Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday Musings

When I was born, my great grandparents must have been in their early 70s.  Oscar and Ada lived in the rolling hills of El Cajon, east of San Diego.  Ada's sister, Lou Goodale Bigelow, lived in a cottage that was attached to her sister's house by a breezeway.  The house was on a few acres of orange trees on a hill behind the house.  I remember the dry clumpy dirt plowed between the rows, and how hard it was to traverse this landscape with my small child feet.  I mostly stayed out of the orchard, and spent my time on the tree swing beneath the enormous walnut tree just outside the front of the house.  The old tree dwarfed the house and was a prolific producer.  My sisters and I would gather up walnuts by the bag full.  No doubt these nuts were not ready to eat, but Great Grandmother (which we always called her, as she was very proper) always had walnuts on hand for us to crack, pick, and munch.  Such a simple and memorable treat for a child.

Oscar was an exceptionally tall and very broad man, even in his later years.  He had a large squarish head with wide cheekbones and a prominent nose.  I remember his hands, so large they were, that I doubt I've ever met a living soul with any hands that could rival his.  These hands served him well on the farm, and in the auto shop he would later run with his brother Clyde.  I never met Clyde, he was gone before my time, but he if shared these physical traits with Great Grandfather, they must have been a formidable pair.  Clyde must have been a Herculean man, for as a young man with a new family, he homesteaded a farm for many years.  Put it together from scratch, starting with a dirt dugout.

Ada, on the other had, was a petite woman with delicate features and beautiful tapered fingers.  As a child I knew her as a white haired, stooped  old lady, whose skin was always soft and cool, even on a blistering summer day.  Always impeccably dressed, she kept a tidy house that was adorned with Hummel figurines and lace curtains.  Fine china on the sideboard never left their nesting place, as far as I could tell.  Her house was not one for running in, though I don't ever remember her scolding any of the children.  We just knew, whether by parental instruction or pure instinct, that we had to be on our best behavior in her house.  The one place we could let our hair down a bit was the back porch.  It was a large screened in affair, with a concrete floor painted red, white wicker furniture, and the cat bed.  This is where kitty lived, not in the main house.  She was a long-haired variety, and elusive even on the porch, which ran the length of the house.  It, too, was tidy, but less formal and it allowed us to sprawl on the furniture without risking disapproval.  On hot summer days, the concrete floor was cool and inviting, and always spotless.  It was a refreshing spot to lie down, and hope the cat would amble over for a pat.

Aunty Lou, as we called her, lived what seemed to be a fairly solitary life across the breezeway.  Retired from photography and painting,  having sold her studio to her long time friend Jeanette, she lived 30 feet from her family in a cottage that was locked away in time.  We didn't visit often, and I never quite knew what to say to her.  She was ancient, and eccentric, and her dwelling was filled with heavy Victorian furniture, including a very uncomfortable horse hair couch.  Dark curtains kept the light out, and it seemed an altogether otherworldly place to my young self.  She died in her sleep when I was young, perhaps 8 years old.  Died in that substantial Victorian four poster bed with its dark wood and fancy scroll work. I think this was my first experience of death, and I didn't quite understand how she could be 'gone.' 

As an adult I have become knowledgeable about all of their lives when they were young.  I have quite a collection of photographs of these ancestors throughout their existence.  As newlyweds, young parents, middle aged with grown children and grandchildren.  Their lives before I knew them, full of vitality and struggle, travels and tedium, all that living encompasses.  I am thinking a lot of them now, now that my parents are experiencing their own great grandchildren.  Those kids only know my folks as old folks.  And who knows for how long they will know them? 

My parents were never overly enamored of spending time with their grandchildren, but they seem to take a keener interest in the latest generation.  I wonder what my grand children will remember of them?  It's impossible to motivate young children to take an interest in older folks whom they don't visit that often.  There is little connection, and little interest in what these somewhat strange grown ups are all about.  Better to go lie on the cool concrete floor and play with the cat while the adults get on with their endless conversation.

10 comments:

  1. How wonderful that you got to meet and know your grand-parents. I think wanting to know about our ancestors' histories comes with age. When we are young, they're just old-old people. Later their lives will become rich with meaning as the later generations discover the relevant and revelatory ancient connections.

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    1. Knowing the great-grands is especially awesome. Hearing their stories of courting on a horse and buggy always intrigued me.

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  2. So enjoyed reading this Tara! You write so well that everything came alive for me!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. They were magical people to me.

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  3. Such a vivid picture! And I can feel the cool concrete and remember the sound of adult conversation. Thank you for writing this down.

    I only remember meeting my only living grandparent, my father's mother, when I was a very young child. My father took his wife and young family back to Minneapolis from California in the early 1950s. My grandmother had seen me only once before, when I was just beginning to walk. In the photo I have of that visit, she appears to be delighted with me. I have no memory of that. My first memory of her is of the second visit when I was maybe 3 years old and upon seeing me, she pinched my cheek so hard that it hurt. In the morning at her house, I heard her tell my mother than I was spoiled and that was because I wouldn't eat the white part of the egg she cooked for me. Egg whites made me gag, but I wasn't able to explain that to her. She died when I was 7 years old. I felt no connection with her at all. Since then I have learned about her youth and the 11-year courtship by my grandfather who met her when he was a seminary student in Red Wing, Minnesota, and she was in high school. During the 11 years of that courtship, she worked in the county auditor's office where her father was the county auditor, and exchanged letters with my grandfather, who during those years earned several college degrees and became a lawyer and finally asked her to marry him. In the photos of her during her teens and twenties, she appears to be a beautiful, lively, exuberant, independent young woman.

    It is occurring to me right now that she must have been about 73 years old during the visit I remember -- only a few years older than I am now. My grandfather had died 4 months after I was born. My grandparents on my mother's side had both died by the time my mother married my father.

    What you wrote reminded me very much of how limited my connection was with my own grandparents. Like you, I am grateful to have photos to connect me to those who came before my parents and who were so much more than what I could see in them from my perspective as a small child.

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  4. One of my grandmothers had died before I was born, but I was very lucky to know my dad's grandmother, my great-grandmother. Grandma Sue was wonderful! She even babysat me when I was very young; and she lived on her own until she was 90! That seems like a high bar to meet.

    We also just knew to behave when we visited her home. She did not live very far away, and she even kept toys in her guest room for little people like us. Oh, and she had treasures -- there was an ornate puzzle box; she kept a jade turtle in her dining room cupboard, which we happily visited each time. She's the only person I knew who could tell stories about before telephones, and before automobiles. Also, she is the only person who cooked me spinach in my youth -- had to re-discover it later in life.

    Thanks for sharing your memories. xoxo

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    1. Grandma Sue sounds wonderful! She knew what children love, and engaged you. Perfect.

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  5. I just read this Tara, you write so well, so wonderful it comes alive.

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