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With another nonstop rainy day to keep me indoors, I continued to obsess on the family tree and added my mother’s ancestry and journeyed as far back as I dared on both sides. It really is quite addictive and though my eyes are burning and watery, the skeleton is there to hang this story over. This is something I have wanted to do for decades! Who knows, I may even scrounge up some relatives still living in Scotland, or find others, long lost to us, in the USA. At any rate, I will not allow myself to continue tomorrow!
The fellow on the horse was the son of a woman who owned a big chunk of shoreline on San Juan Island. He told us her name and where to go but was not sure she would let us on the place. Old man Twitchell smooth talked her into it. The place was rich with clams; butter clams and geoducks. When we were finished we thanked her and invited her over for dinner, but she said oh she couldn’t stand the thought of putting one of those in her mouth! Imagine living there and never even eating a clam!
When your brother was married to Karen, one time her kids were arguing with him about having a bigger allowance. They looked to me for support and were dumbfounded when I said that at their age I had never heard of the word; never had an allowance. If someone had asked me that question when I was 10 or 15, I would have asked what’s an allowance? Was that the one penny I saved by walking an extra four blocks to get the daily milk? Dad let me keep that penny, and I would spend it on Lucky Bites.
What were Lucky Bites? Well, they were a candy that the grocer had displayed in an open box, and you got to chose the one you wanted for your penny. At first they all looked alike, covered in chocolate with a creamy mint center. If you picked one that had a white center, that was all you got. But, if you chose one with a pink center, you got 20 cents more of mints. So I studied the edges of the candies very closely and noticed that on some of them you could see a hint of white or pink.
My first day of school, come lunch time they let us go home, or if we had our lunch we ate it there. Well, I could already read, and I decided I did not want to go to school, so I headed over to dad’s paint shop, a few blocks away. Here’s the old man, his paint brush suspended, asking; “what the hell you doing here?” I told him I’d had enough, I didn’t like what they were doing there, I didn’t need that stuff. I had tried to talk and they shut me up.
Like most blind people she had exquisite other senses. I think she must have had vibrator pickups in her goddamn feet! She’d hear my brother swear from clear out in the back yard and she’d tell me, ”go get him in here, I’ll wash his mouth out with soap,” and goddamn she did one day! Blind as a bat, no glass eyes, just sockets with little black buttons in the back. Though it was her duty to be the disciplinarian, she was there for me to tell me what to do when I came home from school.
One very early morning this week,I listened to an interview between host Justine Toms and storyteller Michael Meade, on New Dimensions. There were many facets of this conversation that I found enlightening; the definition of apocalypse (a period of chaos and creation) and end, (loose end, the remnant where things begin again). Meade explained that humans walk along shorelines to make decisions, because it is the place where change occurs, the betwixt and between. I love that. And the one gem that prompted me to review the tape more than once is how he understands the importance of stories.
On this second day after the 2012 presidential election I too have takeaways. First, I am relieved that Obama was reelected. As one who has championed women’s rights all my adult life, and knowing the likelihood that there will be vacancies on the Supreme Court in the next four years, I trust Obama to nominate judges who will uphold these hard won rights. Second, changing demographics, and the inability of the Republican party to attract these constituencies, is now clear. To quote Jason Johnson [The Source] “Since when have you been able to attract voters by insulting them?” Touché!
Paul Begala, in the Daily Beast, has outlined the five stages of GOP grief. So good! And it is essential that conservatives get over themselves, start legislating with the good of the country as their primary concern. Now, the ‘fiscal cliff‘ faces us and fills the airwaves; something conservatives thought they would not have to deal with. They banked on winning the presidency which would allow them to continue foolish monetary policies. Not so. Obama is quite a poker player. He bet that the obstruction would continue unless the cards were called, and he won, and the game is up.
I don’t recall what age I was when mother gave me the silver medallion. She knew I was curious about it, and that I would take good care of it, which I was/am and have. The name on it is George Angus Sutherland. My grandfather’s name was George Sutherland Low, so we all figured there was a connection. For the life of me I have not found it yet. After obsessively scouring Ancestry.com, I have a deep and wide picture of grandfather’s family tree. Likewise, I have dug into the lineage of George Angus Sutherland.
George Angus Sutherland was born about 1847, in Aberdeenshire. He earned the medal honoring his diligence and good conduct, while a student at The Gordon Fraser Hospital, a school for boys of poor families in Aberdeen. His name is on the 1861 Scotland Census as being 14, and residing at the school. There are three other census records I have found on him; 1871 he is 23, living with his mother, Isabella Kelly (1823). Then in 1881 and 1891 he is listed with his wife, Mary Sutherland. There is no record of children. And Isabella
disappears from census records.
What has me flummoxed is the lack of a link with my grandfathers family. I believe Isabella Kelly, is actually Isabella Sutherland. I have a complete picture of her family. Though there is no record of marriages, or births, I have found her parents and family, and I believe it is a correct link because of her birth year, and her registration district; Old Machar, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire. Assuming I have the right branch, Isabella had two brothers and two sisters. On their limbs I have added thirteen potential cousins of George. This could go on and on, with no solution!
It was a formal message he left on the recorder: “Hello, this is John Lowden calling, I will be away from the office for a while, so call me back later.” The words of my father-in-law, finally attempting to connect with his sixty-six year old son, Craig. John is a lifetime conservative, far right Republican, and converted Mormon. Craig, after overcoming evangelical religion, turned dramatically left. An early Vietnam War protester, his views on everything from hair length, to music rankled his parents, but through John’s divorce, remarriage, and relocation to Phoenix, the two remained close.
The past summer Craig had been a solid support for John as he dealt with his wife’s serious health condition. As Craig listened to the message, his anxiety rose. What was happening? Was his dad OK? He tried calling immediately, and continued until John answered. Without a hint of pleasantries, John asked, “Did you vote for Obama?”
“Yes, I did”, Craig stated.
“So you voted for a 1.8 billion dollar increase in taxes.”
“Is that what you called to tell me? I can’t believe you are doing this. I have nothing further to say to you father.”
Flipping the clamshell closed, Craig turned to me in disbelief. Shaking his head, desperately trying to wrap his brain around this insult, he announced; “That’s it. I’m done. I’ve already written of my mom, now I have to let go of dad too. This is just unconscionable. Did you get what he said? What makes him think he has a right to lay his trip on me? Unf...ingbelievable.”
Another door shut in a seriously dysfunctional family. John had gone thirty years without talking to his own father. Now he had pushed away his only sensitive son.
John is a bully, and Craig had been his whipping boy for most of his life. Only in his sixties had he really pushed back. John had no power over him any more although whenever an opportunity presented itself, John would needle Craig. Craig had learned to confront the bait and spit it back but it rankled him that this man, his
, would treat him this way. As we stood in the kitchen still stunned at this latest attack, Craig recounted other recent examples of John’s behavior and how he, Craig had reacted assertively to the disappointing taunts.
“There was that time in Phoenix when dad drove us to the store where he buys their dinner. On the way we passed a strip mall with some empty storefronts and dad made the blatant claim; ‘those closed businesses are the result of Obama’s wrong headed financial policies.’ I kept my cool but my reply was clear: ‘You know we have very different political points of view dad, so let’s not go there. He let it drop - but why did he feel compelled to say it to begin with when he knows I don’t agree with him?”
Why indeed. “John is mentally ill,” I reminded Craig. “He puts on a good front appearing to be strong, confident and in control of his life, but the minute his view of the world is challenged, and in the case of this presidential election
he has to compensate. For whatever reason he still sees you as someone he can bully. I am very proud of you for handling that call the way you did; honestly, assertively and quickly. Your tone and words conveyed your incredulity that this was why he called, and disappointment in him for doing so.”
We had been married just over a year and were spending our second Christmas with Craig’s family. Veterans of the Anti-Vietnam war movement, we were on the opposite political pole from his parents. I must admit I was influenced by John and Paula’s opulent lifestyle and wanted them to like me. I did my best to curry their favor and as a result I tended to minimize when they made critical comments to Craig. At night when we snuggled into bed he recounted the trespasses of the day. I could only listen and try to appease him.
Between Portland and Hood River, driving his 1966 VW bug from their wealth in Longview, to our small apartment and meager means in Pullman, Craig slammed his fist into the windshield. The glass crazed in a classic circle, but didn’t fly apart. I sat stunned and quiet in the passenger seat the remainder of the three hundred mile journey east along the Columbia River over the Vantage grade through the farms of Dusty and Colfax to home. Forty years later l see the image of that fractured window; a visual declaration of the shattered relationships within his disintegrating family.
“I’m not proud of my behavior in those early years,” he sighed with a tone of remorse after reading the composite of what I’d written about his dad. “What are you going to do with this?”
“Only posting to my 100 words,” I replied. “The image is such a strong metaphor of what was going on in your family, which is why I included it. But, I understand, it was and still is painful.”
We leave it at that. I put the story aside, he thanks me, we move on to enjoy the day, evening, our life together.
On Being Thankful
Oh God our father, Great Spirit of the universe
As we hold hands in our circle of love
We are thankful once again to gather together as a family
It has been a year of challenge and change
Trials and triumphs
A year of growing up and growing older
We are grateful for all the blessings of our lives
And we ask that you continue to keep us close
As we hold close in our hearts
Those who are not able to be with us today
In the spirit of this season of plenty we pray,
We celebrated Thanksgiving at my niece’s home. Plenty of good food, football for those who wanted, and enough time for conversations before the main course. Sitting with dad, I showed him the notebook I have compiled that has hard copies of the family tree I’ve put together on the Ancestry.com website. Even though it was hard for dad to see it, he was very interested and asked if I had learned when and where his dad and mom had met then married. I hadn’t, but promised him I would go on a hunt to find out.
I checked the Ancestry.com site and there was nothing in their database regarding my grandfather and Jessie Harvey's marriage. Being a sleuth, I looked at the records before me and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
1918 - George S. Low is divorced from first wife.
1920 - George S. Low and his firstborn live with George’s parents, in Spokane, WA.
November 1920 - George S. Low applies for a passport to visit relatives in Scotland.
May 27, 1921 - Jessie F. Harvey
arrives in USA.
Exactly 9 months later, February 28, 1922 - Harvey Littlejohn Low, my father is born!
So what once was Thanksgiving, is now “Grey Thursday.” Will it stick? Certainly Black Friday has become ensconced. Black only in that the ink used to highlight the bottom line in retail sales goes from red; more debt than profit, to black; making a profit. What does it say about us as a society? Turkey dinners upstaged by football games. Giving thanks then rushing off to buy the latest must have items, manufactured in countries where there are no turkeys and little thanks to give. And next is cyber Monday. Though tempted, I refuse to be sucked into that vortex.
She left her family in California and Oregon, to be an Au Pair for a couple in Alaska. The rosy picture they had painted for her turned out to be very different once she arrived. After several breaches of the original understanding, she has decided to return to Oregon to work and continue taking classes towards an advanced degree. The outpouring of support from her mother, aunties, and cousins is a testament to the circle of love she now so keenly misses. Though she may have been worried we would be judgmental she knows for sure we love her unconditionally.
Today I ready my story Studebaker at the writing circle. It was well received, and the suggestions made have my head buzzing. It is written in the first person narrative; I am a character in the tale and the storyteller. The writing group really encouraged me to make it into a third person narrative short story. They loved the humor and wanted more character development using dialogue. That is an area I want to develop so here is my opportunity to plunge ahead. Maybe I can get at least one of the themes developed that way for the next meeting.
After spending almost the entire day selecting photos to make a gallery to post on my blog, I couldn’t get the site to work for me as it has in the past. I know it is my fault, but even after going over the directions and trying a second time, no luck. The dogs came to my rescue insisting on a walk during a break in the afternoon rain. Good idea. It cleared my mind and got my blood circulating. I will set the project aside for now. Perhaps in a few days the solution will appear to me.
Things I like best about being retired:
Eliminating imperatives; I am doing away with the phrase “I should...” No, if something needs to happen, I will take care of it when I am ready to, so the pressure is off. I will, when I want to whether I should or should not!
Going to bed when I’m ready to sleep and getting up when I’m awake. No more “must” get to bed so that I can get enough sleep. No longer even set the alarm clock. If I wake up and want to get up early, I do.
More things I like best about being retired:
Hearing that bus go by my study window at 6:40 a.m.; the one that had been my signal to get in the car and head to work
Now I just smile, sip my coffee and scratch a Beagle ear. Life is good.
On chilly mornings when C is up early, it is a joy to bring my coffee to his office in our downstairs family room. With my laptop at hand and the Beagles flopped in front of our small fire, we let the day unfold as it will.
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