Archives for category: History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all those memories are good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, William Lyle Hamilton. IMG_8718

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?