Old Friends Remembered

October 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

This past week, Tom and I have been reunioning with a wonderful group of friends – makes for great story telling to get together once a year and remember old times. I’m a late comer to the group actually … a member by marriage. Nevertheless, I have been adopted into the fellowship with open arms.

1st Southern Baptist Church of Pearl Harbor

The group – “The First Southern Baptist Church of Pearl Harbor Reunion” – represents the members of that mostly military church during the first 12-14 years of its life – 1957 – 1970.

The church building is built is on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Members are from the Navy, Marines, Army, and Air Force. They are officers and enlisted and their families. Some have been members during more than one tour of duty there. One was not military at all, but CIA.

Tom joined the church while he served as an officer aboard the Tang, a diesel sub, between 1963-1966. He didn’t get to know many of the church members during that time as he was often at sea, but since 1990 we have met with the group for reunions each year and the stories shared are amazing.

Our reunion location this year was Pigeon Forge, TN, home to Dollywood, and a Branson-like atmosphere that’s just full of country music and fun. During the day some of us just visited, but others did Dollywood, and shopped at the outlets. One night a bunch of us did Dixie Stampede – Dolly Parton’s arena of entertainment and food. On Thursday morning most went to the Hatfield and McCoy Theatre to attend the breakfast show starring the Blackwoods – absolutely fabulous!

The rest of the time, we spent remembering and laughing, with a few tears for missing friends. We grow older every year.

One, a WWII vet, told of flying a B52 bomber with the test rocket-powered Jet Plane X-1 attached to the bottom. Inside that rocket was Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947.

Another WWII vet was a member of the ground crew for the Enola Gay – the bomber that dropped the A-Bomb on Hiroshima. His name was Shorty Vaughn. Shorty died this summer. This week we celebrated his life. He was a joy to know and he will be missed. Everyone had a  “Shorty Story” to tell at the memorial service.

Although I haven’t known Shorty as long as the others, the “Shorty Story” I like best I actually witnessed …

In the late 1990s Shorty Vaughn’s wife Mary died of cancer, and he was lonely. He traveled everywhere on “Space A” – that’s military jargon for space available on transports from one base to another (and may be used by retired military). Mostly he carried his “Wal-Mart luggage” (a paper sack with just what he needed in it). He loved to hop a Space A flight to Hawaii and visit his son John, pastor of a church there, and then travel the world. But he never missed a reunion!

Another couple in the group were John and Jean Hipps. John was a Navy veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. He had served his country well, and suffered physically because of it. I met him whenhe volunteered to make the coffee at one of the reunions – seems I didn’t make it fast enough! I thought that was great – he drank most of it anyway!

In 2000 a group of us flew to Hawaii to tour the islands. We had a great time – John just kept saying over and over how much he was enjoying the trip. Not long after we returned, however,  John became ill and died. Jean continued to come to our reunions. We are part of her family, after all.

Then, in 2002, we gathered in Gulf Shores Baptist Conference Center, Pass Christian, MS, for our annual reunion. Shorty asked Al to introduce him to Jean. He said he thought it was time to take Al’s advice and meet some of the single women in the group. Al thought that was great and agreed.

Hawaiian Lei

That night, before the actual introduction, I believe, Shorty’s son John walked into the worship service. He was to be our guest preacher. He wore a beautiful Hawaiian shirt and a lei of yellow
flowers.

Next, I noticed two handsome men in dress white Navy uniforms take seats with their families. Who were they?

When the wedding march started, everyone gasped and turned to see Shorty Vaughn and Jean Hipps walking down the aisle in matching mu’u-mu’u and Hawaiian shirt – royal blue with white blossoms. They both wore leis and she carried a bouquet.

Al leaned over and asked me, “Is this for real?”

“Looks like!” I said.

Sure enough, Shorty and Jean were married that night, with their sons and daughters in attendance and John Vaughn officiating. When asked about the timing, Shorty and Jean said the Pearl Harbor church group was family and this seemed like the best place.

Shorty added, with a grin, that he thought it great to pull one over on Al, too!

Each year we celebrate and remember the “when’s” and “who’s”. This year we celebrated Shorty.

A Lame Duck!

September 16, 2011 § 9 Comments

In olden days, a “lame duck congress” referred to that time between an election and the seating of the new congress, when the congress-people voted out still held the seats, but did nothing much of anything. After all, they would soon be supplanted by the victors … why bother?

Lame Ducky

An outgoing president also found himself in a state of lame-duckness, whether he was at the end of his two elected terms, or just not re-elected for a second term—this was especially true if the House or Senate was controlled by the other party! No matter what he did, or tried to do, nothing much happened in those two-plus months between the Second Tuesday of November and the January Inauguration.

However, I’ve been observing the State of our Union, and I’ve come to the conclusion that “lame duck season” now begins when the presidential candidate processions hit the road … as in RIGHT NOW … and the next elections are 14 months away!

At this very moment, Republican presidential candidates are engaged in caucusing and debating and jockeying for positions in the polls to determine who will run against Obama next year. Obviously, the Republicans want to win the election, but this time they seem particularly bent on getting Obama out – no matter the cost. In support of this, it would seem that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has no intention of doing any serious legislating until after they’ve won the 2012 presidential election. This puts us in a LONG “lame duck session”, one we can’t afford!

If the last paragraph isn’t enough of a hint, I will say here that I’m a registered Democrat—a moderate Democrat, to be sure, but still a Democrat. There are a lot of us out here, too. We sit just to the left of the dividing line between the Red zone and the Blue zone, and wonder what our country is coming to when so many extreme right or left candidates think only of upping their party agendas instead of giving positive voice and action to bolstering the people – economically, healthfully, emotionally.

Although some candidates would like to abolish it, I am a First Amendment advocate. All candidates have a right to voice their opinions on their favorite issues, just as I have a right to speak out if I don’t agree, and I speak out best with my vote.

I will not
vote for a candidate who advocates a one-issue-only platform—anti-abortion, anti-gays, anti-Obama … at any cost!

I will not
vote for a candidate who refuses to acknowledge his/her own party’s culpability in the economic woes we now face.

I will not
vote for a candidate who is so out of touch with the rest of America that he/she will advocate the abolishment of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.

[I often wonder why these candidates and their supporters don’t take this “back to the good old days” rhetoric to its logical conclusion and advocate abolishing ALL social programs—minimum wage, military health and retirement plans, pension plans, work sponsored healthcare insurance. Oh, and let’s do reinstitute the 12-hour work day, and laws that allow children to work in factories instead of go to school.]

I will vote
for representatives who can see both sides of all issues, work together in Congress to solve these issues, and represent me when they vote legislation that affects my life and the lives of all Americans.

I will vote
for representatives who believe in helping Americans get jobs, survive disasters, retain freedoms, and share responsibilities for those less fortunate.

I will vote
for representatives who will bite the bullet and seal the loop holes that allow big business to gouge profits while cutting jobs and raising prices on goods made outside this country.

If that means raising taxes on the ultra rich, so be it.

If that means legislating benefits for corporations that keep their manufacturing in the US and give jobs to our citizens, so be it!

If that means spending my tax dollars to put Americans to work rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of our nation, so be it!

I want candidates to tell me what they are for, not what they are against. I want them to tell me how they will vote to make all lives in America better, not just keep some Americans in clover while others suffer (isn’t that how the French Revolution got started?).

But it won’t really matter what the candidates say or promise, if we don’t exercise our right to vote. On election night, it’s common to hear that, out of the 25K voters in such-n-such precinct, only 10% voted that day. What a waste of a precious freedom. What an abdication of our civil responsibility!

The Ballot Box

One election day in the 70s, I stopped by the precinct to vote in a local election—school board, commissioners, district attorney. I voted for the candidate I thought best for DA – the incumbent. Mother liked him, too, and when he didn’t win re-election, she kept complaining—what were the people of our county thinking?

I asked, “Mother, did you vote today?”

“Well, no, I’m on a deadline with my editor…”

“Then you have no right to complain!” I said.

It’s a simple truth … if we don’t vote, we lose our right to complain about the result!

So, I’ll be voting Democrat next year. Tom will be voting Republican I imagine. That’s okay. We still love each other even when we cancel out each other’s votes. The important thing is – WE WILL VOTE!

Thus endeth the harang!

Thank you for listening … I just had to get that boulder off my back!

On This Day …

August 19, 2011 § 8 Comments

On this day of August 19, in 1992, both my parents passed away.

On August 15, I was in Salt Lake City for the Mu Phi Epsilon National Convention, when I was called me out of the nominating committee to tell me to “call this number”. I had been expecting that call for nearly six years.

My favorite photo - Ray & Jester Summers, Aegean Sea Cruise

“Dad’s prostate cancer has come back,” Sarah told me when I reached her. “You need to come now.”

********

Mom and Dad had always looked at Baptist Memorials Retirement Village in San Angelo as a possible “last stop.” But for a number of years after retirement they remained in Waco in their home near Baylor. There was no rush.

After Mother’s debilitating strokes in 1986, she was bed-ridden. She went into a nursing home in Waco, and Dad visited her every day – all day! A year later, Dad had a series of little strokes that scrambled his short-term memory. He could no long drive to visit Mom or live alone. With his consent, we moved them to Baptist Memorials, she to the Geriatric Hospital, and he to a one-bedroom apartment in the ‘high-rise’.

After four years, Dad asked to be with Mother – he was becoming more confused. Sarah and I had already discussed this possibility and were happy to have him make the decision and not us. They lived together in the secure care section for nearly a year before the call came.

********

I flew out early the next morning, connecting through Denver to Dallas/Ft. Worth International where I boarded a 21-passenger “tree hopper” to San Angelo. I arrived in the afternoon with the temp hovering between 110° and hell. Sarah met me at the little airport and filled me in as we drove to the hospital.

Dad had had prostate cancer while I was in Brazil and been treated with radiation. All seemed clear. Even his recent physical had shown no new developments. Only when the nurses realized Dad was in distress did they discover that the cancer had returned with a vengeance, blocking his urethra. He needed dialysis to survive.

But there was another complication. His cancer had already spread to his bones. Our choices were not easy – life with dialysis accompanied by bone cancer chemo and radiation, which might not be successful, but would be terribly painful. Or do nothing. According to the Urologist, Dad would die of uremic poisoning within five days and his passing would be pain-free.

At 82, Dad lived with confusion. He could quote Bible verses and poetry learned in high school, but he couldn’t remember what had happened five minutes before. He knew where he was when he saw Mom in her bed every morning, but was mentally stuck on a cold November day six years before when he’d had his strokes. No matter the time of year or the temp outside, he woke up, put on a flannel shirt, turned up the heater to about 80° and shuffled through his confused day.

To us, the choice was simple; but Sarah was the only one on site when the decision had to be made.

“If one of the doctors asks,” she said as we entered the hospital, “I consulted you and David before deciding not to put Dad on dialysis and just let him go peacefully.”

Of course. We three had agreed – whoever was on-site when a decision had to be made, the other two would back him/her up.

David arranged to be away from work and flew in on Tuesday afternoon. Dad was peaceful. Though sedated, he could hear his three children talking politics and memories. He put his hands together across his waist and breathed his last. The clock read 12:39 AM.

We waited thirty minutes before calling the nurse … we just stood at his bedside and said goodbye.

By 2:30 AM, the funeral home had taken Dad to prepare him for transport back to Waco for burial. We drove back to Baptist Memorials and our guest room, and went to bed.

The next morning, after breakfast, we packed the car and prepared to visit with Mom and tell her what had happened. I wasn’t sure she would understand. She couldn’t communicate with  us other than squeezing a hand or smiling. Nevertheless …

As we stood in the parking lot of the high-rise, talking to their good friends, I saw the Director of Baptist Memorials walking toward us, his new assistant in tow.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you, but your mother just passed away,” he said. “She had her meds at 9:30 and when the nurse went back about 9:45 to bathe her and get her ready for the day, she
had gone.”

I looked at my watch … 10 AM. We had waited to go see her because we knew the routine.

“We were just coming to tell her that Dad passed away early this morning,” one of us said, I don’t remember who.

Silence. Then someone said, “He came and got her.”

The assistant looked a bit taken-aback and muttered, “Nine-and-a-half hours late?”

David and Sarah and I all spoke at once in response. “Oh, Mother was never on time for anything, Dad knew to wait.”

We laughed. We probably shed a few tears, too. We drove across the street to see her. She looked peaceful.

All of a sudden, I remembered the funeral home. I went to the phone and called.

“Has Ray Summers’ body left for Waco yet?”

“No, we plan to leave in about fifteen minutes.”

“Can you wait? Mom just passed away and we’d like them to go together.”

“Well, bless your heart. Of course. We’ll be right over.”

Within the hour, the hospital released Mom’s body. The funeral home director told us they would leave about noon and get into Waco about 5 PM. He would alert the Waco funeral home.

Once again, we said our goodbyes, this time to the staff as well as friends. Then we got in the car and drove back to Waco.

I will admit to being relieved. Throughout the years since their strokes, we had been in a constant grieving state, even without knowing it, with no end in sight. We still had the funeral and burial to go through, but now we could let the grieving process complete itself.

In the years since, on this day, I remember …

When friends lose their parents, I remember …

And then I can laugh again at Mother’s funny sayings and Dad’s jokes. They dated and were engaged a total of five years, and married  for fifty-eight. Always together – even now.

AARRRRG! or My 1st Writing Gig (for pay!)

August 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

I quote Charlie Brown at the onset of this post because there are days when no other expression fits! Such a day was that fateful Thursday in 1987 when I sat down at my husband’s computer to finish my first writing assignment – at least the first one I’d be paid to do!

But first, I must give you a bit of backstory – in a block – something I tell my editing clients NEVER  to do!

After Tom and I married in February 1986, I decided that it was time I did what I’d always wanted to do … write.

Mother suggested I “tryout” as a writer of children’s Bible study curriculum with the Baptist Sunday School Board of the SBC (now Lifeway®). Great! I’d been teaching children in Sunday School since I was 16, and I learned from Mom (a longtime writer of 1st-6th grade Bible studies). Why not give it a try?

The Osborne

The tryout unit of curriculum included writing a Bible study for the teacher, a Bible story for the students, and several games and directions for the “activity based learning” style the BSSB used for its children’s Sunday School literature. I typed the whole thing into Tom’s computer and printed out. Beautiful! I mailed it in.

The editors in the children’s department at the Board edited my materials and sent me their critique and the news that I had passed muster and my work would be added to the “possible writers” file from which I MIGHT be chosen for future work.

Wonderful. I wondered, though, how long I would have to wait for an assignment.

Not long, as it turned out. My mother’s editor called, inviting me to join her group of eleven other writers for the 1989-1990 curriculum year of Bible Discoverers (for 3rd & 4th Grade). I jumped at the chance and soon attended the writing workshop in Nashville. When I returned to Kansas City I began the project with enthusiasm.

The curriculum included the child’s Magazine (16 – 20 story/activity pages); Teacher’s Book(Bible study, lesson plans and teaching projects); Resource Kit (games, projects, activity helps); and Teaching Picture Pack (I had four pictures to design and describe to tell the artists what I wanted). My November 1989 Unit—Elijah—would be published in a quarterly of materials for September, October, November.

I researched. I read. I took notes. I wrote. I drew. I created activities … I must admit that I was good at inventing new games! I typed everything into Tom’s computer; I kept the character-count on the special manuscript paper the Board provided to 33 per column for the Teacher’s manual and 50 for the child’s mag.

I was so prepared! I loved it! This was great!

Finally, three days prior to the submission deadline, I sat down to make the final revisions in the files and print out the finished manuscript.

Did I mention that Tom’s computer was an early version of a portable, made by Osborne, and had no hard drive? That’s what I said – no hard drive! His computer operated with two floppies, one for the program and the other for the documents. (I’d had a desktop in Brasil with a hard drive, but sold it to another missionary because the CPU spoke only Portuguese!)

The Floppy Disk - 5.25"

I switched on the Osborne, inserted the program disk and waited for it to boot up. Then I inserted my manuscript disk and hit “enter”.

“Disk Empty” the screen read.

DISK EMPTY?!

Breathe in … Breathe out.

Never fear. I was a good little computerist! I had made a backup! I inserted the backup disk and hit the enter key.

“Disk Empty”

I relentlessly followed this routine three more times. Nothing. My files were not on the disk.

I did a test. I took an old disk with unimportant (I hoped) information on it, and …

“Disk Empty”

The Osborne had eaten my disks – ALL OF THEM!

I cried. I ranted. I stomped around. I DIDN’T curse – Baptist preacher’s kids who are former missionaries don’t do that – but I wanted to.

I took the old version of the manuscript, with all of its penciled in corrections, additions, and deletions, and placed it not-so-gently on the table.

I pushed the Osborne to the other side of the table … resisting the temptation to chuck it through the brand new sparking windows of our in-renovations home … got out my old electric typewriter and started to work.

Tom arrived home to no supper and a rather heated guest bedroom/office.

“Why aren’t you using the computer?” he asked, innocently.

“It’s not working,” I muttered through clinched teeth.

“Maybe I can fix it—”

“THAT THING ATE MY DISKS!”

Slowly, he backed out of the room and closed the door.

Within twenty minutes, he was back, a tray of sandwiches, chips and soda in hand. He calmly and quietly put the tray on the card table next to my makeshift desk card table. Picking up my already retyped pages and taking pencil in hand, he began to proofread.

1st Writing Gig

Saturday night, after all mistakes had been corrected, and all drawings and games completed, I carefully boxed up the 200 plus pages of painstakingly types manuscript, and Tom drove me down to the main post office where I could still mail it by the deadline.

The first thing I did when I received my check was buy a new desktop computer. In fact, over the years, I have owned two desktops and am currently on my fourth laptop … the “N” has already rubbed off, as have half of the “M” and part of “D”. I’ve also discovered that the best way to backup files is on thumb-drives … I have four!

Note to all writers: marriages can survive almost anything … except one-sink bathrooms and joint computers!

The One about Harry Potter

July 27, 2011 § 5 Comments

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, this weekend and, yes, I cried.

A friend asked me recently what I thought about the Harry Potter books. She wondered whether she should encourage her almost-3rd-grade grandson to read them.

I understand her concern. She’s not read the books or seen the movies, and has heard the criticism of some conservative Christians—that Rowling’s books promote witchcraft, and should be banned in Christian homes. I suggested she read the books for herself and decide. (That’s a lot of reading, too!)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (June 1997); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (July 1998); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (July 1999); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (July 2000); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (June 2003); Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 2005); Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (July 2007)

My honest opinion? Although I think the books could wait until a child is in the 4th grade, I don’t believe in banning books, even the ones I don’t like, and I like Harry Potter! I even like the way Rowling writes … although, as a children’s writer, she breaks most of the rules for writing children’s books!

So, what is it about Harry Potter and the seven-wonders-of- kid-lit? And why do some think they are harmful? HP is fantasy! Kids know what fantasy is. Fantasy is Superman, Batman, Winnie-the-Pooh, Cinderella, and that Moose who ate all those muffins!

The Harry Potter books are fun, inventive, scary, and so chock full of imagination, details, characters, and twists and turns, that they are hard to put down, even for an adult. They are a tale of heroic proportions. They are also, individually and collectively, a morality play that uses the guise of an English boarding school for wizards and witches, to teach a lot of good stuff … and I’m not talking witchcraft!

The universal themes are amazingly clear without preaching or moralizing. Rowling shows the  drama, and leaves conclusions to the reader. She never has to say “the moral of this story is” because we get it!

Dumbledore

For instance, in every book, Harry Potter has to make choices, and often, as at the end of book one, he questions thechoices he’s made. Professor Dumbledore reminds him that only he can decide whether he has chosen well, and that it’s the choices we make that inform our lives. (My words, not his).

Harry’s loyalties are tested at every turn, yet he stays true to his friends and those who have given their lives to protect him. Even when tempted to take the easier path—one less dangerous—he assumes responsibilities beyond his years, and forges ahead, ready to give his life to rid the world of the evil of Voldemort and his followers.

In the books, but not in the movies, Hermione champions the elves who are actually slaves of the wizards, even at Hogwarts. When she organizes the elves to strike for freedom, she proves that she really is “the greatest witch of her age” in more ways than one! Her fight for what is right and empathy with those in bondage, be they dragons or elves, are her strengths.

Ron is a comic foil at first glance, funny, wide-eyed with wonder and awe. He is the younger brother who begins to find his own true worth as he shares adventures and trials with Harry and Hermione. In the end, he and Hermione make it possible for Harry to meet Voldemort on an even field.

Throughout the books, these three and their friends show an enormous amount of ingenuity, deductive reasoning. and bravery. They become what every kid wants to become! Often, they also end up rescuing the adults instead of the other way around. In this, Rowling stays with one tenet of writing for children we should all remember … children in a children’s book must solve their own problems.

Other universal themes abound, but for me, two interlocking super themes over-arch them all … the ugliness of racism, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Harry’s world is made up of muggles, muggle-magicals (both referred to as mudbloods), and magicals.

A muggle is a non-magical person. Hermione’s parentage is muggle—she did not inherit her magical gifts from her parents and is, therefore, an anomaly. In book one, Draco Malfoy calls her a mudblood and we know immediately that it’s not a polite word.

Harry’s mother was a muggle with magical powers, like Hermione, but his father was born of a magical family. That makes Harry half-muggle/half-magical.

Ron’s family is magical, but accepting and supportive of those of muggle or mixed heritage in the magical community.

Others do not share these feelings. From the beginning, this conflict between the “races” is strong, hinting at a wish by some pure magicals to rid their world of the non-pure. By the end of the last book, when the threat of a purge of all Mudblood from the magical world is strongest, we finally see what drives Voldemort. He hates that half of himself that is muggle and would purge all mudbloods to fully deny his “impurity”. [Shades of Hitler!]

Finally, Voldemort’s obsession to wield absolute power is driven by what he fears most … death. All of this struggle leads us back to that first theme. Voldemort must destroy Harry, the only wizard who can prevent him from reaching his goal.

So, yes, I recommend HP and company, in spite of the witches and wizards; in spite of the clichés and the criticisms heaped on Rowling’s head by other children’s writers. In spite of those who say she’s too political, or too socially conscious for a children’s book.

As with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, in the HP fantasies, we find truths about ourselves and our world. Besides, I love it when the hero completes his journey, saves his world and gets his girl in the end! J.K. Rowling provides a whomping great rollercoaster of a read!

Sayings My Grandmother Taught Me

July 18, 2011 § 5 Comments

My maternal grandmother Mary Ollie Hayes Hilger, was born in northern Arkansas in 1882; came to Texas in a covered wagon before 1900; and married my grandfather in 1901 at the age of 19.

Jester B. Hilger, HS Graduation Dress made by her mother (my grandmother)

An excellent cook, she possessed a solid work ethic, was an expert seamstress, and otherwise  talented with her hands and willing to tackle any project. In fact, while my grandfather pastored a series of country Baptist churches throughout their married life, Grandmother Hilger was the partner who farmed their three-acre place just on the outskirts of Greenville, TX; sewed for the “gentry”; and raised chickens for eggs and eating. And if Granddad brought home a squirrel or two (he always took his shotgun when driving to his church of a Sunday) she knew exactly what to do.

No, she didn’t go with Granddad to church, although a faithful Christian woman. You see, Grandmother Hilger dipped snuff—a self-admitted bad habit, but none the less …

Even today I know the smell of her snuff, Joy. A musty rose bouquet smell. Glade® has a room deodorant with the same fragrance. If Tom brings that one home from the store, it goes in the guest bath!

MLS at 6 - My Favorite dress. Grandmother H. made the lace, too!

I have many fond memories of Grandmother H. She made most of the dresses I wore to church and school while growing up. And when I graduated from high school, her gift to me was a beautiful patchwork quilt—made from scraps saved from those dresses!

I can still taste her chocolate pie and sugar cookies. Her fried chicken has never been equaled—except perhaps by that of Grandmother Summers! And for a little woman—I was taller than she before I reached my 12th birthday—Grandmother H. had the strongest wrists. She could ring a fryer’s neck with only three quick twists … honest.

But my strongest legacy from Grandmother H. are her sayings. They have a properly elevated place in my own personal “thesaurus”.

“I could ring his neck.” She never had to explain to me where this one came from! And I never doubted that she could do it, either.

“Got a good scald on that one.” If you’ve ever made biscuits from scratch, or chocolate pudding pie, you will appreciate the importance of getting a good scald on the milk before adding the dry ingredients. The milk must not boil, but it has to be hot enough to coat the saucepan or it won’t make good … whatever. I am proud to say I mastered this art as a teen. However, for me and my sister, the phrase came to mean “You did that well.” We use it often.

“It squatted to rise and baked on the squat.” Another baking reference. Yeast dough for dinner rolls or bread must be beaten down in order to rise or it won’t bake light and fluffy. If the yeast is not good, or the baking soda in biscuits is flat, the dough will “bake on the squat”, so to speak. In other words, something didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to.

My mother clearly followed in her mother’s footsteps with a few colorful phrases of her own.

“My stars and garters.” You got me! Mother, Jester Buena Hilger Summers, used to say this all the time, but then Baptist preachers’ kids and wives never said “my lord” or “gosh” or … well … all those other “swear” words!

“I fell off the roof.” In my mother’s day no one spoke the name of “you know what,” therefore, a code was needed to inform female family and friends that you were “in your monthly”. Today that’s not so much a “curse” as it use to be, but somehow “Falling off the roof” seemed appropriate!

“Someone didn’t think that through.” Another Jesterism, good for any occasion in which a project or idea falls short of the intended result. I use this one A LOT.

I was once sorely tempted to use this last in my dissertation document The Soprano Solo Cantatas of J. S. Bach when analyzing a particularly uninspired opus. I probably should have done. The professors all criticized this part of the dissertation requirement as being “too reliant on other writers’ ideas” and not my own. Who knew?

My motto is “think it through”, i.e., plan for every outcome that I can think of, then get busy. Works for me!

The Treasure Hunt

July 4, 2011 § 5 Comments

Although this post is not directly related to July 4th celebrations sprouting up all over the country, it is a celebration of sorts.

Happy 4th of July!

Over the last two days, I’ve been on a treasure hunt! This hunt has taken me many places: file drawers of old photographs – I’m talking ancient here; a briefcase full of family information; and an on-line ancestry search-engine-and-family-tree-making website. Let me tell you … I have a LOT of ancestors, and they all came to this country for the free stuff – free land, free religion, free thinking! This is what America is all about. So now, I invite you to celebrate with me … on a treasure hunt!

Doing the ancestor search/family tree thing isn’t new with me. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time. Moreover, I wouldn’t have to be starting from scratch. Mother began this project long ago – I have her briefcase to prove it! I dreaded the work it would involve, however. I didn’t have the time! But, a visit to a friend in Texas last August convinced me that with the ‘cloud’ out there, storing all sorts of ‘minutiae-ted’ information, creating a family tree would be easy! Ha! But I’m doing it anyway!

While on that trip to Texas, and still inspired by my friend’s encouragement, Tom and I visited and photographed the grave markers of my immediate relatives – parents in Waco; grandparents Hilger in Farmersville; great-grandparents Hayes in Farmersville; grandparents Summers in Allen … along with other markers for assorted aunts and uncles.

Then in March of this year, I actually sat down at my computer and began my family tree. I uploaded the gravesite photos to the appropriate relatives with the information I had. While doing this, Ancestry.com gave me a little leaf (a hint about more available information) and I found a photo on another family tree of my great-great-grandfather Erasmus D. Pitman and his
wife, one Temperance Looney Pitman.

Erasmus D. Pitman and wife - but which one?

Fast forward to Friday, July 1. I opened an email from a guy also hunting on-line ancestral connections. He had seen the photo of Erasmus D. and wife Tempy on my family tree and determined that it couldn’t be of Temperance Looney Pitman (his g-g-grandmother) because the woman looked too old. Could this mystery woman be one of the other wives? I would check, I emailed back, and the hunt was on!

He was right, of course. I knew that Erasmus D. had two wives, but now discovered a third, which added another dimension to the question of which wife was in the photo.

First Wife: Temperance (Tempy) Looney Pitman gave him two daughters then died early in 1854 at 27. Ergo, the photo couldn’t be of her, as he suspected!

Second wife: Mary E. Todd gave him two more daughters (my great-grandmother was her second) and died in 1861. Therefore, she was also not the wife in the photo!

Third Wife: Nancy Elizabeth Mathis Pitman gave him two sons. Erasmus died in 1870, she in 1924. My conclusion – the wife in the photo with Erasmus must be Nancy Elizabeth. She was the only one who lived long enough to grow ‘older’ with him.

But am I correct in my assumptions? Just to be sure, I began to delve deeper into my mother’s old filing cabinet, which now sits in my husband’s office. That ‘treasure chest’ contains the family history in photos. Could there perhaps be one or two of Erasmus and wives? All I had to do was open the drawers and look closely enough.

Saturday I began, spending an entire morning sneezing through old folders and albums, and squinting at fading photographs. And there I found the treasures … two 1×2” tintypes – one of a younger Erasmus and a young bride … but which one?

As soon as the neighborhood golf-scramble/hot dog feast ended, I hurried back to my computer. I knew that to discover which wife was depicted in the tintype, I must first research tintype history.

Erasmus D. Pitman, c. 1858

Voilá! In a back issue of Ancestry.com’s newsletter, I discovered that the American process known as tintype (cheaper than its European daguerreotype forbearer) was patented in 1856, sending a multitude of photographers out to county and state fairs across the land, producing untold thousands of the hearty little pictures. I say hearty because according to the article they  exist in shoeboxes, waiting patiently for discovery by just such progeny as I.

So … who is the mystery tintype bride?

Mystery Bride

Not Temperance, as she died before the hoard of photographers could get their equipment to the wilds of northern Arkansas.

Not a younger Nancy Elizabeth, third and most enduring wife. The woman in this tintype looks nothing like the older wife in the other photo.

Ergo – this must be my great-great-grandmother, Mary E. Todd Pitman and taken during her short marriage to Erasmus D., 1854-1861. The fact that she favors all the other women on the maternal side of my family is also a clue. Just compare the tintype to these photos.

Hayes (Hays) Family - John Pruitt Hayes, Martha Vanettie Pitman Hayes & oldest four

FYI, Mary E. Todd Pitman is the mother of Martha Vanettie Pitman Hayes,

Rev. .R. Hilger (Age 17) & Mary Ollie Pitman Hayes Hilder (18), c. Sept 1900. Possible wedding portrait

who is the mother of Mary Ollie Hayes Hilger,

Jester Buena Hilger Summers, c. 1940

who is the mother  of Jester Buena Hilger Summers – who is my mother!

I just love a mystery!

I happily photographed the tintypes, opened the Summers/Hilger  Family Tree on Ancestry.com, and uploaded the photos to the appropriate files.

Now fully engaged with the treasure hunt, I didn’t stop with the tintypes. Long into the nights of both Saturday and Sunday, I photographed other photos, doing the Photoshop thing – lightening the dark images, ‘contrasting’ the too-faded ones. I met ancestors I had only heard of in my youth. I read their stories, briefly scrawled on the backs of the photos in various handwritings and colors.

I found Mom’s glam shot – her high school graduation photo – and others, giving me a timeline of her image I had not experienced before. I found Dad’s high school photo, and then others of him with me as a toddler and my big brother David – pre little sister Sarah! Why had I never seen these before?

Ray with David (3) & MLS

Wow! What a great way to spend a holiday weekend! And these were just the loose photos in shoeboxes! Next – the ALBUMS! I can’t wait! As soon as I get the cramp out of my ‘mouse’ hand, I’ll be at it again!