Friday, May 19, 2017

Granny and Grandad Turner

My great-grandparents married in Greenville, Texas on Christmas Day, 1919. Robert Marvin Turner had just returned from his Army duty in World War I and Mary Marie Jones was 20 years old. Marvin was a mechanic and achieved the rank of Sergeant in the Army before being discharged in 1918.
When he came home from his service, Marvin was a farmer, working on his father Alexander Kyle's land. A.K. Turner was married 3 times.  He had brought his second wife Laura Stapleton Turner and his children from both marriages to Greenville from Lee County, Virginia in a covered wagon in 1895.
A.K was also a farmer, was 6'7" tall and had an impressive mustache. After Laura's death in 1912, he remarried, to Mary Ann Rorex. A.K. died in 1926.
A.K.'s mother Araminta Linkous Turner was the grand-daughter of a Hessian soldier who had been brought from the Palatine district of Germany by the British to fight the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He was captured by the American forces and kept as a prisoner of war on the Shiflet farm in Montgomery County, Virginia. When the war was over, he decided he liked the Americans and he married Farmer Shiflet's daughter, inheriting the farm when the old farmer died. Their family still owns the farm.
The Turners originally came from Cornwall, England and were practicing Quakers. Laura's family the Stapletons came from a rather aristocratic background; originally from Scotland, descending from the Barons Beaumont of Carlton Towers. Her ancestors were Oxford and Cambridge University graduates and one was a member of Parliament who narrowly escaped execution by Oliver Cromwell.

Marie had lost her father Jeff Jones the year before her wedding. He had been underneath his Model A Ford when it fell off its jacks and ruptured his intestines. He died 2 days later. Jeff was a hack dealer, selling wagons and buggies as well as the horses needed to pull them. He also worked on the railroad for a time. Jeff was a member of the Greenville Volunteer Fire Dept. Jeff's mother Susan Daugherty Jones was a distant relation to both Queen Elizabeth II and Captain Meriwether Lewis. Marie's mother Mattie Honeycutt was the daughter of John Honeycutt III from Union Parish, Louisiana and Sarah Ann Warren from Mississippi. John Honeycutt's father was the first European settler of Union Parish. He obtained a grant from the Spanish government for a lease of land along the Bayou D'Arbonne. John Honeycutt III tired of his role in the Confederate forces in Hunt County and with a few friends, set out for Mexico, planning on sending for Sarah and his children when settled. When no word came, Sarah and the children set out looking for him. They got as far as Williamson County when they got word that John and his friends had been waylaid and murdered either by Confederate bounty hunters looking for AWOL soldiers or unfriendly Comanches. Sarah and the children returned to Hunt County and she remarried.

Marvin and Marie immediately started their family: Jack Robert was born in 1920; Charles Franklin in 1922; Rosemary in 1924; Mattie Joyce in 1926 (she died in 1927); and Alice Marie in 1930. They lived close to downtown Greenville their entire married lives, eventually settling in a little house on Henderson Street. Marvin worked as a groundskeeper at the cemetery he and Marie are now buried in before retiring. My mother remembered going to the cemetery with Grandad and playing while he was working. He would put her to work gathering old and faded ribbons and floral displays for the trash.

My own memories of their house on Henderson Street were that there was a small sitting room, where Grandad's recliner was and Granny's chair and sewing kit. The TV was also in that room and Mom and I would spend Sunday nights there with them watching the Ed Sullivan Show. From there, you either walked straight back through their bedroom, which had two twin beds on either side of the room and a bathroom at the back with a claw foot tub and the kitchen entrance; or if you turned left, there was a bigger parlor, which was used for gatherings, such as holiday parties or playing dominoes with friends. Behind the parlor was a tiny dining area.  It was connected to the kitchen, which ran along the back of the house and had a severely sloping floor, from the pier-and-beam foundation needing repair. Everything was covered in a thick haze of many years of pipe tobacco smoke.

The back yard of the house had several plum and pear trees, all of which gave succulent fruit. Grandad's years at the cemetery helped him keep the luxurious St. Augustine lawn pest-free. I used to roll around and even nap in the grass and never got so much as a chigger bite. Granny would grow huge hydrangeas at the side of the house. She would push long iron nails into the soil to make the flowers a brilliant blue.

Grandad's recliner always had pipe tobacco sprinkled in it. Grandad smoked a pipe and smelled like vanilla tobacco. He was about 6'4" tall and rail thin, with a triangular shaped face, jug ears and a thick head of gray hair. He would say things like:
"Don't run in the house! You'll fall down and break your journey!"
"Laws, laws, laws!" - Quakers couldn't swear and that was as close as he would get.
There was a small corner store at the end of the street and my aunt Vicki would pester him to walk with her and buy her some candy. "I can't walk, honey. I got a bone in my leg." She would always reply, "Oh no! Does it hurt?"

Grandad was a very kind and sweet man and I never remember him ever losing his temper or raising his voice. He developed phlebitis when he was in his 80s and had to have his leg amputated at the knee. He used a wheelchair afterward. One day in May 1975, I was sitting with him on the front porch of the house on Henderson Street. Mom and I were living in the rent house across the street at the time. I was showing Grandad my new doll when he suddenly slumped over. I called out for Granny and Mom and they called an ambulance. Mom took me to my Uncle Larry's house. My Aunt Jackie was there but Uncle Larry wasn't home yet. My cousin Mathew was just a toddler. My Mom called a few hours later and told us that Grandad had died. A bit later Larry came home from work. Jackie told him about Grandad and I remember him slumping in his chair and putting his hands over his face. Jackie and I both put our arms around him.

Mom and I moved to the Spanish Trace Apartments we lived in off and on through most of my childhood, and we convinced Granny to move there as well. She took an apartment facing my elementary school on Stonewall Street, and I would come by to visit every day after school before Mom got off work. Granny looked stern and humorless in photos but she had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. She and I would watch Match Game. Granny would cackle at the racy answers, and insist that Charles Nelson Reilly had "sugar in his britches" long before I knew what that meant. He was Granny's favorite person on that show. She laughed uproariously at anything he said.

Granny then moved into a duplex on Division Street for the remainder of her life. Her friend and cousin Mrs. Quattlebaum lived in the other half of the duplex. Mrs. Quattlebaum had a hearing aid that she always kept going full blast. When you talked to her, you could hear your voice feeding back, like Jimi Hendrix was buzzing out of her head. It made you want to  t a l k   v  e  r  y     s  l  o  w  l  y.

When my parents had divorced, my Mom had sold her wedding ring to Granny, who had it refashioned into a dinner ring. She told me that when she died, I would get it because it had been my Mom's ring. I was very close to Granny since Mom and I lived in a small house next door to her when I was in junior high school. She lived until 1980, when I was 15. She developed stomach cancer. Mom and I were at the hospital with Aunt Alice and Mimaw. We were all there with Granny when she passed. I didn't get the ring, by the way. It went to my Aunt Alice. I think that bothered my Mom more than it did me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The value of rituals

When my mother was in remission from what was her terminal illness, she was at home for a while and tried going back to work. She told me that it was the first time in her life that she actually enjoyed going to work, because she had a new appreciation of life from being so close to the edge. She told me that coffee never smelled so good, food tasted wonderful and she was happy to see almost everyone. She didn't even mind doing laundry, because it beat lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines and unable to do anything for yourself. At the time, I appreciated what she said, but I couldn't really understand it.

Then.....

A year ago this week, I was in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism. I went to work out and couldn't catch my breath, and I assumed it was just bad allergies even though they had never been that bad before. The next day, I could barely breathe and I knew something serious was wrong, so I asked my husband to take me to the ER. They ran some tests and told me to my astonishment that my lungs were full of blood clots and I was lucky to have made it there in time. I spent two days in the hospital and had a surgical procedure to filter the clots out. The doctor took me off birth control pills, which I had been taking to control migraines, and put me on blood thinners. The nurses seemed to delight in telling me stories of other patients with PE who weren't so lucky.

"I was talking to this one lady who was in bed and suddenly she just keeled over, dead as a doornail! She threw a clot and it went to her heart. Gone, just like that!"

"There was one guy, younger than you, who dropped dead in the waiting room. that was a PE too. You're really lucky they got yours in time".

I was very surprised when they told me I had the clots, but the nurses' stories made me realize just how fortunate I really was. I had a genetic test to make sure that I wasn't genetically inclined to have blood clots; it seemed to be just a freak occurrence because of the birth control pills. I stopped them immediately. I was happy to go home, because I might not have had the chance to do that again.

I was thinking about how important the little rituals in your day can be to your mental outlook. If you're feeling rushed, you can be annoyed and anxious the entire day. Taking time to appreciate little things like enjoying your coffee or tea, writing a letter or email, petting your dog or cat or listening to music in the morning can put you into a more positive mood and will help you enjoy your day more, even you're having to do something not particularly enjoyable. If you can enjoy the little rituals in your life, the big things will mean so much more. Your circumstances can change in the wink of an eye. Appreciate what you have and who is around you. If you lose them, you'll miss them more than you'll know.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Who I am

I am a woman.
I am a daughter.
I am a wife.
I am a friend.
I am a citizen of the world. 
I am an American.
I am a Texan.
I am a worker.
I am an atheist.

I believe that, if you can help other people, you should.
I believe that you should always try to be kind to others.
I believe that if you see something wrong, you should speak up about it.
I believe that, if someone or something causes you pain or is toxic to you, you should remove them from your life.
I believe that you should try to appreciate the beauty in your life.
I believe that you should take good care of yourself because a lot of people love and depend on you and would miss you if you were gone.
I believe that you should believe in whatever you want to believe, but you should not tell others what they should believe.
I believe that you should try and learn something new every day of your life.
I believe you should speak more than one language, even just a few words or phrases; anything that will help you communicate to more people.
I believe you should learn and pay attention to history. History does repeat itself.
I believe that we only have one world and we all need to learn to get along. All of us.

I do not believe that religion should have any part in education or government.
I do not believe that you should tell others how they should live their lives, and they shouldn't tell you how to live yours.
I do not believe that you should cut others from your life strictly because they believe differently than you do. You should talk to them and try to understand them.
I do not believe that you should hate other people because they look or believe differently than you do.
I do not believe that men should have any say in what happens with women's bodies. It should be strictly the woman's decision. Men may have their opinions, but it's the woman's body, woman's decision.




Tuesday, January 24, 2017

All my life, I've felt that the people around me have been trying to keep me in progressively smaller and smaller boxes. As I got older and my personality and intellect got bigger, those boxes got more and more constricting, until I felt that if I didn't break out of them, I would be strangled.

I've always been told to act a certain way: don't swear, that's unladylike; don't complain if you're unhappy or disagree with others; don't make other people feel foolish if you know more than they do.  Don't brag. Don't act weird. Dress like other girls. Go to church, even if you don't believe because people will talk. "Don't act above your raising".

Of course, I'm a female. Being an unorthodox woman has its own set of challenges that men have no clue about, but of course, men are also affected by these societal rules. I'll leave it to men to write about their own issues. I only wish they would leave women's issues to women, but that's not the way of this country anymore, not that it ever really was in the first place.

I've fought against these rules my whole life and for  the most part, the struggle has wounded me both psychically and emotionally. It's been a constant battle to prove to myself that I am an intelligent person and I do have talents. I am funny and I am worth knowing. Most of the time, I cannot prove it even to myself anymore. Thanks to my mother, I did believe in myself for a while, because she believed in me when no one else did. I get very discouraged, especially in the current political climate. Empathy with other people simply does not matter anymore.

Sometimes I think about some little girl in a some small town who doesn't want to wear dresses, who isn't interested in fashion, or Jesus, or having a houseful of kids, being pressured into believing that there's something WRONG with her; because good little girls want to get married and have kids and they don't want to play music or make art or act or write, or tell dirty jokes.

There's nothing wrong with you, little girl. Listen to your mind. You know yourself far better than anyone else, and anyone who tries to put limits on you simply cannot handle what you are capable of. Keep an eye out for others like you and send out an empathetic thought into the ether. Maybe they can also have a shining moment of self-realization before it slips away again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Funerals

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I cannot bear funerals anymore. I went to my share of them when I was younger and other than being upset to see my loved ones sad, it didn't bother me that much. I would go on with my life afterward as usual. My grandmother's funeral in 1999 was different, maybe because I was so close to her. I hate that my final and overriding memory of her is lying in a casket. For a couple of years after her funeral, I would be overwhelmed with sadness, thinking of her in that box, out in the cemetery, all alone. I could not deal with it. I vowed then that I wouldn’t attend any more funerals. I just cannot handle it anymore.

I know that most people feel that a funeral will give them the closure they need when a loved one dies, but just the fact that I won't see them anymore is closure enough for me. My family is very important to me. You can always make the argument that the funeral business is a racket: it’s prohibitively expensive and people can guilt you into going into debt so you won’t be dishonoring your loved one. And there are people who feel that unless you show up at every family function, then you obviously have no regard for your family. I prefer to visit my family while they’re alive.

When my father-in-law passed away, he wanted only to be cremated with no funeral. I was astonished; I never knew anyone who died and didn’t have a funeral. He was also the first person I knew who wanted to be cremated. My Mom was impressed with that too. We discussed it when she became terminally ill. I asked her what kind of funeral she wanted, where wanted to be buried, etc. She told me she wanted to be cremated and to not deal with a funeral. If I wanted to do a memorial service, that would be fine. I told her to tell everyone, so they wouldn’t be mad at me when she died, but some of them still were. It wasn’t my decision. If I had had the money, I would have given her a full Viking funeral with fireworks, dancing bears, cheerleaders and the Rolling Stones playing, if she had wanted it but she didn’t. Her co-workers and friends at the hospital where she worked gave her a memorial service that I didn’t attend. I wasn’t able to handle that either.

My wonderful, sweet, big, gorgeous uncle Larry is gone and his funeral is on Saturday. I won’t be there. I want to remember him the last time like I saw him earlier this year: sitting at his kitchen table, laughing about some book he had read. I want to remember his snuffling giggle and his stories about the cool things he found at the flea market, or what his grandkids were up to. He was a good man and I’ll miss him very much.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Turning Points

1. When I knew I didn't want to be a parent

I never particularly liked children I wasn't related to, even when I was a child. I adored my little cousins, but other little kids mostly annoyed me. I figured that as I grew older, my biological clock would start ticking and I would want a family of my own. That's how it works, right? My mind was made up by an incident when I was 17 years old.

My aunt lived in an mobile home with her husband, who was away working, and their young son. She called me one day and said that she was sick with the flu; would I mind staying the weekend at their place and taking care of the toddler? She could barely get out of bed. I adored my little cousin, so naturally, I said yes.

The first night, I was asleep on the sofa right outside my little cousin's room.  He woke me up by screaming. I opened the door to his room and a wall of stench poured over me. I turned on the light and there he was: standing up in his crib and shaking the slats on the side, brown smears all over his face, his body, the wall, the ceiling, the carpet.......it was a world of shit.

Gagging for all I was worth, I gingerly picked him up, taking care not to get any more shit on me than was necessary. I took him to the bathroom and washed him off, then got him settled on the sofa so he would fall asleep again. I wiped up as much of the shit as I could see and tried to clean the room as best I could. The shit was EVERYWHERE, he must have been flinging it like a monkey at the zoo.

I looked at the sweet toddler sleeping peacefully on the couch and thought to myself, "I don't ever want to have to do this again. Babies are shit machines, so I don't think I want to have kids. Nope, I do NOT want to have children".

You know, I'm 50 years old now and I've never regretted that decision. I made sure to marry someone who felt the same way. I don't get pangs of regret when I see cute little kids. I like hearing about my friends' grand kids, but don't ask me to baby sit.  I recoil when asked to hold newborn babies. Babies are like elephants. I like them just fine, but not in my house, 24 hours a day. As for toddlers, I prefer to get them all sugared up, then send them back to their parents.

2. When I knew I wanted to be married

I was introduced to my husband by a mutual friend. We were attracted to each other from the start; there was an immediate spark between us. He was not in a good place mentally or physically when we met; he was terrifically depressed. Lest the pot call the kettle black, I had also been only a year or two of a psychiatric hospital myself for depression and had battled my "black dog" since I was a child. We both seemed to know that we were each others savior and that we needed to be together.

We moved in together about a month after getting together. He started in with the "when we get married, we'll......." talk right away. I was shocked; I thought no one would ever want to marry me because I was too damaged. Even his father was in on it. As his Dad was calling for a part to my POS Renault, he told the guy on the phone that it was for "my son's fiance" and he winked at me. I blushed furiously. He's told his parents? He must be serious! It started to seem like a good idea and a feasible one at that.

Several years went by, and I was finally able to attend the University of North Texas, but only if I could qualify for financial aid. Being married would solve that problem, so I told him that we should probably go ahead and get married. Nothing would be different, we had been living together for the past 4 years anyway. So we did it. I've never regretted it, I knew it was absolutely the right decision. We've had our problems at times, like every couple, but he's the one for me. Our separate weirdnesses complement each other perfectly.

3. Moving away from home

My Mom had been dead for a little over a year. Every time I went home to visit family, it was painful to me that she wasn't there. I couldn't call her every day anymore. My husband's sister had been living in Austin and we would go down to visit her and her husband for wild weekends, always enjoying ourselves and marveling at what a great place Austin was; wouldn't it be great to live there? There was always something to do: cool places to shop, great restaurants.....why not move here?

My husband had been supporting me after Mom died while I was getting her house ready to be sold, then I started working at an antique mall in Dallas, a job I loved but it didn't pay. We decided in late 2003 that we should go ahead and move to Austin. One of our friends also lived in Austin and he was able to hook me up with a job at a mortgage company. In February, 2004 I came down and found a rent house close to the in laws and we were set. Life has been pretty good since then.


Friday, July 24, 2015

My sense of humor is not shared by everyone

I suffer from depression. I've had it for most of my life. The way I've always tried to relieve that depression is through laughter. If you can laugh at it, it doesn't seem so bad. When I can't laugh about something, I will plummet into the abyss of sadness. I don't think there's anything that doesn't have some element of humor to it, even the most horrible things. Sometimes, they're difficult to find.

I have what could be described as a complex sense of humor. There are times when things like a relatively sophisticated Monty Python sketch about "woody" as opposed to "tinny" sounding words will have me in hysterics, while on other days, a fart joke will make me giggle for hours. I was the only female I knew who enjoyed the Three Stooges.

Whenever I hear something that prompts a wise-ass response, I cannot resist responding to it. People will either laugh or roll their eyes. Sometimes I'm paralyzed by anxiety that my mental filter has once again failed to subvert a wildly inappropriate remark. I'll let loose with an offside remark I think is witty and an uncomfortable silence will ensue, making me think "why on EARTH did I say that out loud?" But yes, I went there, as the millenials say.

I love to make people laugh and I love to hear people laugh. I've had a lot of pain in my life, so I try to find the humor in anything, just to relieve the heaviness in the atmosphere. Whenever I've met people who seemed to enjoy or share my sense of humor, I've held them close to me and I perceive  them as close friends, even if I've never met them in person or know them only superficially. People who can make me laugh are rare, so I consider them precious to me.

A lot of people I know consider being funny an "immature" response, when an adult should be somber and solicitous. Some situations demand solemnity.  I can be as sober as a judge on the outside, but inwardly, I am usually trying to think about what can be amusing about the situation. Laughter is important. There are scientific studies proving that laughter can help to cure illnesses. There may not seem to be much to laugh about in the world lately, but there's humor in everything.