I couldn’t resist the chance to combine my love of peeps with the Food Bank if Northern Nevada’s 30th anniversary.
Life is my sandbox
April 3, 2013
March 8, 2013
Certain people in the family tree capture my imagination – my husband’s maternal grandmother, Marjorie Barton Townsend Williams is one of those enigmatic people. Born in 1890 in Overbrook, Penn., to prominent blue-blood parents at the cusp of the new century when women were venturing further from Victorian sentiments and sensibilities, she left the enclave of mansions owned by her grandfather, father and uncles to serve as a Red Cross volunteer aid in France during WWI. She arrived as the war ended, tending to those men who were injured and help others transition back to the States. Under these circumstances, Marjorie met her future husband, one-time Minnesota lumberjack, then audacious soldier Curtis G. Williams. Enamored, he followed her back to Philadelphia upon his US Army release to rekindle the romance and finally won her father’s approval to marry her after some months.
From there the newlyweds traveled via train to his natal Minnesota to start their new life. His diary – more a collection of humorous stories than anything – has been passed down to the grandchildren. In it, he describes Marjorie only near the end of these reminisces. Other than this, I can only suppose her reaction to moving half-way across the country to live at first in International Falls (on the boarder to Canada) and later to Duluth.
So when I recently read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, Marjorie grew in my mind to be main character Carol Milford Kennicott. Also a new bride, Carol and husband Dr. Will Kennicott arrive via train in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. She looks out the window at the flat dingy landscape and reacts:
“That one word—home—it terrified her. Had she really bound herself to live, inescapably, in this town called Gopher Prairie? And this thick man beside her, who dared to define her future, he was a stranger! She turned in her seat, stared at him. Who was he? Why was he sitting with her? He wasn’t of her kind! His neck was heavy; his speech was heavy; he was twelve or thirteen years older than she; and about him was none of the magic of shared adventures and eagerness. She could not believe that she had ever slept in his arms. That was one of the dreams which you had but did not officially admit.”
Did Marjorie feel this way?
So much of Lewis’ book deals with Carol’s tilting at windmills – trying to change this town, revolt against what she views as provincialism attempting to bring in culture, refined architecture, educational reforms only to be rebuffed by tradition and complacency. Carol endeavors by turns to fit into established cliques and then break away to blaze trails of originality and single-minded leadership. Lewis’ social satire about small towns was the first to expose certain narrow attitudes and this bewildered readers who commonly idealized American small towns.
But far more than the town and its inhabitants stifling her, Carol feels most misunderstood by her own husband who though he loves her, cannot understand her restless nature.
Was this Marjorie’s experience too?
Or was her life one of isolation – raising three sons while her husband caroused as though still single?
Of note, the book Main Street was published in 1920, the year Marjorie and Curtis married. The book became a modern best seller, with the exception of some small towns in Minnesota because of the book’s genesis from Lewis’ hometown of Sauk Centre, Minn.
Did Marjorie read this book? And if she did, what would she have said? — That she identified with Carol? Or that her life shared nothing with a character living in similar time and place?
We do know that she was not happy. Unlike Carol in Main Street who was able to make a peace, eventually, with Gopher Prairie, Marjorie ended her life at age 47 leaving her sons ages 12 to 16 to cope with the loss.
When researching ancestry, even the lives of those who lived not that long ago, mysteries abound. Through literature it’s interesting and instructive to imagine Marjorie’s life as it might have been, how she felt, what she saw and the choices she faced. Reading something that may have mirrored her life has helped me to understand at least some of the undercurrents in a life that was too short.
February 28, 2013
Sixteen candles will be on our daughter Madeleine’s dessert – blueberry pie — tonight.
The big moments – her birth, first word, first smile, first day of school, losing that first tooth, first time riding her bike, saying “I Love You,” stand out in time. These rights of passage play over and over in my memory as the playbook of her life.
But it’s the little moments that make her Madeleine.
Madeleine’s smarter than most, (I know, I’m her mom, but it’s simply true) she’s got big dreams and though I wish time would slow down because I want to savor every quirk and ancillary anecdote I also am excited to see what she’ll be, do and think as she finishes adolescence and explodes into young adult.
Love you my Laney-Loo. Love you all the time!
February 21, 2013
I get all manner of calls as a marketing coordinator for the Food Bank. Primarily I field calls from businesses and organizations who are interested in staging a food drive in the region to help those in need. It’s a positive role I have — helping people to help other people. After three-plus years of working with various groups, the call a couple of weeks ago was quite different.
Michael began, “I have quite of bit of food to donate. Cans of food. Health foods. Some long-term meals ready to eat.”
Now, we do get these calls: someone is moving and they don’t want to take their food. They are cleaning out their cupboards to start fresh. They know their food will soon expire and want it to go to use. For these people, for various reasons, we ask them to pack up the food and drop it to one of the many places that partner with us for us to pick up on our scheduled routes. We are delighted they think of us and we certainly distribute all the food we get.
Still, this seemed different. Michael continued, “My son was a bit of a survivalist.” We talked some more about this and that and I said I would get back to him.
I talked to my co-worker and then to my husband and I called back, made an arrangement to pick up the food in two days’ time using our SUV and my husband’s brawn. I felt we needed to reach out to this gentleman, not for his food, not to shore up our own resources, but because we are ultimately a part of the fabric of our region as a caring place.
Michael stood in the midst of chaos in the rented condo that son Chris had lived in for about five years. The small space was filled with boxes of clothes, food, cleaning supplies, cast-off golf clubs and art leaning against walls to be carted off, and soon. In fact, the realtor waited outside to show the place to a client wanting to move in ASAP.
Chris was a health nut. Exercise fiend. Employed, but working from home as a Computer Tech. He loved the mountains and the desert. Chris had political beliefs that caused him to collect food that would help him survive for long periods of time. No one knows yet why Chris died at 42. People saw him the day before and he seemed well and in good spirits. The coroner has the case, but that will take some time.
Now Chris’ Dad was trying to make sense of it all. “People will tell you that losing your child is the worst pain you can ever feel. I think they’re right. And for me, I don’t even know why he died and what I could have done to make it different.”
He talked. I listened We gathered the food. Discussed it all. We made decisions about what the food bank could use and what we had to leave. Then he opened the freezer and we found a large coffee can-like container. The outside indicated it was filled with seeds. Non-hybrid vegetable seeds. Chris never got to plant those. He never got to see them bloom.
It’s a small thing, I know, with all that this gentle man is going through — but perhaps it will help — I’ll send him a photo of the vegetables in the garden this summer so that he will know that Chris is feeding others and helping people who need food assistance right here in the place he loved so much.
September 30, 2012
We took a walk down memory lane today, my husband and I. It was a rare Saturday morning when our daughters had commitments. We took the bright, clean day to have a morning date.
With newspaper in tow, we visited a favorite restaurant that B.C. (before children) we could afford. We lingered over our meal, talking and sharing old times without refereeing two teens. No fights, no fuss. Then we strolled around a pond at the park near our old house, just like in the “old days.” We drove by our former home recalling with a laugh the time the yard crew we hired tore out my beloved wisteria vines. I was livid! Finally, we drove by the house I grew up in — the place we married.
When we look back on days gone by, it’s easy to remember just the good times and forget the challenges. We could easily tell the kids that everything was perfect, starting every story with “Well, in our day….” and explain what Paradise was like. Truth is we had a creepy neighbor who made me want to sell our “love nest”; we were new at having a blended family and we made mistakes — countless; we longed for many things then that we only have now, years later. What we have now is no better or worse, all things considered. We have as many friends as we have gray hairs; we are blessed with health and family we’re crazy about. I try to ground myself in the knowledge that all times have their share of positive and negative.
So too, with our world. Some tales of days gone by get edited with a surgical knife, omitting the strife, suffering, pitfalls and pain. Some will hail the ’50s as an ideal age with Eisenhower in the oval office and the Yankees dominating our national pastime. Honestly, those were some nice times (I hear they were as I was but a twinkle), but as a nation we tolerated racial discrimination, segregated public spaces, and looked away from mob violence. We also had McCarthyism, Cold War and the beginnings of the Vietnam War.
Well shoot, we know about the turbulent ’60s, but how about the ’70s? We had Nixon and Ford, those dynamos — wait, there was Watergate, gee. And what else, you say,the Energy Crisis and hostages in Iran.
So I don’t know, the ’80s had some great clothes (not!) and Ronnie. Of course, we’d have to conveniently forget Iran-Contra Affair, rigging of grants in the Department Housing and Urban Affairs, debate gate, Ferdinand Marcos, the Savings & Loan Crisis and Chernobyl. That won’t do for our primo-esimo spotless world. Reminiscing about the 1990s should soon bring up topics like the high-tech bust, the first Iraq war, the first World Trade Center bombing, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the White House.
We each may have a favorite president, political persuasion, era when we personally had it best, but it’s just plain wrong to whitewash the past and denigrate the present without checking with reality. And further, what a useless waste of energy to wish, click our heels and wave the wand to go back in time. Personally, I do fantasize about visiting the past and meeting my ancestors, getting a feel for the the Old West before Nevada was a state, or checking out the ’20s to meet my great-grandma and hear tunes of the Jazz Age. Or, why not do a Forrest Gump and stumble into the March on Washington?
But not forever. Wishing for something that just can’t be does a great disservice to the present, to the people sharing this life with us. I’m not saying we can’t learn from our past, or remember our lives with fondness, but get real, no era has ever been a Utopia and telling our children their time right now is no good is fiction.
I certainly can’t see trading today for the bumps and groans of any other time. I’m where I want to be, ought to be and by gosh, I’m moving forward, not backward, cherishing each day as it comes.
Blog Title: William Faulkner
September 29, 2012
To impart realism in idiosyncratic detail, authors Willa Cather and Ernest Hemingway drew on real people for their enduring World War I characters. In her book One of Ours, Cather took letters from a soldier-cousin to impart real-to-life traits on characters Claude and David who fought the Germans in France. Of course, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is in-part based on his own tour of Italy during that same war and his love of character/nurse Catherine Barkley.
So as I read these classics over the summer I thought a lot about my own grandfather, Bill Royle, and my husband’s grandfather, Curtis Williams, who were young volunteer soldiers overseas far from their US homes fighting the Kaiser in France.
Since yesterday was Ancestor Appreciation Day, (I know, there’s a holiday for everything!) they’ve slipped back in my consciousness.
As with the characters in these prize-winning books, Bill and Curtis (who we have no reason to believe ever met, however they joined within two weeks of each other in 1917) came from rural America – Nevada and Minnesota – and like Claude in Cather’s classic, viewed the war as a way to break away from their quiet lives and see other parts of the world. Akin to Hemingway’s Frederic Henry, my grandfather worked on the field of battle in the ambulance corps. While Grandpa Curt, a rough fellow who didn’t garner much love later from his three sons, mirrored Hemingway in that he did actually meet his future wife, Marjorie, in France while she was a Red Cross worker.
It was the first modern war: my mother remembers that her dad’s uniform and gas mask hung in the back closet of her childhood home for years, a silent reminder of his past. Back in the 1970s my gramps gave an oral history about his life and extolled in great detail his times with family, at various occupations, described friends he had made and lost in his 89 years, but when it came to the war, he outlined just minute facts then summed up, “That’s all I have to say about that.” No amount of asking could make him share his experience. Family lore has it that the dents on his helmet are from bullets and that he had to have killed a couple Germans. One story he did tell was that he made the effort to see his English relatives, but they turned him away thinking he was there for their food. Fifty years later, that was still a raw report.
My grandpa –in-law, on the other hand, had a raucous experience from the time he left Minnesota with his comrades, carousing from ship to shore in Scotland and continuing on to France. His memoir passed through the family details many riotous and unruly times which ultimately had him near-court martialed for leaving his unit that was brought over to clear forests for fighting. He definitely had the Hemingwayesque, brash attitude that he could obliterate the war through binges of alcohol and sex. Somehow the young Curtis seemed to believe in the transformative power of love and viewed Marjorie as his own Catherine, someone who could save him from his past.
Both young men were born after the taming of the American frontier and brought their American restlessness to a frontier far bloodier. They never met Hemingway or Cather and their stories will never be fully told. We don’t know and never will, what they saw, smelled, felt, experienced, only that each man became stoic in his own way and crawled into the bottle a fair amount, perhaps to help themselves forget. The connection between literature and life helps us to know the interior lives of those we love. “Life was so short that it meant nothing at all unless it were continually reinforced by something that endured; unless the shadows of individual existence came and went against a background that held together.”— Willa Cather (One of Ours)