Quartet of Queens: The Month of Great-Grandmothers (January 2014): #4 Marie

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MARIE

My mother’s mother’s mother, Marie Auguste Emilie Antoine Goetsch Weinman, sometimes called Mary, is vague to me.  I have no memories or documents.  These photographs came to me only recently as jpgs.  Indirectly, I am named for her, since my middle name is Marie. Shortly before her daughter, my Grandma Marie, died, she told me that she was the fifth Marie in a row – and now, for three generations in a row, it is the middle name of choice, shared by my aunt, my cousins and myself. My cousin’s daughter and my own carry on the tradition of having “Marie” as a middle name.

What I know, I know from my mother’s stories, and these stories are sparse.  Marie was born on September 13, 1886 in Germany and came to the United States at age two.  After that, she never lived outside of the Detroit area.  Before her marriage to William Henry Weinman, she was a fine professional seamstress.  After her marriage, she continued that work on the side, while raising Eric, Marie, and later, Doris.  (Above, Doris and Eric with William and Marie Weinman.)
Great-grandpa William Henry Weinman

Great-grandpa William Henry Weinman

She was a woman of definite opinions and decided energy – a suffragette.  Her determination helped to found the Detroit area YWCA and the Cadillac Boulevard Presbyterian Church.

In the late 1930s, fearing deportation because she couldn’t prove her birth date, Marie sent to Nazi Germany for a copy of her birth certificate.  Issued by the Third Reich, it arrived emblazoned with the infamous swastika in time to allow her to remain. Marie was known to her grandchildren as “the cookie grandma” because there were always, always freshly baked cookies at her house.

The Cookie Grandma in her front garden

The Cookie Grandma in her front garden

When I started college, I learned that I have a mild congenital heart murmur that matches the one that caused Marie trouble all her life. She died on February 22, 1946, when my mother was not quite ten years old. My mother remembers that Grandma Goetsch’s funeral was the first one she’d ever attended. It was held in Grandma’s living room with the casket wide open.

Because I know so little about her, she almost seems more distant in time than other great-grandparents. Her face is a variant on the very familiar face of my Grandma Marie. Her white shoes in the photograph above are surprisingly gleaming and poised. They remind me of the shoes of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers immortal and magical heroine. The numinous quality of these shoes is a signal to me that here I am standing on the boundary of fact and imagination, the border of the country of Faery, a good place to conclude this four-part series.

FOUR-PART CONCLUSION: WHAT I AM DEALT

Marie Four Queens

As I think of these four very different but somehow analogous women who are connected to me, I think of them as the Queens in my very own familial deck of cards. Taking the metaphor a step further–as I, a poet, am inclined to do, although I know quite well the limitations as well as the power of metaphors–one might assign each to her own suit.

Mae was the Queen of Clubs, lashing out to gain her ends, believing there was no need for defense if the offense was unrelenting.  Clara was the Queen of Hearts, paving the road for those she loved with sweetness and calm.  Katherine was the Queen of Diamonds, artistic and educated, keeping her integrity even when splattered with the mud of scandal, the scald of neglect.  Marie is, to me, almost unknowable. She remains the Queen of Spades, a mysterious presence from whom I sprang, the link to the old country, the dispossessed child in the arms of wandering parents, seeking a new home in a new world.  The thought of her has on me the effect of the Vietnam Memorial – pulling me down to search the polished black surface, sheer as the cut sod of a grave, only to be confronted by reflections from my own life and memories.  At times, her silence seems to influence me the most powerfully of all.

As I conclude  these four weeks of family stories, I am more convinced that a great share of the power of family derives from the power of story. All the great-grandmothers are removed beyond answering my questions, but they are still with me. Silence doesn’t answer but only gives back the question: “Who am I?”

Grandma Queens

 

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Quartet of Queens: The Month of the Great-Grandmothers (January 2014): #3 Kate

Kate High School

KATE

Katherine Hinman Williamson Schultz, known as “Kate”, my father’s paternal grandmother, was an educated woman.  For the turn of the last century, she might even be called emancipated.  Born on March 20, 1873, she was graduated from high school in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on June 24, 1898.  I know this because her diploma hangs over my desk.  She received a later diploma from the midwestern music conservatory, and made a living teaching piano in Menasha, Wisconsin. I love the drama of the photo above, possibly her high school graduation photo.

Kate was a highly artistic person–the “Daughter of Story”, I like to call her, because her mother’s maiden name was Isabella Storey. Here is a photograph of her (May 31, 1901) at a party, almost a decade before she married. Doesn’t it look as though she is conducting a makeshift “kitchen orchestra”? (She later spent four decades conducting a church choir.)

Kate at a Party May 31 1901

She was 30 years old when she married a professional man, Emil Schultz.   He was a pharmacist, a partner in the Schultz Brothers Drug Store in Menasha, where Katherine waited each week for the streetcar to take her twenty miles south, home to Oshkosh.

Kate and Emil married on March 10, 1910, moving in to a new house on the bank of the Fox River, just a few blocks from the drug store.

Kate Wedding

Kate Emil

(This must have been Emil’s wedding photo, because within a year of the wedding he was quite bald.)

Kate had two boys in quick succession, first Robert, then Charles, my grandfather.

Kate with Robert

A few years later, Isabelle arrived.  For fifteen years, Kate was assisted by Tillie, a maid of all work, who lived in.

Kate Formal Cards

I don’t remember Kate, but in many ways I feel I know her best of all my great-grandparents.  My father – a temperamental hermit – felt close to her.  It was said that in 1938 she received the best birthday present of her life when my father was born on March 20, too.

Kate and Richard

Here is my dad as a teenager with his Grandma when she visited their house in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

I have her cedar chest near my bed.  I wore her elaborate wedding dress of netting and crocheted string when I married my second husband.  (See the posts of last August for that wedding dress’s final adventures!) I’ve seen the many photographs she took – a perk of owning a drugstore was free development for film – and how often she turned photographs into postcards.  I visited the house on East Broad Street many times since grand-aunt Isabel (who changed the spelling of her name as a bit of teenage rebellion) lived there until she died in 1976. I wrote a poem about that house (“The House on East Broad Street”) in terza rima, mentioning pianos, rusty taps, the Fox River, family stories, and the ghost outlines of the old boathouse. I read the poem at my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Kate Boathouse

Kate Boathouse Demo

I even have a long loop of super 8 film of her with the family, including Emil’s beloved black Labrador retriever, Topsy, and her eleven pups.

Kate with Topsy

And, most tantalizingly of all, I have her diary.

Taped to the inside front cover is a miniscule newspaper clipping, as big as a fortune cookie scroll.  It records, on Saint Valentine’s Day, 1890, the formation of a partnership between her father, John Williamson, and C. R. Meyer to take on the masonry contract for the Athearn Hotel in Oskosh.  Incredibly, the day after my grandfather gave me the diary, I found a chroma-colored  postcard of this hotel at a second-hand book store in Florida.  The Athearn was monumentally ugly, occupying a whole block while it stood.  It  has long-since been torn down.  I imagine Kate was very proud of her father that day.  He was a Civil War veteran and received a life pension in exchange for his wounds, and self-medicated his physical and psychic wounds with alcohol.  He was, I understand, later eased out of the partnership with Mr. Meyer due to “excessive thirst.”

This diary of Kate’s is between black covers with a red spine.  The word “Record” is stamped in gold in both places.  It begins with this notation about the purchase of a new coat:  “Hudson seal coat made by Steude, Oshkosh in 1926.  Cost $425.00.”  Later, she notes that it was repaired seven years later.  It seems that she began keeping the diary in 1941.  The first two pages quickly sum up the years between 1926 and 1941.  Or perhaps she began financial record keeping and abandoned it, only to turn it to a life record later.  I can imagine the combined pleasure of frugality and release in making note of life events.  Yet the second page also records the names and birthdates of her first four grandchildren (1934 to 1938) and the coming of the housemaid Tillie, long after she had gone.

Kate Record Book

Kate First Diary Page 1941

Kate Athearn Hotel Post Card

What strikes me is not so much what is said, as what is not said.  She kept this record for at least twenty years, until the end of her life in 1961.  The entries range from India ink and pencil to blue ball point.  The handwriting in the last years grows increasingly shaky.  The only world events noted are the ending of the war in Europe and in Japan – these two alone, oddly, without dates.  Each year, she reports who came to Christmas and Easter dinners and what they ate and a full page on the annual shopping and pleasure trip she made each summer to Chicago with Isabel.  Sometimes she reports gifts received for her birthday or mother’s day, or that a neighbor stopped over with a pie.  Occasionally, she makes note of home repairs or the illness, accident, or death befalling a friend or family member.  She does go into detail about how, attending my parents’ wedding rehearsal dinner, she took one misstep and broke her hip.

Kate Diary 1959

In her journal, Kate is silent about the worry and shame she must have felt when Emil’s business failed.  He never poisoned anyone, but he turned a lot of folks’ stomachs.  The drug store had a soda fountain, and Emil liked to set the ice cream dishes down for his dogs to lick clean as soon as the customer had finished eating.  He spent as much time as he could outside, first at a little cottage at Winnecone, then in a cottage of his own on Lake Poygan.  His passion was hunting ducks.  Rough-spoken himself, he taught his dogs to have soft mouths, and he would line the garage rafters with duck carcasses until he judged they were gamey enough to eat.  Kate held her head up and stayed lively and fun-loving, playing cards and playing the piano.  I wonder how she felt when Emil became janitor of the First Congregational Church, where she held the position of organist for 41 years.

Kate Program

I learned recently that as far back as the church records go (1919) her position was part of the annual budget. (Perhaps that coat made the first page of the journal because it represented an investment–nearly two years’ salary.)

Kate at her Organ ii

Kate Retirement

She does mention that on May 7, 1952 “Emil was taken with a stroke at the supper table.”  My grandfather told me that he fell into the soup and when she helped him up he swore at her and later at the ambulance attendants all the way to the hospital.  He literally went kicking and screaming.  I remarked that he must have been very frightened, and Grandpa said, “No, he was a stubborn, violent person.”  The next entry, “August 6 – Emil passed away at the hospital,” is followed by notes about removing an old furnace to install a natural gas one in the fall, and taking an unprecedented trip to spend Christmas in Florida.

More than once, I have been told I get my gift of poetry from her.  “She was the artistic one in the family.” She liked to make collages and little verses to use as place cards for family dinners.

Kate Collages

As I read through her diary for the first time, I was shocked and pleased to see my own name on the last page, how my parents brought me through a freak April snow storm all the way from Kalamazoo to visit for Easter.

Kate Diary 1960

Kate was clearly sensitive and private, but I know she suffered.  She tried to bear her suffering with faith.  For the two years after she broke her hip until her death, she was an invalid.

My father was always been both anxious and inclined to depression.  His grandmother was one of the few people he allowed in close.  Later, with advanced Parkinson’s disease, he weathered his black humors helped by the memory of Kate. He’d sigh and repeat her sustaining motto:  “This too shall pass.”

With this great-grandmother, I have primary source material but no memories. Yet I feel close to her. When I walk in our front door, the first thing I see is the needlepoint piano cushion she used and now Julia uses.

Kate-Piano Bench

And in the dining room (our primary school room) we have two diplomas: hers, filled out in 1898 and one inspired by hers, ready to fill out in 2017, when Julia graduates from homeschool.

Kate-Diplomas

Julia_HS_diploma

This great-grandmother is a daily living presence for me, and I think it is, in part, her commitment to combining her art with her life that influences my own life and work.

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Quartet of Queens: The Month of Great-Grandmothers (January 2014): #2 Clara

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CLARA        

My mother’s grandmother, Clara Wilamena Goettsche Pressel, is less vivid to me than Mae (profiled last week) and also infinitely sweeter.  I have no photographs of her as a young woman, and I suspect her beauty was always of spirit rather than face. The picture above shows her with four of her grandchildren (with my mother second from the left).  When I married Tim I wore her aquamarine pendent set in gold (now belonging to my mother) – something old, borrowed, and blue.

I only have two direct memories of her and a few stories.  I remember the dim light in her cavernous apartment in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.  The rooms were large and well ordered, full of dark red, blue, and cream-colored Persian carpets and walnut furniture.  She served milk to youngsters in the kitchen in red Depression glass which made the milk turn a pale pink.  She loved butter, spreading it thick on crisp breadsticks.  Her face was flat, plain, and broad, and her eyes were kind.

Great-grandma Clara's Red Punch Cups   (photo by Carolyn Warden,  2014)

Great-grandma Clara’s Red Punch Cups (photo by Carolyn Warden, 2014)

Her clothes were expensive but old-fashioned – even as a six-year-old, I could see that.  In 1966, when the mini-skirt dominated the fashion horizon, she wore a navy blue dress that covered her fleshy arms and belly discreetly and hung within a foot of her beige orthopedic shoes. I have learned recently that as a hardworking young woman she helped to sew casings for the sausages sold by the family business, and that later she made many of her own clothes. I can’t help but think she took more enjoyment from sewing fine dress goods than from sausage casings, and as I look at photographs I think often of the Grant Wood’s painting, “Daughters of Revolution” (Cincinnati Museum of Art). My cousin from Cincinnati, who knew Great-grandma better than I did, keeps a large framed print of the painting in her house, and gave me some of the tea cups that Clara kept in her apartment.

Print of Grant Wood's "Daughter of Revolution"--original in the Cincinnati Art Museum (Photo by Carolyn Warden)

Print of Grant Wood’s “Daughter of Revolution”–original in the Cincinnati Art Museum (Photo by Carolyn Warden)

Great-grandma Clara's Tea Cups

Great-grandma Clara’s Tea Cups

She had lived in that Detroit suburb for fifty years, with many weekends and summer days spent at the house on Cherry Beach on the shore of Lake Sainte Claire (the shallow stealth sixth Great Lake that connects Lake Erie with Lake Huron. Until the 1950s she spent winters on the water near Stuart, Florida.  Her two sons, Kenneth and Leslie, were partners in her husband’s business.  In the 1930s, they built a kind of compound on the then-rustic shores north of Palm Beach, with three airy houses, three ocean-going boats, three shiny Detroit automobiles.

Pressel Palm Pointe, Stuart, Florida: winter complement to Grosse Pointe, Michigan

Pressel Palm Pointe, Stuart, Florida: winter complement to Grosse Pointe, Michigan

Dock and Boat House, Pressel Palm Pointe

Dock and Boat House, Pressel Palm Pointe

House of Grandpa Les and Grandma Marie, Pressel Palm Pointe

House of Grandpa Les and Grandma Marie, Pressel Palm Pointe

Grandpa Leslie Roy Plays Badminton

Grandpa Leslie Roy Plays Badminton

I have one photo of her daughter-in-law (my grandmother, Marie) strolling along the beach with her sisters, a wide lady of German descent clad in voluminous bathing garb and a cloth turban to protect her permanent waves from the ocean breeze.

Grandma Marie on the Florida Shore, 1940s

Grandma Marie on the Florida Shore, 1940s

A variety of headgear was sported by Pressels in Florida.

MA49

Great-grandma was, by all accounts an active, practical, cheerful person who coped with what life brought–sole charge of a houseful of great-grandchildren stricken with chicken pox, for example. No need to call the parents when all that was needed was oatmeal baths.  Sometimes she could be a little bossy (a by-product, perhaps, of being so capable?) but she didn’t strive to be the center of attention.

MaBillyShirley Florida 1947

Great-grandma Clara (left); Grandma Marie (right).

Great-grandma Clara (left); Grandma Marie (right).

She reflexively did the generous thing: allowing her granddaughters to pick out any doll at Hudson’s toy department at Christmas time, deliberately cooking far more food than necessary for Sunday dinner so it could be packed up and sent home tactfully with young marrieds on a tight budget; driving out of her way home from a special bakery to deliver spritz cookies with dabs of red jelly in the center or birthday cakes with nuts; making her special, vinegar-and-bacon potato salad; pouring out the spicy (then local) Vernor’s ginger ale; enjoying Ritz crackers and ring bologna.

In researching this post, I learned that she drove a pink Cadillac with fins–and had rather a lead foot. For a significant anniversary (50th? 60th?) her husband brought her an enormous bouquet of plastic roses, saying he might not be there for the next one but at least she could enjoy the flowers forever. (She kept them on top of the television.), and that she told the younger people that at eighty it was great to be approaching middle age. She suffered from a heart condition, but, from all I know, there was nothing wrong with her heart.

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The other memory I have of Great-grandma Clara is from a visit to her deathbed in April of 1969.  She wanted to see my mother, Jane Clara, again. I was nine years old.  Our family had flow to Detroit from the cool green coast of Oregon where we lived.  We were met at the airport by Uncle Ken, who was my mother’s uncle and Clara’s oldest son.  He was the head of the family businesses and had taken care of his mother’s affairs for many years.

It was brisk in Detroit.  I wore a pale pink wool coat with white piping and white gloves.  The snow cover was gone but the grass was still dormant.  I felt as obvious as an Easter egg in that brown landscape.  We drove straight to the hospital.  My brother, sister, and I waited in the car with Dad while Uncle Ken took Mom up to see her grandmother.  He returned to the car with an unheard of treat – a chocolate Easter rabbit for each one of us.  Mine lay in its container of cardboard and cellophane like Snow White in her glass casket.  As I removed it, it seemed to wink at me.  I bit off  its head, then discovered the head was hollow.  Chocolate shards dusted my coat.  I kept eating.  Later, I felt sick.

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The next day, against hospital rules as I was only nine years old, I was taken up to see Clara.  She lay on the narrow bed, clearly very tired, but smiling.  She reached out her hand and I took it.  I sensed weakness and turmoil, and I wished somehow to ease her heart, but I didn’t know how.  I was glad Mom was there, because she always knew what to do. What was most vivid to me was Clara’s aura of kindness.

Thirty years later, I learned that Uncle Ken had taken Clara to a lawyer’s office on the way to the hospital.  There he had had her sign a revised will, rechanneling the primary assets away from our branch of the family to his own grandchildren, who had been recently orphaned.  Clara died soon after we returned to our own coast.  Those beautiful Persian rugs were disposed of at a garage sale, perhaps the artificial roses, too.

Grandpa Leslie Roy, Great-grandma Clara, Grand Uncle Ken

Grandpa Leslie Roy, Great-grandma Clara, Grand Uncle Ken

In the years between then and now, Clara’s sweet nature has become a legend. I think of her often. I wish I had a few more memories of her, had had more time with her. I hope she died with a peaceful heart. If there is a heaven, I like to think of her tooling around it in a shiny pink-finned vehicle, the back seat filled with grandchildren, boxes of cookies, and heaps of flowers.

pink cadillac with fins

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Quartet of Queens: The Month of Great-Grandmothers (January 2014) #1 Mae

Family Tree

Since just before Julia was born, I have been more interested in genealogy. I am now convinced of the importance of writing down the memories I have and the stories I hear. (Like Herodotus, father of history, I think it is important to write them down whether they can be verified or not.)

When Julia was a baby, I started gathering information to create a family tree–or, perhaps more accurately, a “tree of progenitors”, since the information doesn’t include brothers, sisters, cousins, additional marriages, and so on. Instead of Julia being situated as a leaf on a family tree, she is the locus around which her direct ancestors are arranged in the symmetrical fashion of a Palladian window, retreating in algorhythmic progression as far as we have information. Just before Julia was born, I asked an artist friend, Marilyn Larson, to write in the names in her beautiful handwriting. As you can see below, she did much more, creating a design that incorporated watercolors of our labyrinth and objects from our home and life (wild roses; the Bear Paw quilt I made for my sister; Ursa Major; and our dog, Luna.)

Family Tree with My Great-Grandmothers

Tim’s family is on the left, mine is on the right. They march back symmetrically through the generations: 2 parents, 4 grand-parents,  8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, and so on. Some lines are much shorter than others: they exist but cannot be known since we have nothing written down. That gives me a chill. Why? I am quite sure that these people were full of fears and desires, laughter, heartache, and achievement. Yet just a few generations later, they are smoke. Poof! Gone. Passion for living spent. Not even a name remaining.

Well, for my great-grandmothers,(Julia’s great-great-grandmothers) we do have the names, even a few memories and stories.  I have remembered and gathered and written down what I could. Over the next four Wednesdays, I am making one post each for four very different women, each of whom is my great-grandmother. The personalities and available information for each also differs significantly. I don’t know why, but I am convinced that it is important to document this family members in all their warty, beautiful humanity, beginning with my father’s mother’s mother.

QUARTET OF QUEENS

So far as we know, we don’t choose our relatives.  We work with the hand we are dealt, because we can’t fold.  Time and distance makes it easier to see the ties that link us to those who lived long ago and share our genes if not our memories or dreams.  I don’t claim to see myself or my parents objectively.  Even my grandparents are a bit too close for that.  But, somehow, the great-grandmothers are distant enough for inspection, yet close enough for a felt connection.

MAE

Mae Young

My father’s grandmother, Mae Kragh Peterson Danielsen, grew up on a farm outside Weyawega, Wisconsin.  She was fiercely ambitious and wanted to live away from the dirt, the stench, the unrelenting work that farm life entailed.  Mae was very beautiful in her youth, with a long, white neck, blonde hair, and eyes as blue and cold as the Baltic sea.

When this full-blooded Dane married early, she left farm life in the dust as soon as she could.  She whipped her gentle alcoholic husband, Chrissy (another Dane), into town, much as she would a slow horse.  Eventually, he would bolt, and they divorced.  My grandmother, Phyllis, cried that one time when I asked her to tell me about her mother.  Mae moved the family to Appleton, Wisconsin during the roaring twenties.

Mae was restless, active, and shrewd. In time, she grew moderately rich on city real estate. Below is a photo of the last house she occupied, on Loraine Court. I remember the house better than I do her, because it was just a few blocks from my high school, and during my last year of high school it was the home of my Grandma Phyllis, Grandpa Charles, and my aunt, Debbie.

Lorraine Court Appleton WI

In her prime, I was told, still married to Chrissy, she enjoyed the company of other men. When found out by her adolescent daughter, Mae bought Phyllis expensive clothes and long, elegant, pointed shoes to ‘keep her mouth shut,’ Grandma told me.

Chris, Phyllis, Mae

Chris, Phyllis, Mae

Mae used her beauty as a weapon,  and she had other weapons, too, everything from a tone of voice to the back of a hand.  People said (after Chrissy) she’d have to find a saint to marry her.  They also said that she’d found him in Jim Danielson.  Gentle Grandpa Jim had come from Denmark as a young man to work as a lumberjack in the Big Woods of northern Wisconsin.  Six decades later, he kept the music of his mother tongue, even as he spoke English with great courtesy.  Because he lived until I was in high school, I have more memories of him. I also have his axe.  It resembles the form I remember him having: long and slender, silver-headed.  Jim and Mae married when she was already a grandmother, but he was the grandfather my own father knew and loved.

Mae, Richard (my dad), and Phyllis

Mae, Richard (my dad), and Phyllis

Of all my great-grandmothers, my memories of Mae are the strongest.  I can’t recall her speaking to me, but I remember her agitation, her wall-to-wall wool carpets the color of liver, her flaky pie crust, her fragile Danish dishes and how particular she was about how they were washed and dried.  I remember family dinners at which she presided:  the food flavorful and all those gathered for dinner slightly afraid of her.  Her face in old age grew pointed and thin, like the face of the mink Grandma Phyllis wore clipped around her shoulders on Sundays.  I have Mae’s blue oval wool tablecloth with the short fringe, the wrong shape for my table.  I also have photos of her that fascinate me.

In the first, she is a small figure, barely distinguished, yet somehow a focal point.  She stands away from the farm that is now dust, outside little Lind Center, Wisconsin. The farm and the town, too, have disappeared from the maps.  There are two men, a team of horses hitched to a wagon, a farmhouse.  Mae stands holding the handle of a baby stroller in which my grandmother, Phyllis, sits.

Farm near Lind Center, WI

Farm near Lind Center, WI

Back of Photo of Lind Center Trim

Another was taken the day of her wedding to her first husband, Chrissy.  He looks stunned, his hair parted as though with a hatchet.  He sits, while she stands behind him.  Long-stemmed carnations are pinned to the lace at the shoulder of her dress, upside down, as though they are hung up to dry.

Mae Chris Wedding

The last photo is close-up of her face.  She is in her 50s, long before I knew her, but about the age I am now.  She has heavy jowls, red lips, the intent focus of a predator about to pounce.  Her smile unnerves me so much I hide her picture even now.

Mae Middle Age

I have heard how Grandma Phyllis would drive to see her, a journey of six hours. In the last hour, near Fond du Lac, about sixty miles from Appleton, Phyllis would begin to chain smoke.  You never knew just when or how Mae would strike.  Mae was famous for her lemon pie, a light golden crust and a sour bite under the sweet.

The story I can’t forget is how, once–finally–when Mae lifted a hairbrush against her four-year-old granddaughter, Debbie, in a sudden spat of anger, Phyllis finally spoke up.  Catching her mother’s wrist in mid-swing, Phyllis said in a low growl, “If you even touch my daughter, I’ll break your arm.”

May Fancy

When I think about this, and when I look at these photographs, I am reminded that determination is a powerful force for either good or ill. I understand the appeal of fine bones, fine looks, fine clothes  and china, but I can see, too, that finer feelings matter more to me. I also see that the stories that live on after us are only part of the truth, and that we influence–but do not control–which ones are told of us, over and over, out of our hearing.

Easter 1960: Mae holding Leslie, Phyllis, Jane, Debbie with Easter Bunny

Easter 1960: Mae holding Leslie, Phyllis, Jane, Debbie with Easter Bunny

Finally, I see how family stories connect us with the past, and how history itself is a tangle of the family stories we all share.

Mae and Jim Christmas Card

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