s was a group of women I met who formed a “discussion group.” We met once a week in the Presbyterian church half of us belonged to. The other half were members at the Unitarian Church. We had a sitter for the morning and our goal was to discuss anything but children. We took field trips, discussed books and ideas and used our brains, a welcome relief from our lives with toddlers and babies at home. I still love these women and the special bond we formed. We all went on to have interesting lives while raising our families. We were each other’s salvation for many years. One thing that happened in that group was that an older woman asked us to read a book that was being talked about, The Total Woman. A woman was going to use the church to have a lecture on the book and she was skeptical. I was asked to go to the lecture and report back to the group. The theory of the book was that women should be adoring to their husbands and cater to them so that they will adore you back. That’s simplistic, but one of the ideas was to meet your husband at the door dressed in saran wrap with a drink ready for him. Really. I don’t think that was going to happen in my house where I had three daughters by now. Where were they going to be during this? Anyway, I went to the lecture and took notes and reported back. My main takeaway from this was that it was really demeaning to men and gave them no credit for anything. It was manipulative, to say the least.

By the 1970s, we were talking about everything. We had learned from our own childhoods and were going to raise our children differently. When Our Bodies, Ourselves was published, we read it cover to cover. Who had ever talked about our bodies with us? I had learned everything from women’s magazines and talking to my friends. Doctors didn’t even talk about this stuff with us.img_0481We were talking now. And we were raising our children differently, just like we wanted to. By now, I had three girls and a boy and it was just 1975. I wanted them all to grow up with choices, all kinds of choices. They were raised with this…img_0521Yes, life was different for my generation. We talked about things and we learned about all our choices. By the time we were in our 30s, lives were changing. A friend lost her husband and all those years she had spent home raising the kids were now a challenge because she was a single mother having to enter the work force when she had lost ten years or so of career advancement. Other friends faced divorce because men now had the freedom to leave their wives for the girlfriends they had found. These women also found that they had to reinvent themselves. Life was not as simple as we thought it would be.

I won’t go on with the details of what I’ve learned, but it does make you reflect. Were things better back when men worked and women stayed home and nobody talked about anything? Were we better living in a world full of such dangerous secrets?

My own children’s generation is a mixed bag. They saw divorce up close and many chose to either wait or not marry. They have so many choices. They don’t have to hide the fact they are gay or lesbian as many of my friends did back in the days when you married as a cover because it was too dangerous to live your life the way you felt. We have more technology, different types of jobs, more ways to raise our children, more ideas to absorb and it all changes quickly. There have been movements to get back to basics, back to the earth, back to priorities.

My sons-in-law participate in their children’s lives as my generation’s men were only beginning to be able to experience. My father’s generation would never have left work for ball games or plays or stayed home to raise the kids while the wife worked. In that way, women’s freedom has freed up men to be better people, better parents.

The diversity of our world has changed so much in my lifetime as we learn to be proud of where we come from, to understand our ancestors, to see that we all want the same things for our children. I see families with parents from mixed races, same sex parents, old and young parents, and I see families who understand that love is love is love. We learn more about other cultures, other countries, other people. What we should be seeing is that we all want homes, food, water, security and education for our children. We’re not that different at all.

In times of fear and anger, I look around me and reassess once again what I want. I want to leave this world a better place than when I arrived. I want my grandchildren and their children to have the beautiful wild places to visit to restore their souls from the fast pace of human life. I want their lives to be rich with experiences and friendships and love. We’ll never be perfect as human beings, but we can progress. Or at least try. That’s what I see when I look way back at my life’s experiences and then turn around and look to the future.

We keep trying our best and doing good things and loving, loving, loving.

 

 

This one is for my Mommy. That wasn’t what I was thinking this morning when I dragged myself up after a short sleep following a long day. I was thinking I needed to go vote early, but it was chilly and I had a raspy throat and there are all kinds of excuses. Then I thought again and KNEW I needed to go vote early.

I dressed in all white for the Suffragettes, which was kind of a random last minute decision. It’s not the kind of thing I usually do, but it seemed so right today. Then I realized it was also for my Mommy, who mostly dressed in white. photo.JPG

And for her paternal grandmother, who also dressed in white.Scan 2While driving to the election board for early voting, I suddenly found myself crying, once again something I’m not prone to doing while I’m on my way to vote. All these conversations I had with my mother came flooding back to me. Anyone who knew my mother knew how strong she was. I often wondered how in the world I was related to someone who was so much stronger than I ever felt.

I’ve written before about my mother’s childhood as the youngest of three children with a young widowed mother in the Depression. She didn’t really talk to me much about it until we were both older when our conversations deepened in the years before she died. As I working with non-profits or faced some of life’s greatest challenges, she would listen and then impart such wisdom based on her own experiences. She was a Republican who thought her husband did no wrong, but she was also a woman who could relate to so many things in the world. She surprised me time after time with her views on abortion, sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence, sexual preference, working women, racial inequity and a number of topics. Yes, we really discussed all of these issues over her final years. I don’t think she really changed, but I hadn’t really known what she thought. She was beginning to voice her own views based on her knowledge of what the world is really like. She was living a life of privilege after an early life of struggle and poverty and hard work. She didn’t forget what it was like – ever. In our personal conversations, she was very open minded and fair. I knew exactly what she would say to me this year. Exactly.

I’ve researched my ancestors and found a complete variety of experiences in my all white background. Some were poor, some were comfortable, some were wealthy. I think of my great-grandmother pictured above in her white dress who I find little about other than she was working as a maid for a family when she was fourteen. She became a fairly sophisticated woman in a small town. She read, went to the opera, had people over for discussions. My other great-grandmother on that side lived on a farm and ended up in a state home because there was no money and she was probably suffering from dementia or just extreme fatigue after a hard life.IMG_6970So I drove to the polls with a sudden rush of knowing how all the women in my family would vote today, even the ones who were never allowed to vote. I had a vision of having a discussion with all my ancestors on both sides, male and female, about the candidates in this election. I’m not sure how the men would vote really because they are from a different time and different generations. But, the women would know exactly who and what is going on. I felt that so strongly after my fifteen minute drive, which was an interesting feeling. I certainly hadn’t been thinking about any of them when I started out this morning.

I arrived at the election board and there was a line. I remembered why I thought this was a neat way to vote from when I did it a few years ago. Instead of my neighborhood voting place in a church where everyone pretty much looks alike, the election board had a line of people from all over town. I spotted a couple I know ahead of me, a couple who is wealthy, with people on both sides of them who obviously aren’t. It was a clear picture of our city on election day and it was nice.IMG_0157.jpgYou can see the line wound up and around the dumpster, although not too long. Beside us were the election officials, who were drinking coffee and talking.IMG_0158.jpgA man with a cane approached the line and they stopped him to show him where he could go so he didn’t have to stand in the longer line. He was most appreciative and they were very polite. Inside, there were sheriffs to tell us how to proceed and they were friendly and helpful and nice. Everyone was smiling, everything moved quickly and, even with a long ballot to hand mark, the whole thing took about 20 minutes. As I left, more elderly people, on walkers, canes and in wheelchairs, were entering through the other door. That was nice to see. They were making the effort to be there.

In an election like this, you look at the people around you and wonder how they are voting. It was hard to tell, thank goodness. I didn’t even presume to make a solid guess on anyone. It was a nice experience really.

So, I’ve voted, wearing white to honor my mother who was so surprisingly present with me today along with all the other ancestors who jumped into my head. This one’s for you, Mommy. IMG_0161.jpg

I traveled to Louisville, KY to visit the Filson Historical Society where I had learned some of my family’s papers were stored. One of the items that had been donated was a scrapbook assembled by a cousin of mine, probably 2nd or 3rd cousin or 2nd cousin once removed, however that goes. The scrapbook was full of clippings glued to the pages, overlapping, and dated from 1908 to around 1945. I found all kinds of treasures which I was allowed to photograph. I went through a lot of materials quickly that day and hope to go back to spend more time someday. If not, I learned a lot of interesting things about my Kentucky family.

My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, grandmother and others were all born in Uniontown, Kentucky, a small Ohio River town that flourished during the 19th century and into the 20th until the mighty Ohio River overflowed its banks and into town one too many times. Most of my family was gone by the major disaster of the 1937 flood, but so many good things happened to them before that one caused so much damage to the family home.

A little family history is that my grandfather was one of 12 children, 9 of whom survived infancy and toddlerhood. One of his sisters married a local man, Virgil Givens, but she died soon after the birth of one of their children. Several years later, he remarried – to one of my grandfather’s other sisters. Basically, he married his sister-in-law, and I think the family was very happy about it. In the Uniontown cemetery, you find the graves of the three of them all together, which I think is a sweet story.

In the scrapbook were several clippings about this second marriage, describing the wedding and several bridal showers. I had never thought much about the history of bridal showers although I had several when I got married, as did my daughters and daughter-in-law. When I looked it up, I found that bridal showers date back to around 1890 in this country, beginning in the urban areas and spreading to the rural areas by the 1930s. Since the showers I’m talking about took place in Uniontown in 1908, I think that makes this little town a definitely sophisticated place for its time. I know my relatives traveled to nearby Morganfield, Evanston, Il and Louisville, so they had been to the city!

Here is one clipping from the Morganfield paper, although there is a typo on the date where it says 1808 instead of 1908. The first thing that struck me was the similarity of these events then and now, although we don’t have society pages to post the details like we did in 1908 and back in 1966, when I got married. Note the space given to the list of names of the guests.

IMG_8680I thought the description of the decorations for this Halloween shower were right up to Pinterest standards today as they used jack o’lanterns filled with flowers placed over the doorways. More details show that the guests were served punch before lunch, assisted by young girls, including the soon to be stepdaughter/niece of the bride. IMG_8684We may not dress in blue satin and silk these days and we don’t really have parlors anymore, but the rest of the details are so very familiar to those of us who have been to many bridal showers in our lifetimes.

In these clippings published after the wedding, we get the description of the ceremony along with other shower details. My grandfather gave his sister away at the wedding, so I can picture that ceremony. In details of the other showers, the guests brought recipes, each of which was tried at the shower. At my kitchen/recipe shower, we didn’t get to try the dishes, so I thought this was a nice touch. The gifts were brought into the room in a child’s wagon, something I have done myself. Brick cream and cake were served. Yum. That doesn’t change at all. Ever.

IMG_8683You will notice that six-handed euchre was played at two of the showers. I had to look this up, although I knew it was a card game. Euchre was very popular at this time and was the game that introduced jokers to the deck. I can’t give you many details other than it involves taking tricks, so maybe it’s close to Bridge. I guess the practice of playing cards at bridal showers has gone by the wayside, although I think it sounded like a fun thing to do.

I don’t know if I have a point to this story other than to show that there are some things that change a little, but stay enough the same in order to give us a sense on continuity and community. I don’t know if bridal showers will go by the wayside by the time my great-grandchildren are getting married, but, so far, this little tradition seems to have endured for over 100 years without changing too much. I don’t think they’re the most most important event in a bride’s life, but they do give those who love the couple a chance to share their happiness and present them with something to start their new life.

I bet there is a similar experience in many cultures, but this one is sweet enough to continue in its simplest forms. I will say that I doubt either of my grandmothers had bridal showers since they came from poor families. Anyway, it was nice to find this common experience that tied me and my Oklahoma family to our long ago Kentucky family in ways that haven’t changed all that much in a world where so many things have disappeared or changed so quickly in my lifetime.

It was fun to open a book and find a family thread that made me smile, a precious family link.

Looking at my 70 year old self isn’t the most fun if you’re talking about looking in the mirror. There’s no denying the changes no matter how you’ve taken care of yourself. Thinking about who I really am is a different story. Current events make me wonder why my thoughts differ from some people around me, people who appear to have lives somewhat like mine. I’ve realized that my evolution as a person is due to so very many things that have happened to me, things are unique to me as your lives are unique to you. It’s also the people who were there that made the subtle changes along the way. When I tried to capture the change makers in my life, most of them seem to be women. I adore men and have known so many good ones who loved me, made me laugh, were such great friends and teachers and were part of this story, but, it’s the women whose images seemed to jump forward as I write this.

I was a good little girl, more quiet than shy. I was one of those who wanted to please so I didn’t argue with too many people, at least back then. I know I watched what was going around me, saving it in my mind, processing it along the years.Karen - July 1948

I never met my great-grandmothers, but I’ve been finding out about them recently. They were pretty amazing women, ones I’m proud to claim and ones who influenced my grandmothers and parents, which helps me understand who they were and who I am now.

I have a couple of great-grandmothers who were very poor. One of them lived on a farm in southern Oklahoma and another one in Kentucky. Their lives were hard and I now see how they influenced my grandmothers. There was another one who I’ve found working as a servant on a farm inTexas at the age of 14. I can’t find more about her until she met my great-grandfather, but he owned properties in and around early Ardmore, Oklahoma. As a widow, my mother spent a lot of time with her and describes her home as a place where people gathered to talk about ideas, where she kept few clothes but had a hat to wear to the Opera, such as when Jenny Lind came through town. She always wore white, which may explain my mother’s affinity for this, and ate sparsely, as my mother remembered it. She lost her husband and both her sons, so devoted herself to her three grandchildren, including her only granddaughter, my mother.

My other great-grandmother was born to people from Louisiana and Kentucky. There were slave owners on that side of the family, although my great-grandmother’s obituary says she was loved by equally by the citizens of her town, black and white. Interesting that they wrote that back in 1937. I can only admit to this part of my history with regret, understanding that it was a much more complicated an issue that I can only acknowledge and not correct.

My paternal grandmother was one of the ones born poor, one of many children in a Catholic family, who married into one of the nicer families in their hometown of Uniontown, Kentucky, leaving her religion behind to marry my Episcopalian grandfather. The churches were rigid in those days. She raised four children and watched her three sons and her son-in-law leave for World War II. They returned with honors except for her youngest son, who was killed at 22, parachuting over Germany. He is buried in Europe and she never saw his grave. As the middle of her nine grandchildren, I was born after the war and never really saw her grief. To me, she twinkled, but I learned later that she never forgave FDR for her son’s death, refusing to even have a postage stamp with his picture. Her arthritis was linked to this anger, as I heard the grownups say. They didn’t talk about much with kids in those days. From this, I can relate to the mothers of fallen soldiers and their grief, sometimes misplaced.

From this grandmother, I also learned a remote lesson about death. As she lay in her coffin at the funeral home, I watched from the door as my father stood beside her and laid his hand on her cheek. She taught me the power of a mother.

My maternal grandmother was born to poor farmers in southern Oklahoma and, at 18, married my grandfather, who was probably 40 at the time. They had three children before he contracted Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease more easily detected and cured today, and died, leaving her a widow at 27 in the middle of the Great Depression. He bought her a neighborhood grocery store, a tiny place where she could eke out a living in those dark days. My mother, the youngest and only daughter, remembered that their only dignity in those days was that they owned their home. When the gas went out due to unpaid bills, at least they had the house. My great-grandmother left each of her three grandchildren a house along with other property. I’m not sure if my grandmother was left one also, but she lived in one of the houses and rented out rooms to pensioners (I asked my mother and found that these men were retired and living on government income). There was also a big house where she rented out rooms and I remember going with her to check rooms or collect rent. I grew up staying with her and sharing a bathroom with those men, walking down a dark hall lit by one bulb, past those lonely, small rooms with their screen doors that gave me a peek inside. This quiet little girl absorbed all of this.

This grandmother taught me other things, too. I was the oldest grandchild and spent a lot of time with her since she lived alone. Her next granddaughter had cerebral palsy. There was no difference in the way she treated us, which taught me to not be afraid of those who are different or can’t do all the things we can.

My mother grew up an old soul with a mother who seemed to always find the joy in life even though she was faced with so much. She gave my mother her sense of adventure, always saying “Let’s do something,” before we set out to see what was going on in the world. My mother worked from a young age, telling me that she was once turned down for a job as a receptionist when she was 16 for being too pretty. The owner thought she would be a distraction for his son. My mother told me her stories of being sexually harrassed after graduating from business school and going into the workplace. When the Anita Hill case was in the news, she told me what it was like when she was young and why she absolutely knew Anita Hill was telling the truth. This was eye-opening to me since my mother was the absolute 1950s mother, the homemaker who kept everything perfect for my father to walk through the door. Her stories of what her life was like before she met Daddy taught me another side of the story I hadn’t been exposed to in my own life. My mother’s stories as I shared my experiences through my life taught me so much and brought my own experiences into much clearer understanding, even if I didn’t agree with her sometimes.

There have been so many women who taught me through the years. Sometimes, they were friends, sometimes we shared an experience, sometimes we only shared a brief moment. They stay in me, they shaped me.

Growing up, my mother always had a maid to help her with the house and her three children. There were no mothers’ day outs or day care centers, so these women stayed with us while she ran her errands or met her friends or whatever she did. All I know is that we had nothing but love and respect for these women. My mother worked right beside them, cleaning and washing. We were comfortably well off, but not extremely wealthy. We often went with my mother to drive them home when they missed their bus or the weather was bad. My mother wanted us to know that there are people who weren’t able to have the things we had.

One of the maids who worked for our family for many years was Daisy. She was from the south and taught me, just like in “The Help,” to fry chicken and pork chops. I wish I’d learned to make her chocolate pie! Daisy was my confidant and there was no messing with her. In my high school years, she counseled me on boyfriends and scolded me on anything I did wrong, although I was a good kid. In 1962, our family was taking a trip east and we drove a route that took us to Atlanta so we could put her on a bus there to go visit her family. Her nervousness and fear as we drove through the south taught me about prejudice as I had never seen it before. Her approval of my future husband tickled me and her joy at our wedding was special, although she wouldn’t come to church with us and waited at home where we had the reception. Her “ship came in” when she finally found a man and married, and quit working, only to have it end when they died in their little house after a gas leak. She shaped me in so many ways.

As a child, I didn’t know any black people outside of those who worked for us or in places like the country club. Many years later, my mother told me that she thought that my grandmother once loved a black man who shopped in her little grocery store. Of course, that would have been scandalous in the depression days in small town Oklahoma. Learning that gave me new perspective on both my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother did have one boyfriend while we were growing up. His name was Mr. Baker (I never heard a first name) and he always wore a hat. She kind of giggled when I asked about him, but they never married and he was always Mr. Baker. My mother told me she didn’t marry when her children were young because she was so afraid that she might marry someone who might abuse them in one way or another. Again, learning that in my later years taught me a lot about the reality of those times and those wonderful women I loved.

Once I was old enough to be out of the house, away from the complete influence of family, there began the parade of women who flood my memories. Among teachers, there is my high school Latin teacher, a former WAC, a Scots woman, who brought the ancient language to life and shared her no-nonsense opinions, her incredible sense of humor, and her intelligence with us. She is a friend today, still sharp as a tack in her 90s.

My first roommate in college was from a small town, graduating from a class of 6. My class was 650 in the city. She was my first small town friend. Another college friend was my first black friend. She was from Arkansas where her family owned a funeral home. To say she was a novelty is an understatement since she is the only black girl I remember from our dorm. We loved her sense of humor and her tolerance of us. I look back now and realize how hard it must have been for her, but she never showed it. Another girl in college was in the same First Aid class I was in. Since I was making an A, I had no problem, but she was struggling and the teacher made her an offer that she wisely refused and reported. I was called into the Dean’s office to talk about it since I was her student counselor. From this girl, I learned that there was such a thing as sexual harassment by those in authority.

I married during my senior year, graduated in May, and went to work the next day at the local grocery store in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as a checker. This was because I decided to take a summer job like my husband (who had to join a union to work construction that summer) before I returned in the fall to teach as a graduate assistant. My parents never understood my decision. One of my favorite co-workers was a wonderful young woman, married to a highway patrolman, who worked at the grocery store for real reasons. She was so very nice and we became friends as we tolerated our boss, a man who chided us if we leaned back during a lull. There were no computers in the summer of 1967, so we had to figure sales tax with the help of a little chart and learn the ever changing prices of the produce every day. The cash register was quite manual and our lines were long on the Saturdays when people came in from the country to do their weekly or monthly shopping. The store was probably closed on Sundays and not open in the evenings back then either. On the day I gave my notice, explaining to our obnoxious boss that I was going to be teaching at the University in the fall, I saw the change in the way he treated me and saw me. I will never get over being outraged that he would treat me differently than he was treating my new friend who would be there long after I left. I learned a lot that summer. A lot.

In the years following, I had four children, moved into our first home, became a housewife, an educated housewife, which is what you did in those days. I hired my own maid, joined the community groups, worked in my children’s schools and did the things I was supposed to be doing. Oh so many things were going to happen to me in the next years that I could never imagine then.

I had occasion to visit an abortion clinic in the mid-70s, a visit that forever changed my views. There, I observed a woman bringing her 14 year old granddaughter, a young black college couple, a woman who had three children and couldn’t afford more. These women were there for their own reasons, there at a legitimate clinic run by doctors, having to make decisions that they were obviously struggling with. I watched counselors going over their decisions with them in a kindly manner, not forcing anyone to do anything other than make sure. There was no joy in any of their faces. I had thought I was anti-abortion until that visit. I became pro-choice. It was none of my business to interfere with this difficult decision in these women’s lives.

When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I was elected the President of a group of young women working to support the symphony orchestra. It was the first big board of directors I would serve on and I was one of a few token women. The power brokers there were old, white men to this 29 year old young woman. I knew them as civic leaders who had made a huge difference in our city, but I also learned that they were nice but not exactly inclusive of the women in the room. The fact that I was pregnant made them a little uncomfortable. I don’t know if they thought I would have the baby during a meeting, but I learned from the experience. I learned from the strong, bright women who spoke out in the meetings and I learned to let my own voice be heard, even if I was pregnant and looked like a kid to them. I learned to represent the ideas of the people I was representing and stand up for them. It was a huge lesson for me and I thank those other women.

I served as a Deacon in our church during the next years and was in charge of helping people who called the church asking for assistance. I learned that there are people who call churches when they are desperate and that they sometimes take advantage of kind people. We didn’t give them money, but would buy them food or pay utilities for them. Once I took food to a woman and her children who were living in a motel where she was cleaning rooms to pay the fee. The children were clean and going to school and she just needed a helping hand. I remember that woman.

Later, I was chairman of a project to open a Women’s Resource Center, a place for displaced housewives (a new term in the 70s) to come for information on resources for getting an education, a job, a place to live, community help and whatever else they needed when they found themselves suddenly having to fend for themselves after a divorce or other life event. As we congratulated ourselves and met the press on opening day, a woman walked up the sidewalk, holding the article from the paper announcing our facility. She ignored the crowd, the press, and walked up to me. She needed help and was there to find it. I remember that woman. She taught me that we were doing the right thing and those women we had only imagined really were out there.

At that particular time in my life, my friends started facing challenges in their lives. Husbands started leaving them for other women, which rarely happened in my parents’ lives. Their friends may have had affairs, but they stayed together. Women couldn’t afford to leave their husbands because there was no place for them to go, so they tolerated a lot. A lot. Anyway, my friends, who were educated but had stayed home to raise the kids, now found themselves having to support themselves and their kids, even with child support and alimony. What they found was that the workplace didn’t automatically hire them in positions that reflected their education or their volunteer experience serving on boards in the community. They found themselves at the bottom of the ladder, having to work their way up. Not only did I have friends who found themselves in this position due to divorce, but some became widows unexpectedly. I learned from these friends that there has to be a way to raise a family and keep one foot in the work place door. This lesson is still being learned by the next generation. My hope is that the young women of today look at my friends who started late and worked their way up into positions of leadership in the workplace by pure hard work and determination. I learned so much from these women and it influenced my thoughts while raising my own three girls and my son. When I became a widow at 52, it was these women who were my inspiration while I faced those same challenges.

As an adult, I became friends with an African American woman who came to Tulsa as the director of an agency as I was serving on their board. Over twenty-five years ago, we sat at lunch while she told me of her fears of having a child. We are the same age and I had four children at the time, but she taught me the fear of a woman who did not know if she could have a child, especially a son, who would grow up in a world where he would face such discrimination because of the color of his skin. I never forgot our conversation, even as I watched her raise her outstanding son. I silently worried with her. She taught me.

I served many years on the board of the domestic violence agency in Tulsa, starting when it was relatively new and the women who fought for it ranged from Junior League members to prostitutes, all working together. The first shelter was in a neighborhood and the only security from abusive men who would come to the door was an umbrella stand with a baseball bat. I worked with those mothers and they taught me. Once, I was at a Halloween party given by volunteers for the families in the newer, more secure, shelter. I was taking pictures with a Polaroid camera, for privacy, for the mothers. I remember one mother who held up her one year old child who was in a full body cast. When I put the camera to my eye, I had to stop. The lens took me into her eyes too deeply and I had to compose myself and start over. Another mother asked me to take a picture so she could send it to the father. I had to bite my lip. She taught me about the cycle of violence as I tried to understand how she could want to do anything for the man who had caused them so much pain. Once, we took a group to the zoo and my oldest daughter and my son went with me as I picked up a woman and her child for the trip. We spent the day together with this woman who didn’t smile much and a few weeks later we passed the woman at a bus stop and my children recognized her. I remember all these women so well.

So many women pass through my memories. There is my 90 year old artist friend who I have known for over 40 years who taught me the life of an artist as I watched her paint while raising the last of her five children by three irresponsible husbands. She is so intelligent, so independent, and such an individual. There was my friend who died of cancer before her 40th birthday, the first time I watched someone go through the horrors of chemotherapy and mastectomy and fight so hard for her family. Watching her taught me so much when I went through the cancer battle later with my husband and son. And I now remember my life-long friend who lost her mother to cancer when she was 12. The funeral was the first one I ever attended and I remember watching her during the service to this day. And now there is my college friend who is now facing ALS with such bravery,  grace and humor. I treasure these women.

There are my friends who called me through the years to tell me that they were gay, hesitant as they waited for my response. I had the same response I had to the friends who told me their children are gay. I love you and it makes no difference. Maybe I learned that from my mother who had friends who lived out of state and explained to me that they were a couple. I don’t remember what term she used all those many years ago, but I remember that it was ok with her. I have had the same response to friends who were in interracial marriages or other relationships that weren’t like mine. I don’t care. I want those I love to be happy and loved and that’s all that there is to it. And, I don’t feel threatened by it in any way. Thank you for teaching me that I feel that way.

I thank my friend who is Native American for sharing her story of growing up with so much prejudice across town from the lily-white life I grew up in. I thank the woman in the wheel chair who came to my office with her loving daughter who was starting her own non-profit at the age of 15 to help get prom dresses for girls who couldn’t afford them. These women taught me grace and generosity.

So many women’s faces I have seen in my life. The UPS delivery lady who worked so hard at a formerly male job and who took the time to come to my husband’s funeral. The woman who had lost her husband and then was sitting in a flooded trailer in the country when I came to do damage assessment for the Red Cross. Her quiet despair as she barely noticed us walking through the destruction haunts me still.

I have a high school friend who moved to Alaska and found her life as a homesteader, wife of a trapper, mother in a remote area, and now an author of many books. Her life is seemingly so different from mine, yet so much the same. I visited her the year after my husband died and we drove around her area of Alaska, near Fairbanks. She took me to visit a friend, a Russian woman. This lady had been brought to America by her husband and they were looking for a life with their five children when her husband died, leaving her in a place where she spoke no English. She ended up in Alaska and had remarried, living with other Russians near my friend’s home (although everything is far apart in Alaska). The day we visited her, she had a new baby and was in bed. Also in the room were several older Russian women, sitting in a row of chairs, dressed in traditional Russian clothing, complete with babushkas. They spoke no English, so my friend tried to communicate for all of us. I took the baby and they silently watched me, understanding that I was a mother and grandmother and knew how to hold the child. We smiled and nodded and communicated silently in the universal language of women and babies. I found out later that they were from Chicago. I remember them all well.

So many women have made me who I am and I don’t even have to speak of the friends and family who have been mentors and companions and shared so many fun and rich memories. I love my three daughters, my daughter-in-law, and my two granddaughters who taught me how to be a mother and grandmother and continue to teach me every day.

We all have our stories and each is so very unique. I only know that who I am and how I understand the world and how I empathize with all people has been strongly shaped by the women who were my ancestors and those who I meet along the way. Men have had some influence, great influence, but the women have meant so much.

As we celebrate the first woman nominated to be President of the United States by a major party, I think back on my ancestors who couldn’t even vote and try to understand what that must have been like to live in a world where women were not treated as equals under the law. You don’t have to agree on politics to understand the importance of current events.

As we face the world today and tomorrow and the challenges each generation faces, I hope that the person I’ve become, the person I keep becoming, is passing along the best things about this world to those I love and those I meet. We are all in this same world and we need to understand each other and work together for every good thing there is in our lives, all our lives.IMG_8371

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading about my great-grandmother living in the late 1800s until she died in 1937, I suddenly stopped at the sentence, “Mom had her fussy spells and enjoyed them.” That is followed by, “Dad never seemed to mind.” I’ve read that paragraph so many times over the years and never stopped before. Her spells?

My visit to the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky, last week was successful as I was able to go through family papers in their collections. These now belong to the society, so, even as a family member, I went through the protocol as a researcher in order to leaf through files of old bills my great-grandfather saved from his days as the wharf master at Uniontown, Kentucky. He was also a grain dealer and the local Aetna insurance agent, the oldest in the company when he tried to retire. They didn’t let him! Anyway, I also went through a scrapbook of pasted clippings of family events beginning in 1908. On my great-grandmother’s 85th birthday, the Uniontown paper featured this article…DSC_0004 - Version 2Ella or Nellie Hamilton came to Kentucky from Louisiana (the clipping has that wrong, as she was born in Louisiana and moved to Hickman later) and moved to the town of Uniontown at the age of 19. I’m not sure what brought her there, but I know her father had died years earlier and her mother may have had relatives nearby. At the age of 21, she married my grandfather who was 34 at the time. I think it was fairly common for the men to marry younger women as I’ve seen this with others on my family tree. I’m assuming he was fairly settled by then. They were the first couple married at St. John Episcopal Church in Uniontown. I found a clipping that said he was confirmed as a member along with four of his sons years later and I know he served in leadership roles in the church after that.

My great-grandparents had 12 children. It’s no surprise that Uniontown grew quickly back then as my other great-grandparents in that town also had 12 children. The Hamiltons and Spaldings did our best to populate this little river town. Twelve children. The oldest Hamilton child died as a baby after an accident when a nurse let her fall. Two others also died young. This is the earliest picture I have of my great-grandmother, shown with her family.imageShe is holding her youngest baby while one of her daughters holds her youngest. This young mother would soon die and the son-in-law pictured behind the mother and baby would later marry one of the other girls who would raise the children. Hard to keep them all apart in my own family’s saga. My grandfather is the little boy in the grass in the middle, shown with one of the family dogs.

Here are some other pictures of her, both with my father, her grandson. The first was 1912…IMG_8886And this one must be about 1915…IMG_8887And here she is on her 50th wedding anniversary in 1922. IMG_8884What were those spells, those fussy spells? I mean, why would she have reason to act anything other than her sweet loving self with 8 children running around a huge house…IMG_3731…even though she had cooks and others to help with laundry and managing the gardens and the cleaning. I mean, really. Her mother also lived with them, so there was some help with the sewing and teaching the children manners and getting them to school. Life was easier in that she didn’t have to drive them to school since they could pretty much walk anyplace in town and everyone knew them so they were safe in that way.

Their life was easier than many others and yet there was still a lot to do. They traveled by buggy or wagon or riverboat to visit friends and relatives in nearby towns and cities. That can’t have been too easy, bouncing along those country roads for 30 miles or more. It was an idyllic life in a small Kentucky river town where they were a successful, respected family. My great-grandmother was active in women’s clubs, the Red Cross, and entertained her friends and family regularly. There were grand parties with guests from other towns at even larger homes in town and burgoos and picnics in the country. There were lots of things going on, it seems.

The Ohio River flooded once or twice a year where you had to take a raft to the store or the kids had to walk to school on stilts and then there was the awful flood in 1884 when the river raged up into their home. If you’ve ever cleaned up after a flood, you know what a nasty business that is with mud and water all through your home and belongings. They moved their furniture up a floor until the water went down, but, still…

After my great-grandfather died, Nellie stayed in the big house, inviting a family with five children to move in with her, rent free, to help them out. Her children, now grown and moved away, protested, but she was happy to share the space and the husband, a miner, helped with the yard. She insisted on staying in the house during the great flood of 1937 until the priest made her leave by the upper floor. She returned against everyone’s wishes to the damp house where she was surrounded by memories. She contracted pneumonia and died soon after.

I have so many questions about my family, more all the time it seems as I uncover new branches and stories. My visits to Kentucky have let me walk in their steps and envision their lives in another time.

This grandmother with her “fussy spells” makes me smile. I bet she had her spells when she needed a few minutes to herself, a few minutes of quiet to rest and recharge. I’m guess this because I can remember needing those times myself. Of course, her story was written by one of her daughters who never had children of her own and, at the age of 55, was looking back at her childhood. I wonder if she and her brothers and sisters snickered at Mom’s spells and stayed out of her way during those times. I’m picturing Mom in her room, quietly taking a nap or reading a book or looking out the window at all those kids at play. Enjoying her well deserved spell in a well lived life.