Mama Remembered: a Call from Cindy

September 7, 2010

My sister Martha Lou met Will when we still lived in Missouri.  He was home on leave from the Army.  When they married about a year later, Martha moved with him to North Carolina where he was stationed.

Because of a job offer Daddy received, shortly after Martha and Will married and left for North Carolina, Mama, Daddy and I moved to Indiana.  So when Will got out of the Army a couple years later, they moved here too so that they could live close to us.

Cindy was their first child.  After she was born and Martha went back to work, Mama babysat for Cindy for about a year.  I was a teenager and loved getting to see and play with baby Cindy every day after school.  So, we always had a special little bond with Cindy because of us spending so much time with her as a baby, even after Martha and Will had their other three children and moved a couple hours away.  Cindy was always kind of “our baby”.

I tell you this, because it makes it not as unusual for Mama to receive a call from Cindy, even though in 1975 it was a little unusual for a young teen to make a long distance call just to chat.

So, here is a story from Mama’s book, I Remember, about a call from Cindy:

One evening about 9:30 the phone rang.  Ruhl wasn’t home.  I answered it and some girl’s voice said hello.  I said, “Hello?  Who is this?”  She said, “Cindy”.  Thinking it was Martha Lou’s daughter, Cindy, I said “How are you Cindy?”  She said, “Just fine.”

I thought she sounded odd and I couldn’t figure it out.  I said, “Are you home alone?”  She said, yes.  Then I asked, “Where is the rest of your family?”  She said, “I guess they went out to eat.”

I thought that strange and I thought maybe someone was in the house and she was afraid.  I said, “Are you sure there is no one in the house with you?”  She said, yes she was sure.  I asked her if she was afraid and she said, no.

So I said, “How is school?”  She said, “Okay”.  Then I said, “I am sure your folks will be home soon.”  She said, “Yeah, I’m sure they will be.”  I said, “Well, it has been nice talking to you, honey.  Call us again soon.”  She said, “I will.”  Then we said good-bye and hung up.

The longer I thought about that conversation, the more worried I got.  I waited about an hour.  I thought Martha and Will should be home by then and I called them.

Martha answered the phone.  I said, “Hi, is Cindy there?”  She said, “No.  Cindy is at a basketball game.”

I said, “Have you been home all evening?”  She said, “Yes. Why?”

Then I told her about the telephone call.  I asked if she thought Cindy could have called me from someplace else.  The more we talked the more worried we both were.  She said, “Will says he will go see if he can find her.  I will call you back after we talk to Cindy.”

Will went to the ball game, but it was over.  Everyone was leaving and he couldn’t find her.

By that time it was eleven o’clock.  Martha Lou called me back and told me Will didn’t find her, but 11:30 was her curfew.  She said Cindy always got home on time, so she was going to wait until 11:30 and if she didn’t come home, then they would either go looking for her or call the police.  She promised to call me back.

About 11:25 Martha called and said Cindy was home.  I talked to Cindy and she said she never made the call.  We were all puzzled.  To this day we don’t know who made the call.

We believe we had one more call from “Cindy” a few months later.  The phone rang and when Ruhl answered, a girl said “Hello.”  He said, “Who is this?”  She said, “Cindy”.  He said “Cindy who?”  She hung up.  We felt sure it was the same girl.

Well, I guess the call from “Cindy” doesn’t qualify as a prank call, because she carried on a pleasant, if somewhat cryptic, conversation with Mama.  I wonder if what happened was that she dialed a wrong number and was then intrigued when Mama acted like she knew her?  We’ll never know.  But I do think it’s a tribute to what a sweet, loving voice Mama had that apparently “Cindy” called back to maybe chat again with that unknown grandma.


Mama Remembered: Uncle Gene’s Glass Eye

August 26, 2010

When I look at this picture of my uncle and great-grandma several things cross my mind.  Was this before you were “required” to smile for a picture?  What a couple of “sad sacks”.  I didn’t know Uncle Gene when he was young so I’m a little surprised that even looking so somber, he was a fairly attractive young man.  I do remember him smoking a pipe when I knew him as an old man, so since he’s holding a pipe in this picture of him at 23, I assume he must have been a life-long pipe smoker.  I had totally forgotten that he had a glass eye when I found this picture to put with another of Mama’s stories that I posted recently.  In Mama’s story that follows she says it was his right eye, but I think it’s hard to tell in this picture.

Anyway, here from Mama’s book I Remember, is her story of Uncle Gene’s glass eye:

When Gene was only six years old he and a playmate opened Dad’s truck and found a shotgun shell.  They took it out in the back yard and put it in a tin can and built a fire on top of it.  Then they ran behind the barn and waited for it to explode.  They waited a long time and when nothing happened they went back to the can to see why it didn’t explode.  Just as Gene leaaned over to look at it, it exploded.  It shattered his right eyeball.  They called Dad at work and then took Gene to the hospital where they had to remove the shattered eyeball.  They must not have kept him in the hospital because Dad talked about walking the floor with him all night.  The pain must have been terrible.

After Gene grew up, he wore a glass eye.  When we would visit him he would tell our kids he left his eye on the chest of drawers when he wasn’t there, to watch them.  They believed him.  He had several glass eyes and kept them in a little velvet case.

I remember Mama, Daddy and I visiting Uncle Gene and Aunt Peggy in Colorado Springs one time when I was about 11 years old.  They all went next door to play cards one evening and left me home alone.  And, true to Mama’s story, before they left, Uncle Gene told me his glass eye would keep an eye on me.  I was old enough to get the “joke” but I do remember being fascinated by his extra eye that resided in a special little box that looked kind of like a ring box on top of a chest.

By the way, I’ll make another little confession here.  While I was there alone I was looking at a collection of key rings in a bowl on a table and one of them was a little pipe just like Uncle Gene smoked.  Uncle Gene was the only person I had ever known who smoked a pipe so that little tiny pipe (I would guess about 3 inches long) was of particular fascination to me.  Annnnd I wondered “How would it taste to smoke a pipe?”  so “Miss Inquisitive” went to an ash tray, disassembled a cigarette butt, put the tobacco from the butt into the bowl of the little pipe, and then used matches laying on an end table to light the tobacco!  I don’t remember ever putting that little pipe to my lips because, the way I remember it, it immediately became realllly hot, and I ran to the sink to shake the hot tobacco out of it.  But before I could get that done, the varnish on the outside of the lit pipe (which, of course, had never been intended to be used) had bubbled up.  I finally got the tobacco out of it and assessed the damage in horror.  There was no doubt about it that what had been a pretty little polished pipe was now a mess.  I washed it and cleaned it up as well as I could but it was absolutely obvious that it had been “used”.  I was so embarrassed by what I had done, and I dreaded the return of the adults when I would have to confess my “crime”.  But the longer I thought about it, a little voice in my mind said, “If you tell them that it is really going to spoil this visit for everyone … Mama and Daddy will be mad at you and Uncle Gene and Aunt Peggy will be disappointed.  And, after all, there’s no benefit that can come from anyone knowing this.  You’ve certainly learned your lesson!”  So, I took the clean-as-possible, now cool little key chain pipe and put it in the bottom of the bowl of key chains, hidden under all the rest. And then I sat down to read the library book I had told the adults I would be reading during my time alone.

I never heard any more about that key chain.  Bless his heart, when Uncle Gene eventually found it he must have decided that I had surely learned my lesson and so he didn’t feel like he had to report me to Mama!  No wonder I always liked Uncle Gene.  (But I bet he did wish I had believed his extra eye was watching me, because then I might have just read my book, like a good little girl!)


Mama Remembered: Her brother’s baby boy

August 17, 2010

Last week I published an excerpt from Mama’s book about a visit she made to her older brother Gene and his wife when they were first married.

Gene was really Mama’s half brother because he was her dad’s son from his first marriage and he was about 8 years older than Mama.  When Gene was 18 years old he married Blanche who was 15 years old and a year later they had a baby boy whom they named after Gene and called “Junior”.

Here is the story from Mama’s book, I Remember, about  “Junior”:

When I was 12 years old we lived on a farm a couple miles from Lansing, Kansas.  My older brother, Eugene, lived in Kansas City, Missouri with his 17 year old wife and 9 month old son, Eugene Lawrence.

Dad and Mom let me take the interurban and go to Kansas City to visit Gene and Blanche.  I was there about a week when things began to happen.  Junior had the whooping cough.  That poor baby coughed so hard.  But Blanche didn’t take his illness too seriously and naturally, I took my cue from her.  So I didn’t think he was that sick.

One afternoon she said, “Let’s take Junior for a walk.”  She bundled him up and put him in the stroller.  It was a pretty day in June.

We went by to see a friend of Blanche’s who was older and had several children.  The youngest were twins about a month old.

Blanche didn’t take Junior in.  She left him in his stroller on the front porch.  She didn’t want to expose that woman’s children to the whooping cough.  But the lady heard Junior coughing and she went out to look at him.  She was alarmed.  She said, “Blanche, that baby is awfully sick.  You had better get him to a doctor right away.”

She asked me if I would stay with her children if she went with Blanche to take Junior to a doctor.  Of course, I said I would.  There must have been a doctor close because they were not gone too long.  The lady came back alone.  The doctor had told Blanche to take Junior right home and put him to bed.  He gave her some medicine to give the baby.  He told her to grease his chest with vapor rub and keep him covered up.

When the lady came back and told me this, I ran all the way back to their apartment.

That night was horrible.  The doctor spent most of the evening there.  Their apartment was on the second floor, so I spent that night sitting on the stairs.  I could hear Junior breathing clear out in the hall.  He died soon after midnight.  What a terrible night that was.

The next Sunday, after the funeral, I went home.  I can remember my dad sitting on the porch steps with his head in his hands and his shoulders shaking with sobs.  I put my arms around him and cried with him.  That was in 1920.

Uncle Gene isn’t mentioned in this story and I think I remember Mama telling me that he was out of town working when this happened.  He was never able to forgive Blanche for the death of their son and it wasn’t too long until he divorced her.  Years later he married sweet Aunt Peggy but they never had any children.

Whenever I read this story I wonder what happened to Blanche.  And how the death of her son influenced the rest of her life.

In the last paragraph it sounds to me like Mama’s parents weren’t there for the funeral, and maybe they didn’t even know about Junior’s death until 12 year old Mama told them when she returned home?  What a solemn duty for such a young girl.

I looked through the old albums and couldn’t find one picture of Uncle Gene and Blanche.  My guess is that isn’t an accident.  I can picture Mama’s loyalty to her beloved older brother making her throw any pictures that included Blanche away after the divorce.  But I did find this picture of Uncle Gene with his step-grandma, my grandma’s mother.  It was taken in 1923, three years after Junior’s death.

The picture of baby Junior shown at the top is the only one I’ve ever seen of him.  Of course, no one in the family today has any first-hand memories of the short life of this little baby boy, but my oldest sister has the picture hanging on a wall in her home with other old family pictures.  I like that … Junior isn’t totally forgotten.


Mama Remembered: Buying Coal by the Bushel and an Ill-Gotten Chicken Dinner!

August 4, 2010

When Mama was 10 or 11 years old her older brother got married and lived about an hour away.  So Mama talked her parents into letting her go on the interurban to visit him and his new wife and stay with them for a week or so.

Here in an excerpt from Mama’s book, I Remember, are a couple of her memories of that visit.

I remember how Gene and Blanche kept their place warm.  I must have been there to visit in the winter, because it was cold.  They had a heating stove in the front room.  Every morning we had to watch for the coal man.  The man came down the street with a wagon full of coal pulled by a horse.  We would go out with our bushel basket and get it full for 25 cents.  That had to last us until he came by again the next morning.

There was a shed on the back of the lot the house was on.  Gene and Blanche lived upstairs and the owners lived downstairs.  Some people in the neighborhood had chickens.  One day we saw one of the chickens go into the shed.  Blanche said, “Let’s have chicken for supper.”  She went out and closed the shed door.  Then she caught the chicken and killed it.  After she cleaned and dressed it, we had fried chicken for supper.

I knew that wasn’t right and I felt very guilty.

Even though Mama had a very poor childhood, she always had a strong sense of right and wrong and I can picture the conflict she must have felt when her new sister-in-law (whom I’m sure she was inclined to idolize) served someone else’s chicken for dinner!-


Mama Remembered: “Mysteries of Anatomy”

July 9, 2010

At the very end of Mama’s book, I Remember, she shared some songs and poetry which she had memorized.  Here is a cute one that is also recorded in her father’s journal, Duncan’s Ledger:

I learned this from my dad when I was a little girl.

Mysteries of Anatomy

Where can a man buy a cap for his knee, or a key to a lock of his hair?

Can his eyes be called an academy, because there are pupils there?

Is the crown of his head where jewels are found?

Who travels the bridge of his nose?

If he wanted to shingle the roof of his mouth, would he use the nails on the end of his toes?

Can he sit in the shade of the palm of his hand, or beat on the drum of his ear?

Can the calf of his leg eat the corn off his toe?

If so, why not grown corn on his ear?

Can the crook of his arm be sent to jail?

If so, just what did he do?

How can he sharpen his shoulder blades?

I’ll be darned if I know, do you?

When Mama was a little girl, her family was very poor and moved alot so they didn’t have many books and seldom lived close enough to visit a library.  So they memorized things like this.  She says, I learned this from my dad when I was a little girl. I can picture her father going over and over this with her to help her memorize it.  And I imagine as they did that, she might have questioned him about the meaning of some of it.  “Where is the cap of my knee?” or “What is the bridge of my nose?” or giggled at the idea of corn growing in her ear!

And this is a tradition that Mama passed down to her children too.  I had many more books than she had had, but she still spent time reciting poems like this to me and encouraging me to memorize the nursery rhymes and songs in my books.

One on one time spent with a child, helping them memorize something that they may be able to recall and smile about  for the rest of their lives — and possibly teach to their children.  The need for this way of learning may have been replaced by many other ways for children to learn today, but it is a source of great memories for those of us who experienced it.


Mama Remembered: Her Grandpa Thompson

June 3, 2010

Here is an excerpt from Mama’s book, I Remember, about her mother’s father.

Grandpa Thompson was 5 ft. 6 in. and very slender.  My dad used to call him the fiery little Irishman.  The only work I ever heard of him doing was horse trading.  He prided himself on being pretty good at it, but I have heard my dad laugh about the time Grandpa traded for a horse with a beautiful flowing tail.  He brought him home and put him in the barnyard.  The next morning, the horse was laying down.  Grandpa went out to try to get him up on his feet.  When he took hold of the tail to help him up, the tail pulled off.  It was a false tail.  The real tail was short and not very pretty.  That greatly decreased the value of the horse.

Grandpa was also a fiddler.  He played for square dances.  When Mom and her sister were small, Grandma loved to go to the dances with Grandpa.  She would put the kids to bed on a bench and then dance all night long.

Grandpa had strange spells near the end of his life when he was living with us.  They said he had hardening of the arteries.  One time he thought someone was trying to kill him.  The people across the street were moving and had some big wooden crates sitting in their yard.  Grandpa pulled all the window shades and said, “They aren’t going to put me in one of those boxes!”

One day I guess he thought he was Christ.  He sent Mom out to buy some wine.  Then he had all of us sit around the dining room table (except Dad was at work) and he broke the bread and served the wine just like Christ did at the last supper.

One time my older brother Gene brought home a deck of cards he had found.  When he said, “Look Grandpa what I found.”  Grandpa said, “Let me see.”  Then he opened the heating stove door and threw the cards in the fire.  He told Gene, “Cards are an instrument of the devil.”  Gene was very upset.

When Grandpa was in bed with his last illness, he called me into his room.  I was five years old at the time.  He told me to look under his bed.  He said the devil was under there and had come to try to take him away.  I looked and looked but couldn’t see a thing.  Then he said, “The devil can’t get to me though because there are angels sitting on the foot of my bed to keep him away.”  Of course, I couldn’t see the angels either, but I believe he did.  He died that night.  He was 55 years old.

There is one more story about Grandpa Thompson that Mama loved to tell, but I can’t find it in her book, so I’ll just tell it as I remember her telling it:

The next year after Grandpa Thompson had died (when Mama would have been 6 years old), her family was visiting another family and all the children were playing hide and seek in the upstairs.  The person who was “it” was counting and Mama was hurrying to find a place to hide.  She opened a door and saw an empty, dark room — a perfect place to hide.  But when she started to run in there she suddenly saw Grandpa Thompson standing in the room and he was motioning her back.  She stopped in her tracks, too surprised to move.  Then she slammed the door and ran downstairs to tell her mom that Grandpa Thompson was upstairs!   Of course the adults all rushed upstairs to see what had caused Mama to think she had seen her Grandpa.  And, of course, they didn’t find Grandpa.  But when Mama showed them where she had seen him, they said that that was the unfinished part of the attic and if she had run in there, she would have fallen through the ceiling.

This story has always particularly fascinated me because it was such a dear memory for Mama.  She always said that her grandpa had come back that one last time to save her from falling through that ceiling.


Mama

May 9, 2010

Mama holding a copy of her book, I Remember.

Mama had a hard childhood.  She didn’t feel loved by her mother.  She did have a loving relationship with her father, but he wasn’t a very good provider for his family, so even though he may have loved his family that didn’t stop them from being very poor!  And because they moved often, Mama never felt like she had “roots”.

What Mama learned from that was that she wanted a more stable home as an adult for herself and her family.  And she worked very hard to make that happen.

Mama married hard-working Daddy, who also had had a less than perfect childhood because his father, even though he had a good job on the railroad, was an alcoholic and spent most of his money in a bar.

I don’t know if Mama and Daddy ever actually talked about having a “plan” to make a more secure, stable life for their children than what they had had, but I do know that that is what they created, and I’m eternally thankful for that.

And Mama didn’t just want to provide security for us, she wanted to make life fun for us too.  So she made it part of her job to make sure that her children had happy memories.  Picnics, church, parades, big family dinners especially at holidays, fishing trips — all things that I’m guessing Mama saw other children’s families doing when she was growing up, but that seemed unattainable to her at the time.

And I think part of her plan for good memories for us included all the albums of her photos.  I know as one of her “subjects” that we certainly didn’t always appreciate what she was doing while she was doing it.  It was a little bit of an interruption to what was going on when Mama wanted to take pictures.  But, boy, am I glad now that she did!  And she achieved exactly what I think she intended — she not only worked at making good memories for us, but she left us photos that help us more vividly recall those memories.

And, of course, her book has done the same thing — many events are written down that evoke memories that might otherwise have been totally forgotten by now.

And even while working at making life more interesting and fun for her kids, Mama also made sure her and Daddy had fun too.  By the time I, their late-life baby, was 5 or 6 years old we started taking yearly 2 and later 3-week driving vacations (even if we could have afforded it, Mama would never set foot on an airplane) — every other year to Georgia to visit my oldest sister, and the alternate years to California to visit a large number of family and friends who lived there, including my only brother.

So my childhood was the polar opposite of what Mama’s was, and that’s all because she (and Daddy) worked hard at giving their children what they hadn’t had themselves.

Mama taught me to love and be faithful to God and my husband and children.  She taught me songs and poems and how to cook.  She inspired me to try new things, because of all the hobbies she obviously enjoyed.  And she insisted I take shorthand and typing in high school, even though I planned on going to college, but when college didn’t work out, those classes were my entree into the business world where I ultimately made a very good living.

And, if I thought she was a great mother, boy was she a great GRANDmother!  She gave me (and my sisters) a wonderful example of how to do that.

So, today I honor Mama.  She had her faults, just like the rest of us.  But she worked hard to be the very best Mama she could be and I always knew she loved me. That is all anyone can ask.

Happy Mother’s Day to every “mama” out there.  May God bless your calling to be a mother.