My great grandmother enjoyed writing, even taking some writing classes for which she generated a number of (mostly partial) stories of her earlier days, as well as some fictional stories. Below are a few I transcribed from her writings, most of which were hand-written on the backside of scrap paper.
I am a very saving person. I was reared that way. My parents had come from England at a time when work was scarce and wages very low. They had little to eat and were very poor.
As I was growing up, I seemed to be always hungry. Even when times were better, and father had a steady job and more pay, money was very scarce, although you could buy more with what you had. For instance, a pound of chopped beef, the real meat, no fat, was only 10 cents a lb. At the bakers you could get a loaf of bread for 5 cents and 6 large cupcakes for 5 cents. Very often, when I went on an errand to the baker’s for bread or coffee cake, the lady would give me a corn muffin for myself, how I loved those corn muffins. A large size pie, any kind, was 10 cents. I think my favorite was coconut custard.
We lived in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn till I was 9 years old. For recreation we would ride on the trolley to Coney Island for 5 cents; that was such a treat. I can remember going to night school with my mother. She was very ambitious and wanted to learn how to read and write properly.
When I was 9 my father was out of work. He walked the streets for 6 months but jobs were very scarce. We had to move to a place with lesser rent, and while there a friend in Elizabeth N.J. got him a job at the factory where he worked.
I was 17 when I first went to Colo. with the Paymaster’s family. My mother’s sister, whom she hadn’t seen for 20 years had come from England for a visit and had gotten a job as governess to the Paymaster’s three boys, age 3, 5, & 7. When after a few months Aunt Annie learned Mr. Preston was to be transferred to the Naval Hospital at New Ft. Lyon, Colo., she decided she did not want to go that far away from Mother. About this time Mother had taken me to the Dr. as I had grown so tall and beyond my strength, they were afraid I would get tuberculosis.
When my aunt talked it over with Mrs. Preston she said, why not take her along to Colo., that’s the finest place for that illness & you would have her for company. A. Annie thought that a great idea but she had a time trying to persuade Mother to let me go with them. “They are only to be gone a year, then we will be back,” she said, “and Ellie will be in good health. I’ll look after her.”
So it was arranged that I go with them. I was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing the country. We were 3 days & nights on the train. We had a whole compartment to ourselves with 6 beds or bunks, and a small room with toilet & wash basin, where we could dress & undress.
We finally arrived at our town of Las Animas, which I was told meant “Lost Souls.” We had to take a Fort conveyance to get to the Fort which was 7 miles away.
The house we were assigned was quite large but not as large as the Commanding Officers, as Mr. Preston was 2nd in rank, the Commanding Officer lived next door (this Commanding Officer employed 2 farmers, and had a nice garden). Aunt Annie & I had a very nice room at the back of the house with our own bathroom, we were very comfortable there.
This was old Fort Bent in the olden days. The Navy Department had taken it over and built a lot of buildings. There were 2 rows of houses, the larger ones in the front row were for the officers. The 2nd row were nice houses but a little smaller for the Petty Officers. They had built a large hospital of several buildings, a store, garage, and several other buildings. One large structure was the theatre with a canteen underneath, and a large stable where horses and a couple of carriages were kept. A. Annie and I would stroll around with our little boys and show them the horses.
The Commanding Officer was not married, must have been in his late 60s. He was expecting a man & wife to come to keep house and cook for him. In the meantime he had a young man, who was a cook on board ship and who had twice had pneumonia so was sent out to the fort hospital to recuperate. Dr. Hibbets sent for him and hired him to cook till his help arrived.
Mrs. Preston was teaching me to wait on the table and I was very pleased to learn how to do it properly. I also made the beds and tidied up the rooms and I loved doing it.
The Fort had a large canteen and someone had to go each A.M. to pick out what was needed for the day. A. Annie was elected to go shopping – Mrs. Preston gave her a list of what was needed and they were delivered later.
It so happened that the young man next door went down at the same time. A. Annie and he would walk there and back together and she would tell me what a nice young man he was. She found he was from the B.W.I. and of course being English he was a bit of alright. She would rave about the bonny Englishman.
One night there was knock at the front door. I happened to be the only one downstairs so I opened the door. What a beautiful sight met my eyes. There stood a young man in his white uniform, the light shining on him, he was dazzling, with his light hair, blue eyes, and pink cheeks. I thought I had never seen a more beautiful man. I must have stared in astonishment. He said, “I’m sorry to bother you but do you have a shears I could borrow?” I said, “Ah, yes,” and ran off to get them. He said, “I’ll bring them back.” To myself I said, “I hope so.” Little did I think at that point that I would have the opportunity of becoming better acquainted with him, for not long after that Mrs. Preston, who had been doing her own cooking, took suddenly ill. Dr. Hibbets’ folks had come, and the young Englishman was out of a job and had gone back to live in his tent. All the sailors who were well enough had to live in tents.
Mr. Preston send for Brand and asked him if he would come and cook for us, and one morning as I went through the kitchen, who was there doing the cooking but the beautiful young man. I said, “How do you do?” and fled on to my work upstairs. So this was the bonnie Englishman that Aunt Annie raved about. Well I better be careful and not get infatuated or she might be jealous.
About a week after, one morning as I was passing through, he was making biscuits. It was very fascinating to watch a man doing that so I did stop to watch. He said, “Do you like it here?” I said, “Oh I love it. I was born and raised in the city and haven’t been in the country much, but I hope to live more in the country later on.” He said, “I have a farm in Arkansas and I could take you there to live.” I was quite taken aback. I said, “Well, I’m not your sister.” He said, “Well I can put a ring on your finger and you could be my wife.” I said, “Oh, no, you can’t, my mother wouldn’t allow it.”
So that was my proposal of marriage and that wasn’t a bit like I had pictured it to be. Of course I thought it was all in fun and I managed to steer clear of him. To think I had only known him a week and he asked me to marry him in and in such a queer way. I didn’t dare tell A. Annie. Maybe she would think I had encouraged him but I hadn’t. I tried to dash through the kitchen before he noticed I was there but one morning, he grabbed me before I reached the door. He held me tight and kissed me. He said, “I love you and want to marry you.” I said, “I don’t know you and I don’t want to marry you, I’m too young.” He said, “Alright, I’ll wait, but not too long.”
Then entered a period of cat & mouse, me trying to evade him and he trying to catch me unawares, but in a couple of weeks Mrs. Preston was back on the cooking and Brand was back in his tent. He wrote me a note which said, “I really am going too fast with you but my intentions are good. I do want to marry you, I love you. I come from a good old English family. I ask nothing of you or your family. I love and want your little self. I will try to make you happy.” He had written my mother also and she was beside herself. She wrote a mean letter to him and also scolded my aunt for not watching over me. I had told A. Annie that I had a proposal of marriage and she was angry too. I did slip out a couple of times and met him in the moonlight, and I came in and wrote the poem that Vee is using.
What does a girl of 17 know of love? I had been crazy about our minister’s son in school and I thought he liked me but we had no evidence of it as I wouldn’t let him know I liked him. In those days the girls were not so bold.
We found out that A. Annie and I were the only single women living on the Fort, so of course we had quite a few young men who tried to get dates or came to call of an evening. We never saw them alone, A. Annie and I kept close together at those times. Beside the navy men there were carpenters and painters. Mr. Gibson a painter and Mr. a carpenter. We had them come in and we would play cards and serve a little refreshments and they would leave. A. Annie was 36 years old and the carpenter came to see her, he was 25. Mr. Gibson was about 38 and he came to see me. We had lots of fun over the disparity in ages, between A. Annie and me and our men.
Brand was a little jealous but he was told to keep away from me. I slipped out once in a while and met him. I had a white card I put in my window to let him know but I didn’t dare do it often. I told him I would give him my answer in March when I was 18 and could say so for myself. He gave me a small diamond ring when I said yes, but he would have to wait as I intended to go home with the Prestons and tell my mother all about him. She begged me not to come back engaged, so I gave him his ring back and we broke up. He had put in for his discharge and said he was going away.
According to my mom, Arthur Brand was so mad about it that he threw the diamond ring in the nearby river. When they reconciled and got engaged again later, he gave her another ring – but not with a diamond.
It seemed inevitable that we get out of Valejo, California, before our money gave out. We had gone there in 1915 to visit the World’s Fair in San Francisco. From Valejo we had to take a ferry to get to Frisco and it was a long drawn out day with our little daughter aged three to drag around, so we took only three days of the sight seeing, then decided to move on.
Hundreds of people, mostly men, were flocking into Valejo. We had managed to get two rooms in a rooming house. Arthur had hoped to get a job at the Naval base near, but many men had the same idea. They were coming in walking with packs on their backs, they were called Marlin Spikers; I have no idea where the name originated.
Arthur decided the best way to see the country was to buy a team and wagon and pull out. Looking around, he found a team of old but strong looking horses. Then he found a wagon, type of the old express wagon, and fitted it up. We had a trunk with us, with all our clothes, that was put underneath the bed. The wagon was quite roomy. He got some lumber and fixed a bed from the front seat down and left standing room at the bottom for us to dress and do our light cooking in case of rain and we couldn’t get out. Under the bed we had storage space for groceries, utensils, cook stove, water, and at the back, bales of hay. When driving, our daughter could crawl in from the seat and take her nap. My husband was great in fixing things to be convenient for our needs.
When the wagon was made livable, we started out early on the morning of April 6. Our first day out was a balmy day and we enjoyed it immensely. The horses plodded along at an easy gate. Seeing the small towns we went through was interesting and at dusk we stopped at Napa for the night.
During the night it started to rain and by morning everything outside was drenched. I had developed a cold so Arthur decided we would stop there and I stayed in bed to recuperate. I never got over a cold so fast, for the next day it seemed to be pretty well gone and the rain had stopped. We started off once more.
The poor old nags could not do more than fifteen miles a day. We carried bales of hay for them and had to stop in the evening where we could get water for them. We would also ask at the farm houses if we could buy milk, eggs, and anything we could eat. The people were all nice and congenial and often wouldn’t take pay for the milk which they had plenty of.
I knew that Easter was not far off so I had gotten and Easter basket and all the stuff to put in it, so Muriel would not miss her visit from the Easter Bunny. Arthur fixed a nail and string whereby he could hang the basket from the roof of the wagon and she could see it as she awakened. And was she delighted to find it when the day came. This kept her interested for many days, for I would put a few Easter eggs and a new bunny in and hang it up each day when she went to sleep.
I had always hoped to attain the status of a Golden Wedding. I even prayed that it would happen to me.
I was young enough when we were married but my husband was ten years older so I wondered. He always seemed much healthier, which made me think I might not live as long as he.
We had a lot of ups & downs during the years. He was a roamer. We often picked up and moved to other places, so we visited and lived in many states.
When my two children were old enough to go to school, I decided we would get a place in the East and settle down so they could get learning and live a proper home life. The East was where I was born and educated, so wanted the same for them.
Muriel was 10 and Reg 5 when we bought a small farm on L. I., built a large home and worked ourselves to death raising chickens and garden produce. The years went by, we were not rich except in God’s goodness in giving us two wonderful, good children, who grew up, went to college, and got married.
My daughter and her husband bought the big house of 9 room when my husband decided to sell. We lived with them for 10 years and 4 grandchildren. Then my husband felt he was too old to stand the racket, so decided to build on some lots we owned on the street in the back of the big house. The new home was built and ready for us to move into for our Golden Wedding anniversary. We had lots of lovely gift to help furnish it when daughter gave us two large parties to celebrate.
It was a beautiful wonderful feeling of such supreme happiness. I seemed to be floating somewhere myself in the clouds, I wish all married couples could experience it.
In the midst of the May-Oct wedding season when three quarters of all weddings take place, I have two suggestions for the newly married or soon-to-be married I’d like to share.
Combine your finances but have your own money also.
When you get married, you’re marrying not only the person but also their financial history, present circumstances, and future. That can be really tricky if one person has significant debt, if your incomes are very different, and if your spending habits are dissimilar. One would hope that the latter is something you worked through before you got married, but that might not be totally the case, and even if so, it’s unlikely that you’ll always be in 100% agreement on things like how much is a reasonable amount to spend on a haircut or a pair of pants, even if you’re pretty much on the same page for large purchases like a home or a car. If your incomes are very different, this can be stressful if you’re trying to think about an equitable distribution of household expenses. This is compounded if anybody’s income is erratic, say, if somebody decides to go back to grad school, or gets laid off, or works on commission or as a consultant. If you plan to have children, which I can recommend because they are great and fun and are sort of a main purpose of marriage, there will be associated expenses to deal with there too.
What Greg and I have done is to consider both our incomes to be “household money.” Both our paychecks are direct-deposited into a single household bank account. It’s from this bank account that we pay the mortgage, the utility bills, the child care expenses, etc., and make investments for our long-term financial stability.
We also maintain individual accounts; every month there’s an automatic transfer of an agreed-upon amount of money from the household account to the individual accounts. It’s like an allowance of discretionary spending money, so that I don’t have to consult with Greg before buying a new outfit or going out to lunch with my friends, or whatever. If I’ve got a Girl Trip coming up, I save up money in my discretionary account to cover it, so that those things don’t come from the household account.
We do the same with credit cards – one is a household card with both our names on it, and then we each have separate credit cards for discretionary spending.
This system has worked out really well for us – it allows us to easily accommodate income fluctuations (such as my 9-month appointment with inconsistent summer salary), make changes to our budget (such as refinancing our mortgage) without making changes to an agreement about who is paying what, and generally think of our financial decisions as a single unit rather than two pieces joined.
Combine your email but have your own email also.
This is something we only recently realized – because long long ago when we got married, it was not necessary to have an email account associated with every action from paying bills to having Netflix to sending your kids to school. But now it pretty much is. Some things have non-email logins, but there’s always an email address behind it, which you would use in a “forgot my password” situation.
What we have done is set up a joint/family email account, in addition to our individual accounts. We use gmail, which has a feature where we can set up automatic forwarding of every incoming email to both of our individual accounts. That way we don’t both have to keep tabs on the joint account’s inbox, but we are both informed of new mail, AND, there’s a consistent archive of important mail in one place. This has become especially useful now that both kids’ schools/day care are sending information home by email more often than paper.
We also are starting to use a particular password convention on all our household type accounts, so that we both can log in to things without having to have a list of passwords written down somewhere.
I greatly hope nothing unexpected happens to either of us, but one advantage of this systems is that if something like that were to happen, the other would be able to access important accounts and information. You know, like Netflix.
I have been doing some light genealogical research using the online newspaper archives of Long Island, where both my mom’s and dad’s families lived. The newspapers have been a real treasure trove of information – obituaries, news stories about births and deaths and etc.
But it really struck me, searching through the hits for the names I was looking for, how often these people hosted friends or were hosted, for weekend visits, dinners, card parties, cocktails, etc. I mean, on the one hand it struck me as funny that these were reported in the newspaper at all. “Mrs. and Mrs. So & So took their new car to Hoboken for the weekend to visit their daughter.” But, more than that – so much visiting and socializing! It seems like they spent more time building relationships and actual social networks than people today tend to. I think that’s such a loss.
And when I have traveled to the Republic of Georgia, it’s been routine to be entertained in somebody’s home, and if not in their home, in some other casual way and place. And it’s so great. They are among my favorite memories of those trips.
I would, accordingly, love to do more entertaining – it fits in really well with what I think my values are.
But every time I think seriously about having people over, I get completely stuck. Do I have to feed people a meal? We don’t really cook or enjoy food preparation so that’s always somewhat of a dealbreaker. If I ask for people to let me know if they are coming, probably I won’t get any responses (reference, reference, reference). This is a major reason we stopped having an annual party we used to do. Every year, fewer people would bother to let us know if they planned to join or not, which made our already-stressful food-planning even more stressful. Eventually it was not worth the stress. Plus, of course, now that many of our friends have kids who keep certain hours that are sort of at odds with the socializing hours of other friends who do not have small children, it’s hard to imagine a time of day or day of week that even makes any sense to invite people over. Especially if we don’t want to have to feed people, and an uncertain number of people at that.
So I get stuck about the food and the timing issues. And I also get stuck on these:
* We don’t have a “play basement” or play room – there is nowhere at our house to send all the small people to, so that the different age groups can enjoy the company of their peers without clashing with the other group.
* Our house: is it clean enough? It never is. And, being an old house, in certain weather, it smells like old. Will people judge me by my house smell?
* So, we could just suggest a meetup somewhere else, but then, the food? the children? The heat or rain or cold or whatever?
And after all those sticking points, I always, always conclude I can’t figure it out, and we do no entertaining.
Me: Hey, I made arrangements for us to go see one of the presidential hopefuls next weekend. Lilah, what issues are you going to be listening for him to talk about? What are your concerns this election cycle?
Lilah: Um, things about education. Because that affects me directly.
Me: Like what?
Lilah: … Playground safety. [She gives a lengthy discourse on why this is important.]
Me: Okay, good thought. Dad, what about you, what issues are you concerned about?
Greg: Expenditures on entitlement programs.
Lilah: What are entitlement programs?
Me: Programs where the government gives you money or benefits if you meet certain criteria. Like, one of them is a program where the government gives money to retired people.
Lilah: How much money!
Me: It depends on how old they are when they retire, and how much money they earned when they were working. Because, everybody with a job has to pay some of their earnings into this program, and then the government gives it to retired people, since they don’t have jobs anymore.
Me: Any ideas on why dad might be concerned about this?
Lilah: Well, if, like, there are more old people than young people, I think the government might run out of money.
Greg: Where did you hear about that?
Lilah: Nowhere, I just thought of it. It’s kind of … obvious. It’s just a math problem.
Our second trip of the 2015 camping season was to Dolliver Memorial State Park, a short drive from home and yet we’d never been there before (perhaps because Ledges State Park, where we inaugurated the camping season a couple of weeks ago, is an even shorter drive from home and so is an obvious choice when one wants to get one’s State Park on). But what a great park Dolliver is! Something for everyone.
The campground is a little tight, but nobody was rowdy or irritating so that was no problem. The girls didn’t love that the climber at this park is not right in the middle of the campground, which they loved at Ledges and last summer when we camped at Saylorville Lake because we just let them run over to the climber “unsupervised” since it was just across the lawn. But it was easy enough to take a few climber breaks during the trip so that they didn’t miss that too much.
Saturday morning there was a kids activity with the county naturalist, who brought paper, stamp pads, and rubber molds of different animal tracks. An excellent start to the day, because thanks to the rainy weather that preceded our camping trip, the trails sported many tracks for us to watch for. She also encouraged us to check out the enormous glacial erratic at the group-camping site at the south end of the park, which we may not have gone to otherwise.
Glacial erratic. Also pirate ship, deserted island, and king-sized bed.
After the stamping activity we went for our first hike, looking for a Native American petroglyph of a bison. We maybe came in from the wrong side, because we hiked some really hilly and rocky terrain without finding it, then opted not to take a trail that looked like it dropped off precipitously. But in the meantime the kids were excited to discover all kinds of interesting fungi.
Walking back towards the campsite along the road, we flagged down a passing DNR truck and they pointed us towards the very easy way to the bison carving, on the flat terminus of the trail we hadn’t taken. Bonus, a cute little waterfall.
Later that afternoon we did a different hike that took us past three Native American ceremonial mounds, though I guess two of them require a trained eye to recognize. The third one was pretty obvious, though. Another treat right by the path was that we saw two baby deer, which Lilah and Celia thought was amazing and a total highlight of the whole trip. We saw another baby the next day (plus another with its mama in a cornfield outside the park when we drove into town to have lunch).
Sunday there was time for one more hike, which was marked with interpretive signs about the geology and flora of the park – we learned about “copperas beds” and “goat prairies” which were new concepts for all of us. Plus, more fungus, the fourth baby deer, and a lot of jack-in-the-pulpits just past their prime but still fun to hunt for. And pretty flowers.
Last night my bedtime routine with Lilah started a couple minutes late because I’d answered the phone and agreed to a short survey about my thoughts on the 2016 presidential election. Afterwards:
Me: Sorry. That was somebody calling to get my opinions about the 2016 presidential election.
Lilah: But it just turned 2015!
Me: Yeah, people like to plan early if they are thinking about running for president.
Lilah: I should run for president.
Me: But maybe not in 2016.
Lilah: I could run for president of the book club.
Me: Hey, that’s a good idea. Is there a book club?
Lilah: Yes – me and Annie.
Me: Oh, okay. So, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing book clubs today?
Lilah: Um, what does pressing mean?
Me: It’s like, what’s putting the most pressure on the book club – the most important or urgent thing that needs to be taken care of.
Lilah: Okay. It’s this: not enough people are joining book clubs.
Me: And to what do you attribute this lack of membership?
Lilah: I think it’s all the electronic devices we have today. Boys especially, they like the electronic devices a lot more than reading books.
Me: So what are your plans for addressing this issue?
Lilah: We should find books that look like games and have things that boys like. Like, books about robots or space or cars.
Me: I would vote for you.
Speaking of electronic devices, in Lilah’s class last week they earned a class reward, and voted to give themselves a day where they could bring their devices to school and play with them during free time. This was mildly stressful in our household because we are pretty limited on portable electronic devices. I ended up letting Lilah take my Kindle Fire, on which I have a locked down kids portal that manages what apps they can access and makes sure they don’t buy anything. It’s occasionally a little glitchy, though, so I didn’t feel great about giving it to her; I worried if it glitched she would have a meltdown. Also I just didn’t like the pressure this Electronic Device Day was putting on me. Not everybody has electronic devices that can be sent to school with their seven year old! (To be fair to the teacher, the announcement email also said there’d be computer time for students who didn’t bring a device of their own. But Lilah felt very strongly she didn’t want to be the fabled Only One Who didn’t bring in an electronic device.)
At the end of the day when I picked her up from aftercare I asked her how it went, and she said she’d played with it for a while and then the home screen blanked. But it was okay because one of the other kids let her use their device. “I made this with it,” she said, and handed me a little booklet of stapled together pages with a bunch of typed text. “Chantal brought a typewriter.” (Lilah later complained to me that she and Chantal are the only people in the class, perhaps the only people in THE WORLD without their own device like an iPad mini or a Nintendo DS, or at least an old iPhone).
Typewriter! I love it. Bless you, Chantal’s Mom. I will fist bump you about this the next time I see you.
In our house, we have a little girl who loves to know how things work – she likes to take things apart, push buttons, twist knobs, and understand what does what. Right now, for instance, she is obsessed with internal combustion engines. We may have checked out every age-appropriate book on engines at our local library … which is a smallish number of books considering she is 3 years old.
I don’t know that she will be interested in engineering as a career, but she might, and of course I would be happy to encourage such a thing. So in addition to her technical reading material, we have also found over time, some good story books with little girl engineering-types at our local library:
First, who can say no to a children’s book with engineering paper on the cover? I would like to find this red/pink combination for my own stash. This story is a nice lesson about sticking with it – not every invention is amazing, and not every amazing invention is a success on its first iteration. I really appreciate the wise aunt who points out to young Rosie that whether or not you are successful depends strongly on the metrics you use – so think about how you want to define success before you decide if you’re a failure. A good lesson in engineering and in life.
I love that Violet builds and flies her own planes, and that she sacrifices her dream of winning a flying competition when she stops to save a troop of scouts from drowning. Also, the illustrations are charming. BUT. It irked me a great deal that the book begins by pointing out that Violet is weird for not liking dolls, and that she has no friends. Pointless and discouraging stereotyping: unwelcome! Parents, your girls (or boys!) can enjoy developing their engineering skills without risking complete social ostracism, and they can like or not like dolls and they are not weird either way.
There’s something weird about this book, maybe that the protagonist seems kind of grouchy. I don’t know. I didn’t love it, personally. But I can recognize a good message of resilience: don’t give up when a project doesn’t turn out exactly as you expected.
This is a sweet story about a girl who loves her bicycle, but outgrows it. She scavenges parts to build her next bicycle, and then gives her old bike to a younger child. I love the spirit of DIY plus giving to others. Everybody wins!
Not a storybook really, and the astronauts in this cute book have a semi-realistic gender breakdown because there are more boys than girls, but still – a cute girl in a ponytail shows how you can be an astronaut and scientist at the same time. And who wouldn’t want to do that??