Friday, June 24, 2011

We Weren't Always Fat Old Grandmas

In my mother's nursing home many rooms had pictures of the residents as brides. Someone wanted the staff to know that the wreck in the bed once bloomed in radiant nubility. She had been willowy, fetching, and maybe outside of the bride picture, wild!

Or, consider this. My mother's friend, in middle age, surveying her peers at the swimming pool and concluding, "I'm still pretty cute!" In our forties we definitely were, and in our fifties maybe even. I know a friend or two in their seventies who wear sleeveless dresses and shorts and work out 2 hours a day. And my aunt, a former beauty queen? We were visiting them, and she flirted with my husband, and I felt annoyed, and she was 80 years old, and lovely.

A classmate of mine just published a book (I Remember Nothing, by Nora Ephron) saying "The most important thing about me is that I'm old." On the back cover she is glossy, svelte, and gorgeous. Oh, I may look young, she writes, but I have aches and pains. Please, Nora, you can't have it both ways. You can't complain about getting old until you lose your looks!

Because most of us don't look young in a way that denies one ever really was young (a phrase I read in a a novel once). Most of us in our sixties and seventies look old. No one ever says any more, "Oh you're not fat," or "You're not old." I never considered myself especially good looking, but now I realize I was! The women who are sylphs at 42 or 45 unconsciously tell themselves they'll never look like me. I never thought I'd look like me either!

As an old lady friend remarked, "Pat when I look in the mirror I scare myself!"

Yet, we have to bear in mind, getting older is a privilege not a right.


Monday, June 13, 2011

The Family Genes

I joined and started filling in little boxes of my lineage. You type in names, and then "hints" pop up with other people's family trees and public records such as census reports. I got absorbed, because there's always more to do, observe, and think about.

The census reports are exciting because they're fairly accurate (and there are ways to correct obvious errors). I found that both my grandmother Tillie and my grandfather Frank lived in Milwaukee with their parents in 1900. How did they meet? What were their mattresses like? I found Frank's WWI draft registration. His own handwriting reports that he is "short" and "stout" and is missing part of a digit. It was 1918, and he already had a wife and child (my mother). Did Frank go to war? I don't know! I will ask Frank's son, my mom's brother, when I see him in August.

My dad's side of the family goes back to the 1700s; they were early settlers in North Carolina and moved on to Tennessee. One ancestor got land grants as a reward for bringing in 8 new families to Tennessee. The settling men incorporated a town "because there wasn't any form of government there." They formed a 13-man commission to be the judges. Then one went out hunting and was "killed by an Indian while hunting with Boone."

I have found one Will by a grandfather named John Allred. In 1792 he left land to his sons and "negroes" and cows to some of his daughters. He left my great-something-grandmother Elizabeth Horner ten shillings. Who knew the young country was on the British currency by that time? And what was the value of 10 shillings? Probably she didn't get much because her husband William Horner was prosperous. Deed records show him buying hundreds of acres for miles around. Elizabeth and William's son "Capt. Jack" Horner looked westward farther, and started plans for a new town in Missouri, where his son and grandsons settled the town of Hornersville with land from the Louisiana Purchase.

Men were looking out and seeing land, land, bountiful land to be had for the settling. Exploring, pioneering, starting towns, was the happening thing.

And what were the women doing? They were having many many many babies, and contrary to popular belief many of those many babies lived to enormous ages. In checking some of my dates I could find great-grandmothers who started having babies at 17 and didn't stop until their late 40s. From time to time not surprisingly the wife would die and then another wife would be married and have lots more children.

If the earliest generations were settlers, by the time things got down to grandfathers, starting companies was the thing. One of Alan's great-grandfathers started a department store, and his dad's father started a bus company. My mother's father Frank (of the draft card) began his own shoe company, and my grandfather Robert had his own magazine, Mississippi Valley Contractor, that he edited and ran for 50 years. They started having smaller families.

That was easier on their wives, who were still putting laundry through a wringer and tending the chickens and cows that everybody had. They sewed their own clothes and put up jam. They took care of sick people at home. One of them, Fannie Dixon Waggener Schaefer, was also a professional musician. Sometimes I wander around here thinking these women would have no use for me!

Because what do I do today? I stand on their shoulders. I imagine our country's history through their experience. I write about them, and future generations will know them!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Patty and the Marshmallow

A news story is making the rounds about old-time psychology experimenters putting a little kid in a room, sitting her down at a child-sized table, and leaving her there with one marshmallow on a plate. She is told she may eat the marshmallow immediately or wait. If she waits, she will receive another marshmallow later and end up with two. The children who deferred gratification at age 5 ended up as wealthier adults with better jobs than the immediately gratifying tots.

What would little Patty do??

The least likely scenario is she would sit quietly in the chair until the time was up and then receive the reward marshmallow, which she would eat now ("Thank you very kindly") and save the first for later. That alternative must at least be considered because occasionally Patty pretended to be good.

A different outcome seems more likely from the questions I consider while waiting: "What the f___ am I doing here? Who is making me do this? Did I sign on for it or something? Did anyone ask me if I even like marshmallows?

"Isn't there any other reward for this beyond another not very tasty bunch of spun sugar? Who is letting this be done? If I eat it now, do I get out of here sooner??"

Possible findings of experimenter upon return: marshmallow half-eaten. Marshmallow nibbled around edges. Marshmallow shinily sticky from being licked all over. Marshmallow placed under table so as to not be seen by subject. Marshmallow kneaded into the shape of a rabbit.

Actions debated: Eat it and have a tantrum. Have a tantrum but don't eat it. Stick marshmallow somewhere on or around body. Collect a second marshmallow and then refuse both when presented with "reward" marshmallow. Trample both! "THAT's what I think of your second marshmallow!"

Fears entertained: Someone might come grab this thing before I eat it! A bird in hand, didn't I hear that somewhere? Returning lady might find marshmallow pristine on plate but declare some other condition unmet, i.e., you had to keep hands in lap or something like that. I will learn I failed to measure up to some standard I was not aware of and I might lose both. Or worse, I might get spanked.

It's a very unreliable experimenting room for this precocious little girl.

Naturally, as she should have known, the whole thing was being filmed.