Monday, August 30, 2010

Family Reunion at Little Sebago Lake, 1959

In the summer of 1959, my father, mother, 9-year old sister (known much later as Auntie Bucksnort), and I traveled across the country in our family's yellow and white 1955 Chevy BelAir. One of the highlights of the trip was a reunion with some of my mother's sisters and their children, up at a summer camp on Little Sebago Lake in Maine. 

My childhood friend, Carole, just sent me a collection of letters that I had written to her over the years. There, in my 14-year old handwriting, was a description of a memorable night with the cousins. 

My letter, written in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school

It said, in part: 

I'm on the road again, this time in Maine. We just left a cabin out in the woods where we had a reunion of my mother's family. All [actually, some] of my cousins were there and I hadn't seen them since I was three.

The cabin had a darling attic with a ladder leading up to it for the teenagers. Last nite we snuck down when all the grown ups were down at the lake (which is in the back yard of the cabin--the lake was named Little Sebago--really huge) and took a gallon jar of do-nuts and a great big can of cookies which we made that afternoon.

What a feast! We pulled the ladder up after us and you should have heard our aunts (they're all old and fat) scurrying around, looking for the food. Of course, we wouldn't come down when they figured out where the cookies were. We just told 'em they would have to shinny up the pole to get us--and that's just what my father did.

So they took away the ladder and wouldn't let us down to go to the "back house" all night. ("Out house" to Californians). We just yelled all night, "Mum, puleeze send up a slop pot for me! Please..." Then, "Oh, oh, you'll be sorry..." etc.

They finally let us down in the morning. Honestly, we were really glad to see that stinky old back house.

The cousins: Marilyn, Ruth, Janie, Edi, and me. Vangie and Ginnie were there, too, but not in this photo. Notice the pincurls; that's what girls did to their hair at night in those days. That is the 1955 Chevy our family drove cross country--there weren't many big highways back then, so it was an adventure undertaken with map in hand 

The stinky back house, with our rather substantial swim suits hanging up to dry

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Daddy Was a Chevy Man

Back when the world was a much simpler place, I can remember my father telling me that folks were either Chevy people or Ford people, because those were pretty much the most popular choices back in the 1940s and 1950s. I remember a Hudson somewhere back then, parked in front of our house, but when my dad had a choice of used cars, he would always pick a Chevy. He trusted them. 

People were proud of their cars and often managed to get them into their photos. Here are a few that I found in our family albums. 
A glamour shot of my mom, probably taken while she and my dad were still dating

Me and my dog, Pete. This might have been taken at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. This is the only photo I know of containing Alphie, the peculiarly featureless stuffed creature that I loved so much. 

Me again and a neighborhood boy named Billy, Jimmy, or Jerry. You will notice that my dog Pete is almost always in my photos, as she (yes, Pete was a she) was my constant and loyal companion and protector. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kids at Play; Three Generations

This post was first published on The Zees Go West in December 2008.

My friends, Alan, Sherry, and me; taking a break from Cowboys and Indians (c. 1950)

Nowadays, for whatever reason, when I walk or ride my bike around the neighborhoods, I rarely see children outside playing. Back in San Francisco's Sunset District in the 1940s and 1950s, we kids were rarely inside. We rode bikes, jumped rope, roller skated, played long and involved games of something we called "covered wagon," and, of course, we always had a cowboys and Indians series of some sort going on. The rule was more that kids were out playing, not in.

My own kids played outside a great deal at our place in Washington state in the late 1970s. There were chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, and even a donkey to either play with or run from. These kids from the two neighboring houses joined my son, Ben (the littlest), in a somewhat crowded "day at the beach."

Edgewood, WA, 1977

Interestingly enough, my own grandchildren posed for a similar photo in California, not too many years ago. They live a wonderfully healthy lifestyle, as their home is situated in a dead-end court where the neighborhood kids join in playing ball and riding bikes--not so different from my own childhood. Except, as my son would say, their life is in color.

A surprising number of kids here are in the same Zee family; another has been added since!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Road Trip; Old School Style

This post first appeared on The Zees Go West in December 2008.

Family vacations were a big deal when I was a kid. My father often used his two weeks off all at once and we traveled in the family car that whole time. We bought new clothes before hitting the road; we called them our vacation outfits. For some reason they always included a hat, although we rarely wore casual hats in the other parts of our lives.

Here are my Aunt Nellie, little me, my mother, and littler Bucksnort, while on a visit to Jerry and Jimmy's Grandpa, who also appears elsewhere on this blog. He's the guy with the boots and jeans and for-real cowboy hat; the one who is grinning and no doubt cooking up another trick to make his San Francisco visitors remember their trip to his Arizona ranch forever. He isn't wearing his vacation clothes, but the rest of us are. My dad and Uncle Jack were off branding cattle, much to their dismay, so they didn't appear in this photo.

You can tell that these are vacation clothes that we are wearing because they are matching outfits, and because we kids are wearing hats with our names stitched on them.

And here we are, much later, back in civilization. That's our neighbor's house and car in the background; and Bucksnort, my dad, and me in the foreground. We are not wearing vacation clothes, although they might have been road trip outfits at some time in the past. You can tell that we are no longer on vacation because we are not wearing hats. In spite of the fact that we have no labels stitched anywhere, revealing our names, my dad seems pretty certain that he has hold of the right girls.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Tenderfeet Camp with the Real Cowboys

A version of this post first appeared on The Zees Go West in May, 2008.

Another example of Jimmy and Jerry's grandpa's sense of humor

When I was a little girl I lived in a house near the ocean in San Francisco.

I wore jeans and cowboy boots, a Roy Rogers cowboy shirt, a Dale Evans cowgirl vest, and a Red Ryder cowboy hat. And every morning before I went out to play I strapped on the rhinestone-studded belt and holsters that held my two matching pearl-handled six-shooter cap guns.

One of the highlights of my misplaced-cowgirl childhood was a trip that my family took with some San Francisco friends down to Arizona, where we traveled up into the mountains and stayed on a for-real ranch that belonged to Jimmy and Jerry’s grandpa.

A cowboy who rode a big black horse gave me a pony to ride. The cowboy's name was Rimrock and I named my pony Chauncey. Rimrock said that Chauncey would always be my pony even when I went back to San Francisco and he was still living his pony life in Arizona.
Little Buckaroo
We “helped” the cowboys round up and brand the calves.

That night we ate Cookie’s delicious beans and biscuits on tin plates while sitting around a campfire. Somebody had a harmonica, and somebody else had a guitar, and we all sang. It smelled like mountain air, pine trees, cattle, dust, and smoky embers.

After supper, we rolled up in blankets and lay down around the fire. Just as we were falling asleep, we heard the sound of boots and spurs.

It was Jimmy and Jerry’s grandpa. 

He walked over to a wooden platform that had barbed wire strung around it, climbed up the steps, went through the little gate at the top, closed it, and sat down on the bed that was up there.

We thought about that for a minute. Then someone called out, using his best cowboy talk, “Hey, Jimmy and Jerry’s grandpa, what’re you fixin’ to do up there?”

Jimmy and Jerry’s grandpa took off his for-real cowboy hat and hung it on one of the barbed wire posts. He said, “I’m fixin’ to go to sleep.” We all thought about that some, and then someone else called out, “Well, how come you’re up there on a platform with barbed wire all around and we’re down here on the ground?”

Jimmy and Jerry’s grandpa had set his Winchester rifle on the floor of the platform and was practicing to see how quickly he could grab for it. He paused for a moment, looked down at us, and said, “Well, somebody has to protect us from the slitherin’ snakes, and the howlin’ coyotes, and the things that growl in the night.”

We all lay there, wrapped up in our thin blankets down on the ground. We thought about snakes slitherin’, and coyotes howlin’, and the things that growl in the night.

We thought for about two seconds and suddenly everyone rose up hastily from that dusty ground and there was the sound of hurrying footsteps and car doors slamming.

My Aunt Nellie put me to bed in the backseat of someone’s big old Studebaker, and she lay down in the front seat and went right off to sleep. Her snoring somehow sounded to me just like snakes slitherin’, and coyotes howlin’, and the things that growl in the night.

Meanwhile, back in the clearing, the only sound was the crackling of the poked-up campfire. If anyone else had been around, they might also have heard Jimmy and Jerry’s grandpa up there on his platform, chuckling to himself, and saying, “Tenderfeet!”

(Photos by my dad)

Monday, August 23, 2010

We Are Family--Not Many Crooks and Not Many Crazy

This post first appeared on The Zees Go West in February 2009.

In the past week [remember, this was in February of 2009, when we still lived in eastern New Mexico] I have had several pieces of news from our far-flung family. During the Academy Awards ceremony my father’s cousin, screenwriter John Michael Hayes (known to our family as Buddy), was honored in the memorial video. It was the first that I had heard of his death. Next, I found out that my first cousin on my mother’s side of the family, the Reverend Charles Crabtree, had been named President of Zion College, a Pentecostal Bible school that had recently thumped itself down right in the midst of liberal New England.

Two cousins, two men, so different. The first had worked with Alfred Hitchcock to make the movies Rear WindowTo Catch a ThiefThe Trouble with Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. He adapted and toned down big-budget melodramas like The Carpetbaggers and Peyton Place so that the movie scripts could pass by the censors. The second was a man of God whose college students are winning over their adopted town by doing the good works that they feel are their calling, working at the local homeless shelter and helping out in the soup kitchens of northern New England.
During the same week, the oldest member of Beez’s family, an Italian immigrant, single lady, and devoted auntie who is now 96 years old, was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and was later returned to her home to continue bossing around her caretaker through another spring cleaning. We are rooting for her, and hope to yet attend her 100th birthday celebration.*
Beez and Bucksnort and I find ourselves out here on the High Plains, a tiny little family. Though our parents are gone and our children all far away, we were reminded this week that we are still part of a huge and diverse family. In honor of that extended family, I’d like to share this nice old fashioned poem, written about our relatives by Fern Gallup Kinney (click to enlarge it a bit). It appears in her hand-typed and self-published book, Kith and Kin of the Kinneys, which is the genealogical history of the descendants of Israel Kinney (1738-1791) and his wife Susannah Hood (1745-?), who together had 14 children. It is a remarkable piece of pre-Internet research. If you are a relative (and we are legion--Kinneys, Kenneys, Blakelys, Belyeas, Crabbs, Crabtrees, Gibersons, Kimballs, McGees, Gallups, etc.) you will be interested to know that the entire book is available in pdf format and may be downloaded from you are interested in this document, I would recommend that you download it, as it seems to disappear from online every once in a while.


*Later update: Auntie Mary died at the age of 97

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dressing Up

The first few posts for this new blog are coming over from The Zees Go West because I never had any special place for these family stories before. This one was first published there in December, 2008.
Ready to go downtown in winter
While looking at old photos and reminiscing, I remembered an annual family tradition that started in the 1940s in San Francisco. We always went downtown on the street car, my mother and me (Dad was at work, as all men were in those post-war years), to see the Christmas decorations in the big department stores. We would go for evening drives later when my father got home from work to see decorated outdoor places like Maiden Lane, which I now find was originally an area of brothels(!) that had been converted to fancy shops that were decorated beautifully during the Christmas season.

I remember going up the escalator and all but gasping at the sparkling decorations in the Emporium* on Market Street. We always went to I. Magnin's, and Macy's, too. The transformation of the familiar stores was amazing and it seems to me that the decorations were far fancier than anything we see now.
Dressed up in spring

You know, we used to get pretty dressed up to "go downtown." For me, always a coat and matching hat, if possible (my mother made a lot of my outfits), and a little purse to hold my white gloves. My mother insisted on those gloves when we rode on the streetcar. For my mother, a dress, high heels (how did she do it?), matching purse, coat, hat, and gloves.

Family in fancy dress

Beez and I recently received an invitation in the mail for a Christmas party, being held in a pretty fancy part of town, to honor volunteers of a local charitable organization. The invitation, in addition to giving other details, specifies "spiffy casual" dress. Whatever that might be, it points out how much things have changed over the decades. People get dressed up less often, and so do our public places, especially during holiday times.


*I feel so historical. While looking for links to the stores and places I remember in downtown San Francisco, I found that many of them are gone and a part of history. I guess I am, too (a part of history, not gone).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Preacher, Preacher, Hair on Fire

My mother's family
My mother's family was a large one, as you can see. Although one of them was missing in this photo, there were 13 children in all. There was such an age spread that the older ones had already left and started raising their own huge families when some of the younger ones were still being born back home. My mother is that sweet child in the bottom row on the far right. This photo would have been taken around 1919. Later note: My sister, Jean, and I have spent a lot of time with this photo. Cousin Cheryl is right (in the comment below) that the last born, David, is not in this photo. Looking carefully at birth dates, we have decided that would mean that my mother is not the child on the right end of the first row, but is the girl who moved, directly behind her. She was born in 1914, and the last child would have been born in 1928, a year or so after this photo was taken.

They lived on a farm up by the border between Maine and New Brunswick. You can tell they are farmers by the "farmer's tans" on the men--tanned and reddened faces with white foreheads that would have been protected from the sun by their hats when they were out working on the potato crop. Many years later, my mother would beg me not to move back up to Canada, because all she remembered about that place was the hard, hard work grubbing up potatoes out in the fields.

See that fellow who looks like his head is smoking? That's my Uncle Clifford, who later became a preacher. He was a man who liked to pray whenever it occurred to him, and he liked lots of company. He came to visit our family when we had left the dust of the Canadian potato fields far behind and had moved to a suburban lifestyle in northern California. Another later note: Patricia Picard (see comment below), a member of the church the Clifford founded in Bangor, Maine for many years, tells me that Clifford is second from the left in the back row. So now we have the brothers figured out, left to right: Beecher, Clifford, and Jesse. Thank you Patricia!

My mother had also left the charismatic church of her childhood far behind, and my sister and I were raised like little heathens. My parents occasionally did send us off to church on our own with dimes for the collection plate. I remember having a real religious revelation one Sunday on our way to the neighborhood Episcopal church. I explained to my baby sister that we should walk in the woods and Appreciate Nature instead of attending church with the all those "tea party ladies." She agreed with me, as she always did back then, and we made sure to look around appreciatively at some trees and flowers as we flagged down Glen the Ice Cream Man to spend our collection money on creamsicles, all frosty orange and white.

My parents were pleased that we were seemingly "getting religion" every week with no effort on their part. We were also pleased with the arrangement, as was Glen the Ice Cream Man.

All was well, until Uncle Clifford showed up, probably taking a swing through the western states on some missionary trip or other. As I said before, Uncle Clifford liked public prayer, administered often and lengthily, with all participants down on their knees. I spent my Uncle Clifford prayer time peeking over my folded hands and sneaking looks out the California-style picture windows, mortified that my friends might be passing by and might see me in this peculiar position.

As I peeked, I noticed that the adults all kept their eyes tightly closed while in prayer and that gave me my getaway opportunity. I inched along on my knees, painfully and slowly, across the hardwood floor until reaching the carpeted hallway and, speeding up on all fours, made it to my room where I crawled under my bed.

I fully intended to stay there until Uncle Clifford went off to save some other hapless suburbanites, but my mother eventually discovered my hideout. She refused to believe that I was "talking to Jesus" under there, as I claimed. Sadly, that made her suspicious of my other religious activities, and I don't remember seeing much of Glen the Ice Cream Man on Sundays after that.

Little Bucksnort and me, before we got religion