Tuesday, April 29, 2014

La Cucaracha

Lucy is a small dog, low to the ground, longer than she is tall. The length of her shiny, black coat obscures the upper portion of her legs so that she appears to be moving about on short stubs.

Lucy (at right) with Gimpy

In a house full of soft-cushioned places to nap, Lucy can most often be found in the bathroom, curled up on the cold, hard floor in the narrow space behind the toilet. Back there, in the deep shadow of the porcelain throne, she's barely noticeable unless one is looking specifically for her. She isn't visible at all from the doorway.

I forget that Lucy likes to sleep there--and that she is a sound sleeper. I go in there with one thought in mind, close the door behind me, take three steps, turn around and take a seat. Just as I get down to business, Lucy, suddenly awakened, darts out of her lair, skirts my feet and scurries across the floor like the Godzilla of all cockroaches, her tail waving like an antenna except that it's on the wrong end of her forward motion. She doesn't stop until she reaches the door, where she turns around and looks at me for the first time. Only then does my heart rate begin a slow descent back to normal. I imagine that's when Lucy's does, too.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Stretched Out on a Cold, White, um, Queen-Sized Bed

That upper respiratory thing I mentioned in my last post is tenacious. This is my eighth day with it, and both my daughters still have it, too. According to Mr. Google, a cold "normally lasts from 3 to 7 days," but "many people continue to have symptoms for up to two weeks." 

I don't feel much like doing any of the pastimes I normally enjoy--reading, writing, genealogy, puzzles--and I certainly don't feel like taking care of the household chores those enjoyable pastimes are meant to protect me from. I don't feel like eating, either, although Kim brought in a cake and I'm managing to get down my share of that whether I want it or not. Mostly, between bouts of coughing, I just want to sleep.

"It's just a cold," you say. I know that. I know it isn't serious and it will pass. "Don't be such a ninny," you advise, rolling your eyes. Yeah, right. But I'm old and not as tough as I used to be. Just wait until you've had a week with a theme song like this:

The song is a long-time favorite, "St. James Infirmary," performed by Joe Cocker.
Thanks to Paul GomezPhD for posting the video on YouTube.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easter was blissful, but then...

The gifts from Ye Olde Easter Bunny
Were gag gifts, though not at all funny:
A deep cough that's lasted
Five days (furry bastid!)
And a nose that is constantly runny.

Easter itself was a lovely day. Though I didn't feel quite up to par, I took myself, my made-from-scratch cupcakes, my camera, and what I thought were simply allergy symptoms to my younger daughter's house, where I hugged and kissed everybody like Typhoid Mary on a mission of doom. So far since then, this "upper respiratory infection--viral, like a cold" has spread to both my daughters. I don't know whether others in the family have it. If so, I hope they'll forgive me. Or maybe, as I do, they'll assume it's "some bug" they picked up at Walmart.

Back to Easter itself, the family gathered at three in the afternoon, when the day was at its warmest. My daughter and son-in-law had planned a repeat of last year's egg hunt for the young adults in the family, albeit with a change or two. Last year's plastic eggs had cash in them. When some of those eggs went missing for several weeks, it was decided that this year's eggs would contain only slips of paper with dollar amounts written on them. The second change--because the young men were ridiculously aggressive egg-hunters last year--was to make them search in pairs of spouses and/or significant others, relay-race style.

And they're off...

After the eggs were counted and the money divvied up, there was another egg hunt for the two little kids. Their eggs contained tiny toys and small candies, and they knew ahead of time which colored eggs were theirs. Let's just say their egg hunt was a kindler, gentler event.

The young ones had plenty of helpers.

The swing in the photo above was a special Easter surprise for the little ones, built by their grandfather (my son-in-law), who was more than willing to push them. They loved it.

Popee and Olivia

Owen: "I can do it by myself and go high, high, high!"

By late afternoon the very shallow water near the steps of the pool was warm enough for the little ones to take a dip. They didn't need much encouragement. First came the floaties:

Olivia's lips were blue from a lollipop,
not from the water temperature.

Then came the fun:

Cute cousins.

While the kids played in the water, the men fried fish, french fries and hush puppies. I ate too much of all of it. If I'd known then that I was going to need to keep my strength up this week, I'd have eaten even more. As it was, I stopped eating and sat back to ponder the serenity of the outdoor oasis my son-in-law and daughter have created for themselves, their family and friends...

...the glory of the nature that surrounded us...

...and the beautiful faces of the people I love most:

Those loving thoughts would have sustained me all week long had it not been for this blasted cough. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"How Sweet the Sound"

I love the song "Amazing Grace" so much that there are four different versions of it on my iTunes list. My favorite of all of them is today's Saturday Song Selection.

Scenes of Appalachia play in my head when I listen to this one: blue-green mountains layered against the distant horizon, small villages clustered in deep valleys, tall timbers shading creeks where water rushes to tumble over rocks strewn carelessly by the hand of Mother Nature. There's a sense of timelessness in Appalachia, much as there is in this 235-year-old song.

The song is "Amazing Grace," performed beautifully by Mark O'Connor.
Thanks to Mark O'Connor for posting this video on YouTube.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday, Indeed!

I'm not speaking of the religious holiday that falls today, although I know that this day is particularly special for devout Christians and for many not-so-reverent folks who will praise Jesus if only for a day off from work or school. No, I'm just talking about the essential goodness of an ordinary day like today, which happens to be a Friday.

It's warm today, with a gentle breeze, bright blue skies, and puffy white clouds that show no hint of last night's rolling thunder. It's a fine day--a fine spring day--and the weatherman says it'll stay like this through Easter Sunday. It's the kind of day that makes me feel more spiritual than church ever did.

All four dogs are sleeping as I write this, Levi and Gimpy sacked out tail to tail on the futon here in the den, Ollie on the sofa in the living room, and Lucy on the floor about three feet away from me, tucked into a narrow space between a wooden file cabinet and a stack of two plastic storage boxes. The house is quiet except for Lucy's rhythmic snores; even those I find peaceful.

I'm in the middle of a good book, and I did the grocery shopping yesterday, so there's plenty of food in the house (including a Cadbury chocolate egg that keeps whispering my name).

On a scale of 1-10, my sense of well-being is pushing toward 11. I hope your Friday is just as good.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Little Bit About Not Very Much

For the past week I've been buried up to my eyeballs in genealogy, digging into step-families and in-laws so that even our youngest family members will have histories that go back five generations or more. Only two still have a lot of blanks: a small brother and sister whose paternal grandparents seem to have arrived on this earth fully grown and untraceable. Maybe they were in the witness protection program; I don't know. I like playing detective, putting the clues together to find the information on my own. To have to go to the horse's mouth and ask directly for names, dates and places takes all the fun out of the research, but that'll have to be my next step.

Genealogy is a great way to spend a cold rainy day like the one we had yesterday. While I was searching, finding, cutting, pasting, entering data and labeling files and photos indoors, it was thundering and raining enough outside--so much rain that only a very small patch of the covered garden-shed porch stayed dry:

It was cold, too, down in the mid-thirties this morning. I can't believe I'm still using the electric blanket in the middle of April.

The oak trees are in full flower, although I think it's a big stretch to use the word "flower" to describe those yellow-brown stringy things that first cling to the leaves and the Spanish moss, then drop to cover the driveways. And when hard rains such as yesterday's wash the pollen down into the grass and water standing on the lawn, some of that pollen sticks to the legs of the dogs, who track it into the house. That would explain my itchy eyes, stuffy nose and sinus headache.

The sun came out late this morning, though, so I tore myself away from the computer long enough this afternoon to go get a haircut, play with my grandson's new puppy, and pick up Chinese food for supper. Now I'm stuffed and sleepy, but I'll try to stay awake to watch "Survivor," "American Idol," and "Nashville." Maybe I'd better DVR them all in case my eyes have other ideas.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

I Need a New Doctor, Stat!

My primary care physician (who happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to the Bitstrip avatar at right) has had my trust for twelve or thirteen years, ever since my first visit to her. In addition to being a highly competent professional, she's a warm, likable human being. I'm about to lose her.

In a recent letter she advised that she'll soon change to a concierge-type practice, primarily to reduce the size of her current practice and increase her availability to the patients who stay with her. The letter went on to outline her reasons for making the change, and I understand all of them. I don't blame her a bit.

I'd love to continue being her patient, but the changes she's making will come at a cost, and I can't afford it. There'll be an upfront fee of $1,650 per person per year. I'm guessing that only two groups of people will be willing to pay a fee like that: 1) people who have plenty of disposable income and don't mind absorbing the cost in exchange for greater access to a physician, and 2) folks whose current health issues cause them to spend a lot of time in the doctor's office and who, as a result, are desperate to maintain that important doctor-patient relationship regardless of personal sacrifice. I don't fall into either category.

Normally, I see this doctor twice a year for routine blood work and prescription renewals. At that rate the new fee would amount to $825 a visit, not including actual per-visit charges for office visits, x-rays, lab work, etc., that will still be billed to insurance carriers under the new plan. To fit the annual fee into my budget I'd need to cancel my cable TV and my Internet service, neither of which is crucial to my existence, I realize, but both of which contribute more to the quality of my life than longer doctor's visits would. (I'm knocking on wood now to cancel out any jinxes created by that last sentence.)

So. I wish her well. I really do. If this will make her workday more pleasant, the work itself more rewarding, she'd be silly not to go for it. But I, for one, will miss her.

In the meantime, it's sinking in that I've been plunged unexpectedly into a doctor-shopping race with other soon-to-be-former patients. Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Moving Beyond Lukewarm

Morning is not my best time of the day. I enjoy a good night's sleep so much that I'm reluctant to wake up and leave that dream space; thus I'm a bit zombie-like in the early morning hours. On days like today, when I have things to do and places to go and need to ease gently but quickly into a state of higher energy--and be happy about it--this song always does the trick:

The song is "Man on Fire" by Edwin Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Thanks to the Magnetic Zeros for posting this video on YouTube. 
Click here to read the lyrics.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Wishful Photography

You wouldn't know it by this particular day--it's gray and raining again--but we've had a brief patch of really nice weather lately: warm, sunny days when I could wear shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt and eat lunch outdoors on the patio. On one such day I took my camera when I drove into town to run errands.

I like to hold the camera up to the windshield and let it watch the scenery while I watch the road, snapping photos at random as I go along, wondering what kind of surprises will be in store when I upload the images. When I do that, almost all the images turn out looking like some version of this:

Sometimes, in between the deep-blue tint at the top of the windshield, the vent reflections on the bottom of it, and the smeary part at the side where the wipers don't reach, there's something that's lovely. It's up to me to find it, straighten it up, crop it out, and adjust the lighting and color to make up for what the thick glass has washed out. In the photo above, for example, I found this:

If you click on the images to enlarge and compare them, you'll notice that I digitally erased a telephone pole and the wires attached to it. When I take a ride on a pretty day, it's the beautiful things that catch my attention; my brain barely registers the ugly, manmade blemishes on Mother Nature's work until they show up in a photo and spoil the scene that was in my mind's eye. So I erase a telephone pole here, a road sign there, occasionally even a car if I can, and show you what I thought I saw.

Here are a few more images from my drive along New River Canal the other day. Aren't the wildflowers beautiful? And the clouds? And the live oak trees?

I greatly appreciate technology except when it's strung all across the sky.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lola's Journey

Yesterday was the final session in my third course of Life Writing classes. We'd been assigned to select an ancestor who had influenced us or in some other way (by immigrating to America, for example) changed the direction of our lives, then research that person and write about him or her. We were also supposed to include in the report some facts about what was going on in the world during that person's lifetime, but I forgot that part. (We all forgot that part.)

There are many people in my family history who were the first of their line to come to America. When I couldn't decide between them, I switched to focus on who had influenced me most. It didn't take long to narrow it down to three ancestors who had most affected how I turned out: my mother, her mother and my father (by virtue of his absence). Wanting to write a positive piece, I chose Mammaw, my maternal grandmother; any shred of positivity in my genetic or environmental makeup came directly from her.

It would be easier--and a much better story--to copy and paste here what I read aloud in yesterday's class, but privacy concerns tell me that's not a good idea. What I think I'll do instead is omit the warm and fuzzy story part of the homework piece and concentrate on the research part, information gleaned from family documents, genealogy websites and Internet maps, and tell how Mammaw got from where she was born to where she died. That means there will be approximately, oh, one person, my sister Judy, who will be interested. Maybe not even Judy. The rest of you have probably read as far as you'll want to, although you might enjoy the cool pictures, and you might learn something about the process of genealogical research.


First of all, here's a little map I've put together of where Mammaw lived over the course of her life. She started in Southeast Kansas and ended up in Southeast Texas:

Mammaw was born Lola Fern Elliott on July 8, 1896 in Scammon, Cherokee County, Kansas (the uppermost red star on the map above). She was the first child of the marriage between William Joseph Elliott and Dora Belle Hetherington.

William Joseph "Joe" Elliott and Dora Belle Hetherington Elliott
Wedding Day - July 18, 1895

Lola Fern Elliott - Age 2

By the time of the 1900 United States Census the small family had moved about 35 miles away to Shoal Creek Township in Newton County, Missouri, where they lived in a house next to Dora's parents, Anna and Alvin Hetherington. Joe Elliott was farming, probably on Hetherington land. This is where they lived when Lola's baby sister, Cleda Opal, was born in October of that year.

Mammaw spoke several times about her experiences while traveling with her family in a covered wagon when she was five. That would have been in the latter part of 1901 or the early part of 1902, when the family moved from Shoal Creek to Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri. She told us her parents owned a store in Maryville. Two more children were born to Joe and Dora while they lived there:  a girl, Ruth Irene, in April of 1903 and a boy, Loren Lester, in December of 1905.

Dora Elliott with Cleda and Ruth at their home in Maryville, MO - May 1905.
(If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see that Dora was pregnant with Loren.)

Sometime between the end of 1905 and 1910 the family made another long distance move. The 1910 U.S. Census shows them living in Cullen Township on the edge of Waynesville in Pulaski County, Missouri. I don't know the means or logistics of that move, but I'm sure Mammaw would have mentioned it if there'd been a second covered-wagon trip.

Ruth and Loren Elliott - circa 1910

Mammaw completed two years of high school (according to the 1940 census) and reached maturity in Pulaski County. We know from a notation on the back of the next photo that she worked as a telephone operator in Waynesville in 1917:

Lola Elliott - Waynesville, MO - 1917

Two years later Lola was in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, attending business college. She wrote about that in a letter to my daughter Kim in 1984, adding, "...a girlfriend ask[ed] me to doubledate with a boy just home from the army (WWI) and we went to a show, that was on the 10th of July and the 1st of Oct. we were married... ." That "boy" was my grandfather, Lewis Ames Saunders. They married in Ozark, Christian County, Missouri, on October 1, 1919, when he was weeks short of being 31 years old and Lola was 23. Lewis's sister Evelyn and her husband, John Barkman, were their witnesses.

Photo of Lewis and Lola's original marriage certificate,
which I'm fortunate enough to have in my possession.

Lewis and Lola Saunders - circa 1920

The 1920 U.S. Census shows Lola and Lewis living on Mt. Vernon Street in Springfield and lists Lewis's occupation as stock clerk in the retail furniture industry. Lola was not working outside the home. In November of that year she gave birth to their first child, a son they named Neale. Their second child, Wanda, my mother, was born in Springfield in August of 1923.

Neale and Wanda Saunders - about 1927

By 1930 the Saunders family had moved to a rented house on West Madison Street in Springfield and Lewis was a shipping clerk, still in the furniture business. According to census data collected that year, the family did not yet own a radio set.

A 1932 Springfield, Missouri City Directory shows the family living at 427 Ildereen Drive and Lewis working as a warehouseman at Turner Department Store. (Judy, remember? Ildereen is the street Mother asked us to look for when we visited Springfield in 1996.) Neale was 15 and Wanda was 12 when Lola learned she was pregnant again. The new baby boy, named Joe (after Lola's father) was born in January of 1936. Judging by the house number in the photo below, the family still lived on Ildereen as late as 1937 or '38.

Joe, Wanda and Neale - abt. 1937

By the time of the 1940 U.S. Census they had moved about 15 miles to the small community of Center, Missouri, still in Greene County, where they lived in a rented house and Lewis worked as a sharecropper on a nearby farm. (The community identified as Center in census records seems to have disappeared--or at least to have been renamed. There's another town in Missouri named Center now, but it's nowhere near Springfield.) Those were lean years. The family took in a lodger, a female abstractor named Ruby Reed, to help make ends meet. This is where the family lived when Wanda graduated from nearby Bois D'Arc High School on May 15, 1941.

Wanda's graduation announcement.

The facts get a little fuzzy now because the online city directories for Springfield are missing for the early 1940s. It's possible they didn't even print them during WWII. Anyway, I don't know for sure when the family moved back to Springfield. I do know that Neale enlisted in the Army in November of 1941, and Wanda married my father, Paul, in January of 1942. Paul lived in Springfield, but they eloped and married in Marshfield, about 30 miles away in Webster County. I was born in November of 1942, and Paul shipped out with the army three months later. Sometime in the early 1940s Lewis and Lola bought a two-story, five-bedroom house on East Madison Street in Springfield. That's the house I still think of when I hear the word "home."

City directories were back by 1947, and the one for that year shows that Lewis was working as a warehouseman for Martin Bros. Piano Co. My sister was born in January of 1947 and our parents divorced in July of that year. We moved in with Lewis and Lola, as did Lola's mother, Dora Elliott, who'd been widowed since her husband Joe died in 1933. Young Joe Saunders was still at home, of course. That left one upstairs bedroom available to rent to students attending nearby Southwest Missouri State Teachers College.

When 1957 rolled around, Lewis, Lola, Wanda, Judy and I still lived in that house. Dora had passed away in 1953, and Joe had left home around 1955 or '56 to join the Army. Lewis was retired by then. In the summer of 1957, Mother remarried and moved us to Texas.

I have a copy of a real estate listing showing that Lewis and Lola listed the house on East Madison Street for sale in March of 1960. They sold it about one month later and moved to Texas themselves, where they bought a small, single-story house a few blocks away from us in Orange.

Lewis and Lola Saunders in front of their Orange, Texas home - abt. 1960

Lewis, always known as Packy to us, died in April of 1964 following a series of strokes, but Lola lived in that house for 28 years, longer than anyplace she'd ever lived in her life. In May of 1988 my daughter, granddaughter, and I drove from Louisiana and visited Mammaw in her home. She was as mentally sharp as ever but mentioned that she was losing weight and had begun experiencing some pain in her side. Here's Lola on that visit with my granddaughter, her great-great granddaughter:

Later in 1988, some time after Mammaw had been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, she was given hallucination-inducing pain medication, required around-the-clock care that exceeded Mother's capabilities, and eventually entered a nursing facility. She died at the age of 92 on December 4, 1988. She was buried in Orange County--the lowest red star on the map at the beginning of this post. 


I've changed my mind and will add just a couple of paragraphs of personal remembrances from yesterday's Life Writing assignment:

"Lola and Lewis, by then known to me as Mammaw and Packy, made their home ours. I grew up knowing that Packy was considered the head of the household, but it was clear from early on that Mammaw was the one who kept everything going. She was the one who cooked three meals a day, cleaned that five-bedroom house, did the washing on Mondays, the ironing on Tuesdays, shopped for groceries, saw that the bills were paid, tended her flower garden and potted plants, canned home-grown vegetables, made jellies and jams, crocheted and tatted doilies to protect the highly polished surfaces of her furniture, and hummed pleasantly to herself while she did all of it. She went to Sunday school and church every Sunday and took us with her. During the Christmas holiday season, she worked part-time at the Busy Bee Bargain Store to earn extra money.

Lola Saunders, 5th from left

"If she ever met anyone she didn’t like, she certainly didn’t say so. She was friends with all the neighbors and belonged to what she called a club, a group of ladies who took turns hosting lunch once a month in their homes. She was the kindest person I’ve ever known.

"Mammaw was our family’s rock. She was the caretaker of her own confused, elderly mother, the behind-the-ear scrubber of her six-foot-tall teenaged son, the calm after my mother’s temperamental storms, the one who tucked a sick granddaughter into her own downstairs double bed and tended her with hot tea and buttered toast cut into finger-sized strips. In the 1950s, when we teased Mammaw about the lyrics of a popular song, 'Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets,' she said, 'I always do get everything I want, but I always know just how much I can want.'”


Digging up old documents and photos of our ancestors helps us piece together the facts and the journeys of their lives. If you didn't already know--and if you've bothered to read this far--I hope this post has given you some ideas about how to put together your own family puzzles. The truth is, though, that facts like these tell only part of the story. The most important part is what the ancestors you knew personally meant to you and why. Write it down, people, while you still remember.