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Posts Tagged ‘mothers’


By Marylin Schultz




My Father In Front Of The Family Ford — Earl Russell Biggs II, vintage family postcard, circa early 1900’s, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Images from long ago—letters, photographs, postcards, communicate family history, like ribbons tying up bundles of memories. I look into the sweet innocence of children’s faces and reflect on what I do know of their lives. Little Earl Russell Biggs, II, my father, placed in front of his family’s first automobile by a proud papa. There would eventually be four generations of men in the family, given that name. Family tradition had each generation alternating the names they were “known as.” My grandfather was called Earl, my father went by Russell. My brother was called Earl and his son was known as Russ, or the nick-name,” Rusty.”

The baby, Frances Louise Oliver, my mother, was as fair in complexion as E. Russell was dark. Their childhoods would also be in stark contrast. He was born in 1910, and she was three years younger. Frances was the adored, pampered baby of her family, with three brothers and a sister, much older than she. Frances always got what she wanted, I’m told, and became a woman who maintained that expectation from life.


My Mother — Frances Louise Oliver, family photo scan
© 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Russell’s life probably began happily enough. His father and mother, Mary Dickens Biggs, lived in Childress, Texas, where he was a successful businessman in banking, and insurance, as well as owning a cattle ranch, where the family lived. Russell was big brother to Emma Ruth, five years younger than he was. In 1920, tragedy struck the young family. Mary Dickens Biggs, who was expecting their third child, died from the dreaded Influenza that took over 20 million lives in Europe and America.

The parents of E. R. Biggs, Sr. were no longer living, and Mary’s parents offered to care for the children, so the devastated father agreed. Russell and Emmy spent the next two years with the Dickens family, who were living on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, where Felix Dickens, Mary’s brother, was the BIA Agent.

E. R. Biggs married his second wife, Lillian, and the two children were moved back to their Texas home. Very soon, however, Russell, at the age of twelve, was sent off to a Military Academy, and spent the rest of his school years there, only home for the summers and holidays. E.R. and Lillian had another son and daughter. It was one of those cases of a step-mother, whose “own” children could do no wrong, and the older children felt deeply, the deprivation of approval and affection. Emma, while still a teenager, had a baby, who was immediately placed for adoption, never experiencing even one embrace of the young mother who so desperately wanted to love and be loved.




(L to R) Paul, Harriet, Eloise, Mildred, & Grace Dickens, Russell Biggs (My Father) on right, Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I always wondered what it must have been like to grow up on Indian reservations, which the five Dickens children experienced. As we know from the postcard, they were in Oklahoma, then Minnesota and later in Washington State. As a child, I remember my father’s Uncle Felix visiting us a few times at our home in California. I have a few letters that he wrote to my Aunt Emma, which were from a reservation in South Dakota. These were at a much later date, when Emma was an adult.


Side B: Back of the Postcard of Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I finally met some of my Dickens relatives in an unusual way. After the deaths of my mother and father, I received all the family documents. In going through the papers I learned that Mary Dickens was born in McGregor, Iowa. My husband and I were scheduled to drive from our home in Bismarck, No. Dakota to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a convention, the very next day. I looked at a map and saw that McGregor was only a few miles south, and across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien. I decided to see if I could find a trace of the Dickens family in the small, riverside town of McGregor.

It was a cold, gray November Saturday. The trees along the river were bare, but the drive along the river was peaceful and I was feeling hopeful. When I entered the town, I saw a building marked “Museum,” and I parked. The sign on the Museum door said something like “Closed. See you next Spring.” The only place open was the Hardware Store, so I went in. The woman behind the counter gave me a warm welcome. I told her of my quest for family members and asked if she knew of any Dickens who were still living in the area.

“Harvey Dickens lives about five miles west of town,” she replied. “Would you like to call him from here?” I answered in the affirmative just as the phone rang. She spoke to the person for a few minutes, and then I heard her say, “There’s someone here who wants to speak to you,” and handing the phone to me, with a big smile, she said, “It’s Harvey Dickens.” I gasped in amazement at the coincidence, and took the phone. I gave a very brief explanation of who I was. He invited me to come to his home, and I scribbled down the directions he gave, handed the phone back to the woman and thanked her. She smiled and wished me good luck, and I hurried to my car.


Harvey had given good directions to his farm, and I found it with no problem. The plain, two story home, painted a soft yellow, with dark green shutters at the windows, was well cared for. There was a row of pine trees to the west of the house, offering a buffer from the prevailing prairie winds, and a hedge of Lilac bushes between house and out-buildings. The tires of my car made a crunching sound on the neatly graveled driveway. Harvey opened the door of the house before I started up the steps. His smile was wide.

“Come on in, little lady, it’s cold out there!” He introduced me to his wife, Louise, and immediately I felt the genuine warmth of their welcome. They already had a box of old papers and photographs for me to look at. Harvey was a slightly built man, about 70 years old. Louise, looking comfortable in sweater and jeans, offered me coffee, as we sat down around the kitchen table.

“We have four children, but they’ve all moved away,” Louise said, filling my cup.

With a sigh, Harvey added, “Not much to keep them in a small town in Iowa, and none of ‘em was interested in farming.” Harvey took photos out of the box, pointing out each individual by name. “Better write down those names on the back,” Louise gently chided. “No one but you can identify them anymore.” I listened carefully, not recognizing any names until he said, “And this is Uncle Felix.”

“Yes,” I said, now excited, as he handed it to me. “Did he have three daughters, who lived in Washington?” He smiled broadly, and replied, giving me their names. We had made a connection, as it turned out that his grandfather was my great-grandfather. We looked at more photographs and he gave me the names and addresses of other cousins that had done more research into the family history.

We were engrossed in each others’ family anecdotes, laughing at the funny little quirks that all families have, and the morning flew quickly by. I turned down an offer of a noon meal, and told them I needed to get back to La Crosse.

“Now, if you can come back, I’ll take you to the cemetery; quite a few Dickens there,” Harvey said.

“You keep in touch,” Louise whispered in my ear, as we exchanged a hug.

“I promise I will, and thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to meet you. I feel like I’ve been with old friends,” I replied.

“Nope, better than friends, we’re family!” Those were Harvey’s last words to me as I got into my car. That brief visit opened up a whole new chapter in my family history, and as I drove across the bridge over the wide Mississippi, I felt truly blessed.




Editor’s Note: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professional photographers offered customers the choice of placing photographs on postcards, like the “packages” they sell today. Some were taken in a studio and others at different locations. The photo of Frances was taken in a studio, and the other two at the homes of their clients. Images From The Past was partly inspired by conversation on the postcard piece Joshua Trees & Desert Sands — Jan 25 1947.




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy and a Writing Practice, Kindness.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


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By Bob Chrisman

In my mind it’s too early to think of spring cleaning. As I write that sentence my thoughts veer off in another direction. I never clean my house unless company will arrive within a few hours. Those little cleaning spurts only touch the surface dirt and clutter, not at all like spring cleaning, but sufficient to fool guests into thinking I live in a neat, tidy and clean house.

Spring cleaning to me means days of going after the accumulated dirt of the winter. My mother took down all the sheers and curtains and washed them in the wringer washer. She fed them through the rollers to press the water out and then rinsed them before sending them through the wringer and into an empty wash tub. When she finished she hung everything outside on the clothesline to dry in the sun and wind.

As the laundry dried in the fresh air, she donned her rubber gloves and armed with old rags and a bucket of water went after the windows inside and out as my father removed the storm windows and replaced them with the screen windows. He took the screen windows out of storage in the basement, wiped them down and leaned them against the house. He started the removal of the storms at the front of the house and washed and dried them before he took them to the basement to store until fall cleaning.

Mom climbed the step ladder placed next to the house and washed the window panes and window sills. Then she wiped them dry. My sister and I stood inside and pointed out spots that she missed until she handed us a bucket and a sponge and we became her assistants.

Once the window panes sparkled and Dad had installed all of the screens, Mom would open every window in the house to “air out the place.” This airing occurred regardless of the outside temperature and lasted long enough for her to proclaim that the air inside was fresh.

She washed and waxed the wood floors throughout the house in the early years. After we installed linoleum in the kitchen and wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room, she would polish the kitchen floor until it gleamed and take her Kirby upright sweeper to the rug in the living room.

Just writing about it makes me tired. I think I’ll go take a nap and think about spring cleaning on a smaller scale when I wake up. Or, maybe I won’t think about it at all anymore.


-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, WRITING TOPIC — WINDOW, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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Me: I love my new Spin class.

Mom: Ew, I don’t think I could do that one; I’d throw up.

Me: Yeah, I feel pretty bad for the first 15 minutes, but more my breathing than my stomach.

Mom: But aren’t you really dizzy after all that spinning??

Me: What do you mean? Just your legs are spinning.

Mom: Just your legs??? I thought…don’t you…well, what is Spin class anyway?

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poker mom

Poker Mom, ybonesy’s mom, Margie (hair up in curlers), on poker night, circa 1950s, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.






To my mom, QM’s mom, Liz’s mom, and all the moms out there:






you are the best!


happy mother’s day!






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By Judith Ford


Image by Jude Ford, July 2009, in front of the Mathematics Building, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, photo © 2010 Jude Ford. All rights reserved.


This is my son, at the door of the math building at the University of Michigan. A month after this picture he’d go through that door to begin his life as a math PhD candidate and as a college teacher. He’d discover the frustration of trying to teach calculus to a bunch of freshmen who wouldn’t give a damn. Who wouldn’t share one drop of the passion he feels for his subject. Years before this photo, he’d told me, with tears in his eyes, that he wished more people could see how elegant and beautiful math was.

Despite the beauty of math, it was never enough.

My son started grad school a month short of his 21st birthday. He was overly ready and not ready at all. He’d had a summer of brutal awakenings, realization upon realization of all he missed out on by being a child math prodigy. Not that he could have avoided being who he was. He was blessed, as much as cursed, with an unusual mind, shunned by children who thought he was showing off, trying to make them feel stupid, when all he was doing was using the language and thoughts natural to him. He had a 30-year-old’s vocabulary by the time he was in first grade. I’m not kidding.

He and I had a conversation just a week ago, about his intellectual differentness. He pointed out to me that he’d met a lot of really smart people in the honors math program at the U of Chicago, from which he’d graduated last June. “There are a lot of people out there who are way smarter than I am,” he said. “I don’t think I was all that unusual when I was a kid.”

I disagreed. “Yes, dear, you really were different. It was obvious by the time you were 2. You learned things in big huge gulps. At a rate that wasn’t usual, that was, frankly, a little scary. And you didn’t know how to play with other kids.”

“I still don’t.”

“That’s what was scary to me when you got tested and those scores came back so freakishly high. I knew you were going to be lonely.”

“I don’t remember ever not being lonely.”

“Kids your age were intimidated by you. By third grade, they’d started avoiding you.”

“I thought they all knew this secret thing that I’d somehow missed out on. I thought math could make up for that. I thought it would solve everything. I was pathetic. I never learned how to be a human being.”

“How brave of you to see that,” I think I said. “So now what do you need to do?”

“I don’t have a clue,” he answered.

There’s ivy growing over the top of this door, up at the right hand corner. Brings to mind the academic cliché of ivied walls and the idea that this door, being partly occluded, is yet another incomplete solution, leading to an unknown and no doubt imperfect path. Math, a career in math, still won’t solve my son’s life or end his loneliness.

See the way he holds his arms and shoulders. His uncertainty and discomfort are obvious. And that he’s trying to be patient with me as I take his picture. He squints at me. He frowns. He knows I’m doing a mom thing that, for some reasons not clear to him, I need to do.

Does he know how my heart hurts for him? How much I wish I could soothe away the pain in his face with something as simple as a hug and a bedtime story. How these things, too, are mom things that I can’t help feeling. He doesn’t need to know. I don’t tell him and I try not to let him see.

He tolerates my hug when I say good-bye. He doesn’t hug back. He doesn’t hold on. His gaze, over my shoulder, already fixed on that door.

It’s trite to say that when he walked through that door he walked into the rest of his life. But I want to say it. So I am. He did. He walked into his adult life without a clue. Which is the only way possible to walk into one’s life. And interestingly, the only way that is, in fact, a kind of solution.


Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. She joins ybonesy and QuoinMonkey in writing about Topic post WRITING TOPIC — DOOR. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include Mystery E.R. and a writing group practice I Write Because.

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It’s so quiet. Mr. Stripeypants is down by the reflective heater, listening to me type. When I think of my birth, I think of a young girl, my mother Amelia, only 16 years old. I think of Augusta, Georgia in the 1950’s, Broad Street, one of the widest streets in the world, window shopping, my grandfather hanging out at the White Elephant bar. My mother tells me I had a thick head of black hair and the photographs bear that out. One in particular has me sitting in my grandfather’s lap. He is smiling, I am smiling, in a frilly dress and patent leather shoes.

I once thought I was born out of wedlock but that was another erroneous belief. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Mom and I were talking about her relationship with my father (whom I haven’t seen since I was about 6 years old) that she told me she married my father first — it wasn’t until later that I was conceived and born. I had thought until that time that she married him because she was pregnant. Nope. That’s how I began to learn how important it is to ask all the questions you have for your parents while they are still alive. Their memories may be fading, but at least you will have their version of what happened right from the horse’s mouth.

I was born not long after my Uncle Jack drowned in Clarks Hill Lake. He was only 18. Another assumption I made was that people were sad when I was born, still mourning the death of my uncle. Mom was quick to correct me, told me how joy-filled everyone was when I came into the world. What was it like for a 16-year-old in the 1950’s to birth a child? My father wasn’t a good provider. So my mother left him when I was two and went to work to put food on the table for us. Once she started showing, they made her quit high school, something that would be unthinkable today. They also made her quit her job in the Boy Scout admin office because they thought it would not be a good example for the boys to see a married woman that was pregnant.

It does make me realize how far we have come as women since the 1950’s. I recently heard a woman speak who was a stewardess on Northwest Orient in the 1950’s. She’s written a book and they were interviewing her on MPR. She said they had strict height and weight restrictions on stewardesses and you had to periodically “weigh in.” She also said you had to wear your hair a certain way, could not have dentures or partials, or wear glasses or contacts. Can you imagine the uproar today if those kinds of restrictions were put on American women?

But back to my birth. My earliest memories are not until I am about 6 years old. But once I went under hypnosis and remembered my birth father throwing me up in his arms and catching me, a loving gesture. I was an infant, all smiles. When I think of my birth, I think of my grandmother, too. And wish I could ask her what it was like for her when I was born. My mother tells me that nursing was painful. It makes me want to ask other women if nursing is painful for them. I never hear anyone talk about it. Much like I never hear people talk about miscarriages.

There are so many opportunities for women to be shamed. Are they good mothers, do they nurse, have they miscarried — many things which are out of their control. Did they have a natural birth or was labor induced. All of this falls on women, women who become mothers. A few years ago, my mother and I tried to find her step-sister’s grave. She died shortly after birth and my grandmother had scraped together the money for a marker. It was a rainy Georgia afternoon when Mom and I wandered through the Babyland area of the cemetery and finally stumbled upon her overgrown marker. There was an angel engraved into the stone.

Mom pushed the grass away with her foot, umbrella in her other hand, and I snapped a photograph. It was one of my first ventures back to Georgia to dig up the family history, interview my mother and other family members. The journey has led to many emotional ups and downs, most good. I felt happy that we had found the baby’s grave. And wondered about the circumstances of her birth. My grandmother is no longer here to tell me. She was unlucky in love in her early life. But the last man she married, Raymond, was a sweetheart. I felt so happy she finally found a man who would be sweet to her, someone she deserved.

You know what’s odd? I more remember the circumstances of each of my sibling’s births than I do my own. I was 4 years old when my brother came home from the hospital in Tennessee. I was 14 when my youngest sibling was born. We remember more than we think we do. If the right question is asked, a jumble of strange seemingly unlinked thoughts and emotions pour through the mind and heart. And that only leaves you to wonder more — what will be the circumstances of my death?




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the third of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman); PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by ybonesy), and PRACTICE — Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by ybonesy), and two Guest practices False Accusation, Almost Dying.

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Here’s what I know. Mom and Dad were living on Neat Lane in Albuquerque’s south valley. There were four kids at home, three girls and a boy. Larry had been the youngest, he was four, and Mom and Dad were hoping for a boy to play with him. That’s one of the details of my birth that I grew up knowing.

I also grew up knowing that I was named after my mom’s mom and that Dad hadn’t wanted to name me that but they’d run out of names. They’d named the oldest daughter Patricia, after mom’s brother Pat. The next one Roberta, after Mom’s other brother, Robert. Janet must have gotten a name that came with no obligations; just a name that Mom and Dad liked. Larry, or Lawrence—his must have been a name they liked, too. I can’t think of any Larrys in the family. And then when I was girl, they gave me Roma. And Mom always says that grandma was “tickled.”

Mom had me in a hospital. The old Saint Jo’s. Whenever we drove on the freeway out to Los Lunas, Mom would point off toward the new St. Joseph’s and say, “See the older building? That’s where you were born.” All these years I thought it was this really old building that is about two or three stories, made of thick granite stone that has turned a sooty gray. I had taken to pointing it out whenever we were near there and telling my girls that that was where I was born. But just the other day, when I took my mom to the new St. Jo’s to get eye surgery, she pointed to a different old building and said that one was the old hospital. “Well, what’s that building over there,” I asked. “Oh, that’s the old sanitarium.”

So all this time, the place where I thought I had been born was actually the old mental institution. It was a letdown to know that the old St. Jo’s was not nearly as old looking. It just looked like a lesser, worn-down hospital.

I do know that back in the days when Mom had her kids, they let mothers stay for three or so days afterward in order to recuperate. I imagine that must have been the calm before the storm. Back home, waiting, there were a 4-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 12-year-old. Wow. Just tonight I went shopping with the girls for two hours and afterward, on the drive home, the girls were chatty and excited, and I had to say, “Hey you two, I’m a little overwhelmed so can we drive the rest of the way in silence?”

They were good about it, and so was I. Mom would have just screamed, “I can’t stand it anymore!” Poor Mom. Five kids is an awful lot to have.

That’s about all I know of my birth story. Everything fast forwards from there on out to when I got sick with the croup and the emergency tracheotomy. It’s funny, though. I can picture them coming back home with me. I think in those days moms held their infants in their laps in the car. I’m pretty sure Dad had a big car. I’ve seen a big car in the old photos. And I picture Dad and Mom walking into the small house they had, and all the kids being excited. I wonder if Larry was disappointed. I bet he was.

I think I slept in a crib in Mom and Dad’s bedroom for my first year, maybe two. I remember sharing a room with Janet, and did Larry share a room with us, too? I know the house only had a couple of bedrooms. Dad converted the garage into a den. There are a lot of gaps in my memory about the house on Neat Lane.

I don’t have a baby book, but we had lots of old pictures. I was in plenty of them, often being held up on Dad’s knee for the camera. And we have lots of old movies. Jim took them and had some made into a video for my parents’ 50th. Or was it for their 60th?




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the third of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman); PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by ybonesy), and PRACTICE — Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey); PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman)

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