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Jen Zettel's story for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers generated a huge increase in page views! See what she wrote and follow the links to view clips of the interview HERE.


Friday, May 24, 2013

I Just Won't Cook Them Lima Beans

After the first trip to Neenah from Edina in 1969, the five hour drive seemed to grow shorter and easier to make, in part from the distinct change that occurred after leaving the interstate at Eau Claire. The rise and fall of the two-lane road, the turns through town at Niellsville, Auburndale, Milladore, Stevens Point, Waupaca, and Weyauwega - each with their own familiar landmarks and milestones - became part of our rhythm of life. Red barns, grain elevators, railroad tracks, Carnegie libraries, coffee shops that served Polish kolaches, and tractors chugging along in the road at their own unhurried pace - it was a slow but steady disassociation with the rest of the world. And then in Neenah we entered this house, which was in and of itself a portal to an equally unhurried life that had little or no connection to the world beyond its doors. Shaded by huge old forest oaks, and by elms with branches that draped gracefully to the ground like willows, the house was man-made but seemed to be a natural and breathing extension of the land and trees around it, as if it had always been there and always would be.

NOTE: The posts in Chapter II follow the events leading up to my father's return to Neenah as I saw them. If you are just beginning to read this blog you may want to go back and start with the first post HERE. For those of you who are reading because they love stories about Neenah, I'm certain you'll find this chapter engaging and an important part of a moving human drama that has everything to do with Neenah, its history and the six degrees of separation that link link us all together.


This is where the story for me gets a little too complicated to sort out easily, so I apologize for taking so long in getting it posted.  As a high school student I was old enough to begin seeing myself as separate from my parents, and yet I was still dependent on them and by trial and error was sorting out their values and world view, both of which were based on the depression, the Second World War, and all the succeeding wars and events that had contributed to the social upheaval of the 1970s. In California it was easy to dismiss the counter culture as just an isolated bunch of pot-smoking hippies camped out in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury District, but the sea change in American life had even reached the deep winter freezes of upper middle class Minnesota, where at Edina Senior High School a radicalized student council organized a walkout that effectively shut down the school by involving nearly 4,000 students. These numbers, however, rather than being a reflection of political awareness, were more probably due to the entertainment provided by John Denver, an Edina resident until the release of his breakout single "Country Roads," at which time he beat a hasty retreat out to Colorado.

And while I was tentatively attempting to peck out of my shell with longish hair and only occasional forays into funky clothes, Mom and Dad had become increasingly lonely and withdrawn, and dependant on their family as their primary source of human contact. At the Academy of Parish Clergy, Dad and two secretaries were the entire staff, with only limited interaction from one day to the next between them and the governing board, or for that matter the academy members who were scattered across the country. It was a far cry from Dad's seminary days when there were students and administrators and other professors to be seen and spar with and challenge in class or in his office, or even in the meetings Dad despised and railed against. The same was also true of Mom who found no women in Edina who responded to her rescuing ministrations, a trait that had served her well as a mother and was a compliment to Dad's church and seminary work, but that was entirely out of sync with Edina's success code of conduct, admitting no weakness or want of strength, ambition, or competitive spirit. Nor did Mom and Dad find any community in Edina's churches, where the primary focus was on making the newly rich feel entitled to wealth that Jesus pointedly said must be given up in order to follow Him.

So in the absence of any more suitable adult alternative for my parents, the burden of meeting their social needs fell squarely upon Steve, Bonnie and me, Dave being in medical school and home only for the holidays, and both Bob and Bill married, who with wives and children and careers seldom came to visit. For the three of us remaining the implicit assignment was fundamentally nothing new, the team effort being well established during our two years in New Jersey. In Minnesota we simply continued the weekend travels, movies and going out to eat - the universal favorite being the locally legendary Jolly Troll, an all-you-can-eat quasi Scandinavian smorgasbord where you could fill every body cavity and orifice to the point of unconsciousness without a shred of guilt. There was, however, one new and extremely embarrassing development in our family arrangements. In Edina I had become part of a particularly close circle of friends, and when any or all of them came over Mom would inevitably insert herself into the conversation or whatever it was we were doing, which I now realize was because for the first time in her life she had no meaningful involvement in Dad's work. So when my friends and I brought home as a laugh a wino's unopened bottle of Boone's Farm we found hidden in a hollow park tree, Mom immediately became part of it all."Have you ever wondered what this stuff tastes like?" she asked. Glasses were soon being passed around with Mom pouring samples for everyone.

During her visits to Edina, as well as ours to Neenah, Great Aunt Betty seemed equally fascinated by the world we occupied as well as by our response to hers. In Edina she was spellbound walking through Southdale Center, the first regional enclosed mall in America with 72 shops and department stores. Impressed by the choice and convenience, in a jewelry shop she was nevertheless floored by the price on a strand of gold beads that turned out to be vermeil. "Goodness!" she exclaimed. "What mine must cost. They're real."  Aunt Betty also took note of our enjoyment of the things she had saved and cared for in Neenah. While her mother's trousseau had been given to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the number and diversity of family treasures still in the house seemed endless. Here Aunt Betty organized an impromptu fashion show of ladies' hats she had kept in the attic cedar closet. Recorded once again with my little Instamatic from the left are Aunt Nell's great friend, Nesta Edwards, Aunt Betty, Bonnie (wrapped up in a tattersall throw to look like a dress), and Mom.

While I found intrusions like these were upstaging and therefore infuriating, my friends found them unendingly hysterical - laughing heartily along with Mom, engaging in a way they couldn't with their own parents, and then laughing again in recognition of themselves in my aggravation. As their own families posed equivalent (or in some cases far worse) problems, there soon developed an understanding between us that parents of all stripes (as well as most all brothers and sisters) were inexplicable and sometimes frightening creatures from a parallel but occasionally intersecting universe, creatures which we had to tolerate and ignore as best we could, if only to keep them from swallowing us up whole by the horrendous life decisions they had made and we were certain never to repeat. This construct had a distinct appeal at that point in our lives, and as a result we developed a kind of bond that must be like what grows up between shipwreck survivors on a deserted island. We none of us were part of the socially elite at Edina Senior High School, being geeks to one degree or another long before the term came into general parlance. Paul, John and Bear all collected super hero comic books (although Bear dabbled in "Little Lotta," "Stumbo" and "Richie Rich"), and with James and Tim they were all devotees of science fiction.  And while Tim, James, Paul and I aspired to be writers, my first good friend Mike and the others just had my friendship in common. As might be expected, this generated a good degree of conflict, but the only real trouble between us all was Tim, whose increasingly bizarre and eventually disturbing antics ultimately tested the limits of our unexpressed affection and loyalty, not to mention our own sanity.

In spite of all that I might very well have detached myself even further from my family in favor of these close friendships were it not for Great Aunt Betty. For unbeknownst to her (or to any of us for that matter), her regular presence in our lives served as a great leavening and cohesive force around which we all unexpectedly began to gravitate. This was nothing particularly new for Dad, having enjoyed long established ties with Great Aunt Nell, whose intellectual daring and outlook on life he admired and sought to emulate. In her absence, however, he had discovered a new appreciation of the balance Aunt Betty provided, whom he had come to realize had lived her entire life in the shadow of her older and more highly regarded sister. As for Mom, she now found in her former nemesis a kindred spirit who was sincerely impressed by Mom's many talents, and, more significantly, one who in her advanced years readily accepted and even welcomed Mom's hand holding and sympathetic ear. But on an even larger scale, Aunt Betty effectively broke the spell that had hung over us ever since the Thanksgiving of the Dog. For unlike all other family relationships, each invitation from us was reciprocated in like kind by Aunt Betty, and vice versa. And rather than being futile exercises in hauling an old lady around to places she couldn't remember or knew nothing about, or struggling to make conversation with someone on the threshold of death, the visits and trips with Aunt Betty were all engaging adventures that offered nostalgic glimpses into an astonishing past, and at the same time produced a renewed appreciation of what we had in our own life and times.

So in staying with us in Edina at our first house - the cold and inhospitable split level that was totally lacking in character - Aunt Betty was perfectly comfortable and at home, being genuinely amazed by the small number of steps from one level to the next. "I could manage very easily in a house like this," she said, as if we deserved some credit for the ingenuity of design. Back in Wisconsin, taking her down to Greenbush to see the Wisconsin Historical Society's Wade House, a stagecoach inn, Aunt Betty regaled us with stories of family trips up north to their cabin on Lake Kentuck, their party transported by private train car as far as Eagle River, where they spent the night in a rustic loggers hotel. "The next day we'd have bites all over us," she recalled, rubbing her arms as if the night in question had just passed. Among the vast collection of carriages at the neighboring Wesley Jung Carriage Museum, she drew us over to the surreys and sleighs and cutters (all like those they used to have in Neenah), and to a rather sporty phaeton, a wicker sided two-seater like the one Dad's grandfather used to drive. "Father never took a cab in the city. Only a handsom," she said. "He couldn't abide the smell of motorcars." In return for these and other excursions she treated us all to Thanksgiving dinner at Milwaukee's famed English Room in the Pfister Hotel, picking up the tab for the meal and the overnight accommodations. Afterwards, across the street at Chapman's Department Store, she showed us where she and her mother or father or later Aunt Nell would sit by the fireplace on a blustery day and be served hot tea or chocolate in little cups while their packages were being wrapped and brought down, in the day when the term "carriage trade" had real meaning.

Spending Christmas in Neenah with Aunt Betty soon became a much anticipated part of the holidays and the high point of each year as a family. In 1970 Dave joined us during his break from medical school and organized the building of a nearly 7-foot snow gorilla, executed over several days and involving the freezing of ice blocks to make sure he was built with a steady foundation and would last until spring. Posing with the finished product from the left are me, Bonnie and Dave. Soon after we left for home, the Post-Crescent sent out a photographer to record and publish our finished creation, it having attracted much attention and comment, no one having ever built such an ambitious snow sculpture on Wisconsin Avenue before. It was also a first for us. Nothing we had ever done before had attracted public attention and we didn't know quite what to make of it all. We were simply not accustomed to anything we did being newsworthy. Aunt Betty, however, was thrilled. Surviving through the winter, our snow gorilla was a harbinger of things to come.

And in finding a comfortable place for herself in our lives, Aunt Betty in turn welcomed us - warts and all - to be a part of hers. I can't say that she acted any differently or made any extra effort when we were visiting her in Neenah, but she made us all immediately comfortable and at ease and unaware that we were sitting on silk damask or dining on sterling silver and being served by uniformed maids - or for that matter traveling from floor to floor in the little cage elevator she and her sister had installed. At Christmas Aunt Betty had Alfred put up the tree and string it with lights, but left us the job of burrowing through the boxes of treasured ornaments to make the decoration our own. With Mom's encouragement I was also for some reason given the assignment of creating a centerpiece for the dining room table, which with Aunt Betty's enjoyment of parties delighted her to no end. The first was a gold topiary tree hung with icicles and angels, after which came a forest of green burlap Christmas trees strung with snowflake sequins and gold balls, and then finally - what would prove to be my pièce de résistance - a three foot long snow covered winter scene, complete with frozen lake, snow covered willow and miniature ice skaters. That same year Mom got Steve to bring his stereo system with us, filling the house with Christmas music - along with a few slightly incongruous country western songs from albums that Aunt Betty's cook, Rose, brought down from her attic bedroom.

Rose, who was just about 60 at the time, struck the only sour note in the proceedings. Aunt Nell had hired her as something of a charity case when their beloved Alma retired as cook and married Alfred the yard man (who as a recovering alcoholic needed someone to keep an eye on him). Raised on a farm, Rose had spent her life caring for aged parents, and when they died she had no resources or employable skills accept as "a good plain cook" - a description of faint praise with which Aunt Betty would have taken exception. "These aren't as good as Alma's," she said pointedly of Rose's spice pancakes served at breakfast one morning, just as their maker stepped into the room. This intentional slight seemed to be uncharacteristically rude on Aunt Betty's part, but Rose had apparently grown quite high and mighty in her formal status as cook, brazenly limiting the number of dishes she would make for any meal and refusing to serve more four people, looking on with grim satisfaction while others ran dishes and platters of food out to the dining room and back. In passing through the kitchen at other times of the day (which one did only if absolutely necessary and then quickly and quietly), it was also common to hear Rose engaged in lengthy one-sided conversations. "And then Miss Betty said, 'I've invited Mrs. Graebner here for lunch so you won't get that extra pork chop,'" Rose replayed to herself in the kitchen one afternoon. "Well, then," she imagined herself replying with a tart riposte, "I just won't cook them lima beans."

The only other player on these occasions was Nesta Edwards, a maiden lady in her 90s like Aunt Betty, but one who in spite of being confined to a wheelchair was a dominant presence to be reckoned with, in many ways like a female Lionel Barrymore (whom she resembled and even sounded like). Nesta was a long time friend and protégé of Aunt Nell's, living for many of her later years with her sister Gladys in suburban Milwaukee, and after that as a resident of the monumental Milwaukee Protestant Home on North Downer Avenue. A dynamic individual of agreeable outlook and life philosophy, as well as possessed of an indomitable spirit, she was nevertheless a woman who freely boasted of never finding traditional success or dependable income, while at the same time readily accepting gifts, loans, hospitality and all manner of  financial support from rich friends - primarily Aunt Nell and Aunt Betty. "My failures made me," she said of her retail, office management, social work, industrial safety and food service experience at places like Marshall Field's, Union Carbide, International Harvester and eventually Kimberly-Clark, where she claimed to have single-handedly introduced Kotex to the American public - an assertion also made by Albert Lasker (considered by many to be the founder of modern advertising) and several others. Nesta had come to expect Alfred or Louis to chauffeur her back and forth from Milwaukee for the holidays, during which she frequently asserted how the construction of a wheelchair ramp for her use was really a service to Aunt Betty, helping her to prepare for the time when she would need it.

This pattern of life was all new and mysterious to me, but for Dad it was perfectly normal. Growing up in his mother's house he was accustomed to the limitations of domestic service (and the inherent idiosyncrasies that come with cooks and maids and cleaning women), as well as being surrounded by opportunists who clung tightly to rich old lonely women. Knowing what he did, Dad felt sorry for Aunt Betty, but the focus of his pity was far more prosaic. "With all these people around," he said, "she can't fart whenever she feels like it."

CHAPTER II continues HERE.

Friday, May 3, 2013

People Sometimes Change

When we moved to Minnesota in 1969 Great Aunt Betty was 87 and living on her own for the first time in her life. Of course, she wasn't entirely alone in Neenah, there being Rose, the cook who lived in, plus two maids (they'd be called in to wait table when there were more than four for any meal), two cleaning women (in addition to their regular duties they would spend an entire month once a year with the rest of the staff cleaning the house from attic to cellar, including all the closets, cupboards and dresser drawers), a laundress (who ironed everything, including old tissue paper that would be given new use when the drawers and cupboards were annually cleaned), and not one "man" but two, Alfred and Louie (they took turns caring for the house and grounds and driving Aunt Betty whenever she needed to go anywhere). There was also Louie's son Mark, an unpaid member of the staff, who helped out with maintaining the formal gardens (these requiring more attention than even Louie and Alfred could provide) without Aunt Betty's knowledge. Or so they thought. In reality not much got past her, and I suspect the financial help she provided Mark for his year of study in Paris was a form of settling the debt.  In this rather impish picture of Aunt Betty she was just about 80 and it shows the incredible size, diversity and abundance of the gardens her crew produced. There were six formal beds filling the back yard, not including the borders on either side of the flowering hedge along Doty Avenue at the back of the property, or for that matter the vegetable and cut flower garden two doors up off Doty Avenue which was Alfred's individual responsibility as well as his real pride and joy.

NOTE: The posts in Chapter II follow the events leading up to my father's return to Neenah as I saw them. If you are just beginning to read this blog you may want to go back and start with the first post HERE. For those of you who are reading because they love stories about Neenah, I'm certain you'll find this chapter engaging and an important part of a moving human drama that has everything to do with Neenah, its history and the six degrees of separation that link link us all together.


One of the first things Dad did after getting us settled in Minnesota was to pack us all up yet again, this time for a visit with Great Aunt Betty in Neenah. She was all alone now, Great Aunt Nell having died three years earlier in 1966 at the age of 93 (and Great Aunt Fan two years before that in 1964 at 84). As the two sisters had spent their entire lives together, no one in the family had expected Aunt Betty to out live Aunt Nell by more than a year or two, nor had they considered her up to the challenge of taking over the maintenance of the house and gardens, a job Aunt Nell had shouldered for nearly 50 years. Increasingly Dad had been asked his opinion on all manner of household decisions which he never had been before, and this led him to believe that Aunt Betty would soon be forced to move to some place smaller or (the more likely alternative in his opinion) to simply die one day for the loss of a sister upon whom she had depended and been unwaveringly devoted to all her life. Dad was only too glad to provide whatever help she needed, but he was also cautious about being bossy or appearing to take over. That he left to his unmarried half sister Dorothy, who was a more frequent visitor, closer to Aunt Betty in age, and temperamentally more included to be bossy and take over wherever she went.

On our first trip back to Neenah, however, it was Mom who proved to be the problem. During the five hour drive her contribution to recollecting our 1962 visit was a litany of wrongs that Aunt Nell and Aunt Betty had rained down on her since she and Dad had gotten married some 30 years before. She insisted that Dad's beloved aunts had disapproved of her, had looked down their noses at her for not finishing her college degree, and had so much as told her that starting a family so young would hold Dad back in his career.  Never mind that the sisters had bought Mom her wedding china and crystal (and had in an incredible display of generosity paid for Mom's sister Angela's wedding rehearsal dinner in 1946), and had ladened all of us each year with an unending cornucopia of Christmas presents. All that seemed to matter in Mom's world view was a brief conversation the aunts had with her shortly after she and Dad were married, in which Aunt Nell stressed the importance to Mom of finishing her college degree and to hold off having children until they were both done with school. When the intent of these remarks was challenged, Mom defended her position by citing the nurse hired to take care of Bob during their visit in 1941 - that being an indictment of her fitness as a mother -  along with her conversation about the details of Bob's birth, which the two unmarried sisters quickly brought to an end with a demure, "We don't talk about such things."

Looking back on all this now I can see that Mom was jealous of the hold these two old women had over Dad, seeing them as long standing rivals for his affections and loyalty (a feeling shared incidentally by Marilyn who in her turn resented the phone calls Bob made to Mom each and every week without fail).  In any case, on the drive over to Neenah I found much of Mom's tirade a little hard to swallow, and having become something of a sassy teenager suggested that there were certainly things Mom had said 30 years ago that she wouldn't want to be used against her today, adding that she should follow Grandma's advice (which Mom regularly dished up to us) that recollections like these should all go into what Grandma called a "bag of unaccountables." And not understanding yet the wisdom of quiting when ahead, I added that if Christians were supposed to be forgiving and not judge others, why was she still holding something that had happened so long ago over Aunt Betty's head, to which both Steve and Bonnie voiced their agreement. Dad said nothing and just kept driving.  Mom made no immediate response to this, but after a sufficiently dramatic pause she said we were all free to make up our own minds, "only don't be tricked by all her money."

In the end, neither Aunt Betty nor the house were anything like any of us - except Dad - remembered, so visiting was all a wholly new experience. I had completely forgotten how the rooms were arranged, the richness of the décor, and the marvelous way everything smelled - not of mothballs or any artificially overwhelming floral perfume, but rather the warm oaty scent of dried hay laying in the sun. Even Mom kept insisting that she remembered a step up into the back bathroom where she had given Bob a bath in 1941, an indirect way I suppose of admitting she might not remember events exactly the way they happened (the step was actually out in the hall). There was also no presence of maids or servants except at meals, which were served with a much simplified formality in the dining room, or out on the back porch overlooking the gardens.  And Aunt Betty, instead of being imperious and grand, was just a little old lady who was thrilled for the company and quite distressed that she was unable to arrange all the entertainment she had in the past. It was impossible to reconcile Mom's account of things with what we were seeing, not with the clear sense that the world was not as comfortable or as easy as it might have once been for Aunt Betty, and that the end of the line was fast approaching. In departing Mom encouraged Aunt Betty to come stay with us in Edina as part of an upcoming trip West with Aunt Dot, and a reciprocal engagement was planned for our return to Neenah at Christmas. As might be imagined, the drive back home to Minnesota was a complete reversal of the trip over, and when this was duly noted, Mom simply replied, "People sometimes change."

When she died in 1937 Dad threw out most of his mother's personal effects and papers. The one exception was a collection of carefully mounted - but unidentified - photographs kept in two cloth bound art portfolios. How or why these photos survived I have no idea, but I found out that Dad had kept them all those years after our first visit with Aunt Betty in Neenah (where the family photos were all carefully identified). I was a sophomore in high school and putting names to the people in the portfolio photos was my first attempt at historical research.  In this photo, taken at Fadner's downtown studio in Neenah at the death of my great-grandmother in 1918, are my grandfather James Edward Adams (51), Dad's sister Mary (4), Dorothy (19), my grandmother Caroline Babcock Adams (43), Dad (1), Ben (20), George (11) and Ned (23). I would eventually learn that at the time of this photo my grandfather was already experiencing the first symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as early onset Alzheimer's Disease, which his children would euphemistically refer to as a "pre-senile condition," Alzheimer's being largely unknown and generally lumped together with the far more chilling heading of "insanity."

Aunt Betty's visit to Edina that fall was only for a day or two, it serving as a shuttle point (with Dad's driving assistance) from where she would be escorted by plane from Minneapolis in the company of Aunt Dot to spend time out west with Uncle Ned's widow, Sue, as well as visiting other relatives in a circuit that proved to be the last one Aunt Betty would ever take. In the process of the trade off, Aunt Dot flew in and stayed with us a few nights, which in Dad's absence as shuttle led to a discussion of Neenah and family history - and to Mom's astonishing revelation that we had a collection of mounted photos that had belonged to Dad's mother. The survival of these photos was particularly amazing to Aunt Dot, who over the years had repeatedly quizzed Dad on the fate of his copy of the genealogy their father had produced and that Dad had most probably tossed out with his mother's papers and personal effects in the process of closing her house in Berkeley. It was an unresolved bone of contention between them for many reasons. Their father had made copies only for his sons (none for Aunt Dot or Aunt Mary), and of the four only two were known to have survived - Uncle Ned's copy being lost in his escape from Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II. It was also galling to Aunt Dot that she and her brothers loved their stepmother more than Dad and Aunt Mary, her own children, and the genealogy was more of a beard for her real line of questioning, which was why Dad in particular, but Aunt Mary as well to an extent, were so estranged from the rest of the family.

In the limited time we had together, Aunt Dot went through each page of mounted photographs with me, identifying what they were of and who was in them as best she could. Seeing my interest in the history these pictures represented, she also encouraged me to go to the reunion of relatives that had annually taken place for nearly 100 years in southern Indiana, where my Adams grandfather had been born and where his mother had lived as a pioneer settler and recorded her memoires. In joining us in Edina the following day, Aunt Betty was equally delighted to see the pictures her sister had kept and cared for, filling in all the gaps with a delightful collection of reminiscences and details. We also talked about all the pictures she had in Neenah, offering to show them to me during Christmas. Between the two of them Aunt Betty and Aunt Dot had opened up a world that I had never known existed, one that Dad never spoke of in any meaningful way, and which in Aunt Betty's presence he not only enjoyed but clearly revelled in. It was also fascinating to me that both Dad and Aunt Dot thought his mother's name was Carolyn. Neither of them knew - as Aunt Betty clearly stated - that it was Caroline. A minor point, perhaps, but still a telling detail.

In writing my biography of Grandma I left out many details, one of them being that in spite of a strict and abstemious Methodist upbringing, Grandma had a decidedly ribald sense of humor. In the company of ladies, an embroidered hankie stifling her giggles and daubing her eyes, she would recall the time her parents played host to a young itinerant minister and his wife at their sod house. A blanket separated them from the rest of the family that night, during which Grandma heard a rustling on the other side of the makeshift curtain, followed by a silence, and then the minister's wife whispering, "Oh, George! Not again!" Grandma also took great pleasure in recounting how she and my grandfather broke the bed on their honeymoon in Niagara Falls. Humorous accounts like these, however, were an exception. Grandma was not a happy person. In this photograph, taken at age 17 upon her graduation from high school, one can already see a shocking inner hardness in one so young. With time it would grow into a keloid of disappointment and melancholy for what might have been but never really was.

My taste for the human side of history whetted, I decided to write a biography of Grandma as a class assignment my sophomore year of high school. Like Aunt Betty, Grandma was now living alone in the retirement complex she and Aunt Jessie had moved to in 1964, her expenses provided by a trust Aunt Jessie had set up when she died two years later. At 96 Grandma was still alert, and while the details of her life had grown foggy, she had written down her recollections and life experiences some years before in a spiral notebook that I was able to use as the primary resource for my paper. Mom had encouraged me (pushed me would be more accurate) to write about Grandma, I think from a feeling of loss because of Grandma's advanced age and the distance we were from her, and also in part perhaps from the implicit disloyalty of her new found affection for Aunt Betty. Admittedly I resisted Mom's pressure at first, for as large a part as Grandma had played in my childhood, I had once too often been on the stinging end of her waspish tongue. Even on what had been our very last visit together, when I had taken Grandma on my arm to help her down from her apartment to dinner, she made a point of noting how fat I had gotten. And in that one instant, for as much as I had looked forward to seeing her again, I thought how simple it would have been to help her go down the stairs head first, and that no one would have blamed me for doing so.

But in recording her life I began to develop a more sympathetic understanding of - and a more profound curiosity about - how people come to be the way they are. In Grandma's case it was from a lifetime of hardship, disappointment and heartache that began in hardscrabble Vermont, which was as far as her father, Henry Farnham, had bothered to go in escaping the Civil War draft, the first in a lifetime of failed or abandoned plans. Married to a local girl in 1866, he shifted from job to job and fathered a steady stream of children they could barely afford to keep fed, many of whom fell ill and died of a variety of diseases, the survivors enduring a truly staggering level of deprivation and poverty (Grandma's one childhood toy was a crook neck squash dressed like a baby). Pursuing a better life by homesteading on the prairies of Nebraska, they established themselves in a one room sod house that doubled as a stable for their horses. Unable to raise more than subsistence crops their first year, they lived that winter on cornbread, sorghum and baked squash. Their life was further plagued by sudden storms, hail the size of doorknobs, and winds so powerful that a door inadvertently left open could result in the roof being taken clean off a house. More "Grapes of Wrath" than "Little House On The Prairie."

And much like the Joads in the Steinbeck novel, Grandma's family eventually pulled up stakes in Nebraska, moving in 1889 to California, where in San Jose they lived on a friend's ranch and Grandma's father found temporary work as one of the carpenters at the mansion Sarah Winchester was building there. It was also in San Jose that Grandma, at age 15, attended public school for the first time and later graduated from teacher's college, providing her with sufficient income to live modestly and support her periodically indigent parents. It was also later as a teacher in neighboring Watsonville, that Grandma met my grandfather, Arthur Luther, a lawyer who was in town securing patents for his brother's insecticides, what would later become known as Ortho Sprays. In the most incredible of coincidences, my grandparents were introduced by the minister of the Presbyterian church where by chance my grandfather heard Grandma singing in the choir - the very same church where Dad served as pastor during World War II. A month later in April of 1911 my grandparents were secretly married (this constituting a breach of her teaching contract). At the end of the school year their marriage was revealed and Grandma's new husband announced to his startled in-laws that from there on in the financial cost of providing for their dependant parents would be shared equally. While certainly the fairest way of handling the situation, and a great relief to Grandma, both she and my grandfather (being college educated and more worldly than any of their siblings) were thereafter viewed as "uppity."

In marrying my grandfather Grandma was able to enjoy more of the artistic and cultural life she had been exposed to in college, but as a couple they were no less transient than Grandma's family had been, moving eventually with their two children - Angela and Mom - to four different houses in 11 years. They finally divided their time between a small bungalow in San Leandro, a rustic cabin in Mount Hermon, and, whenever the investment properties my grandfather purchased needed repairs, one of their basement apartments in Oakland (my grandfather having abandoned his legal career in favor of being a landlord and living the fantasy life of a suburban country gentleman, gardening and writing short stories that never got published). And then in 1928, reputedly the result of climbing under one of his apartment buildings to repair the plumbing, he contracted pneumonia and died. Followed so closely by the depression, Grandma at age 46, ultimately lost their house and all the rental properties to foreclosure. Unable to find work as a teacher, she and her children had to get by on a meager $55 monthly stipend from my grandfather's brother, who in spite of the success of Ortho Sprays had been forced in a failing economy to turn the company over to his creditors. Through scholarships and part time employment, Aunt Gel and Mom were just able to continue their college education, but in marrying Dad (who had inherited a small amount of money from Great Uncle Harry and would receive more from his mother's estate) Grandma was certain to be cared for. 
 So for nearly the rest of her life Grandma was financially dependant on Mom and Dad  - just as her parents had been dependant on her - and that from a man she heartily disliked and had actively discouraged Mom from marrying.

And that must have been a truly bitter pill to swallow.

CHAPTER II continued HERE.