Who are these silent strangers waiting for me to know who they are?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Waiting for the future

Sometimes I find myself buried in the past, looking at old photos and documents. It's easy to forget the present when you are reading letters about life and death and heartache. It's also safe. These people are in the distant past and I feel their pain but it is still remote, muffled by time. Then, something happens to bring me back to the here and now. When the here and now is fills up my mind completely, then, my world narrows, focuses in on the issues at hand. The rest of the world is a blur. There I am hanging on by a thread waiting for the future. Waiting to see if what comes tomorrow will release me or throttle me. I know that I will wake up, breathe, eat, and do all the things I must do. Yet, I will still be waiting. When I look at these photos from 1900 & 1920 etc. I realize that when they took each photo, they did not know what was coming. Howard with his precious baby had know idea that in 9 short months she would be gone. He had now idea that he would lose all 3 of his baby girls before they reached one year of age. Looking back one realizes how precious & short life can be. We never know how long we have or how long those we love will be here. So, while I wait I intend to seize every moment I can to enjoy being here, breathing, eating, listening and connecting with others who are doing the same.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Insomnia can sometimes provide some interesting experiences. Last night I stood on my back porch at 2:30 a.m. and listened to the quiet. It was a crisp 20 degrees. The 100 ft pine 10 feet from my door was gently raining needles. My eyes traced the trails of rabbit, deer and kitty that crossed the powder snow in the yard. In the distant, back by the tree line I could see the kitty hesitating, trying to decide if I had seen her. Finally she decided that I was too great a risk and as silent as the breeze she disappeared into the neighbor's yard. It was Christmas night and there was not much traffic on the road but I heard a rattling old truck trailing exhaust putt by. I watched my breaths steam clouds and thought of early morning bus stops. The tiny light in the house beckoned me back to warmth, a dying fire and warm kitties. Perhaps the stillness will have seeped deep enough now that I can relax and fall asleep. As I turn to go in I see the empty chair and recall the photo I scanned of Mae sitting in the semi dark of her porch. What was she thinking then or was she just, like me, letting her soul be still and taking in the quiet.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Blue Christmas

I am having a very strange Christmas. I feel trapped between complete and utter chaos and calm contentment. One minute I feel that I am on track and making headway and the next, I feel like I am plummeting down a steep hill with no way to stop. A couple of days ago I felt buried by the myriad of things I needed to accomplish before Christmas. I turned the corner onto a steady course and actually felt happy, contented and glad that I will have so much time to spend with my husband. Then, K called to tell me about her problems. I felt helpless and useless in the face of them. That phone call was followed by a call from my sister - more huge problems with no answers. Still, I just felt restless. Then I began work on my scanning project. 1000's of photos to scan. I began posting them on photobucket and notifying family to go and have a look. Everyone loves looking at the photos (me included). I feel warm and fuzzy. Back to contentment. But then I began to miss my family terribly. I wish I could be with some of them at Christmas. I was soon cured of that notion by a series of phone calls, during which I recalled that some of my family cause a lot of my frustrations. I began to look forward to spending time with friends on Christmas. Then I got the phone call that K was in the hospital. Instant anxiety, frustration and uselessness. I still can't help her. She began to get better and I began to feel less stressed. On with the scanning project! Photos and letters. Letters and photos. Back in a time when communication was limited to letters, I find the most heart felt emotions and happenings. Families torn by the fact that they are separated by an ocean when wonderful or terrible things happen. How sad it is to read the out pouring of pain when someone - father, mother, sister or brother, - has died and you can not be there to say good bye or get and receive comfort. One letter I read was written by a young sailor in the British Navy. He was just searching for a pen pal to relieve his loneliness and boredom at sea during the Korean War. He had no living relatives and no permanent home. He just wanted someone out there to send pictures to, to be connected to. Isn't that what we all need sometimes? Someone outside of our own situation to connect with and talk to. Tonight is Christmas Eve and I have put scanning aside. Yet, I feel unconnected. "Is there anybody out there?" I feel frozen and practically ice encrusted. Friends will be coming over tomorrow, we will eat good food, sit by the fire, snuggle with the cats but I just feel like crying. I think I should just go to bed and let go of the over dramatic melancholia.

Friday, December 10, 2010


What does Christmas mean to me? For some it is a religious celebration and growing up that was certainly an element. For most it is a time to cherish family & friends. This is the first Christmas that I will have - ever - that the only family I will be with on Christmas is my husband. I have spent many Christmas' that included others - some very dear to me, but there was always at least one of my children around. I have never been one to have deep meanings and traditions, I thought, around Christmas. But here I am, feeling lost. I don't quite know how to approach this holiday. We will not see our kids, nor any other family. Most of our dear friends are also in another state. We have a few old friends nearby and a few new friends, too. Nonetheless, I don't feel like putting up a tree. My husband and I are not exchanging gifts. So, what do we do? Treat it like any other day? Invite people over? What parts of our usual holiday do we keep and what parts do we get rid of? We will probably make a special meal (although not turkey). Do I try to put up decorations? It's funny but all the decorations just don't seem important without people to decorate for. I mean, I could decorate just for myself but that hardly seems festive. The cats don't care and my husband has always been extremely unsentimental about holidays. Almost scrooge like. If I invite friends, what do we do besides eat. None of the friends I have here like to watch the same movies. Some, my husband included, do not play games or cards. I will have to eat glass and then pour boiling water on my head if we have to watch the Christmas parades. I nice fire would be good. If I thought there was a snowball's chance in hell that our conversations would be real or have any substance, then we'd be set. I guess what surprises me is that I really do care. I really will miss the comfort of good friends and family. With them, we COULD do nothing, in pajamas, and it would still be good. Hmmmm. So now I must decide, "what do I want my Christmas to be?" I will have to think on this some more.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A glimpse at a life

Sept. 13, 1933 - postmarked Sept 14 from 1539 North Cheyenne Ave Tulsa, Oklahoma

Dear Howard,

If this looks any funnier than you expect it to just remember that I’m propped up in bed reading (excuse that’s what I usually do awhile before I go to sleep) writing this. Awkward but decided I had better write tonight as tomorrow evening I have dancing class and after an hour’s work out with routines I don’t feel so energetic. We are working on three dances at once for a show later in the winter. Friday we are having company for dinner so no letters that evening.

These day are typical of Oklahoma - never know whether the sun will shine or if it will rain or snow. We usually have hot weather until the first of October.

I told my mother about meeting you alright but not about waiting until so late. I will, though, because she’d understand. I’ve only talked to her a little while that one day since I’ve been back.

I suppose you’ve been to lots of shows. I have only been to 3 or 4. We have nothing but pictures. The radio is fixed now tho so I can play it. A tube burned out while I was gone and the company pilot promised to fix it for me but it took him nearly two weeks to get around to it. However I try to practice the piano every day so I don’t have much time to radio.

I’ve had a big evening this evening and a miserable day. Everything went wrong until I got home. I’ve cleaned out dresser drawers (hunting a picture) and did various other acts of cleaning. Then baked some pies and cinnamon rolls. The woman next door brou’t my dinner to me and it was the kind of food I can really go for when I’m hungry. She’s a grand neighbor.

Helene (tall dark girl with us in Chi) called and said all the pictures she took there were good. Even of the water when on the boat to Milwaukee. I’m anxious to see them. She’s going to bring them to a t? Sunday afternoon so I can see them. Last Sunday Louise (blonde girl) came over and she and Barbara (my pal) laid around and read aloud to each other from Don Marquis poems about Archie the cockroach Mahibatabel (?) the Alley Cat and then from Lawnshend’s “Earth”. Not much contrast, huh?

I know, Howard, that you are extremely interested in all these details of my daily living!

After all my searching the evilassed picture isn’t so hot but its the best I can do right now. You see, most of the pictures I have show me with long hair and of course that’s not the way you saw me. I had real long hair for about 3 years. I just cut it this Spring. The other girl is my sister - Maxine. Last year was our first snow in 3 years. The brick house shows the two front windows to the apartment where we lived. It looks like I have protruding teeth but perhaps you’ll recall I didn’t. So much for that! Can I help how I look, anyway?

Howard, dear, It’s quite alright for you to call me Deanie. My mother does sometimes as she and my step father call me Dean almost exclusive. My father calls me “Bunny.”

Honey, I shall be anxiously waiting another letter and your pictures. You’re a dear.

Sincerely Bernadean

Howard and Bernadean - The continuing drama

September 5 1933 - Tuesday morning

Dear Howard,

You don’t know how much better I feel since receiving your letter. I was so afraid you wouldn’t write even after I had done so. And sending it special just made it perfect. Otherwise I wouldn’t have it yet as yesterday was Labor Day we got no mail. Besides I liked the getting of a letter from you that way. I was next door eating dinner when it came. We both had our doubts and now we know that each is sincere.

I took some pictures of the house yesterday afternoon and if they are good I will send you one. This kodak had never been used before and I’ve had it a year so no telling what they will be like.

We are on the NRA new and so I work 5 instead of 5 1/2 days . I get Tuesday mornings and Saturday afternoons off. This has been a long weekend. I just got up - it’s 10 o’clock - and have to get to the office by 1. Mother is here this morning but she is downtown at the beauty parlor. My sister left for St Louis the next day after I got back. There! That’s enough about my family. But I’m pretty crazy about ‘em.

I would love to have seen the Lake last night - there was such an exquisite moon. That’s one thing we didn’t get to see.

You remember I told you a friend of mine had first had a horoscope made up. She’s my “pal”. We’ve been friends for about 9 years. But anyway, she just came back yesterday from Galveston and points South and so we talked far into the night. I told her about your knowing the zodiac signs etc. and she said you must surely be intelligent to be interested in Astrology when so young, that most men do not think of such things until they are much older. She believes in it, though, almost as strong as most people believe in the Bible.

The people we visited in Evanston were not relatives of mine. They were friends of Louise. I wish I did have relatives there, I’d come and stay with them until I found a job. I expect to go back there next summer to stay, anyway. After the taxes are taken care of etc.

About the pictures, dear, as I told you I have none now but I’ll have Barbara take some real soon and I will send you one. But be prepared for the worst. I look even worse in pictures than in the flesh. Don’t forget, honey, you said you’d send me one of yourself. I’m waiting but I hope not too long. If you have any photographs I wish you’d send me one so I can see it on my dressing table. If not, of course, I shall be happy with a snap shot.

I remember Lil very well and it was sweet of her to say that. I first sat and gaped while she talked. The best part though was when you said” So do I”.

Your letter was so sweet I hope I shall have another soon.
And better still, I do hope you’ll get to come down here sometime. Altho I honestly do not believe you’d like me much if you’d see me at home. I’m such a straight sort of person with my job and house and I don’t go out at 10 O’Clock A.M. to meet strange men! But that was the high light of my trip!

Mother will be back for lunch pretty soon so I’d better stir around. She’s going back home about 4 this afternoon.

Sincerly, dear, Bernadean

The Road not Taken

I have been delving into the genealogy like a miner digging for the mother lode. Sometimes, I admit I slip into the role of a child making mud cakes and often I feel like I am digging a hole in sand. So many lives to sift through to find the one you want to know about. It is with regret that I set aside some of those, perhaps to come back to someday. As I read about the 'mark' that others have left behind, I wonder what mark I will leave, if any.
Today I am looking deeper at Cousin Howard. He was my mother-in-laws cousin and so related only through marriage. Yet in some ways I feel he was a kindred spirit. It is so sad that I have met him only through his photos, letters and dry facts. In 1933 he met a girl at the Chicago World's Fair. They spent one day together before she went back to Oklahoma. But, she wrote to him and he wrote back. They wrote to each other for at least 3 years before they were married and living in the same house. Howard saved every one of Bernadean's letters. I am transcribing them slowly and pondering the choices each of them made.

Letter number 1

August 28, 1933 from Bernadean

Dear Howard,

Have you forgotten me yet? From Oklahoma - you know. We’ve been gone almost 48 hours which is after all quite some time.

Quite obviously, we arrived alright. So far as I know only lost two things on the trip - my National Honor Society Pin and a pair of gloves. Had a nice trip home. Slept most of the way to St. Louis. Ate dinner as soon as we got on the Tulsa train and then slept on in. My sister was at the station which I certainly didn’t expect at 6:30 a.m. She is leaving tomorrow. Going to St. Louis. Will stay if she can get a job. Already I can tell my family are going to object to my staying alone all winter. My sister had all my books and things cleaned up and stacked out of sight so that I scarcely recognized the place.

I have lots to do, honey, since this is cleaning time but do hope I shall hear from you very soon. If I don’t why of course I shall not write again.


Bernadean Jones

I also have contrast this letter with another he saved from a different young lady. These two women were worlds apart.

August 24, 1933 from K.R. Cady 1098 Spring Atlanta, GA

Dear Howie,

I’m writing under difficulties - a very juicy pear in one hand, and a very talkative Annie Laurie (the dumbest nigger in the world) making much disturbance while making my bed & hanging up my clothes. I don’t know which is worse. They’ll both be gone soon, though.

I feel very much ashamed of myself for not writing before since you were sweet enough to write me that nice letter. But you see, Howie, I was up in the mountains and I had a guest with me. Being the perfect hostess, I had to turn into the non-perfect (infact, awful) correspondent. The guest, invited for a week, stayed the entire month I was there. My Aunt kept renewing the invitation. Well, I just got back into civilization a couple of days ago.

Oh Howie, I hate to think my summer is most over. I looked forward to it for so long. The mountains were grand. I lived in shorts, anklets and muleskin moccasins.

Interruption - my cousin just brought down a few chapters of her newest novel for me to read back to her, and to comment on. It’s well - Loving for Luck - you’ll have to read it when it comes out. There’s a lot of me in it, and she threatens to dedicate it to me - isn’t that exciting!

As I was saying about the mountains. You would have loved the life. One night I slept out under the full moon, on top of a mountain. Many mornings we got up in the dark, and set out over the ridge to see the sun rise and cook breakfast up in the clouds. We took all day canoe trips and explored caves with lovely waterfalls. And, I could go on forever.

But now it’s Atlanta again, and that means society. Thats kinda fun too. Two formal dances at the clubs every week, and then buffet suppers, teas, and swimming-parties. And meeting prominent people. My authoress cousin is giving a formal dinner at the club tonite for a lovely debutante who is now in the movies - hot dog!

And people wonder why I like the South. You don’t, do you, Howie? But I’ll be back soon, with this household of cousins in tow.They’ll be with me two weeks - It’ll help my home sickness. but you’ll have to help too.

As Always


I know a few facts about Howard and somehow it feels like a teaser, a preview of coming attractions. I can't wait to see how this all works out.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving Thanks for my family

It's Thanksgiving and I am spending it with my daughter, her husband, my son and my husband. We have done a lot of different kinds of things. The best of days and the worst of days all crammed into a short visit. Doesn't it seem, at times, like we are as mute as the lost relatives in the photos. Here I am with some of the people I love them most in the world but I feel battered by unspoken resentments, expectations and anger. Each one trying to share bits of our unconnected lives and somehow come together as a family again. What is important to one of us may not be fully understood and appreciated by the others. As a Mom I find myself cast in the role of peacemaker and arbitrator. But these are adults with complex lives and I am lost. I look at the pictures that we have taken and see the full range of emotions. Here I see excitement and happiness. There I see contentment. Over there I see disappointment and anger. To try and write what's really going on in these photos would take a novella. I love each one so much it hurts and just like when they were little they come to me with their disappointments and hurt, but I can't fix it. I can't make it good again. There is no where I would rather spend my holiday. The times when I can see my family grows shorter and harder to come by the older we all get. So I'll take each minute, good or bad that I can get with those I love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nameless and Faceless but not silent.

I have been working on our family genealogy and wondering about all those photos with no names and all those names without faces. A friend asked me once, “Why?” Why do I spend so much time and put in so much effort into past lives. These are people I never met. So why do I care? But when I look at the photos of their lives, I see a glimpse of what these people cared about, about what made them happy or sad. Ultimately, I see what the events were that they felt needed to be remembered and shared. Someday my own life will be reduced to photos and bits of paper that my children or their children will look at and wonder about. I realized that I have been careless with my own bits of ephemera. To me, each photo holds a memory. To anyone else its a picture without substance. Who truly wants to look at a photo I took at age eleven of a trip to the zoo or Disney World. Without the story that goes with it, it is just a mute, emotionless image. So, I look at these ancestors and wonder, what were they thinking and feeling.

Here in this safe place I will explore some of the faceless ancestors and what the bits of information tell me. Here I will try to understand the faces (some without benefit of a name) and see the world through their eyes. I have boxes of stuff from 1890 to present just waiting to be explored. Letters, certificates of birth, death & marriage, wills and enlistment papers all wait patiently. I have photos of children and pets, weddings and funerals, and all the bits that these predecessors wanted to mark and share.

Maybe, I’ll begin the task of put some meaning to my own treasured bits of paper. Why do I still hang on to photos of the zoo?