If You Don't Laugh, You'll Cry - Laughing's Better!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jack and Don and Me

It seems right funny to be my age, trying to remember sixty plus years ago. It doesn’t feel like I am 79.

There are so many happy memories of my brother Don and my cousin Jack Butler, and I've been thinking about them both lately. 

I’ve written about the almost total lack of housing when we moved back to Atlanta in about 1945, almost the end of the war. My family owes Don thanks for noticing a moving van in front of a house on 9th St, one block up the hill from old Boys’ High School, which had been renamed Henry Grady High School. My timing may be a bit off here but you get the picture.

Brother Don was in the first class that graduated from Grady and I was in the first class that went all five years there. It was a fine school because we had the cream of the crop of teachers from all over Fulton County. At that time, Fulton County drew the best teachers in the state because its pay was the highest. After a short time, we also got the best principal in the state, Dr. Rural Stephens. The first and only year I taught in Fulton County, Dr. Stephens was my area supervisor.

We truly enjoyed our big old white frame house after getting by in a small apartment. We began catching up on many family and friend get-togethers. Most of the family was back in the area, or at least the south. My oldest brother was back home from WW2.

My Uncle Dan, Mother’s youngest brother, and his very loved wife, Estelle, moved to Macon and had another child, my cousin Carol. They had three older children. Their middle child, Jack, had lived with us for a while. He loved music, as I do, and I spent many hours curled up in a big old chair just listening to him play and noodle on the piano. He was a fine accordion player as well. He graduated from high school and joined the Navy. All of us adored him as he was like our older brother. 

After his stint in the Navy, he came home, graduated from Mercer, and then Emory Dental School. He married his beautiful Frances and set up a dental practice in Clarksville, Georgia.

I graduated from UGA the same year and married about three months after they did. My memory may be off, here, but I think Frances wore my hoops for her “something borrowed.” My “something borrowed” was my beautiful wedding dress which had been worn by my friend, Babs Hezlett and, yes, I wore the “family hoops,” too. Jack and Frances were married by Dr. Gus Verdery, Baptist Hospital Chaplain. He married Tony and I, also.

Those growing up, teen years, were busy ones for Don and me. We were solidly immersed in the activities of Atlanta’s old First Baptist Church, on the block of Peachtree Street between 4th and 5th streets. We sang in the young people’s choir, and later in the senior choir. Dad was a member of the 20th Century Men’s Bible class and an usher, for years. Mother was active in all the women’s groups. 
aboe, the Butler family, early 1920's

My mother worked away from home from the time I was 9 or 10 years old until I was in college. I was usually the first one home in the afternoon and I absolutely hated coming into an empty house. I was afraid and lonely. My job was to clean up the kitchen before Mother got home. Also, after moving to 9th Street, in cold weather, I had to rebuild a fire in the huge old furnace, in the basement and feed coal into it. I hated it so much, I’ve tried to make sure my children and grandchildren never come home to an empty house.

So many of the good memories of my teen years were of times spent with my brothers and cousins. We often moved around as a group with various friends mixed in. Don had lots of friends and I guess I was the little sister tag-a-long. If Don resented my being ever present, he didn’t show it. As we got a little older, Jane was Don’s steady girlfriend, and I began actually dating. We had fun together. We all loved music; and harmonizing when we sang was great fun to me. I remarked, not long ago, that I wish Jane and I lived close enough to sing together if only for our own pleasure. I remember one day trip we took to a beautiful park, south of Atlanta, called Indian Springs. Jane’s brother, Bill, a few months younger than I am, went along to make a foursome. We carried a picnic lunch and had a grand time.

I still chuckle when I recall Don’s and my foray into the first really racy movie
scene. The film THE OUTLAW, with Jane Russell released in 1943, according
to Google. But I’d have only been ten years old and Don, 13. So I guess it was
re- released when we were teenagers. It was shown to a packed theatre, the
Lowes Grand, in downtown Atlanta. We were SO straight, but we went to see
THE OUTLAW three times! Each time we agreed on an “acceptable movie”
our parents would have approved of in case they asked. So three Friday nights
we spent our money to see Miss Russell’s  naked hooters for about five
seconds. It really did nothing at all for me except, perhaps, an inferiority
complex. Our cousin, Jeannine was living with us at the time so we carried her
along once.

I believe I’ve written about singing in Jane and Don’s wedding and how the substitute organist lost her place in the music. She just took her hands off the keyboard until she found her place. Thank heaven I was still on key when she jumped back in. At that point, I’d been singing a long time and it did not bother me that much.
Jane and Don's wedding, above.

To me, it is such a shame that families live far apart. My parents always stayed in touch with Jack and Frances and kind of kept me informed about the little ones as they grew. One day, in about 1968, someone rang my front door bell. It was my favorite cousin, Jack. He’d been in Augusta for some kind of meeting and was on his way home. He spent the rest of the day with us; rode with me to pick up my kids at school; and stayed to visit with Tony at dinner.

After Jack established his dental practice, he took care of my parents’ teeth from then on. It was a win-win situation for them. They totally trusted Jack plus they got to spend time with Frances and the children. Quite often they could hardly wait to tell me something cute the kids had said or done so I got to enjoy them too.

Not too long before he died, Jack drove down to Don’s, in Marietta, so they could go together to another cousin’s funeral, in South Georgia. I believe Jack was having some vision problems so it was doubly good that Don could drive them. Don told me later how much he treasured that last visit with Jack.

I moved to Knoxville in 1971 and didn't see Jack for years after that, which I regret. He died in the 1980's. However, I am so happy to be back in touch with his sisters and some of his children.

I am fortunate to still have precious brother Don and my sis Jane.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Travels To See My Son

When our son was in the army, Tony and I spent most of Tony’s vacation time from the bank visiting Bruce. We had lots of adventures.

Bruce joined the army when he was 17 and both Tony and I signed the permission form for him. The only thing he’d ever wanted to do, since he was a toddler, was to be an “Army-man.”

He went to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and then was sent to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. His first six months were up about November of 1977.

One day, he called me from Arizona and asked if I still wanted him to go to college? Well, of course I did and he’d taken the entrance exams while still in high school. So he came home and began winter quarter at East Tennessee State University, in the foothills of the beautiful Smokies. Of course, he was in R.O.T.C. at school as well as Army Reserves and National Guard.

At the end of his third year, Bruce was commissioned into the Regular Army. So he finished up the next year and after some leave time at home, traveled to Texas, to begin his career at Ft. Hood.

We had flown over Texas but never visited there. Guess I could write an entire blog or several, about Texas. We always stayed at the same motel, in Killeen, and ate at most of the same places. We’d ride around the state from Monday morning till Thursday evening then return to spend the long week ends with Bruce. He took leave time twice and we rented a condo down at Padre Island, on the coast, with side trips into Mexico.

My Tony loved a military parade with marching, music, soldiers riding horses, cowboys and Indians etc.  At Fort Hood there is a great parade with at least some of the above, on Friday mornings. Bleachers are set up with awnings over them [I think]. The enlisted people have one and officers have another. We arrived early for our first parade; Bruce met us and introduced us to some of his soldiers; and then Tony was nowhere to be found. We waited but he did not appear. Bruce finally sent some of his troopers to look for him ….. and guess where they found him?! Yep, in the enlisted tent, explaining that he was only a corporal. A sergeant was sent in to explain that Tony was Captain Thompson’s guest so he needed to sit in the other area. He was so excited it was like trying to keep up with a two year old. I did not even try though. I believe there was usually a trooper with an eye on him.

When Bruce got to Germany, our vacations expanded quite a lot. We stayed a month each time. The first place we stayed was with our son and his wife in a very nice town house. It was on the second and third floors so lots of steps but I could manage back then. We arrived on Sunday, in Frankfort, and had a long drive south to Bavaria. By then, we’d been traveling about twenty hours but I was so elated to be there, I didn’t even feel sleepy. Cammie, my daughter in law, had not come to meet us and we soon found out why. She’d cooked a turkey, dressing, and a wonderful dinner with all the fixins. A hot meal had never tasted so good!

I wondered why the kids so carefully showed me the food pantry; how to use the stove; and a note pad for the grocery list. They explained that they were starved for mom’s cooking and they’d bought everything they could think of that they wanted me to cook. I love to cook and I was about twenty-five years younger then too. Anyway, it was mostly comfort food and lots of it. Most nights, there were a couple of soldiers at our table and Tony and I got a kick out of meeting them. Cammie was Red Cross Station Chief so she was awfully tired when she got home.

The landlady and her family lived on the same property so we got to know her a bit. The second day we were there, she arrived at the door with an armful of beautiful, fragrant lilacs.

There were no other Americans in the little farm village so as Tony and I walked the kids’ black Lab, we kind of got to know folks, at least by sight. I tried out my limited German on them which gave them courage to try out their much better English. We all laughed a lot at ourselves.

At home, in Tennessee, I’d been giving myself a crash course in German for several months. Nouns were easy but verbs, less so. Also, how does one pronounce “pf“ - in German? The word for peach starts with pf. I tried that one at the little bakery and the two chubby ladies who worked there and I laughed so hard all three of us probably wet our pants!

We drove Bruce’s car and traveled to places we could go to and return in a day’s time. Then Bruce, Tony and I took a long week-end trip just like real tourists. We stayed in a lovely, small hotel in the foothills of the Alps and ate dinner and breakfast in the dining room. Tony had problems with the lack of ice cubes in cold drinks. When I asked the waiter why the drinks were so slow to get to our table, he said they were having to make the ice. We got one cube each!

 I got down to the breakfast buffet first the next morning. When I complimented the wait staff on the delicious food; they obviously told the chef; and he came out and sat down at my table with me. He’d taken a five day-five city tour of the United States and was so proud of that. He’d seen NewYork, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and New Orleans.

There was another charming, small hotel in a village near the entrance to the Army base. It was owned and operated by a nice Irish woman and her German husband. Lack of sufficient officers’ quarters on base had deemed it necessary for Bruce to live at the hotel for about six weeks until he could find a place and bring Cammie over. They became good friends with the hotel owners so we ate dinners at the hotel several times. Dogs were allowed if they were well behaved and Agatha, my Black Lab granddog, had lovely manners. She slipped completely under our white cloth covered table and the chef brought little morsels and fed her under there. Sometimes I was tempted to steal them. She was always given a big soup bone to have at home. Needless to say, Agatha loved going out to dinner!

Someone said that because I am not fond of flying, I’d never have made this first trip to Germany if my son had not been there. I expect that is true but I enjoyed every minute of the trips as well as all the side trips.

Besides, I am not afraid of flying – rather enjoy it in fact. It is the fear of crashing that bothers me a bit….

above, Bruce and Agatha in Germany

We learned that Europeans mostly preferred sweets for breakfast. My nearly perfect Light As Air Buttermilk Waffles would have been a favorite.

Light As Air Buttermilk Waffles

Sift together: 2 ½ cups plain flour, ½ teasp soda, 2 ¼ teasp baking powder, 1 teasp salt

In a separate bowl, mix: 3 egg yolks,1/3 cup Mazola [or other cooking oil] 2 cups buttermilk, 2 tsp sugar
Add dry ingredients to the liquid. Stir.
Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites
If you want to make up this batter the night before baking, then save the egg whites and beat and add them the next morning.

Some older members of our family preferred these waffles served with country ham but I’d rather just have breakfast bacon or Jimmy Dean sausage.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Dealing With Feelings

“How does that make you feel?” is a question I’ve used often to try to help someone sort out their feelings. You know the old saw, “People may forget what you said or what you did, but they never forget how you made them feel.’’ It is an old saw because it has a lot of truth in it.

My dad was a very big man who always made me feel safe, but you know, it was not just his size. I always just assumed he could pretty much handle anything that came along. I also felt that way about my less than five feet tall mother. Children thrive when a parent assures them that they will always be there for the child. All kids mess up sometime or other just as adults do.  But we don’t throw them away; we pick up the pieces and start over.

With Mother and Daddy, I felt safe and secure.

My parents weren’t so great at helping me to feel confidant.

The two oldest aunts (Hazel and Jenny) were responsible for what self confidence I had, growing up, and I adored them. I’ve often written about my mother’s six sisters and three sisters-in-law plus my grandmother who lived until I was well into high school. Not one of them was even slightly reluctant to tell me what they thought about any aspect of my life.

Jenny had taught German at Bessie Tift College before she married. I really valued her opinions and they were always coupled with great kindness.

Hazel, the other aunt, had graduated from UGA and taught in public schools before she married. Her husband was also one of my favorite people. When I was in college, they rarely missed over a couple of weeks, sending me a care box. Their love and practical help encouraged me to finish college. My student loan did not cover food or small items.

As a senior citizen, I’ve had to deal not only with feelings of loss, but I’ve had to adapt and change my life dramatically, and deal with a lot of parenting issues [in advising Dee] that I thought I gotten past.

I do feel useful, though, to my daughter and grandchildren, which is wonderful.

I’ve thought of all the above because I have my 79th birthday coming up in two days. [Note: it was Dec. 31st] I am proud of the fact that I’ve lived this long. Health wise, I’ve had my share of ups and downs but am doing fairly well at the moment. I’m sure that the exquisite care I receive from Dee and Mike - and Bruce when he is in town - has lots to do with it.

When Dee adopted Alesia, I was living alone, in Augusta, and had lived alone since Tony died in July 1996. Long story short, we decided I’d sell my Augusta home and Dee would sell her condo. We bought our house in Atlanta in May of 2005. Dee and I get along remarkably well. I’m sure she bites her tongue sometimes as do I but it is rare on my part. Merging two households has been a chore because I’d sold a five bedroom home and Dee had a really nice condo.

This shared living arrangement has worked well for all because I am no longer alone and have also been here for Dee’s kids, my only grandchildren. Dee’s expressed confidence in my mental ability makes me feel that I still have something to contribute, so valuable to an old person.

Every once in a while, someone makes me feel devalued because they treat me like a senile old bat. I don’t think 79 is THAT old, and I certainly am not incompetent. (The rude individuals who treat me like I’m senile are usually only talking to me on the phone.)

I come from a long line of strong ladies who lived well past this age.

Most all of my aunts, including my dad’s four sisters, lived well into their 90’s. One aunt lived to be 102 … so it had not dawned on me that I am supposed to be senile. The last time I visited my 102 year old aunt, in a nursing home, she told me that she was chairman of the fall bazaar; cleaned her own room because she felt the maids were overworked; and walked a long way to the dining room, three times a day. She wrote long letters to lots of folks every week, including me. She did tell me that she lived in the
nursing home because her children were too old to take care of her.

So you can understand why I find it puzzling that there are folks who think all ‘’old’’ people are less than sharp. I really don’t like to be around people who make me feel mentally incompetent.

Music has always made me feel good, and boosted my self-confidence.

Music has always been a huge part of my life, performing more than just listening. When my grandmother visited, she usually stayed at least a month or longer. I loved her visits for many reasons. She did not take “no’’ for an answer. I didn’t know anyone who had the nerve to argue with her. However, the point I need to make is that she thought I was an important person even tho’ I was about her25th grandchild. Sometime almost every day, she sat down at our piano and call me to come sing for her. I quickly learned not to breathe in the middle of singing a word. However, that aside, most of what she said to me made me feel better about myself.

Making a child feel good about herself or himself is so important.

Every human, young or old, needs encouragement. As a teacher, I was always on the lookout for something a child did well. Yes, it is ok to complement a person on something they did not earn (i.e. pretty brown eyes, nice hands etc.) but it is more valuable to comment on something that requires effort. This applies to all ages. (My Tony often told me I was a very good cook so I became one!) In 7th grade, the kids in my very large music class used to beg the teacher to let me sing for them and she did. I was a shy child until I sang – then I was perfectly at ease.  

When I was really down, trying to nurse my husband through bone cancer, my brother listened to my sad tale on the phone one morning. His reply was, “You are a very strong person. You’ll get through this.” So I did, as terribly difficult as it was. I had promised Tony that he could die at home so it was a 24-7 job. My children and Tony’s brothers helped when they could. A cousin, a young widow, sent me a note saying, “hang tough, you can do this” - and I did. I began living alone for the first time at the age of 62 years.

I didn’t feel too confident at first, but I am proud that I lived alone and single-handedly took care of an old house for 9 years.

Old people need to feel that they can still contribute to a conversation, and that they are needed. Dee, and most of her friends, help me feel vital and important. I also get lots of affection and amusement from Mike and Coco. I relish my role as an important family member. Some folks my age do little more than watch TV all day, but I have a much more interesting life than that.

I love people of all ages. When I say to someone, tell me how that made you feel, I am sincere. I really want to know, and to help if possible.  There’s an awful lot of meanness and sadness in our world today. Lots of folks are either out of jobs or worried about their jobs, health insurance, family problems etc. The least we can do is show some sensitivity to their feelings. Sometimes an encouraging word, a hug, or pat on the back does a world of good.