Archives for category: Family

September 1 is, or used to be, the opening of Dove season in Oklahoma, so I always think of the hunters I have known and loved with a twinge as the date approaches. Hunting goes way back in my family. My paternal grandfather grew up in Kentucky and I’ve heard stories of him as a boy going out with the dogs to bring back food for the family. They weren’t poor, but there were a lot of them to feed with the bounty they brought home.

My grandfather had three sons and a daughter and only the oldest, my father, hunted with him as far as I know. I just discovered some old home movies that show them in the fields hunting quail and pheasant. I can’t find any photos, except this one of one of the dogs, from probably back in the 40s. There’s a screen shot of my grandfather from the home movies. I remember his cute hat and watching the men leave and then come home to clean the birds for a fantastic dinner. The pheasant hunting wasn’t common, but they always hunted quail.

I’m not a gun lover in our present climate of assault weapons, but I grew up with all the rituals of hunting. Unfortunately, I never got to go out with the men because I was busy with children and my own activities, but would have if life had been different after the kids were older. My husband didn’t grow up around hunting, but he took to it immediately and he and my father were hunting buddies for years. My son because a hunter because he liked being with his father, not because he loved it. I remember him taking a gun safety class when he turned 12, back when gun organizations were more about safety and hunting rather than just guns as weapons.

The things I know about hunting and hunters are that there are so many things they love about it besides the actual hunting. First, there is just being outside, walking in the fields. They would go out in the weeks before hunting season to check out the fields, run the dogs, get ready for the new year. Whether it was hot or cold, there was always the draw of just being out there, away from their other responsibilities, enjoying the whole experience. They restored their souls.

Second, there were the dogs. We always had dogs. Watching the home movies, I had to smile at the dogs, hunting dogs. My father always taught them to shake hands, besides all the other things they had to know. Hunting dogs are lovable, faithful companions as well as working dogs. Because we lived in the city, our hunting dogs often went to kennels for the summer where they could run in the fields and keep up with their hunting skills rather than baking in the heat of the city. We always had a dog kennel and run in our yards, although the dogs were often inside with us, lounging by their owners. Training the dogs was part of the fun. They had to learn to fetch and bring the birds to their owners without damaging the birds. Pointing the birds was instinct, but they had to learn to back up the other dogs they were hunting with. Training a bird dog involved a lot of work, but it was necessary for them to do their job and be with other hunters and dogs. Here is a photo of my father with two of his dogs, Buddy (pointer) and Grandpa (English Setter). Grandpa had already been named when Daddy got him, named because he acted like an old Grandpa. He was a wonderful dog. Daddy would let him out to run in the neighborhood (this was a long time ago) and we loved calling for him. “Here Grandpa. Come here, Grandpa!” I guess the neighbors learned who we were calling.

My husband learned to train his own dogs and we had Pumpkin (English Setter), Guy (Pointer) and Tim (English Setter). After my husband died, I gave Tim (shown in photo visiting with our cat through the window) to one of my husband’s hunting buddies.

When it was time for Tim to leave, he turned to me and jumped up, putting his paws on my shoulders and looking at me, eye to eye, as if to tell me if was all ok. No wonder we loved these dogs. Here’s my husband hunting with Guy.

The next thing about hunting was the camaraderie with the other hunters. I loved hearing my father and my husband on the phone in the evenings with each other or friends, planning where they would meet for the hunt or the dog running. Usually the hunters left early to drive to the fields (often an hour from the city) for the first hunt of the day. Then there were the hunters’ breakfasts in the cafes in the small towns near where they hunted, where the places would be packed with hunters in for a huge meal before they went out again. My husband always looked pretty sharp and the people he hunted with used to tease him about how pressed his shirts were. He hunted with people from all walks of life and I used to laugh when he would lapse into a county twang sometimes after being with them. Here are some pictures from my grandfather and my husband’s hunts. Granddad’s is from a screenshot, but it’s the same vibe as hunts decades later.

While most people have fancier Thanksgiving days, it was always a hunting day for us. The men got up early to hunt and we ate after they came back later in the day. My cousin married a guy who was from a small town and owned land (always a bonus), so we started going to their house for the meal so the men could hunt there. It was a great time with all the cousins and the men (the ones who hunted) coming back in time for food and football.

Then there were the birds and the actual hunting. All the hunters I knew were great conservationists and worked with the game rangers to make sure the birds weren’t being over hunted so there was plenty for all. Many of the men my guys hunted with depended on hunting for meat for their families, so they didn’t want to deplete the fields. They all appreciated everything about the birds and their activities. Walking in a field with my husband always involved a stop to inspect the poop to see that everything was ok in the bird world. My grandfather and father hunted pheasant, as I said, but mostly quail. My husband hunted quail, once went prairie chicken hunting, tried duck hunting (didn’t like being cold and wet and sitting rather than walking), and discovered dove hunting. Dove hunting didn’t involve the dogs, but was great. He got a great recipe for cooking the meat on the grill and was happy to do so. I miss those meals!

The hunters in my life brought home the game, cleaned it and cooked it for the family. I used to cook the quail, but my husband liked to do it so I happily let him. Here are some pictures of my father (another screen shot from the 1940s) and some game from a hunt.

The changing of the season is always bittersweet for me. I’ve lost all my hunters and I miss all the things about their hunting that are such a part of my life. I love how happy they were as they prepared, cleaning their guns, laying out their gear the night before the early departures. I love how relaxed they were when they returned from a day outside, walking with friends or just the dogs, sharing their stories and their bounty with the family. Even a day without finding a bird was a good one. Just because.

Here are my son and husband after a dove hunt many years ago. The memories are still as clear as can be for me.

Happy Hunting out there!

The problem with thinking of life in chapters is that there has to be a last one. Who wants to think about that? I’ve just been pondering where I am, following the quiet years of COVID-19 where I was home more than I had been in decades. There were good things about it. I spent more time with my pets, listened to the birds, walked the neighborhood and everybody smiled and waved. Now we’re back to mostly normal, but it’s hard to comfortably move from pandemic life to whatever the new one is.

I’m 76 right now and, pre-COVID, I was going all the time. Now it seems to be moving more slowly and that’s not just due to my age. We’re easing into life at a time when I feel like I need to be hurrying so I don’t miss anything before, frankly, I just can’t do it anymore.

There have been so many chapters in my life so far, starting with childhood in the 40s and 50s. I was fortunate to have a very peaceful, comfortable life.

Then there was junior high and high school, where I changed and grew and learned and questioned.

And then there was college, where I was away for the first time and made new friends and learned more and even got married.

And then I was a wife and mother to four before I turned 30, finding a life for myself through volunteer work and family activities.

And life went on as the kids grew up and went to college and married and I went to work part-time, then full time and then owned my own business. And then the shock of becoming a widow at 52 and starting yet another chapter where I had to close my business and find work that gave me health benefits and supported me and all of that. During that time, I pushed myself into going places by myself or with friends to meet me. The first was Alaska with my high school friend who lived there. It was a big trip to take alone when I’d always had my husband to travel with.

By the time my husband died, we had the first three of our grandkids, who proved to be my next chapter and my salvation.

I could go on about each chapter, but they are all parts of a huge whole life. I had several careers that I had never dreamed of as a young wife with an English degree, but my life experiences and my ability to communicate served me well through the years and I made new friends, accomplished new goals and was amazed at what I had done when I finally retired.

My other love has been travel and I’ve been grateful for special friends who were available to travel with me as I traveled the American West, South, and back to France. I’ve taken my grandchildren on trips and explored my own state of Oklahoma and the states around us. I’m always ready to go visit somewhere.

So, what is this new chapter? I’ve lost friends who were near and dear to me in recent months and spent the last week or two at memorial services. I’m not good at funerals, but two of my favorite people lost their husbands after long illnesses and I needed to be there for them. I also lost a friend at the end of last year who was 95 and another who was 101 in the last few weeks. I also went to a memorial for a friend’s mother who was 101 – two services for 101 year olds in five days!

But those deaths and the lives of these women we were celebrating have inspired me. I have had many men I loved and adored in my life, but it’s the women who are speaking to me at this time of my life. I had strong grandmothers and a strong mother and their lives have taught me so much. These other women I adored who lived so long were as strong as anyone can be. And I look at their lives and try to find the secret of what made them the role models they are for me.

First, all of these women had to face hardships at various times in their lives, whether loss of spouse, loss of child, loss of husband’s job, loss of any support other than themselves. They all lived on and smiled and laughed and loved and didn’t just sit around feeling sorry for themselves. None of them ever considered themselves a victim. There was no drama – just life.

Second, I can remember all of their voices and their laughter so well. The memories make me smile. They all had terrific senses of humor and were able to laugh at life’s little kicks.

Third, they never quit going as long as they could. They were always curious and learning and keeping up with what was going on in the world. They never stopped growing intellectually or emotionally. Several traveled until they had infirmities that made it difficult. The 95 year old and the 101 year old read all the time. The 95 year old was still reading about a book a day until close to the end.

They all loved their families as much as anyone could. They died beloved by their offspring.

So, where do I go from here? I’ll keep traveling until I can’t, reading until I can’t see (and then there are audio books), learning several new things every day, fighting for the things I believe in and doing what I can to leave the world a better place because I’ve been here, even if my contribution is something small. I’ll keep enjoying my children and grandchildren and be here to share their lives with all the ups and downs that there will be. I’m not sad that they’re all growing older because I’m so privileged to be here to watch it all and put it in the perspective of our world and all the family members who have gone before.

So this next chapter is exciting to think about and invites new goals. Basically, I’m just going to keep on keeping on for as long as I’m supposed to. Lucky me.

In Summer 1977, I was a 31 year old mom with four children ages 9, 7, 4 and 1 1/2, three girls and a boy. I read about a movie that was getting big audiences. This was a time when I had to hear about it from a newspaper article because there was no entertainment news, internet, social media. Anyway, we went to see it and fell in love. A “Star Wars” family was born.

Before we got our first VCR, my friend got one and I had her record “Star Wars” when it came out on HBO, the only way you saw movies at home then. I also had her record “Emmit Otter’s Jugband Christmas,” but that’s another story. We soon got a VCR, which cost $1,000 and was a combo VCR/video camera. I can’t even begin to explain how all of that worked, but we were kind of ahead of everyone. The main thing was that the family was able to watch “Star Wars” over and over.

And then came the toys. Oh my. My youngest daughter tells me now that she asked for them and I told her she could play with her brother’s, but I don’t have that memory (selective on my part). Anyway, we had them all, I’m sure. My sister lived a block away and had two boys around the ages of my youngest kiddos, so we were always on the watch for the newest characters. There wasn’t the convenience of online shopping, so we just relied on word of mouth between moms or ads in the paper. However we knew, we knew. I would take the kids to school and drive to a neighboring town with the promise of finding some figure. We collected either the packaging of the characters of cereal boxtops to send off for exclusive figures. Whew.

At Christmas and on birthdays, my son got the toys. I was the one who raced to the stores to get them, then put them together and pasted all the little stickers in place, which included all the instrument boards in the space vehicles. They were tiny and you had to get them on in one try or they tore or went on crooked. There were a few of those.

From then on, I spent a lot of time picking up toys, trying to match tiny guns with the right character, keeping from breaking anything as I stepped through the floor of my son’s room. As my daughter says, these were toys that were played with. They took them outside in the leaves and dirt, built little Star Wars empires all over the yard and house. As each of the three original films was released, there were more things to find. I took it as a Mom Challenge – like it was part of my job description. My oldest daughter’s 12th birthday party was taking her friends to see whichever film came out that year. We were all into it.

We had no clue that all of this would become a huge deal, that those toys would be collectible. We didn’t keep them in their packages stored away with the first ones. As my son grew older, he did have some of the newer ones. The kids grew up and the toys were put away, but they were kept. My daughter-in-law remembers seeing the Millennium Falcon in a place of prominence when she was dating my son. She did stay with him, thank goodness.

Time went on, the kids grew up and married and had their own children, my son died of cancer at 35, and the toys were in bins in my garage. My eight grandchildren (6 boys and 2 girls) are huge fans of everything Star Wars. I remember when the first movies were re-released in the theaters for the first time and sitting with my oldest daughter and her husband while she was pregnant with her oldest son. I’m sure our excitement was absorbed into the womb.

Parents and kids watch every new variation, as do I. I’m not into all of the offshoots, but I’ve certainly been a fan of The Mandalorian, Boba Fett, and Obi Wan Kenobi.

This summer, my son’s 12 1/2 year old daughter and I were at an antique show in a small town. I asked her if she saw anything and she said she found some Darth Vader things she liked. I looked at them and told her we weren’t going to buy them because we had them at home. A couple of days later, she and I pulled some tubs out of the garage to open for the first time in however long. I spread all of the things on my dining room table and invited the family to come see.

My granddaughter’s favorite was the Darth Vader carrying case with original figures (although their guns are spread around)

My own favorite has always been the Stormtrooper transport that had different sounds. One was a stormtrooper saying, “There’s one! Set for stun!” Another one was R2D2 sounds.

Some of the original pieces, minus a few parts, are the Millennium Falcon and the Jawa transport that moved.

We found various critters and vehicles

There was most of Jabba the Hutt’s scene

I put all the loose characters, accessories and weapons in bowls. The kids knew who a lot of them were and my daughter could even match a few of the weapons.

You have to understand that my grandkids, besides the 12 1/2 year old, range from 20-25 and it was fun to see them and their parents having fun seeing the original toys from the 1970s. After a week or so, I had to pack them back up, trying to keep the parts together as I could. There is another tub from years later that has dozens of characters still in their packaging. We didn’t get into those.

I told my granddaughter I would keep the Darth Vader case and figures out so she could visit them and I personally kept the Stormtrooper transport for myself. One of my grandsons thinks he can help me get the sounds working again. We’ll try because I would love to hear it again.

I’m 76 now and looking back over 45 years of being a Star Wars Mom, as well as a fan. Here’s to the generations of moms (and dads) who have lived in this wondrous world with their families. It’s a fun place to go.

There’s a difference in hoarding and collecting. Hoarding, in my mind, is keeping things because you might use them some day. I do way too much of this and try to thin out the stuff every year. It’s a remnant of having parents and grandparents who lived through the Depression. Or not wanting to waste things. Or keeping them for someone else. I’ll move on to Spring Cleaning soon. I promise.

Collecting is almost a blood sport. It’s in my blood because I had a father who collected stamps and cigar rings as a child and coins as an adult. His sweet mother would lean down to pick up the cigar rings from gutters for him. We rolled our eyes at his coin collecting as he bought bags of coins from people in remote towns to bring home and clean, looking for the rare penny or nickel or silver dollar. He hid them in our air conditioning vents and my mother threatened to spend them all. She wouldn’t have, but it was funny to watch him dig through them and she enjoyed the drives to meet people he heard about who would sell him coins in the days before the internet.

My mother didn’t collect until later when she started going to auctions and antique sales. I spent a lot of time going with her and learned to bid watching her go head to head with dealers to get a piece she wanted. She loved being the winner of a bid and loved even more meeting all the people who were selling items and learning about the story of the pieces. She told me that a collection is at least three pieces and she would sometimes get three of something and say that was her collection and wait to find something else. Her competitiveness was another story.

When I was a young married lady, I read that you should group your collection and did that with some things and found I had several collections or larger ones than I thought. Santas were the biggest one. I had Santas from my childhood and had always loved them. Once I grouped them for the holidays, it all exploded. Since my birthday and anniversary were also in December and I worked on several Christmas projects with craftsmen and artists, I started getting more. As I told someone, if you get ten a year and you’re in your 70s, you have a whole lot of them. I picked them up when I traveled, when I was in antique shops or at sales, and received them as gifts from family and friends. That’s what happens once people know you collect something.

Here are a very few of the ones I have. My collection includes silly ones, antique ones, artist originals, cheap and expensive ones. Whatever catches my eye. I’ve found them (or figures that look like Santa) in a flea market in Vienna and a shop in Hong Kong. The tall skinny one in my kitchen window is the one I’ve had the longest since he was there when I was a child. The Lego ones are from Denmark before they had them here and the wooden ornaments are from Hawaii. Some are from dime stores, some from fancy places. I have them all over the place, big & little. There’s no room in this story to show them all.

The thing about anything I have is that it comes with either a story or a memory. I think that is what I like most about collecting and collectors. I’m not much of a minimalist, not in any way. I like to see what people are about, what they like.

My mother loved talking to people and I’m sure most of her collections came from meeting an antique shop owner or someone who told her the story of a piece and she had to have it. We both loved buying art from artists we met on the street when we traveled or from supporting artists we became friends with. She and my father purchased several bronze statues of cowboys from a man they met and corresponded with for years. They liked knowing him and his story and supporting his work.

She also collecting things like miniature antique leather books, preferring ones with topics or stories that interested her, although she had some lovely ones in foreign languages. We both loved anything miniature and she had a fun doll house that she loved to furnish with things she made or found. She started collecting magnifying glasses, many with handles from antique umbrellas. I have part of her collection, which I have added to. I’ve found that I actually use them these days, so they’re kind of scattered around the house.

I recently found a couple of small ones to go with this one of hers with the tassel. You can also see some antique inkwells. Three of them were her collection and others are mine, one found in London and another found at an estate sale.

One of the first times I traveled to Europe, way back in the early 70s, I saw people collecting pins which they wore on Alpine hats. I didn’t want the hat, but I started collecting the pins and included some antique ones I found there. I still collect them, but have they are harder to find and so I have a magnets. It may be silly, but I get a nice feeling when I remember interesting places I have been. I must not have much of a memory because I depend on photos and things I pick up to trigger mine.

Sometimes we start collecting because we are just interested in something. This map of Oklahoma hung in my father’s office from the time I was little. I think he got it when we moved to Tulsa in 1948. He used it to map places for his salesmen to go and to find spots for his quail hunting trips. It’s yellowed from the smoke that was in the rooms back in the days of smokers. I claimed it years ago and it led to a collection of books and things about Oklahoma. I had to move some of them for space recently.

Once I was at an antique auction with a friend and there were a bunch of small English wooden boxes. We learned the word “treen” and became interested so we bid on some. I’ve only added a couple, but do love wooden or treen boxes. Note that one was chewed on by a puppy sometime through the years.

For a few years in the 80s, I worked on and chaired an antique show for a non-profit and we brought antique dealers from across the country. I listened to their lectures and stories and loved so many things that I couldn’t afford. I got interested in the little wax seals that people used to use to seal their letters and thought that was something I could look for that was affordable and a way to support the dealers. I don’t look for them as often these days, but I do see an interesting one every now and then. I love to picture people writing with their pens dipped in ink and then sealing the letters with a dab of wax and their monogram. The reddish Asian one is from Hong Kong. Supposedly, it was a Chinese version of my name, but I doubt that Karen translated very well. There’s a small one with a stag being attacked by a dog on top that was supposed to be a prop in a movie, although I always thought that was a stretch and probably just a good story from an antique dealer to sell it. It’s still interesting and antique.

Hearts are one of those things I just suddenly had a bunch of. I had picked them up in art galleries and antique stores and sales and gift shops and been given them. There is one from Tiffany that was a gift and some wooden ones made from driftwood on the beaches in Oregon. There are glass ones from the volcanic ash in Washington and artist ones from museum gift shops and I see a clay one from an artist in Sedona and another glass one from a young artist in Oregon. I had grouped my heart frames and then the hearts started piling up. Good grief. They are kind of fun though and make me smile. I have more hanging artist ones and others just kind of around. Whatever. I have a friend who collects hearts because her last name is Love and another who collects them because her birthday is on Valentine’s Day. We all have our reasons.

There are some strawberry things around my house because the name Fraser comes from the French word for strawberry, fraise, and there are strawberries in the Fraser clan badge. Not too many, just a few I’ve found.

The thing about collections is that you start to see the things you like everywhere. It gives you something to look for when you are traveling or shopping. I’ve also found that many collections lead to doing research on the item and learning more about its history, along with meeting some of the most interesting people.

I called collecting a sport and it can be. Going to auctions or estate sales or combing through flea markets and antique shops can be competitive. Sometimes you are just looking at everything, but mostly your eye stops on either something that you like or have been looking for. You see something and want to know more about it. Many collectors become experts on their collections. I have a friend who started collecting vintage hats and clothing and recently donated her collection to the Tulsa Historical Society where she has her own exhibit.

I love standing in line to get into an estate sale and seeing what everyone else is looking for. I feel like I need to race to the things I want, but most people are collecting things I would never have thought about. They have become interested in things and are building their collection. I’ve met people looking for vintage toys, pyrex ware, old cameras, certain kinds of glass. Tom Hanks collects vintage typewriters. There is a competitiveness in being the one who finds the rare item you are missing, just as my father looked for certain stamps or coins. I don’t know if there is such a thing as having a complete collection of anything, but people keep trying. People like having a piece of history, many considering themselves keepers of something that may have been thrown away but needs to been kept for future generations. I do lament the things that we tossed and would like to see again from my lifetime, even knowing that we can’t keep everything. Some of collecting is nostalgia, a way to keep memories of our own lives. Rarely do I think people are collecting because they plan to sell the items and make money, unless they are dealers.

There are people who collect sneakers these days just as there are people who collect cookbooks and first edition rare books, vintage albums, sports equipment. There are people who collect art, including photographs, paintings, sculptures. I have a friend who collects etchings and has a museum quality collection, which is lovely. She is an expert on her pieces now and knows what to search for. Another friend collects tea strainers. I have a daughter who collects Toby jugs and another who is interested in mid-century modern furniture. A son-in-law collects bourbons. There is a surge of young people (younger than I am, which includes most people), interested in antiques. One of my Native American friends collects items from her culture and an African American friend collects the kitchy kind of figures, such as Mammy dolls, sold in earlier days. They are preserving their own histories.

There is no one reason or thing to collect. I can attest to the fact that it makes you learn, leads you to meet new and interesting people, takes you to fun places and can make you smile. What happens to our collections when we are gone is that they either are interesting enough to be in a museum or display or they are passed along or they go to sales for the next generation of collectors to add to their collections and enjoy.

My son was a collector from a young age. He started with his Star Wars toys and teddy bears but moved to beer cans. I would take him to the flea market and watch that nine year old bargain with dealers over a can he spotted. He was always an expert on pop culture. He moved on to lunch boxes and had quite a collection in his lifetime. His wife still keeps them and I have one of them to remind me of that little kid who inherited the family obsession.

As I said, the things I collect usually come with a memory. Sometimes they are just things I enjoy looking at or learning about, but they almost always have a memory attached of how I got them or who gave them to me or where I was or who I was with or what they mean.

And all those memories are good.

My parents taught me at an early age to value the work of artists. My father tended towards carved wood or figures while my mother was more eclectic. When I traveled with them, I learned that we could bring art back easily since paintings could be rolled or laid flat in our bags. Since I seem to have never been able to develop any ability to create anything with paint, I also learned to appreciate those who could.

Throughout my adult life, I have met many artists through various projects who became friends. Nobody has had an impact on me like my friend, Nylajo Harvey, who recently passed away at the age of 95. When I was a young mother with three daughters, I became aware of her work and wanted to own a painting. I decided I might as well have her paint my daughters since it cost about the same as buying another piece. This was a giant splurge for me, but I knew it would be worth it.

When I met Nylajo in 1975, I was 29 and she was 48. I was happily married with daughters aged 6, 4 and 2. She had been married and divorced three times and had two daughters with one of her husbands and two sons and a daughter with another. Her younger daughter and son were in elementary school. At the time, she had a glassed room at the front of her house that was her studio. The house was over 100 years old and was located across from a popular park near my home. I herded my little ones in to pose for the first time and was amazed that she could set them up and capture their personalities in a short time. After that, I would bring them one at a time. I don’t remember having many sittings with all of them – thank goodness.

I found myself stopping by to see her when I would take the girls to school or had a sitter. Of course, I was checking on the painting, but we were becoming closer friends all the time. We would talk while she painted, even with other people stopping by to see her and visit also. She was smart and interesting and we were just instant friends. She must have had us over for dinner, because she and my husband became friends also. For Mother’s Day that year, he brought home a little painting he knew I loved at her house.

Having seen her art before I met her, I was aware that she had earlier periods where most of her work was in pastels, then in blues. When I met her, we shared a love of bright colors, which she incorporated into the portrait of the girls.

She had instantly caught my middle daughter’s impatience with this whole process, my youngest daughter’s sweet baby self and my oldest daughter’s oldest child taking it seriously attitude. It was a delight. Just before she was finished, we learned that I was pregnant again. She laughed at my husband showing up to tell her to stop the painting until we knew what to do. Our solution was to wait for the baby to be born, guessing it to be another girl, and then paint the infant into my oldest daughter’s lap. There wasn’t a way to tell very much about a baby until it was born in 1975, so we waited until November.

Amazingly, our fourth child was a boy and Nylajo said she would wait and paint him when he was older, little knowing what a trip that would be. She often told me that she liked me and my children, telling stories of hiding in the closet when some other families showed up. We all liked her, too.

By the time my son was three, he had already locked into wearing a cowboy hat every day, one that looked like the hat Hoss Cartwright wore on the “Bonanza” tv show at the time. I had bought it at Neiman Marcus because it was so cute, little knowing that it would become a worn out, dirty family icon. Nylajo wanted to paint him in the hat and asked that we bring his Wonder Horse to the studio to paint him on. Those sessions had to be among her craziest sittings as he would rock the horse wildly, sometimes sitting backwards. He was not the ideal kid to sit still for a portrait. But, she succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and captured my little one’s personality perfectly.

At some point, I had taken a couple of photography classes at Philbrook Museum and showed Jo some pictures I took of my kids. She did paintings from two of them, one of my son (again in the cowboy hat) and one of my youngest daughter. She gave those to me and I later gave them to those two.

My mother was about 10 years older than Jo and they also became close friends. When my mother found out that Jo owed about $5,000 on her house, she paid it off so that she would own the house outright. Money was always tight for our artist friend and my mother said that the only reason her widowed mother and my mother and her two brothers had any dignity during the Depression was because they owned their home and would be able to stay there even when they couldn’t pay the gas bill. I doubt my mother wanted to be repaid, but Jo gave her several large paintings in thanks. She would also give her little gifts, such as this small piece painting on a lid or something she found.

I think Jo was the one who first told me that it was a good exercise for an artist to paint large and small. I have this small painting, probably 2″x3″, that I love for the tiny details that let me know what is happening in this moment.

I have many of her paintings. I loved her images of children and have a couple of children’s parades. I also loved her portraits of women, flowers, so many. She had many themes.

Through the years, I was busy with children and volunteer activities and work, but managed to see Jo when I could, always trying to stop by her birthday parties in July or her annual show in December. She knew everyone in town, from artists to her wealthier patrons, and knew what was going on with everyone. It was always a lively party where I met interesting people through the years. Her dinner parties were special as she put together congenial, interesting groups, to enjoy her home cooked meals at beautifully set tables. She told me she also considered cooking an art as she made pots of soup to freeze, often sending some to my mother in her later years.

Nylajo was one of the most unique women I was ever fortunate to know. When my grandson needed to interview someone who had been alive before World War II for a high school project, I took him to meet her. She was 90 at the time. Listening to her answer his questions, I learned even more than I had known about her before.

Nylajo was born in 1926 to a banker father and a mother who was a teacher. She had one brother and three sisters and were a close family. Contrary to popular belief, she was not Native American. I recently looked up something to write this piece and found one of her paintings for sale online, and it was described as by this known Native American artist, which made me laugh. I always loved her name, but it is not Native American.

Jo always wanted to be an artist. As a child, she was told that she could draw better than she could write, and she took that to heart. She attended high school in Springfield, MO, and grew up loving sports, being a runner, a softball player and even playing football until her mother found out. She loved trout fishing with her father. Her first job was tinting photographs in a department store.

She won an engineering scholarship to Purdue, so she went there first. The men were all away at the war and women were being recruited. She learned that wasn’t for her, so she got a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute and studied to be an artist. During that time, she dated the son of Thomas Hart Benton and told me of meeting him in his home.

Another story she told me was of working for an architect and meeting Frank Lloyd Wright. I later purchased a painting she did entitled, “The Night I Met Mr. Wright.” Jo was known for her thick red hair which she wore in a long braid down her back for many years. In this painting, she was young, with her red hair flowing. She described him to my grandson as being really short and wearing a black cape, really interesting.

She got married for the first time in 1948 and became a mother that year at age 22. She never had much to say about any of her husbands to me as they were all long gone when I met her. She was so independent that I can’t even imagine her with anyone.

Talking to my grandson, she told him that she learned the basics from her teacher mother: honesty, kindness and truthfulness. She also fully learned the English language. She was reading a book a day well into her 90s and spoke to me about the books she was reading the week before she died. She could talk about anything with anyone. She got her first tv when she was 62 years old.

She told us that her most important decades were the 1940s-1960s when she was raising her children and found who she was. She was a strong, loving mother. She loved to be with people and often spent time in a neighborhood bar, where one of her paintings was displayed, probably given to pay her bar bill. She was a drinker and the first person I know who was 86ed from a place, the neighborhood bar, of course. Her parties were lively and she had her drinking buddies. She partied with Leon Russell and probably other artists of the area. I don’t think she considered herself one of the boys – she didn’t need to. She was very much herself always. I don’t remember her swearing or being obnoxious, although I’m sure she could. She was extremely well mannered and a tribute to the values her parents taught her. She was honest and outspoken and funny and smart.

She never felt like she was discriminated against as a woman, probably because of her self confidence, and she didn’t discriminate against anyone. She did not suffer fools and alienated many people through the years, although many worked their way back to her. She did not change who she was – ever. She could be difficult, probably with the drinking, but she had a large group of devoted friends who showed up to help her set up her shows (she was always painting until the last minute) or to take her to the store after she quit driving or to be there for her. I was not her best friend, just a long time friend, one of so many.

Jo adored her children, speaking of each of them as if they were the most interesting people she knew. They were some of her favorite subjects in paintings through the years. She enjoyed them and was able to travel with her youngest late in life. I have no idea what kind of a mother they think she was, but they loved her.

She enjoyed her children as adults. Maybe too much. After two of her daughters had died of alcoholism, she quit drinking. Having lost a child, I understand what a blow losing them was to her.

Since I didn’t see her all the time, I never knew what had been going on in her life when I stopped by. One time she was recovering from cancer, having refused the treatment. She lived at least another 20 years. Another time, she had fallen off a ladder while doing something on her roof (two story house) and had many broken bones. Her invitations to her annual show were often photos of her doing something fun and adventurous, such as riding a motorcycle. Here she is on a boat named after her.

Through the years, her lush red hair turned gray and her braid got thinner. Here she is visiting after my mother died.

Jo was a tiny woman with a big voice and terrific laugh. She was a fabulous hostess and I loved being in her kitchen, shown here a few years ago. I’m only about 5’4″ these days, so she was tinier than her oversized personality indicated.

When I took my grandson to meet her, I was struck with how great a listener she was – not just because she couldn’t hear as well at 90, but because she always had been.

From our earliest years as friends, I had always known she would be there, always curious and always compassionate. She was my confidante through the years, listening to all the ups and downs my own life took, never being judgmental, just being there. She could comfort you by being so wise and so loving, just as my mother was. They truly were kindred souls. When I lost my husband and, later, my son, she grieved with me.

A couple of years ago, I stopped by to see her and found her uncharacteristically sad. Her brother had died unexpectedly. They had spoken every week for an hour or more and he had just been chopping wood when she last heard from him. He was in his 90s and still going strong until he was gone. She suddenly felt a huge void. For the first time, she didn’t feel like painting.

When the wonderful new park, Gathering Place, opened in Tulsa, I persuaded her to visit it with me. I drove her up to the door since she couldn’t walk as far anymore. I took her outside to see the wonderful seating areas.

I wanted her to see the beautiful architecture and designs in the Lodge, so we went inside where I caught this image of her against the wall. She was having so much fun and delighting in this new place.

I drove her around to the Boathouse and took her inside the fascinating exhibit room there. She was her usual self, taking it all in and happy to be there. We didn’t stay long as I didn’t want to wear her out.

A few weeks later, she told me she was doing a retrospective show. They called it “Nylajo’s Last Picture Show.” She had been buying up her old paintings from estate sales, so had many to re-sell along with new ones. I was shocked at first and then realized that she was outliving her old patrons. When I stopped by, she was in her usual place at her easel. I took several pictures (why had I not taken more through the years?) and one was used on the invitation to the show. I just wanted to always remember her as she was when I had first met her – painting.

The show was great fun with many local artists coming to see her. She had influenced so many through the years, more than I will ever know. My son’s daughter was about 10 and threw her arms around her, to Jo’s delight. Her eyes twinkled as she remembered my son with me.

When the pandemic hit right after this show, she was locked at home with her books and cooking. I sent her a card, a cutout of Picasso. She called me, delighted, and said she had him standing where she could see him all the time. She never failed to tell me that from then on. As time went on, I stopped by when it was safe and found her as sharp as ever, interested in me and life around her.

I went by right before Christmas to leave her some bourbon pralines and could see her curled up, sound asleep on her couch. I didn’t want to disturb her, so I left the treats. She called me later to tell me they were her favorites and to say she had not been able to sleep all night and had fallen asleep, which was something that often happened. She told me about new books and I told her I’d be back by. I was going to go last Thursday, but heard late the night before that she was gone. I hoped it had been easy since I had just talked to her, but found that she had multiple organ failure and great pain and fought it all the way. Of course she did.

Grieving for someone who lived 95 incredible years is a little selfish. I am really sad because I will miss her so much. It’s not that I saw her all the time, but that I knew she was there. She made a huge impact on my life with her strong personality, her great affection for me and my family, and the wise and witty conversations we shared for all those years. For all who appreciated her work or were lucky enough to share a little of her world, there is a gap to be filled by viewing her lifetime of work or just remembering her for who she was. When those who knew her gather, there will be new stories to share. Nobody knew all of them.

She was one of those people who only needed one name to tell you everything about her.

Nylajo

Tracking your family history is an amazing journey down so many trails leading to more names and places and mysteries that make us realize how our personal stories are intertwined with so many others as we strive to see how our present day lives evolved from the layers of our country’s development. A casual question to my mother in her later years opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even envisioned as part of my own story. I think I asked her what her father and grandfather did for a living in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Fortunately, it was so fascinating that I made her tell the story again and made a recording of her telling me all the details.

To begin the story, I have learned that my great-grandfather, E. Z. West (Ephraim Zachariah) and his wife, Hattie, moved north from around Grapevine, Texas. Hattie was born in Alabama and somehow ended up in Texas. I’m surmising that her family kept moving west in search of a better life along with countless others. She and E.Z. had three sons, the youngest dying at age 8 and buried in Grapevine. They moved with the other two sons, Ben (my grandfather) and John to the area around Ardmore. They were probably part of the “Intruder” movement of white and black non-citizens who moved onto land owned by the Chickasaw Nation and eventually quit paying the Chickasaw natives for the use of the land. I’m not sure what year they arrived, but thousands of people were coming to the area to take advantage of all the opportunities. I don’t get the impression the Wests had a lot of money and I see them in their covered wagon looking for a place to settle in this newly developing area.

I know there was a house in the country owned by the West family because I think my mother and her brothers were probably born there. At some point, they began to purchase property in the new town of Ardmore, where E.Z. built a house with a wagon yard next door. This is the part that was new to me. I knew the house because I had been in it many times as a small child when my aunt and uncle lived there. I had no idea what the wagon yard was. I asked my mother when she mentioned it, thinking it was a place where wagons were built or repaired. She explained that a wagon yard was a place where people who came into town stayed and parked their wagons, kind of an old time motel. She picked up a scrap of paper and drew me a picture of the wagon yard as she remembered it.

She was in her 80s at this time and remembered details, even though she only remembered being in it once or twice as a child. Since she was born in 1921, it was not too long before the wagon yard was leased to be a lumber yard. She showed me on the drawing where there was a store for the people to buy supplies and how there were little rooms with a fireplace for them to stay. At the same time, she drew a picture of the house, remembering what every tree in the yard was and where every piece of furniture was, what my great-grandmother wore and what she ate. I couldn’t believe I had never heard this story before, but that’s my fault for not asking sooner.

Here is a map I found later, showing the wagon yard, much as she had described it.

I looked up wagon yards and found they were probably the biggest business in town. Between 1893 and 1925, there were 39 wagon yards in Ardmore, Oklahoma, which was a major importer of cotton at the time and farmers were bringing their crops to town. Rooms in hotels were $1 a night, while wagon yards only charged about 15 cents, so they were crowded and popular. Photos of the times show the main street absolutely blocked with lines of wagons going down the street.

Here is a photo of E. Z. and Hattie with their son John from when they were in Grapevine. John died at the age of 19 and is buried in Ardmore’s Rose Cemetery along with his parents.

This mystery has taken me years to uncover – not that I was spending that much time on it. I would get interested again and the beauty of the internet would unlock another piece of the story. I kept finding out more along the way, even traveling to Ardmore to see if I could find more information in a casual way, unlocking dates on Ancestry.com, etc.

I know my great-grandparents began to purchase more property around town. My grandfather, Ben, died at 50, leaving my grandmother with three children during the Depression. My mother spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who was a widow by this time since E.Z. died in 1920. Here is a picture of my mother and her brothers with Hattie, probably around the time Ben died.

I know that Hattie left each of the grandchildren a house of their own, along with other property in town. Here I am as a child in front of the house that my great-grandparents and later my aunt and uncle lived in, across the street from Ardmore’s Central Park. Since I was born in 1945, you can see that the house was there for a long time. Today, there is a performing arts center on the property along with a law office.

My fascination with wagon yards continued and I recently found photos of a couple of examples in other towns.

But, wow! I hit the jackpot recently when I opened a book on Ardmore history and found a photo of what I had been looking for all these years, my family’s wagon yard, the largest in town. This photo was taken after E.Z. died and my great-grandmother was leasing it, but there it is. Many have referred to it as the West End Wagon Yard, but the name came from my family, the Wests.

I know this is the one because that is the address where my mother described it and where I remember playing as a child. It’s such a thrill to uncover some real family history when rummaging around so many images and so much information on the internet.

Here is an aerial map of the place today, matching everything my mother told me and I remember.

I’m proud of the pioneering spirit of my family in Ardmore and happy to bring a story to life for my own children and grandchildren. It puts a lot into perspective for me as I keep searching for stories that explain why my family is what it is. It helps me understand personalities in the family as well as what our roles in the country’s history were.

An interesting side note is that at the same time the wagon yard era was coming to a close, my paternal grandfather in Kentucky had graduated as an engineer and was becoming involved in the automotive industry, specifically the aftermarket with parts, which took him to Ohio, then Wichita, Kansas, and eventually to Oklahoma. It seems my family followed the evolution of transportation in one way or another from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

It all makes me feel a part of the story of America as I connect with my ancestors’ stories and begin to feel I know them better. There is so much to learn about the people who are the reason I came to be where and who I am before I am the ancestor story myself.

The Ken Burns series, Muhammed Ali, reminds me of a family story about my cousin and Ali. I had heard this story through the years and had seen photos, but it really came home to me when I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky several years ago to look at some family papers kept in the Filson Historical Society.

Driving through the streets of Louisville, I began to picture my family traveling there by carriage from Uniontown on the Ohio River to visit family and friends. I loved the elegant old houses that are being restored and the buildings that were standing as they arrived in downtown. While walking around the downtown, I found a statue of Mother Catherine Spalding, known as the first social worker in the area. My grandmother was a Spalding and easily could be related to Mother Catherine, which made me very proud to think about.

My grandmother was raised Catholic but converted to the Episcopal Church when she married my grandfather. We had many Catholic relatives on her side, including many priests and nuns, who we only saw occasionally. The one we did know was my grandmother’s niece, Susie Huff, who became Sister James Ellen as a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Louisville, the order founded by Mother Catherine Spalding. Susie was my first cousin, once removed.

Sister James Ellen (I understand she was sometimes called Sister Jimmy Ellen) was known to be a lively woman. She corresponded with my brother for years and I found many letters between them in his papers when he died a few years ago. She was very special to him as evidenced by the personal nature of the letters.

We had heard the story of Sister James Ellen’s friendship with Muhammed Ali, who is such a great figure in this city. I happened to be in Louisville in July, 2016, a month after Ali had passed away. I visited the Muhammed Ali Center, where his fans were still celebrating his life.

I left very touched by the greatness of his life and the effect of his words on the people who were there with me. I purchased a copy of his memoir in the gift shop, where I found that he had mentioned my cousin.

Sister James Ellen first met the young Cassius Clay when he was boxing in the gym across the street from the library at Spalding College where she worked. Here are his words.

I found a story in the newsletter of the Sisters after the death of Sister James Ellen in 2001.

“As a teenager attending Central High School, Ali, and James Ellen Huff, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, developed a close friendship. Sister James Ellen ran the library at Nazareth College (now Spalding University) across the street from the gym where Ali spent his days boxing. Sister James Ellen hired Ali, who at that time used his birth name of Cassius Clay, to work in the library so he could earn a little money. She said she liked his “zest.” She was known to often give Ali encouragement, frequently share laughs, and even return from dinner with snacks for him before he went to train. Once she found him asleep on a long library table! After the world came to know him, she put a sign over the table that read, “Cassius Slept Here”

Ali and Sister James Ellen are described as kindred souls and when Ali won the gold medal in the Olympics, she was one of the first people to whom he showed his medal. The two would remain lifelong friends exchanging letters, and phone calls, until Sisters’ death in February 2001.”

When Ali arrived to show his Olympic gold medal, Sister James Ellen (shown here in the front) sent word to the other sisters to come see their young friend. The absolute delight is shown in all their faces. The photos and story were featured in a story in The Washington Post at the time.

Muhammed Ali and Sister James Ellen remained dear friends until her death and I found these sweet photos of the two of them.

Ali and his wife sent a large bouquet of white roses to Sister James Ellen’s service when she died.

I searched for the site of this friendship and found Spalding University and the library where there is now a Huff Gallery, named for Sister James Ellen. The University has now purchased the building where Ali trained and also has several Muhammed Ali scholarships.

This special story makes my heart happy knowing that these two people from very different worlds formed a lifelong friendship as each had a lasting impact on the world. I love that I can claim even a touch of connection to these two incredible souls.

Lazy summer days are meant for meandering thoughts. Mine came while squinting into the sun, looking for signs of my youngest granddaughter in the vast swimming pool. She’s almost 11, but I automatically check to see where she is. She’s past the age where she delighted in playing with me and is content to be by herself or interacting with other kids, even though it’s 2020 and we’re trying to socially distance even in the water. That leaves me free to remember the years that explode in my mind as I listen to the sounds of happy people in the pool, cooling off on a hot summer day.

I go back over 70 years with this particular pool. Well, it wasn’t this exact pool, but it was this place. We moved to Tulsa when I was about 2 1/2 and my parents immediately joined Tulsa Country Club, the oldest country club in town, having opened in 1908. Daddy was a champion golfer and needed a place to play. He had come back from World War II and married at the age of 32 and rejoined the family business, moving to Tulsa to open a new branch in 1948. At what age they started bringing me to the pool, I have no idea, but we were certainly around the club in one way or another.

My first memories of the pool are of taking swimming lessons. The old pool, opened in 1935, was by the old clubhouse and this was back in the 1950s, my olden days. The pool was a large rectangle with a shallow end and a deep end that had both a low and high diving board. There were dressing rooms at the end of the pool and a grassy area to one side and an area with tables and chairs on the other end. Our swimming lessons were taught by Coach Charvoz, a coach at Central High School, who also managed the pool in the summers. I remember him so well, standing in the pool with a floppy hat to shield him from the sun, demonstrating the different strokes for us. He would stand in front of us and have us swim towards him, stepping back the closer we got until we could make it all the way across the pool. He was an excellent teacher as I can still remember everything he taught me about swimming the backstroke, sidestroke, breaststroke and crawl. I’m still pretty good, although the pool today isn’t as conducive to swimming laps as it was then.

My favorite thing to do for many years was to try and swim the length of the pool in one breath. I don’t know how long the pool was, but I could do it. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the boards, although I could dive off the small one. I’m sure my lifelong fear of heights comes from climbing up the ladder onto the high board and jumping off. It wasn’t a thrill for me – more likely something I did to show I could. Once or twice.

There were so many games we played in the pool, from racing to diving for objects to Marco Polo (why won’t that game go away?). The lifeguards constantly told us not to run around the pool, but we were kids and the pavement was scorching our feet. So many rules back then that have gone away. We were living in the age of polio, so we were constantly reminded to be careful of water. We couldn’t get in the pool for an hour after eating for fear of getting stomach cramps and drowning. This was proven not to be true, but we spent many an hour waiting impatiently for the pool clock to tick to our hour when we could jump back in. We also had to shower before we entered the pool. I still think this is a rule, although few follow it.

Another rule was that the girls had to wear swim caps. This was to keep the hair out of the pool filters, but it was pretty annoying. The guys kept their hair cut in buzz cuts for the summer so they didn’t have to worry. I kept my hair short, but still had to wear that cap. It was no fun squeezing your hair into that piece of rubber, although I guess it did keep it dry. The chin strap was just as irritating as the cap. I still cringe when I think of having to wear those darned things. By the time I was a teenager, it was even more annoying as we were striving to be bathing beauties as we laid in the sun, trying to attract the attention of whatever boys were around.

The sunbathing area was a large patch of lovely grass between the pool area and the clubhouse. To get refreshments, you went to the clubhouse, where there were steps to a window on the side where you could order hamburgers, drinks, ice cream and whatever. Those are the things I remember- cold Grapettes, hamburgers, ice cream bars. We spread our towels on the grass and slathered our bodies with tanning creams, including the all time favorite of baby oil and iodine. Those were the days when all we wanted was a good tan and knew nothing of skin cancers or the dangers of too much sun. We put lemon juice in our hair to bleach it in the sun and worked on getting that coveted beach look of tan skin and sun lightened hair. No wonder so many of us have skin cancers in our old age.

And those summers of my youth melted into the summers when I returned as a young mother. By then, the clubhouse had been moved from the site where it had stood in a wonderful old three story brick building since 1917 to the other side of the golf course into a “modern building,” a move that caused much grumbling among many of the members. The old building burned to the ground in 1986, leaving those of us who were fortunate enough to experience it with only fond memories, which leads me into other memories to be shared another time.

The new pool was a rectangle that flowed  into a smaller rectangle that was the diving area. There was a separate wading pool for the little ones. If I spent many hours of my childhood and youth at the old pool, I spent so many more at this one as a parent. My husband and I were able to get a junior membership and my summers as a stay at home mom were marked by the days we spent in the sun, moving from the baby pool to the main pool in what now seems like a flash. There was golf and tennis, but it was mainly the pool. My kids learned to swim there, taking lessons much as I had, and learning strokes that eventually led them onto swim teams in the winter months. They were genuine “pool brats” that I could leave to swim while I ran errands, went to meetings or played golf. They have their own memories of those days, but mine are of sitting with other moms, trying to talk over the constant cries of “Mommy, watch me.” To this day, I can hear those calls and hear the sounds of play that became the background of so many lovely days.

One of our favorite days in the summer has always been the Fourth of July, when there were swim games and races and fireworks. This has been a tradition that continues into the next generation. Here are my two oldest daughters waiting for a race to start:IMG_4802 2and my youngest daughter catching goldfish in the wading pool. IMG_4805Here is my husband playing with our son in the wading pool:IMG_4804and my middle daughter feeding her brother the wonderful pool water (yikes!)Scan 4and my oldest daughter diving from the board. IMG_4807Life went on and the kids grew up and I probably didn’t spend as many days poolside until the next generation appeared and we were once again gathering there in the summers. Here are my daughters and the oldest five grandsons at the wading pool:Scan 10and then there were a couple of more grandkids at the pool.Kids at TCC PoolAnd before I knew it,  they were growing up.

And then they were in the races and diving competitions. I will note (with a little bit of a grin) that our family is pretty competitive and we have won a lot of club races through the years.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then there were improvements at the club and by 2012, the old pool was gone and the new pool was in. This time, it is a spa design with a diving area, a slide, and a beach type area for wading, complete with fountains. My grandkids were bigger

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand still doing races in the new pool.DSC_0253By this time, we had lost my son, who was the kid that hung around the pool and knew everyone behind the scenes and everyone knew him by name. We are lucky to have his daughter, who has now grown up at the pool, following her cousins, aunts and father. And me, of course.DSC_0046

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1 1/2 years oldMy three daughters are now the mothers of grown children, but still like to hang out at the pool together.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy grandchildren are growing up, with seven of them in college or beyond. In 2020, it’s just my last granddaughter, turning 11 soon, and me by the pool on this sunny day. Some things are the same. The lifeguards are watching the kids, who are calling to their mothers to see what they can do. Kiddos are asking for snacks, running when they should be walking, doing belly flops off the board, diving for objects, making up fun pool games and making new pool friends. The parents are more diverse and have their electronics with them to read books or check their messages. Now they have their drinks delivered to poolside, where they visit and relax. They look younger all the time to me, as they should.

Sometimes I wonder what my parents would think of the changes around the pool. Not the activities or the pool itself, but the people. From the time I was a child until I was too far into adulthood, the country club was segregated. Now you see a diversity of races in the families, which is nice. It’s more of a slice of our community.

The parents are not as uptight as they used to be and this summer of quarantine, there are more fathers around during the week. I can picture my mother making funny comments about their various tattoos. She wouldn’t have been shocked, but she would have found it as amusing as I do. Since I have so much time to observe, I think about why each tattoo was chosen. Why does this young mother have “Gone Fishing” on her middle right back? What does that woman have a slice of pie on her arm? What was this man thinking when he asked for all those interesting pictures of ships and animals to be inked into his chest? My husband used to amuse me with stories of the tattoos he saw when he was in the Navy back in the sixties. I’m sure he would be rolling his eyes at me. I take it all in when I sit by the pool these days. My mind is full with images of all those decades.

It’s a vault full of memories that flash by with each splash of the water, each squeal of a child, each kid jumping wildly off the board or each girl parading by with her suntanned body glowing with youth and health. It’s just one tiny piece of my life really, but it’s all tied together at this pool in the summer. There are so many places like this for remembering all the good people and things that I have been lucky enough to have in my life. It’s a reminder that I have more good memories than bad ones, more family and friends and love in my life than so many. It’s a good thing to be reminded of on a hot summer day.

My father and all my uncles served in World War II. Daddy was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Air Force and my five uncles served in the Army. All of them came home but one, my Uncle Bill, my father’s youngest brother. He died before my father met my mother, a couple of years before I was born, so I never knew him. On this Memorial Day, I’d like to tell what i know of his story.

My father was the oldest of four children. He and his brother and sister were all born within about three years, beginning in 1912, in Uniontown, Kentucky, where both of their parents were born. The family moved to Wichita, Kansas to start a new business and where William Lyle Hamilton was born in February, 1921. My mother was born the next month, which gives me a little perspective. Here is the first picture I find of Bill, obviously the baby of the family, with my father behind him, his brother, Ed, and his sister, Sara.Hamilton KidsThe family moved to Oklahoma City at some point, where my grandfather started his automotive parts business, J. C. Hamilton Co. Here is a photo of the family during that time. My father is on the front fender behind his brother, Ed. Bill stands on the running board between his sister and parents. It’s the only photo I can find of the whole family together, but you get the idea. Scan 35Years passed, the children grew up and the boys went into the family business. Sarah married my other Uncle Ed and started their family. When the United States joined World War II, all the men went into service. Here is my Uncle Bill with my grandfather. Clayton & BillMy grandfather was about 5’8″, so Uncle Bill was the smallest of the brothers in the family, besides being the baby. I still don’t know where my father got his height of 6’2″.

The brothers were stationed far apart for their service. I think my Uncle Ed served as a trainer, My Uncle Ed, married to Aunt Sara, served on General Patton’s staff. My father was a squadron commander, flying out of Africa to Italy, much like the story in the novel and movie, “Catch 22.” Uncle Bill was a Technical Sargeant. That’s what I know.

A few years ago, I traveled to Louisville, KY to go through some papers kept at the Filson Historical Society there. I had been told that the Hamilton papers were in their care and went to explore. I found boxes of papers belonging to my great-grandfather, mostly receipts for his business. But, there was a scrapbook kept by one of my father’s cousins, which was full of information I had never seen. I could only photograph the items quickly, but here are the things I found about my Uncle Bill. First is this article about his last mission.IMG_8720 And then this article from the local paper.IMG_8719All I had ever heard was that he was shot down while parachuting into Germany and was buried there, far from home. Then I found this touching letter, written to my father. I’m not sure how this got into this group of papers, but it showed a big brother trying to find more information about his little brother, probably trying to get answers for my grandparents.IMG_8722IMG_8723The letter shows they didn’t know right away if he was killed or captured, as this letter was written well over a month after he must have been killed, according to the newspaper clip above.

Now I have to imagine how this affected my grandparents and the rest of the family. They were in limbo for I have no idea how long and there is nothing harder than the not knowing – except for the knowing.

My memories of my grandparents are of them laughing and smiling and enjoying their family so much. My grandmother developed painful arthritis and my mother once told me that the doctors said that the stress of losing Bill may have been a factor. She was a grieving mother, but her grandchildren didn’t know this. I was the fifth of nine grandchildren, the middle, and I didn’t hear her speak of Bill. When I was in high school or college, my mother told me that my grandmother still got letters from Bill’s girlfriend. And she told me that my grandmother blamed FDR for her son’s death (because she needed to blame someone) and wouldn’t even have a stamp with his picture on it.

I never heard anyone speak of Bill, but I understand he was always in their hearts. I’ve lost a son at a young age and I know that you have periods of wondering what would his life have been like, where would he be now. And you always love them, they are always with you. I didn’t know these things when I was young and my grandparents were alive, so I never asked. I’m so sorry I didn’t know to let them share with me.

On this Memorial Day, I want to remember the uncle I never knew, the uncle who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our family. I don’t ever want to forget.

Thank you, William Lyle Hamilton. IMG_8718

 

 

Fifteen years ago, I started a job as Fundraising Events Manager for Philbrook Museum in Tulsa. My first event was for the holidays, named Festival of Trees, which was decades old at the time. As I learned my way around the museum and began to work with the staff, who were all called upon to help in various ways, I heard grumbling about working on this event. There was a definite problem.

My main focus became to make the work fun for everyone rather than something they dreaded. In a staff meeting, I commented that we weren’t doing brain surgery, we were planning parties. I’m also well aware that planning events is working with elements that you definitely can’t plan for as all kinds of things can go wrong. I told everyone that we should “Be festive, be flexible.” In other words, have fun with it and don’t get so set in our extreme planning that we couldn’t face the unknown things that would definitely pop up.

These words kind of became my mantra with one staff member even making a t-shirt so we would all remember.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe words served all my teams well through the following years, both at the museum and at Oklahoma State University, where I did the same kind of work with college students.

So, here I am today, facing Covid-19, and drawing on all my resources to get through the weeks ahead. I’m having to remind myself of the mantra daily.

First, there was the awful realization that I’m one of the elderly they keep talking about. I’m 74, but that wasn’t a term I applied to myself or my friends. It took a bit for that to sink in and become real.

Then, there was the fact that I’m basically pretty active and going all the time. I’ve felt like I was always running, trying to live my life as fully as I could, see as many places as I could, visit as many friends as I could, before that dreaded old age really did limit my movement in whatever way possible. I’m realistic enough to see that I don’t know when either my body or my mind or my money will prohibit me from doing so many things I love to do. I had just returned from visiting friends in France, traveling by myself, as the virus started to spread into our daily lives.

Who knew it would be a pandemic that would put me in restraints? I’ve seen a lot of things in my life, but not this, so it’s probably time for the virus of the century. My grandparents and my father were alive during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, so it’s time for my generation to experience this as history repeats itself yet again.

It started with a feeling of sheer terror, where I woke up in the night, frightened of all that was happening, waking from nightmares. Gradually, I began to realize that my terrors are the same they have always been. I want my children, their spouses, and my eight grandchildren to be safe. This has always been the source of my nightmares – trying to keep them safe when it was totally out of my control. I pray a lot these days. They are smart and seem to be following the rules, even the teenagers and young adults, who are the group most likely to think they are invincible. I have two grandchildren graduating from high school and one from college, who are missing those last months with friends and a nonstop calendar of activities. I hurt for them as they lose these times they were looking forward to, even as I know it will work out in the long run. I don’t know how yet, but it will be ok in the grand scheme of their lives.

Next is the scary feeling when you are around people in a store and have to stay far away from them. I haven’t been out much, and it’s getting to be less all the time, but there are people getting too close, disregarding everything we have been told. The last time I actually shopped, I had thrown a bandana and some cotton gloves into the car at the last minute. When I arrived at the store and saw the line, I put them on and was so glad, despite the looks I got.IMG_3551

I’ve made masks out of bandanas, discovered a box of gloves in the medicine cabinet, and have a go pack in my car of wipes, gloves, hat, masks. We do what we do.

And then there is the quieting of life, the thing I have most dreaded the past years while I was racing around and am finding it is just fine. I’m still having a hard time focusing, so I’m not reading or bingeing as much as I could. I don’t cook insanely for my self locked in. In fact, I’ve got more food around here than I have in years and still go for takeout to support my friends in the restaurant industry. I always knew I couldn’t live without peanut butter on a desert island and I’ve found it to be way too true. I’m stocked up.

The quiet is beginning to feel okay. I have my two dogs, ages 15 and 12, who are so glad to have me home. I’m taking walks which are delightful, even though I walked before. There seem to be more birds singing and the flowers are just beautiful in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s one of the prettiest Springs I can remember. I wish I could get into the Botanical Garden, the museums, The Gathering Place and see all the work their fabulous gardeners have done, but they are sending photos and videos online for us to enjoy.

People are out walking like never before. I’ve never seen some of the dogs being walked, so the animals must be delighted. People speak to each other on the street and smile. People sit in their front yards and on their porches like never before and wave and speak to you. Everyone is smiling, happy to be enjoying the fresh air.

Families are living together as they haven’t done in decades. No sports or after school lessons or activities or late night work to interrupt their time. As this strange time goes on, everyone seems to be taking a breath and realizing what they have been rushing around for is still right here at home.

People are getting creative. Stores and businesses are finding ways to keep going, although I know they are hurting. They are doing curbside pickup and online sales and bring to do it with a smile. Individuals are creating masks, delivery services, art projects, and so many ways to help each other get through these strange times.

We are so very lucky to be living now. This isn’t some medieval time where a plague is running through our village, wiping us all out before we even know what is happening. This isn’t a time when we can’t find out what is going on in the rest of the world until days later. All our news is instant, although we have learned to temper the 24/7 onslaught of information. We can check in and find out the latest.

Mostly, we can communicate with people like never before. We can still write letters, which is wonderful, but we can call, text, use social media like FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter, FaceTime or Skype, have Zoom meetings, and keep up with everyone we have ever known. It’s lifesaving to be able to reach out to other human beings around the neighborhood, the town or city, the state, country or world. We are all connected in this time in ways we never dreamed of even twenty years ago.

Teachers are amazing. My daughter-in-law is a nurse, so I have had my ten year old granddaughter here some of the time and had to help her with school work. The world of technology is bringing the classroom into our homes in ways we never knew. I’m so impressed with the children and the teachers and how it is all working, even as parents and grandparents have to learn how to navigate all the sites and monitor the lessons.

The earth seems to be healing without so many people out there wearing it down. I volunteer with the Sierra Club and have been concerned for years about what is happening to the planet.. Now I see pictures of places where the air and water are returning to their pre-human polluting state. This ought to be a lesson to all of us.

There is a part of me that thinks that Mother Earth sent us a virus to send us inside to heal while the planet healed itself from us. There are lessons to be learned from all that we are going through and I hope we remember them when this passes. Because, we should all have faith that it will.

In the meantime, we are all finding our own pace and our own way of coping. I hope you can all use my mantra and keep a smile on your face even while we are facing the unknown. Look for the positives, the helpers, the people who are making this work through the hard times. Be grateful if you are safe at home with loved ones. Be grateful for those who are out there keeping the world going. Be grateful for those who are taking care of the sick. These times are life and death, but life is somewhat of a festival at times with all the good and the bad that an event can bring.

Be Festive, Be Flexible. We will get through this with our personal strengths and with each other.