Archives for category: History

My 10 year old granddaughter was experimenting in the kitchen, trying to make something with ice and a Grapette. Grandmothers know what a mess can be made but are a slight bit more tolerant than parents.

I’m not sure exactly what she was trying to achieve, but I told her I knew exactly what to do. I dug around and pulled out an old ice tray and filled it with Grapette and froze it. This gave her a history lesson (What’s an ice tray?) as well as brought back so many memories for me.img_0459Way back in the 1950s, when I was younger than my granddaughter now, we used to drive to visit my grandmother in Ardmore, Oklahoma. At that time, until the turnpikes and highways were built, the drive from Tulsa took at least four hours and involved going through multiple small towns and then winding along the narrow roads through the Arbuckles until you hit a flat road into Ardmore.IMG_0526This doesn’t look too bad, but it was narrow with big trucks going by quickly.  It used to scare me, sitting in the back seat looking at the drop off. I can now drive myself through the mountains in California and Colorado without freaking out, but it took me a long time to get over this minor childhood trauma (I had a great childhood).

When we got to my grandmother’s house, which was mostly in the summer when school was out, she would greet us and we would run to the kitchen and look in the refrigerator for squares, as we called them. These were the days when Kool-Aid was new and she would make a pitcher with lots of sugar and water (no instant in those days) and then freeze it in ice trays for us. We would grab a few squares (usually cherry or grape) in a bowl and take it to the front porch where we could sit on the porch swing and suck the sweetness out of those frozen treats. In Oklahoma, when it was hot and no or little air conditioning, this was the best.

Now, I know this isn’t the healthiest treat for any of us and I really like fruits and nuts, but this memory was so powerful. Add in the fact that I used a Grapette, which was our favorite drink in the summer (we used to pour it over ice cream for a special treat) and I couldn’t resist. My granddaughter took her bowl of squares to the glider (which was my mother’s) on the deck on a sunny fall day.

I took a square. There is no way that she got the same feelings that I did from this frozen experience. Besides the instant rush of grape flavor, there was a flood of memories of my grandmother, my mother, sitting on the porch swing, the drive, all of it.

IMG_0528Maybe my granddaughter will remember doing this – maybe not. That’s ok since we have plenty of other memories we’ve shared. For me, this was a trip back in time, into my heart and soul, for the sweetest of times, the times of love and family.

It was my second trip to Mt Rushmore, this time with three of my grandsons, ages 16 to about to turn 19. Their excitement was fun to share and I knew it would be a thrill for them as they had told me as we planned our trip. We got there late in the afternoon, catching our first glimpse from the road. They said it felt surreal to see something they had only seen in textbooks.

As we walked up, there were the faces of the four presidents in shade of the afternoon light and we walked through the hall of flags from each of our 50 states, catching Oklahoma’s as it twisted in the breeze.IMG_0469We posed for the obligatory pictures, asking strangers to help us get a shot of us all. This is so much easier now that everyone uses cell phones and knows how to work them. Everyone is helpful and friendly and everyone wants their picture there. There were visitors from all over the United States and we heard various languages spoken, as is the case wherever we travel, reminding us of the universal hope of our country.

After leaving to change clothes for the cooler night, we returned for the evening ceremony. When I had seen it several years ago, veterans were asked to come to the stage and recognized for their service. I noted several veterans seated around us in the amphitheater, including a Vietnam veteran in front of us. That was my era. I looked at the stage and thought to myself that there were quite a few steps to get there, both down and back up. Not all veterans can manage that.

Instead, patriotic music began playing 30 minutes before the ceremony and Ranger Dorothy appeared and walked through the crowd, personally greeting the guests and welcoming them. I’m a big fan of the National Park Rangers and Ranger Dorothy was no exception. They are the protectors of our land, our monuments, our history, our natural resources, and they do so with such humor and strength and wisdom.

When the ceremony began, Ranger Dorothy, a small white-headed ranger, told the story of the Star Spangled Banner and read the original poem. She then disappeared, like the Wizard of Oz, behind a screen to start a video. There were technical problems, but she persevered with the patience of the crowd and we were treated to a video about the four presidents and why they were chosen to be immortalized. In National Park fashion, this was a very strong message about our country and its strength. Here is my quick summary:

George Washington was the Father of Our Country, but his great contribution was noted as refusing to let himself be labeled King, leading the way for a country that was governed by the people and not under one person’s rule.

Thomas Jefferson was chosen for his writing of the Constitution, penning the words “Liberty and Justice for All,” creating a nation for people of all creeds and backgrounds.

Abraham Lincoln was chosen for being the President who kept the nation united in its time of greatest division, choosing to keep us one nation.

Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for his work at busting both Wall Street and corporations to keep things fair for all people and for his work in conservation of our natural resources, creating national parks and monuments.

In my education in the 1950s and 1960s, I recognize that we were given a sanitized version of our history and our presidents. I’ve studied and read for most of my life and recognize that none of these presidents was perfect and not all of their actions, both personal and political, were beyond criticism at all times. Nevertheless, they have stood the test of time for their lasting impact on our country and our vision of ourselves as Americans.

At the end of the film, the visitors stood as the monument was lighted and we sang the National Anthem together on a slightly chilly early summer evening in the Black Hills. Veterans were invited to join Ranger Dorothy to lower the flag.IMG_0273I brought the boys back the next morning to see Mt Rushmore in all its glory with the morning sun shining on the faces. We had the perfect blue sky and got another photo with the guys, as we had begun to call them.IMG_2605We had been through the museum and seen the film showing the construction of the memorial the night before and I know the boys will be studying this story more as we all marveled at the men who built this beautiful monument with all odds against the project, both financial and dangerous risks. It is a true marvel of sculptural achievement and a tribute to not only Gustav Borglum, but to his family, including his son, Lincoln, who finished the project, and to the scores of workers. Not a life was lost making this monument.

A note on history: I was so fascinated the first time I visited that I read everything I could about the project and Borglum and watched every video I could find. I still am in awe of him, despite the fact that he was one of those geniuses that aren’t always the easiest to live with. His workers were dedicated, as were his wife and children, which says a lot. His controversial sides are part of the historical times and his story is worth exploring.

As we left the memorial on that glorious morning, we walked by a man striding in. I have been trying to process this since then, trying to put it in perspective of what I know and understand. He was an ordinary man, middle aged, heavy set, wearing a navy t-shirt that boldly said “Trump 45th President” with a lot of words underneath. He was carrying an oversized flag on a pole and I knew he was on his way to wave it in front of the memorial with a friend to photograph the moment. I had actually seen someone else doing this the day before, although not in an obvious t-shirt. I will say the man was walking with purpose, although the expression on his face was just below belligerent. The flag was also probably heavy, so I will give him that.

The few seconds I saw him jarred me. Later, I wished I’d had the nerve to stop him and, with my three grandsons towering over me, ask him to speak about his views. I didn’t want to be judgmental, but it would be a lesson to understand what he was trying to say in front of those faces who exemplify all that is great about our country. Nobody else was proclaiming anything other than that they were moved to be there – or, at the very least, crossing something off their bucket list. There was a neutral area for people espousing causes to gather inside the monument and I saw a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses speaking to whoever would stop. It’s not like you can’t say what you want to in our national parks and monuments.

I guess it made me think about the term Patriot. I think of my father, my uncles and my husband who served in the military, along with all the other who have served to protect us. I think of all of our politicians, most of who go into service with great intentions. Public service is an honorable profession, although we don’t always honor those who work for the public good. I think of the diplomats and the people who work in the government agencies to protect the people and the land. I think of all who vote.

What I don’t think of is those who simply give lip service to flag waving, which is why I was probably disturbed by the man who passed me. There is nothing wrong with displaying our flag, but wearing it on your lapel or displaying it at your home or business is just a sign. I guess I like action. I like the people who work as volunteers or in paid positions to make life better for those around them. Making the world a better place in your own corner of it is just as important as serving in a more visible position.

You can call yourself a Patriot, just as you can call yourself a member of whatever your chosen religion is, but you aren’t truly one unless you practice its tenets in your daily life.

Mt Rushmore is a national memorial, open free of charge, with a minimal charge for parking. My visit reminded me of how inspiring our country is and can be. It was a thrill to experience it with young people as they are the hope of our future. It’s just as magnificent as you expect it to be!IMG_0277

Today would be my Mommy’s 97th birthday. I always called her Mommy and never thought a thing about it. We called her mother Mommie Dude and my children called my mother Grandmommy, so that’s the way it always was.

My mother, Betty West Hamilton, was a strong woman, bred from women who didn’t have easy lives but worked hard. I’ve written about her mother, who was widowed at about 27 and left in the middle of the Depression with three children. My mother was 6 at the time, the youngest with two older brothers. They were a close, tight family.

My mother and I didn’t always agree and she aggravated me no end a lot of the time, especially when I knew she was so often right. I fought to be my own person and not like her, to be more like my father. In the end, I became a mix of them both, becoming more my mother’s daughter as I grew up and realized the strength of the women in my family. She taught me so much, from how to make a bed with hospital corners to how to set the table. She taught me to always want to go places, to be ready for anything fun. Her mother taught us both that. “Let’s go do something!” was our motto.

Mommy was a beautiful woman who didn’t seem to age very much. When she went to the hospital for the last time, they were surprised at her age (almost 85). Her blonde hair (well, who knows what color it really was) and her incredibly smooth skin (moisturize, moisturize – the words still ring in my ears) belied her years. This photo was from years before, but one of my favorites. photoIn the end, she was on oxygen and had painful neuropathy in her feet, but never lost her sense of humor or her ability to listen to us tell about everything in our lives. I would say a fault was that she never liked to admit she was wrong, but she even mellowed in that as she grew older.

She almost always wore white. Sometimes there was a pastel or beige, but white was her preference. Our family and friends were amused by it, but it was so her…

Besides her mother, the woman who had the greatest influence on her was her paternal grandmother, Hattie Mills West. Grandmother West, as she called her, also always wore white – at least when my mother knew her. I only have two pictures of her and the first one was taken with her husband, E. Z. West and their son, John, who died at the age of 20. The original is an old tintype. My mother said Hattie had red hair, which she kept short, unlike the style of the day.Hattie & EZ West with John (2)I’ve tried to track down Hattie’s history, but it’s elusive as is the data on many who lived on farms across our country. From what I’ve found, she was born July 29, 1856 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Benjamin Mills and Dorcas Fox. The records get fuzzy because I find their names spelled different ways, etc. Some of those census people weren’t too careful back then.

Anyway, the next thing I could find was a census listing Hattie at the age of 14 as domestic help in Houston, TX. That 14 year gap is a mystery I keep trying to solve. The next thing I know she is marrying Ephriam Zacharius West, known as E. Z., around 1876.  They soon had my grandfather, Benjamin West in Denton, TX, followed by the birth of another son, George, and another son, John. George died at the age of 8 in Denton, Texas. Eventually, they made their way to Ardmore, Indian Territory, arriving by covered wagon as pioneers citizens of that community in 1895.

Ardmore was growing and a good place for a young couple to build a business and a life. They built a house and had a wagon yard adjacent to it. I had to ask my mother what a wagon yard was, thinking it was where they built wagons or fixed them. She explained that it was more like an early motel where people stayed when they drove their wagons to town. There were rooms with a little stove, a store to buy supplies, and probably stalls for the horses. Between 1893 and 1925, Ardmore had 39 wagon yards. The West Wagon Yard was located near where Central Park is in Ardmore today. I also found that E. Z. and his son, Ben, had other wagon yards, too.

I don’t have many details as I really didn’t ask enough questions until the end of my mother’s life. I know that John Q. West died in 1904 at the age of 20. His tombstone is the marker I use to find the family plot in the Ardmore Rose Hill Cemetery.IMG_3065IMG_3076John lived long enough to join the Woodmen of the World. I guess Ben helped E. Z. with the wagon yards until there was no need for them with the new automobile age. E. Z. died in 1920, the year before my mother was born. IMG_3067Piecing this story together, Ben lived with his mother, working in the wagon yard and then for the phone company as a lineman, as I recall. They had the wagon yard long enough for my mother to have a vague memory of it as she sketched me an picture not too long before she died. Ben met my grandmother, Artie Holt, when she was 18 and he was probably 38. They married and he brought her home.

Not to shorten the story of Ben, but to go on to my great-grandmother, I found that Ben had a small neighborhood grocery before he died. He had Bright’s Disease, which my mother said her doctor told her was probably caused by a childhood disease. Anyway, he died at the age of 50, leaving a young widow with three children and his mother. His is another story to tell.IMG_3072Hattie now is a widow and her husband and sons are gone. She is 71 years old and a respected Ardmore lady. The wagon yard was leased as a lumber yard before being developed in later years. She had her home, which was across the street from what is now Central Park in Ardmore, and she had several other properties. My grandmother and her children lived in a large home and my grandmother left each of the grandchildren their own house.

In the years before my mother died, she started telling me the stories of her grandmother. I’d always known what a great influence she was, but it became more and more clear why. Of course, the grandchildren spent time with her. This photo must have been taken around the time my grandfather died. I hadn’t seen it but recognized my great-grandmother immediately from my mother’s descriptions of her.Scan 2One day, I brought a small tape recorder and turned it on while my mother talked as I asked her to repeat stories she had told me. She didn’t know she was being recorded, not that it would have mattered. She took a piece of paper and sketched as she talked, showing me the inside of my grandmother’s house and sketching her garments.Grandmother West's house in Ardmore_2We went back in time as she described the rooms and the furniture. At one time, Hattie and E.Z. purchased a farm and moved there, although Hattie hated being out in the country. I honestly believe my mother was born out there, but she didn’t admit it. There were barrels around that they used to bring things in from the farm. My grandfather lived at the back of the house and my grandmother had a big armoire in the living room where she kept her opera hats. Yes, there was an opera in Ardmore as artists traveled from town to town. The hats were described as wire frames that Hattie stuffed with chiffon. I know she kept copies of Mary Baker Eddy’s books, although she wasn’t a Christian Scientist.

I remember the house because my aunt and uncle lived there when I was little. Here’s a photo of me in the yard.Scan 1

My mother described a woman who ate very sparsely, but made cookies that were heavy that my mother loved. Once she mentioned that people often came by to visit and talk. My mother said her grandmother never changed the way she dressed. Her clothes were the same as she wore in 1856, which made my mother laugh. Underneath was a pantaloon type thing that was basically two legs with a drawstring. There were other layers with several undergarments, which meant a lot of stuff at the waist. She wore a camisole type undergarment and a shirt waist. Most of these must have been made from feed sacks or cheap cloth.

Hattie lived for thirteen years after E. Z. died, so she was there until my mother was grown and had left town. There are gestures my mother made that I know she must have seen her grandmother do. She described how her grandmother took her fingers and fixed her hair and I could see clearly how that little girl watched. I sense that Hattie had a sense of dignity and a common sense that influenced everything about my mother. Hattie died in 1940, five years before I was born.IMG_3066IMG_6294I wonder what I would have thought of this lady in white who influenced my Mommy so much. I can only take what I know and read between the lines to fill in the story.

Today, as I think about my own mother, I realize how much of me came from her, and how much of her strength and personality came from her mother and her grandmother who both had so much influence on her. I hope that some of this has filtered down to my daughters and granddaughters whose lives have been so much easier than their ancestors.

It is a good feeling to know that you have the blood of these women to see you through the hard times as well as the good ones. I wish I had known my great-grandmother, Hattie. I miss my grandmother, Artie (Mommie Dude), who had so much influence on me.

I especially miss my Mommy. She was a good one!

 

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?

When I told people I was heading north to Des Moines, Iowa, there was always a moment where you knew they were going to ask “Why?” I’m kind of used to this coming from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I did have a specific reason. My junior high friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a weekend of parties and I was happy to be included. A mutual friend, who has lived in New York City for the past 50 years, was joining me so I knew it would be a fun adventure. Actually, almost everything I do these days is an adventure.

On the way north, we stopped in Joplin, MO due to a tire incident and made a stop at the Joplin City Hall. We had been talking about Thomas Hart Benton’s work and I said there is a mural there. If you go to Joplin’s City Hall, you can see his last signed large work, a mural of Joplin around 1900. Benton used to live and work in Joplin, so he knew the area well. As you can see, it’s not his largest work and you should go to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City to see the murals there.IMG_8604The interesting thing about this mural is the extra display that shows all the drawings, plans, letters, and models that went into making a mural. It’s a very complicated process. Here is a clay model Benton used.IMG_8601The Joplin City Hall is an interesting building to see and it was a nice stop along the way.

I always enjoy driving through Missouri with its rich green trees and hills. July is a great month for the drive if you can stand the heat. I don’t care what you say about dry heat or humidity – 100 degrees is hot! I’ve been in the heat for the last month from Texas to Iowa and it’s all hot! Other than that, it was a beautiful drive and I should thank all the people who invented air conditioning every day of my life!

At a beautiful Iowa information center, we learned our first new history fact about Iowa. Who knew?IMG_3333We sped towards Des Moines so we wouldn’t miss the first party of the weekend and were awed by the beautiful site for the event, the World Food Prize building. This was an old Beaux Arts library that was scheduled for demolition before wise Des Moines benefactors saved it and spent millions renovating it for the headquarters of this organization which gives an annual prize to the individual who has done the most to stop hunger in the world. It’s quite impressive!IMG_3336The inside is stunning. My favorite part was the sculptures of different grains adorning columns in the Rotunda.IMG_3340Every detail of the building was gorgeous.IMG_3355IMG_3341I was getting more impressed with Iowa and the Iowans who planned this city. Here was a view from the second floor towards the Des Moines River that runs through the city. The state capitol is in the background, as is our hotel, peeking out from behind the hotel in front.IMG_3361On Saturday, we were invited to brunch, so we walked across the river, along the river walk and into the incredible Farmer’s Market with over 300 booths along the way to the Des Moines City Government building at the end.IMG_3607IMG_3377IMG_3380IMG_3400After shopping our way down the street, buying food, clothes, Amish woven ware, and other trinkets, we arrived at the historic Kirkwood Hotel with its wonderful Art Deco lobby. Here is the desk.IMG_3605

And the row of phone booths that take you back. I expected Clark Kent to be in one of them.IMG_3389In the afternoon, we drove to the Capitol building, one of two in the country with five domes (the other is in Rhode Island). I had to admire the gumption of these Iowans who built this city in the middle of the country with such great aspirations.DSC_0110I guess they are re-gilding the dome. We visited the monuments on the capitol grounds, including the Soldiers and Sailors Monument honoring Civil War heroes. It was very impressive with large sculptures all around honoring the men and women of Iowa. I’m standing by it for scale – it’s 135′ high.IMG_3603One of the things my friend, Edie, and I both loved about Des Moines was the whimsical art everywhere we looked. It is a clean, vibrant, fun city with lots to do. There were unique shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment everywhere we were downtown. Paul McCartney was playing and there was a Broadway play, both within blocks of us Friday night. People were walking and having a wonderful time.DSC_0138IMG_3618IMG_3409IMG_3637IMG_4632IMG_3632IMG_3723Our hosts captured the spirit of Iowa with a photo stop at the big party Saturday night. In fact, we drove by lush fields of corn from Oklahoma through Iowa. What a rich, abundant country we live in!ScanAfter the party, we spotted an outdoor concert on the river and stopped to watch. Phillip Phillips was playing to the paying crowd and the audience along the bridge.IMG_3595Before leaving Iowa, we had to stop at some of the Bridges of Madison County, just south of Des Moines. We managed to see two of them and they were worth the visit. The first was the Holliwell Bridge, built in 1880, and the longest of the wooden bridges still standing.DSC_0149DSC_0147IMG_3719IMG_3720IMG_3644The second bridge we visited was the much smaller Imes Bridge, built in 1870. It was a cutie and a good comparison with the other one.IMG_3667IMG_4672Part of the fun was seeing all the graffiti left by visitors, which they must paint over periodically, just as they do the wall at Graceland.IMG_3673We left the rolling hills and lush cornfields of Iowa, headed back to Tulsa.DSC_0150I didn’t mention the beautiful fields of wildflowers that waved at us as we drove. I love this old gated road.DSC_0153On the way north, we had seen the sign for Peculiar, Missouri, and felt we had to stop and explore this town on our way home. You can look up the origin of the name, but we had fun using it as we drove into town along Peculiar Way and Peculiar Road. Actually, the town has grown and has a lot of new homes. We saw the high school and stadium where the Peculiar Panthers play. I wanted to hear their cheers.

The old Main Street is almost gone, but the three-legged water tower remains.DSC_0158There were a few buildings left and a hint of civic pride and desire to bring back some of the history.IMG_3680.jpgWe were lucky enough to meet ReGina Edmondson, who has lived in Peculiar since her military father and her mother decided to settle there and raise eleven children. ReGina has lived there since she was three and owns the house, one of the early ones on the main street, where she was raised. She is a writer for the paper and is working to have a museum. She was a delight and a source of information we couldn’t find anywhere else.DSC_0162She steered us around the corner to a Feed Store that is being refurbished for something historic and fun to see.IMG_3682IMG_368420286731_10212203272069629_1670150760645299054_oSuch a fun little piece of America. One can only imagine the jokes they have to put up with.DSC_0165We finished our tour of Peculiar, stopping at the local market to find a magnet, which we didn’t find (they’re missing a marketing opportunity). Edie captured this sign, which kind of summed up our trip. IMG_3717We started out as two old friends who kind of knew each other and discovered a mutual passion for photographing and exploring all the places along the way, catching up on 50 years as we drove. That wasn’t so peculiar, but it was a whole lot of fun!

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.

 

 

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

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

This year is full of craziness and not the fun kind. I feel paralyzed with shock, not only with the craziness that has come crawling out from out from under the sleazy underbelly of the internet and talk radio, but from my own realization that this kind is crazy is a massive money maker, feeding off fear, built on the worst of what people can be.

Of course, we all knew there were white supremacists, misogynists, racists and haters of every kind out there. What I hadn’t really taken account of is how much money is being made from these people by websites, talk radio hosts and strange cult leaders. This is a multi-billion dollar industry that has now been brought into the mainstream.

I googled just white supremacists websites so I could give you examples, but there are so darn many of them and I don’t want my computer thinking I’m even looking at them, so you’re on your own there. My only graphic for this piece will be Pepe the Frog. I did find out the horrifying truth about this strange critter, much to my dismay.unknownI’m mostly writing this because I’m depressed and ashamed to have given any encouragement at all for the growth of this ugliness. I’m embarrassed for all the times I laughed at mean-spirited jokes or didn’t speak up when I heard words spoken that made me shudder. I’m ashamed for being so afraid at this time in my life when I should be relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my life – mainly my children and grandchildren.

And, I AM afraid, afraid that we have tried to be too cool and too inclusive of everyone’s ideas and have let some of the craziness take over. The incredible 24-hour news cycle, the explosion of cable channels and internet sites and the endless need to fill all those hours has let all the crazies into our homes, our sacred safe places. People watch all kinds of insane activities, listen to all kinds of mindless talk, and they absorb it until it becomes normal. But, it isn’t!

Photos and moving images, sites and sounds, from campaign rallies offer up people I don’t understand. The Ku Klux Klanners, the ones waving Confederate flags and wearing Nazi symbols, the haters we’ve seen for decades are at least familiar and, despicable as they are, easy to process. But there are other crazies at all rallies, ones that I am perplexed by, nice people like I see every day at the grocery store or ball games. Normal seeming people.

An example that stands out to me was at a rally where a young person was being escorted out by security. I’m not sure why, but that’s the right of the organizers. The shocker was the senior citizens, the white hairs, who were shoving him, shouting obscenities, giving him the finger. Really. They must be someone’s parents or grandparents. The images are burned into my psyche and I don’t like or get it.

I get being upset that your life has been turned upside down and didn’t turn out like you expected. Jeez…I was widowed at a young age and had to pick myself up and figure out what to do. I had to go on unemployment at one point while making my way. I was never desperate, but I had to stand in the lines, figure out how to pay my bills, and see what I could do to keep on going. I’m on Social Security and Medicare. I get it. I look at my fixed income (although I’m fortunate enough to have a little additional income from part time work and investments) and I worry about whether I’ll outlive my money. I get all of that and I sympathize, empathize, and care. It’s not easy out there and life doesn’t always, in fact hardly ever, goes the way you wanted it to.

I won’t label the people who are feeding the crazies by listening to their spewed ignorance and hatred, because we have all done it. I won’t blame ignorance, lack of education, or anything else. I do wonder what ever happened to common sense and a sense of decency in this world. I wonder what happened to wanting to find the truth rather than just absorbing whatever the mouth of the moment says. With all of the resources available to us all every day, why don’t people look up something that sounds phony or wrong to see if it has a grain of truth in it?

That may be the root of my disbelief. How did we get so lazy that we believe whatever we hear, no matter who says it? How can people blindly follow anyone, whether religious, political, or just an entertainer, who says things that in our deepest of hearts we know seem off.

I refuse to believe that the crazies will win, even though they are getting rich being as crazy as they can be. I refuse to believe that people don’t still look at themselves in the mirror and want to be the best they can be for their children, their grandchildren and the world.

I will always have hope that love will win and the best in us will prevail.

Always.