I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 12, 2014

More old memories

Granddaddy Leo
After having written last week's post, my family has been on my mind, and I wondered whether it would be a good idea to introduce you to my mother's side of the family. But first:

My father was one of four siblings, and all of them were alcoholics. Since I knew little about their parents, I don't know if they were raised in a household that had much strong drink in it. Knowing what little I knew about "Mommy," my paternal grandmother, I don't think they did. Daddy was the third child, and my Uncle Jack was the baby. I talked with my sister Norma Jean about my memories of Edith, which are spotty, and she also remembered that we never talked about her. And now that we are the older generation, nobody is left around to ask. I wish I had, though. Mama would have known, but we never talked about it, and now she's gone, too.

There is much more known about my mother's side. Mama was one of five siblings (or was it six?) that were born to Leo and Ernestine and raised in Trinidad, Colorado, moving later to southern California. They were called Granddaddy and Grandma by us, and I remember them both from my childhood. Mama was very close to her father and idolized him. My memories of him, though, are of his illness. He died at 62 of diabetes, and my memories of him are always of an old, old man. Now that I realize that 62 is NOT old, I know it must have been because he was in poor health for the last years of his life.

When we lived in California, with my dad stationed at Fairfield, we saw them quite often, as they lived in Bakersfield. My memories of their home are filled with pleasure. The carport had a grape arbor that seemed always to be heavily laden with fruit. The enormous back yard was also filled with fruit trees. Norma Jean and I made ourselves sick from eating plums once, and now we both have somewhat of an aversion to them. Grandma was the center of that home, with rose gardens and even a duck! Although there was no pond, she filled an old tub with water and that was Felix's own pond. It was a fine place to visit, and for a few months one winter we lived there and I went to school down the street. I'm not sure whether Mama and Daddy were having problems and might have separated for a short while (as kids we didn't know these things for sure). But I do remember both of my parents being there sometimes. I learned to count to a hundred and how to spell the word "orange" -- why these stand out in my memory, I have no idea.

Granddaddy was the manager of the Bakersfield Inn. When Mama and her sister were young teenagers, they worked as waitresses on roller skates serving the outside patrons. Remember when drive-ins had trays that attached to the cars? Her brothers also worked for their father, while Grandma worked in the kitchen. A true family venture, I guess. Mama would reminisce about those days, and I imagined what it must have been like to serve food while on roller skates!

In my memory, they lived there for a long time, but really I don't have any idea how long or how many years it was. However, when Granddaddy died, we learned that he had mortgaged that home to the hilt without ever telling Grandma, and she lost it and was forced to move in with us. We were just getting ready to move to Puerto Rico, where my dad was being stationed, so she joined us there. Grandma had lost everything and wasn't very happy during those days, but I was thirteen and involved in my own affairs. Mama and Daddy became very active with the Ramey AFB golf club, with both of them playing often. It seemed like they always had somebody coming over after golf, staying for dinner and drinks (not necessarily in that order), and our home was very much the center of activity. I can't imagine that it was easy for Grandma, but all I remember about her at that time was how nosy she was: she would go through my dresser drawers and even read my diary!

Grandma's other daughter, Quetita, and her husband Jack eventually arranged for Grandma to have her own home in Santa Monica, and she lived there for many years with her son, my uncle Joe, who had never married. She lived there until she died in the late 1970s. Grandma had come from a very good family and probably never imagined that her husband wouldn't take care of his responsibilities better than he did, but I suspect he had a serious gambling problem. Alcoholic addiction on one side and gambling addiction on the other: that's the legacy that we six siblings have inherited from our parents!

And you know, it seems none of us have a serious problem with alcohol, with the help of abstinence in some cases, and moderation in others (mine, for instance). I don't have any attraction to gambling, but I wonder if any of my other siblings might. Not that I know of, and nobody is having a problem with money issues, as far as I know. That would be one clue that perhaps there's a hidden gambling addiction. In fact, it's interesting to realize that all six of the Stewarts, and their offspring, are pretty darn successful in the world. We are all able to earn a living, with the first three retired after decades of employment. That's saying something in the context of today's difficulties of finding gainful employment and earning a living wage.

I miss my parents, still to this day, and just thinking back to my childhood has brought forth that old familiar ache of loss. One really wonderful aspect of blogging is thinking of my past and bringing it forth. My brother started a private Wordpress blog many years ago, which was eventually abandoned due to the advent of Facebook, but it is still available for me to access. He put many old letters from our ancestors on line. I spent some time this morning perusing some of those old letters, trying to get a feel for the world my grandparents lived in, and it was very helpful.

One thing I really wish I had done is to have had some heart-to-heart conversations with my elders while they were still alive, to find out some answers to questions that will never be resolved. Instead, those questions will join the rest of the past and fade away into the mists of time. If you have the opportunity to sit down with your parents or any from the older generation, I recommend that you do it, and ask those questions you wonder about today. I sure wish I had.


Anonymous said...

Yes, you should have sat down with your elders (aunts, uncles, parents) and actually written down what they had to say. I did and published 3 memoirs of family life that way, including old photos.

Red said...

I have the same feeling about talking to our elders. By the time I thought of questions to ask my Dad, the answers were gone. I didn't spend much time with my maternal grandparents. My paternal gradparents had limited English skills but we do know a lot about them.

Cynthia said...

There are some mysteries in my family I would very much like to know the answers to also. The generation that had them is gone, and refused to talk about them when they were alive. Things back in the day were not talked about the way they are today and my mom was always told, let sleeping dogs lie, when she asked questions. The mysteries still haunt me, however!

Linda Myers said...

I understand your exploration and your memories of your family. We had some "disowned" people also, and a feud between my dad and his brother was unresolved before their deaths.

Linda Reeder said...

I think most of the "secrets" in my family have been delved out by the various genealogists in the family. There is no one in the "older" generation left on my father's side, but I do have Three of my mother's siblings still alive, although two of them have dementia. I was able to talk to my mother about the past, but she really didn't like talking about herself much.
It seems typical that as young people we are very wrapped up in our own lives, and when we get old enough to start wondering about the past, those who cal tell us have passed.
I really enjoy reading about your family history, It is so very different from mine, except for the alcoholism. That Was a very real problem in my father's family and in the next generation too.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Have you done some research and found out it is five or six children? Many records are available online. You would be surprised:)

Meryl Baer said...

It is wonderful to talk to the 'elders', but not always fruitful. My husband's mother is still alive, but very reticent about telling us much - especially about the black sheep in the family. She is from the old school, where scandals and any other negative things (such as illnesses, especally mental illness) were never discussed.

Arkansas Patti said...

I think all of us of a certain age regret not finding out more before our only sources passed. Blogging is a great way to keep memories alive for those to follow us.
Your grandmother reminds me so much of my own. Mine had been raised wealthy. She could not understand that her husband could wipe out the inheritance and leave her dependent on her children. Even as a child, I could sense her bitter disappointment.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, I've been away from reading blogs for over a month, so I just read your last three--the one with your grade-school photo, the one about your paternal grandmother, and this one on your maternal grandparents. I'm so glad you encouraged your readers to talk with the members of their family who are older and who have stories to share. I never did that and so I don't know much at all about my the background of my grandparents or even much about my mom and dad.

I sort of have the feeling that on those few occasions when I did question them, they were both reluctant to talk about the past. I wondered at the time whether that was an aftereffect of living through the Great Depression.

Like you, I find my view of "what's old" has changed as I've aged. In less than three months, I'll be 78 and so when a friend died this past year at 81 I thought he was too young to die.

I'm so grateful that I'm still alive, still making friends, still learning and writing and enjoying the beauty of our world. So much to be grateful for. Peace.

Jackie said...

Talking with Mama (82) and Daddy (87) is such a pleasure, Jan. When I was younger, I wouldn't have thought so. I was too wrapped up in my own world when I was "growing up." But, time changes things. How much 'wiser' we become as we grow older.
Thank you for the gentle reminder to spend more time with those of our family who are in their golden years. I do. I treasure each moment. Thank you, sweet friend.

Sally Wessely said...

I loved reading more about your family. It is always interesting to think back on family stories or family events and begin to wonder about things we never thought of before. Thankfully, I have my mother who at age 97 is as sharp as ever and fills me in on stories and answers questions. Rarely does she not remember. My father did a great deal of family research and genealogy and wrote a family history. I am grateful to have these.

It is so sad to think of your grandmother not knowing that her husband did not leave her taken care of. She worked hard and ended up without the rewards. Thankfully, her children took care of her needs.

Rita said...

Sometimes they won't answer the questions anyways--LOL! Maybe that will make you feel better in an odd way. ;)

So sad that your grandma lost everything. If anything had happened to my dad while us kids were growing up he had no life insurance or anything. We would have been on the street. My mom didn't work until I was in high school and she wouldn't have made enough to keep the house if she was working. Well, he's still kicking at 93 so he guessed correctly, I suppose. ;)