Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Mom's Birthday

Inconceivable that Mom would have been 100 today. The words 'wizened' and 'frail' come to mind. I've heard it said - even just the other day - that older people benefit from having a bit of spare weight so that in the event they fall ill they will have 'something to fall back on'. Whether that is true or just an excuse, Mom never had spare weight in her life, in spite of being an excellent Southern cook. She just never seemed to eat much. Since I was a teenager I thought of her as just this side of fragile.

The other day when I was picking up around the house the thought occurred to me that perhaps had my Dad been better 'house broken' I might have grown up in a tidier home. Mind, Mom never was big on housework but she was ALL about creating beauty. Had she any hope of having a pretty house I think she would have. It's just that my Dad was spoiled rotten and never picked up after himself. I rather followed suit for more years that I care to admit until I decided I wanted to have better habits. I remember asking Mom why she never 'made' me do housework. Her reply was that she wasn't prepared to 'make' me do something she didn't want to do herself. Couldn't really argue with that. Her priority for me wasn't housework so much as homework. She was very keen for me to be educated and financially self-sufficient. I can't disagree with that either.

Mom never really saw herself as a 'housewife'. She was more a business woman (she was a photographic colourist) who happened to work from home and who also had a certain set of artistic homemaking skills that didn't necessarily include the drudgery of cleaning. I always had clean clothes, enough to eat and no one got food poisoning so I guess she did pretty well after all. 

Funny that Mom's been gone 28 years and yet she is always in my thoughts. Guess that just goes to show how very important mothers are.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Mary's Birthday

Today my Dad's birth mother, Mary, would have been ... 139!  It sounds crazy to write, but she was 39 when she had him, he was 38 when I was born and I will be 62 the end of this month.

She was born on this day in 1879 on the family farm at Cerro Gordo, in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota. Cousin Don kindly shared this photo of the barn on that property. The barn was notable  not just for its enormous size but for its amenities. Apparently there was a ramp to the upper level so that horses and a hay wagon could go 'upstairs'. There was also a turntable to allow them to exit facing front rather than backing out. 

I mentioned last month on the blog for my Dad's birthday that I had a copy of his adoption file. The phrase that has haunted me since was from one of Mary's letters to the officialdom that removed her children from her care in 1919. Having learned that her elder son died, aged 24, by drowning she was frantic to know the whereabouts of my Dad. She says

 'my bright happy days are taken away'. 

That letter was written in 1939, when she was 60, twenty years after she lost her children and was committed to a mental institution for eight years because she had two children out of wedlock. 

How much of these decisions were concerning the welfare of the children and how much it concerned upholding the morals of the middle-class Lutheran society, that of her background, I may never know. I am, however, awaiting receipt of what I think will be the last of the documentation from officialdom, about the Bethany Home for unwed mothers into which I understand she and her children were initially taken. 

I can't for one moment regret the grandparents who adopted my Dad and helped raise me. On the other hand, this woman who had such a painful life intrigues me. I wonder how much I might have inherited from her, what I might have learned from her, had things been different. I can't know any of that of course, but what I can do is to honour her memory and to uncover as much about her as possible.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

My Dad's Birthday

Goodness, my Dad would have been 100 years old today! I'm fairly certain he wouldn't have enjoyed it much. He always made it clear to me that he valued the quality of his life over longevity. I see the sense in this but I'm not sure I would say the same. Perhaps I'll hold his view if and when my health is such that it interferes with enjoying myself.

Working with the volunteer lawyer over this past year, he was able to obtain a copy of my Dad's adoption records from the courts. It is a surreal experience reading the letters my Grandma B wrote asking to adopt a child, written in her familiar handwriting. I found it amusing that she initially asked for a little girl. Mom always led me to believe they were disappointed that I wasn't born a boy, as Grandpa and my Dad were the last of their surname, at least going back several generations. They asked for a healthy, bright looking child between one month and one year of age. They asked on 4 December 1918 and received on 24 Mar 1919, only a few days after my Dad, his brother and his birth mother, Mary, were brought to the Bethany Home.  Grandma's letters are lovely to read, with hope and happiness - tinged with a bit of anxiety, that's how she was - over the course of the adoption procedure.

The terms of the adoption are rather strange. They had 90 days to return the child (at their expense) if dissatisfied with the product (my word). The Minnesota State Public School (at which my Dad was never actually a ward) could take him back anytime until he was 18 years old.  They were agreeing to keep him until his 18th birthday, 

'maintaining, educating, and treating him properly and kindly as a member of the family, to provide him with suitable and sufficient clothing for week days and for attending public religious worship and with suitable food and other necessaries in health and sickness; to have him taught the occupation of (blank completed with) something useful and the branches usually taught in the common schools, causing him to attend the public school where he resides, fully complying with the compulsory school laws of Minnesota.'

At the expiration of the agreement (the 18th birthday presumably), they were to 

'furnish said child with two good suits of clothes, and will pay for the benefit of said child on the order of the Superintendent of said school, the sum of   $75 ($50 for a girl) and if said child shall not remain in his family the full term of said indenture, he will pay pro rata for the time he does remain, such pro rata to be paid promptly when this indenture is terminated.'

I'm not sure I follow all this, but it does sound as though my Dad was considered indentured rather than 'adopted'. That said, it was early days in the history of legal adoption and they may have been finding their way. I know from my visit to the Owatonna State School that children could be either 'fostered' - which was definitely a form of indentured servitude for many of them - or they could be adopted, which may in some cases not have been a permanent arrangement.   It was certainly a permanent arrangement with my Grandparents and the letters that follow are full of joy (from Grandma) and satisfaction (from the school). My dad is a 'fine boy' who is 'developing splendidly under their care'. 

Then comes October 1939 and a letter from my Dad's birth mother, Marit/Mary. He is now 21 years old. She is distraught as the people who adopted/fostered her elder son, Albert, have contacted her to tell her he has died at the age of 24 years, drowned in the Mississippi River. I cannot really imagine what possessed them to contact her. I've tried to find a good motive in their actions and the closest I can come is 'Just thought we'd let you know you needn't worry about Albert any more. He's dead.' Can you put a better face on it?

In her letter, Mary feels they failed him in their care and is frightened for the well being of her younger son. It seems clear that her children were taken off her, she didn't relinquish them. Considering that women in the US didn't have a vote until 1922, I'm not terribly surprised that she had little recourse once the State was interested in her situation. She and her children were apparently taken into the Bethany Home, her children were sent to the Public School (Albert) or their new home (my Dad) and she was committed to a State institution for the feeble minded on the basis that she'd had two children out of wedlock. Her letter is rambling and she references the kidnapping of the child of aviator Charles Lindbergh, which occurred in 1932. On the other hand, she spells better than Grandma B...

There is another letter from her, then another letter written on her behalf by a family friend at the Lutheran Seminary and a final document in the file recording Mary's visit to the State School on 3 Jan 1957.  I was chilled when I read the date, as I was 7 months old then, my Dad was 38. Mary was 78 years old, drawing old age benefit.  She is described as a 'most unhappy person and has a considerable dislike of all "welfare agencies". Small wonder, that. Mary couldn't understand since her child had reached majority why she could not be made known to him. Of course the adoption system didn't work that way.

They sent her away with the assurance that should he get in touch, they would help make the connection between her and her son. This never happened as my Dad was never told he was adopted. I'm in little doubt that my dad had a better life with my Grandparents than he would have had in the family of a single mom with a potential mental handicap. Her family doesn't seem to have supported her very much and so far as I can tell she made her way alone in the world as much as she could. I also believe she loved her children as much as any mother could and I think her story is among the saddest I've come across.

I'm waiting for records about her case from the Bethany Home. I'm also looking through DNA matches to find a paternal grandfather. My guess is that Albert never had children and perhaps he and my Dad were the only children of said grandfather, so it will be a long reach back with no name to hunt. But I have a couple of leads on which I'm working...

Friday, 23 March 2018

Dress Advice from 1928 via Miss Fisher

Phryne Fisher has taken a job at a ladies' magazine as part of a murder investigation. A Miss Herbert is attempting to write a fashion column and mentions she admires the Fuji print dresses currently all the rage. Phryne thinks the dyes will fade quickly and they are a passing fad anyhow. 

They give themselves an imaginary £10 budget and see what each can come up with for a summer wardrobe.

Miss Herbert, who greatly admires Phryne's style, comes up with

- 2 cotton dresses
- 1 Fiji print dress
- a pair of cheap shoes and
- a cloche
for sixteen shillings and six pence for the dresses; the hat was expensive, but she said there is a shoe sale at Clark's. Last year's handbag will have to do.

Miss Fisher comes up with

- a tailored suit from Craig's - eight and a half guineas - in a lightweight fabric, eg crepe de Chine, in a solid colour such as leaf green, lobelia blue (or oatmeal for the timid); wine would be good for someone with dark hair. It must fit properly.

She will buy the following from  Treadways Colosseum

- a pair of pump shoes for three shillings elevenpence; 

- two tunics in pale or constrasting cotton for three and eleven each

- a straw hat, four and eleven. She will replace any cheap decoration with one of several scarves (eleven pence)

- a straw basket for 2 shillings to carry her purchases

- the remainder of her £10 will go to the poor.

Next summer, all that will be needed is to buy (or make) more blouses, scarves, gloves and stockings. 

Careful thought should be given to the colour of the suit, as it can last up to ten years. Hemlines can be followed with a new hem unless they drop too far, in which case a new skirt is a matching or contrasting colour will be needed. 

My thoughts:
 - Sadly, Phryne was wrong in predicting fashion would never expose our ugliest joint, the knee. Not that I'm fussed about this one way or the other these days.
- The story is much more entertaining in Kerry Greenwood's words.
- I must think about how to translate all this into a uniform for my retirement lifestyle.
- I'm eternally grateful for the decimal system.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Foraging Lessons - Part I

We had a very interesting speaker at one of our WI meetings last year. I get the impression that most of the women don't follow up on any of these talks, but I have gotten good value by doing so. The speaker was from Wild North Discovery and he talked about foraging for food. I took his card, meaning to look into it further.

I didn't think of it again much until casting about for Christmas gifts for Bill. He has most of what he wants and if he doesn't he just buys it. Unlike me, who makes lists and waits...

I bought a membership for each of us, knowing he wouldn't be keen on going by himself. And anyhow, I was really interested in it as well. We both enjoy foraging for berries and the like and Bill likes being outdoors, so I figured it was worth a shot.

We had our first meeting on Sunday. We gathered at St. Mary's Lighthouse on a day when pouring rain was predicted. He just told us to dress accordingly in waterproofs. Also to bring a notebook, a camera and a stick. 

About 15 people showed up and checked in, about an hour before low tide. We went clambering around on the slippery rocks, following him around. He showed us several kinds of seaweed: I remember bladder wrack and something like serrated wrack, kelp, lavar and perhaps sea lettuce and pepper dulse? Not sure how many of these I'd recognise again, probably the bladder wrack. 

He told us we wouldn't likely find razor shells or cockles on this rocky beach but showed us the shells and talked about how to cook them. He explained the difference between bi-valves and grazers. I was fascinated to learn about limpets. I always thought they were barnacles, but barnacles don't move and limpets do, to feed. He pointed out the bald places on the rocks near the clusters of limpets, indicating they had eaten the vegetation that covered most other rocks. Who knew limpets had teeth? I was just grateful they could cling to rocks so well; they helped me not slide around so much.

Those three bumps are limpets...and perhaps a bit of bird poo?

We got lucky with the weather, with just a light shower at one point. The sun was out for a good while at the beginning and the end, but for all that it was perishing cold! And guess who forgot to bring a hat (Bill - though he had a hood) and who didn't think of running gloves, only that dress gloves would hamper writing and photographing. I made do with stretching the long sleeves on my wool cardigan. I also discovered that a waterproof that covers ones rear end and has stuffed pockets makes navigating through slippery rocks and knee-high crevices very hard for this short person.

That straight edge on the right in the beige stuff has a tiny row of teeth!

Bruce is a mine of useful information. Whether I'd ever get Bill to eat 'squidgy stuff' (his words) like limpets or winkles, I'd bet not; I'm pretty sure we'll go foraging for some seaweed at some point, though! We were told not to gather on that day as there were so many of us we could wipe out the resources there and 'sustainability' is part of our lessons.

Our next gathering isn't until spring and it's somewhere in a forest. I'm really looking forward to it!

St Mary's Lighthouse, built 1898 on the site of an 11th century monastic chapel. 

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Clara, the Clock and the Candles - Part III

So, what about Clara? Well, let me introduce you to her:

Her name is Clara.

She was right next to the clock that I bought and I knew it was love at first sight for Bill. I was rather taken with her myself, but I probably wouldn't have brought her home just for me. I doubted he would purchase her either, but as his 70th birthday is this March, splashing out for something special seemed a good idea.

I asked the man his best price on her before I purchased the clock. He took a bit off both and I took him up on them, feeling quite pleased with the deal. Also, his tables were in aide of a Veterans' organisation, apparently, so that was good as well.

Dancing certainly has kept her fit, hasn't it?

Last month I was darning my cashmere socks, sewing the elastic back on my underwear, we've been eating down the freezers and cupboards and I had a dry January; but I'm prepared to spend a bit on things I really like that I think will hold their value.

When we unpacked our goodies I asked Bill what was her name. He suggested Ola (my Grandmother who was very flapper-like in her attitudes when young, I'm sure) but I thought Ola sounded more turn-of-the-last-century hillbilly country. We tried Olga (Grandmother's improvement on her original name), but that didn't seem right either. My other grandmother was named Clara, and so Clara she became. Still a bit old fashioned, but it seems to have stuck. 

I tried her in several places, but Bill thought she looked happiest in the corner where Mom's chiming clock used to be. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Clara, the Clock and the Candles - Part II

We went back to the Fleamarket on Sunday, in large part to observe how it might have changed. When I first moved here Saturday's market was more of a yard sale / car boot sale thing. I bought kitchen stuff - plates, cutlery, pots and pans - to use until my possessions arrived from the States. I found an old crockpot, a standard lamp and any number of useful items on Saturdays. 

Sundays were more about collectables: fancy china sets, very weird WWII memorabilia (Nazi stuff even), tons of costume jewellery sellers. There were still book stalls on a Sunday, so that if I didn't get to the library before noon on Saturday, when it - and every other business I needed - shut, I could buy paperbacks for 25p (they are at least £1 now, but still a bargain).

The market has changed a lot in recent years to something much more upmarket. There are very few tables that sell old household goods and I saw none with any old electrical items. There is a wide array of (incredibly tempting) ethnic fast foods. There are up-cycled goods, such as wood items made from pallets or gorgeous bags and jackets made from re-cycled wool, tweed and leather. There are loads of handmade jewellery stalls, funky crafted items, stalls specialising in 'coastal' home decor. There are still some second hand clothing stalls, but the prices are higher than in thrift shops; then again, the merchandise is carefully curated. Bill likes the stall that sells fancy Failsworth flat caps in a patchwork of several Harris tweeds. I like the garden centre in the back corner. 

In short, it's a fabulous place in which to empty your pockets, one reason we don't visit often. So we went mainly to observe the changes (and to look for candle holders). I would say it was about 70% the same sellers. There was a bit more empty space on Sunday than on Saturday - but still plenty to browse. 

We found some glass candle sticks at the first table we came to, but in the interest of observing, made the entire rounds again. When we returned, we gave the lady £7 for the pair and for a small lidded sugar bowl. None are ideal, but will do for the time being. I think these clear glass candle sticks came from a 'bedroom set'. I never saw such a thing in the States, but they are still easily found at flea markets here. These sets consisted of a tray, a couple of glass bowls (with or without lids) and two candle holders. They were meant to be on a ladies chest of drawers or perhaps a dressing table. I'm not sure when they went out of fashion.

I had an idea when we got home and made this arrangement using two seld0m used flower vases (one I gave Mom, one that was Bill's mother's). The two candle holders on those upturned vases belonged to my Grandma and Grandpa. The shortest one came from some previous trip to the market long ago. I added it to the recent purchase to made an odd number. This is something I've only learned since retiring, that somehow odd numbers make a more pleasing design. 

The candle arrangement looks a bit mental, I know, but that's part of the fun. We smile when we see it and the cut glass looks rather nice when the candles are lit. Pity my camera / photography skills aren't likely up to capturing it. 

I'm not really a candle person, actually, other than at dinner. I used to like all the paraphernalia of pyromania but my asthma is not always amenable to perfume-y smells and I'm paranoid about house fires. We probably have a lifetime supply of tea lights for various kitschy souvenirs from holidays on the front porch. I expect tea lights are relatively safe, but I never think to light them.

On my 'wish list' for new skills, however, is to learn to make candles - dipped candles, even, at home (and soap, too!). I'll be sure to let you know if that ever happens...