A Christmas Memory

It’s funny what we think about during our morning shower. Singing is a must, whether frowned on by other matters little. This morning while the hot water embraced me with its warmth my mind wandered to my childhood.

We lived on Cape Cod and the weather outside was cold with light snow. It was Saturday morning, which meant we were baking cookies and a cake or pie. My dad traditionally sat and watched sports on television. If his coffee cup needing a refill he yelled, “honey” and Mom either got his cup or sent one of us girls to do it; two sugars and a little milk. Little did I know then that baking was some kind of adult mating ritual. Love was expressed in flour, sugar, eggs, and a touch of vanilla flavoring or apples in a light crust, and served warm, topped with a slice of cheese.

Anyway, my sister and I were teenagers and my little brother, Bobby, was four years old. We never lacked anything, but we were middle class. Why this is important is because at our age we knew that Christmas existed for children, like Bobby, not for mature girls of seventeen and eighteen. We understood. Money was tight and we both had gotten new Sperry Topsider sneakers for basketball just a couple of weeks ago. They’d cost $10.00 a pair. Quite a hit on the ole budget.

Dona and I finished our chores and headed for the Barnstable Junior High gym to watch girl’s intermural basketball. When we got home Mom and Bobby were gone. Dad was napping in his chair, but not for long. The door opened and Mom headed upstairs with some bags and Bobby came on the run chanting “I know what you’re getting for Christmas.” Dona and I ignored him. Mom yelled at him from upstairs, “Bobby, it’s a secret. You better not tell.” With that he leaned over to Dona and whispered, “I’m not going to tell you, but it tells time and plays music.”

On Christmas day Dona had to act surprised as she opened her clock radio.

Memories. Aren’t they fun.

Mama’s Hands

Mama’s Hands was honored with a first place in Women’s Essay at the Daughter of the American Revolution Convention this year in Washington D.C. When President General Young attended the Oklahoma Workshop in Tulsa, it was my pleasure to read it during our banquet. After the banquet I was amazed how many members approached me to tell me how my story, shared during the introduction, mirrored their own.

Abt. 1947Introduction:

My parents were of that generation that didn’t express their emotions. My father died at age 64 yrs. without ever telling me he loved me. My mother told me that having a roof over my head and food on the table should have been enough. For years I told my mother I loved her at the end of our phone calls. That was followed by a long silent pause. I could feel her discomfort through the phone. Then she’d finish with “Okay, talk to you soon. Finally, when I was 62 yrs. old she told me she loved me. I wrote Mama’s Hands for her.

Mama’s Hands

My mother has told me for years, “You look like me, except you have the finer features of your dad.” My sister and I love to tease her about how grateful we are she didn’t pass on her “Roman” nose to us. Yes, I look like her. I wore the dark green semi-formal party dress she wore out on her 16th anniversary to my 8th grade prom. I even wore the matching shoes. Yes, I’m physically a mini-mama.

I think of her and smile as I glance down at my hands. They are no longer soft and taut. Deep wrinkles and brown age spots give away my years. My adoring husband says they give me character. What makes me smile is how much they still resemble my mama’s hands.

Mama grew up in harder times than I would ever know. She and her peers, the World War II generation, promised their children would never struggle as they had.

Life was hard in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Granddad, a wild catter oil man, died of pneumonia leaving his twenty-four year old wife a penniless young widow with three children under the age of eight. Too proud to ask for assistance, Grandma toiled as a housekeeper to keep her children fed. Mama learned, as soon as she was tall enough, to stand in laundry room and wash and iron clothes. Times were hard and there wasn’t time to play or be a little girl.

When the Depression ended, the Dust Bowl era blew in. Old timers remember how the silt whooshed in from every nook and cranny, coating the furniture and people alike. Just breathing was a chore. Grandma tied water soaked handkerchiefs over her children’s noses and mouths to filter out the dirt. Grandma swabbed their little throats with kerosene to prevent dust pneumonia. As portrayed in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the catastrophic conditions forced many to forsake Oklahoma. While many of their neighbors left for California to find a new life, our family stayed and continued to farm the parcel of land Granddad Phipps claimed in the Cherokee Land Rush of 1893.

With Grandma working, my mama minded her little brother, Joe, and kept the inquisitive youngster out of trouble. She loved him more than anyone else in the entire world. It broke her heart when Joe died in 1943. He was hit by a speeding taxi cab while attending Army flight school in Wichita Falls, Texas. The letter President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent to my grandmother hangs in my room. It reads, “He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and through it, he lives – in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”

During World War II Mama joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) and became a radio operator. Throughout her life she remained immensely proud of being in uniform and serving her country during the Axis Powers’ threat to the free world. Even in her later years her agile fingers could still tap out words in Morse Code.

My parents met on a blind date to a USO dance in Kansas City. Soon Dad put a ring on Mama’s left hand. In two years she had two girls of her own to raise. Mama sewed our dresses, which always matched, leaving the impression we were twins. She permed, rolled, and combed our pageboy length hair. In fact in my Brownie picture, I have more ringlets than Shirley Temple. This was courtesy of Mama and Toni Home Permanents. Yes, I was the one with the Toni. Years later another baby joined the family. Then before she knew it we all graduated, left home, and started families of our own.

Mama went into the antique business when she was in her fifties; five foot two inches of determination and Okie spunk. Paint stripper and antiquing stains kept her hands spotted and cracked; her nails stained brown and broken. It didn’t matter. Her work brought her joy. She could pack a van to the roof with the best of any man at an auction.

Well into her sixties, Mama still grew a large garden, froze vegetables and homemade cookies and pies. Age spots started appearing on her hands and face. Never narcissistic about her looks, she was too busy to care, so she just ignored them.

Dad died in 1984 after two years of aggressive cancer. Work kept her too busy to sit and feel sorry for herself. Would dying from loneliness have served any purpose? Her vocation kept her busy and young. It took decades to slow her down, Okie spunk and all. But that time in life comes for all of us. Content in her memories; her wrinkles were a tribute to the decades of a long rich life. Mama left us last year to be with Dad. She was ninety-three.

To think of her I only have to look down at my own hands.

I love you, Mama.

For my fellow writers I would like to share a very informative article about POV by Kristen Lamb. Kristen makes it so easy to understand. Enjoy. The link is below.


To my writing friends, Kristen Lamb is an extremely talented writer and teacher. I’m re-blogging her current message, because it is so informative.


Leo and Margaret

Leo and Margaret

I’m the family genealogist. In my closets you can find boxes of what some people might refer to as junk. However, whenever they want a picture or fact from the past who do they call?

Some of the items mean little to anyone but me. When my mom gave me her grandmother’s Bible, tucked into a chapter sat a postcard just waiting for me to read. My Great-uncle Leo was in France during World War I. While there he sent a postcard to the woman he left behind. Although a beautiful scene adorned the front, it amused me to think he professed his love to her on a piece of cardboard that would travel from the streets of Paris, France, to rural Bremen, Oklahoma . A love note that would be read by dozens of people before it reached her door. This was a period in time when couples refrained from demonstrating their affection in public.But the rules have to be bent when you don’t know if today is your last day on this earth. “I love you,” he said for all to see. I loved her too, my Great-aunt Margaret.

It’s very comforting to know Aunt Margaret was loved by her husband. That there were good times shared as they farmed the Oklahoma land ravaged by drought and blowing dust. Great-granddad Phipps made the Cherokee Run and lived in a cave on the land until he could build his family a house. This parcel of red dirt stayed in the family until Uncle Leo’s only child, Mary A., died childless.

Aunt Margaret was more like a grandmother to me. I loved her like one. In my boxes of memories there are very few pictures of her and Leo. The ones I have are treasured. You may find it hard to find Bremen, Oklahoma on the map. We drove there for Memorial Day several years ago and put flowers on the Phipps family graves. They all rest together in a rural cemetery where barbed wire keeps out the cows. How fitting for Okie pioneers.

I’m thinking of you today with love.

Welcome Home

One of the reasons I joined the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) was to be of service to my community. How I could do that was not defined. When the opportunity arose to salute veterans of the war in Vietnam it pulled at my heart.

The Vietnam War changed my life. Within a year I was no longer the young teenage girl only interested in fashion, dating and having fun. Young men my age were being drafted and sent to war in a nation most of us weren’t aware existed. Our generation never asked why. The government made that decision and you served. It wasn’t until later that the anti-war movement organized and men went to Canada rather than serve.

The face of war became that of Lt Cdr. Richard A. Stratton, an A4E pilot and the maintenance officer of Attack Squadron 192 onboard the aircraft carrier USS TICONDEROGA. On January 4, 1967, he launched in his A4E “Skyhawk” attack Aircraft for his 27th mission over North Vietnam. He remained a POW at the Hanoi Hilton until 1973.

It was his likeness that was on the bumper stickers and pamphlets that I distributed as a volunteer for the National League of Families. The sale of the POW-MIA bracelets paid for the League to keep their stories alive in the press and to be able to lobby North Vietnam officials in France.

Every night with our evening meal the national networks fed us films of helicopters unloading body bags of our young men. Body counts of the enemy dead became important news to offset our losses. How could it be that so many young warriors were dead and yet we weren’t gaining any ground? The army that beat the French was about to send us home defeated in mind and spirit.

There were no parades. No one cared if a soldier had developed a drug problem to ease the pain he carried inside. Take off that uniform and blend in. Don’t talk about the war. Move on.

The U. S. Department of Defense has declared 2015 as the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. After 50 years the grateful hand is being extended.
The DAR is honored to salute our veterans. Thanks for your service. Welcome home.

What It Means To Me To Be An American

During this time of division in our country I have to remember why I joined a women’s group whose members can trace at least one of her ancestors to serving in the military during the American Revolution. This experience made me reflect on what being an American means to me.

Even as a school girl, I loved the story of the Pilgrims. They were men and women of conviction, crossing the vast ocean in a small ship to inhabit an unknown land. It would be like us leaving earth and colonizing Jupiter or Mars.

My ancestors didn’t book a cruise on the Mayflower. The first of my English ancestors were already at Jamestown. Others followed William Penn to his land grant in the New World. From Scotland came the Bryce clan; farmers and religious ministers that immigrated to Georgia. My paternal grandmother’s people were Swedish. They established Delaware. My maternal great-grandmother was a Toof. The Toofs were Dutch and settled in New Amsterdam before it became New York State. The Haas line left from Bavaria, Germany to become Pennsylvania Dutch. The Irish side arrived last, no longer able to endure the Great Potato Famine. There standing on the shore before any of them took a step on dry land, were the proud Choctaw, my Native American ancestors. To this booyah, my grandsons have added a Latin flavor.

I share my genealogy because this diversity is the heart of what flows in the veins of native-born citizens. As an author I have a rich heritage on which to base my heroes and heroines as close as my own family tree. Men and women blessed with a pioneering spirit; wanting only a better life for themselves and their children.

Someone in my family has served in the armed forces since the Revolutionary War. When I look at the red, white, and blue flag, I am proud that my people stepped up and risked it all for my freedom. I don’t cringe when I see news film of people in other countries incited to burn our flag? They can’t conceive the concept of freedom or self-government since they have never experienced it. Yes, I do when it takes place in the United States. How selfish and self-centered for one of us to consider it his birthright, as an American citizen, to destroy a symbol of what many others have given their lives to maintain, his constitutional right of freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, in the United States our institutions of learning are in trouble. High schools focus more on sports than civic lessons. American History should teach cause and effect and not just memorizing dates to pass an exam. We need to remember what led us to war or economic depressions so we can avoid reliving them every 20 years..

Two hundred years after the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we are still a work in progress. Stagnation is a killer. America is a land of continued change.

Each person’s concept of being an American is different. This is mine. What is yours? Embrace it. Express it. Wave a flag. Pat a soldier on the back and thank him in peace time not just war. Be patriotic.

“…one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.”