Sunday, March 28, 2010


Recalling the years after my family moved into our home at 3225 Columbia Street, in San Diego, it seems that we four kids suffered more than our share of accidents and injuries.

I injured my back severely when I was about twelve, while stupidly playing bucking bronco with my younger brothers, an injury that has recurred over the years and has plagued me with a vengeance since I turned 70.

My oldest brother Reid broke off half a front tooth swimming at the “Y,” and
middle brother Dwain fell off a teeter-totter onto a concrete retaining wall when Janice Hoskins suddenly lost interest in either teetering or tottering and simply jumped off and walked away. The head wound he suffered healed without benefit of a doctor’s visit, but left him with a permanent dent in his skull, which he’ll let you feel if you simply ask.

It was youngest brother Glenn who suffered the most frequent and interesting childhood injuries. To this day, he manages to spice up our lives, once barely escaping death when his motor home skidded on icy snow and came to a hair-raising stop at the very edge of a snowy ravine. Most recently, he was attacked by his own golf cart, which made several attempts to roll on top of him.

As a child, Glenn was in constant danger. My stomach still roils when I think of the time we went to the beach, and he impaled his foot on a huge fishhook left among the sandy rocks. Dad actually tried to pull that rusty thing out with pliers amid Glenn’s screams—which is where the stomach roiling comes in. Dad couldn’t budge the hook, and the six of us ended up trooping over to a nearby doctor’s office, where the hook was removed.

Most of our accidents happened in or near our home. We had bought an older house, financed by the seller, since we could never have qualified otherwise on Dad’s small salary as a watchmaker. Financing was also a distinct advantage to the seller, who didn’t have to worry about any pesky truth-in- lending disclosures about the leaky roof, the ravenous termites, the unique plumbing, and the myriad other defects the house would disclose—assuming there was such a thing as disclosure in the late 1940’s.

The house overlooked Mission Bay and, beyond, the Pacific Ocean, which more than compensated for any defects, to my dad’s way of thinking. It also overlooked San Diego’s airport, Lindbergh Field, and we grew used to the sounds of planes taking off and landing at any time of day or night, long before any curfews on departures or arrivals.

There was a vacant lot next door to our new home, from which cliffs dropped on two sides, a most dangerous place to raise three active boys and a clumsy girl. My parents must have been out of their minds to expose us to such dangers. The cliff on one side had a sheer drop of several hundred feet, and I never ventured near the edge of that one, although my brothers were more adventurous and would sit on the ice plant that grew over the edge. The dirt that had been removed from below and created the cliff was supposed to have been used for landfill for the construction of Lindbergh Field.

The cliff on the second side of the vacant lot dropped “only” about 30 feet, onto a city street. There was a rough lateral path along the side of that cliff, and we scrambled up and down it like goats, each time leaping a small crevasse on the path. Over time, that crevasse eroded so that the leap across it became progressively more dangerous as we grew progressively older and more bold.

As the oldest, I was the one who first gave up cliff climbing and began to take an alternate route, a long flight of steep stairs accessing our property from the rear. They looked like stairs you might see in San Francisco, and caused a great deal of wheezing and panting, but at least they were safe.

My brothers continued climbing the cliff several more years, as the eroding path became more dangerous. One day middle brother Dwain asked Mom, “Did you ever see anyone do a flip-flop in the air?”

Mom replied, “No, I don’t believe I ever have. Did you?”

Dwain said, “Yeah, the time Glenn fell off the cliff!”

Mother nearly fainted. Apparently Glenn had done a fairly spectacular flip of about ten or fifteen feet off the path somewhere past the halfway point, while trying to dislodge a marble in the side of the cliff. Dwain described the fall as, “High as a house.”

Dwain himself remembers a similar fall, without the theatrical flip. He too, was unhurt, then walked all the way up the back stairs, not starting to cry until he began to tell Mom what had happened and realized he could have been killed.

Those incidents pretty much ended the cliff climbing, but there was still plenty to keep us occupied. In those days, kids could roam the neighborhood in safety all day long, driven home only by hunger or darkness. There were other vacant lots in the neighborhood, and my brothers were responsible for several brush fires, as a result of playing with firecrackers, matches, and pieces of shiny glass. We always figured Glenn became a fireman to help atone for his earlier behavior.

If we found soft drink bottles, we would walk a couple of blocks to the neighborhood grocery store, Porter’s, to cash them in. Sometimes we went to the store for Mom, who would allow us to “keep the change.” That only meant the pennies, of course, so we always hoped for the bonanza—four pennies in change.

One time, before the 7-11 type of chain stores put our neighborhood groceries out of business and it became too far to walk to the store, Glenn and Dwain went to Porter’s and bought a can of condensed milk for Mom. On the way home, Glenn kept pestering Dwain to carry the paper sack with the milk, until Dwain, fed up, took the sack by its twisted top and bopped Glenn on the head with it. Glenn began to bleed, and to cry, and Dwain immediately capitulated, desperately offering to let him carry the sack. Glenn refused and kept on crying, eager to get home and tattle, while Dwain frantically tried to get him to shut up, carry the sack, and forget the whole thing.

The vacant cliff lot remained an important part of our lives. All my brothers became expert at capturing trapdoor spiders there, those fearsome-looking creatures that were harmless and simply wanted to be left alone.

Dad parked our Jeep on that cliff. One night, in the rain, the starter apparently kept shorting out and, while we slept, the Jeep slowly inched its way backward jerkily off the cliff down onto the street. The next morning, a police officer knocked on the door to tell my surprised father what had happened.

The Jeep had wedged itself vertically between the cliff and a telephone pole. It took some doing to jog it loose, but it wasn’t much the worse for wear, and continued to provide beach and desert rides for the family for several years.

Youngest brother Glenn was fascinated with bees and couldn’t resist catching them. He was stung on a regular basis, generally between the eyes, which would swell almost shut.

Glenn also suffered a broken limb, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, but he was the only one of us four kids to break a bone.

One time Glenn was playing with a BB gun with his friends and they decided to take turns being targets. Glenn put on a “helmet” for protection, but it wasn’t a true helmet, just the hard plastic helmet liner. His “best friend” took aim at Glenn’s head and hit the helmet liner. The BB went right through it and lodged in Glenn’s forehead. When he took off the helmet and touched his head, the BB fell harmlessly to the ground. Glenn seemed to lead a charmed life.

On another occasion, Glenn and his friend, Ronnie Norrell, were taking turns jumping across an open manhole that had been abandoned. Glenn fell into the hole and down about twenty feet, hitting his head. He was too short to reach the rungs of the ladder built into the side of the manhole so, crying all the way, he crawled through the pipe itself, about half a block, until he emerged into a canyon, and climbed wooden stairs back to the street. Ronnie had gone to tell his mother who, none too concerned, waited at the top to see that he was all in one piece, and then left. Glenn went home and confessed to Mom. We were in awe of his adventure and the bump on his head, which was literally the size of a goose egg. Other than the bump and being filthy, he was fine. Today that incident would have warranted a search and rescue operation, TV coverage, and an investigation.

Another time, Mom had been cleaning the boys’ bedroom and was standing in the hallway, tossing things back into the room. She was irritated because she had told them to clean the room, and of course they hadn’t. She grabbed a clock and pitched it into the room, then looked up and saw Glenn’s surprised face. Mom had nailed him with the clock. She didn’t even know he was there! She apologized, of course, but said later that the worst part was that she couldn’t warn Glenn not to say his mother had hit him with a clock, because he most certainly would tell people that he had been told not to tell. The only thing she could do was keep quiet and hope he forgot about it!

When I was young, I generally viewed my brothers as a plague upon my existence, but reflecting on some of the close calls they had, I am so very grateful they were able to survive relatively unscathed, and that I can now appreciate them for the wonderful human beings they turned out to be.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


My dad was raised Christian Scientist, a church founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy. Dad’s mother, Lida Clay Munkirs Cheek, born twelve years later, became a convert in early adulthood, a time when I’m sure the Church was still considered a cult. She raised all four children in the faith, but only the oldest, my Aunt Charlotte, practiced it throughout her life – with varying degrees of success and failure, in my opinion.

Although I never knew my dad to go to church, he still called upon the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy from time to time.

Shortly after we came to California, near the end of World War II, my
youngest brother Glenn, who was about eighteen months old, became terribly ill and turned yellow. He was yellow all over – his skin, toenails, fingernails, especially the whites of his eyes. The only part of him that stayed white was his teeth.

Although Dad had quickly found work as a watchmaker, there was simply no money for medical expenses. The six of us had lived for several months in a 24-foot trailer, barely getting by. My parents had no recourse but to take Glenn to San Diego County Hospital. It was charity, but they were desperate.

Glenn was admitted with a diagnosis of yellow jaundice. My parents were terror-stricken at the seriousness of the disease, and could only cling to each other as their baby was taken away. Even today, I am appalled by the coldness and lack of sympathy shown to my parents and to my little brother at that terrifying time.

I don’t recall how long Glenn was in the hospital, but it had to have been several days in that time of longer hospital stays. The first thing the nurse did was to take away Glenn’s bottle, insisting that at his age he should have been drinking from a cup. What a heartless thing to do to a sick child who would have received some comfort from his bottle, especially since his parents weren’t allowed to be with him.

Visiting hours and rules were strictly enforced. Only my parents could see Glenn, and just at the prescribed times. There was never a possibility of a family member being allowed to stay in the room with him, and we siblings weren’t allowed to see him at all.

But the cruelest action of all was the evening when my parents were told that Glenn would probably not live through the night. My parents were forced to go home and wait, leaving my brother to die alone.

Desperate, Dad turned that night to his Bible and to Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. (I feel fortunate to have fallen heir to both those volumes.) All night long Dad read, meditated, and prayed, while our distraught mother tried to accept the magnitude of Glenn’s imminent death.

In the morning, after a night that must have seemed eons long, my parents were told by clearly surprised hospital staff that Glenn had made it through the night and that the worst part was over. What a day for celebration!

Glenn had to remain in the hospital a bit longer, but I still remember the awe and excitement when he was actually in our car and we were going home, our family complete again.

He was like a delicate stranger, and we were afraid to speak to him or touch him. He stood in the front seat between my parents (no seatbelts in those days), quiet, subdued, and still faintly yellow around the edges. He was able to stand, but he would have to learn to walk again. The only lasting effect was that he would never be able to donate blood -- a minor inconvenience.

Our family has always been convinced that Dad and God saved Glenn’s life that night. Although my three brothers and I were raised Southern Baptist like Mom, that experience with Glenn has always caused me to regard other faiths with tolerance and an open mind, never to be so narrow-minded and arrogant as to think my view of God and his workings could possibly be the only correct one.


My husband’s maternal grandparents, Bird Ella Estes and Linton Appleby Hobdy, ran away and married on November 27, 1906, in Miles, Runnels County, Texas. I had searched for this information for years and finally found it in the last place I would have thought to look—their divorce file.

Less than five years after the elopement, in El Centro, Imperial County, California, that union shattered, and I was fortunate to be able to order a complete record of their rancorous divorce.

There are marriages made in Heaven, and these two people had approached it from the opposite direction. From their file, it is fairly obvious they should never have taken the plunge and further shows that neither one of them acted as well as they could have.
Bird left Linton after what was obviously a heated argument in 1911. He filed suit on the grounds of desertion nearly two years later, stating Bird left “without any sufficient cause or any reason and against his will and without his consent.” Although he didn’t demand custody, he did ask for visitation rights and later for partial custody.

Bird counter-sued for “willful neglect.” The court file reflects the bickering that must have been a constant in their marriage. There may have been attempts at reconciliation during those months after the separation, but I imagine when Bird called it quits, there was no going back.

I knew Bird Hobdy very well. She passed away when I had been married to her grandson over six years, and I had met her two years before that. Bird was the family matriarch. We loved her, but she ruled with an iron hand and her word was law. One look at her photo, and you can’t miss that bulldog jaw that indicated she was the boss. It was with great amusement I noticed that in one of her responses in the divorce file she referred to herself as a “frail woman.”

Family opinion was that her son had accepted employment in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to get as far away from her as possible. He didn’t marry until more than ten years after she died. He didn’t dare! During her life, she had squelched any matrimonial aspirations he might have had.

In the Final Decree Bird was granted attorney’s fees and $25.00 a month in permanent alimony. It appears she preferred permanent alimony over child support, which would have ended when their two children were grown.

Several months later Bird hauled Linton into court because he had never made a single payment. He proved he had never been properly served, and a new order was issued, although he must have known very well he owed the money.
In six months they were back in court again. He had paid the first four months, and stopped paying in the fifth month.

Back and forth they went. It was an extended game of, “Is too! Is not!” Bird claimed Linton never tried to see the children or even ask about their welfare; he claimed she refused to let him see his son and daughter. He stated he had never even seen his son, since Bird was pregnant when they separated. Bird said he never paid her any money; Linton claimed he handed her a check for $3.50 to buy their daughter shoes, and she tore it up in front of him. She said he skipped town to avoid court appearances; he claimed to be in a sanitarium for the treatment of tuberculosis and was still on crutches; Bird said he made it all up. He claimed he was only able to do light work; Bird said he was pulling down $60.00 a month working in a grocery store. Linton said Bird was making $100.00 a month working for the U.S. Postal Service; she admitted to $66.60. Linton had quitclaimed his interest in their home to Bird; Bird was receiving $20.00 a month rental from that house.
Linton’s primary reason for not paying Bird alimony was that he felt she would just give it to her family. He insisted he wanted to provide personally for the needs of his two children. However, when Bird (once again) took him to court asking for medical help for both the children, there is no evidence he ever complied.

Bird was a very self-sufficient woman and, even though the census records show she and her children did move in with her parents and younger brother, she had a good-paying job, a rental home, and raised both her children successfully, apparently completely by herself. My mother-in-law and her brother never had a good word to say about Linton, and they may have had good reason. It is entirely possible that Linton never saw his son, whether from his own choice or from Bird’s vindictiveness. Linton went on to a second, more stable marriage, and had another daughter.

Although there is no evidence he paid alimony of any significant amount, Linton once again went to court to reduce that alimony because of serious dental problems, which I find ironic, as both my mother-in-law and her brother had all their teeth pulled at any early age. That was one thing they could point to as being a legacy from their father.

Bird finally gave up on taking Linton to court for back alimony, but she wasn’t quite through. Linton died August 23, 1941. Less than three weeks later, Bird had a judgment against his estate for $7,750.00 representing nearly 26 years of unpaid alimony! He thwarted her once again, however. The judgment was denied because the original judgment was more than five years old, having been entered in 1915.

That must have been a blow to Bird, but she was able to comfort herself by no longer having to list her status as divorced. She had outlived Linton, and she felt justified to claim she was widowed for the rest of her life!

I am sure Linton felt he had been mistreated by Bird, but I think the man should have counted his blessings. They separated on the 4th of July, in El Centro, where it easily gets to be 112 degrees in the summer, and she was five months pregnant. Think it over. He gets into a fight with a lantern-jawed Texas-born pregnant woman, in the middle of summer in Imperial County. He was fortunate she only left him. He was lucky she didn’t kill him!


Life was certainly different for the diseased and injured before health care plans. When I was a child, medical care was pretty much handled on a do-it-yourself basis. Unless a limb was dangling uselessly, or blood was spurting out at right angles to your body, a doctor wasn’t usually needed.

The first time I saw a doctor was when I was five years old and he came to our farmhouse to deliver my middle brother, Dwain. A very interesting process, I might add, since in the hubbub, no one thought to take me out of the bedroom.

For almost anything other than the aforementioned dangling, spurting, and birthing, there was a home remedy.

For coughs, colds, stuffy noses, and sore throats, Vicks and Mentholatum were the accepted standard of care. There was no more comforting feeling in the world than having Vicks rubbed on your chest, topped off with a warm flannel cloth tucked around the chest and neck.

Another comforting treatment was given for earaches. Mom would heat one of her flatirons on the cookstove, wrap it in flannel and put it in my bed, up against my sore ear. Heavenly. I always stretched that earache out for as many nights as possible.

There was even a remedy for general orneriness. If we kids seemed to be in a bad mood over several days’ time, we were lined up and dosed with spoonfuls of Castoria, a yummy treatment for constipation, which apparently had the side effect of dispelling crankiness. We never knew where Mom hid the Castoria. I’m sure she knew we would have gotten into it and emptied the bottle.

For plain old constipation, there was nasty, disgusting castor oil, which did the trick, in spades, and made me really cranky. I can still recall those castor oil burps and when I married, I never inflicted castor oil on my daughters, nor did I ever own a bottle of that repulsive stuff.

Stubbed toes and skinned knees were a constant each summer in my early years, when I ran barefoot and barelegged all day long. Nothing had a chance to heal until school started. It was agony forcing swollen throbbing toes into stiff new school shoes, and suffering those starched stiff dress hems brushing my raw kneecaps.

Most scrapes and scratches, if treated at all, were painted with iodine, merthiolate, or mercurochrome, and it was a childhood badge to run around with constant patches of red dyed skin from one of these treatments. The iodine burned like fire, but I guess it was safer, since the other two medicines contained mercury.

Bug bites were a given, and you either scratched a lot or your mother swabbed you with calamine lotion, and you still scratched a lot.

Big spoonfuls of bright yellow sulfur eaten at the beginning of the season were supposed to repel chiggers and other pesky pests. I don’t know how effective it was, but I liked the taste of the sulfur, anyway.

Some of us were prone to warts, but I was lucky enough to have a great-grandma living on the next farm who could wish away warts. I still remember a nasty growth of long standing on my thumb, which Grandma rubbed with her own thumb, saying, “That’ll go away now,” and in a few days it did.

Everyone got “infantigo” (impetigo), a nasty scabby disease that always seemed to start on my upper lip and head up into my nose. If it wasn’t under control by the time it got into one’s nose, that did warrant a trip to the doctor, because everyone knew “infantigo” would go up your nose straight into your brain and you would die.

My oldest brother, Reid, somehow contracted a bad case of ringworm on his scalp, and my desperate mother had no idea how to treat it. She happened to check the Clorox label and found that the application of diluted bleach was a cure for ringworm. It worked like a charm.

We all had the normal childhood diseases—chicken pox, scarlet fever, mumps, both kinds of measles. With the “hard” measles, you had to stay in a dark room or you might go blind. The mumps hit us after we moved to California near the end of World War II. In those times you were quarantined for some diseases, and when we contracted mumps, we four kids and Mom were confined to our 24-foot-trailer, ostracized by the quarantine sign in the window. I’ve forgotten how long we were isolated, but I can only imagine what Mom went through cooped up with the four of us, while Dad was allowed to escape guiltily to work each day. She was never quite the same afterward.

We had all been vaccinated for smallpox, of course, and my brothers and I still have the scars on our upper left arms, a vestige of times past.

Worms were another childhood hazard. I don’t remember ever getting them, but they were common and I imagine we probably had them. In fact, I’m absolutely sure we had them, since everything we weren’t supposed to eat gave us worms, according to Mom. Sugar of any kind straight out of the container would do it—brown, powdered, or granulated. Raw cookie dough, pie dough, cake batter, and biscuit dough were definite carriers, along with raw potatoes and raw hamburger. Too much candy—Christmas, Easter, or Valentine’s—you were a goner. If we liked it, it was deadly. Brother Reid liked to eat the heads off those large sulfur kitchen matches. Worm attractor? No doubt about it.

Mom’s remedies seem old-fashioned now, but at least I didn’t have to wear an “asofittidy” (asafetida) bag around my neck in the winter to ward off colds, coughs, the flu, and probably evil spirits, as my poor mother was forced to do. Mom hated that smelly thing, but most other kids were wearing them, too, so she wasn’t alone in her pungent misery. The secret about those bags was that you smelled so bad, no one else would go near you, so you didn’t get exposed to anything.

Another helpful remedy from Mom’s youth was the method for warding off tetanus. If you stepped on a rusty nail, all you had to do was find the nail again and grease it, and you wouldn’t get lockjaw!

As I said, we didn’t go to doctors often. My middle brother was delivered by a doctor, and I was taken to one because I was a bedwetter of Olympic proportions. He didn’t cure that nasty little affliction and I managed to outgrow it on my own--eventually.

We three older kids went to the doctor to have our tonsils and adenoids removed in one massive office visit, as all three operations were performed at his office. We went home immediately and were pampered by my harried mother for several days, whining and complaining, eating enormous amounts of ice cream, and milking our invalidism for all it was worth.

The only other doctor visit I can recall involving our family was when brother Dwain had a sore thumb that simply would not get better. Mom finally had Dad take him to the doctor, and when they returned, Dad said the doctor could find nothing wrong. Mom, with a mother’s innate suspicion, asked my brother which thumb he had shown the doctor. Dwain held up his good thumb. When you think about it, why would he have let the doctor touch the thumb that hurt? Back they went to the doctor, who diagnosed a sprained thumb!

I used at least one of Mom’s remedies even after I was on my own.[1] When my older daughter was a baby, she had a vicious diaper rash that was impervious to anything I put on it. Mom finally suggested I try scorching white flour in my cast iron skillet, and rubbing that on my daughter’s bottom. She looked like a big old biscuit, but it worked!
[1] I should mention here that when I was about 12, I discovered that my parents were only borderline functional. I tried everything I could to get them to “smarten up,” but they resisted my sincere efforts. I was astonished, after I married and had a child, to find that my parents had finally done something about their ignorance and had somehow acquired both knowledge and wisdom. I found I could now turn to them for answers about things like childrearing, budgeting, housekeeping, marriage, and even simple home repairs. In fact, I found that I sometimes turned to them every day.


One of the obligations of the family historian is to record information that may not be passed on any other way. Therefore, though probably in poor taste, I feel it is my duty to recount some rather esoteric information about outhouses, as they relate to at least one branch of my family’s tree.

During my early years, as the country struggled its way out of the Great Depression, only to find itself involved in a second Great War, I don’t think indoor plumbing was of much concern to rural America. The privy was an integral part of my life, and at that time I’m not even sure I was aware there was an alternative to the privy, until my father brought us to California, near the end of the war. I will, however, never forget the outdoor toilet. Its distinctive stench is embedded in my scent memory and instantly recognizable. Don’t talk to me about the Good Old Days. I will forever be grateful for the luxury of the flush toilet.

The privies in this tale belonged to my favorite set of great-grandparents, Millard and Matilda Sabens. They didn’t travel with us to California, but stayed in Missouri, on their farm near the small town of Kearney, so the following privy accounting was passed on to me by my mother.

As a child, Mom and her cousin Floyd spent much of their time with Grandma and Grandpa Sabens on their farm and grew up as close as siblings. Mom told me that when either of them had to make use of the outhouse, Grandma always seemed to know about it and quizzed them closely if they stayed in the sh**ter too long…Grandma’s succinct term for the structure, not mine. Mom never could figure out why Grandma was so vigilant, since she and Floyd always used the privy separately—he was a BOY, for goodness sake!

It wasn’t until many years later that Mom learned the privy was where Grandma kept her “butter and egg” money. She earned her own money from selling chickens, eggs, and butter to her brothers, who ran restaurants in Kansas City. The profits were kept in coffee cans in the outhouse, hidden under the stacks of paper and catalogs used for toilet paper. She didn’t want a nosy grandkid, or anyone else, finding her money.

Years later, in 1942, Grandma took her coffee cans to the bank in Kearney and paid $1,250.00 in coins for a beautiful Victorian house she had set her heart on years earlier. She and Grandpa were to move there when they retired from the farm. Not only did she pay for the house in cash she had earned herself, she took title in her own name.

Grandpa may never have known where she had kept that money, since Grandpa didn’t use the outhouse, except under extreme emergencies. You see, Grandpa felt it wasn’t polite for a man to use the privy. It was a place suitable only for women and children. He relieved himself discreetly away from the house, at least for “Number One.” Grandpa may have been from the Barrens area of Kentucky with a limited education, but he had a firm sense of what was proper.

For more serious business, Mom told me, he walked down to the old windmill, where the stock watering trough was located. There, he sat on a fallen tree trunk and did what was necessary. While sitting, he rubbed two dried corn cobs briskly together to clean them off. When he was through, he used the corn cobs as toilet paper, and then set them aside to dry, then the whole process could be repeated on his next visit.

When Grandma and Grandpa retired from farming and moved into the house that Grandma had bought, it came complete with its own outhouse.
After Grandpa died a few years later, the family urged Grandma to have a bathroom added to the house. The idea was repellent to her.

“Why would I put the sh**ter in the house?” she retorted.

Grandma came from those same Barrens in Kentucky, although a bit coarse and poorly educated, and she had her own sense of propriety. I’m sure her reaction reflected the opinion of many of her generation. When you think about it, it’s easy to understand why a smelly privy inside the house would be considered way beyond the bounds of decency to many.

Eventually, however, her relatives persisted, until Grandma finally gave in reluctantly and had a bathroom installed in the house. Right next to the


Next Sunday, February 28th, 2010, we are celebrating a milestone birthday of Aunt Frances, the oldest member of the family. She will actually be 90 on March first, the next day, but at her age, we can’t take any chances she might not make it.

I suppose you’d call Aunt Frances the family matriarch for my family group, but technically that dubious honor belongs to me, since she is not a blood relative, even though she is the oldest. In her own family group, she is most certainly the matriarch.

Aunt Frances is the widow of Uncle Buddy. We adored Uncle Buddy. My husband was named for him and, no, his name wasn’t “Uncle Buddy,” it was Morris. But who wants to be called Morris? Thus, the nickname, and naturally my husband became Little Buddy.

Uncle Buddy was a confirmed bachelor, we thought, and no one dreamed he would ever marry, including Uncle Buddy. We were all astounded when he began dating Frances, and completely stupefied when they announced their engagement. He was 60 and Frances was a cute little widow of 52, and without a doubt, the best thing that ever happened to him.

They married in our backyard on a “weird weather” day in May, where it alternately rained and then sizzled with heat, warping the vinyl record of the Wedding March, the playing of which gave a surreal air to the whole event, as the audience sat watching and sweating on rain-dampened chairs.

We loved having Aunt Frances in the family and welcomed her with multiple sets of open arms. Of course Aunt Frances and Uncle Buddy came to all the family gatherings, and they even hosted several of their own.

Aunt Frances made Uncle Buddy’s life immeasurably brighter for eight years, until his years of lonely bachelor drinking finally caught up with him and he passed away.

After Uncle Buddy’s death, we just decided to keep Aunt Frances. She was too special to let get away. By this time, her younger sister Mary Jo, just as charming and just as “keepable,” began coming to the family gatherings, so we kept her, too. She and Aunt Frances have been in the family now for nearly 40 years.

The years have passed, as years tend to do, and the family gatherings have continued, observing all manner of birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, holidays, and deaths. The family changed of course, as families also tend to do. More deaths, a divorce here and there (which upgraded the membership), a sprinkling of marriages, births of perfect children, and of even more perfect grandchildren, nieces, nephews. Always changing, but still the same family.

And honoring each special event there was always Aunt Frances and Mary Jo. A family gathering wasn’t a family gathering without the two of them.

Nearly 25 years ago, older daughter Anita Lee married Steve, and we welcomed him into the family, too. Naturally, Aunt Frances and Mary Jo were at the wedding.

After a decent interval, Steve and Anita Lee were joined by Perfect Grandson Number One, and the family continued to expand.

More years passed, more people came, more people went, there were more family gatherings. Aunt Frances and Mary Jo were a constant.

One day, after such a family gathering, when everyone had been in attendance, Steve and Anita Lee were at home, having the usual post mortem that follows any party. Well into their discussion, Steve turned to Anita Lee and asked, “Tell me, what’s the deal with Aunt Frances and Mary Jo?”

My daughter, puzzled, said, “What do you mean, ‘What’s the deal with Aunt Frances and Mary Jo?’”

“Just what I said,” he replied, “Who are they?”

Saturday, November 7, 2009


One of my dreams has always been to take a dog sled ride, and when the opportunity arose on a trip to Alaska, I leaped at it, even though it was a bit pricy. The tour package included a helicopter flight to a glacier where the dogs were encamped, followed by an actual sled dog ride.

Alaska is breathtaking at any time of year, but the helicopter ride showcased the contrasts of snow-covered glacier with the myriad shades of green of the untouched forests, and the reflecting blue lakes. I had expected to be terrified on my first copter ride, but the view was so enchanting I didn’t feel the slightest flutter of fear, even though there were no doors on the helicopter. Any fears of hurtling to my death were overshadowed by the awesome grandeur that is Alaska.

Right after landing, we five passengers clambered out as quickly as possible, so that the pilot could return to base for the next group. The sound of the helicopter was effectively drowned out as our ears were assaulted by the shrill yipping and barking of fifty dogs, a sound that never abated during our entire visit.

The camp gave the appearance of being a miniature village snowbound in the wilderness. Tiny individual wooden houses provide shelter for each dog. Long chains from each house kept the happy, barking dogs from contact with each other, as they begged to be hooked up to dog sleds. Several larger prefabs provided housing for the two permanent mushers who lived on the site. We were given a lecture and a tour of the camp site by two gorgeous young men who maintained semi-permanent residence on the glacier. (I may be an old lady, but I can still appreciate a good-looking man.) One of them gave a fascinating lecture on sled dog life and the history of the Iditarod. He had been raised in Ohio and living on this glacier was part of a lifelong dream.

One thing I would never have known was that all human and dog waste must be bagged and flown back to Juneau for disposal, since the glacier camp is in a state park. Not only that, the urine is packaged separately and differently from the fecal matter. I didn’t have the nerve to ask if human and canine waste was further segregated. The idea of constantly cleaning up after the dogs took much of the romance out of the camp for me. The other man was busy hooking up two teams of sled dogs, who were so excited to be in harness they could hardly contain themselves. The unchosen dogs would get their turns with the next batch of tourists. The dogs were a surprise to me. I had expected the stereotypical Huskies seen in movies, but these were smaller mixed breed dogs, wiry, loud, and eager to work. The ride was exhilarating. We took turns playing passenger and standing at the back of the sled, operating the brake. In no time, my leg muscles began to complain, but nothing in the world would have made me cry uncle. After the ride, we were taken to the other end of the camp, to a caged-off area, where a proud mother allowed us to handle her two new-born pups.

While taking pictures of the two-day old puppies, I managed to step into an enormous pile of husky poo! That had to be the world’s stayingest poop. I began trying to scrape it off in the snow, turning and twisting my foot in all directions, since there were no sticks to be found for scraping. I rubbed my tractor-tread boot in the snow repeatedly, trying to remove the disgusting waste. I stomped my foot, scraped the sides of my foot in the snow, did everything I could think of. Then, when I was sure I had it all, I would take a few steps. And there, clear as burglar footprints in the snow, would be scatological evidence of my dirty deed. All along the snowy walk back to the helicopter, I left my one-footed track, like some deranged monoped determine to leave my mark.

I kept thinking about those two handsome young man, who would have to follow my trail, scooping up footprint after footprint of my poopy remains and bagging it for delivery back to Juneau. My shame was so great that I fully expected them to have it delivered to my cabin on the cruise ship in retaliation. I know for sure I can never go back to that glacier camp again. I’m positive I would be met by a photo of myself, in a red circle with a slash across the front.