Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It's like Romeo and Juliet without the dead teenagers

One of the best things about visiting my mom in Southern California, is listening to stories of her life growing up in Illinois in the 30s and 40s. Some of her stories are hilariously funny, some unbearably sad, all are fascinating. She was the 4th of 7 children and from some of the shenanigans they pulled it is amazing that her mom survived their growing up!  But my grandmother was apparently made of sterner stuff than I can imagine. Smart, strong and determined to give her children the best life she could. Yesterday my mom showed me some memories she had written down. In the reams (and reams) of paper, I found the story of how my spine-of-steel grandmother started her life with the very clever man of her dreams, my grandfather.  Here, in my mom's own words, is the story of them.

Both of my grandparents lived just south of Louisville, Kentucky, on adjoining farms. The two men who would become my grandfathers had a running feud for many years with neither family allowed to associate with the other.  Of course this made the two children, my mother and father, each want to be with the other even more.  Mother left high school at 16 to attend boarding school, then one year of college. Her parents had great plans for her as many of her family members were doctors, lawyers, school teachers.  What their parents didn't know was that several love letters passed between her and the young man she was smitten with whose daddy worked the neighboring farm. My Dad was 18 and Mother almost so when they tried to elope. Her father sent the sheriff after them who took Mother back home. A few months later the church was having a revival meeting, which my mother and her family were attending, and Dad had prearranged to have 4 buggies with one couple in each buggy meet at a fork in the road outside of town.  Dad rode his horse up to the church window and Mother jumped out the window onto the horse and away they went. At the fork in the road the two young lovers got into one buggy and headed for the Tennessee border, while the other 3 buggies each took other roads.  When the Sheriff's posse got to the fork in the road, they had to choose which buggies to follow...they chose the wrong ones.  The eloping couple got to the river crossing but the bridge had been washed out the week before in a heavy rain. They waded across the river into Tennessee where they were met by Dad's cousin who had a Justice of the Peace ready and waiting to marry them. When they returned home, naively hoping their families would welcome them with open arms, my mother's family informed them that they were dead to them, but my father's family was delighted.  Of course that might have been because there was money on my mother's side and none on my father's.  Years later my mom reconciled with her family, but she never quite forgave them. 

To be honest, I am not sure exactly how factual this story is.  I found in the same reams of paper a version of their elopement that had my grandmother jumping out of her 2nd story bedroom and in another the buggies were Model Ts.  I personally like the image of the buggies better and really the details aren't the story, the emotions and feelings behind it are.  It must have been so hard for my grandmother, at not-quite-18, to be told never to darken her family's door again and doubly hard when a few years later the Great Depression hit, driving them and thousands of others to relocate in hopes of making a better life for themselves.  They were a hardy lot, those ancestors of the early 1900s.  I'd like to think I would have had the courage to take a literal leap of faith out a window, whether it be the 2nd story bedroom or church, into the arms of my horseback riding beloved, but who knows?  I may have taken one look at the horse I was aiming for and decided I would rather take a nap. Fortunately for me, my grandmother made that leap.

Here is my grandmother in 1941 with 5 of her children.  The other two late-in-life babies had not yet made their appearances.  My mom is in the front in a home-sewn satin dress.  She said she would like to say it was red, but she remembers it was navy blue. She also remembers that just moments after she was keeping an eye on him in this photo, her younger brother pulled his hands out of his pockets, and yes, he had a frog in one.  So of course she punched him. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Change is that a good thing?

Change happens.  All the time. The weather, the landscape, your children's ages. Everything changes. As I write this I am eating a bowl of homemade cauliflower soup (and can I just say YUM!) which in a minute or so will be gone. Change. Anyone who says they don't like change is being disingenuous.  If they really didn't like change they would sit in the same chair, wearing the same clothes, day in, day out until someone either hosed them off or set them out on the curb for the no doubt underpaid garbage truck people to pick up. Oh well, they say, some change is ok. It's the big changes I don't like. Like what? You don't like summer turning into fall into winter into spring? You don't like the revolution of the earth? Don't like to see the sun come up every morning? Well, that's just silly! Of course that kind of change is ok. So what kind of change is not ok? I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the kind of change we don't like is a change we don't want.

I had breakfast with a good friend this morning and as I drove home I made a detour around town, realizing that this will be one of the last times I do that. Not the last, but one of the last. Change is all over Missoula. In the 20+ years I have lived here I have seen houses march along the hillside where empty lots used to sit. I have seen the city spread out to include dozens of businesses along a 4 lane road that runs the length of town, river to mountain. New buildings at the University. Different shops downtown. New restaurants, coffee shops and golf courses. When I first moved here, locals were always giving directions by saying what the location used to be, like the old JC Penney store, the even older Safeway on Higgins, the now abandoned drive in, the old Mansion (the original location up the Rattlesnake, not the new one on the hill). Now I can give my own directions with what-used-to-be-there's. Like where Insty Prints where I briefly worked was, or Hansen's Ice Cream Parlour where you could get a great hamburger as well as a killer hot fudge sundae, Montana Pies as well known for its soup as its pies.  The shopping mall has its own stories of change. WaldenBooks, Grady's Cafe, El Matador with its food barely recognizable as Mexican, a coffee shop done in forest green and white that had the best coffee I ever had, Nordstrom Annex that only sold women's clothing, and a host of local businesses that did not survive mall rent.

Some of the changes to my city were welcome (can't wait to shop there), some barely noted (hey, where did that come from?), others mourned (I loved that place. No, I didn't go much, but still). As I consider the move that is in my near future, I can't help but wonder what will be changed when I return. This won't be a temporary move as some of my others were. This is a move toward a future I can almost see and that I am excited about embracing. I will return to this much loved city, to sit on decks and drink wine, to camp by gorgeous rivers, to celebrate milestones both mine and others, both happy and sad. I will return but I doubt I will ever live here again.

A friend drove me home late one night last week and as we went past one of the several brand new apartment complexes springing up in the most unlikely places, I wondered out loud where all the people who were moving in lived before they were built.  To which my friend replied, at least there will be lots of choices when you move back. He's a funny guy.

Missoula Evening

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What do you regret?

I have always tried to live my life without regrets. Which is not to say I have lived a perfect life, indeed, who among us has? And how boring would that be if you did?  But I have always thought that you should try to be as happy as you can where you are, understanding that every step you have taken has brought you there. But I find myself looking back and having some regrets, not for things I did, but for things I didn't do.  For times I should have stood up for what I believed in, for what was right, for what needed to be said.

I never spoke up for the girl who had dirty hair and smelled funny and sat by herself at middle school lunch. Kids called her names and made fun of her, sometimes right to her face. And while I can say that I did not call her any names, neither did I ever try to help her out.

I never said a thing that day in college when a boy came in dressed as a girl, complete with heels and makeup. I watched as he sat quietly, head down, in the circle of desks in a class on Ethics. Other students left one by one. We could hear them laughing right thru the open door. A handful of us stayed in the room, quiet, solemn, not knowing what to do. Not meeting each other's eyes, but not meeting his, either. When class was over, the rest of us left while he stayed behind.  I never saw him again.

As a new real estate agent I was asked by my manager to take a visitor and his wife on a tour of Missoula, pointing out the highlights and trying to give him a sense of what our city was like. They were visiting from Auburn and as we drove up one of the residential hills, he began to talk about why he 'had' to move. Lets just say his racist comments flabbergasted me.

I was buying a minivan in preparation for a move down to Austin Texas and was chatting with the salesperson about why we were moving.  I said to him there is only one thing I am not sure I can live with in Texas. He nodded solemnly. As it turns out, he was a racist, too. After a shocked and awkward silence I said, no, I meant the humidity.  I bought the van.

I wish I had sat by that girl, told other kids to leave her alone. I wish I had talked to that boy. I wish I had gone out that door and shamed each and every one of those laughing students. I wish I had gone back into the classroom and asked that teacher "What is wrong with you? Why did you just sit there and stay silent when one of your students needed you?" I wish I had pulled my car over to the curb and told that self righteous bigot and his silent wife to get out of my car. I wish I had thrown the keys back in that salesman's face and told him to shove his minivan some place uncomfortable.

But I didn't. Instead I was silent. I will regret that to the end of my days.