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.