“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts—only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Ten thousand, Chapter 26

 

 

26

Ten Thousand

 

Oprah Winfrey says that when she walks into a room she expects people to say there goes one phenomenal lady.

She says she never feels out of place, inadequate, or an impostor, for she knows she is only one, but she comes as ten thousand. Those were the people who made her. One, her Great-grandfather, was born a slave and could not read. After the emancipation proclamation, however, he learned to read and eventually became the first of their family to own land.

You know Oprah didn't have an easy life. After being raped as a child, she was taken out for ice cream by the person who raped her, and she stood there with her ice cream while blood was dripping down her legs. She had an illegitimate stillborn child, but she didn't let that stop her forward movement into life and success. And there she stood, proclaiming she doesn't feel out of place or inadequate.

I know that my Great-grandmother was the family's first child born on American soil. 

I know her mother was pregnant on the boat to this country, and imagine pregnancy mixed with the rocking sea. Maybe I inherited my propensity for seasickness from her. I hope she wasn't sick on that crossing.

 I know the little German community in Kansas was a close-knit community, and all through my life, I heard my mother say she cooked as though for a threshing crew—or liked to. Big family holiday meals were fun for her.

 The phrase “Cooking for a threshing crew” came from the years on the farm when, during grain harvest, all the men would band together and thresh the grain first for one farm, then another, and the women would cook for them.

 I know that my grandparents butchered a hog for winter and let nothing go to waste, including making head cheese, which mom tried to make once. I could never bring myself to eat it, and I don't know what happened to the mess she made. It disappeared from the scene. 

 My mother wanted to create a farm for herself, and she began with a garden and chickens. One day, a large box containing 100 baby chicks arrived in the mail. They became our laying hens. All the males ended up in the freezer. Mom had researched how to cut up a chicken. Her carving always had a wish-bone piece, her favorite, but I never see that piece of chicken anymore.

Mom praised her mother's quilting ability, for Grandma's stitches were small and her lines straight; Mom said she was the best of the quilters. The women got together for a quilting bee, which meant the quilting fabric was stretched over a frame. The women sat around the periphery of a frame that took up most of the room, and while their fingers worked, they visited. I thank my lucky stars I don't have to do some of the work they performed, like quilting, darning, and canning, and what must have been endless cooking.

 Women have been credited with creating language. Not only do women like to visit, but exchanging knowledge around the food preparation was essential. The men, being hunters, could get by with pointing and grunting.

 My mother also said her mother didn't teach her about housework, for her mother preferred to do it herself. My attitude was, "How hard is it to clean? You figure it out." However, her mother's attitude probably bothered her more than any teaching she would have given.

 My grandmother liked canary birds; she had one at our house in Mt Vernon who trilled like an angel. So, the story goes, Grandma also had a canary when they lived in Kansas. One day, a cat broke into the house and killed her canary. She picked up a broom, intending to chase that cat out of the house. She accidentally hit it on the head, and to her shock, she had killed it. 

 Mom said her father, Frank Bertsch, would coax her to reveal the contents of his Christmas gifts, and she couldn’t keep the secrets. He would also stand on the front porch and tell her to listen carefully, and she would hear the corn growing. On storm threatening nights he would stand on the porch watching for tornadoes. 

 (The boiling of a purple sky such as happened in Oklahoma was a weird and fearful scene to Oregonians. There were no tornadoes though.)

 Mother's sister was tall—Mom was too, but Marie was also thin and probably looked taller than mom who was buxom. Marie was perhaps self-conscious about her height, as well, for people often asked her, “How’s the weather up there?”

 People can be unkind without thinking about it, especially regarding physical traits people have no control over and feel self-conscious about.  To add insult to injury mom had curly hair and was the prettier one. Marie said she kept stealing her boyfriends.

 I never heard any snide comments or complaints about the people in the family.

 The women in my immediate family longed for a child. Marie's husband didn't want children, so she was childless for years, but eventually they had a son. Marie's husband enjoyed that boy so much that they had two other children, another boy, and a girl. Mom didn't have a baby for 19 years after me, and a tumor took away Dottie's ability to have children, so I worried about my fertility. Thankfully, I easily had two girls.

Mom named me Joyce after her best friend, but I don't know what sort of person she was. I'm honored, though, to be named after someone Mom loved. 

Great Grandmother Hertenstein had arthritic hands, locked up joints bent at a forty-five-degree angle. It was troublesome to see her crippled, and Mom said she couldn't sew anymore, something she loved. She spoke in an accent and visited us at least once, from where I don't know. We have a picture of Mom, Great Grandmother, Grandma, and me—four generations of women. I look to be about six.

She must have visited earlier, for Mom told me that they pressed upon me to be on my best behavior before her visit. I tried hard, not knowing my best behavior, but when she asked me, "Joyce, where are your stockings?" I was dumbfounded. I didn't know about long stockings; I always had bare legs and wore short skirts. 

My mother was a frustrated artist—my evaluation. I don't think she would have acknowledged it, but it showed in her beautiful yards, and how she could prune those apricot and peach trees so their fruit could be picked while standing on the ground. She spent years at the kitchen table designing the house they wanted to build but never did. She taught herself cake decorating, made my wedding cake, and then sold some cakes to other brides. 

Mom liked to cook and sew, and while I was in grade school, she made many of my clothes. I remember her hand stitching the hems of those immense skirts we wore in those days. The last dresses she made for me were my bridesmaids' dresses. 

On the day when I was nine months pregnant and feeling a bit off, I propped myself up in bed to open a box I had received that day from Mom. It was full of old baby clothes she had made for Bill seven years earlier. 

My baby girl was born that night.

 I was disappointed that the nurse wouldn't give me the phone at three a.m. so I could call my mother. I wanted to be the one to tell her that her granddaughter had arrived. I was so energized I could have run down the hall, and I was starving. But they only had a hot 7-Up, and I don't like 7-Up. 

Neil called her later. That's customary, but that wasn't right, I wanted to tell her, besides, I was awake the rest of the night. 

 Did I tell you that my mother was pregnant at my wedding? She was only two months pregnant, and tended to have round belly, so it was not noticeable. Bill was a surprise baby, a happy surprise. An old wife's tale says that babies bring more babies, so it was with mom. It was only about a year after Mikie came that Mom became pregnant. 

 My parents always scrambled for money, but they scraped together enough to adopt their first two Korean children. The little boy, Mikie, arrived a year after Jan and weighed only ten pounds at one year of age. Mom could be credited with saving his life, for he had such severe dysentery she would stay awake nights tending to him, and our family doctor would make house calls. 

 After that slow start, you should see him now. He is a career Military man. Currently, he teaches, but for a time, he was a paratrooper sent to South America to thwart the shipment of drugs into the United States.

 After Mike's father passed, his mother gave her sons, there were four, some of the family money. She didn't want them to wait until she died. My mother had often said that if they had the money, she would adopt another child. Mike agreed, and they used it to adopt the six-year-old girl.  

Mom and Grandma Holt, Bertha Holt of the Holt Adoption agency, communicated through letters. Grandma Holt liked Mom's descriptions of their family and enjoyed hearing how the children were growing and maturing. I was astounded that the agency kept those letters. It was years after mom’s death that they sent the letters to Mike. Mike sent them to Jan who was an adult by them. She gave them to me.

 The letters were photocopied front and back, and many were not dated, so they were a puzzle, but I typed them and made them into a book titled Mom's Letters and Mine. It's on Amazon. (You must also type in my name, Joyce Davis, as the author to find it. It’s Mom’s Letters…and mine by Joyce Davis. The quickest way to find it is by the ISBN number BOOJH1PUK8.

Her communication with Grandma Holt was a bit of history and a time when she laid her soul bare on paper. Now, I may take my commentary out and republish the book from Mom's perspective only. They don't need me in there. It's her voice and her legacy. At the time, I thought telling the rest of the story was essential, but maybe it wasn't.

 (PS It's still there. I bought my own book on Kindle, reread it, and left it as is. DD said my words are essential. Okay.)

 Mike went into military service at fifteen, lying about his age. His mother said she didn’t know what to do with him, so she signed for his admittance.

 Putting an errant boy with a horse is about the best thing you can do for him, and Mike entered the Calvary. I don't know how he or his mother managed that, but it was a coup. I didn't think he was particularly savvy around horses, for he didn't ride, but he knew how to pick a good horse. (He chose Boots.) He said he had a teacher who couldn't ride but could teach others how. Once, he rode Boots to bring home the cow, and he told me that Boots knew what he was doing, but he was falling all over that horse. His unit in Calvary was the last one and used only for ceremonial purposes. Eventually, he was transferred to the army and was stationed in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, where he met Mom.

 He had pictures of his unit at a swimming hole with horses and men in the water. I thought that was so cool.

 He believed that the army saddle, called a McClellan, was the best and bought one for me. It was miserable, hard as a rock, with an opening down the center—for the horse, not the rider. The straps to the stirrups would slide as the horse moved, and a canter would leave nasty bruises on my thighs. So, instead, I rode bareback, which is the best way to teach a child to ride. Luckily, Boots had a perfect back for bareback riding, and that muscle behind a horse's front legs is the ideal spot to tuck your leg. You can communicate with the horse, and having your leg tucked will help you stay on the horse. Notice how many times I use the word perfect? Well, Boots was.

.I've read since then that the misery of the McClellan saddle was the reason the Rangers were in such mean spirits and took it out on the Indians. The Indians who rode Appaloosas--claimed to be a rough ride—set them up to be their grumpiest. Thus, the battle was on.

 

 

“Every oat tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground.”--Henry David Thoreau 

From Goddesses 50 and Beyond, https://goddesses50andbeyond.blogspot.com

"Breathe, Pet Your Cat"