Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Meeting at the Cemetery

Grace and Sue
My niece Susan has blogged ( about the visit she and her daughter and granddaughter made to our town yesterday to visit her mother--my sister Grace. My daughter, Anne Marie, and I met them at the cemetery where so many family members are buried. We were there to pick up the Memorial Day decorations and visit the graves.

It was a first visit to this cemetery for Maria ( and little Cordelia. We all took photos, of course. So here are my versions of our visit.
Maria and Cordelia, who was feeling rather shy as they had just
arrived. I doubted that she would remember me, so introduced myself
to her as her Great-great aunt Michelle. Wow--it's a little shocking
to think of myself as a great-great!

Cordelia in her pretty pink outfit.
Cordelia balance walking. As she grew accustomed to us, the shyness
was gone and she became a charming chatterbox.

As we picked up the flowers from the graves, Cordelia distributed
them to each of us, making sure everyone had flowers to carry.
Then, in a few minutes, she would redistribute, so that we each had
a different bouquet.  I guess she wanted us each to have a chance to
hold every one of them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Comfort of Familiar Things

Some people crave, and thrive on, variety. Their restless natures demand an ever-changing course of experiences--new people, new places, new jobs, new ideas, new excitement. They seem to be always on the move, always seeking something else. This personality type is needed in our world. From their ranks we gain explorers, inventors, and adventurers--people who see new ways of doing things and open up new vistas for their less restless brethren.

I am not this type of personality.

Variety, so the old saying goes, is the spice of life. For a person like me, that is a true saying. Spices are used in very small quantities to add flavor to foods. Variety, in small doses, adds interest and pleasure--spice--to my life. But I find much comfort in familiar things. Most of the time I would prefer to be at home with a good book, or family, or a TV show I'm interested in, than to go out looking for excitement. Crowd scenes exhaust me. Social events with too many people I don't know or don't know well create a type of nervous strain that fills me with dread. While a different personality type will look forward to and enjoy such an event, it feels like punishment to me.

Years ago my husband and I were talked into participating in a Marriage Encounter weekend. Most people who have been to one of these have nothing but praise and enthusiasm for the experience. I hated every minute of it and could hardly wait for it to be over so we could go home.

In other words, it was no place for an extreme introvert!

While I can weary of being in "the same old rut," there are some things about the "same old rut" that I really like! It became that "same old rut" simply because of my doing the same old things over and over. Because they are things I like. Certainly, I enjoy and need a little change from time to time. And I can guarantee that life will hand out change, whether I want it or not. In the many life changes through the years, some have been wonderful, interesting, educational, fulfilling, and of benefit to my growth as a human being. Other changes have been grievously difficult.

Whether life's changes have been happy ones or unhappy ones, part of the continuity of my life is found in familiar things. When we moved to a new house, new town, or new state, familiar paintings went up on the walls, helping the new place feel like home. All of our household equipment that moved with us from place to place immediately made the new place feel familiar. The comfort of the familiar helped make the adjustment to new circumstances easier. Even when we were excited about some of these changes and truly enjoying them, still the comfort of the familiar things we brought with us helped us enjoy the newness all the more.

There is a sort of emotional security among the familiar things, familiar routines.

What has set me thinking about the comfort of the familiar, is my recent choices in reading material. As a lifelong bookworm, I am always buying new books. Right now I probably have ten new books that I want to read and have not gotten to yet.

Why haven't I gotten to them?

Because I've been rereading old favorites. Some of these old favorites I have already read more than once. But there is something in me right now that is needing the comfort of familiar things. So I am revisiting worlds of the imagination that I have enjoyed before. It is like visiting friends that I am comfortable with and take pleasure in their company. Rereading a book gives pleasure in the experience, without wondering if things are going to turn out all right. The suspense is gone, the pleasure remains. It's comfortable.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Memories

Memorial Day 1998. Photo by Mother (Rose). which is why she is not in the
 picture. From left: the Birdies, the Russells, the Bakers.
2000--Rose taking photos of
Steven and Megan.
Memorial Day is now a federal holiday, but it began as a day to remember the Union dead from the Civil War. It was called Decoration Day and the dead were honored with floral decorations upon their graves. Over time the meaning of the day expanded to include honoring all soldiers from all wars; and now, families use the day to also remember and honor all their loved ones who have moved on to eternity. When I was growing up, the day was still called Decoration Day more than Memorial Day, but I like the new name because it more clearly identifies the purpose of the day--we remember.

2000--Mother (Rose) in a very familiar
pose; ready to take a picture.

Many years ago my mother, Rose, made it her special mission to decorate family graves a day or two before Memorial Day. As time went by she was joined by any of us who happened to be in town and available. As we went from grave to grave we talked about the person whose grave we were decorating and shared precious memories. We, the living, also just enjoyed being together. We took photos; the little ones, who had no idea what it was all about, enjoyed playing with each other.

2001--Taking a rest under a tree; Grandma Rose and Steven
2004--Part of the group that gathered for decorating.
This year the weather was cold and rainy as the holiday approached. On Sunday there was a break in the weather just long enough for a few of us (Grace, Anne Marie, Chad, and I) to dash up to the cemetery and get the flowers on all the graves we take care of. As we finished the clouds had closed in and it was starting to rain again. Because of the weather, we did not linger and visit and share memories this time.

As the years have passed, some of the former decorators are now among those we remember as we place flowers upon their graves. There is sadness, there is gratitude that they were part of our lives, there are warm reminiscences.

2005--This was a difficult year, as Jerry was now one of those
whose grave we were decorating; his gravestone was not yet
ready. Megan is sitting by Grandpa's grave.
2012--Anne Marie, Chad, Grace by family graves. Photo by Michelle.
Through the years we have had many family get-togethers on Memorial Day. When the weather was good, this involved a picnic-type lunch eaten outdoors. Sometimes these gatherings were at Mother's, sometimes at Grace's, sometimes at Anne Marie and Chad's, sometimes at my place. Those present at the gatherings varied from year to year. One thing about these Memorial Day get-togethers, to decorate the graves or to share a meal and fellowship on the actual holiday, is that they bond us to both our living family and the family that has gone before us.

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's All in What You're Used To

Part of my deck garden. In a few weeks the pots will be
overflowing with lush blooms.
A number of years ago, while I was standing in a checkout line in a store in Rapid City, South Dakota, I overheard a conversation between two tourists from Georgia. They were complaining about the dry air and how uncomfortable it made their skin.

I couldn't laugh out loud or comment on what I was hearing, but I certainly had an internal chuckle.

I had just been thinking how uncomfortably humid the weather was that day!

It really is all in what you are used to. When we have a few gray and rainy days like today, I begin to yearn for blue skies and sunshine. I wonder how people can bear to live in places where it rains all the time. Intellectually, I know that those rainy-place people wonder how we can bear to live in semi-arid prairie country. Emotionally, I don't buy it!
When it rains, a puddle always forms in the corner or the
deck table. My granddaughter left a rock art project on the
table and it is now under water.

Wyoming needs water. When we get the nice rains we are now having, I truly appreciate it. I am happy that my newly planted deck garden (34 pots of various sizes!) is being watered from the sky, rather than from me carrying watering cans of water from inside my house. (One thing I overlooked when planning the construction of my house was to put an exterior spigot on the deck. Guess the exercise is good for me!) I am glad that the prairie will be green and blooming. I am grateful that the dust storms of April are watered down.

But I have been checking the long-range forecast to see when the sun is coming back!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Little Bit of Bible Study

Artist's conception of Babylon in Biblical times.
Today my Bible reading was chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Ezekiel. Ezekiel wrote about his experiences and messages as a prophet of God while he was an exile in Babylon. Well, I must admit it was a bit of a downer. In fact, reading many of the prophetic books that were written as warnings to the people of Israel and Judah in the years before the destruction of their respective nations can be very difficult. When the sinful rebellion against God, and the violence, greed, and injustice of those nations is itemized, I keep thinking that it sounds like the things I hear on the news every day.

The human race has new technology, but sure has not evolved as to character and behavior. It seems, instead, that things are degenerating.

I have to remind myself that bad news is what makes the news. All the good things done every day do not make for the drama the newsfolk look for. I remember reading years ago a comment by Phil Donohue about the days when he did radio news. The motto was something like, "If it bled, it led."

When I worked for the Probation and Parole Department and then for the County Attorney's Office, every day's work dealt with terrible things people do to each other. What kept me from becoming totally depressed and cynical was the fact that through church, family, and friends I knew a lot of good, decent people. Not perfect people, but people who do their best to be what they should be. People who are loving and kind. People who have fun without destructiveness to their minds, bodies, or spirits. People who care about and help others. The salt of the earth.

I have to remind myself of that while reading the horrors the prophets sometimes speak of. And with Ezekiel I try to picture the things he describes, as God has him doing performance art to demonstrate his message to the people around him. Some of these action object lessons are so bizarre I can surely believe they attracted the attention of passersby and gave Ezekiel an audience for his message. These were not easy things for Ezekiel to do. He suffered to deliver the message. He had a degree of dedication and obedience that was truly exceptional.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memories and Photos

Memory is a strange thing. Some things we remember with great clarity; other things we don't remember at all. Sometimes a sight, a sound, a word, a bit of music, or a photo can trigger a memory, like opening a forgotten computer file. Suddenly there it is--a piece of life that has lain unremembered somewhere in the memory banks of the brain. I've read articles that attempt to describe the chemical processes of the brain that store and/or retrieve memories. It comes out sounding like an impossible thing; sometimes I think I'm better off not trying to understand the process, but to just accept the wonder of my human brain that can do such things!
Myself just a few months old

Memory is not always perfect. Get any two people together who witnessed or experienced the same event, and you may hear somewhat differing versions. Some people are more observant than others. And we tend to filter experiences through our own emotional responses, which differ from individual to individual. But, even with its imperfections, memory is an amazing thing.

I've been thinking a lot about memories because for months I've been working on photo albums and family history projects. I tell my family that my photo albums are how I remember my life, and there is a good deal of truth in that. I may remember a certain trip--but just when was that? The years seem to run together. My photo albums will tell me exactly when it happened (and I'm usually surprised to realize how long ago it happened--it seems so much more recent in my memory).

Here I am with muff and long
Have you ever wondered why we can't remember our own babyhood? So much happens in those first few years of life, why can't we remember them? Although I can't say I want to remember having to have my diapers changed, I would like to remember the thrill of learning to crawl, to take those first steps, or of being the recipient of all the tender love that babies inspire. I can only see baby days through photos. Some people say they can't remember anything before they were about four years old. My earliest memory goes back to before age two, but those early memories tend to be brief fragments.

I'm including a photo of myself at not quite two years of age. This picture triggers two memories. While I don't remember the occasion of the photo, I do remember some of the clothing. First, the muff. No one uses muffs these days, but muffs were actually a very practical way of keeping hands warm. Seeing the muff in this photo triggers a memory fragment of being downtown with my mother and having my hands in my muff. The other clothing, which is remembered very well, are the long stockings. I grew up before they made warm tights for little girls. We had long, light brown stockings held up with garters. When we reached school age my sisters and I hated those stockings. No one else had to wear them! Now, I admire our mother's good sense in protecting our little bare legs against the cold in days when little girls could not wear long pants to school.

Memory. Sometimes precious, sometimes painful, sometimes embarrassing, but so essential to our lives.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Lake Irises

Lake Irises blooming beside our storage shed in
Rapid City, June 2001.
The Lake Irises are blooming in my daughter's flower bed. They are a lovely lavender/purple color with a deliciously sweet scent.

I do not know what the real name of this iris variety is; in our family they will always be known as the Lake Irises. Therein is a little story.

My husband, Jerry, and son, Jeremy, were always avid fishermen. When we lived in southwestern Colorado they just had to walk a couple of blocks to be at the Pine River. It was a great place for Jerry to unwind after work, and he caught a lot of our suppers there. Jeremy fished with his dad from the time he was just a little guy, and cleaned his own fish when he was only seven years old. This love of fishing came with them when we moved to Wyoming, and then to South Dakota, Going fishing was a little more complicated for them then. No longer could they grab their fishing rods, head out the back door, and take a short walk to a river full of trout. Now fishing meant an expedition.

I referred to them as "Marathon Fishermen" because when they had a day free to fish they left early in the morning to drive to the lake, and I wouldn't see them again until after dark. No matter how many dire warnings I gave them about using sun screen, they would forget to reapply as their fishing day wore on. They arrived home tired, happy, and sunburned.

After one day of marathon fishing in South Dakota, they brought home a present for me. No, not the fish--we had eaten so much fish that they mostly did catch and release, keeping only the very best. Blooming around the lake that spring were a multitude of iris flowers. Knowing that I love flowers and had always had a fondness for irises, they dug up a number of them and brought them to me. We planted those iris corms alongside the storage shed and beside the house; they took root, thrived, and multiplied.

Lake Irises, May 21, 2012
When the irises were blooming, and especially if there was a light breeze from the south, the sweet, sweet scent of those lovely flowers would greet me as I stepped out of the car when I got home from work.

Several years after planting those irises, we moved back to Wyoming. But we took with us some of the corms from the Lake Iris plants. Before long there were Lake Irises blooming in the spring at my mother's house, my daughter's house, and our house.

Although I sold our house the year after Jerry's death, each spring I can still enjoy the Lake Irises in bloom. We had an addition built on to my daughter and son-in-law's home; the lower section is a large garage and the upper section is my apartment. From my living room window I look directly down at the big flower bed, where, right now, the Lake Irises are blooming. They are beautiful in themselves, and they carry with them a precious memory.

Monday, May 21, 2012

There Are Some Very Strange Things in the Word

In my personal Bible reading, I am now in the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a clear example of the fact that being called as a prophet of God was not a call to a life free of stress or trouble! The life of a prophet tends to be very hard, for they are called to frequently tell people things they do not want to hear.

Today what I am thinking about is the vision that Ezekiel was given when he was called to special service by God. To me it is both amazing and bizarre. If reading about it strikes me that way, what must it have been like for Ezekiel to experience it?! He must have struggled to find the right words to try to convey what he had seen.

This is the vision of the four creatures, human-looking bodies with calves' feet, each with four wings (two outspread and two folded along their arms), and, oddest of all, four faces. Each had a human face, a bull's face, a lion's face, and an eagle's face. They stood with their human faces looking forward, each creature facing a different way. Their outstretched wings touched at the tips, so that they formed a square. They glowed. They were accompanied by wheels within wheels, the wheels bordered by many, many eyes. Thus, they could move quickly in any direction without having to turn. And with the wings that were folded along their arms, they could fly when needed.

Well, this is just loaded with symbolism about the all-seeing, ever-present, all-powerful nature of God. I'll let you think about that for yourself. It stirs my imagination to wonder if the creatures are real, as well as symbolic. We know from the variety of creatures that live on our earth, and that have lived here but are now extinct, that God has a terrific imagination. So, perhaps, his own home is filled with even more wondrous, imaginative, beings!

Years ago I read a book by an author who was trying to prove that life on earth was seeded by an advanced race from another planet that had long since mastered space travel, and who periodically check back to see how their handiwork is doing (hence, the UFO sightings). This may have been the Chariots of the Gods book--it is an unbelievable mess, but one thing in it stuck in my memory. In order to try to prove his thesis, the author used this vision of Ezekiel. He believed that what Ezekiel saw was a UFO! One of the visitations from these aliens. Well, the messages Ezekiel received to pass on to his people were not at all supportive of this author's ideas. However, it does illustrate how these visions can capture our imaginations as we struggle to visualize and understand the mysteries of God.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Simple Pleasures

Coffee on the deck last summer.
One of life's simple pleasures for me is taking my morning coffee out on the deck, relaxing, and enjoying the morning. Of course, living in northern Wyoming means that I only do this for a very limited part of the year. If it is cold or too windy I'll enjoy that cup of coffee in the comfort of my living room.

Yesterday was the first time this year that it was comfortably warm enough, early enough, that I took my coffee to the deck. However. . .I couldn't relax. The morning was beautiful, the air was calm, the birds were busily twittering, but I couldn't settle down and enjoy it. I was restless because another simple pleasure was calling me.

Some of last summer's flowers.
The day before, my daughter and I had gone flower shopping. I had spent my Mother's Day gift of flower money and then some on flowers for my deck pots. All those baby petunias, geraniums, and others were sitting there waiting for their summer homes. Although it is earlier than I usually risk setting out the tender plants, the long range weather forecast sees no possible frost for the next two weeks, which takes us to June.

So I decided I just couldn't wait. Those empty pots needed filled! I abandoned my coffee, got out the fertilizer, gardening gloves, watering pot, and the big old spoon that I use instead of a trowel. I turned on some music for company and started planting.

I couldn't get all the pots filled yesterday (there are more than thirty). I can't take much direct sun, so had to stop when the sun reached high enough to erase the shade from the deck. I'll plant more today. Then, I'll be able to enjoy that morning coffee on the deck surrounded by flowers. A sweet simple pleasure.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Jerry's Birthday

Today is the 65th birthday of my husband, Jerry. Jerry celebrates in heaven now, but this day remains special to me because it is a reminder of the life of a very good man.

Jerry's birthday falls very close to Mother's Day; in fact, when his birthday falls on a Sunday, it is Mother's Day. Even when his birthday and Mother's Day coincided, Jerry always seemed to put the priority on Mother's Day. Every Mother's Day he bought corsages for the mothers in his family. That meant me, my mother, and our daughter when she became a mother. He would send some money to his sisters to buy a corsage for his mother, since she lived several hundred miles from us. He would make Sunday dinner for us, which usually meant spaghetti and hot bread. We never had much money, but money is not necessary to make the people you love feel special.

Today, in memory of his birthday, I'm including one of my favorite photos of Jerry. Some might think this a strange favorite, for he is obviously quite dirty and grungy. That is why it is so dear to me. It tells a lot about the kind of man he was.

This photo was taken on his 57th birthday, which turned out to be his last birthday, so there is a touch of sadness to it. But mostly I enjoy looking at it. That birthday was spent hard at work for a landscaping company that was doing the grounds of a new apartment complex. It was hard, dirty work. At the end of the day there was a pickup load of sod left over that would soon be dead if not used. The job foreman gave it to Jerry; we had a new house with an unfinished yard. So, after working hard all day, Jerry and Chad, our dear son-in-law, spent the evening until well after dark laying sod in our yard. They did pause long enough to eat some supper, but saved the birthday cake and ice cream until after the sod was all down and watered in.

The job finished, they came in and we lit the candles on the cake. Just then the telephone rang. It was Jerry's sister Jean, calling from Colorado to wish him a happy birthday. You can see from his big smile how much he enjoyed talking with her!

So, Happy Birthday, Jerry! I know every day is special where you are, but this day is special to us because it means you were part of our lives, blessing us and giving of yourself to us. You were a wonderful husband, a great, loving father, adored by your children, a beloved grandfather, and a faithful servant of God.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Reflections on Mother's Day

My reflection on Mother's Day.
 (Just a little joke here.)
I am a daughter, a mother, and a grandmother. Today I reflect on Mother's Day from all these viewpoints.

No matter how old I become, I am still my mother's daughter. She formed me and marked my life indelibly. Until her death at age 94, I still responded to her as her daughter, not as a senior citizen adult myself, not as a caretaker, but as her daughter. She still is a voice in my head. I constantly see traits in myself that came directly from her. I'm not the woman she was, but the woman I am owes much to her. I miss her.

My Mother's earring,
which she made herself.
I am wearing them today.
My mother loved earrings; particularly dangly earrings. She had quite a collection of earrings, many of which she made herself. Even when she became housebound due to the degeneration of her bones, she still put on her earrings every day. To honor her at her memorial service a number of her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters wore her earrings. Today, in the memory of my wonderful mother, I am wearing her earrings that I wore that day.

Being a mother myself is the most treasured part of my life. I loved motherhood, from the time I first felt those little stirrings within my body, through the sleep-deprived days of babyhood, the thrill of first steps, first words, first days of school, teenage angst, and the time of nest-leaving. My children are adults now, but I will always be their mother. I will always love them, worry about them, be grateful for them, and appreciate them for the people they have become. I am so thankful for the gift of being a mother.

I have blogged about my weekends with Megan, my granddaughter. She is a jewel decorating my life. Being a grandparent is as lovely as being a parent, without the sleepless nights, nursing through days of stomach flu, wiping runny noses, and having to make sure the child learns discipline and responsibility! Grandparenting is fun, satisfying, and full of love. I thank my daughter and son-in-law for the gift of this wonderful child.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Wild, Wild West, Part VI: Why Granddad Never Remarried

Our Granddad Ed McLaughlin was 34 years old when his young wife died. Her tragic death had a profound effect on his life, and that of his two young children. The 1910 census shows the family living on their own farm in New Mexico. (The McLaughlin tribe and some of their relatives seemed to have moved back and forth between southern New Mexico and Camp San Saba in central Texas.) What I glean from my father's stories and the letters he wrote to his cousin (a descendant of Ed's brother John), Ed could not bear to  live anymore on the farm that had been his home with his wife. After her death, he and his little children became wanderers. My father wrote about it this way:
Margaret Gertrude McLaughlin's original grave stone.
After Mother died Dad loaded us kids into a covered wagon and that was our home for several years. He just worked at anything. He broke horses, picked cotton, or anything. When we first went to Texas Uncle John was foreman on the Lonesome L. They hired him because he was the toughest, meanest fighting man in that part of the country. I have a lot of true stories about his fights. None of the McLaughlin boys were pets. Dad was supposed to be the cool tempered one, but I never knew him to go six months without a fight and he always won. Maybe not so fair. When I was down in New Mexico, the old timers still argued about who was the best bronc rider--Ed or John. Dad always said Uncle John was. He got thrown more, but Dad said that was because he took chances. He was as wild as a tiger and had about the same disposition. Enough about Ed and John. They both always said if they came back they wanted to come as a horse. If they do, somebody will have a pair of outlaws on their hands. I know a lot of good things they did--anyone down and out they gave a hand, or let someone pick on some weak person and they were on the war path.
When Daddy was about seven years old, and he and his sister were hungry for a mother of their own, their father almost married a young woman from a family that was close to the McLaughlins. Red and Zudie loved her and were excited about the prospect of getting her in their family. However, it did not happen. As Daddy wrote:
A son of Zudie's kindly added this new gravestone when
the original was weathered so badly it was hard
to read.
Back to Dad and Fanny. One year Ed, John, George Teague, and families were picking cotton for Mr. McLaurine. I think it was near Aspermont, Texas. That's when Dad got to courting Fanny. Us kids really wanted her. After we left there, Dad was coming back to marry Fanny. We camped at a crossroads a few miles from their place, and he was going to drive over and get her next day. He got up and took off down the other road about 3 a.m. Years later I asked him about it and he said Mother came to him in a dream that night and broke off the romance. He went pretty heavy on dreams. Us kids always felt gypped because we did not get Fanny. 
And they never did get a stepmother. Sometimes their dad left them with relatives while he was off working a job. Those aunts were the closest thing they ever had to a mother, and Daddy held two of them in very high esteem.

(It is good to know that Fanny did marry someone else a year or two later.)

Daddy noted in his letter that the last year they traveled in a wagon was 1920-21. He would have been eleven years old. Thinking about this, I wonder how, with all the wandering, he ever got an education. He told us he finished the 11th grade, but I don't know if it was in Texas or in New Mexico. Whatever may have been lacking in his education, he was a good reader. I remember him as often having a book or magazine in his hands. His sister once commented about him that all that would be necessary to prove Red was crazy was to give him a funny story to read. That was because he would laugh out loud as he read.

Well, I do the same! How can you keep the giggles, chuckles, or guffaws in when something you read is really funny?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flower Temptation

I succumbed to temptation. Yes, I did. I had promised myself I would not buy any plants for my deck flower pots for at least another week. . .but, yesterday my daughter and I went to Wal-Mart.

And, of course, they had flowers. So I HAD to look at them. And, naturally, then I needed to save some of them from the neglect that the chain stores always inflict on their bedding plants. (That is a big pet peeve of mine, so I'd better not get started on that rant!)

Really, I just wanted those beautiful, intense red petunias! Winter is so dreary that I had built up quite a hunger for flowers. Yes, lilacs, and trees, and early flowers are blooming around town--but I wanted my own flowers.

We are having an early, unusually warm spring for this part of the country, but it can't be counted as safe to plant tender flowers yet. One night of frost would do them in.

My Grandmother Mackey, with her husband and children, homesteaded in Wyoming in 1917. They came from North Carolina, so it was a completely different climate than what they were used to. Grandma was a good gardener, and she was able to grow big gardens even on the Wyoming prairie. She used to say that you could plant anything after the 15th of May. However, their homestead was 60 miles south of where I live. It doesn't seem like much, but going south 60 miles does make a difference. My experience has been that it is safer to wait until the end of May to put out the tender young bedding plants.

This year may be different, one of those extra mild years that we occasionally get.

It feels like time to be planting! But I will wait a little longer before I actually plant my petunias. I'll put them out on the deck during the day to be hardening off, but I'll bring them inside at night.

But, I really, really want to go out in search of more beautiful flower plants!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Wild, Wild West, Part V: The Grandmother I Never Knew

Ed and Maudie McLaughlin with
their daughter Zudie Lee,  1908
My paternal grandmother died when she was 20 years old. My father was was a toddler when he lost his mother, so he had no memories of her. There were, however, a few things about her that I heard when I was growing up.

Maudie's real name was Margaret Gertrude McLaughlin. (Her maiden name was Neatherlin.) For some reason, her family called her "Maudie" and this nickname was so universally used for her that my father believed his mother's name was Maude Gertrude.

Maudie was a small woman. My dad remembered some of her clothing that had been saved in a trunk, and she wore a size one shoe. I don't know how that size from the early 1900s translates to today, but he was impressed with the smallness of her shoes and clothes. Unfortunately that trunk of her things was ruined when the basement it was stored in at some relative's home was flooded. I have often wondered what she would think about her five granddaughters, the shortest of whom was 5'6" and the tallest of whom was 5'10.5"!

We grew up thinking all photos of Maude had been lost with her other things, but, when I was in my 30s, my parents visited Texas and someone in my Dad's family had the picture I have included here. We were all thrilled to at last have an image of the Grandmother that had been rather like a myth in our minds. This photo was taken when she was about 17 years old. She is holding very still, with a solemn expression. In those days that was the proper way to be photographed--no big grins! When we finally saw a picture of this grandmother, we realized that one of our sisters greatly resembles her!

We have only one story that shows something of Maudie's personality and character. She was only fourteen years old when she married Ed McLaughlin, who was twenty-eight. I don't know how they met. It was not unheard of for girls to marry so young, though it was perhaps not terribly common. I think her family may have been a bit unhappy at her choice to marry so young, and to marry one of the McLaughlin brothers. Those four brothers had a reputation of being a bit wild, rough, tough, and hot-tempered. Ed was known as the brother with the coolest temper, and yet he was quite a fighter. The reason I believe her family was not overjoyed about her decision to marry comes from the only story I know about it.

The story is that one of Maudie's sisters tried to discourage her from marrying Ed, who was fourteen years her senior. "Just think," the sister reportedly said, "he's twice as old as you. Why, when you are thirty, he'll be an old man of sixty!" This mistaken math was not enough to dissuade Maude. From this story I get a glimpse of a girl who knew her own mind and heart and had the strength of will to stick to her decision.

Sadly, my grandparents had only six years together before she was carried off by typhoid. They had two children, ages three years four months and twenty-one months when she died, and she was expecting her third child.

Her death had a profound effect on the way her children grew up. Her husband had loved her dearly, and never remarried. There is a story about that, but I will save it for another day.

It is strange to think of this young girl as being my grandmother, for she never grew old. I hope we will meet and learn to know each other in heaven!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Television Tyranny

Last night I realized something that had me laughing internally at myself.

A little background. For years I've groused about the fact I have over a hundred TV channels but "there's nothing much but the news worth watching." There were, of course, some shows I did enjoy--the unscripted, real people ones like American Idol, Survivor, Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, and Apprentice. These shows are only on for a few weeks at a time, each season has an ending that completes the particular adventure, and they are full of human interest.

The "story" shows I had grown impatient, and often disgusted, with. The comedy shows have grown to depend on sexual innuendo for their humor. The great comedies of the past, whose writers actually had wit and comedic sense that did not depend on dirty jokes and people pursuing various bed partners, are no more. The dramas also feature very little originality and a lot of carnality.

But...this year I find that I've gotten interested in several dramas that are interesting, or quirky, or mysterious, or whose characters I developed a fondness for. I have a DVR which I set to record these shows so that I can skip the commercials and watch an hour show in 40 minutes. I can watch them by my own schedule, when I have the time and inclination. After I watch a show, I erase it from my DVR.

So, what was my silly revelation?

I realized I was feeling a sense of pressure to watch those stored TV episodes and get them cleared off the recorder. I was watching TV when I'd really rather be reading a book or working on a project!

In just a week or two we will be firmly into re-run season. If there are shows I haven't felt like watching yet, but know I do want to watch, I can catch up on them then.

I am declaring myself free from TV Tyranny!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Sweet and Simple Sunday

Yesterday I did not go to church (gasp). I have not missed church attendance very often throughout my life, and I do feel a bit guilty about not going yesterday. The reason I didn't go is not relevant. The day did, nonetheless, turn out very nicely.

My granddaughter was spending the night. She was exhausted when she went to bed, and I decided not to wake her Sunday morning. So the house was quiet and I tried to keep it quiet and peaceful.

I was up early. I dressed and went to the living room with my morning orange juice. I settled into the sofa with my Bible and journal and had a time of personal Bible Study. I am currently in the book of Lamentations. It is a heart-wrenching collection of poems mourning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and recounting the horrors and suffering of the 18 months of siege before the city walls were broken through. It is emotionally hard to read, but gives a person a lot to think about.

I did nothing in a hurry, but opted for a slow, relaxed morning. Eventually, my stomach demanded attention and I brewed a pot of coffee and cooked my bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and honey (my favorite breakfast). Yum.

About 10:15 Megan woke up and wandered out. I heard sounds in the back yard and went out on the deck to talk to my son-in-law. He was moving very slowly and stiffly, having run a half-marathon in a cold rain the day before. His way of dealing with pain is to work. He was running the weed trimmer in preparation for mowing. When Megan realized what her dad was doing, she hopped up, dressed, and ran out to help.

My quiet and simple day continued. I worked on a photo book for a while.

After the mowing was completed, Megan and I went to the Village Inn for a late lunch. We had a lovely, relaxed time, visiting while we waited for our food, taking our time eating. We returned home, where I skimmed the Sunday paper and worked the puzzles while Megan played chess on the computer.

Then it was time for our weekly Bible Study. We were on Deuteronomy in my Introduction to the Bible course that I call Bible 101. An hour later we felt the need of some fresh air and exercise, so out the door we went for a quick walk around the neighborhood. I wish I had taken my camera, for we passed so many lilacs in full bloom in various shades of purple and also in white.

Back home we settled down to read aloud from the book we are currently sharing. At 8:30 my daughter called to tell Megan it was time to come home and get ready for bed.

A lovely day. Nothing special to anyone else, but I deeply appreciated it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Wild, Wild West, Part IV

Yesterday I related the story of my grandfather, Ed McLaughlin, breaking his younger brother, Mack, out of Pat Garrett's jail. Mack was born in 1882, so this would have had to be during Pat Garrett's second time of being a Sheriff, when he was given a special appointment in 1896 and charged with bringing in Oliver Lee, a rancher who had, with several others, been accused of a murder (and was eventually acquitted). Mack would, therefore, have been between 14 and 17 when the jail break happened. At that age he was already working as labor building railroads. That would not even be allowed today. My dad for a time had one of Mack's Wanted Posters, but lost it somewhere along the way. How I would love to see that!

Pat Garrett, from Wickipedia.
Although Oliver Lee lived until 1941 
and died a respected and honored
citizen of New Mexico, I could not find
any pictures of him.
Pat Garrett had a very colorful career as rancher, gunman, lawman, cowboy, gambler, and saloon keeper. He gained fame as the man who killed the outlaw Billy the Kid, but later his reputation was tarnished because he shot and killed an unarmed Billy in a dark bedroom. Garrett seemed to be a man who shot first, without offering surrender. This was not the only time he was accused of such. It was a violent time and it can be difficult sorting out whose version of events was true. Pat Garrett seemed to live by the gun, and he died by the gun when he was 52 years old.

The conflict with Oliver Lee in the late 1890s is described in several books. An interesting summary can be found on Wickipedia, in both the article on Pat Garrett and the article on Oliver Lee. Therefore, I won't try to tell that history, but would refer you to those articles.

I have brought up these two men because there is another family connection there. My dad wrote in one of his letters to his cousin, speaking about his father:
The old timers called Ed the cool tempered one of the McLaughlin boys. Of course, at the time when they were growing up New Mexico was rough country. Dad rode for Oliver Lee when he and Pat Garrett were feuding. Pat Garrett was no hero to him. We met a fellow in Idaho in 1929 that was a deputy of Garrett's at the time Dad was with Oliver Lee. He said he always wanted to whip one of Lee's hands. He got the chance but couldn't do it. They were both around 60 then, but it was rough. [Ed was actually 52 in 1929. Daddy was 20, so his father probably seemed older to his son than he actually was !]
At the time he rode for Lee, Ed would have been in the 19-22 years-old range.

As the Wickipedia articles make clear, the struggles between the Lee and Garrett factions were not only about murder. It was all rooted in the conflict over who was going to control all the politics/government in the region. This resulted in the murder (it is assumed; that was never solved) that led to the Lee and Garrett troubles. We think that politics can get dirty these days, but at least our candidates and movers and shakers aren't usually shooting at each other!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Wild, Wild West, Part III

The summer I turned 13 I spent several weeks in Texas with my Aunt Zudie and Uncle Bailey Thames. Aunt Zudie was my father's only sibling, two years his senior. While I was visiting them, my aunt and uncle took me to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. It is an absolutely awesome place. I'd like to see it again through adult eyes!

There is lots of information about Carlsbad Caverns on the Internet; I bring it up because of another of the few stories I heard about my McLaughlin ancestors when I was a child. One had to do with Carlsbad Caverns, and was told to us by our Dad. About fifteen years ago, I wrote down what I remembered of family stories. What I remembered about Carlsbad Caverns was that my grandfather had been offered an opportunity to share in developing them as an attraction by the man who owned or was exploring them, but turned it down. My sister Terry, who is four years older than me and thus able to have a clearer recollection of these things, fleshed out my memories with hers.
. . . it was Granddad that wouldn't go into the Carlsbad Cavern venture because every time he tried to drill a water well he came up with a big hole and no water and he was too disgusted about that to want any more to do with the place. Daddy told us the name of the man who wanted to cash in on the Carlsbad Caverns, but I don't remember it anymore. I keep thinking that it could have been White, but it probably wasn't. Apparently they had all been homesteaders in the area at one time or another. [I've looked it up, and Terry, who has an excellent memory, was correct. The explorer of Carlsbad Caverns, who spent years working to bring it to national attention, was Jim White. When it became a National Monument, he was the first chief ranger.]
Joseph Addison Neatherlin
Another fragment of family lore concerned Joseph A. Neatherlin. Again, I remembered a little of this story and Terry filled it out with what she remembered.
The Civil War story was about Daddy's great-grandfather on his mother's side of the family. Daddy remembered him and he still had his saber from the war when Daddy was a child. He told the story about the handsomest man he had ever seen. [Which was that in battle he came face to face with the handsomest man he had ever seen, and he "ran him through."] Daddy said that his great-grandfather was a wiry little man with dark coloring. He also was supposedly of Irish extraction.
Joseph Addison Neatherlin died in 1922 at the age of 91; my Dad would have been 13 that year.

Henry C. McLaughlin
in the 1990s
Daddy's grandfather on the other side of his family, Henry C. McLaughlin, also fought in the Civil War on the Confederate side. The only story that came down to us about that was that Henry had a brother who fought on the Union side. These ancestors were not slave owners. According to my dad, the war was about State's Rights, not about keeping slaves. And for the majority of southerners who were not slaveholders, I expect that is true. People who gave up homelands and ventured to settle in a land they'd never seen, and their descendants who spread out across that land and endured much hard work and hardship to make it home, definitely had a spirit of independence and did not like being told what to do!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Wild, Wild West, Part II

Ed McLaughlin as a boy
Although while we were growing up we did not hear much about the past history of our father's family, I do remember a few stories. Many years ago I wrote down what I remembered hearing, but, remember, I was a child when I heard them.

From Granddad Ed McLaughlin himself I heard the "Fat Boy" story:
When Ed McLaughlin was a boy, he was out riding his pony alone one day. He saw some Indians approaching and was afraid that they would steal his pony from him. I don't remember if they had actually made any threatening move toward him, or if it was just his boyish fears. He rode away as quickly as he could and felt like he'd made a great escape. A few days later he was in town and passed an Indian on the street. The man smiled and commented, "Fat boy ride fast."
Another story also involved an escape--this time a jail break. We heard this from our Dad, but it is also one of the stories he wrote down in his correspondence with his cousin Pat Childs. He tells it there better than I would remember it from my childhood:
Ed McLaughlin as a young man
Boyhood photo of Mack
About Uncle Mack--he was just a boy working on a railroad grade gang. A guy robbed a jewelry story and hid the loot under Mack's bed, so they locked him [Mack] up. He was shackled to a bull ring in the jail. Dad [Ed McLaughlin] and another guy chopped through the roof, cut the chain with an ax, then took him to a blacksmith shop and cut the shackles off. Dad gave him a horse and saddle, $40.00 and a .45. That's the last time they were ever together. [In another letter, Daddy said this jail they broke Mack out of was Pat Garrett's jail.]
(It is nice to know that Mack settled in Idaho in 1910, raised a family there, held responsible jobs for the City, and died a respected citizen in 1956 at age 72.)
More wild west stories will be told later!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Family Stories and the Wild, Wild West, Part I

Red McLaughlin on the left. He appears to
be 12-14 years old. 
My father never talked much about his growing up years. As a child I never thought about this. He was just my dad, and what was important was the world as I knew it and the relationships our family had. I feel very self-centered now, thinking about all the questions I wish I'd asked, all the stories I'll never hear him tell. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that I am not at all unusual in this. There is a show on TV called Who Do You Think You Are? in which celebrities are helped to trace parts of their family trees. None of them were any better at knowing their parents' and grandparents' stories that I have been. I think it is natural for children to live in the Now; the world began at their birth and they are interested in and occupied by learning about how the world they live in works. Then we grow old and have the time and curiosity to wonder about our forebears, but the ones who could tell us are gone!
Young Red on a horse. These two
photos are all we have of our father
as a boy. He must have gotten his fill
of horses in his youth. I never saw him on
a horse, although he certainly had 

(Note to parents and grandparents: Even if you think your children and grandchildren wouldn't be all that interested, share your stories with them. Even better, write them down. There will come a time when they will treasure those stories.)

Of course, there were occasional mentions of things from my Dad's past. I knew he was born in New Mexico in 1909, when it was still a Territory. I knew his mother died when he was about two years old and his father did not remarry. I knew things were pretty unsettled for his sister and him, as their father moved from place to place to work. Such little scraps of history.

After my father's death, I learned that he had carried on a correspondence during the 1970s with a cousin who was doing family genealogy research. A number of years after his death this cousin sent copies of those letters to my mother. What a gift! From those letters we learned more about Daddy's youth and family stories about his parents' and grandparents' generations. My sister Terry transcribed these letters and gave copies to her sisters, making them much easier to read.

The world my father, and before him his father, grew up in was so different from today's world that it is hard to believe I am separated from it by only one and two generations. It really was the wild, wild west.

In writing to his cousin, Daddy said, "Some one should have told you that this old family tree has some mistletoe in it." I must admit that, since I am far enough removed from some of the events he wrote about, I find the "mistletoe" in the family tree very interesting. From something else he mentioned in one of his letters, I think I know why we never heard these stories when we were growing up. He felt they were embarrassing or might make us ashamed of him or his family. He wanted to protect us from that.

I don't feel that way at all. I don't know how I would have felt as a child, but these very human stories from a very different time are fascinating to me. I only wish we had more!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Shout It Out!

When was the last time you shouted for joy in church--or even sang at the top of your lungs? Well, my answer would be "Never." Though I have been in services where an enthusiastic song leader and lively piano player have gotten the congregation to sing out with joy and verve.

The reason I am thinking about this is because this morning I read Psalm 146 in the Contemporary English Version. I like to read the Bible in various translations, because the varying word choices, while not changing the overall meaning, can illuminate a passage in a way that catches my attention. In the CEV, Psalm 146 begins, "Shout praises to the LORD! With all that I am, I will shout his praises."

Well, that got me to thinking along several different lines. First, I pulled out a half dozen other versions. None of them used the word "shout," but they said "Praise the LORD!" Margin notes and footnotes showed that the Hebrew words used are those that we put into English as "Hallelujah" or "Alleluia." I gather that this expression is one of enthusiastic praise, hence the exclamation points. The CEV translators evidently see it as so very great an enthusiastic expression of praise that its true meaning is best expressed as shouting praise to the LORD.

So, am I going to joyfully shout in church next Sunday? The truth is, I could never be that uninhibited! I would shrivel with embarrassment as people turned to see who was carrying on in such a manner. It would simply be unacceptable in our culture. There are cultures in our world where such joyful and loud expressions of praise are perfectly acceptable, even expected. In them, I believe, we can glimpse what worship may have been like in David's time. He was a man who wept loudly when he mourned, who danced joyfully before the Ark of the Covenant when it was being moved to Jerusalem, and who organized musicians and singers for the worship at the temple. Although the author of Psalm 146 is unknown, the sentiment would certainly be one embraced by David!

So, I won't shout in church, but I'll try to shout within my own heart and mind!