Thursday, June 5, 2014

Notes My Mother Made

Janet, Nora, and Mother in Underground Atlanta, 1989

When our parents died sixty days apart in 1995, my siblings and I were in the middle of our working years and careers [actually both of my brothers are still working, but you know]. My brothers and sister had children to raise --- as there were eight grand-children under the age of twelve.

Closing their house in the spring of 1996, we carted away boxes and boxes of photos and memorabilia that ended up being stored at my sister Margaret's house.

Busy teaching high school English, I didn’t make time in the summers for going through papers accumulated by my parents in their almost forty-six years of marriage. A huge project to undertake, my sister and I just kept finding other things to do.

Packing away pictures in photo boxes, we stored the thousands of photos in her upstairs closet, and we filed and dumped haphazardly memorabilia and other paraphernalia in a five-drawer filing cabinet. Included with my parents’ papers past were those of my mother’s three unmarried sisters, one of whom spent her retirement years in research and family history.

The amount of paper and photos collected by our family seemed overwhelming.

My Aunt Harriett wrote twenty or thirty books on her family’s genealogy and on Appomattox County, Virginia, her birthplace. Some of the material that she gathered and bound into periodicals is quite dry with titles like “The Tax Records of Appomattox County 1856-1890” or the “Attendance at Sunday School for Salem Methodist Church, 1948.” Not. That. Riveting.  To her, a preserver of the past, the information mattered.

 Mother and Aunt Harriett [in her office] Falls Church, Virginia, 1987

 Aunt Harriett, 1986

Her tireless work in family genealogy and history in a time before common use of the internet and computers is quite impressive. Her research on her extended family includes a book titled “A Hundred Hunter Cousins” and “Grandpa Chilton’s Diary,” all meticulously documented and full of lists and dates and places and people.

About ten years ago, my sister and I began to work through the photographs by sorting them by decades. We also bought hard backed over-sized scrapbooks in anticipation of putting together information for the next generation.  We embossed the scrapbooks with “Chilton” for my mother’s family and “McDaniel” for my dad’s. Left empty on a shelf for this past decade, we had good intentions but never quite got around “to it.”

In the last two years, with both of us retired, Margaret and I started plugging away at this family history of photos and paper – and of course, the technology now available is invaluable. Few people do hands-on scrapbooks anymore since we embrace so much digitally. 

Too bad.

We already had the scrapbooks, and [stomps foot], we’re using them.

We’re not all old school, however.

  Kenneth, Amy, Mother, Margaret, and Daddy, Mother's Day, 1985

Margaret spent months scanning photos and negatives, birth certificates, diplomas, grade reports, tax receipts, World War II souvenirs [odd word] and other interesting [well, anything we found interesting, that is] papers into her computer. Then we began to take some of the print photos, papers, and placed them in the scrapbooks immortalizing three generations of my mother’s family.

In the last two days, we tackled the file folders crammed into that old five drawer filing cabinet that sits in my sister’s bonus room. Labeled with each relative’s name, we unloaded them and set out to organize, save, and toss the detritus gathered there.

We came across part of my mother’s journal. Eh. Not exactly a journal. It’s notes my mother made….

Though they are loosely dated, her notes are not in journal form as in a leather bound book, lined with porous paper, and inked full of her thoughts and interesting tidbits about what adorable children we were. What we found and read were pieces of paper dated from around 1979 to 1993. In three recycled, blue file folders, she scribbled information about telephone calls between her and two of her life long friends, Dot and Sarah. Within those jottings lies little information about her, but then what she did write told much about her caring nature.

In her famous, illegible handwriting, mother recorded explicit details about her friends’ lives – their children, their husbands, and their woes and worries. Extensive notes they are, so that the next time they talked on the telephone, she could review the notes and ask questions specifically. 

 Mother's notes, 1983

In a type of shorthand known to her, she used initials for us when she did make a note: as in “H & D said only goldfish” or “K & S new car” or “Hunter’s award” or “M’s garden.” In March of 1988, she devoted a page to my nephew Paul, who as a newborn, spent time in the neo-natal ICU. In her manic shorthand, she recorded details about his condition. She also made proud notes about her other grandchildren as well: “A eats well” and “C’s precocious.”
Paul, 1988

Writing mainly with a dull pencil, she scribbled on the back of dot-matrix computer paper, old green and white computer sheets with the names of patients she treated in the Cardiac Clinic at Grady, on small slips of note pads with different company logos, on the back and front of sheets of lined notebook paper, and occasionally on the back of Xerox copies of handouts from my father’s days as Reading Coordinator for a local school system. Her copious notes also included particulars about the failing health of her sisters – as she worried about each of them as they aged.

From the notes that I read, now faded with time, her focus lay with her family and friends. How sweet it was to read how she kept meticulous notes on their health and needs. Occasionally she would write, “did not tell about H’s angina” or “forgot to mention M’s scare” or “[my] fender bender.”

My mother loved her family and friends, and as I scanned her notes, the memory of how much she did came flooding back.

Now there's a legacy.



Monday, June 2, 2014

Hydrangeas 2014

I dug up  seven or eight small oak leaf hydrangeas from my friend Debbie's yard back in 2011. I love saying "back in '11 -- it sounds so history book.
These plants flourish in the rich, mulched soil on the west side of my house -- a mostly shady area.
The bloom in the second photo stands twenty inches in height, and the oak leaf plants themselves rise to over eight feet.
The lace capped hydrangeas came from my sister in 2012. My brother-in-law rooted and nourish them to a decent sized plant before they were given to me. They have quadrupled in size.
It's so awesome.
Underneath the hydrangeas are hostas, coral bell, daphne, and ferns.
Gardening is a gift from God,
when friends share their plants with each other, He smiles.