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Posts Tagged ‘the value of photographs’


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.




_________________________




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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Bamboo Morning (Haiga)

Bamboo Morning (Haiga), BlackBerry 52, Jump-Off – Week 2, January 10th 2011, photo © 2011 by alotus_poetry. All rights reserved. Medium: Digital collage created using MS PowerPoint 2007 & Adobe Photoshop CS2. Photo taken on BlackBerry. Poem first created on magnetic poetry board with word kits.


I was in Ely, Minnesota on a hot July afternoon when a new haiku 2 (one-a-day) notification popped up on my BlackBerry. It was A~Lotus, a friend I met through red Ravine. Liz and I were taking a break in our room at the Adventure Inn before heading back to the North American Bear Center. I took a minute to read the comment:

Hey, here’s an idea: Why don’t we do a BB 365 Collaboration? We each do our own 365 photos and manipulate them however we want to, be it adding text/poetry, collages or any other mixed media. However, we will be responding to each other’s photos. It’s a triple challenge:

A) The first individual will take the first photo of the New Year.
B) The second individual will take a photo in response to the first individual.
C) Both individuals can be as creative as they want in their own separate photos.
D) By the end of the year, each individual will have their own 365 batch.



Already in the middle of a BlackBerry 365 Project for 2010 (view the entire year’s slideshow here), I had to do some soul-searching about whether I could commit to another year of taking a photo every day. Honey, Lucky, and Ted were waiting. I tucked the idea into the brim of my Minnesota Twins cap, sent off a quick response to Lotus, and headed back to the NABC:

A~Lotus, I’m on vacation up in Ely, Minnesota right now. But, at first glance, I like the idea of collaborating on a BlackBerry 365 year. I definitely want to do another kind of photo practice next year. It stretches me. So let me think about it a little more and read over your proposal again when I get back into town. I like your enthusiasm! Will check out your Flickr account.


Sun Bleached

Sun Bleached, BlackBerry 52, Jump-Off – Week 1, Golden Valley, Minnesota, January 3rd, 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few months flew by. I needed to respond. I agreed to post one photo each week for the 52 weeks of 2011. And that we’d call it BlackBerry 52. Lotus is a poet, so it seemed like a fun idea to also collaborate on one renga for the 52 weeks of 2011. We’d call that Renga 52 and keep it going for a whole year on haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52.

We finally landed on collaborative practices I felt I could stick to — one photo a week, one poetry addition a week. It’s tough to do any practice for an entire year. I’ll write about the challenges of BlackBerry 365 in another post. For tonight, here are the simple guidelines that A~Lotus and I are following for BlackBerry 52. It’s a call and response:

BlackBerry 52 Guidelines

  1. One person posts a BlackBerry photo on her Flickr account each Monday. This is the Jump-Off.
  2. The other responds with a BlackBerry photo, a haiga, a piece of art, any form of visual response.
  3. The response to the Jump-Off must be posted on Flickr by the end of the next Sunday.

If you’d like to join us for BlackBerry 52 each week, post your responses to the Jump-Offs on Flickr and drop the link into the comments. The Jump-Offs for January 3rd and 10th are the images above. (I’ll also add a BlackBerry 52 link to the sidebar.) You can follow A~Lotus on Twitter (where she writes poetry every day in community with other Twitter poets), at Poetry By Lotus, and on her Flickr account. Can’t wait to see what develops by next New Year’s Eve!


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

-related to posts: BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, BlackBerry 365: Things Loved, Things Learned

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Taco Soup

Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Family Recipes

Family Recipes, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Simple Taco Soup


1 lb. lean ground beef
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can Mexican chili beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can kidney beans
1 large can petite diced tomatoes
1 package taco seasoning mix


Brown ground beef and stir in the taco seasoning. Add canned veggies and simmer until flavors are blended — about 20 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with your choice of cheese, sour cream, cilantro, or tortilla chips.




Top With Your Choice

Top With Your Choice, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Comfort Food - Taco Soup

Comfort Food - Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sometimes it’s a gift to be a product of a blended family. There are different sets of parents, plumes of siblings, cousins galore. When I was in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago visiting my brother after his liver transplant, part of my Southern family showed up on the doorstep and surprised me. After driving the 10 hours from South Carolina, they literally stepped right out of the front seat of their car and into my brother’s kitchen. They came bearing gifts for a celebration of Thanksgiving. It was the first time in 45 years the Robertson side of the family had been together.

Though I’m not much of a cook, I love easy-to-make meals. One of my favorite gifts was a spiral bound recipe book. Daddy and Judy had handwritten simple recipes they collected from different members of the family. And behind the pages of the recipe cards, they tucked vintage family snapshots.


Like this one:


April 1973

April 1973, Vintage Family Snapshot In Recipe Book, Morristown, Tennessee, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


If you look closely, you might spot me there in Tennessee, in a half circle with my paternal grandparents, Ada and Jess, smirking behind that 70’s smile. So many memories.

Back in Minnesota, it’s a lot colder, and I’m a lot older. I pull the ground beef out of the freezer and open the handmade recipe book to Taco Soup. Since I’m late getting home, Liz starts dinner (if you are from the South, you might say “supper”), and I walk right into the middle smell of a family memory. The recipe book makes a creative Holiday gift. All you need are recipe cards, a fast writing pen, and a strong wrist. Food and family photos are a natural combination, a memory maker that keeps on giving.


-posted on red Ravine, with gratitude to my family, Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

-related to post: Memories, Writing, & Family Recipes

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He Who Keeps Me Company – 54/365, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis,
Minnesota, February 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights
reserved.


It’s March 1st, 2010. Sixty days and nights have passed since I began the BlackBerry 365 Project. Day 54 landed on this shot of Mr. Stripeypants keeping me company on a less than perfect day. I was reading Mary Karr’s memoir, Lit. He was taking a nap beside me, simply being himself. I felt like I really saw him.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a big commitment — taking a new photo each day and posting it in a public forum. I had been exploring taking photographs with the BlackBerry since last October. It was so much fun, I decided to turn it into a practice. That’s when the work began.

Pushing through days when I am under the weather, low energy, or uninspired are the hardest. But once I get the shot posted, I feel like I’ve accomplished a great deal. I know from past practices of writing, mandalas, and haiku, that yearly dedication to a craft can take you a long way. It can also drive you crazy! I thought I’d check in at the 60 day mark and let you know how things are progressing. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from the BlackBerry 365 Project:


  • As soon as I make something a practice, resistance kicks in. It’s all Monkey Mind. The trick is to not think too much, to simply keep going. Don’t force the shot, let the image appear.
  • Using the camera phone takes the pressure off to snap the perfect photo. It fits in the palm of my hand. I can have fun with it, photograph and post images I might not let myself publish with my Canon.
  • Themes appear and reappear in the photographs, just like in my writing. I keep coming back to what I love and have passion about.
  • Knowing I have to post a photo at the end of the day changes the way I look at the world. I am awake to all the possibilities. Everything I see is an opportunity.
  • Taking BlackBerry photos reminds me of the old days of 60-second Polaroids. I take snapshots of my day, glean ideas for new projects, visit places I want to go back and shoot with the Canon.



There are many photographers and artists who have embarked on yearly projects of daily images. And writers who have daily practices that keep them going through the lean times. I’d love to hear insights from others who are willing to share their experiences. And I’ll check in again along the way.

Going forward, I’ve decided not to post daily images in the red Ravine comments. But I’ll continue to check in on the original post once or twice a month. If you’d like to continue to follow the yearly practice, I’ll still be posting each day in my BlackBerry 365 set on Flickr. And in the Twitter widget on our sidebar. Just click on BlackBerry 365 to take you to Flickr.


-posted on red Ravine, Day 60, Monday, March 1st, 2010

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By Bob Chrisman

 
 
 

BOB FATHER & SON 1958 IMG_1798

Father & Son, circa 1958, St. Joseph, Missouri,
photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
On May 3, 1952 I arrived to take part in the family drama. My parents celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary the week after I was born. Dad had turned 38 in February. My sister would turn ten in September, followed by Mom’s 37th birthday the end of November.

As a child I adored my father, but around the age of five I didn’t want him to touch me. I would scream if he came close. He loved to come home from work and rub his unshaven face against my cheeks until they turned red. I hated that. I hated him.

My father exploded at odd times. Seemingly benign topics of conversation would cause him to yell and pound the table. Although never physically violent, his fits scared me and made conversation with him unpredictably frightening.

Not a particularly outgoing man, he withdrew more from social interactions. At family gatherings he would collect all the reading material in the house, find a comfortable chair, and read and sleep the afternoon away.

My sister left for college when I was nine. My father grew even more distant. His only ally had left the house.

The first craziness that I remember occurred one Sunday afternoon. My sister had come home. My grandmother had come to town from the farm. Our car pulled up in front of the house and I went to the door.

My mother was yelling. My father, half in and half out of the car, shouted at someone. I looked to see who they were screaming at and realized they were arguing. I had never seen them argue like that. “Sis, come here. You gotta see this.”

From behind me I heard, “What the hell?” She nudged me. “Shut the door. We don’t want them to know we saw.” I closed the door.

Five minutes later, Mom walked into the house and threw her purse on the bed. When she noticed us staring at her, she sighed, “Len will join us later. He has something to do right now.”

Twenty minutes passed before he returned home and sat down at the table. No one said a word about what had happened between them.

 
 
 

Years later my mother said, “Your father got scared when you started to first grade. He knew someone wanted to kidnap you kids. They planned to snatch you at the Frosty Treat.” The Frosty Treat was a popular, after-school, ice cream shop. Without any explanation our parents had forbidden us from joining our friends there. I didn’t think much about it. By the time I started school, I had grown used to these commands. The new order was, “Come home directly from school.” I obeyed.

My mother told me that Dad has accused her of moving the pillows on their bed to make him crazy. “We only had two pillows. I never understood what I had done.” Although these episodes continued through my childhood, she never talked about them.

When I asked about the argument on that Sunday afternoon, my mother swore me to silence. “Your dad said an angel descended into the church and stood next to him during the service. It communicated telepathically and told him to watch himself. The man next to him had been sent to see if he played with himself during church. I told him he was crazy. That’s when he yelled at me.”
 
“Mom, that’s nuts. Did you think of going for help?”

“To whom? God? I prayed for your dad night and day.”

“How about a psychiatrist or psychologist?”

“We took care of our own problems.”

 
 
 

BOB FATHER 1968 IMG_1792

My Father, circa 1968, St. Joseph, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 

Physical problems plagued Dad during the late 1960’s. The grain dust at work irritated his one good lung and caused severe asthma attacks. I can close my eyes and hear the gasping sound as he struggled to breathe. I can see him sitting at the kitchen table, his mouth wide open and his neck muscles strained, as he inhaled.

My mother walked twelve blocks in the dark to the pharmacy to buy the “breathing medicine.” She never asked me, her teenage son, to go. As soon as she left, I crawled under my bed and hid. I didn’t want to hear any calls for help. I’d fail him. I always did.

He underwent hernia surgery in December 1968 and a re-do in January 1969. He stayed off work until March. Two weeks after he returned to work he suffered his stroke.

Chaos erupted. My mother stopped being a mother and became a devoted wife. I resented his stroke because it hadn’t killed him and because it took my mother away.

Somewhere in the years that followed, he gave up. Not that I blame him. His life beat him down. The stroke and residuals destroyed what little will he had left.

It ended any chance I had to talk with him about what happened between us, to ask him questions, to make my accusations, to hear his side of the story. Even if he hadn’t lost his mind, I couldn’t have talked to him, so great was my hatred. On May 2, 1984, he died of old age. A birthday “present” I can never forget.

I’ve always felt incomplete as a man because he didn’t teach me the secrets that fathers pass to their sons. Even now, after decades of searching for that knowledge, which I doubt exists, I still feel inadequate.

 
 
 

Recently a psychic said, “Your father asks you to forgive him for what he did to you.”

Without hesitation I replied, “I have forgiven him. He needs to forgive himself.”

I joined forces with my mother. I disliked the failure I thought he was. I sometimes treated him with no dignity because I thought he deserved my contempt. Perhaps most importantly, I hated him because he didn’t love me enough. But then, I never gave him a chance. Like my father, I must forgive myself for all the things I did and didn’t do in my relationship with him. Only then can I truly bear witness for my father.

 


About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. My Life With Dad is Part III in his exploration of a trilogy series about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August, followed in September by Part II, Bearing Witness.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and The Law Of Threes. He has also published two pieces about the life and death of his mother — Hands and In Memoriam.

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Roma in the old truck, date unknown, image
© 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Look at her smile.

I knew her smiles. I saw her dimples and I saw her straight teeth, and I saw the dance in her eyes, but I never saw the smile she’s wearing in that photo.

That is the smile of a woman in love. An adoring smile. Look at it.

That is the smile that tells me Roma was a woman and a lover and a friend before she ever became my grandmother.








My Aunt Sophie, the oldest of my grandmother’s children, wrote an essay about her mother. The following are excerpts taken from that piece.


Roma was my mother. I wonder what my grandparents were thinking when they named her Roma. Her family called her Romey, her friends called her Romana, and close friends and relatives called her Romanita.

Her birthday was February 28, 1904. A very special date to be born. It was the day before Leap Year. I can verify that she was special. She was beautiful, she was romantic and adventuresome…She loved deeply, and others loved her because of her friendliness and her ability to reach out to others. She was born of an era when being poor was fashionable; a time when adults told stories to children about caves, trains, owls, witches and demons; it was one way of keeping the children at home in the evenings. Roma was a wonderful story teller. She loved to make up stories and songs and dance and laugh, all in that order.



I like to think about who Roma was before she became a grandmother. She grew up in the mining camps of northeastern New Mexico. She went to public schools with the children of immigrants from Italy, Romania, and Yugoslavia.

She was 16 when she married, a handsome New Mexican who was killed in one of the state’s worst mining accidents. At the age of 18, Roma became a widow with two children, the youngest not even a month old. Then she met my grandfather.

Mom told us about the songs her mother sang, songs she learned in school. Aunt Sophie remembered them, too:


When we were children, Roma sang us songs using the sounds of her childhood. The words did not make much sense, but the melodies live in us to this day.

Hanti-Nanche tu ti maja, mata tu san ches san a ma way.

Another song, a blend of English and Spanish, went like this: Cuando estaba chiquitita me decía me mamá, Pretty Baby, Pretty Baby.



I always wonder who took that picture of her in the truck. How old was she? It’s hard to tell. I imagine it was my grandfather, her second husband. Everyone called him Sandy, even his kids. He was a cowboy.

They lived on a ranch, seven miles from school and Cimarron, the real Wild West. Where pavement ends and Hell begins.

One last thought from Sophie:


I always enjoyed looking at my mother’s profile when I was working with her at some project. She had an abundance of rich, black hair, and depending on what she wore, her eyes were sometimes green and sometimes blue and she had this mischievous smile. Sometimes I wondered what she was thinking, and I wondered too why a woman of this beauty would be living out here where only the cattle roam.





Roma, date unknown, image 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved






-related to posts PRACTICE: My Grandmother – 15min and  WRITING TOPIC — GRANDMOTHERS

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By Bob Chrisman
 

Aunt Annie Saluting, photo 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Here’s to you, Aunt Annie!, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.




A cup of tea with sugar brings back memories of my first cup, the day my mother said, “You’re old enough to drink tea.” Sacks of pale orange “circus peanuts” remind me of the stale ones in Grandma Hecker’s candy dish. Homemade caramel-covered apples take me to Mrs. Wallace’s kitchen where I taste tested them the night before Halloween. Ritz crackers transport me to Mrs. Thompson’s house where we played Ring-Around-The-Rosie.

Certain recipes hold special memories. I bake scalloped potatoes topped with pork chops the same way my mother did and in the same glass loaf dish. When I make Hamburger Splatter, I remember the adults who my mother babysat when they were children stopping by for the recipe. My favorite holiday dish recipe is scalloped oysters. Aunt Annie, Mom’s youngest sister, made them every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I asked my cousins why their mom fixed such an exotic dish for such meat-and-potatoes people. Neither of them knew but thought a neighbor might have given the recipe to Aunt Annie. Oysters don’t grow in northwest Missouri. My mother and her sisters didn’t have unusual tastes in food. Yet every holiday dinner, sitting next to the freshly roasted turkey, the real mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, and the fresh raspberry pies made from home-canned raspberries, we’d find the scalloped oysters.

I asked my aunt for the recipe. I didn’t want her to pass away without someone having it. “I don’t really have a recipe anymore. I just know how to make it,” she said. She wrote down the ingredients and instructions on a piece of notebook paper, which I lost the first time I used it. My recipe, which I carried in my head until now, captures the taste and consistency of the original.

Scalloped oysters remind me of family gatherings when my mother, her sisters and their husbands were in their prime. I remember long prayers while we held hands followed by huge meals, hours of card games, and the feeling of being loved.

Most of all I remember my Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete. They loved one another very much. They had an ease with one another and they treated each other with respect. She wasn’t always easy to live with (none of the sisters were), but Uncle Pete never fell out of love with her. I always thought, of all the sisters, Aunt Annie had the happiest marriage.



Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image
© 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.





Photographs from the 1940’s capture a dashing young man in a military uniform and a dark-haired beauty. They made a striking couple all of their lives.

After he returned from the war, they bought a little house on Garden Street where they raised their three children and hosted many holiday dinners. I always envied my cousins for the parents they had.

I grew closer to them as I aged. Many times I would leave my mother’s house and stop by theirs before I drove home. Aunt Annie told me stories about her sisters and the family, things my mother never mentioned. Uncle Pete would interrupt, when he could, to offer his two cents on the subject. I loved them both and came to treasure those times with just the two of them.

Uncle Pete died of pancreatic cancer in October 1996. His death broke Aunt Annie’s heart. They had been married for over 50 years. She went through the motions of living for about a year before she took sick and died in December, 1997. I think that he was waiting for her when she passed. If he had anything to say about it, I know he was.

Here’s the recipe for her famous scalloped oysters. I hope the recipe generates some good memories for you and your families.




Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009
by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.





Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters



1      1-pound loaf of Velveeta Cheese (sliced)
32    Saltine cracker squares (approximately one package out of a box of four)
4-5   8-ounce cans of oysters (pieces-and-bits or whole or a combination)*
2      12-ounce cans of evaporated milk**


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice Velveeta Cheese into slices about an eighth of an inch thick. Open four cans of oysters and drain off most of the liquid. (Note: Keep some to pour into the casserole to add more oyster flavor, if desired.)

Use a casserole dish that has a lid (even though the lid isn’t used except for storage of leftovers). Grease it with your choice of oil; I prefer butter.

Then begin the layering process:

Crush enough Saltine crackers to make a layer on the bottom of the dish. Next place a layer of oysters with some liquid from the can. Cover with a layer of slices of Velveeta Cheese. Pour enough evaporated milk to wet the layers. Repeat.

The amount of the ingredients given above makes about three layers. Top the dish with another layer of Velveeta Cheese. Bake until the cheese on top is melted and a warm brown, about 90 minutes (longer if you want it crustier).

This dish will serve at least 8-10 people and maybe 10-14 if plenty of other food is available. You can make smaller portions by using a loaf pan and only making two layers. I do that when I have no one else to join me. The leftovers make a tasty, if unusual, breakfast treat.


*The number of cans of oysters you buy will determine on how “oyster-y” you want the dish to be. I found that four cans make generous layers. I usually buy two cans of pieces-and-bits and two cans of whole oysters.

**You will have approximately 1/2 can of evaporated milk left when you finish. My youngest cousin says that she uses regular milk.

Hopefully you have a strong heart and clean arteries. Bon appetit.




Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. His other red Ravine posts include Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

We’d like to thank Bob for providing this recipe and the story of the aunt who inspired it. And thank you, Aunt Annie! We’ve been dreaming about scalloped oysters since last Thanksgiving, when Bob made mention of the dish in a conversation in the post Reflections On The Other National Bird.

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