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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.

I didn’t give it a name for a long time. PTSD was something that soldiers brought back from war, not something that people living ordinary lives had. That was beyond naive, as I found in the years following my husband’s death.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome: A disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. The condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions

My husband had cancer, but we didn’t think it was close to the end as there were still things we were exploring. He didn’t feel well, so stayed home from work that morning, over 21 years ago, and I fixed him breakfast before I left to run an errand. When I returned after less than an hour, the house was eerily silent and I went upstairs to find him on the floor. Sparing you the details, which I could recount easily without pause, it was a shock, a shock to my system.

None of us understands what happens to make us react to some events in one way and to other events in another. I spent months, years dealing with that shock. I would relive it at odd times and at recognizable times until I learned to, literally, stop the film, not let it rerun in its entirety. If I wanted to, I could play it at any time now, but I don’t.

What I learned is to look around and realize that I am not the only one in this situation. I learned that, no matter how compassionate and sympathetic I had been to my friends who lost someone, I’d not really understood. At least, my understanding wasn’t as educated by experience as it was now was.

Fast forward and I’ve been through other life traumas, but none that rattled my brain like that one. No particular reason for that one other than it was so unexpected at the moment. My brain didn’t cope with it or process as I normally would have. Other things that happened were awful, but my brain didn’t react the same way. I processed better. Then this new incident shook me.

I’ve always had pets, dogs and cats along with the hamsters and lizards that came with having children. Twelve years ago, I went to get a kitten and ended up with two brothers because I couldn’t make a choice or separate them. They were billed as Siamese/Tabby mix and weighed one pound each. Mickey was named for Mickey Mantle because he batted at things with both feet, a switch hitter. He was more burly looking and was the sweetest boy, always doing something silly or cuddling up with the dogs or me. Guy was definitely Siamese, named Guy because I thought he was female and gave him a girl name until I found out. He did not like to be held or confined, but loved to be petted and purred so loudly you could hear him across the room. He was elegant and strong. So we lived our lives with the girl dogs and the boy cats existing in harmony. The boys were inside outside cats and spent time with their secret lives outside, but mostly hanging around the yard or curled up inside. They were street smart as to dogs, cars, hawks and owls and even an occasional fox.

I left on a trip this summer and didn’t see Mickey as I left. I kept checking but nobody had seen him and I was sick at heart. When I got back, Guy was missing, too. I was heart-broken and posted notices, went to the animal shelter, drove around calling so they might hear my car or voice. Nothing. Not a sign. The answer was a Facebook post showing a coyote nearby. I knew immediately what had happened. You need to understand that I live in the city, an urban area, although there are creeks and the Arkansas River within a couple of miles. We’re not in the country where I might have expected this. This is a predator who has invaded our city, taking pets from yards. We had severe flooding this spring, coupled with ever present development, so I can’t blame the animals for being animals.

But still. I’ve tried to go all Circle of Life on this, but it is haunting me. Maybe I’ve watched too many nature shows and watched how brutal it is. Maybe the online descriptions of pets being taken in front of their owners and descriptions of the torn carcasses got to me. I’ve had nightmares of my boys being grabbed and so on. One night my older dog barked for hours, which I’ve never heard her do. She heard or sensed something outside that was wrong. Her bark wasn’t even normal and it was creepy. It’s another PTSD because it is a shock to my brain even though I didn’t witness anything. I’m getting better, but it stings and it’s taking longer than I thought to turn off.

The lesson I’m taking from this is that there are predators in our world and they interrupt our everyday lives with their horror. I’m suddenly thinking what I would feel if I were a parent or spouse and my loved one was killed by a predator while doing normal things like going to school or a movie or a concert or shopping, or if I were in the middle of an attack, watching people being shot around me when we were supposed to be doing something ordinary. I can only imagine how their sleep is interrupted with terrifying images, how they try to move every day knowing their loved one was ripped from them or they saw the horrible aftermath of the attack. Even if you weren’t there in person, your imagination takes over and the happy memories roll around with the horror until you can learn to separate and deal with it all.

My lesson for us all is that we don’t know what predators are attacking people we see in our everyday lives. The predator could be disease or violence or anything they are trying to process with their heart and brain. We don’t process every event the same because we are human and we can’t always control our reactions.

My thought is that we need to be kind to each other. Always be kind.

Oh so many years ago, my college roommate and I were having one of those deep discussions about life when she made the comment that I had a great ability to see things from all points of view. I considered it a compliment and buried it in my mind as something I should work to improve.

Fast forward a bunch of years to a conversation with my mother. I had grown children by this time and we were discussing something that had happened many years ago. I told the story and she said, “that’s not how it happened at all.” I sat stunned because I knew I remembered it correctly, but she told me her version. In an eye opening flash, I realized that both our versions were true – to us at least. That moment has stayed with me ever since as I live and observe my family and friends.

I adored my mother, most of the time. She had the annoying habit of always wanting to be right. Even more annoying to me was that she was right even when I didn’t want her to be. She had a lot of common sense and strong opinions, while I was more inclined to be a peacemaker in the family and avoid arguments. I identified more with my father when I was young, often because my mother always considered him the most wonderful man in the world. And, I was a lot like him in personality, not the wonderful part.

Through the years, I grew more like my mother in some ways and she mellowed in her opinions. Some of the most enlightening times were when I went to her as an adult with serious issues and she absolutely understood and supported me, even when I would have thought it contradicted everything I thought she believed. She would relate a story from her life that corresponded and let me know that had been there or seen this before. We grew closer as we both got older through our serious talks.

My Mommy was the most fun, always ready to go anywhere, always laughing with us. We did everything from driving around town to see what was new to traveling to foreign cities. She taught me to never turn down an invitation and to see everything you could wherever you were. She grew up poor during the depression and wasn’t able to go to college but was one of the most educated people I have known. She read and talked to people and never quit learning.

But, with all her wonderfulness, we had our moments when I gritted my teeth and was so mad at her. I stood my ground when I needed to and quietly let her think I was doing it her way when it worked. I was a teenaged girl with an all knowing mother when I really didn’t want to be understood. I wanted to be me, not her. Why didn’t she get that? As an adult, I tolerated her desire to be constantly in my life, showing up at my house unexpectedly whenever. Gad! So annoying. So annoying to be loved when I just wanted to be mad.

Back to my original point, I think about all of these things a lot as I watch my own grown children with their getting to be adult children. And, of course, I try to see it within the full circle. To say I get my mother now more than ever is an understatement.

In the past few weeks, several of my friends have mentioned that their grown children aren’t speaking to them and they are trying to understand what happened. I think about how our stories are true to ourselves, even when someone else’s version differs greatly. The different versions are due to being different ages when whatever happened, plus distorted by personality. Stories that are similar are those that have been shared, so siblings may remember it one way because they talked about it without the parent’s version. Stories that are shared with the whole family become family lore with everyone on the same page.

I listen to my friends who have shared with me over the years and can’t pinpoint what would cause a rift. But, I only know their version. As one said, “We did plenty of eye rolls with our parents.” Yes, we did. I see the eye rolls all the time with my own and try to absorb it as my mother did. What else can you do?

So, now I’m in the last part of my life, which could end anywhere from now to twenty or thirty years from now. Who knows? I also know I could outlive some of my children and grandchildren because I’ve already outlived my son. I think of my mother who was a stay at home mother back when everyone was and then found herself with the empty nest and an estranged child and then alone, wanting nothing more than to share whatever moments and memories she could with her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We rolled our eyes and were annoyed and did include her as much as we wanted to, which could not possibly have been as much as she wanted to be with us. I knew and had my selfish moments that I’m not proud of, even when I knew what she needed.

We love our children and try to at least give them things that are funny to do the eye rolls about and cherish the moments they share their lives with us without thinking about it because they want us there. I love the sharing on social media where I can see my friends’ families and their memories. I am also very aware of my friends who don’t have family moments to share and live with heartbreak. I also know there can be sadness behind even the happiest published photos. Life is…life.

My mother would get all of this, just as I get where she was in her last years. She knew I never meant to hurt her feelings and lived for what time she had with us. She loved all of us through the good times and the difficult ones because she got to share all of it.

In the end, the versions of the stories make it hard when you don’t try to see the other side and time goes by way too quickly and then it’s over. Life truly is short. Hopefully, loving memories prevail and time is not wasted and lives are shared for as long as possible with greater understanding as we each stand in the other’s shoes.

The greatest story to share in life is love.

Looking at this picture of my family on Easter, 1953, you must notice the unique Easter baskets we are holding. I’m not sure why we all look so serious, but those baskets bring a smile to my face today.

For many years, the ladies at my grandmother’s church made and sold these baskets in the Spring. I remember going with her one time and watching them put them together, probably in a lively assembly line. There were actually two styles: the petal basket shown here and one that was more of a gathered skirt. I always liked the petals.

My grandmother was raised Catholic, but converted to the Episcopal Church when she married my grandfather, probably because you couldn’t marry outside the church in the early 1900s. They grew up in the same small town and were married for 55 years, raising three sons and a daughter. Their youngest son died in World War II, with all the boys and their son-in-law serving in the military. I am the middle of their nine grandchildren and spent a lot of time visiting and staying with them, absorbing a lot of lessons about love and marriage just being around them. One of the things I think about when I remember the baskets is how my grandmother’s hands were crippled by arthritis. She also had a finger that she couldn’t bend, the result of blood poisoning when she cut it on a tin cup from what I remember. That makes me appreciate the delicate work on the baskets and makes them even more dear to me.

When I first thought about the baskets, I thought I might still have one and I found it. I must have saved this when I was older, so they made them for many years. Even after all these years, you can see the work. They started with a Quaker oatmeal box and cut it down. I guess the handle was wire, wrapped in ribbon. The petals and the little flowers are heavy crepe paper, cut and shaped very delicately. All the pieces were assembled with precision by these women, working in their small Episcopal church in Oklahoma City. The church was later closed (maybe moved to a larger location, but I don’t know). I heard the building I remembered became a bar.

I’m 73 now and in the Easter picture I was 7, so the years have zoomed by. So many things forgotten and so many special things remembered. I don’t have any profound observations about this memory, but it’s a happy one and a window to the past, my past. I wish you and your families and friends many special experiences to create your memories. Happy Easter, Happy Spring.

“The Seventh Generation Principle is based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.”

I heard this mentioned the other night while watching the PBS show “Native America,” and it struck me that there might not be seven generations down from me. I can see three, but what is going to happen to the next four? What will their lives be like, if they even exist?

Looking back, I can see up to 10 or more generations of some of the branches of my family. I’m not sure that most of them were concerned with more than living to the next generation due to the hardships of their lives back then. Even the ones who were more comfortable financially fell to disease, illness and accidents. But, they persevered and here I am.

Did the ones who were farmers worry about the land not providing for them? Did the hunters think there would be no more game? Did my great-grandfather who owned the company that sold grain worry about the future of the crops seven generations away? Did my great-great grandfather who died treating Yellow Fever patients worry about whether I would have to deal with this disease so many generations down his line? I don’t know.

What is true is that we know today that that we can influence the future – or we can destroy it. We’ve lost that ancient idea that we are part of this earth, equal to the plants and animals, birds and fish. I’m reading Annie Proulx’s novel, “Barkskins,” cringing as the Europeans ravage North America’s forests for wood for ships and houses after they had devastated the forests of their own countries. The Native Americans in the story are losing their connections with nature as they are assimilated into the new culture. Humans have chosen greed over the future for centuries.

So, I will continue to fight for the things that I want in my world, hoping they continue into the future. I will work for better education, women’s and children’s issues, healthcare, a better city and state where I live.

The older I get, the more I find my soul restored by beauty of nature where I find myself to be such a minuscule bit of life balanced by the wildness around me. It puts me in my place and brings me peace of mind and strength of resolve to live my life in the best ways possible.

What I can do for my grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s children? The best thing I can think of for lasting value is to ensure that the earth and its inhabitants are cared for in the best possible ways. That’s the best gift I can think of for all those precious generations to come.DSC_0074

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.