Notes on Family, History, Cherished Objects and Other Arcane Matters

For some years I have lamented, whined really, that I was full of information and wisdom, and no one ever asked me for it.  All dressed up and no place to go, I thought.  Full of knowing about people and times of my past, my first hand experiences, but the general attitude seemed to be “So what?”

Now when I am faced with teaching, editing, reducing clutter to simplify my life, weighing options for my future, and playing with my new techno toys… now, I am asked to write these gems, collecting them before both they and I are gone from view. Hmm.

These tidbits will be in no special order, but only as they come to mind or discussion. I will put up my net and try to capture them before they fly out of sight once again.

Engine DeanWeaver CleanedI was asked about this picture of a train man standing on an engine. The nattily turned out one in his conductor suit. The man has part of one finger missing. Who is that?

That man is Dean D (without a period) Weaver, my maternal grandfather.  He was born in Mexico, Indiana and had joined the railroad as a young man. The train line he worked for went through parts of Ohio, and it was there that he met a fine Irish gal, Maude McEwen, sweeping her off her feet.  Maude was actually Scotch-Irish, part of a family that was known for being scrappy, politically minded, and having the ability to survive difficult circumstances.  I believe her family lived in Sycamore, Ohio, a rather nondescript town in the central part of the state.

They were married on Christmas Day, in 1905; my mother Maxine was born Dec. 23, 1906.  He used to complain that every time he hung his trousers on the bed post Maude got pregnant. That is some exaggeration since they had only three children, spaced well apart.

In any case, the finger event happened when he was working at a coupling, to unhook two railcars from each other. The engine either started to back up, or one of the cars started to roll, but the result was his finger was smashed between the two. That was not the immediate cause of his leaving the rails; he continued there for some years.

He was a bit too old for the First World War, I think.  Somewhere in his adult life he decided to move his family to Detroit where they ran a corner grocery store. I have a picture of that on some disc. I also have another bit of information that says the family moved to Battle Creek, Michigan for a while.  I am not sure which is accurate. Another time they all moved to Florida.  My mother was then a teen ager; her brother Dean was about nine.  Grandfather did some work for a man while there. The man was cash strapped and offered to pay him with some land. It was typical Florida sandy scrub in which he could see no value. Therefore he sold it to avoid having to pay taxes on it.  It is downtown Orlando today.

Another loss he sustained had to do with helicopters.  He was always a tinkerer and dreamer, an inventor of sorts. Flight was becoming newsworthy in the Twenties and Thirties; he thought about a type of reverse propeller which could lift a plane vertically.  Some one “helped” him send the design to the Patent office; either it was rejected or he never heard back.  Later the helicopter came forth using his idea which he and the family believed was stolen from him.

He was an amiable, easy-going man which is a good thing since his wife Maude lived true to her heritage and was a woman of strong opinions frequently expressed.  We called her bossy, and felt that he was somewhat “hen-pecked.”  When she got on a rant or found fault with him, he would just go to the piano or pick up his mandolin and start plunking out a tune.  I remember his playing “Over the Waves” time and again.  It was his way of escape.

One thing that would get her going was finding cold, smelly cigar butts left in inappropriate places, like the back of the toilet, for instance.  But no matter how often she fussed at him, it made no change in the behavior.  I do not remember seeing him ever actually smoke a cigar.  I only recall the short, somewhat soggy butts.

There is a story behind the D (without a period) middle initial of his name. I think it had something to do with conscription or some governmental requirement which said he had to have a middle initial on the form.  Bureaucracy being what it is, he came up with one. The no period means the initial doesn’t stand for anything.

Of course, by the time I was old enough to pay attention to the people in my life, he was about 60. I remember times when we, my mother and I, would be expecting them to come from Warsaw to South Bend for some occasion. There was always the mandatory looking out the window or down the street until they finally came into view. We were living in an apartment on Bartlett Street when I was between 10 and 12.  It was there that I tried to draw a picture of him while he napped in the chair.
Sleepy Grandpa 1941

Along the way, he got training as a draftsman.  When the Second World War broke out and America geared up for war, he got a job with Bendix Corporation which was making air planes, or parts.  It was the first decent job he had had in some years, so their fortunes improved considerably.  It also meant they had to move to South Bend where the work was.  For a season of time, they moved in with us. I was 13 and Mother had moved once again to a little house on the other side of town.  It was a difficult time of adjusting, making room, giving up and getting along, especially for me who was growing like a weed, in puberty and not too energetic or eager to change to the new circumstances.

Eventually, they found and rented a house back on the west side of town (749 Lawndale Street) that had room upstairs to make an apartment.  Mother and I moved with them, taking the apartment. It was a good solution from Mother’s point of view; she was now in a job that took her out of town for a week or two at a time and I would have some supervision and care in her absence. Once again we settled into a new routine. By this time I was 14, a sophomore in high school, taking the city bus to and from school.

It was there, that year, when things were beginning to look up for this kind man that his life came to a sudden end. Six weeks later his wife followed him into eternity and my world was rearranged abruptly. But that’s another story.

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I did an interview with my mother in 1988 using a small portable tape recorder, the highest technology available at that time. She wanted to tell me the background and/or value of the things she owned which I was to inherit. In the process I learned a little bit about her family and ancestors. She began with that which was the most important to her, the pieces which are to be kept in the family and handed down to those who will care for and cherish them.

Her large walnut blanket chest with solid top and lovely finish was made by my great grandfather Weaver out of walnut from his grandfather’s land in Indiana. My great grandfather, who was the father of Dean D Weaver (above) was Francis Marion Weaver.  He made the chest and a one-drawer table for his wife Mary, whom he lovingly called Molly.  Francis wanted to get involved in the Civil War, but was too young to be a soldier so he became a drummer boy. I believe he was 14, or so the story goes. The genealogical records show him to be 14 in 1860 which would verify that. Checking my Family Tree Records, I note that his grandfather died when Francis was about 10, but the Grandmother lived until he was 28.  Since he was 26 when he married Molly, he would have had access to the farm, and its trees in order to make the furniture for his bride. Doing the math dates the chest and table to 1872.

This is a photograph of a family gathering at a picnic held at Winona Lake in Indiana the summer of 1930.  My dad is holding me, a squirming toddler;  an assortment of other family is nearby. Francis, the Civil War drummer boy who was a widower by this time, is in the back row, wearing a bow tie. It is astounding to realize that my life overlaps his. He beat drums in the 1860’s; I use WiFi to play music on my iPhone. His three children are in the group: Aunt Jessie who never married, is standing next to him; my grandfather, Dean, sporting a straw hat is next to his wife, Maude; Aunt Flo or Floy as she has been called is on the blanket to the left; Dorothy, age 7, is holding the ball on the right. Weaver Family in Akron

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Cats

Cats

 

I’ve always wanted a kitty.  A nice kitty, a purring machine to nuzzle under my hand and snuggle in my lap.

But, no, there will be no cat in this house, declared my husband with his authoritative voice.  The only pet around here will be, and is, my hunting dog. Cats are extraneous, useless.  I mean, you can’t train them to point out in the field, or retrieve, either. Nope, I’m not having a cat. Period.

We did have one once over thirty years earlier.  He adopted us the way cats do, hanging around for days looking woebegone until someone in the house softens and puts out a dish of milk.  Then he was ours.  I started putting a few cat things in with the groceries as I shopped, feeling guilty at spending money, in short supply with the demands of our young and growing family.  “But you can’t just let him starve!” I argued.  He had obviously been well cared for before choosing us and did not appear to be scruffy or flea ridden. He quickly adapted to life in our household, soon learning it was safer to hide during the hours our three year old was awake, and come out to be that purring machine in the evening. One day I had looked out the window to see Mark, the 3 year old, holding  a wet, soggy, cindery cat by the neck, dousing him in the gutter after a rainstorm.  Another time  he baptized him in the bathroom sink. This perhaps explains why kitty was never to be found during the day.

Naturally, we had to name him. His black and white markings did it for us: Boots.  It wasn’t long before a few cat toys made their appearance in the grocery cart.  He was fully ours. Except, now and again he would disappear for several days.  Calling him, searching the neighborhood, was futile. He just vanished, leaving a hole in our daily routine. After awhile I would sadly put away the cat food dish thinking he had been killed, and just about then he would show up as if he had never been away, looking for his usual handout.

Has scolding an errant cat ever done any good? Do they ever explain their whereabouts? He had the insouciance of a man about town that said in cat speak “None of your business!”

Eventually I noticed he seemed to have another problem – something was the matter with his plumbing because he was always needing to go out.  (Buying and maintaining a litter box was not in our budget so the whole yard served as his “facility.”) Knowing little about kitty care, I assumed he had diarrhea.  Ah hah! We had just the answer to that problem: Pepto Bismol, our tried and true family remedy for such ills. I got the bottle, a spoon, and held the cat in my arms.

Have you ever tried to get Pepto Bismol into a cat? Have you ever tried to get anything into a cat forcibly? Pushing a peanut across the street with my nose would be easier.

The next few seconds – I wish I could freeze-frame this – was a whirr of spoon, pink stuff, yowling, pink stuff flying, angry cat escaping, spoon flying, me dabbing at blood seeping from cat scratches.

I guessed that was not a good idea.568679_36977298

His problem continued and seemed to worsen. Eventually I prevailed upon my husband that something had to be done; we could not just let him suffer. So with a fair bit of muttering about the expense, he drove the cat to the vets.  There it was learned that our wandering Lothario had a serious urinary problem, peculiar to cats, and he would not survive. It was not long before he was gone, out of our lives for good.

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Now, moving forward a number of years, I wanted a kitty. A purring machine to sit on my lap. We had had several hunting dogs in the intervening years, dogs that chewed on my chair rungs, or would escape the garage to rifle the neighbor’s garbage. Rusty, Rimbo, Luke… nice dogs, and good hunters, but not a pet that would sit adoringly at your feet, let alone warm your lap.

It happened again.

A scruffy, scrawny, back alley tomcat showed up at the door.  “Don’t feed him!” my husband warned.  “He will never go away.”  The thing is, he didn’t go away anyhow.  Day after day he sat outside the door looking pitiful, mewing and gazing up at each of us as we came and went.  By now our family had grown from two sons to five, and we had moved to another state. Life was full, busy. The current hunting dog was in a run outside our new home.  My husband was deeply engrossed, developing his new job. Did anyone have time for a cat?

Finally someone weakened, melting under the continual pitiful cries.  A dish was put out with a little milk.  And he was ours.

This sad excuse for a cat was obviously not from a good home, but had been a survivor on the streets of our town.  He was worm and flea ridden, with a bad case of gingivitis as well.  If he were to continue with us something had to be done.  Better able now to afford a vet bill, we took him to see what should be done.  Or rather, what had to be done to make him socially acceptable.  It was a lot.  Our “free” kitty ended up being quite an investment.

But there was something about him, some character trait developed by being a fighter and over-comer, which endeared him to us from the start. For reasons beyond understanding we named him Christopher.

Christopher always spent the nights out somewhere.  Sometimes on his return we would notice wounds from cat fights. Sometimes he would simply curl up on his bed to lie very still, and we would know he was in recovery.  He was a feisty old thing; once after another night out, we felt something in the fur under his chin. It was the tooth of another cat, apparently dislodged in the fracas. Another time, he did not come home for three days and nights. This was a cause of alarm to the house. Calling his name morning and evening was fruitless.  When he suddenly showed up at the door, it was with a serious limp. He dragged himself to his bed and stayed there for days, only leaving – with help – when he had to go outside.  It was obvious he was in great pain caused by an accident. I feared he had been hit by a car.

Time passed; he improved and got back to his normal self.  He did such a thorough job of endearing himself to us that even Husband would sit holding him in his lap, stroking his head. I had the purring machine I had always wanted.

 

It is remarkable how a cat can communicate without speaking the language.  After one of his fights he had to have another trip to the vet for repair.  A collar was placed to keep him from tearing into the repair while it was healing, and we were sent home with the admonition to keep him indoors for several days.  Right. Try telling him that. He sat like a stone statue with his back to us, staring at the door by the hour.  He was not to be placated.  For some reason that immoveable stance was more impressive, more annoying than if he had yowled and howled.

One day something happened to him as he jumped down from my lap, putting him in great pain, hardly able to move. Even with help he could not get to the food dish or outdoors. His old injury had caught up with him – his pelvis fractured.  We made yet another trip to the vet, cradling him gently.  “Please, sir, if you can do anything for him, let me know.”  Walking to the car, I burst into tears. Sadly, I knew the call would never come. That old scruffy back alley tomcat had worked his way deeply into my heart.

 

œœ        1262699_76533583    œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ

When a pet is gone, you have to deal with their “things,” the reminders of a life now past.  Bowls, collar, special food, toys, favorite cushion – all have to be put away, given away. It is a part of saying good bye, a closure if you will.  It is a necessary step in the grieving process.  Once we were connected to another life; now that connection is broken and we are aware of the loss at a deep level. It is one of life’s mysteries, seldom recognized, that we are spiritual beings and as such can experience  a connection with another life that goes far deeper than a casual knowing. This may explain the elaborate graves some people have for their pets. There was once a life, of whatever type, a life with which one had a relationship, and the broken cord has left them dangling. It is as if the break, without being sealed, continues to leak one’s very life away.

We do connect; it is written into our very structure, part of the original design. Moving into healing following a break in a relationship can be a long, slow process. We begin, by closure.          œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ            œœ

Time passed. The boys were all grown and gone. We had geese in the freezer and a dog in the yard, but no kitty for my lap.

One day I came into the kitchen and found proud Husband standing by a laundry basket with two kittens mewing and crawling over each other.  “What’s this?” A natural response, given his years of professed cat disdain.  “Well,” he replied rather sheepishly, “my hunting friend, Doc, has more than they can handle on the farm and asked if we would like one.”  Ah so, in the interest of maintaining their relationship, he volunteered to let me have my choice of the litter.  “One is a female. I thought you would like to have another girl in the house. If you pick the boy, Doc can neuter him at 6 months, but the girl would have to be done at the vet.” Since Doc was a urologist, neutering the boys was all in a day’s work.

Nothing is quite as endearing as a kitten, unless it’s two of them.  It was a hard choice. Orange as a sunset, they scrambled around on the kitchen floor.  The boy kitty seemed to be the sweetest, and would cost less, but yes, it would be nice to have another female around here.

Decision was made.  Girl kitty was mine. Since she did seem quite frisky, we named her Ginger.

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It soon became apparent the name should have been Fireworks; biting and clawing were her favorite activities. I was constantly under attack.  She would sneak out from under a chair when I was tying my shoes and bite me. Any time I went down stairs, holding the hand rail for support, she would jump up to bite my hand.  If I tried to take a swat at her to let her know what I thought about that, her eyes would get round, ears lie flat and the demon within would glare out at me.  War was constant. My dream of having a lap-sitting, purring machine was growing dimmer by the day.

The time came for a routine trip to the vet. I managed to get that little fireball in the carrier, with only minor wounds. Vet looked her over and raised his head. “Nice little boy kitty you have here.”

“What?! We were told it was a girl!”

“Sorry, Ma’am.  But sometimes it’s hard to tell, you know.”

Well, that explains a lot.  At least it won’t cost anything to neuter ‘him’ because Doc had volunteered to do it.  But we have to wait until he was 6 months old first.  I didn’t know if I could last that long.  Instead of a nice little girl kitty, Ginger, I had the “Cat from Hell.”

Warfare continued. Neither the cat nor I liked each other very much by now.  I kept my eye on the calendar waiting for “The Day” when Doc would come and hopefully readjust the cat’s attitude somewhat. At long last…

The kitchen island was deemed a suitable operating table.  Doc opened his kit bag.  Husband stood at the ready to help. Ginger immediately “smelled a rat” and took off for far parts of the house.  I finally corralled him, turned him over to the men and left the room to wring my hands.  Doc pulled out a big syringe, and pulled up the neck fur to sedate the very suspicious animal being held in a firm grip by Husband.  Suddenly there was a yowl, a curse, a clatter as enraged cat bit Husband’s thumb, jumped down with syringe still stuck in the fur and exploded out of the kitchen for points unknown.

 

I found him clinging to the back side of a sofa in the farthest room upstairs. As I reached over and grabbed him to pull him up, he actually elongated like a rubber band to twice his length, all the while still clinging to the sofa with a Herculean strength.  Desperation in his eyes, it seemed he was saying “You are going to do what? To me? No way, Jose.”  I overcame him by brute force, wrapping him tightly in a drop cloth from our current remodeling project.  Back down stairs we went, with his eyes wide, ears laid back, terror in the tension of his body. Swaddled as he was, he could not fight the syringe, the drug which was sure to put him to sleep.

Only, it didn’t work.  His eyes still darted and glared; his body was still a coiled spring in my arms.  Doc gave him another dose. He glared. We waited.  And waited. He never did close his eyes.  There was enough adrenalin in him to overcome any drug in Doc’s kit bag. At last, I felt the tension ease just a bit. Doc said, “he’s ready.”

The deed was soon done.  He was placed in the dog carrier to recover.

Three hours later we opened the carrier door to our “adjusted” cat.  He came swaying out, with the ease of a sailor on leave, or the town drunk trying to find his way home. Our beast of terror was now hopefully a transformed tiger, a mellow pussycat indeed.

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Altered he may have been; mellow he was not.  We continued in a Mexican stand-off relationship, he apparently having a good memory of the indignity forced upon him. No comforter, his sneak attacks continued.

Comfort would have been appreciated, as just a few months later I was suddenly widowed. Sons arrived, flowers arrived. The head-spinning, stress-causing requirements of a family loss kept me occupied and less focused on Ginger, the Attila cat. Then I noticed that when our youngest son roughhoused with him, he was a delight! No more unexpected attacks. What?

I had been missing it all along. This boy cat, with or without his identifying equipment, wanted a rough and tumble, playful relationship. None of the sissy sit-and-purr-on-the-lap nonsense for him. Since roughhousing was not my style, we were a mismatched couple all along. So when youngest son returned to his school there was a large dog crate in the back of his truck, with all the accoutrements a cat could want fitted inside. Ginger happily sat on the cushion inside as the truck pulled away down the driveway out of sight. You know, there are some relationships that were just never meant to be.

 

 

 

Winter Vignette

Snow is whipping horizontally past the window, pausing occasionally to pirouette in graceful swirls before streaming on by. Shades of grey blending to white speak a chill into my bones even as I sit cradling my morning mug of coffee. It is the knife edge of winter. Calendars declare winter to be a two day old child; the storm shouts I am a man!

It is warm within. The soft hum of furnace fan comforts with a gentle stirring of life sustaining heat. The coffee pot is almost full; Christmas goodies in abundance wait on the shelf.

It has not been that long a time since even royalty were not as favored or as comfortable as this. Constant warmth, comfortable beds, and blessing above blessings, indoor plumbing have made life move past endurable to grace and ease.

Slowly, family members stir from their beds adding music and clatter to the scene. Preparations in anticipation of celebrations add to the atmosphere’s glow. What a treasure to be part of and accepted into a caring family.

So blow, Wind. Do your dance, Snow. Deep in my heart a song of thanksgiving rises. I am most blessed among women.

Exciting and Grand Day

Yesterday was a day of blessings for me.  Church  is always interesting, but this time was even more so.  Our house guest was the speaker of the day; he had just finished a two day seminar of Celestial Beings and other Other-worldly, yet biblical, entities and was planning to finish with further teaching on the book of Jude.  I had promised, and delivered to him, my special B&B breakfast  – a delightful presentation of a French toast sandwich made with cinnamon swirl bread held together with a cream cheese-pecan filling and served with a warm apricot-orange sauce.  The table conversation with such a learned man was challenging and substantive.

The excitement came from expecting Matthew, Becky and little Katherine to join us at church.  To see and hold my first great grandbaby – wow!  Who can believe this?  It all seemed like unreality, while at the same time there was a deep joy in knowing that there is a continuation of my heritage.

Their arrival was somewhat delayed by Katherine’s plumbing mishap and resultant bath and clothes change, but in the middle of worship time, there they stood!  Pastor later announced her arrival and I had an opportunity to stand to show her off to the entire assembly.

The meeting didn’t end until 2:00 p.m., not unusual.  Alan and Amy’s family joined us all at home where I had a fresh batch of soup in the crock pot.  Conversation, plus the usual group photo confusion, followed.  Another amazing feature of the day was that we sat outside on the patio, in our shirt sleeves, for the picture taking.  This is January in Maryland, for heaven’s sake!

After everyone left, the dust settled and quiet returned, I simply praised the Lord for His multiplied blessings.  My quiver is indeed full.