Archives for category: Reflections

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, Sarah.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 Sarah, 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.

I took this picture of one of my daughters and her daughter because it both amused me and made me think. img_0861It looks like my family has made it. You can just look at the way we dress and see that we are successful…not to mention on trend, with it, cool.

I’m not judging the style of torn clothing because I actually get it. Good grief, I’ve been through seven decades of the latest looks and have worn everything from madras plaids to bell bottoms, from spike to stack heels. I wore alligators and polo players on my shirts and ratted my hair into a bubble and then wore it in a Dorothy Hamill wedge. We all have our looks to cringe at as we look back.

This time, I’ve skipped the trend and I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. Partly, it’s because I’m 74 and don’t really think it looks good for me. I could pull it off, I think, but it just makes me grin. I think the reason goes deeper.

When I was growing up, torn or broken anything was a sign that you couldn’t get it fixed. You either didn’t know how or couldn’t afford to have someone else do it. My brother wore double thick knees on his jeans so they wouldn’t wear out that season. There were iron-on or sew on patches you could buy. We could cut our jeans off to wear ragged or turned up, but you wouldn’t wear them with holes in them. Our mothers would have been horrified. With good reason.

My mother grew up in Ardmore, OK during the depression. Her father died when she was 5 or 6 and her mother raised two boys and a girl with a small neighborhood grocery and by whatever means she could find. My mother said they had dignity because they owned their house so they weren’t thrown out even when the gas was turned off. Here is my grandmother in a glamorous pose.12CC4F9C-D9E7-43D5-B180-C40A3B2FAE89_1_201_aMy grandmother kept my mother’s dresses to make quilts. I have a few well worn quilts and some unfinished quilt tops from then that show the thinness of the fabrics. There was no waste in those days. They couldn’t afford it.IMG_0549My mother always looked stylish after she started working. Here she is when she was young.9BC5B5BD-716C-4FAF-BFE7-91DCF9643062_1_201_a

My other grandmother grew up poor in Uniontown, KY. Her mother died when she was 12 and she worked from an early age. Here is the earliest photo I have of her, after she was married to my grandfather and was living with his parents.imageI only have photos of three of my great-grandmothers. This is my father’s paternal grandmother, shown with him. These were their everyday clothes. They weren’t poor, but they had lots of children to keep dressed.IMG_8887This is my mother’s paternal grandmother, shown with my mother and her brothers. My mother may be wearing one of the dresses that ended up in a quilt. My mother told me her grandmother dressed the same way until she died, wearing layers of clothes as they did in the late 1800s. The earliest information I can find out about her is that she worked as a house servant in Texas when she was 14. Later she married and traveled to Ardmore, OK by covered wagon, where they set up the West Wagon Yard and did pretty well, although she always lived very simply.Scan 2This is my mother’s paternal grandmother. They were poor, living on a farm in southern Oklahoma. Both she and my grandfather ended up, literally, at the poor farm. I’m not sure if they were suffering from dementia or just couldn’t afford to live on the farm anymore, but I learned that they both died at the home in Vinita, OK. She was buried there and the family managed to bring him home later. IMG_6970So, I stand in the middle of the generations, looking back at my great-grandmothers who lived difficult lives, but managed to patch their children’s clothes and keep the families together, to my grandmothers, who both were poor as children, but worked hard and raised their families, to me, who was born to a comfortable lifestyle, which my husband and I worked hard to provide for our children.

My son was always the best at seeing the latest trends, so I know he would have laughed at the current one of the torn clothing. He was already there at 11 (about 1987), being himself. His mother (me) wasn’t going to patch those jeans since he was perfectly comfortable in them and growing to fast for me to worry about and we were just out fishing. He probably wore them other places and I just rolled my eyes. scan 2Our family has made it, if you look at the generations. I have grown children and grandchildren who can afford to buy expensive, torn clothing to show how well we are doing. I think I understand why I haven’t embraced this trend. I’m stuck in the middle of those who had nothing and those who have much. I look back and I look forward and I appreciate the progress. These are my people and I love them all.

Last weekend, I took a long drive to the Talimena Scenic Byway in southeastern Oklahoma to see the fall foliage and enjoy the spectacular views. It is always refreshing to enter the Ouachita Mountains (pronounced wash-i-ta) and begin to see pine trees along with the native oaks along the way. As you turn onto the Talimena scenic drive which runs between Oklahoma and Arkansas, you begin to climb the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area and find numerous scenic view turnouts.

While walking around the Panoramic Scenic View Area, I found myself beside a tall, large, young man (maybe 30), who suddenly turned to me and said, “Have you ever seen a view like this?” He was so excited and thrilled. I told him I have, but that this is one of my favorites in the world, which it is.dsc_0800 He said this was his first time to come here and I told him I come whenever I can. I asked him where he was from and he said, “Checotah,” which is about an hour and a half away. Then he told me that he didn’t have much of a Bucket List because he didn’t have much money, but he had a Thimble List. I told him this was definitely a great place to have on it. He told me he had never seen the ocean, but was planning to go next year. He told me that even if you were Rembrandt, whom he admired, you could never outdo the Lord’s work. I told him it was definitely a place to restore your soul.

About that time, his wife joined him and they walked away, but I stood there, looking at the views, thinking about what he said. A Thimble List. What a great thing for all of us to have.dsc_0789I watched the shadows from the clouds spread across the valley and took in all the beauty around me. dsc_0795We all need a Thimble List, which I define as a list of places to visit and things to do that are not unobtainable, not far from home. I can’t criticize him for just now getting to this beautiful place because I didn’t see it for the first time until I was in my late 50s or 60s. It’s only 2 1/2 hours from my home, but I might have missed it.

We all need to find places of beauty, try new experiences, meet new people and there are so many places we walk by every day or don’t take the time to enjoy, even when they are close to home. Sometimes those places are harder to take time to explore because our daily schedules are so busy and full of activities that range from work to sitting in front of the television and we don’t just get up and do it. We only plan for things that take us far away from our routines.

In the rush of time that I’m facing as I get older, I find that the little things on my Thimble List mean as much to the quality of my life as the larger things that I try to experience. My Bucket List is full of dreams that may or may not happen, but my Thimble List is doable.

Look at your own Thimble List and do something this week! You won’t regret it.

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.

This seems so redundant, writing about losing my son. It’s been eight years today since that phone call woke me. He was gone, died in his sleep. It had been ten years since he was diagnosed with cancer and he was cancer free, but the treatments had ravaged his body and it just gave out. He was thirty-five years old with a wife and fifteen month old daughter.

So today is like all the days since. He’s not here and we all keep on living, knowing that our lives are different for loving and losing him. We are different, each of us who knew him. That’s how it works. That person and his or her life is absorbed into your own life and you keep going with all the things that you had in that relationship.

I’m pretty stoic about the whole thing, usually unable to cry after losing my husband and then my son. But, today, I saw down to write and find a picture that I could use and I started sobbing. That is unusual and was unexpected. It all came out while I looked at pictures of his life. I don’t know what that says really. I know we never get over these losses, but we go on, day after day.

I’m 73 now and my thoughts often go to the time I have left and how I want to spend it. I have no idea how many years I have left – do any of us? And I do squander several hours/days a week not doing anything that productive at all. It’s tiring to make all of it count, isn’t it?

Mainly, I try to keep in touch with friends and spend as much time with them as possible.  My family is around and I get to observe and participate as much as they let me. I used to say I wanted to stay healthy enough to keep up with my grandkids. These days, I want to stay healthy enough to watch them grow and live their lives.

I have seven grandkids between the ages of 17 and 21 and a nine year old. Every step of their lives that I get to witness is a treasure. The flip side of that is that every year that I am with them is another year for them to have memories of me. And I want to make that count. My maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents were such an important part of my life and I only wish I had more memories, more information about them, more, more, more. With people marrying later and later and putting off having children, I wonder if there will even be grandparents at some point. It would be sad.

So, I dream now of watching my grandkids graduate, get jobs, marry and have some very special great-grandchildren for me. Well, not for me, but you know what I mean. Every day is a treat, a time to discover something new, an opportunity to explore and share. Sunrises and sunsets are still a wonder. The ocean, the sky, mountains and deserts are still miracles. Every living creature is still amazing.

But, today…today, I’m just a mom who lost a child. A mom who flipped through pictures and chose this one to share because it sums up a whole lot to me. Life.img_5786

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 Road Trip playlist came together when I was travelling with my three oldest grandsons and wanted to share some of my favorite music with them. I’ve added a few things since I now use it when I drive the roads alone. I picked songs that keep me awake and remind me of old times along with the songs I love to sing along with. It’s something of a history of me.

There are songs from junior high and high school. How about a little Buddy Holly that I played so much in 7th and 8th grade? Some old rock & roll with Jerry Lee Lewis (music to shock the parents with the loud pounding piano and “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On”)Unknown-2and Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. I had to explain to the kids that DJs were brave to play music from black artists, which my 19 and 20 year olds didn’t get understand at all.Unknown-1We were a dancing generation, so I’ve got some great anthems of my youth. “Do You Love Me?”, “What’d I Say?”, “Good Lovin'”, “Do You Want to Dance?”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and, of course, “Louie, Louie.” Hopefully other drivers don’t notice the old lady rocking out a little down the road.

High School also brought us the Beach Boys, so I listen to “Surfing’ Safari,” and folk music, which took us to coffee houses and brought in social consciousness. I have some Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio and, probably my favorites, Peter, Paul & Mary. My concert days included all of them except Joan Baez. I went to this concert when I was a senior. imagesFor this list, I don’t have my Barbra Streisand favorites, but there are songs from Diana Ross & the Supremes, Credence Clearwater, and Simon & Garfunkel. It’s a hodgepodge for me to sing and think about.

The years went by, and there are a bunch of songs from The Beatles, who we discovered our freshman year in college when they were on Ed Sullivan and then embraced from then on.UnknownAnd, to round it out, my country vibes are all out there with Willie Nelson, because, well because WILLIE! I’ve got some of his most fun songs to make me smile and sing, “I Didn’t Come Here,” “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” “Big Booty,” and “On the Road Again,” because you have to have that one when you’re driving.

Some of these songs take me back to all the fun of dancing for hours with all my friends, some take me to the times when I listened to songs in my dorm room and tried to understand love, friendship and the world around me, some take me to concerts I attended (Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Beach Boys, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Paul McCartney) and some I just have to hear. I’m not even a bar person, but get a kick out of the drinking songs. I keep thinking of another playlist, but this one is so much fun that I haven’t gotten around to it.

If you see me on the road, don’t laugh. Find your own favorites to sing along with and see if it doesn’t make the trip go a little faster!

 

 

I almost made it without writing this. Here is that day again, the day that reminds me that I lost my son, my only son, my youngest child, seven years ago today. There’s just no ducking it, especially since his family and friends miss him. That’s good – to be remembered so lovingly.

Today I was driving in the country on my way to appointments, trying to put thoughts together, piecing together the memories. I heard his voice on a tape in the car that played randomly on a playlist. I remembered things and bit my lip and didn’t scream at the universe because that’s really not what I do. He was 35 years old, which means he lived his whole life in 35 years. Some of us take longer to get it all done.

This time, I seemed to focus on what he is missing not being here to watch his nephews and niece and his daughter grow up. We are lucky that he left us his daughter. I’m lucky that I got to witness their bond because it was something special.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe was 15 months old when he died, already showing us a personality that rivaled her daddy’s at that age. Here’s how she looked the last day he spent with her.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no doubt he didn’t want to leave this cutie behind. My mind did its tricks, whipping between memories and what ifs. Would she be as strong a personality if he had lived? Would she show the kindness that she has for all living things? Did his death make her stronger or bring out the best in her?

Well, crap. Who knows?

And so the day went by as I mixed my regular appointments and conversations with memories that came and went. Grief is unique for each loss. I know I mourn him differently than his sisters, his wife, his daughter, his friends and yet we share a common grief. We can laugh at the same stories and pictures and then have our personal feelings of loss.

This January 10, I focused on what he was missing because I already know how much I am.

I’m grateful for the time we had. It’s better to live with the grief than to imagine a world that never knew him. That would be the tragedy.