Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Ten Thousand, Chapter 26




Ten Thousand


Oprah Winfrey says that when she walks into a room she expects people to say there goes one phenomenal lady.

She says she never feels out of place, inadequate, or an impostor, for she knows she is only one, but she comes as ten thousand. Those were the people who made her. One, her Great-grandfather, was born a slave and could not read. After the emancipation proclamation, however, he learned to read and eventually became the first of their family to own land.

You know Oprah didn't have an easy life. After being raped as a child, she was taken out for ice cream by the person who raped her, and she stood there with her ice cream while blood was dripping down her legs. She had an illegitimate stillborn child, but she didn't let that stop her forward movement into life and success. And there she stood, proclaiming she doesn't feel out of place or inadequate.

I know that my Great-grandmother was the family's first child born on American soil. 

I know her mother was pregnant on the boat to this country, and imagine pregnancy mixed with the rocking sea. Maybe I inherited my propensity for seasickness from her. I hope she wasn't sick on that crossing.

 I know the little German community in Kansas was a close-knit community, and all through my life, I heard my mother say she cooked as though for a threshing crew—or liked to. Big family holiday meals were fun for her.

 The phrase “Cooking for a threshing crew” came from the years on the farm when, during grain harvest, all the men would band together and thresh the grain first for one farm, then another, and the women would cook for them.

 I know that my grandparents butchered a hog for winter and let nothing go to waste, including making head cheese, which mom tried to make once. I could never bring myself to eat it, and I don't know what happened to the mess she made. It disappeared from the scene. 

 My mother wanted to create a farm for herself, and she began with a garden and chickens. One day, a large box containing 100 baby chicks arrived in the mail. They became our laying hens. All the males ended up in the freezer. Mom had researched how to cut up a chicken. Her carving always had a wish-bone piece, her favorite, but I never see that piece of chicken anymore.

Mom praised her mother's quilting ability, for Grandma's stitches were small and her lines straight; Mom said she was the best of the quilters. The women got together for a quilting bee, which meant the quilting fabric was stretched over a frame. The women sat around the periphery of a frame that took up most of the room, and while their fingers worked, they visited. I thank my lucky stars I don't have to do some of the work they performed, like quilting, darning, and canning, and what must have been endless cooking.

 Women have been credited with creating language. Not only do women like to visit, but exchanging knowledge around the food preparation was essential. The men, being hunters, could get by with pointing and grunting.

 My mother also said her mother didn't teach her about housework, for her mother preferred to do it herself. My attitude was, "How hard is it to clean? You figure it out." However, her mother's attitude probably bothered her more than any teaching she would have given.

 My grandmother liked canary birds; she had one at our house in Mt Vernon who trilled like an angel. So, the story goes, Grandma also had a canary when they lived in Kansas. One day, a cat broke into the house and killed her canary. She picked up a broom, intending to chase that cat out of the house. She accidentally hit it on the head, and to her shock, she had killed it. 

 Mom said her father, Frank Bertsch, would coax her to reveal the contents of his Christmas gifts, and she couldn’t keep the secrets. He would also stand on the front porch and tell her to listen carefully, and she would hear the corn growing. On storm threatening nights he would stand on the porch watching for tornadoes. 

 (The boiling of a purple sky such as happened in Oklahoma was a weird and fearful scene to Oregonians. There were no tornadoes though.)

 Mother's sister was tall—Mom was too, but Marie was also thin and probably looked taller than mom who was buxom. Marie was perhaps self-conscious about her height, as well, for people often asked her, “How’s the weather up there?”

 People can be unkind without thinking about it, especially regarding physical traits people have no control over and feel self-conscious about.  To add insult to injury mom had curly hair and was the prettier one. Marie said she kept stealing her boyfriends.

 I never heard any snide comments or complaints about the people in the family.

 The women in my immediate family longed for a child. Marie's husband didn't want children, so she was childless for years, but eventually they had a son. Marie's husband enjoyed that boy so much that they had two other children, another boy, and a girl. Mom didn't have a baby for 19 years after me, and a tumor took away Dottie's ability to have children, so I worried about my fertility. Thankfully, I easily had two girls.

Mom named me Joyce after her best friend, but I don't know what sort of person she was. I'm honored, though, to be named after someone Mom loved. 

Great Grandmother Hertenstein had arthritic hands, locked up joints bent at a forty-five-degree angle. It was troublesome to see her crippled, and Mom said she couldn't sew anymore, something she loved. She spoke in an accent and visited us at least once, from where I don't know. We have a picture of Mom, Great Grandmother, Grandma, and me—four generations of women. I look to be about six.

She must have visited earlier, for Mom told me that they pressed upon me to be on my best behavior before her visit. I tried hard, not knowing my best behavior, but when she asked me, "Joyce, where are your stockings?" I was dumbfounded. I didn't know about long stockings; I always had bare legs and wore short skirts. 

My mother was a frustrated artist—my evaluation. I don't think she would have acknowledged it, but it showed in her beautiful yards, and how she could prune those apricot and peach trees so their fruit could be picked while standing on the ground. She spent years at the kitchen table designing the house they wanted to build but never did. She taught herself cake decorating, made my wedding cake, and then sold some cakes to other brides. 

Mom liked to cook and sew, and while I was in grade school, she made many of my clothes. I remember her hand stitching the hems of those immense skirts we wore in those days. The last dresses she made for me were my bridesmaids' dresses. 

On the day when I was nine months pregnant and feeling a bit off, I propped myself up in bed to open a box I had received that day from Mom. It was full of old baby clothes she had made for Bill seven years earlier. 

My baby girl was born that night.

 I was disappointed that the nurse wouldn't give me the phone at three a.m. so I could call my mother. I wanted to be the one to tell her that her granddaughter had arrived. I was so energized I could have run down the hall, and I was starving. But they only had a hot 7-Up, and I don't like 7-Up. 

Neil called her later. That's customary, but that wasn't right, I wanted to tell her, besides, I was awake the rest of the night. 

 Did I tell you that my mother was pregnant at my wedding? She was only two months pregnant, and tended to have round belly, so it was not noticeable. Bill was a surprise baby, a happy surprise. An old wife's tale says that babies bring more babies, so it was with mom. It was only about a year after Mikie came that Mom became pregnant. 

 My parents always scrambled for money, but they scraped together enough to adopt their first two Korean children. The little boy, Mikie, arrived a year after Jan and weighed only ten pounds at one year of age. Mom could be credited with saving his life, for he had such severe dysentery she would stay awake nights tending to him, and our family doctor would make house calls. 

 After that slow start, you should see him now. He is a career Military man. Currently, he teaches, but for a time, he was a paratrooper sent to South America to thwart the shipment of drugs into the United States.

 After Mike's father passed, his mother gave her sons, there were four, some of the family money. She didn't want them to wait until she died. My mother had often said that if they had the money, she would adopt another child. Mike agreed, and they used it to adopt the six-year-old girl.  

Mom and Grandma Holt, Bertha Holt of the Holt Adoption agency, communicated through letters. Grandma Holt liked Mom's descriptions of their family and enjoyed hearing how the children were growing and maturing. I was astounded that the agency kept those letters. It was years after mom’s death that they sent the letters to Mike. Mike sent them to Jan who was an adult by them. She gave them to me.

 The letters were photocopied front and back, and many were not dated, so they were a puzzle, but I typed them and made them into a book titled Mom's Letters and Mine. It's on Amazon. (You must also type in my name, Joyce Davis, as the author to find it. It’s Mom’s Letters…and mine by Joyce Davis. The quickest way to find it is by the ISBN number BOOJH1PUK8.

Her communication with Grandma Holt was a bit of history and a time when she laid her soul bare on paper. Now, I may take my commentary out and republish the book from Mom's perspective only. They don't need me in there. It's her voice and her legacy. At the time, I thought telling the rest of the story was essential, but maybe it wasn't.

 (PS It's still there. I bought my own book on Kindle, reread it, and left it as is. DD said my words are essential. Okay.)

 Mike went into military service at fifteen, lying about his age. His mother said she didn’t know what to do with him, so she signed for his admittance.

 Putting an errant boy with a horse is about the best thing you can do for him, and Mike entered the Calvary. I don't know how he or his mother managed that, but it was a coup. I didn't think he was particularly savvy around horses, for he didn't ride, but he knew how to pick a good horse. (He chose Boots.) He said he had a teacher who couldn't ride but could teach others how. Once, he rode Boots to bring home the cow, and he told me that Boots knew what he was doing, but he was falling all over that horse. His unit in Calvary was the last one and used only for ceremonial purposes. Eventually, he was transferred to the army and was stationed in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, where he met Mom.

 He had pictures of his unit at a swimming hole with horses and men in the water. I thought that was so cool.

 He believed that the army saddle, called a McClellan, was the best and bought one for me. It was miserable, hard as a rock, with an opening down the center—for the horse, not the rider. The straps to the stirrups would slide as the horse moved, and a canter would leave nasty bruises on my thighs. So, instead, I rode bareback, which is the best way to teach a child to ride. Luckily, Boots had a perfect back for bareback riding, and that muscle behind a horse's front legs is the ideal spot to tuck your leg. You can communicate with the horse, and having your leg tucked will help you stay on the horse. Notice how many times I use the word perfect? Well, Boots was.

.I've read since then that the misery of the McClellan saddle was the reason the Rangers were in such mean spirits and took it out on the Indians. The Indians who rode Appaloosas--claimed to be a rough ride—set them up to be their grumpiest. Thus, the battle was on.



“Every oat tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground.”--Henry David Thoreau 

From Goddesses 50 and Beyond, https://goddesses50andbeyond.blogspot.com

"Breathe, Pet Your Cat"



Monday, June 10, 2024

Getting Published


Chapter 25

Getting Published

I loved the publisher of my Hawaiian book, The Frog's Song. While she was doing a line-by-line edit, we got to know each other. That she published the book was an honor. I'm sorry it didn't make both of us rich.

 One must note, though, not as an excuse, but as a fact that first books rarely hit a home run on the first try. I have noticed, however, that if I give the book to someone, they like it and give it to someone else. That pleases me, but it bypasses both the publisher and me. And the publisher is disappointed that it didn't sell well. Me, too.

 If it had a subtitle, perhaps One Year off the Grid on a Tropical Island, people wouldn't mistake The Frog's Song for a children's book.

When we moved to Temecula, California, we gradually regained the confidence we had lost in Hawaii. We felt something odd there, often felt lost, and longed for home. 

 Strangely, the ache in our hearts, (DD's and mine) lingered in California. DD and I would drive to a beach where pelicans flew up and down the coast in groupings of twelve or so. And when they glided overhead, I felt a definite lift of energy. They slowly flew down the beach and then gradually returned over our heads again. When I looked up, I could see fluttering fringe on their wing tips.

We performed clearing ceremonies at the water's edge to rid ourselves of the heaviness we were carrying. We were confused about what we had encountered there, how we felt "Called," and then felt we must leave. Undoubtedly, negative energy existed there. It depended on where you were. On the Kona side of the Island, it was light and fun. Not so in Hilo.

 We wrote "Goodbye Hawaii" and whatever else we wanted rid of on rocks and threw them into the sea. 

 In Temecula, Neil worked on a project with a fellow he had worked with earlier when we lived in California. And Neil was available to do Clinicals on their current optical instrument.

 We were there for two years until the project was shelved. Neil contacted a Microscope company in Eugene he knew of and got a job there. Thus, we arrived back where we started. It was good. We were close to our first-born daughter, her husband, and my eldest grandson. 

 But Hawaii was where Coqui frogs sang us to sleep at night. And then, when we rented a house in Junction City, Oregon, we heard the not-so-melodious singing of bullfrogs at night.

 "Frog sings the songs that bring the rain and make the road dirt more bearable."

  --Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams & David Carson, Illustrations by Angela Werneke.

 One Literary Agent told me he hated the Coqui frogs of Hawaii. Hated? That's a strong word for a frog no larger than a thumbnail. The Coquis don't croak. They sing their own name and don't harm anything—except in large numbers, they can keep some people awake at night. They eat bugs and insects, and their singing is to call a mate. They were accidentally imported from Cuba on plants—some residents don't like imports. 

 Temecula was an excellent location to drive to the beach, LA, Disneyland, and Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, DD and I discovered Mandalay Bay's Lazy River. What fun, a quarter mile-long swimming pool that ran in a loop with a current that would push you along. It was perfect for a two-year-old to ride on mom's or grandma's back and dip under waterfalls.  

 The Temecula location allowed us to visit my friend Sylvia from our college days, and her husband, Greg. Sylvia and I connected in a Spanish class at UCR, remained friends, and kept in touch no matter where we were. Sylvia loved to travel and often visited us in Oregon. Our stay in California allowed us to visit and restaurant hop. Who wanted to cook at that stage? Sylvia once rented a bungalow at the Winery, where they had excellent food and view of a glorious countryside.

 I treasured a long metaphysical talk with Greg, Sylvia's husband, while Sylvia pretended to be my grandson's second Grandma.

 DD found our Temecula house when she and her son traveled from Hawaii on a house-hunting mission.

 Earlier on, we had looked around the LA, Burbank, and Pasadena areas where DD had considered getting a job. She chose Temecula, a central place and a lovely house, and we rented it from a nice man who would allow our two dogs and two cats. A 150-pound dog is a problem for landlords who don't know and wouldn't believe that Bear was the gentlest dog who never damaged anything. He was much safer than a little twenty-five-pound dog.

 Newfoundland dogs, so I’ve heard, are natural babysitters. Wendy's dog in Peter Pan was Newfoundland. In Hawaii, Bear placed himself between the baby, walking by then, and the neighbor's Doberman, barking that Doberman bark that can curdle your blood. The Doberman must have thought we were invading his territory, for we were right over his fence line. However, he was invading ours. The neighbors rescued us and kept their Doberman home after that. 

 I wondered why many Hawaiians feared dogs until I found that many had macho or hunting dogs. When I took my little poodle, Peaches, with me, people went gaa gaa over her.

 The Temecula house was on three acres containing a grapefruit orchard the owner didn't tend. Later, he started a turkey and chicken farm on site, but out of sight from the house. When the birds came, I offered to feed his flock, as I was experienced with chickens, and he agreed to give me the job plus a reduction in the rent.  

 The turkeys became accustomed to my voice and would gobble when I called out to them. Coyotes killed many turkeys until the owner shored up the fence sufficiently. However, some mornings, I would still find a headless turkey who got too inquisitive about who was marauding their fence line. 

 One day, from the front yard, I watched a machine prune the orchard across the street. They used a humongous device with a giant blade that cut the sides of the trees while traveling down a row. Coming back down the row, it cut the other side. Finally, the blade rotated to a horizontal position and cut the tree’s tops. The result? Square trees.

 The property was at the top of a long sweeping hill from town, and on the slope, vineyards stretched out in rows green with summer foliage. Wineries along the highway offered fabulous brunches, and from our house in the fresh morning hours, we would watch colorful hot air balloons drift lazily on the air currents. 

 As twilight fell on our Temecula home one evening, Little Boy Darling, somewhere between the ages of two and three, looked up through the Eucalyptus tree branches and said, "It's making a net for the moon." A poet in the making.

 As was my habit, I often went out in the truck to write. One Temecula morning, with Peaches by my side, we happened upon a hot air balloon lying on the ground slowly deflating while being held down by two men holding long ropes.

 I could see through the opening at the bottom of the balloon to its top, where it had another hole and a closable flap. The air was streaming through the balloon and out that hole, slowly deflating it. Presently, from over the ridge came a man riding a horse with a dog loping along beside them. The dog trotted up to the men holding the balloon, then padded on doggy feet from one man to the other, gathering loving scratches.

 The men chatted a bit, and then the man on his horse with the dog trailing him disappeared back over the ridge.

The men continued their job, and when the balloon was flat on the ground, they rolled it into a ball, stuffed it into the wicker gondola that was once filled with adventuring people, and loaded it into their pickup. 

I thought of Greg, Sylvia's husband, who died last week.



It's Up to Us