Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Ordinary Walk: 1980

Seven years later finds {see previous blog} the McDaniel clan onward and upward with their lives and many aspects of the weekly letter stayed the same. I like that –the sameness -- the steady nature of my Daddy’s reporting of their [and our] lives.

By 1980, Mother and Daddy had move to Roswell, a suburb north of Atlanta. After living in the very-convenient to all things Atlanta on Oana, in a lot of ways, the drive to Roswell seemed long. The trek included lengthy interstate and then exiting to only go many miles north on secondary roads. When they settled there, Roswell seemed a sleepy hamlet, but this suburb of Atlanta boomed big in the coming years.

My college roommate Catherine and I lived off I-285 in Cobb County. After graduating from college in 1976, we both had teaching jobs – Catherine was in Clayton County, and I had taken a job at Douglas County High School. With four years of teaching under our belts and not close to having perspective husbands, we felt seasoned as teachers and restless as single women – and to change jobs and move out of Atlanta seemed desirable.

         with Catherine, winter 1980

Catherine and I visited Mother and Daddy at their house in Roswell for Wednesday supper or Sunday lunch – not only did we get a meal but we also enjoyed getting the use of their laundry. Added to these perks was the undivided attention both of my parents gave us – we discussed with them our itchiness to change what we were doing and perhaps move. One of the gifts both of my parents had was listening to others with interest and intent, and they always seem to be on my side. They gave selflessly to me in that regard. I will always miss that security.

Daddy wrote: “Harriett says she is definitely not going back to Douglas County – don’t know what she plans. It is hard to get a teaching position in her field in another system. We try not to think too much about it. I can’t see giving up one job until you have another one. I like to eat too well for that. But she will have to make her own decision and we will have to be content with it.”

Spoiler Alert: I was at Douglas County High School for another five years.  So needless to say, I seemed to be blowing some smoke and believing my own fantasies. Actually, I don’t know what got into me.

Hunter had married in 1978; he and his wife Janet lived outside of Washington DC. They both worked jobs associated with computer technology – a new field but becoming more popular as well as lucrative. Janet, known for writing lovely and informative letters, had Daddy commenting in the first letter of the year about how one of their friends told Mother that a thank you from her was “the nicest she had ever received.”

                            Hunter and Janet

Margaret, Hunter, and Janet at Aunt Harriett's house in Falls Church, Virginia

Margaret worked in Physical Therapy at Dekalb Medical Hospital. After house hunting, she bought a house on Larry Lane in Dekalb County, near work and off Lawrenceville Highway.

The day to day of Mother and Daddy’s lives seemed pretty status quo. In January, both Daddy and Kenneth shopped for cars, and Daddy bought a VW Rabbit, and, as I recall, a real scoot around car compared to the Beetle. After looking at many cars, Kenneth eventually ordered a Honda Civic, which would be back-ordered for six months.

Margaret had a fungus in her attic; I complained about having to purchase new contact lenses which “were expensive.”

Weather plummeted to the steady 30s in February. Daddy and Kenneth did their income tax together, and I, as sponsor of the newspaper staff at Douglas County, spent two weeks in rehearsals after school and into the evenings for a Student Teacher Talent show that the staff put together for a fund raiser.

Aside: Those talent shows became an annual event at DCHS. We had a live band, and I, believe or not, performed “live” on stage with that band: one year as Jeannie C. Riley – “Harper Valley PTA,” – another as Janis Joplin – “Me and Bobby McGee” – another as Pat Benatar – “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and the last one as Gladys Knight – “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” The guys who made up the band consisted of two English teachers and two of my students. As the program evolved, two local professional musicians would donate their time to the cause. This was all kinds of fun and made me all kinds of nervous – like throw up nervous, but the shows ran three nights, and made over a thousand dollars. That sure beats selling donuts on street corners or pushing gift wrap on strangers.    As I look back on that, I think: Dang. That was a nutty time; I was young and, frankly, crazy.”

Because the rehearsals were exhausting in their length and, of course, repetitive in having to run through the program over and over, and like I said, my newspaper sponsored it, some days I taught all day and ended up not leaving Douglas County to 11 PM. The commute back to Cobb was twenty-five miles; Daddy wrote, “I hate to think about her driving all the way home from Douglasville late at night but there is not much I can do about it.”

         article in Douglas County Sentinel, 1982

As we made our way into March and April, Daddy had little to report: they played bridge with their good friends, the Watts. Mother joined the Roswell Garden Club, Daddy went to the doctor where he was told that he “was in really good shape” but had difficulty sleeping at night and thus, staying awake in the afternoons. He “would just have to live with it.”

He joined the board at Roswell Methodist, a friend of Margaret’s got Kenneth a job at Western Electric, and we all had the flu. Daddy wrote that I was “put out with myself for being out three days from school.”

Kenneth had his adenoids removed. Daddy bought a new bulb for the door chimes that cost “1.79, and he couldn’t believe it.”

As the year continued, so did the ordinary-ness of our lives. We worked, we stayed busy, and his letters read like I was the one who came over the most – well, I already told why, but he did make this comment: : “Kenneth and Margaret do not get over as much as Harriett does. We would really miss Harriett if she should leave Atlanta.”


Kenneth’s new job as an Engineer Associate made him “quite thrilled and [we] are thrilled for him.” They took him out to eat to celebrate at S&W Seafood where “he has such a good outlook with this new job.” Kenneth had been working at Graybar, where he was undervalued and underpaid, JMHO. J

Catherine and I looked unsuccessfully for a job in Hilton Head [what kind of job there – hotel maid, beach ball inflator, golfer?], Margaret visited the aunts in Virginia, and the aunts visited Mother and Daddy later that month. Margaret and I helped Mother pick out new lamps for the living room, and knowing my mother, never quick on decisions like this, it must have taken many weeks since Daddy included that on-going process in concurrent letters in late spring. 

                            Aunt Ava and Margaret

Note: Those lamps now reside in my sister’s mountain house in Brasstown, North Carolina. FTR. That was a time investment. so when we die, somebody else needs to take those puppies.

Even though I signed my contract in June to go back to Douglas County, Catherine and I left in June for a job search in Florida. We drove my white Beetle VW with no air-conditioning, and I remember that as being one awful ride. In one of his letters, Daddy insinuated that it was Catherine who was unhappy, and that she “wished for me to go with her wherever she went.”

Note: I remember all of this job searching – pretty fruitless, obviously, but I don’t remember how much my parents worried about it. We must have seem so reckless and flighty to them to want to walk away from solid jobs when the job market was so hard.

At the new house in Roswell, Daddy had taken it upon himself to make the yard look presentable. In retrospect and reading about this, it’s quite a change from the father I grew up with – who hated all things yard work.  According to his letters, he planted flowers, threw out lime, raked, put out pine straw, and cleaned the beds. So. Not. Daddy.  At one point, Mother and Daddy drove back to the Oana house to get a gardenia cutting that had come from my maternal grandmother.

Note: Unfortunately, that cutting would die. Later, Daddy bought Mother a gardenia for the back yard, and when they passed away in 1995, and their house sold, David dug up the bush to move to our house, but it didn’t survive that winter. David bought me a gardenia on Mother’s Day in 1996, a year after my mother died, and it still flourishes twenty years later. 

Daddy’s motivation for yard work shows how much they ended up loving living in Roswell. They would make new friends, get involved in a new church, and eventually go on fabulous trips when they retired. The move from south Atlanta became rejuvenating for them.

As summer approach, Mother and Daddy made travel plans for a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin, we celebrated Mother’s day at Margaret’s new house, and then later Father’s Day. Hunter and Janet came to visit, and Hunter spent time “at Margaret’s house doing her fix-it list,” and then they left for a vacation to Charleston and the Outer Banks. 

Daddy’s Rabbit became the car to borrow – both Margaret and Kenneth borrowed it for various trips --- Margaret to Florida, and Kenneth to a wedding in Albany. I’m not sure why we borrowed it except that Kenneth didn’t get his new car till late summer, and Margaret and I were still driving VW Beetles, which had the acceleration of a lawnmower. Maybe the car was just faster. Ha. Newer? Daddy filled it up with gas?

At her new home, Margaret planted a huge garden that Kenneth, who lived close, would come over after work and help her. For all his time and effort, she “allowed him to use her laundry.” LOL. Daddy’s words, not mine. She shared her bounty with Mother and Daddy, and he said “we got a lot of vegetables.” Daddy apparently had planted a small garden himself, but he had little luck with it.

1980 proved to be a hot summer. Daddy made references to it almost every week. Margaret’s garden, by August, began “yielding little.” He and Mother stuffed mailboxes for the Republican party, Kenneth finally got his new Honda, gray, red interior, radio, but no ac [what were you thinking, brother?]; Margaret fretted over turnover in her department at work, and I looked forward, not, to a new school year. I had gotten into a car pool, “which I loved,” but I still moaned about going back to teaching.

Kenneth, Mother and Daddy, and I -- [Daddy had gotten a bad haircut by going to a local cosmetology school. They ended up having to shave his head. So chic!]

Kenneth moved into an apartment in Doraville, Mother sat with a friend at the hospital into the wee hours, and they replaced all the lamp shades in the house [I love this detail] – and still “there was no rain.”

By September, my car gave me trouble and Daddy found a great mechanic in Douglasville to work on it. They took a trip to see the new Atlanta airport terminal, Margaret and her boyfriend Phil visited the aunts in Washington and Lynchburg, and I had an engine overhaul that cost 250 dollars and took two weeks. I also dropped a class for my Masters, and Daddy concluded, “she’ll never get it done.” 

LOL. He was so right. I worked on that darn Masters for five years. Ugh. So much monkey business.

Daddy bought a new stereo that Margaret and Kenneth helped assemble, but it took all day and then the turntable only “played out of one speaker.” This stereo came with a fancy, glass cabinet with glass shelves for each component. My daddy loved music. I see this little hiccup with the assembly just an indicator for all our future technology woes.

It finally rained, and Daddy named it “the best rain since June.”

In October, they helped set up an annual arts festival at Bulloch Hall as part of the Historical Society fund raising.  Mother had been sick off and on with what they thought was a virus, but she found out that she was anemic, but apparently her other health problems, not disclosed as to what in the letters, remained “without answers.”

Margaret went on a church retreat in Ridgecrest, South Carolina, while I had headed up to a football game in Virginia. with my friend Marilyn. Daddy noted, “Both of my girls are out of town,” and this comment, I find, so endearing.

As the year begins to close, Daddy tells of how he can’t fathom “where the time has gone.”

I came to see them less and less as I told them “I had much to do.” Catherine and I had split the cost of a washer and dryer, and I guess, had less reasons to make the trek to Roswell to see them.  

Daddy’s work was full of tension as the interpersonal relationships under the new superintendent [the fifth one he had worked for] were a “mess.” They stayed up and watched the election results on television and “were shocked at the size of the Reagan victory and … couldn’t believe that Mattingly beat Talmudge.”

Thanksgiving was aunt-less and Hunter and Janet-less but included Margaret, Phil, Kenneth, Catherine and her brother Art, my friend Peggy, and me. I have pictures but no memories of this one.

We still sent Christmas lists to the aunts, probably not any more timely than when were twelve, and mother spent the day after Thanksgiving “baking for Christmas.” Daddy said that “I put up the tree all by myself and would get to the other decorations later.”

Note: My mother made dozens of cookies for Christmas that she stored in huge Tupperware containers and kept on the freezer in the utility room off the carport. After each evening meal during the company filled Christmas season, I have distinct memories of her lovingly arranging those cookies for dessert on festive plates.

Thirty-five years ago – and look at the tidbits of life I have to remember because of Daddy’s letters. We aren’t a drama filled bunch, except for me, and it’s delicious to visit this year again. Thank you, Daddy.


 Daddy and Mother, 1978, at Hunter and Janet's wedding in Connecticut 

ETA: Kenneth told me that his Honda Civic cost 5,000 dollars and to add air conditioning would have been an additional 800 . He's, apparently, the son of our parents -- frugal, but hot. :-)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Another Visit with Daddy’s Letters: 1973

Note: In an effort to preserve some family history in writing, I have been reading the weekly letters that my daddy wrote each Sunday from the early 1960s until the 1990s and will begin posting them on my blog. I plan on summarizing all of them – well, eventually. Eh. Maybe. I hope. If I live... long enough. 
Kenneth, M&D, and I, looking like That 70s Show...
 Also see: What a Life! 1965

New Year’s Day dates the first letter of 1973, and all of us are home for the holidays: Hunter from the University of North Carolina grad school, Margaret from Mercer, where she is in her last semester, Kenneth’s from Mercer as well, but in his sophomore year, and I from LaGrange, where I am about to enter the second semester of my freshman year.

How did my parents manage? All four children in college? They saved, set goals, and made thrifty choices in how they spent money. Sigh.

What a crowded, full house was that for the previous Christmas holiday break! We were six, fully-grown humans sharing a three bedroom, one bath house. Egads.  For a three day period during the Christmas holidays, my mother’s four sisters joined us in that small house. I only have good memories – so with each bedroom full and two sleeper sofas in use – we celebrated the cozy Christmas of ’72.

According to Daddy’s letter, we had all gone to our respective New Year Eve events the evening before. As he wrote, “Hunter and Margaret went out to a party with some friends of Margaret’s. Kenneth went out with some friends from Mercer, and Harriett and Vaughn went to a party.” There is no reason to speculate on what any of that entailed, and trust me, I don’t remember New Year’s Eve of 1972.  If it hadn’t been for the chronicle of our lives provided by my dad’s weekly letter, I wouldn’t’ remember 1973 either. I do remember Vaughn though, my high school boyfriend and first love.

Never mind.

Daddy’s words for this week’s narration included thankfulness. He received several notable Christmas gifts from my mother’s sisters: he “ha[d] been enjoying his new pjs … and “the electric broiler – [that he] used… to make cheese toast.” The gratitude for those gifts, seemingly frugal and practical from the perspective of this day and age, resonates in the words from this letter.  My Aunt Lois had given him paper, carbon, and stamps which he concluded would “come in handy.” Also evident in this last few sentences of this note was a slightly elevated sense of anxiety: “Tomorrow is a new superintendent and the dawn of a new era.”  He closes with “write and thanks for everything.”

As our lives clipped along, Daddy  recorded the basics of each week, and occasionally, my mother scribbled some little tid-bit on the side of the paper in her signature, illegible cursive: “I saw Susan Cowan at church,” or when she gave a speech at a dietetic convention, she scrawled “I wore my new black shoes and a red dress,” a purchase she and I had made at Rich’s for her on a pre-holiday trip to Greenbriar Mall.  Occasionally included in the letter were newspaper clippings, news of my high school friends, or Daddy’s informing me that he had “deposited 50 dollars in [my] account.”

The January 14th letter described an ice storm that struck Atlanta.  When Daddy awoke early that week in the wee hours to the loss of power, he stumbled in search of matches in the dark, struck one, located a travel clock, and set its alarm to guarantee they wouldn’t oversleep. Even though the schools were closed and the power flickered on and off all morning, he and mother both set out for work. He wrote of how the storm impacted almost every day that week including Sunday where there was “no heat in the church’s building except in the sanctuary.”

As February moved into March, they repaired the television, Daddy published an article in a journal, and mother consulted on a film strip, yes, I wrote “film strip,” for a New York company distributing information on the new, low-cholesterol diet.  Daddy wrote “they will pay $50 for a couple of phone calls to their home office.” Daddy spoke at the Metropolitan Council for the International Reading Association, received an engagement to serve on the program at the national IRA convention in Houston, and taught workshops at a classroom teachers’ conference at Georgia State University. He noted “I have a pretty, busy spring.”

Daddy also taught a night class, and he and mother both dashed off to conventions in their respective fields – St. Louis, Denver, Dallas, and Louisville, Kentucky. At one point, Mother had to create a “video” for work that “she worried circles around.”  

One concern of his that showed up occasionally in these weekly letters of 1973 is the turnover and “white flight” from the south side of Atlanta. Like all major inner cities across the United States, the 1970s saw rapid changes in the demographics in inner city neighborhoods and public schools.

Mother and Daddy liked where they lived and wished to stay in their house with its affordable mortgage. They sensed the unrest that was occurring and knew they faced the inevitable. Daddy wrote, “There are ten houses for sale on Brewer [a neighboring street- see We Had To Take Brewer] and four on Oana” [our home street].  “It is just a matter of time,” he concluded. They spent one Sunday afternoon that spring shopping for houses in Druid Hills, a northern suburb, but found the trip “discouraging” as getting a house the equivalent size of the one they were in now in south Atlanta would be “double the price” and “not as convenient.”

They really liked that Oana house, their church, surrounding area, and the location perfect for their lifestyle. They had resolved to stay so as Daddy summarized in one letter that spring:  “that is that.”

Note: They would be one of the last of their friends and neighbors to move. Five more years they would stay there, and they only left when there were several personal assaults and burglaries in the neighborhood. Mother rode the bus to work, and it became unsafe for her to walk the short distance to and from the bus stop. Story for another time … maybe.

Hunter at UNC [I'm betting he didn't read those books.]
Margaret, Kenneth, and I traveled home, when we could get rides, from college many times that spring.  Hunter, being away at school in North Carolina, rarely made the trip. We had various reasons for doing so: “we got a ride,” weddings, bringing friends to Atlanta to shop, eat a good meal, or do laundry, concerts, and doctor appointments. In the letters where he recounts our visits, there is an underlying sense of joy and excitement as they got “to catch up with the kid’s news.”  Daddy wrote that he had taken me back to LaGrange one Sunday after I spent the weekend at home, and proudly told of how  “[I]  was looking great.” My sweet Daddy – no one else loved me like that.

One funny little detail of a Sunday letter is the search for Hunter’s catcher’s mitt.  Did “any one of us know its whereabouts?” I love the simple-ness of this problem. Where is Hunter’s catcher’s mitt? Oh, if life were only that … where is my mitt?   

By the way, Kenneth had his mitt, and after the exchanging of letters of which I am not privy to but read about the conclusion of in another weekly letter, Hunter and mitt were reunited. I assume it was a happy reunion.

At spring break, Margaret went to North Carolina to check out Duke for graduate school, Kenneth went to Disney World, and I went to Jacksonville to spend the break with a friend. Daddy wrote forlornly, “there won’t be anyone home.”

One thing that made me kind of laugh was Daddy’s enthusiasm for shopping at the big, new phenomenon of discount stores --- Treasure Island, and proudly announced that he “found a good pair of shoes and paid half as much” at a outlet for shoes in East Point. They also had started going to the Forest Park Farmer’s Market for fruits and vegetables as the grocery store prices had gotten “outrageous.”

Note: Our neighborhood vegetable man Woody, who use to drive his pick-up truck full of vegetables he picked up at the farmer’s market and then sold to housewives in the neighborhood, had “disappeared.” [Not in the sense of kidnapped but like just one day quit frequenting our street – he came twice weekly when I was in elementary school, kind of like the ice cream man but not as desirable.]

Daddy longed for doing something other than the daily grind: all they seem to do was “work, come home, and get ready to go back to work the next day. We keep hoping that we might get to do something on weekends but that has never worked out for some reason or another. But perhaps with summer coming on, that will change.”

In April, Margaret began student teaching [even though she didn’t become a teacher], I had a tooth pulled and my stereo repaired [hard to believe this made the letter but it did], and Daddy won a free pass to Six Flags after attending a convention in Atlanta for educators. He wrote “so perhaps now I will go.” This is amusing to me – because I can’t imagine my daddy at Six Flags ever. That just doesn’t compute.

In May, Mother and Daddy visited me at LaGrange and came to the annual May Day festivities. They also drove a file of information that Margaret needed for a scholarship down to Macon [where Mercer is located], but didn’t inform Margaret that they left an hour later than intended. Margaret, a worrier by nature, called the Georgia State Patrol twice to check about their being in a possible accident on the interstate. 

My Daddy worried himself sick sometimes, so I guess, she inherited that trait. Lucky her. She and I both seemed to have taken that from him.

Margaret at Mercer's commencement, with rescued mortarboard
After graduating from Mercer and “misplacing her mortarboard right before the ceremony,” Margaret stayed in Macon to work at Red Lobster, but Kenneth headed home to look for a job, and found one at Pioneer Heddle and Reed. At one point that summer, he dropped a fifty pound bale of wire on his foot – and even though he didn’t break it, he  did do a number on his big toe. He stayed out of work a week to recuperate – and I will just interject here that he must have been badly hurt because we McDaniels, we were raised to fulfill our commitments whether work, school, church, or promises to do something with others. Yea. We didn’t “sick out”; it wasn’t in our DNA.

I thought that I had a job at my old haunt, C&S [see Commuting in the Green Goot], but the facility closed. I too had to look for a job – and as a backup if I couldn’t’ find a job in Atlanta, I would go to Macon and work with Margaret at Red Lobster. So. Glad. That. Didn’t. Work. Out.

I found a job at the Atlanta Cabana Motor Lodge restaurant as a hostess, a job that I complained about quite a bit. Because the job began at a ridiculous time in the am, Daddy got up every morning and drove me to it since he didn’t want me catching a bus in the dark. I did “get” to ride the bus home in the afternoons.

There are many tales I could tell about this illustrious summer work, one involving Shriners and another gentleman callers, but … no, I’ll just tell you that it was hard work, early hours and long ones, and that I learned a lot about the “business.”

FTR: Even though this was not written about in the weekly letter, since we were all home to enjoy it – Mother and Daddy celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at The Flame Restaurant at Greenbriar Mall on June 26th. In the letter of July 1, he opens with “it doesn’t seem like just a week ago that you were all here for the anniversary party – it surely was a nice affair and we appreciated so much all you did for us in addition to coming all that distance for such a short time.”

All dressed up for 25th celebration, at Oana
Aunt Harriett, Margaret, Mother, and Aunt Ava at restaurant
Aunt Ava, Lois, Harriett, Hunter, Mother, Daddy, Miss Congenality, Aunt Eleanor, and Kenneth
Kenneth and I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, went out with our high school friends, and spent the summer saving money for college. At one point Daddy wrote, “Kenneth and Harriett went with a group across town to hear some rock group – I can’t remember who if I ever knew.” My guess, in retrospect, is that had my father known anything about this band or what a concert was like, well, we wouldn’t have been going. There is a pretty, good Chicago, the band, story that occurred at Lake Spivey that turned into a disaster, but that is for another blog for another time.

Daddy was busy with his teaching, conventions, and summer time work – and the summer ticked by with its usual day to day. He also noted the hot weather that even my mother, known for always being cold, called “suffering hot.”  We did not have air-conditioning – just window fan units that lulled us to sleep in those sticky, humid, hot summer nights.

On July 3rd,  I celebrated my 19th birthday with two cakes, one baked by my mother and the other given to me by my co-workers. Daddy noted it was “quite a feast.” Daddy loved cake.''

The blogger, circa 1973, at Oana
One of my girlfriends gave me a kitten for my birthday that I named Toke, in what I thought was a clever, but lame and dumb, inside joke.  I have no idea why my parents would accept a kitten into that household, knowing that I would return to college in a month leaving the kitten for them. My daddy was a softie for cats, especially kittens --- my mother not so much --- .

The kitten turned out to be hilarious – as Daddy narrates one of our first experiences with him not long after I got him. Assuming he had gotten out of the house and lost, Mother and Daddy, Kenneth, and I roamed the neighborhood searching high [no pun intended] and low for him, only to discover the whole time he was on the roof of the house.  Apparently, Toke enjoyed watching us, from his perch on the roof, look everywhere we could think of for him – bushes, trees, inside the car engine, the backyard, and neighbors’ yards on both sides. Giving him up for ghost at dusk, we crossed our front yard, approached the porch, and then heard a hearty meow. Looking up, the cat curiously peered over the edge of the front porch roof at us as if “are you looking for me?” and then climbed down to us by the evergreen that grew at the end of the porch.

We weren’t fooled again by Toke. If he went missing, the first place we looked was up – and most of the time that was where he was.  Daddy renamed him “Roofie." We so enjoyed coming home in the afternoons to see that cat sitting on the roof like a mountain goat.     

FTR: I don’t know what happened to Toke/Roofie. Indoor-outdoor cats in those days did not have nine lives, so to speak.

Another story recorded in the weekly letter of the summer of 1973 was about the family's involvement in bringing home Margaret’s in-need-of- repairs VW from Macon, a car that had stranded Margaret on the side of the road on occasion. He noted, “We had to take the back roads since we weren’t equipped to drive on the expressway. I drove Margaret’s friend’s car with Kenneth behind in her VW and then the two of them behind him in my VW with the flasher lights on. It took us three hours for the 80 miles, and we were in a frazzle when we got to the VW dealer in East Point.”

I loved reading about this as I remember how he would fret about cars, car troubles, and car repairs – and when it involved one of his daughters or wife, he just took charge to assure that we were in a “safe” car. Who doesn’t love that about her Daddy?

At the end of July, my parents took a vacation and left Kenneth and me by ourselves for ten days [they were way too trusting] and traveled to visit Daddy’s side of the family in Arkansas and to view some historical sites in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. Fun times, I’m guessing. Meanwhile Kenneth and I threw some parties but didn’t have police involvement.  Victories all around…they, of course, returned to an immaculate house with no sign of … well, you know.

As the summer neared its end, we prepared to go back to academia.  Hunter, who helped Margaret move into her room at Duke told Mother and Daddy that “Margaret’s room was real small” and Daddy wrote, “I don’t know what she’ll do with all her stuff.”

Margaret's Duke photo
The last weeks before I returned to college, informal and spontaneous gatherings of my high school friends occurred nightly. Daddy told of how “there has been a crowd over every night and they stay out in the yard and talk.” [See On Leaving the Front Yard]

As the middle of September came, they were back to their empty nest, working, and worrying about the neighborhood. At the end of the month, intruders broke into our home and in Daddy’s words --  they took  “a book of stamps and a handkerchief from the boys’ room that had quarters in it. Every drawer in the house had been ransacked and the contents dumped on the floor. It took us hours to put it back. Luckily there was no real money in the house.”

This disturbance upended them – they felt so violated, but they had determined that it was better for them financially to stay and wait it out. They had children in college – they had to get through that before they could think about a bigger mortgage. Plus, Daddy felt better after the police told them that it “was probably teenagers.”

Atlanta elected its first black mayor that fall – Maynard Jackson. Daddy, in his typical journalistic style, wrote lightly of the politics of the time; he mostly focused on the broken furnace and dryer, the kitchen faucet repair for the dishwasher [one of those non-installed models that we rolled over from the opposite side of the kitchen and hooked up to the kitchen sink faucet], a new storm door, a broken television “that will disappoint the children,” the pressures of his and Mother’s work, and the concern over the failing health of two of mother’s cousins.  

In November, Mother and Daddy visited Cumberland Mall for the first time and declared it “fabulous.” I was on Homecoming Court at LaGrange and named Miss Congeniality, which is so much better than queen. J

In the middle of the month, Mother’s cousin Ethel died, and they drove to Lynchburg, Virginia, after working all day on a Friday, and arrived at 1 in the morning. The next day they attended the funeral, and it was a “grand affair” as all “parts of the family was represented except Uncle John’s.  [The funeral gathered] quite an array of first cousins and they all came from a distance – we traveled the farthest. We were so glad we went since it was our only chance to see some of them.” They returned to Atlanta on Sunday – a quick turnaround trip. Life [and death in this case] events involving family mattered to them, and they would have made every effort to be there.

Michael and Margaret, all chummy and looking rather collegiate
We all arrived home for Thanksgiving, bringing our fullness and noise back to the house. My sister brought her boyfriend, Michael, and Daddy took him “for a tour of Atlanta.” Margaret took him to “the lighting of the tree at Rich’s,” at the time a big Atlanta tradition, and then he and she attended the rehearsal dinner and wedding for Margaret’s high school friend Terry. Daddy declared Margaret “lovely” as a bridesmaid, and then all except me, who was off till January, went back to college. Daddy signed this letter of November 25 with “Happy Thanksgiving.”

The next letter, dated December 30th, tells of a Christmas that has come and gone. Kenneth and I have been attending “parties” with our high school friends, and Margaret and Hunter have returned to grad school. This letter ends the year the same way that Daddy began it with gratitude for his Christmas gifts of a“new shirt and tie,” and for a “very lovely Christmas.”  He also added that he was grateful for Kenneth’s “raking both the front and back yards.”  I love that – his appreciation for some yard work – but mostly that to him, this gift mattered enough to be mentioned in the letter.

Daddy's gift, Kenneth's yard raking
 As I went through this year of letters, what stands out the most is the simplicity of our lives in 1973, even though they were busy, full of obstacles and setbacks – they appear so ordinary.

Recorded and reported by my father, who even though he suggested the weighty issues of the time, the letters make it clear that my parents loved us, appreciated the home they had, and worked hard for a living to pay bills, maintain a household, and put us through college.  In spite of what was a full life, he never complained, even though he worried, there is no doubt about that. No matter what happened, from the large, societal changes in the city of Atlanta to the silliness of an adopted kitten, Daddy typed the weekly letter and recounted what was on his heart and mind and what mattered the most  – us.

ETA: Margaret made mother's dress for that 25th wedding anniversary because she "wanted her to have something new and pretty," and Kenneth told me that Dr. Reynolds {I can write a whole entry just on him} drained his toe twice and was "extremely painful." 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What a life! 1965

The family and an excerpt from one of Daddy's letters, January, 1965

For those of you who read my blog, you are aware of the fact that my mother kept a type of journal [Notes My Mother Made} and my dad wrote weekly letters to my mother’s family in Virginia.  I have just spent some of the last hours reading through the combination of his letters and her notes, dated 1965.

I was ten years old and in the fifth grade – my older brother Hunter a high school sophomore, my sister Margaret an eighth grader, and my brother Kenneth in the sixth grade.

My parents both worked, my dad two jobs: he was a seventh grade teacher at Mt. Carmel Elementary in Douglasville, Georgia, and worked nights and weekends at the local library; Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta employed my mother as a dietitian in the cafeteria, a job that required some weekend hours.

In the notes and letters, my parents concluded that we were frantically busy, and at the end of her journaling dated, May 16, 1965, after having celebrated Hunter’s sixteenth birthday, my mother signed off with the salutation of  “what a life.”

My father loved teaching seventh grade, but since he was a gifted speaker and had extraordinary interpersonal skills, the administration  tapped him for leadership and recommended that he get more training so that he could “move up.” Thus began his “going back to school.” {He would eventually get two additional degrees and move rapidly into the central office staff in Douglas County.]

Since the school where he taught was twenty-five miles west of Atlanta, he had arranged a car pool with three other teachers who lived, relatively speaking, nearby. Saving the extra money they gave him for gas, my father’s dependability and responsibility to those other riders is evident in one of the letters written in February of 1965.

He was violently ill with a stomach flu, that ran through the whole family, no pun intended, but he knew that those other teachers counted on him for a ride. He picked them up, and under physical duress, delivered them to school.  He wrote in his weekly letter that “it was raining so hard and I felt so bad myself that I wondered how I managed at all.” He had already gotten up early to walk my mother to the bus stop at 5:45 am as he “didn’t wish for her to be standing on a corner by herself in the dark.”

My mother’s hours at Grady were irregular, and it seems that in 1965, her boss “sicked out” frequently and the weight of the job fell on her shoulders, in spite of the fact that she wasn't in charge. She fretted about the household chores getting done, and even though my parents had hired two different maids, Pearl for the ironing, and Nora Lee for the heavier work, keeping house to her standards just didn’t happen. She writes about staying up till three in the morning to wax floors or while “the children were at choir practice, I cleaned the bathroom floor.”

Hunter with one of his speech trophies

Hunter, the brainiac of the family, seemed to be getting honors left and right --- what a bore. He had won second place in an Atlanta Optimist Speech contest, been chosen for All-State Chorus, and gotten chosen for the Governor’s Honors Summer Program. Everywhere he landed, people seem to laud his “vocabulary,” his bringing recognition to Sylvan, our high school, and teachers recognized his all around brilliant self. My mother recorded his willingness to finally take an interest in the way he looked. According to her, he enjoyed the clothes, snappy jackets and ties, needed to compete in some of the contests of which he was enrolled.  That must have been just a momentary lapse in his fashion sense, because we have photos of him from this same year in black socks with sandals and mismatched plaids. Just cause you’re smart doesn't mean you’re a good dresser.

Roommate with a duck-tail and Hunter at GHP, both are styling

He and my brother Kenneth had paper routes of ninety or so houses [See Skip One Throw One], and were constantly fixing flats on their bikes and collecting money. Daddy wrote of how Hunter saved up “$35 to buy a bike from Western Auto.”  Kenneth threw the route by himself many times while Hunter scurried off to be honored somewhere.

Margaret, not much for studying, had tried hard to not do well in French, but took beautifully to dance lessons at the YMCA and cooking the nightly meals. My mother bragged quite a bit about her ability to cook full meals including desserts, even though she had to be told repeatedly to “take off her school clothes before she prepared dinner.” In her rebellion, Margaret improvised this request by mother one afternoon apparently by donning three or four aprons to cover her school clothes. Mother recalled this get up with humor and wished that the camera had film cause “you just had to see her.”

on family vacation

In demand as a baby-sitter, my neighbors with small children called on Margaret to babysit – some nights she made a cool 1.50.  She also sang in choir at both church and school, ran around with her girlfriends, and needed rides to school for one project or another. She and Hunter attended Friday night football games when they could “get rides with friends.”

An avid sports lover, Kenneth wanted to play ball of all sorts – baseball, he played on Gray Y and little league, and when he got birthday money, he bought a basketball that he “dribbled every where he went.” He loved school, especially the new math, and volunteered readily to go to summer school to take “whatever.” A kind sort, Kenneth wrote Hunter a note to tell him that he had found in "their collecting money"  a “1919 penny” and saved it for Hunter’s coin collection. For an eleven year old, Kenneth seemed amazingly diligent and determined. The responsibility of the paper route fell on him.


Note: I asked Hunter if he still had that penny and he said “No. My coin collection was stolen along with my 1965 VW Beetle while I was living in the dorms at UNC [in 1972]. Why did I think it was a good idea to keep that in the car? My only answer is that I was 24.”

In the winter of 1965, I became a real challenge and worry for my parents. I developed an anxiety disorder about attending school, or so that’s how I diagnose it now. Each morning before school, I woke up complaining of stomach aches  – no fever, no other symptoms, but I would whine that I just “didn't feel well” as Daddy wrote. If they insisted that I go on to school, the symptoms seem to worsen -- I became an emotional mess, and no amount of their encouraging or coercing persuaded me that I would be fine once I got there.

On many occasions, they wrote of how “Harriett Sue stayed home from school today, and Hunter stayed with her.” Both of them noted how if I was allowed to stay home, the aches passed and I was returned to “good spirits.” What a huge problem this was for two working parents. They would not leave me alone at home, and as the letters told one of my siblings stayed home with me. This problem didn't occur every day, but its frequency made an impression in the weekly letters.

One day in March, I pretended to go to school. Got dressed, went up the street, but instead of crossing the street to the school, I ducked down and hid in bushes in a neighbor’s yard. When I thought enough time had passed, I ran back down the street, into my house and back to sleep.  After seeing me dash down the street, a concerned neighbor alerted the school that “a young girl had been seen running.” The school, noting I was missing, called my father at his job, and he phoned home to check. I lied to him and told him I had been sent home by my teacher, but Daddy called my elementary school and talked to the teacher who said “she never came into the classroom.” I remember little tidbits of this, but not the repercussions of my deception. I promise you it wasn't pretty.

Daddy, wishing to solve my problems, convinced himself that I wasn’t getting enough sleep while Mother worried it was something” deeper” as it seemed to revolve around “[their]” leaving for work. What a mess I was – and it seems that after several months of this, whatever malaise it was righted itself or at least the events quit making the notes and letters.

In addition to my school attendance problem, our cat Pete disappeared in April, and I was convinced it was dead. As mother wrote, “Harriett Sue read a book about a lost cat and convinced herself of Pete’s demise. She blamed us because we put him out on a cold night, and he hadn’t been seen since. I sent the other children to look for him this afternoon to no avail.  She’s cried most of the afternoon and wore us out. I think the only way to placate her is to get her a kitten. Once we told her that, she perked up.”

Another way I added to the family drama was in my wearing or should I write not wearing my prescription glasses.  According to my dad’s April letters, I was always losing them – many times they were found, after much searching, in the yard or once I dropped them outside a nearby apartment complex. My dad wrote, “we have told her she has to put them on or in her glasses’ case on her dresser.” I guess I didn’t learn that lesson since he wrote another time about my calling him at work in a panic because I couldn’t “find my glasses.”  He shared pretty honestly how “she hasn’t learned to wear them.” I thought I just had trouble learning math – what a doofus!  I couldn’t even figure out how to wear glasses.
the stomach-achy one in "good spirits" [and note -- no glasses]

I’m sure I had lots of other, fine qualities, not discussed in these epistles, but I can read from the tone of both the letters and Mother’s “notes” that I had them quite concerned. 

It’s hard to look back on this time and think about the anguish I must have caused them even though they wrote fairly straight-forwardly about it. In reading between the lines, I can sense their worry. Sigh.

My dad began most of his letters with a type of weather report: “It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon” or “balmy and expecting rain” or “we had a day of night of solid rain that came down in sheets” or my favorite “we woke up his morning to a hot 14 degrees.”  

From the weather he moved on to each of us – himself included –  and wrote details of their daily obstacles:  “I got my license and the car inspected – cost me $25 dollars to get the front end aligned, headlights adjusted, and new tie rods for the front wheels. It was a pretty expensive day.”  Or – “ They came for the icebox on Monday and then called me on Thursday to say that it would cost $85 to have it fixed. So that was a nice unpleasant amount we hadn’t planned on.” From his writing, money concerns seem an underlying theme that he faced with dignity and fortitude.

He wrote of mother’s woes at work as she had to “work an extra shift since Mrs. Rutledge, [mother’s boss] was sick” or called mother in to do it. He wrote of Hazel’s “having to stay up to iron since Pearl [our maid] didn’t show up.” My mother’s more fragmented notes at this time suggested many personnel and management type conflicts that she dealt with.

Note: I remember Mother and Daddy sitting at the dinner table late into the evenings sometimes and discussing the many and varied problems of my mother’s employment.

We were a one car family, and my parents manage schedules to get Hunter to this practice or that, Margaret over to the high school for this, or Kenneth to the ball park. I had to be babysat, so they put me in the car with them to move from place to place or I was sent to the library with Daddy, all the time juggling their own work schedules around what we needed or wanted to do.  If I pitched a fit as I was wont to do, my parents allowed me to play and stay with my best friend and next door neighbor Marcie, but they limited that time since at Marcie’s, the children had “unsupervised television viewing.”

The letters and journals recorded the ordinariness of our lives, and as I look back on it, at my ripe old age of sixty, I see how we were raised in such normalcy – they wrote of the cedar bush dying at the corner, of the beautiful, blooming roses, of the loss of a close friend, of painting the cabinet doors, of mother’s visits to the beauty parlor, of my brother Kenneth’s pitching a Little League game for the first time, of how Hunter read the Oxford History of the American People for entertainment, of going to dinner at G&M cafeteria, of washing clothes, of Margaret’s sewing lessons at Singer Sewing Machine Company, of spraying the bushes in the yard, of car batteries dying, of Margaret’s election as Secretary of her Sunday school class, of looking forward to their summer vacation to Virginia, and of Sunday meals, and of going to church and school.

What a life.

Seems like a good one. Thank you, Mother and Daddy... :-)

FTR: My dad typed the weekly letters on an Underwood that sat on a small side table in our den – some of the copies we have are on carbon paper. He learned to type early on in his life, and he told us that it “kept him from the front line” during World War II.  He pounded accurately and rapidly on that manual -- his rare mistakes, in his quickness, seem to just be in leaving out a letter in a word. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hunkering Down Moose Style

Hard to beat this level of cute. It just makes me grin.
Newest Grand 'Phew, born January 3.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Oh Friend! My Friend! -- A Tribute to Margaret Wingate

The first time I met Margaret was in the fall of 1972, at Lagrange College. She was the upper classman assigned to our dorm to be a mentor and support to the freshmen girls.  Her room, located four doors down, became a Mecca. With her long blonde hair, bright, sparkling eyes, and a gorgeous smile, Margaret welcomed us like life long friends.

We all loved her.

I thought she was beautiful and admired the way she dressed.  Wearing her signature denim, bell-bottoms and sporting some kind of colorful top, she seemed the essence of a 70s college student.  We sought her to solve our problems, to soothe our wounded vanities, and to calm us down with the fears and stress of college courses.  Hosting hall parties in her dorm room, we drank bottled Cokes and ate Jiffy popcorn popped on her hot plate.  Always making time for us, she shepherded us into the wild world of independence on a college campus. Early on, Margaret’s destiny was set – forever to be an influence on the young.

Margaret graduated and moved on and out of my life. It wasn’t till the early 1990s, when half way through my own teaching career, that she returned to my orbit even if on the peripheral. A student in my 10th grade class at Harrison High School, said to me: “You should meet this teacher I had at Pine Mountain. I think you would like each other.” I later discovered that the teacher was none other than Margaret Wilder, now Wingate, my former college dorm resident assistant.

From then on, I listened closely to the students who touted her teaching and influence.  The stories included details about the Target classes she taught at Pine Mountain that were exciting, fun, as well as interesting and her classroom that became a haven for them, a classroom that they said “you just have to see.” According to their testimonies, she was the"best teacher ever"...And her bean bags, lava lamps, mod posters, rock music, and unorthodox teaching style  --- legendary, almost mythic.

Margaret Wingate made a difference in the lives of those students. They bragged on her teaching, told stories of her creative, field trips , and said how much she challenged them to think, ask questions, and be proud of who they were. She even took them white water rafting, and later told me how she was horrified to discover after the trip that one of them couldn’t swim.

In the fall of 2000, I moved to Kennesaw Mountain to open its doors, and while moving in, ran into Margaret, who had also been hired.  We embraced, screamed,  and laughed as we thought about the opportunity to work in the same school. She taught history and gifted on the first floor and above her I taught English. We would share the same students. We would truly be colleagues.  How great to have our lives come full circle --- to end up finishing our teaching careers at Kennesaw Mountain together.

I remember her questioning her move to the high school level – wondering if she would be effective or if she had just given up a job she had loved. Pshaw! *rolling eyes*  Whatever! Effective? You? Really?  What cha’ smokin’?

At first our contact was at a minimum.  Once, before Margaret and I began to team teach together, I brought up her name in my classroom, perhaps to share some college tale. To make a connection, I asked my students:  “Do any of you know Mrs. Wingate?” Instead of the “yes or no” answers I expected, they shouted out:  “I love Mrs. Wingate.” “She’s my favorite teacher.” “She’s da bomb.” “She’s got the coolest classroom.”  As usual, the mention of her name always elicited a type of pep rally.

How did she draw such devotion? Because all her students recognized that she loved teaching, she loved them, and she wanted what’s best for them.  What was not to love about her?

For the first two years, Margaret and I saw each other at faculty meetings and visited each other in our classrooms, but it wasn’t until the magnet program decided to create a course for their students that would combine US History and American Literature that she and I would become true colleagues and great friends. Margaret, the perfect choice to teach the history part, was a no-brainer, but I lucked out when another English teacher who was picked to instruct the literature bowed out, and I stepped forward and declared, “I’d love to do it.” The true story is that I begged to do it. Whined. Cried. Threw a fit. I wanted to teach with Margaret. I knew it would be awesome. To get to work with a teacher whom the students admired so just seemed like a God send.

And it was.

My teaching experience changed as I worked side by side with Margaret. Immediately, I saw the high expectations she had for her students and herself and the goals she wanted for the course.   I knew that this would be the course and highlight of my career.

We were different animals in the classroom – Margaret, open-minded and spontaneous, who dressed in bright colors, and wore wild earrings, colorful Crocs,  and fun reading glasses was paired with me --- a no-nonsense, following a tight schedule, conservative, draped in some element of black clothing everyday task master.  We were opposites --- but it worked.

Margaret brought out the best in it all -- the course, in those students, and in me.

For the next six years, Margaret and I team taught – with two years sharing the same classroom.  It was in her classroom that I saw firsthand why she was so celebrated.

As I observed her teaching, I saw she was a natural but skilled craftsman. As a master storyteller, she wove history into a delightful and adventuresome journey where she made the men, women, and events of America’s past come alive. I listened to her mesmerize students with the depth of her knowledge as she never stopped reading and studying about history. She brought something new, fresh, original to it – but it was her passion for history that won them over.  Won us all.

A big part of Margaret life was that she gave selflessly to her teaching and her students.

She inspired them and accepted them for who they were. Always ready to listen to their woes and ails, she gave them time, all they needed, and time is a precious commodity for a busy teacher. If I opened the door to room 202 at Kennesaw Mountain HS, the room was never empty. Someone, a student, a former student, a colleague, was always there in search of her. We gravitated toward her – we desired her. Like moths to a flame, she possessed spectacular warmth.

With her undivided attention, Margaret made us feel that what we said and had to say was important. Our troubles the biggest. Our joys the best. She had a gift for relationship – and she gave it unconditionally, as she listened without judging. She smiled with us, cried with us, and laughed at our jokes, funny or not. For the record, most of mine were funny.

She gave this same thing to her teaching. She bought students candy, fixed them “collards and hard tack,” squirted them with a spray bottle, sang to them on their birthday, and hugged them with a full and sincere heart. On her 50th birthday that we celebrated in her classroom, a student brought her guitar and returned the favor to Wingate with a song she had written solely for her. Margaret wept over that student’s thoughtfulness.

She designed teaching units with creativity – and was always looking at a way to help the students “get it.” Students remembered fondly what they learned in her classroom:  they lovingly recalled her unit on Vietnam, the Holocaust, or WW1 – that they would never forget the way she approached history.  She taught with panache, with imagination, and complemented it with passion.

If a student sat in her classroom, they loved history because she made you wanna. It was her way.

Not only was Margaret a teacher, but she was a confidant, a cheerleader, and a best friend.  She loved viewing nature, and I adored the way she would declare something she’d seen as “magnificent.”

I don’t have the words to express how heart sore I am over the loss of her.  I will miss her love, her devotion, her contagious laugh, and big smile.  I can’t even begin to talk about our friendship – and the loss of it – the grief is too big.  How can that vibrant, crazy, lousy driving, lover of life, sweet friend of mine be gone? I have chosen to keep her spirit present and to believe it cannot be extinguished.

Margaret had gusto. Whatever she did, she did with joy. She loved to read, to travel, to laugh and drink a little wine. She loved music. Hot boiled peanuts. Riding around. Writing notes to friends. Funny stories.  She loved her pets – Dylan, Bombay, and Blondie. She loved the 60s. The 70s. She loved to discuss. To listen. To celebrate. She loved going. Doing. Learning. Laughing. Observing. Reminiscing.

She embraced it all. She sat on ready. 

In one of my last conversations with her after her hip surgery, we talked about our next trip “to the mountains.” We had been making an annual trip to a house I own in Rabun County, Georgia.  Up there, as we sat on the screened porch, we talked for hours entertaining  a variety of subjects, but our conversations always circled back to talk of and wonder about our former students – Margaret loved the students whom she had “the pleasure” of teaching, and to her, their being in her classroom was to her delight. She was the one who was blessed. 

I know differently. Margaret blessed us all. In those thousands of students that Margaret taught, she lives on – they are her legacy.

I thank God for the way she brightened my life and willed me joy.

She painted life with such gorgeous color.

Good night, Sweet Margaret. I’ll see you later.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Anything Else You Want to Give Me

My family and I have always made Christmas wish lists or now as we call it, Gift Suggestions. Several years ago, my niece Nora generated a shared Google Document that we all put our wishes on, and some of us even link it to the gift online. Brave new world! 

When we were children, and encouraged by letters from my generous aunts who lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Washington, DC., my siblings and I sat down around Thanksgiving and created lists with “wants”  to send them. This task, with obvious benefits, my siblings and I dragged our feet on and turned into a ridiculously arduous and drawn out assignment for no other reason than we were obviously ungrateful wretches.:-)

Celebrating a number of Christmases with my aunts Ava, Eleanor, Lois, and Harriett in Virginia made a lasting impression on all of my family. The aunts always provided a festive atmosphere and even though these occasions have faded and blended together over time, my siblings and I always smile when we think of those years "up" in Virginia. Until 1964, my grandparents shared in our annual visit, but already older [in their 70s] when I was born, their shadowy figures play elusively at the edges of my memory.

Regardless, my amiable aunts took the lead and blessed my childhood with fond moments, a lot of them surrounding Christmas.

With a family of four to raise and cautions savers, my parents had little in the budget for Christmas presents, and my aunts stepped in with generosity and kindness to give to us. I’m not suggesting that it was not what they wished to do, but I know that their unselfishness was a great help to my parents. They gave to us with such largess; they made and purchased gifts and provided us with clothing, especially what they handmade for my sister and me. {In Gratitude for Eleanor}

Margaret styling it in her handy clam diggers; I'm showing some slip. Ha. 
A day or two before Christmas, we made the eight-hour road trip to Lynchburg. When we arrived, after my dad’s focus on “making good time,” their three story house greeted us with the Christmas spirit. Decorated with greenery on the hearth and mantle, a twinkling tree in the corner of the living room with small goodies for us hanging from the branches, stockings on the chimney [we didn't have a fireplace in Atlanta for Santa], and a wreath on the door, their home welcomed their sister, her husband, and their four children, the only nieces and nephews they had.

Even though the house on Westover where they lived seemed huge to me, it still had to absorb fourteen people, and ten of them were adults. My brothers slept in the basement on hard, canvas cots with scratchy, green wool Army blankets, and my sister and I tucked ourselves on a daybed, covered in Grandma's quilt, under the eaves in Aunt Eleanor's attic bedroom. Mother and Daddy rested on the sofa bed in the living room [that must have been fun]. The house had two bathrooms -- I don't remember anything about the morning shuffles associated with those parameters. Thankfully for all, our Christmas visits lasted just a few days. 
The real gift of Christmas for us was the love and adoration my mother's sisters gave to us. 

Usually on Christmas Eve, we dressed for services at Fort Hill Methodist, a church within walking distance of their house. 

After that service, we four performed for my aunts and grandparents– Christmas carols [all of my siblings sing well – I’m the weak link], or we read passages from the Bible of the Christmas story. 
Not sure what my mother’s motivation was – could have been anything, but when I asked  my brother Hunter, he said, “her fantasy.” My guess is it was a way of sharing her children with my childless aunts.

We grudgingly put on these performances since mother always made us practice until she was satisfied, and she was an exacting maestro. In all, we were probably pretty lame in our execution of this tradition, but our aunts applauded enthusiastically and bragged on us like we were talented. 

Another Christmas Eve tradition, mostly my mother’s, was the admiration of the wrapped presents themselves – the paper, the ribbon, the size. Mother loved sitting near the tree and extracting wrapped presents and exclaiming over their beauty: "Isn't this exquisite?" she'd ask us. We totally didn't get it and rolled our eyes with a lack of understanding of the care and thoughtfulness that went into wrapping gifts. I miss the way she used to show such appreciation and enthusiasm for a beautifully wrapped gift. 


On Christmas morning, we immediately ran to our stockings and unloaded them [my aunt Lois used to put these huge nuts in them, probably a king nut, confusing my little “what was Santa thinking?” mind] and then we waited patiently [except not really] to open presents. For what seemed like hours, mother and daddy and the aunts sat leisurely around the breakfast table sipping their oyster stew. Ewwww. This tradition I could do without, and I was totally grossed out by the concoction anyway. I did, however, have a fancy for those salty oyster crackers that accompanied this dish, and for some reason, mother only allowed me a limited amount.  

When we finally did gather in the living room for the opening of presents, we oohed and ahhed over the number of presents [amazing amount as my aunts wrapped every little thing to make it seem like more; for example, if they were giving us two pair of socks, each was wrapped lovingly and separately]. We gleefully enjoyed the opening of the presents as much as the present itself, well we might have enjoyed the present more. :-)
That's I with my back to the camera -- I look a little grabby.
Note: My Aunt Eleanor always received the most gifts, some of them store gift wrapped; as a beautician, she had loyal clients who purchased slips, nightgowns, scarves, and gloves from Miller and Rhoades or gave her boxes of Russell Stover candy, which she graciously shared with us.

As the presents were handed out, we each waited [again, not patiently] to see what each had received, and the paper from the package and the bows and ribbons surrounded us. Afterwards, my aunts folded and saved the salvaged paper as well as gift boxes for the next year. A singular piece of wrapping paper could appear consecutively for years, and they got just as much mileage, if not more, out of those stick on bows, Frugal they were and what a great example to us.{We still save boxes, bows, and gift bags.}

Before all of this, our trip, our performance, the decorations, and the gift giving, my aunts wrote letters to us in Atlanta and asked us to make gift suggestions. Some of the gifts were a no-brainer – clothes!!! -  but they did like to get us a couple of things that were “store bought.”

Now here’s the rub --- as much as we desired the gifts, loved what they bought, and appreciated what they did for us, mother had to force us to make our lists.



This ritual of sending “the aunts” our “wish list” had to only been done under duress. Why? What ws that deal?

Mother nagged and nagged us to get our lists done, and from time to time, a letter dated from the first of December would arrive from Lynchburg, and my sweet Aunt Eleanor would write, “We really need the children’s lists as we have lots to do to get ready.”

What was wrong with us?

We were children and had no concept of the trouble and expense and time that the adults put into making our Christmas memories.

They did make them – wonderful ones. I hope they knew. I pray they knew. They were the best.

We miss all of them so.


These two lists of mine, saved by Aunt Eleanor and resplendent in their preposterous-ness, we found among the memorabilia that my sister and I continue to sift through.

1965 Wish List

Sweaters – white
Clothes – hip huggers, Poor Boys – different colors – such as blue black red white pink, pants such as with big belts, dresses, skirts, blouses, shoes – lafers {I assume I mean loafers} brown size 7AA, kneesocks, white, etc. coat, any color you think would be good
I got a charm bracelet for my birthday – I need silver ones.
Records – Elvis Presley, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman’s Hermits,
Watch, television, radio
Jewelry box [I crossed out jewelry three times before I spelled it correctly]
Money such as 5 dollar bills, 10 dollar bills, 20 dollar bills
Gold necklace with my name spelled out
Anything else you want to give me.

1971 Wish List

Any kind of clothes
Pants, size 9
Body shirts, watch, crochet vest, underwear
Posters any type
Albums – The Carpenters, Carole King, The Who, Rod Stewart, Chicago, Cat Stevens
Bracelets, plan [I mean plain] gold or silver
Chokers, gold or silver
Silver chain belt
Money – any size
Anything will be acceptable [did I think I sounded mature? Bwha]

I didn't want much, did I?  Hey now, they were suggestions.

Merry Christmas.

Always the cutest, I pose with one of my many packages.