Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thinking of the distant past.....

This is a picture of my mother at the age of 16. Around 1926 I figure. She had a really rough, sad childhood. I found this picture in a box of old photos that I’ve been meaning to scan. It nearly crumbled in my hand so I scanned it right away. Then I got to thinking and my mind traveled back in time, back to the stories I’d heard about my family. This starts with my mother's grandparents....whom she had never met. She did, however have fond memories of her great-grandparents (James's parents) and spent many summers on their farm.I don't know much any further back than that.

My mother’s maternal grandparents, as well as her great grandparents (James's parents) are about the only ones talked about; the rest is sort of a mystery. I know nothing of Liz's family. I’ll tell you about mom's grandparents and for the sake of this post, I’ll call them Liz and James. They married and its noted that James’s parents were fairly well off for the times (sometime around 1870 or so) since they did own quite a bit of property. I don't know how many children they had other than James. They were German people....hard-working and honest. James and Liz made a life together and had five children, my grandmother being the oldest.(girl #1) When the twin babies were only about 3, James was killed in an accident, which left Liz so shocked that she was never the same mentally. James’s family tried to help her as much as possible but she was stubborn, very proud and had a fiery temper to boot. She yanked my grandmother out of school at the age of about 11 to help her raise the kids and earn money for them to get by. She took in laundry for other people and my grandmother used to tell me stories of delivering the clean laundry by pulling a big wagon down the street. James’s parents were not impressed by their daughter-in-law's living conditions and they repeatedly asked her to at least let them take the children but she flatly refused. I guess things looked pretty bleak and they didn’t have much at all.

One day while Liz was away getting supplies, and she had the twins with her, James’s parents came to the house and packed up the three kids and took them home. The left a note for Liz and told her that they would see to it that the children had everything they needed. They extended the invitation to her as well as the twins, they could see she desperately needed help. Well Liz flew into a rage and, as the story goes, she packed up what she could, grabbed up the twins and left town for parts unknown. The children mourned the loss of their siblings but could do nothing about it and apparently James’s parents could not locate her, although they did hear things about her from time to time.

What had happened as close as anyone knows is that she took off with the twins but could not make it, having to take care of them. She eventually got mixed up with a man and he talked her into giving them up for adoption, which she did do. Fortunately both of them were adopted, but unfortunately not to the same family or close proximity. I think my uncle was about 6 when he was adopted and his twin, my aunt was about 9. James’s family did not find out about the adoption until the children were grown. My oldest uncle (boy#1) looked for years until he found his brother (one of the twins) and reunited him with the rest of his siblings. They were adults at the time. A happy note connected with this is that my uncle (boy #2) made it a quest to find his twin sister and he did find her when they were in their late twenties.

My grandmother really never had a childhood; she was made responsible for her siblings and then had to work early to help with expenses. I have often wondered if that was the reason why she had such a hard time being a mother herself. Don’t get me wrong….. she was a very talented woman; smart, excellent cook and seamstress, impeccable housekeeper and had good business sense, even though she had been denied a decent education. Let’s just say that it’s like that old poem about the little girl with the curl: “when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid”. That was my grandmother. She was not a good mother.

She had my mom at 16, divorced her husband a year later because he was ‘boring’. My mom cramped her style so she pawned her off on her sister who lived in Texas at the time. My mom lived there with her for a while. My grandmother went through husbands at a record rate….she was widowed only once out of eight husbands. Her temper and her fondness for alcohol did not make her a reliable wife. Yet, she was skilled in so many things and would give you the shirt off her back if she liked you. She nursed so many people back to health with absolutely no formal medical training. She, herself, beat Diphtheria twice and managed to outlive all of her siblings and even her own daughter (my mother). She lived to be 94 and it was pneumonia that eventually claimed her.

But back to my mom. Because of all the marriages that her mother had, she was subjected to many different stepfathers and more than a few took delight in beating her……badly. Back then the school turned a blind eye to bumps and bruises that more than likely were caused by beatings. Now that I think of it, it’s a miracle that she wasn’t sexually abused on top of that….but maybe her own mother’s bad temper kept the step-dads in their place in that regard.

The rest of my grandmother’s siblings pretty much all had sad lives, just like they started out. My oldest uncle, boy#1, had a terrible addiction with alcohol and found AA in the last 5 years of his life. They helped him so much and he was finally able to kick the habit, but unfortunately he didn’t live long after that. My oldest aunt, girl #2, was never happy and lived in poverty all of her life. She did not have a drinking problem that I ever knew about but her life was filled with sadness and regret. Then the twins….my uncle, boy #2, went on to be a police chief in a small town, he married twice, the second one being a perfect match. He had a pretty happy life because of that. My aunt, girl #3, lived at the orphanage until she was 9 or 10, then she was finally adopted by a very old couple. She was sort of a wild teenager and ended up getting TB and living in a TB hospital for years and years after losing a lung. She had two marriages before that and no children. She died at 78 from complications of about 4 different things and was confined to a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.

I can’t help but wonder…..if James hadn’t been killed in that accident… different would all these lives had been.

As for my mom, she met my dad and her life changed forever. My mother was happy, loving and the best mother in the world as far as I'm concerned. She and my father were deeply in love and I'm so happy that her life made that wonderful turn. She really had no training to be a good mother, but she was. Was it because her own childhood had been so bad? I think it was because she was happy, truly happy.


Mama Llama said...

I love family histories and all the twists and turns they take. I'll have to write on a bit of the soap opera on my maternal grandmother's side. It is fascinating to wonder what would have been...but also marvel at what did occur.

Be well, Val

glnroz said...

Such a sad but well written story. One does wonder about the event of a "Butterfly Effect" This story seems to have some uncharted alleys, yet to be traveled...:)

My Aimless Infatuation said...

Very interesting yet sad. Thanks for sharing.

Christine said...

It is true, one incident can change the dynamics of a family for generations. Not only death but loss of money, relocation, "unacceptable" unions, etc. It really is amazing to hear about other people's twist and turns in how they ended up who, what and where they are today.

Coffeypot said...

Good story, Val. Well told and with feelings. I'm gald your mother found love and happiness, which made you who you are.

Happyone :-) said...

A sad story but happy too that your mom and dad were so happy.
Sometimes we can learn to be a good mother from what NOT to do.

Rae said...

You have written this so well. It's like stepping back in the past with all the feeling and emotion you so aptly described. It is nice that your mother finally found happiness.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

It's great that your mom was able to be a good mother and a happy person after all that. It says a lot about human nature and what is possible if a person is positive!

Margaret said...

Val, thanks for sharing your family storyline with us...As you know, my family had secrets and kept things tight under lock and key. My Mother was a tryant, and therefore I learned early on what NOT to do with my 3 kiddos! Families in the distant past, those years, had such economic challenges and little to work with...Glad you had a kind and happy family....

Leann said...

I found your blog through ladeda's. We can either let the world beat us up or we can be survivors. I chose survival. It's a much prettier road. Tougher sometimes, but much prettier.

I enjoyed the story about the 'bear'.

Blessings to you

Jamie said...

Oh Val, what a great but sad story. How wonderful that you know the details that you do. I am always amazed at the conditions that so many of that generation had to live through, and yet most of them made it. I think we (this generation) have become so spoiled and not nearly as tough as they were. I was happy that the siblings found each other. And I am happy that your wonderful mother had a good life. I think happiness can make us become so much and accomplish so much.

I am happy that she was who she was, because that is alot of why you are who you are. Good heavens, how is that for confusing?

Happy work day today. Hugs.

ain't for city gals said...

Oh my ..what a story! I do believe it was because she met your dad and saw another way and grabbed it!! So many people hold onto their past and can't escape from it...I always try to help one person a year find a better way...they have to be open to it but if they are what a joy it is to see...thanks for this great story..

Joy Des Jardins said...

What a wonderful story Val. Your mom came through some very hard and sad times and still found happiness with your dad and passed her beautiful attitude on to you and your family. That's what makes some people very special. I find that same quality in you Val. Thanks for sharing this post with us. ~Joy

forsythia said...

What a story! It sounds like your mother was blessed with resilience. Some kids just have it and nothing can keep them down.

Linda Medrano said...

This was amazing! You bring those folks who came before to life! Yeah, there's sadness but there's hope in the future too. Loved it! Thanks for sharing!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Hi Val, It is nice to meet you! Thank you for your very kind comments on my blog..I do appreciate them!
This is a great story, even though it has very sad parts and is your history..I am so glad that you had a good Mother and that she was happy. Some women are just naturally good Moms:)

BREZZ said...

hey lady--
this coulda been a branch on my own family tree .
isn't is wonderful that it only takes one person to help someone 'break the cycle' ?
your mom, being able to find herself, and be happy , even with a past that she endured, she was able to live a good life out-- and raise a wonderful woman like you -- who in turn was able to know how to love and show love to your own kids.
why not her mom---- or her-mom?
who knows. but it's always someone.... who finally stands up and says-- not me, and not MY kids. and everything changes.

i'm happy your mom became who she she was meant to be.

yes-- nice story- but sad too-- also as far as i can see-- knowing YOU-- it has a happy ending.


Anonymous said...

wow! what a story! You're lucky you know so much about your relatives.

I'm glad your mom wound up happy!

BREZZ said...

just came by for coffee--
got any?
i do--- in case you don't feel like makin a pot :))

hugs- and happy tuesday :))

(oh lawd please get rid of the eye thing-- i so can't see those-- and so many folks have it now. bleh)

ps my 'word is - "pychocky"
makes me think of
he chokey he chokey !!!"
bwa hahahahaha


what a sad, but remarkable and awe inspiring story of your family..


Cheryl said...

Wow!! That is an amazing story. I'm so grateful that your mother was happy and loving and such a great mom.

Gypsy said...

I know I am way way late but I just had to catch up on all the posts I missed and this one is a beauty.

My dad came from a very unhappy and quite violent home and he could have continued the cycle because that was all he knew. Instead he chose to make the life of his family something better and he is the most wonderful father you could ever wish to have.

A lot of people just repeat the cycle but it only takes one to break it. I'm glad your mum did and that she knew real love and happiness with your dad.