8/26/2014

Family History - Pt 3

 

8/25/2014

Family History - Pt 2





Letter to my children and grandchildren.....To understand my own life, and yours, you have to start with my parents and their parents......continued

I do know from the stories that Grammy told me that her childhood was sheltered and financially comfortable. She had toys, clothes, a stay-at-home mom, and her dad was financially well-off - Grammy Martha got anything she ever wanted. She often shared anecdotes about a personal family dress-maker and various other "help" (euphemism for Af-Am workers) cooks, maids, yard-workers, etc. Grammy's childhood home was a spacious, Southern style expanded wood bungalow, set up on high brick pillars off the ground and lined with deep porches, on a multi acre lot full of large oak trees. A former stable, converted into a garage, housed a maroon automobile. Behind the yard with its oak trees and well, was an orchard of pecan trees and vegetable garden, and behind that, was a pasture for cows and horses - in the middle of town. Inside, the house had high ceilings, punkas in every room, wood floors, and beautiful wallpaper and furniture made by Grandpa L.L. in his factory. Exotic objects d'art filled the house, as Ruby's brother was in the merchant marines, sailed all over the world, and brought her back little gifts - a porcelain censor from China, a moroccan lamp, a Navajo Bracelet, a French vase, fabric, and cosmetic box, a Japanese statue of a goose. The main bathroom had turquoise colored tile, toilet, tub, and sink, and 12 ft ceilings. I used to lie in that tub as a child and feel like a princess. Grammy's house was the first in SS to have a second bathroom, which was very bare-bones and oddly situated in a closeted porch area - it wasn't until I saw the movie "The Help" that I figured this out, bc no one ever talked about it. (Segregated bathroom for "the help." Suggests racism, yes, but you also have to look at it through the lens of the era. Ironically, by the time I came along, in the 1960's, everyone used this bathroom all the time bc it was off the kitchen and more convenient.)

Grammy told me stories of wanting (and getting) extravagant things (for that time and place ) and of her parents having to go to Dallas or other nearby towns to get them : a piano, orthodontia, prom dresses, fancy portraits, vacations to Mexico and France, expensive gold and gemstone jewelry; as well as stories of her house being the ones all the popular little girls in SS went to, to play with her, bc her mother Ruby would let them take off their Shirley Temple ensembles (starchy frilly dresses, patent leather shoes) , put on overalls and play in the dirt. I always wondered about these stories, bc I knew Grammy to be so introverted and shy, and to never socialize much as an adult except w immediate family, and wondered if Ruby invited these kids over so Martha would have someone to play with ? The picture this all suggests to me was of a spoiled young girl , an only child, who got everything she ever wanted. I know her father was generous with gifts to her and her friends, and until she died Martha would talk sadly how her father gave all her friends silver tea sets for wedding presents, but he died before she got married, and she never go to have one.

Martha went off to college at Baylor - an expensive private school. I think she majored in English. The norm in the 50's was for women to marry young - hence the story of all Grammys friends getting married before she did and getting the tea set gifts - and all I know is Grammy never ever in her life talked about boyfriends, dating anyone, anyone who she ever loved or who broke her heart, or men at all. I asked her specifically about her high school years - what was her life like, what were her activities, concerns, fears, likes, friends, hobbies, etc. The only stories she ever shared involved the rationing of food, sugar, gasoline and chocolate during WWII - all the kids in SS who went to some orthodontist in the next town had to carpool, so they got their appointments on the same day, combined ration tickets for gas in order to drive there - used Martha's parents' car. I think the rationing of foods in those years affected those kids deeply - Grammy and RF, if you notice, ate/eat sweets candy ice cream and baked goods constantly. It's like they can never get enough. When I asked Martha about what she and her friends did all the time, she told me a vague story about all her girlfriends in choir hanging out at some nearby creek, swimming and singing. That's it - that's all I ever got about her youth.

After Baylor, Grammy didn't get married , unlike all her friends, so she went to UT Austin to get a M.Ed and planned to be a teacher. I think she was worried about being "an old maid", how she was going to support herself if she never found a husband. While there, she met Papaw  "through some friends " and eventually they got married. No silver tea set - her father died around this time - maybe right before she and my dad got involved. 

Family history - Pt 1



Letter to my children and grandchildren.....To understand my own life, and yours, you have to start with my parents and their parents.

Papaw was born in a small Kansas farm town where German was as commonly spoken as English, in 1932. From everything he ever told me about his childhood, his parents were fairly poor. His father, Grandpa Sigmund "Siggi" was a mechanic or machinist - he repaired farm equipment, tractors and stuff. His mother was Bertha ("Berta") or Granny Bert, as we called her. All her life she spoke with a heavy German accent. At some point Siggi and Berta divorced, and Papaw and his older sister "Nell" (Eleanor) went to live with their mother Bertha in Greenville, Tx. I don't know how old my dad was when this happened, but I think he was very young. I have a photo of Papaw , about 6, standing in overalls with no shoes. He is tall and skinny. Bertha ran a boarding house in Greenville for a while - I don't know when she ended up in Temple, Tx - but by the time I can remember, she lived there in a tiny wooden house with only 4 rooms, all in a row - front to back: living, dining, kitchen, bedroom. No hall- you had to pass from one room to get to the next. Nell lived nearby with her husband Benny (Benjamin) and their child, my cousin Brenda. (You guys went to her wedding in 1997 but probably don't remember it.) Siggi remarried at some pt, a woman named Tillie (Matilda) - I met them when I was 3 ( there are pictures) but I don't remember any of it. They lived the rest of their lives in Kansas and I only saw them once. Papaw went to UT on a basketball or ROTC scholarship (I've heard various versions over the years) and majored in civil engineering.

Grammy, aka Martha , had a very different childhood. She was born in Sulphur Springs, Tx in 1933 to Ruby  age 37 and "L.L" Lawrence Lee (when someone from the South has "Lee" as part of their name, you know their political and cultural affiliations right away!) age 53. Some story there, which I've never been able to get from anyone - why were these 2 so old when they married and had a kid? Why only 1 kid? Why did Ruby marry a much older man, who had been a bachelor all his life?

My grandmother Ruby, whom I was very close to as a child and spent a lot of time with, once told me she had been married before, to a man last name Miller, who had died. She would never talk about it - many of that generation wouldn't - but given that she was born sometime in the 1890's ( no one knows for sure - she frequently fibbed about her age, shaving years off ) , this first husband could have died in WWI, from the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919..... Who knows. I do know that Ruby had a hard childhood - her mother died when she was little, and her father remarried, had a bunch more kids, and the step-mother treated Ruby and her little brother Bob , also from the first mother, badly. Not only Ruby told me this, but several other old relatives, cousins and stuff, told me this as well. Lots of tales of Christmases with no gifts, doing all the chores, tending all the little step-children siblings,  not enough food or clothes, that sort of thing. Various versions of her life have her born and raised on a farm somewhere along the Texas-Louisiana border. (I've heard diff things from diff sources.) At one pt when about 6 years old, Ruby had some kind of tumor on her jaw, and her family put her on a train to New Orleans, all by herself, with an envelope containing money that had written instructions on it to take this child to the hospital, remove the tumor, and return her when she was healed. Can you imagine? Why New Orleans? At the time, it was one of the oldest, largest cities in America, certainly in the south, with major hospitals. I don't know if the tumor was cancerous or not, but Ruby had dentures most of her life as well as a slightly mis-shaped jaw, and I'm thinking the tumor was the cause. The surgery went well, and Ruby made it back home - after several weeks away, all by herself.

I know a lot about Ruby bc I spent time with her as a child, and Grammy spoke frequently of Ruby, too. Ruby was probably the relative who showed me the most love and attention in my life. As a young woman, she came to Dallas and went to secretarial college, and at one pt worked as a nanny for several wealthy Dallas area Jewish families. To me, this suggests a brave young woman seeking adventure, someone not afraid to go off away from home and try new things, support herself, meet people . It was in these nanny jobs that she developed a taste for the finer things in life - clothing especially, and of shopping at Neiman-Marcus. I gather she was given a lot of hand-me-down designer clothing from her employers. In spite of her slight facial deformity (not that noticeable) Ruby was pretty as a young woman, slim, with thick curly auburn hair and deep bright blue eyes. I have a photo of her as a young woman- beautiful dark curly hair, cut in a 1920's bob, and a flapper dress. The photo is in black and white, and you would never know from it that Ruby had the most beautiful deep blue eyes.

I don't know as much about L.L. , because he died before I was born. (He would have been 80 years old in 1960 when I was born.... He died in the 1950's, from cancer of the mouth-throat-larynx, bc he chewed tobacco all his life. ) Grammy idolized him and often spoke about what a sharp dresser he was. He came from a large family - was the youngest of about a dozen kids - which means he had a dad, uncles, and much older brothers who served in the Civil War. Imagine that - bc my family lived so long and had kids so late in life, the number of generations going back is fewer, and historical events are more immediate. My grandfather had brothers who served in the Civil War.....that would be like your grandpa and his brothers, for you. L.L also had a mother who was half Cherokee; her parents lived on the Rez in Oklahoma. It is L.L.'s family, the Crabtrees, that goes all the ways back to the American Revolution (making you SAR and me DAR) , the period in Texas history before Texas joined the USA ( making me DRT and you SRT), the colonial period in America (we are also Colonial Dames) and into England during the Middle Ages - we are also Magna Carta society. Here's what I do know - in every war that came along (bc it is through these records that we trace ancestry), through the generations, the Crabtree men were always : 1)Methodist or Episcopal, 2) middle class craftsmen - carpenters, leather workers, builders, businessmen, etc and small farmers , 3) Masons (which is why I am also OES), and 4)served in each and every war in a non-violent non-combat capacity - as scouts, chaplains, messengers, guides, etc. I just find that interesting ......

I don't know anything else about L.L.'s life. As I said, he was 53 when Grammy was born, never previously married. Relatives say he was a confirmed old bachelor - what does that mean, really? Does it mean he was gay, had asperger's, was shy, a nerd, what? I do know he owned a very prosperous furniture- making business that manufactured church fixtures (baptismal fonts, communion rails, etc) and furniture (pews, altars, etc.) Even during the Great Depression, he was well off financially. He and my grandmother lived in a pleasant spacious roomy 1920s style bungalow in Sulphur Springs, filled with luxuries for the time : Grammy always bragged how they were among the first in town to have electricity, a telephone, a radio, a car, a clothes washing machine, two bathrooms. Grammy had a bedroom with hand-painted wall paper brought in from France, a piano, orthodontia, trips to Dallas to shop at Neiman Marcus - all while growing up.

5/15/2014

Rip Van Reidy Meets Harvey

Once upon a time, there was a man who loved to talk and visit and socialize with his friends and neighbors. Everyone loved him because he was so pleasant, kind and chatty. He never seemed in a hurry to go anywhere else, he always had time to help anyone with their problems or a little chore or task. You could call him anytime and he would drop what he was doing and run over to help you. When he was with you, you were all that mattered in the world. This fellow was always the last to leave a party - often at 4 or 6 am- because he and the hosts had engaged in fascinating conversations, often half asleep on the couch or while cleaning up, all the night long. He was popular at the local watering holes, where proprietors and other habitu├ęs knew him by name.

But not all was perfect with this friendly man, for he had a wife who appeared, to outsiders at least, to be an anti-social, nagging , bitter sort of termagent. This woman had numerous health problems, was frazzled over-weight and unkempt in appearance, was always tired, worried about money, claimed she had to go home for some reason, and often avoided the frequent socializing of her husband. She didn't roam the town, as he did, looking for friendly folk to pass the time with. She could often be seen, scowling and muttering to herself, in the front yard doing yardwork. No one could understand why her husband put up with her. He was such a pleasant fellow.

What no on in the town seemed capable of figuring out was that the wife of this man was the only adult in the household who was responsible: cooked the meals, cleaned the house, did the yard work, noticed and fixed or assigned the chores, paid the bills, raised the kids, bought what needed to be bought, and repaired what could be repaired, and generally kept things going as smoothly as she could. All in addition to her full-time day job that brought in a little money. When the children were little, she left parties early to feed them and put them to bed, because their father did not. She got up early and fed them because their father was still sleeping after a night of being out late. If the house was rundown and tatty looking, it was because she had no one to help her do the hard labor, and no money to hire help. (Her husband frequently commented how he was the lowest paid member of his department...but never did anything about it. He seemed content with his life as it was - and why not? It was pleasant, no stress. He was happy.) Day after day, weekend after weekend and year after year passed, and the wife grew stouter, less attractive, and had more health problems, because she never had a moment or the money to take care of herself or her needs. She also grew isolated, bitter, and worn out with managing their entire family by herself- without even the freedom of a single parent to make decision entirely her own. For you see, the husband was a great big child himself, and when he was at home he made messes, started projects he did not finish, agreed to do chores he never followed up on, and refused to let anyone come and help because "he was going to do it " (someday.)
It really might have been better for the wife if this fellow did wander up into the hills, find some dwarves, drink a magic potion, and sleep for twenty years. At least that would be twenty years free of his messes the wife didn't have to clean up.