Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Family History - Pt 3


Monday, August 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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Texas, Explained # 4 : History

5th Grade Version:

Stephen F. Austin, with a band of plucky yet determined pioneers, traveled to central Texas from (various versions Tennessee, Kentucky, or Virginia) in the 1820's to form a colony. This group was peaceful and happy until 1836, when mean ole' Santa Anna, the Mexican general, decided to kick them out. Leaders of the colony rallied, fought 3 quick yet decisive battles - the first, in Gonzales, famous for the flag the colonists made with a picture of a cannon on it that said "Come and Take It" ; the second, at the Alamo in San Antonio, where all the "Texans" who fought bravely were martyred, thus inspiring the motto " Remember the Alamo"; and the third, the Battle of San Jacinto, where General Sam Houston decisively routed the Mexican general Santa Ana during his afternoon siesta.

Grownup (short and overly simplified) Version:

European nations in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were engaged in competition for natural resources and land for expanding populations. This caused them to explore the world beyond Europe via water and land. While the battle between Spain and Britain in 1588 may have settled the dominance of the seas issue from the British point of view, pretty much everyone else just went about their business and carved up the Americas, Asia, Micro- and Polynesia, Africa, etc., as they could. Chief colonizers were from Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Long-standing conflicts were established in local areas where European nations formed alliances and enemies - conflicts which exist to this day as the under-pinnings of our current geo-political system. Think Palestine. Rwanda. Vietnam.

Spain and Britain, and occasionally France, continued to fight to determine who would control North America (and the rest of the world.). The French and Indian War / Seven Year's War 1754-1763 and the American Revolution 1875-1783 established Britain, later the Americans, as the winner for the east coast of North America regions. Local wars continued the pattern of being smaller parts of a larger geopolitical power struggle. Spain had a stronghold in the southwest, central and South America. Some French explorers sailed up the Mississippi and into the Hudson Bay and Canada but nobody really cared. As populations grew, each side pushed towards the middle. Texas is where they met.

Texas, geographically, was originally part of New Spain (settled in 1690), and later Mexico (which succeeded from Spain in 1821 in its own revolution). The region was filled with ranches, farms, and small towns; it contained Spanish and native-speaking peoples of Spanish, Native American, and mixed descent. The current borders did not yet exist, and many families owned land on both sides of the Rio Grande River, which is the present day border with Mexico. Stephen F. Austin brought his colony to Texas legally, with a land grant originally awarded to his father. As more Anglo settlers from the USA joined the original "Old Three Hundred" families, the need for more land created conflict with Mexican overlords and prompted the Texas War for Independence. From the Texans' perspective, this war was immediate and personal; Texans felt they "won" but Mexico did not recognize that belief. From the United States of America's perspective, this conflict was part of a larger series of wars over territorial jurisdiction, known as "Manifest Destiny”: the War of 1812 (related tangentially to the Napoleonic Wars), the US- Mexican War of 1845-1847 (also involved in the USA’s internal dispute over free vs slave states), and the Spanish American War of 1896.

Texas, once admitted to the Union, was a slave state, but did not have as strong a farming/plantation economy as more eastern, southern states. It was so remote compared to the rest of the Confederacy that it took months for the slaves in Texas to find out about the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, which is why "Juneteenth" is a significant African-American holiday in Texas. Small farms and large ranches predominated, with railroads arriving to take cattle to markets in Chicago and St. Louis in the 1870-1880's. Oil was discovered in the 1920's. Military bases sprang up in the wake of WWII. NASA arrived in the 1960's. Recent cycles of boom and bust in the US economy have driven huge swells of population to Texas, searching for jobs and a better life. Throughout it all, the culture of Texas has encouraged a "hands off" attitude reminiscent of the old Wild Wild West - seen today in the Texas approach to taxes, government, and laws in general.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

The "princess-ification" of girls

This has got to stop right now ! I mean it ! Yeah, you.....hey, YOU ! Raising your daughter to think she can be a princess when she grows up is sending her the wrong message. Princesses are helpless bimbos, always stuck in some silly situation, who have to be rescued by making friends, finding themselves, acting adorably cute, or finding true love from the prince. Princesses value looks and pretty dresses over strong character or real life skills such as intelligence, hard work, integrity, or kindness. Princesses think it's all about them.....that the world will do their bidding if they are just pretty enough. 

Case in point #1 : Extended family welcomed first female baby in generations . Much arguing ensued over the all-pink, all-princess-y toys one side of the fam insisted on gifting said child as it was growing up. Child now pre-teen, is spoiled unrealistic self-centered brat. What are you teaching a young person about role models when the only options you provide are stuffed unicorns, tiaras, magic fairy wands, tea party sets, make-up, feather boas, and pink dress-up dresses? Whose fantasy of little girlhood is being served - yours, or your child's ? Whatever happened to "Doctor Barbie", toy horses, farm sets, tricycles, sand boxes with shovels and spades, doll houses, rocking horses, zoo animals, play houses, cowboys/cowgirls, building blocks, art and craft supplies, toy cars, games, puppets - the list goes on and on. In colors other than, and in addition to,  pink?

Case in point #2: I am now teaching the first wave of teens who were raised this way. Young women aged 14-18 these days do not know how to : look an adult in the eye, ask a question, wait their turn, explain something, talk about the subject matter at hand or their own lives, problem solve, take initiative for anything - without simpering and acting coyly babyish. On a 3 year old, this has been viewed as cute, and encouraged. On a 17 year old it is not functional. 

The princessification of America is what has created the whole "Bridezilla" phenomenon. 

You may think "feminism" means a bunch of strident lesbians shouting about bring down the man. Like anything depicted in the media, this is a caricatured stereotype and unfair to both lesbians and women who are straight. Feminism is a social movement that historically allowed women in the USA to vote, have access to their own money, a bank account in their own name not their husband's, and pushes now for equality in the workplace and health care. 

Think about your own life and those of your friends.....how many of you have learned, maybe the hard way as I have, that ultimately you have to take care of yourself - not depend on anyone else? How many of you have learned that to keep a job, manage your finances, keep your family together, and your life going - you have to have adult social and problem solving skills? Where are children / teens going to learn them, if not from you ? Everyone has to function in the real world, in real world ways. I am not saying burst little girls fantasies....I am saying, provide them with a range of  role models, skills and options. Encourage them in age appropriate interactions with you. Have them practice speaking to adults, shaking hands, looking peopkle in the eyes, and speaking clearly not coyly. young girls and young boys need to learn to have confidence, speak for themselves, and trust their own minds. If you don't shape them in the way you want them to do this, someone else will.