Monday, February 27, 2017

Spoken and Unspoken

Buddy with Amy Peck, Grandmother Laura Peck (with her Bible) and Theodorus Peck.  My father Buddy hated this photo, hated the popular sailor suit for boys.

October 1932 was just three months after Pa died.  Buddy could count the days, almost hours, since his pa had died and now was buried in a plot not three miles from Grandma Laura’s house.

That would be 5,236 strides, which Bud counted each day as he ran and walked to his pa’s grave site. His whole world had become a gray green and the sky always dull gray. There was little laughter, his face almost was frozen in sorrow.

But today, Ma was canning for Grandma, putting away some beans and tomatoes.  We should have done this earlier. But... Theodorus had died in early July and gardens wasted away, but for a few plants. Back in the garden house, produce had been picked and cleaned.

So, Ma scrubbed the table and quart jars; Ma chopped beans, canned tomatoes with Helen by her side.  Grousing and muttering under her breath, Helen anticipated a slap at any moment, knowing Ma’s patience was mighty slim. 

Words flowed freely in Helen’s mind, however. She had developed a colorful collection of metaphors after Pa died, from cousins and neighbors for whom she cleaned house and did laundry to earn some coins for Ma.  With her sharp intellect, Helen allowed the glorious language cavort silently. She found a perverted form of happiness with this delightful language.

One of the biggest thoughts she had that day was Where the hell is Buddy? She smiled. 

He left me here in deep shit (Oh, it felt so good to think that word!) and, God damn it, he better haul his ass (another satisfying word) up here. Instead, Helen asked Ma casually, “Where is Buddy, Ma?  Isn’t he ‘sposed to help out today?”

Ma wiped her forehead with her soggy stained apron and sighed.  “Oh, I ‘spect he is still helping your grandma move furniture and reach up to high shelves.  Her bones are so crippled and she sure can’t take a chance to climb up to reach her china.” 

Amy also squeezed back the painful thoughts of the immense load placed on her by Theodorus’ death. Tears rolled quietly.  

Why oh why did you leave me, Dorus?  How could you have left me?  I don’t know what I am doing, how to do it!  Your ma is no help at all, not one bit.  I believe I have a fourth child and her name is Laura. Dear Lord, grant me Your wisdom…Amy prayed quietly wanting some sort of an answer, but expecting none.

Theodorus Peck in Michigan, photo taken by new bride, Amy Nichols Peck.

Helen sighed and smashed steaming tomatoes a bit more forcefully than was needed.  Take that, you red steaming pile of crap!
Amy Nichols Peck, bride

She hammered them once more.  Hell if I .... “Hmmmm” were the only sound spoken, but a flow of profanity streamed freely through her brain,  all focused on Buddy, none of them kind, none of them speak-able in front of Ma.

While Amy prayed and Helen did not, Buddy was moving rugs and chairs in Grandma Laura’s house. Willingly or unwillingly never had mattered.  

Do this, Buddy.  Move it over here.  Climb up and get that vase.  Dust and wash it. Climb up again. A mind-numbing day, and Buddy was locked into a rhythm dictated by Ma and Grandma.

 “Move that chair here, Buddy." 

I just moved it over there, old woman! Gee whiz! Can't you make up your shriveled brain?  

"Oh, my goodness!  Won’t you just look at all that dust!  Buddy, take that rug outside and beat it, won’t you, be a dear.”  Then Grandma Laura retired out to the porch and fanned herself.

Buddy remembered that rug, remembered it well.  He and Pa played on that rug and read books on that rug. That rug was where Pa in his coffin rested the night before his funeral.  

Buddy struggled with that heavy wool floor rug, grabbing it over both hands, and dragged it outside where a sheen of drab green enveloped Buddy.

With a deep groan, Buddy heaved it over the clothes line. Wire clothes line gave its own groan, and sagged until the edge of the rug brushed autumn grass. 

The first swat was ineffectual and Buddy swung again.  Why the hell am I doing this? Buddy was stunned that he thought that word, but it was somehow comforting. Damn! 

A second swat permitted some dust to fly.  Buddy looked at the floral design on the rug. Pa, we liked that rose.  You traced your finger here, there.  Pa, why did you stop doing that? Why did you stop?

Another swat gave dust a chance to break free from rose-bound flowers. Pa, if you were here, you could help me. You would help me. I'm not strong enough, Pa.  I can't do this by myself. I can't do hard work, what you did, all alone.

Pa, I'm only nine years old. 

Swat swat swat, and Buddy paused to let his arms rest. 

"Pa, I hate you!" Buddy hit rose rug with all the strength he could summon. 

"I hate you!" Buddy kicked it ferociously.  It swung on the wire, back and forth, each time Buddy struck it.   

"You left me, you left Ma, you left everybody! I hate you!" Buddy sobbed uncontrollably and leaned over, resting hands on knees.

He kicked the rug beater out toward the outhouse.  I could throw this damn contraption into the hole.  I could say it was an accident. Knowing Ma the way he did, Buddy knew she would make him climb down into all the crap steeping in the dark.

Buddy began swinging erratically, with each cloud of dust he sobbed and wiped his nose.  I miss you so much, Pa.   

You coulda gone to see a doctor sooner and he woulda healed you. I know something coulda saved you! 

Why didn't you go?

"Why didn't you go to a doctor, Pa?" Buddy asked, quietly.  

He dropped Ma's rug dust-covered beater, himself dropping to dried grass, breathing raggedly.  He whispered, "I don't hate you, Pa.  I love you and you died.  If I could run over there where you lay in your box, in that dirt, and climb down there with you, I would. I would!" 

Rising to his feet, Buddy continued his job, his face now beet colored with each swing, and then muddy with sweat. Whatever he thought or said was eaten up by sheer exhaustion.

Laura Borrowman Peck , a young nubile woman, before marriage to Lewis B. Peck
That was when he heard, “Oh, Buddy!  You need to rest for a while.”

What?  Rest? Did that old woman actually say that?

Grandma Laura grasped his sweaty hand.  “Why don't you head to the cellar and bring us some cool cider?”

No need to ask twice, Buddy flew down to the dark chilly cellar and decanted a quart jar from the barrel, and replaced the plug. Grandma Laura sipped from the jar, appreciating tangy cider, then passed it to Buddy.  Between them, the jar was emptied in a short space of time.

Grandma Laura hiccupped, “Oh, my.  Please excuse me!” She patted her mouth with an embroidered hanky.  

“Why don’t we have more, Buddy?  It is a hot day, and you have been working so hard. This time, though, fill that large pitcher on the sideboard. I will find us some nice glasses, that will be more civilized. Then you can relax.  You are such an exemplary worker, and could use more liquid.”

Buddy made his way down the cellar steps, a bit wobbly, but he managed to fill and then carry heavy pitcher to the porch. 

Between the two of them, Grandma and Buddy emptied her antique pitcher, and leaned back in a relaxed state where all seemed glorious. 

“Buddy, let’s sing some songs!” Buddy nodded carefully, as his vision blurred when his head moved.  “Something cheerful, I think.  Hmm.”  

My Grandmother Amy Peck, with Gr-Grandmother Laura Peck. As always, Laura carried her Bible where ever she went.  Being president of the local temperance unit, Laura would grab any drunkard and recite Bible verses to him.  They would often cross the street to avoid her.
Then she cut loose with a well-known drinking song, then moving on to songs with jaw-dropping words.

Buddy stared at her in awe and newly found respect.  

Buddy felt a sudden, urgent need to leave and talk to his ma.  He called to her, as he staggered back to the garden house.  Amy emerged, and with a single sniff, discerned that a large amount of liquor had been drunk. 

She grabbed Buddy, yelling, “BUDDYWHATHAVEYOUBEENDOING?”  She wailed on Buddy, until Buddy threw up on her feet.

About that time, Amy could hear Grandma Laura’s reedy voice singing, Roll out the barrel.  Amy dropped Buddy and raced to Laura’s front porch where she was ripping into the second stanza. 

Helen gazed down at Buddy with his vomit covered face. “Dammit, you are one stinkin' bastard, you know that, dontcha.”

They both giggled and Helen sank down beside him.  Although Helen was blurred in Buddy's vision, Buddy slurred, "This is the best I've felt in a long time."

Buddy gazed up at a clear sky, and for a short bit of time, the sky was blue, grass green.  A bit wiggly, but his world felt good.

I had to search for swear words since I don't swear or know many words.  The lists of words is long, most of them referring to body parts and sex.  The list of words from the 1930s were not too different. No offense is intended here.

Dad told me this story long ago.  His sorrow was palpable still after seventy years. This event was probably the first time he allowed himself to actually mourn.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Martin Van Buren Shive SE Kane January 16, 201

When Martin Van Buren Shive entered church sanctuary, the very air changed.  Worshippers pulled their shoulders back, sat taller, and focused on Christian principles.  Martin changed the very atmosphere by his upright moral beliefs and actions.

In Shive Family History, not much seems to be known.  Born 1839, served in the Union Army.  Went in with ideals and lofty thoughts of mankind’s ability to seek higher moral ground.  Came home an officer, with a ragged scar down his face, and disillusioned about his fellow men. Died in the early 1900s.

I have been trying to write about the Shive family, of which Marie (Shive) Cardiff was eldest of six children.  But there was precious little about Martin Van Buren Shive.  One photo, a sentence or two, and not much else was the hard copy source wanted and needed.

Why is this important?  He was John South Shive’s father, Marie’s father.  Not just genes direct who people are, but changes the very core of one’s family.  Father John South Shive was an important aspect of Marie’s story.  His father was part of his forming life, which affected Marie for the rest of her life.

Pouring through boxes of photos, letters, postcards, and such revealed a newspaper article published some thirty years ago.  My Aunt Vada had listened to Grandmother’s stories, finally requesting to write them (in short hand) for an article in The Weekly Messenger.

This is what I had been dying to find.

Sooo, when it is all written out, I will post it here.  Should be an interesting read.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Along Green Fields

Dad and my little brother Bill who was about 5 here. Dad always tilted his cap like that, just a little to the side. I guess he
liked the way it looked.

From one July to the next, life can change or it can be changed for you. Forget about running and hiding, climbing over golden bales of straw. I blame it on the bra.

Summers in the Midwest are hot, heavy, and humid--humid enough to coat skin with a fine invisible mist, and then cling, soaking. Wind was still, not a single whistle. Sweat ran down backs--rivers of sweat. By 10 in the morning we all were roasted, toasted, and dowsed in sweat.

Canning marathon started up just about that time. The kitchen's linoleum floor was slippery with sweat and splatters of vegetable carnage. Air was so saturated with steam that it could not absorb one more drop. It hung like clouds at the ceiling beneath which we labored canning tomatoes, canning beans, canning corn. Misery, thy name is canning.
When my father, Louis “Bud” Peck said, “Come on, Sis.  Let’s head out for a drive.”  I all but flew into the truck. He backed out the driveway and then we were on our way.
Did I want to leave the kitchen with canning jars lined up like little soldiers? You betcha. 
Driving up roads, rolling down windows, feeling a breeze wafting through the truck would be just fine. This drive would hold more visual stimulation than running a vacuum.
Sometime within a mile or two I realized just where and what we were going.  

Dad was driving about 20 mph, looking side to side at fields of corn and beans, his fields or anybody else’s fields. Inwardly, I groaned. A field check. I should have known. This is a field check drive, at a speed I could do on a bicycle.

“Well, I tell you what, Sis…” always meant a story was about to flow out in his stop-and-go style, raised eyebrows, and big pauses.  

Big pauses were the essence of Dad's storytelling, that with minute facial expressions. He was subtle in his words with just a dab of expression. Raising an eyebrow spoke volumes. Clearing his throat could mean just about anything; it depended on how long and how deep. A sigh brought weight into his story. He was brilliant.  

I leaned back against red vinyl torn seat, resting my eyes and waiting. There was no need for me to look out at cornfields, as I already knew what they looked like.
“Well, now.  Peck men from way back always found a way to stick money in their pockets. They done good. Got a bit puffy with themselves." Dad sneezed mightily. No essence there, but his sneezes were loud and violent. I always jumped when he sneezed.

“My grandpa, they called him “LB”, Louis Benjamin, come back from being Union 100st Illinois Regiment soldier in Civil War.  His own pa had bought up businesses and farm land, ‘cause some men didn’t come marchin’ home from places like….”

There was one long pause and he turned his head to check out Smithy’s field.  “He planted too early.  Look at those dried tassels…skinny cobs. Won’t get much there…”
"Wellll, LB just about owned the whole dang town.  Bank, grocers, dry goods…ole man strutted in a white suit, with a black bow-tie, lived in a big house." Dad sniffed, raised an eyebrow.

"LB got just about everything when his ole pa died. LB married good, a young woman with a big family, smart people. Annnnnd. That’s when my pa was born.”
 Ma Amy Peck and Grandma Laura Peck sitting.  Ol' LB Peck standing 
Dad slowed down, stopped, at Burns’ bean field, and nodded. “Good crop, there.”  He sniffed, then cleared his throat. But, his eyes were teary and silence grew.

Dad had gone to a place he had kept dark for over nearly 40 years: Pa. His father had died when Dad wasn't yet ten and weight of responsibility fell like a heavy brick on his boy shoulders. 

Buddy, you are the man of our family, his ma told him as funeral plans were being made. We'll depend on you. That is what he was told and then reminded, frequently.

He seldom told stories about that time. Pain and loss always gripped and tied him up in tight knots. When Dad released a bit of memory, it was like opening a locked door.

The invoice for the shiny black car; I found it in the folder Grandma Peck had made then.  Now it is nearly 80 some years ago.  It was just waiting for someone to find it.
A heavy sigh.  “My pa made money, and LB died.  Left a heck of a lot of money and land to his three boys.  But"…eye brow raising and pushing his hat back. 

"Pa had tooooo much pride.  Went out and bought himself a new Chevy, $675 dollars, plus some more. Don't know how much more."

"Mighty big money then. Big money even now. But Pa was feeling like puffing out his chest a bit, showing what he and LB had done."
My dad stopped and opened a rusty truck door and walked through tall grass.  This was his field, his corn, and his concern.  Dad had long legs, was a big boned farmer, and his stride was almost three of my own.  He disappeared into the corn. 

 Emerging from itchy green stalks, he had that smile of his, not quite a smile but more of a lifted corner of his mouth. Corn was just fine, ears full, silk cascading down. More silk, more kernels, more kernels, better crop. 
Driver's license

"…where’d I leave off…anyway Pa drove home with that shiny new car and Ma flew out the door at him, like a hen with claws ready to dig in and peck to death .  Words, man oh man, she clawed him up one side and down the other. I hid behind the porch railing, listening."

Dad cleared up a bit of phlegm, spit out the side of truck. Birds flew off. Speed did not pick up, not one little bit. He wiped his face with a red kerchief and blew his nose. He was sweating. I was sweating. Teenagers sweat more than any other person on the planet, or at least in the Midwest.

"Well, my pa, he withered under her pepper. Smaller he got, louder Ma yelled." An almost smirk shaped his face. An amused smirk was not far behind.

"WHAT did you THINK you were doing?!!" and "YOU are TAKING that back right this minute! WHAT will farmers LOOK at this and THINK?? Well, I'll TELL you what they will think, what'll they say..."

Chuckling: a rare addition to his stories.

"I will TELL you what... they will SAY: Oh those Pecks...they live in castles on a hill...then we borrow money from them...That Dorus Peck, nose up in the air, black car shining at us...well, those PECKS!...

Your ma, oh your ma, she will SKIN YOU ALIVE! Drag you to church and SLAM you down at that altar. YOU will NOT escape what she'll say!..."

Pa said, "Buddy, let's go for a ride."

"Well, now, that sounded just fine.  Jumped onto the shiny black leather
seats, fine white stitching, and we took off.  Ma watched us leave, and I tell you, steam was still comin’ off top of her head.”

"Pa and me drove over to Pittsfield and stopped at the courthouse. He opened that shiny black door, and smiled. This'll be good. Wait 'til those men see this. He stepped out the car, and Pa stretched like he just needed to take a rest for just a minute, like he'd been driving for a hundred miles. I peered over the steering wheel, watching as a whole bunch of his friends hurried, surrounded his car.”

This your car, Peck?...When’d you get it?...Man oh man, it’s a mighty fine…” Pa brushed his hand along shiny black metal, walked around it, pointing out features...shiny everything...pride beamed off him like a new dime. Yep, it's my car. Just got it...Chevy place a couple a' blocks over there...Yep, good deal... Pa leaned in, ducked his head, and whispered a price...yep, we bounced numbers back and forth, but my number won...yep..."
 "Then we headed to a whole bunch of places.  Places I never seen, heard of or been to.  Every single town, Pa did the same…” Dad stopped the truck, and his remembrance, climbed out to check his field of beans.

Damn! My brain was boiling in its own juices, under hot summer fire. How much longer can this last? Doesn't a truck need gas?

My shorts were riding up my butt, with the back of my thighs were sweat-glued to vinyl. Glued, cemented, pasted, stuck, adhered to, whatever. When we eventually would arrive home and doors opened, I knew I would peel my legs from vinyl, like a band aide ripping off a hairy leg.

Oh, please. Can't you drive any faster? Step on the pedal just a little more?
"…Let’s see…We drove to Winchester, Griggsville, Florence, Hamburg…everywhere Pa knew someone.  I was asleep when the sun was setting, and Ma came busting out the door and cut into him again.”

"About two years later, or was it three?  Anyways, the whole world fell apart. Pa lost everything. Never seen a grown man with tears running down his face. He and Ma sat so close together on the sofa they looked like one person, side by side, with her hand on his shoulder. We'll be fine, just fine. This will be over soon enough, and life will be like normal." 

"Pa's head hung low, then he leaned over, wrapped long fingers over his face. Now, Sis. Pa was a tall man but didn't have much muscle to him. It didn't take him long to fall. Pa folded up like a lawn chair, crumbling down on his fancy rug. He and Ma started praying, whispering together."

"Every single family in town and farms lost everything. Bank went bust, stores shut down, and all farm loans dried up.  Pa couldn’t bring himself to call their loans, take their farms. Ol' LB would have, but Pa forgave them all their debts.”
And then, Dad slowed down, turned down a dusty road, road of perpetual pot holes and stray big rocks.  “Pa lost his car. Ma and Pa drove it up to Springfield, turned it back over to Chevy, and took the train home.”

Oh, dear Lord! Not the Bluff Road! Not that!

"Ma, she was still mad.  It was one silent ride back home.  Before Pa died…” Dad’s voice got husky. “Before Pa died, all he had was a farm, the one Ol' LB gave 'im. Pa worked on his farm, just like all farmers. See that, Ol' Dorus Peck? In coveralls? Where's your black car, Peck?"

"He was never strong...wasn't a farmer, didn't have much farming sense.  Ma always said it was being sick with a quiet disease, that black car,a mighty big pride, being a plain farmer. When he knew he'd never wear a white suit with a black bow tie...that was just too much."

"Maybe it was.  Just know his heart broke that day.”

Dad turned around, after one more field check. The beans were looking good, and he had his half-smile. That was his happy face.
Finally, oh blessed finally, we turned into our driveway.  

Dad strode off, head down, hands in his pockets.  I heard Mom calling me.  “Susie, come peel the potatoes.  Oh, go pick some green onions…” and a list of other chores.

With great hesitancy, I climbed out. Rip, rip. I twisted around for a view of my butt and vinyl. Vinyl glistened with sweat droplets in a horse-shoe indent in the seat. Shorts were soaked, like I'd wet my pants. Thighs were bright red, like tomatoes which waited for me in the kitchen  

My brothers would have a field day about this one. Sweat has its way of finding opportunities to torture, as did my brothers.

But, the trip was worth peeking into Dad's life, no matter how hot, how sweaty. I watched Dad disappear into our old red barn.  I knew he’d be there a while.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dark Clouds

Dark CloudsMarie felt her chest grow tight when dark clouds lingered out over the wheat fields. 

Oh, the sky was clear, with a brisk wind from the north, white billowing clouds perched and passing overhead.  Her three girls danced on porch planks, hopping from one to another, laughing and shrieking.  Even the baby, Irma, crawled giggling across side to side, followed by Minerva, or else. 

She watched Lewis carefully on those days.  Watched for heaviness in his step. Watched for his eyes to wander up over the tree lines, out through the woods. 
Displaying 052.jpg
Watched for dark clouds sneak in to hang over Marie's house, creep in to grab her precious man.
Dark clouds came and went throughout the years since the Great War, when Lewis had slugged through blood streaked mud in the trenches, climbing over bloated bodies.  Unrecognizable but they once were someone's son, waving from a train at mothers gathered en mass. Come home.  Be sure to write!  Take careful.  

Lewis wandered through and over trenches, passed by tilted white crosses. Names of friends were painted on those mud splattered crosses, but their faces were a blur in his mind. 

How could slaughter suddenly end?  How could guns grow quiet, cannons be silenced, hissing gas grenades abruptly stop? How could his hands, calloused and burned, put aside his rifle?  No more killing--taking aim and killing a stranger. Will his mother ever know?  

Walk, he kept walking.  Then on a ship to England.  Then home. Blessed home.

Lewis returned to broad flat fields of his home.  Wheat waved at him, green fat grains soon to be combined and harvested. Where scents of cow dung and tractor oil threaded and blended together.  No smell like this anywhere...  

No dark clouds yet.  They hung away, tiptoeing in when a twinge of memory popped up, triggered by sounds, smells.  

Oh, dear God...the smells won't fade...rotting corpses, rotting men... my friends...heads shot clean off...

In mid-darkness, Marie awoke with Lewis rolling to his edge of the bed and sitting up. 

He stared out the window into a starless sky, his back ramrod straight and muscles bunched tight.  Ready.  He was ready. 

Kneeling up, Marie wrapped her arms around him, hugging him to her breasts. Shhhh now, let me help you, comfort you.  Lewis leaned his head back onto her arm, sobbing softly.

"So many...I killed so many..." 

Marie rocked him in her arms until Lewis relaxed and lay down to a restless sleep. Marie curled up to his side as his arm moved to cushion her hair.  When Lewis breathed evenly, Marie allowed her tears to course down her cheeks, soaking feather pillows.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Love's Labor Lost--Almost

Theodorus Peck, 1918
Amy Nichols, 1916
Theodorus Peck, 1918

This love story should not have been possible. 

One world was from the farmlands of Illinois, where Theodorus’ family were affluent landowners, bankers, and shop owners.  The other world was from the cities of Michigan, where Amy’s family were more gentile, educated, and ‘with prospects’.

The likelihood of their meeting was very limited, fate stepped in.  The key factor was the restlessness that filled Theodorus.

He was extremely intelligent and eager to see more than the rolling fields of corn.  Tall and lean with pale blue eyes, Theodorus was not a physically strong man; farming would have been a difficult life for him.  Theodorus “Dorus” was already 35 with no serious attachments.

With his parents’ blessings, Theodorus went on a “stroll-about the United States”.  The stroll went West to Utah and up to Idaho.  It took him through mountains, deserts, and ultimately to Michigan.

He had friends in Michigan from his growing-up years and from his travels.  They showed him different towns and cities.  One city was Detroit. 

Amy came from a town nearby, and had just received her Pharmaceutical Degree.  Finding a job in Detroit meant that she would receive a good salary.
Amy Nichols on her way to the Drug Store

What is a bit vague (from her reminisces) is about her family.  At one time they had been comfortably situated, but something about the father’s gambling and drinking had left them in financial straits.  There were three daughters and one son.  Amy was the oldest and was considered to be a ‘spinster’.  She was also brilliant.

Amy was so mentally gifted that she had begun studies in medical school to become a doctor.  She was the only woman in 103 men.  Two years into her studies, the family was nearly destitute.  With their pleas for help, Amy switched her studies to become a Pharmacist.
Only part of the class photo, with Amy Nichols at the top

At the age of 28, Amy was behind the drug store counter, filling prescriptions and laughing with customers.  She was a big woman with a big personality—tall with brown eyes and an easy smile. 

Theodorus needed something from a drugstore, so his friends took him to this store as it was the closest.  Brown eyes meeting pale blue eyes, well, you can picture the exchange.

They began the courtship.    

Her family was not happy.  No, they viewed Dorus as depriving them of their source of income.

What to do?  They eloped.

When my grandmother said this to me, I was about 14.  My jaw dropped; I looked at my very traditional elderly grandmother, and these images did not coalesce.  “You mean—out the window, down the ladder elopement?”  She said, “Well, almost.”

When the dust had settled and days had passed, Amy’s family cooled down, considered their standing in the community, and held a reception for the newlyweds. 

Reception corsage

Their love story will continue on another posting.

I realized recently that many followers had never seen or read this post that is part of the backstory.  This might answer some questions about Amy and Dorus Peck.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Love Heals

Lewis Parker Cardiff

Love stories are not as unique as we like to believe. 

Of course, when I was falling in love with my future husband, it was the love of the century.  The stuff of books, legends, and movies-- that was what we had.

It is only now in the present that I find myself looking back at the grand love affairs that led to my existence.  In looking at my mother and father, their respective parents, and back for generations, one will find a man and woman whose eyes spoke of longing and desire.  Then they fell in love.

My mother’s parents were Lewis and Marie Cardiff.  Their love was always clear to me in the way he patted her behind as she walked by him, even when they were in their senior years.  It was the way she giggled when he did that, blushing a little.  They held hands at the table.  Love.

This is the photo taken of my grandfather before he left for France.

They met near Grandpa’s childhood home, right after WW1.

Grandpa had experienced the worst of the war, the most horrible carnage, unimaginable to those at home.  As a skilled hunter and sharp shooter, Grandpa Cardiff (his father called him "Sam"), and another farmer like himself were assigned to scout behind enemy lines.

They were on the run, sleeping in barns and ditches, and making their way back to deliver information about the enemy troops.

The things he saw, the things he had to do scarred him forever.

 Shortly before he died, Grandpa told my brother some of those things.  Horrible things he witnessed the Germans, taking a baby, bayoneting it. and tossing up to be speared by another soldier.

The major battles, Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, were and forever would be etched into his mind.**

He returned home a battered soul who just wanted peace.  He got a job collecting milk for the local dairy company.  Along long stretches of quiet green pastures, Grandpa guided the horse-pulled wagon, and collected the milk cans that farmers set out for him early in the morning.
Caroline Marie Shive with her mother and Aunt Daisy.  Wearing a new dress ,. Graduation from 8th grade?  Leaving home to be a home helper for a cousin.  Twist of fate.
A young woman had observed that lonely journey day after day.  Working as a serving girl for a large farm family far from her own parents, Marie was homesick and watched the world go by from the kitchen window.

Barely 18 then, Grandma decided that she needed to be on that road just when he went by.  They waved at each other for days.  Then he stopped and talked for a few minutes. 

Over a period of weeks, they learned about each other through the spoken and unspoken language of love, always respectfully.  Lewis was, after all, ten years older than Marie.  One evening after supper, Grandpa showed up at the house where Grandma was a serving girl.  She went out onto the porch behind the kitchen where he waited, hat in hand. 

He scooped her up in his arms, their eyes meeting.  Grandpa said, “Marie, I want you to be my girl forever.”

My grandfather was a farmer before and after WW1.  He suffered lung damage from the toxic gas used in war.

That was it.  The next day or so, Grandma packed up and went off with Grandpa.  They were married in a simple straight-forward ceremony.  Grandpa had $100 from his army discharge.  With it, they bought a bed, a plow, and a sewing machine.

This was Grandpa and Grandma Cardiff's home.  

A love affair to remember?  Like Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr?  You betcha.  As for the other side of the family, my father's family, you will have to return to learn about them about them.

Lewis Parker Cardiff   Lewis Parker Cardiff
** How did I know all of this?  I was 12 years old, had an excellent memory, and eavesdropped in the bedroom, while this story unfolded in the words of a man who needed to tell this to another human being.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Road Runs Both Ways

Long Road Back
Not sure.

What is this?  Are these segments fiction?  Did you make up all this?  What are you going with this? Is there more following?  So many questions, so here is a scanty explanation. 

When I visited my parents back “home” until my father’s death in 2005 and mother’s in 2011, we always did these few traditional actions, without fail. I had a sense that these were essential rites that we absolutely must do.

We always went to Pam's Cafe, and ate catfish or buffalo carp “fritters”, deep-fat fried, served with two slices of white bread, a big slice of strong onion, and cocktail sauce at Pam’s, the best and only restaurant in their town. Dad always had a cup of the blackest coffee I had ever seen at that time.

The waitress, usually a wild exotic teenager who grew up to be a worn-out waitress--Wanda?  Betty?, brought refills of coffee by.  She never asked if my father wanted a refill; he would tap the cup on the saucer to let her know.

My folks always sat in the same corner table that gave them the best view of the front door.  That way they would know who came or left, and then they would tell stories about them to me.  Oh, those stories. What these old wrinkled people who walked through those doors did with their lives could make a sailor blush.  

We always went across the “new” Missouri-Illinois Pike Bridge that spanned the Mississippi River (The River)to drive up Hwy. 79 in Mih-zer-uh (Missouri).  

The bridge was built in the early 1920's and opened up for traffic with a Gala Potluck. He was only six years old and had to pee.  Badly.  "Ma" told him to pee over there on the slope next to a tree.

Well, then.  He was  in his best clothes--knee pants, high socks, seersucker jacket--and just as he was getting his business done, he slipped on the long grass, sliding down the slope into the mud.  That is all he told me about that.  

We would drive up and around that road until we came to the places to stop—could stand there and look down The River and its spots of little islands.  Each stop gave us a new love for The River.

And we always went to visit  the cemeteries.  My father’s side of the family was buried in the small Nebo Cemetery in Illinois, while my mother’s side were buried in the sizable Crescent Cemetery in Pleasant Hill, Illinois. The farm where we lived for 40 years was a mile north of Nebo Cemetery.

The most interesting things about these places are that I did not know 97% of its occupants, and I really didn’t care.  My folks would walk around looking at headstones, talked about what those people did in life, and my father would speculate whether or not if they made it to Heaven. 

His staunch opinion was they did not.  In fact, my father generally believed that most of the people he knew were damned to hell.

Nebo Cemetery became interesting to me when two of my brothers were buried there in 1997 and 1999. I would go by myself in my rental car to place silk flowers at their graves, talk with them a bit, and look around the corn fields, at the rusted abandoned train tracks, and try to remember the town as it was in my childhood.

Now, I cull volumes of photos of those visits and re-live it all with stories my folks told me. Connecting those memories with faces, and reading letters not meant for my eyes have connected me with a totally different world one hundred years ago.

*The stories here in following posts are non-chronological and have a strong basis in truth.  A few tidbits here and there have been added for the story's sake. But, I have to say, just a few. 

** This is actually a re-post from years ago, which now can be called a back story.  I apologize for not providing readers with this cement.

***My mother told me other stories--oh my goodness, the stuff she knew!  Another day.