Friday, February 26, 2010

Sepia Saturday 13 for February 27, 2010

Frank ( Francis) Ostrowski 1855 appx--1915 
Frank Ostrowski is my maternal great grandfather who was a coal  and sometimes iron ore miner in Poland and in the United States. I grew up knowing the family was full Polish on all sides, but some ancestral research indicates German, Prussia, etc. My study of the history of Poland reveals how often it was invaded conquered and became part of another country. My grandmother and her sisters spoke Polish as did my mother and aunt; it was especially annoying as a child because I could not understand what they were saying. I know that was the reason they spoke it around me! I discovered Frank in 1977 when my great aunt Fran gave me the photo of the Ostrowski (aka Ostroskie) gathering which I posted last week on Sepia Saturday. I spent most of my childhood growing up with my grandmother, Rose, Frank’s daughter from his second wife. How I wish I had known about him back then and could have asked my Baba (Polish) about her father. She talked very little about her family but said that her father died of stomach cancer and that there were several others in the family who had it too. She feared that and sadly she died of pancreatic cancer; perhaps that was Frank’s diagnosis too.

After Aunt Fran gave me the gathering photo she found this snapshot of Frank in his miner’s hat which I had copied and enlarged into a 5 x 7 Sepia print. It has always been prominently displayed in our home and is a good conversation piece. My grandmother’s hand writing is on the back so at one time she had the photo but there is no date. I adore the old coal miner hat. Those were the most dangerous days of the mines and many Europeans flocked to the states to do the dangerous dirty work. My mother and aunts were of no help in verifying dates, saying that they never knew any grandparents but lots of aunts and uncles. Notice the clean shirt and the pick axe over his shoulder, arm crossed and holding hands with someone.  Someone really had to work at keeping that shirt clean and without today's automatic  washers and dryers. 

Frank married three times and outlived two wives. By his photo he does not appear to be that handsome, but I suppose a coal miner in America was a good catch for the times. If the historical fiction “A Coal Miner’s Bride “by Susan Campbell Bartoletti has any truth, the old miners wanted a woman to care for them. Frank fathered many children so that would also account for his need to remarry when one wife passed on. I notice he has one eyelid that droops and my grandmother had the same affliction.

I have two different years for his birth 1855 and 1857 and have been unable to confirm which is correct. However, the date of November 11 is certain. This would make him and me fellow Scorpios. Perhaps on our next trip to PA I can visit the Union cemetery in Arnold where he is buried and that may clarify date of his death. I should hope it will not add yet another date.

Frank was born in Prussia or Germany to Franz Ostrowski and Catherine Biegonski. I surmise that his parents likely immigrated to America with the children, but there are no records of when and where they arrived. His sisters were Kate, Mary and Pauline who is recorded to have been born in Cleveland, and a brother Maryn John who died in 1869 in Poland and may not have migrated with the family.

Information shows his father was buried in Detroit, MI in 1893. His mother is buried in Cleveland, OH and died in 1910. That date makes me wonder if the mystery Ostrowski photo taken in Ohio which I dated at about 1910 could have been for Frank’s mother’s funeral; perhaps confirming some of what my mother alluded to of a funeral in Ohio. The research is flawed but I am nevertheless grateful to my 2nd cousin who attempted to piece all this together with infrequent trips to PA. Maxine lives in Utah today is in poor health and as a member of the LDS church had access to many records. Still, I know there are some errors in the lineage and names and am skeptical of some of the information; dates show as appx. Maxine spent some time interviewing my grandmother in the 1960’s. But I know that my grandmother could be evasive; many of the Polish relatives had this same trait. Whether they were untruthful to avoid attention I cannot determine. I know that they feared and respected government authority and as immigrants escaping tyrants or worse in Poland, they kept quiet about many things. Someone usually knew someone back in “the old country” though and kept in touch, frequently sending some  cash along to help out.

Frank married his first wife Frances appx. 1877. Her last name is incorrectly recorded as my grandfather’s last name on the documents and I know that is wrong. She was born in Poland and died appx 1888 in PA. They had three children Joseph (born 1878 with a twin John who did not survive the birth), John (the second son to be so named born appx. 1882), and Benjamin Frank who was distinctly given the middle name (born 1883 appx.) Years ago when we lived in CA a previously unknown to me cousin, Sharon, granddaughter of Benjamin contacted me. When I asked my mother and aunt about this, they shrugged their shoulders. While they knew nothing about a grandfather they recalled their aunts and uncles and made no distinction of their being half brothers and sisters.

Frank’s second wife and my grandmother’s mother was Frances Swartz (aka Schwartz) whom he married about 1889. Frances came from Poland, was born in 1869, died in 1902 in PA. Sometime during this marriage they dropped the “w” from Ostrowski. They had five children although I recall my grandmother mentioning that some of her brothers died when very young; there is no record of others. These were Walter  (born 1889 in Detroit, MI who went by Bill and changed the family name to Austin), Mary (born 1891 in Salamanca New York), Veronica Bernice (born 1892 in PA), and Rose (my grandmother born 1894) and Adam Maryan who died at birth in 1895 or shortly thereafter. My grandmother said he was her mother’s last child and did not live. I spent so much time with my grandparents I never called any of her sisters or brothers Great, they were aunt and uncle to me just like to my mother. Growing up I called them the Polish word for aunt, “czotczhe” (sp?). We spent many Sunday's across the river at Aunt Mary's.  My grandmother was close to her sisters.  Observing the different places the Ostrowski's moved before settling in PA, it appears Frank was following the mines. It was the heyday of coal mining in PA and that  must have offered him steady employment.

Frank married his third wife, Helen Sajowksi (aka Sekoski) in 1905. Their only child was Frances born in 1906. She was always known as the baby sister without distinction as to half sister. Helen is seated next to Frank in the Ostrowski Ohio gathering photo along with many of his children from his other wives. Helen would survive Frank who died April 19, 1915 making him either 60 or 62 depending on which birth year is correct.   Whether Frank fathered more than nine children is unknown but each wife seemed to give birth annually. How they traveled around from Michigan, to Ohio, to New York and to Pennsylvania is a mystery; I suspect it was by rail car. They certainly did not have vehicles to drive. His descendants are all over the eastern United States, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and on to Michigan and Ohio into Newfoundland, Canada and some in California. All my years in CA I never knew of any Ostroski relatives there. When I see the Ostrowski (Ostroski) name today I wonder if that is a shirttail relation. Writing this piece I googled and found many; one example is Frank, a "falseley accused murderer in Canada" released on bail to his daughter. 

Finally here is the third photo of Frank with his son, John. I found this in a drawer after my mother died in 2004. The back has the names and says coalfield, but no date. My grandmother told that she learned to cook as a very young girl because her father was skinny but could eat like a horse and said that her daughter, my aunt, Virginia took after him. Not all Frank’s progeny were as lean as this photo where Frank is poking John’s belly! John who was born in 1882 must be at least  20 years old here which would date this to 1902. Imagine what was being said here, but there he is my great grandfather, Frank Ostrowski.

Click  on the title Sepia Saturday to go the Sepia website and visit other posts from shared stories.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blog frustration today and writing

I am frustrated that my profile photo does not show when I comment on other blogs; I looked at the suggestions on Help and have done all those; the profile photo still only appears as a small white box with my comments. I am more fidgety about this now that I have several others writers to follow on Magpie and Sepia,  I do not want to appear rude by not sharing my face to them!  Ahh, maybe they don't think about this but I do!   Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.   Cyber challenge again. 

Last night I went to our library for the second  presentation by a local author in the Hot Reads for Cold Winter Nights series.  I was not familiar with Diane Wilson, the MN author of "Spirit Car"who was to speak.  It is a memoir and "carefully researched fiction"  about the Dakota people, the Indian uprisings in the midwest, the tragedies and an untaught shameful  episode of local MN history. La Vonne, our librarian knocks herself out hosting these events.  When I arrived there outside the library stood Diane because the door was locked.  Oh much to LaVonne's consternation who was unaware that the departing help had locked the door.  Lavonne and her assistant were merrily occupied inside setting up chairs and arranging the coffee, cider and cupcakes.  I no sooner  spoke, "It can't be locked" than Lavonne scurried to the front in an apologetic frenzy.  She was embarrassed that her guest speaker was standing at the door puzzling, "is this the right night?"  But inside we made light of it.

I almost  did not go last night because I wanted to watch more Olympics and  my weekly "24" episode of Jack Bauer.  But, when I considered that I could learn something interesting and meet someone new to me, I overcame the urge to burrow in.  I am glad I did.

First, I was the only one who came!  A sad sad comment on people in La Crescent. It was not an icy cold  snowy night so the weather was no excuse.  I had talked with Jean at Curves that morning and she intended to go but  she did not show up.  To go to all this effort, great publicity and the  talk of the town and nothing.  Well La Crescent I was there!  LaVonne maintained her pleasant demeanor but commented, "where's my board, where are the members of Friends of the Library?"  I guess I represented the Friends association as well as the town last night.  We all got acquainted and discussed the thriving AM senior group that meets at the library to discuss  whatever topic of the day interests them.  Lavonne shared that they are reliable and bound to show up regardless of weather or any obstacles.  They are more committed to sharing their time with each other in a pleasant setting. 

Somehow my dabbling at writing came up; all right once LaVonne spilled the beans I admitted to my interest, dabbling and blogging. I am such a dabbler.  This stirred Diane's attention who suggested "then let's sit and talk about writing tonight!"  While I had gone to hear her, it became a private intriguing conversation amoung the four of us. The young woman intern, whose name I cannot recall, discussed a novel writing  month where aspiring writers produce a novel in  30 days. Little results from the effort as nothing is published; it sounds like college students amusement.  LaVonne shared that her  dream job would have been to become a famous reporter.  We laughed  about the rarity of fame and success in that field.  We all talked about our fascination with reading, words, and writing.  I told them about Magpie tales and my creative efforts.  I also said how many other writing blogs and affiliations I have discovered thanks to the followers now looking at my blog.  Neither Diane nor LaVonne were very familiar with the  blog outlets.

Diane  pronounced me a writer, with a compelling life story that would make great memoir.  She concluded that at this point with the blogging I am to consider myself a columnist. I still shake my head as I write this because I merely consider myself a dabbler.  She urged me to join a writer's group something which I've hesitated to do.  She said it was how she became able to put her book together, which was a 9 year long journey!  Associating with writers is different than just getting reader feedback, the questions and urging are priceless.  She discussed her writing mentor. She gave me excellent advice about writing my life story as a WWII orphan and finding the information stashed in my mother's closet in 2004 when I was almost 60 years old!   I told her about AWON and  the front page newspaper interview in 2008, current contacts with cousins in my father's family and reconstruction of my father's history.  All three were all ears. 

 I learned a lot from Diane, who slipped me her private email s we walked out the door.  "Stay linked" was her goodbye. I had shared that I will need to gather my stuff which is here and there. I recalled my series of talks, sermons as a lay speaker in CA at the UMC's.   She shared that is exactly how her memoir became a reality.  She had a story from her mother and no more. She did a lot of historical research.  She urged me to write this as a gift to other generations.  LaVonne agreed and mentioned that WWII is a fascinating subject now.  I told her about my visits to the places my father had  photo'd in 1942,  in Madison, locally Ft. McCoy and in Indiana but that I had not yet journeyed to Charleston.   I discussed my contacts with George Miller the historian in SC who intends to write a book about the old Charleston AAB, the additional material he has shared with me.  I was surprised how eager she was to hear more; to me it's become a routine story, but that Diane advised is the trick of my own mind. 

So today as I fidget with this blog I am committing this to writing that I need to gather my stuff and continue.  Most of all seeking a local writer's group which will not be easy.  I do not want a group that gives assignments, but affiliation and feedback and inquiry. The questioning and advice on more of this and what about this, etc. would be so valuable.   Last night was another door opening.   

Monday, February 22, 2010

Magpie Tales 2 for Feb 23 Matchbox (click here to link)

Angelina poured the golden sherry into her grandmother’s crystal snifter. Although she’d inherited the crystal when her mother passed on, Angelina still thought of it as still her grandmothers. When does a possession become our own she mused? How can it ever be just ours when it is accompanied by ancestral lineage and grand memories of its use by family long gone? Aaahh and what happens when that lineage reaches the end of the line? Hmm, I suppose then it truly becomes a possession of someone else. Grandfather always said, “Enjoy it now, there are no pockets in a shroud.” Will they call it the “old crystal acquired at an auction?” Will they wonder about its history? She smiled savoring the golden liquid, swirling it first clockwise and then counter clockwise, pondering her reverie.



Angelina, at 87 years of age, celebrated her blessings each evening in a ritual of sherry and candlelight. Who knew how much longer it would be until she would join “her People” who had made their transition to the other side. She was blessed with good health and enough money to live comfortably. Daily she walked four blocks to mass, slower this past year but still without need for any cane or appliance. When and if that day came, she was ready; she had her grandfather’s cane in the umbrella stand. Daily mass was another Angelina ritual that ensured that people would know she was alive; if Father did not see her in her pew, he would be curious and someone from the church would check on her.


If Angelina was anything, it was ready, prepared. She’d drawn her will and made all burial arrangements years ago. She’d spent a lifetime living well, enjoying and traveling. Her home was filled with memories but she never mourned the past. She’d buried her parents, sisters, three husbands, two daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins. She’d outlived all her long time friends. However on this back side of her life, she could still smile and not slip into maudlin regret. She enjoyed her evening sherry toasting the end of another day. Angelina sipped the sherry thinking “Well done Old Soul” and hummed ...” Life is a Cabaret old friend, come to the Cabaret!”


That song reminded Angelina of her Grandfather whose spirit had been so strongly with her today; she’d said a special prayer for his soul at mass. He’d migrated from Austria, arrived at Ellis Island penniless and made his fortune hauling iron ore on the Great lakes. He was the son of a single mother before that was socially acceptable; he’d laughed about the scandalous “illegitimus” notation on his baptismal certificate. When Angelina cried as a child over her father’s death, Grandfather consoled her with stories about how he’d gone ahead and that now she had a special angel watching. Grandfather always said her father would wave at her when the time was right for her to join him. He’d tell her he had no father on earth either but reminded her that God was everyone’s father. She matured nurtured by his wisdom that life is for the living and can be good, life can be outstanding, your choice, what makes you stronger is going on. She had learned from her Grandfather that while one cannot always control what happens in life one very well can control one’s reactions to happenings. She’d never forgotten that. Her strength in living had always kept her going on.


The box of matches she retrieved to light the evening candle reminded her of her trips to Europe. She’d never found any more information about her grandfather’s family; the old church was bombed in World War II destroying all records. No surviving long lost relatives were found. But she had visited her grandmother’s home village in Germany. These matches from her last grand European trek were 15 years old, but they still lit. They symbolized an unhealthy habit. Angelina had never smoked; she’d tried it but could not abide the dirt and the odor, found it repulsive, a useless indulgence. She recalled a time when smokers were not ostracized and matches were complimentary! That was back when tobacco was advertised with glamour and sex and virility like the Marlborough Man. How sinister. Pathetic addicts in its control ended with wrinkles around their mouths like a cats’ ass, bad breath, coughs and even worse cancers. But the Europeans, oh they were smokers. She wondered if they still gave complimentary matches today over there. She’d ask Georgina about that the next time they talked.


She lit the candle and sipped her sherry, ummm smooth satisfying. Relaxing in her chair, ready to read for the evening, Angelina closed her eyes for a second and caught a vision, of her father waving at her, beside him her grandfather waving too and there alongside all her People! Across the river of golden flowing waters that looked like sherry, they were all waving, singing “come to the Cabaret Angelina, come to the Cabaret.” She waded across the shallows and up the bank.


The next day at mass Father Mizuski noticed Angelina was not in her pew. After mass he called her home but no one answered the phone. So the priest came to her house and rang the door bell but no one answered. Opening the door with the key Angelina had given the church, the quiet greeted him. . Inside he found Angelina’s body slouched in her chair, open book in her lap, peacefully smiling, box of matches and an empty sherry glass on the table next to her and the candle still burning. Angelina had gone on to join her People.

If you click on the title you should be able to see  the link to other writers in the Magpie blog; this is week 2 for our attempts to build a tale on what Willow posts...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another read

I have not read a book like "Rules of Deception" by Christopher Reich for a long time; it is thriller, espionage, terrorism, murder or not, intrigues and so many characters that I considered diagramming who was who and when to follow the story. It is difficult to select one genre for this book. Set in Switzerland it features Jonathan Ransom, an American, chief surgeon turned administrator for Doctors without Borders. His wife Emma dies in a ski accident in the Alps, and a day later with the mail Jonathan begins to follow a trail that will lead him to question Emma's activities. He discovers she was not the wife he thought she was; how do we really know another person? It is wonderfully descriptive of the geography and the Alps. The story has so many twists and characters that I had to pay attention and concentrate when I read. Still throughout the 548 pages this paperback kept my interest. Just about the time I thought I could predict what would happen I was wrong and the tale took another curve. Every and any sinister plot and twist is covered, the CIA, the Pentagon, Swiss neutrality, Israel, Arabs, Iran, Iraq, terrorism, and more. I have never read any of Reich's books but would do so and recommend this to anyone who loves intrigue.

Outstanding  descriptive good writing throughout the book. I became so intrigued that I only noted two passages as quotes.  I did not have time to stop and hilite...I really did not want to stop reading at night and would sit long past my bedtime hoping to solve the dilemma of the chapters that engaged me at the time.

Page 35..."Memories fluttered behind his eyes like a trapped bird beating against a window... "

Page 119 ”Dusk had turned the sky into a pallette of warring grays doing battle low over the city's rooftops."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sepia Saturday February 20

Ostrowski (aka Ostroski) my maternal grandmother’s family appx. 1910 Mystery gathering




Preparing this for Sepia Saturday reminded me how difficult my genealogical research has been. I must get some of this organized to share with whoever from the next generation might be interested. I have been asked to send what I have to the Mroz adult children of my cousin Roland who died in Madison in October. My Polish history becomes complicated due to the various spellings of the names. This happened all too commonly with the immigrants. It was Ostrowski, also spelled as Ostroski, Ostroskie, depending on who singed and wrote their name. In addition many changed their names to a more accepted Americanized version as my uncle did by changing Kochanowski to Konesky; some even changed their first names to something very different, for example, Walter became known as Bill. I suppose part of this was by reason of wanting to be accepted, to fit in.  Yet life was extrememly segregated by ethnic heritage.  Another curious name game in my family is the repetitive use of the same name within families. This happened with Helen, Frank and Francis, Frances, and John. It must have been comical at a family event when they called for John and three boys responded!


In about 1977, before she died, my Great Aunt Frances, my (maternal) grandmother’s baby sister gave me this photo. She is seated on the ground, in this photo, between the two boys, second person from the left with a big bow or flower in her hair. I knew that she was the youngest of my grandma’s family of sisters and brothers. But until she began to talk about the photo, I did not know that her father, my great grandfather, Frank Ostrowski had three wives two of whom he outlived. She knew nothing about where it was taken or why. But this photo is the only such of a gathering of the Ostrowski clan to my knowledge.



Great Aunt Frances was born in 1906, which makes me guess that her age is about four in the photo which then dates this to about 1910. She married a Mroz. I tried for years to identify all the relatives. Neither my mother nor my aunts were able to identify all the people or why the photo was taken. I know which ones are my grandmother and her sisters and brothers, all standing in the back, young folks, some forcing a straight face. My grandmother’s sister, Mary has such a twinkle in her eye that it appears hard for her to look grim. I always remember this about Great Aunt Mary; she was a happy soul, full of laughter. Actually most of my grandmother’s relatives were jovial people, who enjoyed what little they had and certainly reveled in each other’s company.



My mother speculated this photo was taken in Ohio at a funeral that was a family scandal, something no one talked about. I don’t know how she knew that if she knew little else. It was the end of the conversation in her kitchen in PA during one of my visits home, as she walked away leaving me to my thoughts and to accept her explanation. My mother died of Alzheimer’s in 2004 and I believe that she had early symptoms which we did not recognize. So who knows if her comment was from dementia or truth? I accepted that as closed conversation. That was a prevalent way to deal with questions in my family, no one talked about anything. If they didn’t speak it or repeat it, it didn’t happen. I don’t know if all immigrant families had this same way of dealing with life, but my Polish family kept things to themselves. There is a Polish proverb about not speaking of misfortune so that the devil does not gain an open door to enter and bring in more trouble. I suspect the immigrants were cautious of discussions and suspicious as most of them had fled Poland to escape oppression. I am different and want to know and tell our stories. Too bad that as a child I didn’t pay more attention. I wonder what might have been the scandal worthy of stoic silence in this mystery photo. By the time I received this photo, my grandmother and all her sisters and brothers were long gone so there is no one to ask.



Great Grandfather Frank Ostrowski is seated in the middle row, third from the left. His third wife who is Great Aunt Fran’s mother, Helen Sekoski (aka Sajikowski) is 2nd from the left next to him. Frank (aka Franz) Francis Ostrowski is a story unto himself what I have learned about him in research. He immigrated from Poland and made his living as a coal miner in PA.



Here are the folks I know for sure:

Seated on the ground on what appears to be carpet, the front row: 2nd from left between 2 unidentified boys, Great Aunt Fran Ostrowski Mroz; after the 2nd boy, in a plaid dress with her hair parted in the middle is Annie Ostrowski Kaluzney and Gorleski, my grandmother’s cousin, unknown child next to her. Notice that none of these kids look very happy!



Second row from the left: Unknown woman, next to her, 2nd woman is Helen Sekoski, then Great Grandfather Frank, unknown couple, the people in the rest of the row are unidentified but I suspect Annie’s mother may be seated right behind her.



Third (Back) row from the left: (most are my grandmother Rose’s sisters, brothers, full or half siblings; progeny of Franks first two wives)  I have included the married names of the women.



Joseph John Ostrowski (surviving Twin whose brother died shortly after birth), unknown woman, we speculate that might be Katherine Buhl whom Joseph married; she resembles the woman at the end left in the second row, John Martin Ostrowski; Bill (nee Walter F) Ostrowski who changed his last name to Austin, unknown man, Mary Ostrowski Janosky, unknown man with his arm through my grandmother’s arm, My grandmother Rose Ostrowski Kochanowski, unknown man, Veronica (aka Vernie) Ostrowski Roginski, Ben (nee Bernard John) Ostrowski, Ben’s wife-Anna Boguzinska Ostrowski and their first born Walter (Louie).



There you have it the Mystery gathering. In 2002, my research led a previously unknown cousin to me. That was interesting as we pieced together different pieces of the puzzle of the Ostrowski clan. Today I have not heard from Sharon in months as she has not returned emails or answered her phone when we are in PA. Not sure what is going on with her. I have genealogy which traces Frank Ostrowski’s line to Poland in the 1300’s supplied by another 2nd cousin, Maxine, in Utah. Complicated strings of Polish links.

& here is link to the Sepia Sat site, I hope, if you would like to see others tales and  photos
http://sepiasaturday.blogspot.com/2010/02/sepia-saturday-week-12.html   


Monday, February 15, 2010

This is for Tuesday February 16, Magpie Tales

Without further ado, I give you my 2-16 Magpie Tale.....let me know, I know you will how this hit you or not....maybe next week it will be briefer, the  photo from Willow and the challenge got the best of me.... the challenge was to simply write something about the photo....and how the object came to your possession...

So there it sets one last trinket to pack, the old Pewter mug. Oh who knows what it really is, mug, ice bucket, jar, tankard. Besides that who knows if it’s even pewter. She’d never done the research she’d meant to do about it, but what did it matter now? Maybe later she would get to that after all; now she had nothing but time. The past year had been all consuming.



Diane picked up the old pewter mug, rubbing its sides, as she sighed and smiled. Lord knows she’s had little to smile about over the past year…Walt’s diagnosis, chemo, surgeries, radiation, hospice, the bitter ending, the funeral, but she smiled. This mug was the sole possession she had from her Granpa. Lots of memories, but no stuff. Ahh who needs stuff anyway? What’s it matter now?


Her family had little to leave as inheritance; that’s what she’d thought. “I never thought I would inherit anything and so I should not be disappointed.” When Mom died, her brother and his wife had scoured her home. Diane was lucky to get this old mug. Something no one else wanted. By the time she’d arrived home for the funeral there was nothing left but dust and dirt, her school photos and this old mug. They said they had left it for her. Big of them. That was the last time she had seen them, 15 years ago. Why even think about them now? When the estate attorney’s settlement letter arrived, months later, she was astonished at the rest of the story. Her brother had diverted $200,000 cash from Mom’s accounts to his own name. Under the estate laws he had pulled a fast one. Money she never knew Mom had. Ahh, water under the bridge. It happens in all families, she just never would have believed it would happen to her. Walt had urged her to “call the s.o.b and ask him for your half of the money as your mom had in her will,” Diane never did that. “NO I will not give him the satisfaction of knowing how deeply he hurt me.,” was all she would say about it. Now after years it mattered not at all, money only money.


Diane hugged the old pewter mug and remembered Granpap’s tales that it had belonged to an old man who used if for his last ante in a poker game. The old man had been a successful gold miner, but had squandered his wealth on drink and worse habits. Granpap won the mug playing cards in the back of the butcher shop. The old man had nothing left but the pewter mug but the guys had compassion and let him play out his hand. Granpap won that game and collected his winnings. He pushed the mug back across the table to the old man who would not take it, saying, “No you won it fair and square, you keep it.” They heard he had died later that week, drunk in the gutter, with no family or friends to grieve after him. Diane had heard the story so many times despite the protest of her grandma, who never could stand the sight of the pewter mug. To grandma it represented Granpap’s poker playing for which she had little use and further more she did not believe the old man could have ever been wealthy! “How could someone lose all they had?” Ahh grandma, if you were here today you’d likely ask that again, “how can someone lose all they had?”


But Granpap kept the pewter mug right beside his chair to hold his pipe and tobacco pouch. Granpap always said everyone needs someone to remember about them after they are gone from this valley of tears, so he would do that for the old man by keeping his mug. After both granpap and grandma died, her Mom put the mug in the basement to hold a scouring pad and Fels Naphtha soap alongside the stationary tub. Diane remembered asking her mother if she could take it with her when she left for college, to hold her pencils, pens, scissors. Mom would not allow that, saying, “Not that dirty old thing, you will disgrace yourself.”


Really all Diane wanted was something physical from her grandparents to hold onto. The pewter mug would be something that would always remind her of them and of the old man she never knew. But she had often imagined stories about that old man, how he regained his money and positions of prominence once more. She always liked a happy ending but she had gotten to know life was sparse on happy endings. Yet, even if that ex-brother, that’s how she thought of him, left the mug for her as an insult, he would never know that he had given her a treasure.


The mug became the holder of Diane and Walt’s bucket list, something else that doesn’t matter anymore. Diane looked over the packed and sealed moving boxes pondering where to put this pewter relic. Tomorrow the foreclosure agents would arrive to seize this house for the bank. This house that was supposed to be their down sized retirement home. Ahh, the plans they had, to down size and travel at whim. She recalled a sign she’d seen somewhere, “We plan and God laughs!” Laughs, well he’d pulled a good one on them. If this was God’s idea of a joke, well then she simply did not get it. God is not cruel. Diane believed in the loving presence that had guided her most of her life. Somehow somewhere there has to be good. Diane let the tears seep over her cheeks as she thought of Walt as she recalled that line from “The Help”,”Sooner or later we just have to run out of awful!”


Diane unfolded the bucket list that they had so carefully crafted from the pewter mug. She read over their plans, plans that must have tickled the Lord who took Walt from her too soon. Plans-- first class air plane rides to England; a cruise on the Mediterranean; three months in their RV to Alaska; time in a first class five star hotel in Charleston; ride a horse around the Kentucky derby track; fly a single engine plane over the ocean to the Bahamas. ….more…as her tears flowed. Diane quickly sighed and with that breath got an urge to burn the Bucket list, it’s useless, a fantasy. Why not, a closing ritual for what would be her last night in their almost retirement home. Burn it in the pewter mug; fitting. Granpap would laugh that the mug would again have ashes.


Diane found some matches and stepped over to the kitchen sink. Diane struck the match, lighting the list afire….ouch, ow, oh damn! She’d singed her fingers, as she swore out loud and dropped the list and the mug, she stomped on the embers of the list that had fallen to the floor, and she looked at the pewter mug that had bounced with a vengeance on the ceramic tile floor! What, oh no, the mug broke from its base! Looks like we are not quite yet running out of awful---as Diane knelt to the floor, she could not believe her eyes…..the bottom of the mug had broken, it had been so solid, so heavy,. She’d never thought it could come apart….but there it was in two pieces. Scattered near it? What is that? Can it be, many gold nuggets…….her tears mingled with amazed laughter, can it be real? Maybe we are out of awful after all! Maybe the old man was a miner.


I became Diane’s hospice care attendant in the last months of her life. She’d shared the tale of the Pewter mug with me. The gold nuggets were her financial windfall, her inheritance. She asked if I would like to have the old pewter mug, which I accepted gratefully, assuring her that I would always remember her, her granpap and the old miner when I looked at it.



 
Thanks to Willow for dreaming up this challenge....and I do love her  Magpie Stamp which she has so graciously shared here for the readers....stay tuned for Next week!  It has been a long time since I have even thought about a magpie!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sepia Saturday

I have just signed onto a new blog, Sepia Saturday which I discovered through Willow who BTW has set up  Magpie Tales to be unveiled here on February 16, Tuesday....But Sepia Saturday offers a place to share my  wonderful old photos and my  thoughts and meanderings about these.  "Launched by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen in 2009, Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind."   Just yesterday I posted copies of  newsclippings I had salvaged from 1959 of our Jr. HIgh School basketball team.  I am amazed that these survived all these years in my collection of photos, from PA to CA, in CA and finally back here to MN in retirement.   

So here we have the 1959 championship boys’ basketball team,  well girls sports were not sponsored back then as they are today pre-title IX ( the number may be off) and the rest. So we gals were loyal supporters of our team; we played girls basketball in gym class and that was the extent of it. I know I have always been a basketball fan but seeing these clippings cemented just how devoted a fan I was. And don’t forget if there was a sports team, there were the cheerleaders. I never had ambition to be a cheer leader and I would have been way too clumsy and uncoordinated anyway. Just as well, it allowed me to be busy as usual on the bleachers and around the area, visiting, being verbal, etc.  



Today I am in touch with some of these people through hometown connections and Facebook. It is a long way from Ridge Avenue Jr. High School. Our class moved to Ridge Ave which was the former high school after the new high school was built out the road. Ridge Ave Jr. High was much closer to my home than the old 4th Avenue School downtown where we went to 7th grade. I had forgotten that, but my friend Kathy Zabec reminded me of it in a conversation last year. It takes a cadre of old friends to retrieve long buried memories.

We were such busy kids, running up and down all the hills around New Kensington, PA. No one ever got a ride to or from school. Most families had only one car if that and Dad usually had it at work. We did wear out the soles of our shoes, which were then replaced if our feet had not grown. Every day in 7th grade, we ran that mile or more home and back to school for lunch. There was no school cafeteria and no one suggested carrying lunch to school. It had to be at least a mile from our neighborhood up the hill to the downtown Fourth Ave. Jr. High, but we trekked that four times a day, to school, home for lunch, back to school, and home again in the afternoon, rain, snow, sleet or sunshine. It didn’t faze us. We just did it. No one talked to us about needing exercise and we had little problem with childhood obesity all the concern today. It was a different world.  I found this picture taken my last day of 6th grade, standing in the alley near our home, notice the hill behind me.  I remember looking so forward to junior high.  I don't remember looking this dorky, but here we have it, my own handwriting across the bottom of the photo.  
 
So moving up the hill to Ridge Avenue for 8th and 9th grade with a school only 5 blocks from my home was a big benefit. It was easier to go home for lunch and I can remember even having time to eat leisurely and catch some of the TV soap operas if my grandma was at our house. She followed Guiding Light and Search for Tomorrow which had migrated from radio.

Today this old junior high after sitting empty for years has been leveled and renovated into lovely senior housing. I wonder if any of my school friends will eventually live there.  I will have to take a photo of it the next trip back home, then and now.  I heard they sold the bricks from the old school.  Some of my friends bought those.  Think about it how would you like to move into your old junior high school in your real senior years!


Monday, February 8, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

thanks to Carlie for catching my backwards listing of the author in the title   .I have now corrected... proving once again the need for human eye to  carefully review.. what is written by human fingers....

All I can say is, it is about time that I started to read some wonderful old books which I have been meaning to reread. I have shelves full of classics and books I read at Allegheny College. Once in awhile Oprah would pick a classic and I enjoyed reading those. After I read “The Help” and Boo Radley was mentioned, I was prompted to reread Mockingbird and what a great read. I found my 1963 paperback copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird “by Harper Lee; the date is 1963 inside inscribed with my maiden name. I faintly recall we had to read this for a Modern Lit. Class. I know I have seen the old Gregory Peck movie too, but rereading it, was just like something new. I faintly recalled the plot and a few of the characters, but enjoyed it just as though it was a first time read.

It's a sin to kill amocking bird, because they are so harmless, they merely sit and sing and imitate grandly.   
I do remember loving the book back then when we had to read it, such wonderful writing. That is what I miss often today, excellent writing, real literature, descriptive words, not fill in the blanks pabulum. Well, sometimes, I confess I will read drivel just to download and clear the brain. But I do prefer to be an engaged reader. And that is what Mockingbird requires.

Look at that cover of my book which cost me sixty cents, 37 years ago. Upper right hand corner,  sixty cents.  A publication of Popular Library.  The pages are yellowed, but crisp and readable. I am amazed that I have this along with my old 1961 Don Quixote from back in the day. Considering my moves from PA to CA and around CA and now back to MN, it is incredible that these two books have been on the journey with me. But then I remember that we did not buy books when I was growing up. Oh, no, I was a Peoples Library loyal customer, checking out as many books as I could at a time. My summers in New Ken meant weekly or more frequent trips to the library, walking up and down the hills and toting my arm loads of books home to devour on the porch. There were no back packs in those days.  We toted whatever we  had to carry.  I guess we had no  real obesity problems because we walked everywhere around our hilly town.  I suppose I was a bookworm. All I know is that I cannot ever remember a time when I did not enjoy reading.

But back to Mockingbird. I loved the writing, the characters and everything about this book. Harper Lee’s Pulitzer had to be for excellent writing, character development and descriptions, and a wonderful story plot. Set in Mississippi in the late 1930’s this book tells the real truth of the treatment of the blacks by the whites through the eyes of Scout, Atticus’ nine year old daughter. Atticus is a single father raising Jem and Scout alone after his wife dies.  His household help is only Calpurnia, their black maid. But Calpurnia has a free hand and treated better than the maids in The Help.  Atticus is an attorney and legislator and is assigned to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white trash girl. One famous Atticus line is, ..”Delete the adjectives and you have the facts…” good legal advice and better life advice. Remove the emotion from a situation and you may be able to adequately analyze for truth in any situation, cloud your analysis with emotion, passion or an attempt at compassion and you will taint your analysis. By now everyone knows the story so I need not repeat it. I will say that rereading it these 37 years later was very worthwhile. This has to be one of the very best books of all time.

The introduction by Gregory Peck who stars as Atticus in the movie is so appropriate, "The southern town of To Kill a Mockingbird reminds me of the California town I grew up in.  The charcters of the novel are like people I knew as a boy.  I think perhaps the great appeal of the novel is that it reminds readers everywhere of a person or a town they have known.  It is to me a universal story--moving, passionate and told with great humor and tenderness."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Defying omens in spite of myself.

I have recognized for a long time that I do should not ignore the providentially predictive omens from “my people” and their direction to me. But today was one of those days when I defied that which I know.

The sun shined off and on making today less winter like than other days. I did not need my heavy coat and could wear only my faux fur vest over a sweat shirt, more than adequate for running in and out of car to places inside. First venture this morning was to the local Farmer’s Market at the community center room, advertised to chase the blahs. I was not expecting farm fresh produce at this time of year, but just wanted to assuage my curiosity. Who knows what would be for sale. Jerry declined to accompany me saying it might be just a flea market or produce from Chile or Mexico. I am pleased to report that was not so, our local farmers do not have the CA crassness; they only sell what they grow.

The offerings were sparse, as expected but included jewelelry, cards, buffalo jerky, honey, canned goods, lots of baked items and apples. I visited with several acquaintances, visited with Esther, a local grower and purchased some wonderful morning glorious muffins which saved me from spending some time baking. I also purchased pints of homemade (and home grown) pickled beets and sauerkraut. I love pickled beets but being the sole consumer of these in this household, there is no need for me to attempt them. The venue was as limited as expected, but worth the diversion.

Yesterday’s missed mall visit beckons me. This was a big mistake. I have no need to shop on weekends and certainly not to visit the mall. I know better, but there I went. It took me a long time to find a parking space, up and down the aisles I drove becoming more and more determined to get into Herberger’s. Once parked and inside I barely browsed the 70% off racks, same junk that has been hanging around the racks all season. I didn’t like, want need it at full or reoccurring sale price and even at 70% off another sale price it was not appealing. Finally I made my way to the Clinique counter the original object of my intention. The PA system had been avidly enticing shoppers to visit the Clinique counter for a free gift with purchase.  Is that a misnomer or what, free after spending $25! I believe it must be extra incentive commission on sales day because I have never seen so many so eager to wait on so few…although the parking lots were full, evidently everyone is browsing, mall walking, in the food court  or who knows where. They are not at this counter which I consider a good thing. After I am approached for the third time by an eager sales girl, I surrender my effort to circle and see the products. I succumb and tell her I want the black honey lipstick and something else that will qualify me for the gift. I do not know what that something else is for sure. I had inventoried my cosmetics and creams, etc. that I occasionally use and found my supplies adequate. Maybe a small bottle of Happy cologne; it smells good and who doesn’t want to spray self with Happy. My overly solicitous salesclerk says in her saddest dramatic voice “Oh No! I am so so so so very very sorry. I just sold the very last tube of Black Honey! We had 25 tubes and they are all gone…” I am truly amazed and respond, “The last tube in existence? Really there will be no more? Ever?” To which she now pouts, “Well I really could not say, but let me show you…” But I beat her at it, “no thanks, that is all I really wanted I can wait or do without, not critical at all,,, Thank you for saving me $$.” I am now free to walk back out to the car and depart, having spent not a cent. This is a good thing, but I feel foolish for wasting an hour and effort at driving to the mall to be amidst a crowd, a task that amuses me not at all.
Made by my grandmother sometime in the  1930's
Sewing by Great Aunt Francie Mroz
The next time I have the urge to do so I will remember today’s experience. Here in retirement mode, I tend to forget lessons or think things will be different? I don’t know but I do know I can amuse myself readily in my own house for free. So I return home and begin to sort out more paperwork that I brought from PA. After spending an hour at that I migrate to rearrange two drawers with my treasures of handmade doilies, and dresser scarves from my aunt, my grandma and my great aunt. This is a productive effort that produces a great feeling of accomplishment. Besides I enjoy the memories and really appreciate the intricate handwork. These were all made with love long ago.   I recognize I am truly blessed to have these things. And I don't have to shop for them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

No broom ride today

Sometimes Mother Nature foils my plans. So it was this afternoon. Very little snow, but blowing wind convinced me to stay home and select a project to complete.  I chose to do some data entry of the financial stuff that has accumulated for nearly a year.

I had planned to drive to Valley View Mall & Herberger’s to pick up my Clinique gift, at the cost of buying I know not what for about $25. Well I had my head set for another tube of that wonderful Black Honey lipstick, the first and only lipstick I have used up in over 20 years. That would not have met the threshold for the gift so I’d have needed something else and I still am pondering what that would have been. Here in retirement land I use so little make up or any of those things that were so essential in career days. But I do love that Black Honey, it looks darker than it is, is very flattering. And well, the bright spring colors on the cosmetic gift bag beckoned.


Besides the gals at Curves this morning were raving about the sales. I was not so interested in a sale rack, because I have seen the items at their best and newest; if those fashions did not entice me then they surely will not now. As I recall there was an array of garb that I would not be caught riding my broom wearing! Besides when my wardrobe primarily consists of cords or jeans and tops, there is not a lot of interest to me out there. Funny thing is I always gravitate to career wear, suits, especially. I donated so many to the women’s clothes closets that I know there are some well dressed gals somewhere out there courtesy of me. I can see the future now, I’ll be 90 years old still browsing the suits and dress pumps. But I was up to a mall walk which surely would have ended up in Starbucks within Barnes and Noble. But never mind, I just did not want to brave the elements. No sympathy here from the other half who posed his tiresome question, “what do you need….” Need, after 40 + years the man should know that need has nothing to do with it. I was just up for an expedition.

Instead, I am happy to report we are now up to date on our Quicken records of all financial data through December 2009. That is a significant accomplishment because 2009 has remained a whirlwind year and things have just had to be set aside until there was time. It was even bugging me that on February 5, 2010  January 2009 still wanted my attention.  Well we are done now and I can reflect and lament on our financial condition. We are ok, better than a lot of folks, but sure wish I‘d have done some things differently, like buy more of some stocks when the price was down and resuce some of those retirement deferrals that  lost so much income.  But that did not happen and spilt milk is neither appetizing nor useful.  Forward and ahead.  

I also spent some time on strategy for a friend running for political office. An unlikely alliance this friend and I but proof once again to keep an open mind. This man is someone I deeply respect. We are almost polar opposites on some issues, but agree on the basics. I appreciate his intelligence, and organizational ability. As a county  political party officer though I must maintian some neutrality..So I am trying to help him in ways that I can and that means applying my fingers to the keyboard and sharing perspectives and directions. I was pleased today that he accepted my advice….well I’m always pleased when anyone accepts my advice, but this is a significant step.

Time to adjourn for a good glass of chardonnay and wipe up the spilt milk before it evaporates and leaves a nasty residue.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

Today's a day I always remember; if Mom were alive she would be 85 today. Blessedly she was spared further ravages from Alzheimer’s and died suddenly in August 2004. Her birthday was Ground Hog day and if she was in a good mood when we were kids we'd tease her and ask if she saw her shadow. If she was not in a friendly mood we'd keep quiet. We knew better. Mom was in no contest to be our friend, she was the mother and we were the kid and that's the way it was. We knew when not to tread lightly or otherwise.
Long before the movie about it, Ground hog day was an event day for me growing up in western PA. I am surprised at the disdain in some blog comments in today's Wall St. Journal about Punxsutawney Phil, et. al. Who can have that much self righteous anger, animosity toward Phil and groundhogs as weather predictors? Who are these people who find no fun in Phil? What a weird world! Look at him isn't he cute! I still today await Phil's predictions, even though here in WI they have copy cat ground hogs. There is only one Phil descended from the original Punxsutawney Phil.  

I was a Phil friend and defender as far back as I can remember. If I were feeling especially touchy I could sob, "How would you like to be dragged out of bed into the cold with cameras and people looking at you!?" Or I could whine, “He wasn't bothering anybody and look they wake him up!" I made it personal. I could turn on the drama. I made up stories about Phil and his phamily; in these tales, they were either dreading or celebrating their special day and often how they prepared and even plotted to make the best of it. One tale had Mrs. Phil open the door to the burrow early to invite the people in for root beery tea (yes that's root beer tea, another of my creations) before they awakened her husband. Even at a very young age somehow I knew it's all in the attitude even of a ground hog to rise up and enjoy or wallow back and grovel. 

Sure wish I'd written those stories down, products of my fertile imagination, instead of merely  captivating my dolls or friends. I had a few favorite dolls, still with me today, especially Marcella, my talking doll, pictured here, still with her orignal dress. Jinx bought her for me in 1950 for my 6th birthday! A talking doll was really something then. But when it was time for a lesson from Patty Lou, she was polite and all ears. I'd lecture the dolls. I even drew some rough cartoons about Phil and Phamily and how Mrs. Phil loved to dress up and wear diamonds. (I loved diamonds way back then too, sparkles!) One tale had Phil pilfering jewelry from the lady down the hill, like a squirrel or a crow so Mrs. Phil could dress up! I do remember earning a Girl Scout badge for one of my tales of Phil and Phamily...and reading it to our troop. By that time I had to be 12 or so, but I still had my imagination. I thought that was so creative "phamily..." I never had a name for the wife other than Mrs. Phil and there were never any progeny; just the two of them. I even created a musical song and dance routine in their honor, to the tune of, “You are my sunshine....My biggest fans and best audiences besides the dolls were my grandma, grandpap and Aunt Jinx.

These are good memories that have stayed with me a life time. When Steve was young and growing up in CA I tried to interest him in Phil and groundhogs, and my stories. This worked fine while he was a toddler but who ever heard of a ground hog in Sacramento, CA? And as he grew, he lost all interest, considering it was just Mom being weird, and as he grew more it was, "Mother really!" So the stories of and about Phil and Mrs. are buried in the back side of my memory. But once I year I look forward to Phil's descendant's weather prediction; to continue winter or not? Now that we live in MN people know all about Ground hogs so it's a familiar harmless past time.

And by the way Phil saw his shadow, so it's six more weeks of winter......ahead in 2010.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Help

Finished "The Help" by  Kathryn Stockett, end of January.   Hooray, I read three books in January, not as many as my cousin Carol, but now I am back to speed!  I recommend it as a different read.  I enjoyed this book which takes place in during the Civil Rights movement in the south.  Serendipity  occurs as  we reading this during Martin Luther King celebrations and into black history month.   The novel is primarily told  through the dialect of great characters,  black maids,  who make their living serving the white southern women.   I got a bit tired of some of the dialect, but I have known people who talk this way and so it reminded me of them.  This is a good first novel for the author.  I would have waited to buy this in paperback, but our book club was into it and so once again I did what I said I would not do, bought another book!  And a hardback too!  Well I am glad I did read this best seller while it is there on the top of the charts.  Outspoken, brazen Minny is my favorite maid followed by Abiliene  who is the true heroine.  Skeeter is the white gal, primary character returned home, trying to break into writing to make a living, who pulls this novel together.  I was sad at the ending, which was not a  lives happily ever after, so in that regard it matches life.  It is worth reading..Perhaps because I have known and am/have been a close friend with many blacks "The Help" resonated with me.   It reminded me of old Daisy from Kinloch; she was from the south and I expect had many of these same experiences.  She was a friend of my grandmother's and when I came into the kitchen where they were talking it became very quiet.  Wish I could have heard Daisy's tales.

Listen to what Abilene says about prayer  "'cause that's the way prayer do.  It's like electricity.  It keeps things going..."  Abilene writes her prayers daily in a small notebook.  She is someone everyone seeks out to pray for them, because her prayers have power.  In this way, she reminds me of my friend, Rita.  Her friends say,  "We all  on a party line to God, but you setting right in his ear."

If you know the black southern dialect or the dialect of the working people, you will enjoy the descriptives.    Abiliene describes some words of one upmanship  from her  son Treelore, who is killed by  whites robbing her of her dreams.  "I give him a real simple word and he got to come up with a fancy one like it.  I  say house cat and he say domesticized feline.  I say mixer and he say motorized rotunda.  One day I say Crisco.  He scratch his head.  He just can't believe I done won the game with something as simple as Crisco.   Came to be a secret joke with us, meaning, something you can't dress up no matter how you try...." 

The villain of the novel is Miss Hilly, the white woman who fancies herself superior to everyone.  We see this with her treatment of Skeeter one of her long time friends.  It takes a Minny to  overcome her long reach, but not before she tries to destroy Minnie too.

After reading this I have pulled my old copy of To Kill a Mockingbird from my shelf.  I am  now rereading it and enjoying the writing.