Tag Archives: family

Hard Headed Woman

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Cat Stevens sang of looking for a hard-headed woman. He certainly would have found such a woman in me. What can I say? It’s got to be genetic. I inhereted my tete dure (as we Cajuns say) from my mawmaw.

My father’s mother was the most stubborn person I’ve ever known. (Lest you think being hard headed passed only to the females of the family, my dad was the second most stubborn person I’ve ever known.) My grandmother was born in the early days of the 20th century and lived through the Great Depression, which is maybe what made her so careful with money. She’s so tight, my dad would say about his mother, she’ll squeeze a nickel until the buffalo moans. (The joke’s not so funny now that Thomas Jefferson is on most U.S. nickels.) Inadditionm to being what might be called hyper-frugal, my grandmohter did not easily let go of an idea once she made up her mind.

My grandma had four husbands before she died at nearly 90 years of age. I never knew my grandfather, and I was an oblivious child during her marriages to #2 and #3. (The woman was a good Catholic and never divorced anyone; all of her marriages ended in death. She was a good Catholic, but not a perfect one; I learned as a teenager that marriage #2 was of the common law variety.) I was a teenager during her last marriage and more interested in what the adults were talking about.

During one of our family visits, my grandma and her husband were discussing their disagreements. Whenever they had an argument, my grandmother said, and she couldn’t sway her husband to her thinking, she eventually just walked off and finished the argument by herself! My whole family thought that was hilarious! (I don’t remember if her husband was amused.) It wasn’t difficult to imagine my mawmaw going off on her own to fihish an arguement in her head, in her favor, of course. Her husband wasn’t going to change her mind, so why keep talking when she could wrap things up on her own? Tete dure indeed!

My grandmother’s funniest case of stubbornness involved the use of her air conditioner.

She lived in Louisiana, always had. She knew the summers were hot and humid and difficult to get through. She also knew cooling her house with one small window unit cost precious money, money she’d sooner not part with. She knew once she turned on the air conditioner, she wouldn’t want to turn it off, so she tried to last as long as possible without it.

At some point, she set a date for turning on the air conditioner. Her arbitrary date for using the air conditioner was June 1. Before June 1, she would not use the air conditioner, no matter what. She didn’t care ir it was May 28, the temperature was 96 degrees and humidity was at 98%–the air conditioner was not coming on. Mawmaw had made up her mind and there was nothing that could change it.

My grandmother’s stubborn refusal to use the air conditioner before June 1 was a family joke, but it was no joke if we had to pay her a visit late in May. For all intents and purposes, it was summer, but no way was she turning on the air conditioner early. She wasn’t going to change her mind and waste precious pennies simply because she had company. No amount of begging or complaining was going to soften her hard head.

Visiting once it got hot but before the air conditioner came on was miserable, but having to spend the night there was torture. It’s hard to sleep through hot and sweaty nights even with a ceiling fan blowing overhead. Why my parents even went there in those in-between days, I’ll never know. I suppose there were adult reasons why it couldn’t be avoided.

Sometimes while passing through her town, my family would stop at my grandmother’s house and discover she wasn’t home. My dad had a key to the side door, so we were able to go inside to use the bathroom and get a drink of cold water from the glass jug in the refrigerator. At least once we stopped late in May to find my grandma gone. My dad unlocked the door and made a beeline to the air conditioner, which he not only turned on, but cranked to the coldest setting. My sibling and I were scandalized, but exhilarated too. It wasn’t June 1st yet! Dad was clearly breaking the rules, but that cold air sure felt good.

We didn’t stay long enough for the cold air to cool down the whole house, but I wonder if my grandmother returned  home soon after our departure and wondered why the house didn’t feel as hot as it should have. I wonder if she came home so many hours later that all the cool air had dissipated completely and she was absolutely unaware of my father’s transgression. I wonder if she looked at May’s electric bill and thought it seemed higher than it should have been. Maybe she was confused. How could it have been so high? she might have wondered. I didn’t even turn on the air conditioner until the first of June.

Lovies

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The family in the mercantile was an interesting one.

There were two older people—a man and a woman—who seemed to be the grandparents. With them was a younger adult male who seemed to be the dad of the two kids on the group. The girl was the older of the two children. She was probably 11. The boy was quite a bit younger, maybe four. Everyone in the group except the girl had some sort of British (or of British heritage) accent.

 

The little boy was immediately drawn to the plush puppets. He grabbed a bunny puppet and hugged it close. I love him, the boy proclaimed in his adorable accent. The boy held onto the bunny puppet as the family milled around the store.

I thought the dad might buy the puppet for the boy, but no. The dad told the boy to return the bunny to its friends. The boy didn’t seem happy to reunite the puppets, but he did as he was told without throwing a tantrum. (I’ve seen many tantrums thrown over those puppets.)

I thought the family would leave after the puppet was put away, but they continued to walk around Rana | Frog by Mawthe store aimlessly. The little boy picked up a green plush backpack in the shape of a frog. It was nearly as big as he was, so he struggled a little to carry it around the store.

After a few more minutes, the dad told the boy to give the frog a hug and put it away. The boy gave the frog not only a hug but several kisses on its head. The manager of the mercantile and I couldn’t help but grin at each other like the childless middle age women we are and whisper Oh! How cute! a few times.

As the boy put the frog back into its bin, the father said they’d be bringing home no more stuffed animals.

The girl looked at me and explained that in their house, each family member had a small bin (she demonstrated the size with her hands) to put stuffed animals in. All stuffed animals owned had to fit in the bin with no parts sticking out. If anyone wanted a new stuffed animal, he or she had to discard from the bin so the new one would fit.

The dad piped in that he and his wife had as many stuffed animals as the kids did. Then the older man added that he and his wife were still storing stuffed toys from the dad’s childhood. These were some serious stuffed animal lovers!

Multicolored Teddy Bears Background by GDJThe girl went on to tell me about the downsizing that happened before the bin storage system was implemented. Everyone in the family chose their favorite animals to keep in his or her bin. They gathered up all the stuffed animals they had decided to discard, and she and her dad took them down to Tijuana where they donated the toys to an orphanage.

I was happy to know this family had donated their excess to people who had less, rather than chuck it into a landfill. I bet it felt just like Christmas to those Mexican kids when the girl and her dad handed over those toys.

 

Images courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/159691/rana-|-frog and https://openclipart.org/detail/230149/multicolored-teddy-bears-background

Medical Folklore

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Recently, while sorting writing from my past, and I found papers I wrote for a variety of collage classes in the 90s. I have no idea how these papers survived a multitude of moves during my 20s and 30s or my last several years on the road, but there they were.

Most weren’t very interesting. Most were written in that overly academic style required in the university arena. Most were deposited in the recycling bin.

One was interesting, however.  Written in 1993 for an anthropology class, it was called “Testimonies in Medical Folklore.” I didn’t really do anything to make it interesting. I just transcribed the stories told to me by my mother, my father, and my friend’s mother. Like a good anthropologist, I collected and reported. I didn’t comment upon anything I was told. I suppose the assignment didn’t require commentary.

What strikes me now is the ages of my “informants” who were my parents and my friend’s mother. They were 44-49, in the age group my friend and I belong to now. We were so young, in our early 20s, and our parents seemed ancient. Now i realize our parents weren’t as elderly as we thought they were, and my friend and I were just babies.

Today I’ll share these stories of medical folklore, as they were told to me.

I described “Informant #1” (my mother) as “a forty-four year old Caucasian woman.” (I’m not sure why I didn’t describe her as “Cajun” as I did my father. My mother was just as Cajun as he was. Perhaps I was trying to hide the fact that I hadn’t gone very far from home to gather information.)

[This event] happened to my…daughter when she was six months old. I went to visit her grandmother…and the aunt of my mother-in-law was there and when she saw [the baby], she insisted that thunder or some other loud noise had separated the bones in [the baby’s] head, that the soft spot was opening. So, she said that she would pray over [the baby]. In other words, treat her. I didn’t see anything wrong with it because she wasn’t going to be giving any medicine or they weren’t going to do anything strange to her besides the old woman was going to put her hand on [the baby’s] head and say prayers. So, I agreed to let the lady do this. She prayed and put her hands on [the baby’s] head and then when she was done she [said] that [the baby’s] head would heal. I didn’t notice any change. It satisfied the old lady, and I didn’t figure it would hurt [the baby]…

After this happened and I was sharing this experience with my mother, she told me that when she was growing up her grandmother would sew caps for babies…She would make a white cap and a black cap, and they believed that the baby should wear the white cap during the daytime. At night they would put the black cap on the baby and also in thunderstorms to protect the baby’s head from separating…

This was something that was not new to my mother, she had heard this before, so maybe something had happened to [the baby], but I was taking her to the doctor for her checkups, and the doctor never said that her bones were separating in her head…

Something else…In 1970, I was pregnant for my first child. My husband worked with this man, his wife was also pregnant…These people…were black…When the woman had the baby, she had a son, and so once she came home from the hospital, they invited us to go over and see their baby. When we got to their home her grandmother was at the house outside and the old woman was very shocked to see us get there. I thought it might have been because we were white, that it surprised her that we were going to visit to see the black baby. I went in and went to the crib and looked at the baby and held its hand and talked to the mother and the visit probably lasted about ten or fifteen minutes and we left.

Later that afternoon, I got a call at home that they needed a piece of the dress that I was wearing. This was a surprise to me, but my husband and the father of the little boy came over to the house and cut the hem out of the dress that I was wearing to take back to the house where the baby was. The old grandmother took the piece of fabric and cut strips and tied a strip of the fabric on each of the baby’s wrists. Supposedly, what we were told was that when I went to the crib, the baby, sensing that I was pregnant, had started to strain as if he was in the birth canal again and continued straining and holding its breath until this cloth was tied around its wrist. I don’t know how true this is, if it was the old woman’s imagination…After this happened…I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, my mother, and other elderly people…and it was not a surprise to them, they all said that they had heard of stories before…

I described “Informant #2 (my father) as “a forty-seven year old Cajun, Caucasian male.”

When we were young kids and we got warts–that was before you’d go to the doctor and have them removed either by burning or surgically removing them…My mother’s uncle who lived across the street…would treat you for them. In French it’s called “traiteur.” And he would take you and get you off by yourself…and he would meditate and prayer [secret prayers passed down from generation to generation] and while he was praying he would just continue making a circle around and around the wart very slowly…with his finger and it would take about between ten and fifteen minutes and he did that three days in a row. And the wart would, after those three treatments, the wart would gradually start to reduce in size and shrink and shrink and shrink until it would just disappear…

When I was a young boy I used to get what’s called a sunstroke. I’d get out in the sun without a hat and you would run fevers, have cold chills, at least I would, tremendous headaches, just feel like your head was going to explode. And you could also be treated for that. A gentleman that used to live next door to my grandmother would treat you and he would treat you with water, he would use water, sprinkle water on your forehead and also put his hand on your head and pray and that would get rid of the headache. It didn’t really work that well for me the way he did it, but it did help.

And then i was told by someone else about a Mr. H who treated for that. He had a grocery store…about a mile from the house, and when I’d get a sunstroke I’d get on my bicycle and ride over to the grocery store and the man would take me into the stockroom, turn out all the lights, and place both of his hands on my head, pray in the dark for me, and believe it or not, when I’d leave there [and] go back outside from the grocery store, my headache was completely gone, the fever and chills were gone. He only treated me about three or maybe four times at the most, and I’ve never had a sunstroke since…

I described “Informant #3 (my friend’s mother) as “a forty-nine year old Caucasian woman.” I went on to explain, “The events she relayed to me over the phone…were told to her by her husband and his relatives who grew up in Croatia.”

When my husband was a child living in a poor, rural area of Croatia, they wouldn’t go to the doctor and have their tonsils taken out if they had tonsillitis. If their tonsils swole up, they would take some wool–there was always wool in the house because they raised sheep–and they would wrap the wool around their neck to help the tonsils get better…

My sister-in-law’s mother came from Croatia to visit last year. While she was here, my sister-in-law told me that every day her mother would take plain yogurt and chop garlic and parsley really, really fine and mix it all together and eat it. When my sister-in-law asked her what she was doing, her mother said she was eating the mixture to treat her high blood pressure…

My same sister-in-law went to Croatia a few years ago to visit with her young son. While they were there, the son got a fever and my sister-in-law didn’t have any medicine…An old lady in the village told her to get potatoes and slice them and put the slices on the balls of her son’s feet and this would pull the fever out. She was warned not to put the potatoes on his head because that would pull the fever up and possibly give him meningitis. The potatoes had to be put on his feet so the fever would be pulled down and out of his body. I’ve never tried it, but she said it worked, that the potatoes shriveled up as if they had been cooked and my nephew’s fever went away…

I got an A- on the assignment.

Me and My Uncles

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My dad was dead, and I was hurriedly planning a trip to the Deep South.

Do you think Uncle Duckie will be there? I asked my sibling.

I hadn’t even thought of him, was the reply. I don’t want to see him.

Neither did I.

However, when I spoke to my aunt, I found out Duckie had been by my father’s side in the days leading to his death. He’d been helping my dad’s wife with arrangements. Hell yes he was going to be there. We’d certainly see him.

My dad had three brothers.

Stewart, the oldest, was stillborn or died very soon after birth. He was never counted when we spoke of my dad’s siblings, however. Apparently a baby who died so soon was barely part of the family. I only wondered about this as an adult. Was this loss of her first child what made my grandmother so mean, or had that happened long before she was a grieving mother? Did her fear of losing another baby cause her to throw up walls around her heart when dealing with her other kids? Grandma has been dead for over a decade, and I’ll never know her truth.

The oldest child to grow up in my dad’s familty is Uncle Ronnie . He was a career military man. My father often characterized him as so smart, he’s stupid. He’s in his 80s now, and, I discovered at my dad’s memorial service, as deaf as a post.

Uncle Duckie is next in the line of children birthed by my paternal grandmother. He’s been a sleezeball and a racist and a pervert as long as I’ve known him. I grew up hearing stories of how my grandmother beat him. Well, she beat all her kids, but particularly Duckie. At least once, my grandfather had to intervene because he was afraid she was going to kill the boy, who was a toddler at the time. He says he still has the scars. I don’t doubt it.

There was one girl child in the family, born a couple of years before my father, who was the baby.

No one expects to lose their youngest sibling first. He cut in line, my aunt said.

The only material possession of my fathers I could contemplate wanting was a ring that had belonged to his father, the grandfather who died before I was born. One of us should have that ring, I wrote to my sibling as we made plans to travel to the homeland. My sibling thought the ring should go to my dad’s only grandchild, and I readily agreed. I didn’t need the ring, but I wanted it to stay with someone who had a tie to it, someone who’d appreciate it.

When my sibling and I arrived at my dad’s house the night before his memorial service, his wife had a handwritten when-I-die letter he’d composed several years ago. In the letter he said he wanted his grandchild to have the ring.

Duckie asked me for the ring, my dad’s wife told us, and I told him yes, but that was before I found this letter. She said she would tell Duckie my dad wanted the ring to go to the grandchild. It was my dad’s last will and testament, after all.

Later, when we got in the car, my sibling said, Can we talk for a minute about that motherfucker Duckie trying to get the ring?

I allowed how since our grandfather, the original owner of the ring, was Duckie’s dad too, I could understand he would want it. However, you could have let my dad be dead a week before he started asking for family heirlooms.

The next day, when we pulled up in the driveway of my dad’s house, Duckie was standing outside.

There he is, I said.

Time hasn’t been kind to Duckie. He looks like an old version of Gonzo from the Muppets. What am I talking about? Duckie is literally 80 years old. It would be weird if he didn’t look old, but his nose…Gonzo. I’m not kidding.

As my sibling would be the one to deliver the ring to the grandchild, I said before we got out of the car, Be sure you get the ring before we leave. I didn’t want Duckie weaseling it into his possession at some later date.

My dad’s wife broached the subject of the ring before my sibling or I could bring it up. She summoned us to the room with the closet housing my dad’s safe.

Did you tell Duckie he wasn’t getting the ring? I asked.

She said she had.

What did he say? I asked.

He didn’t say nothing, she said with her Tennessee twang. He wasn’t happy. I could tell by his face. But he didn’t say nothing.

Conflict averted. Thanks for putting it in writing, Dad.

I didn’t see Uncle Ronnie until he arrived at the church for the memorial service. He looked good. He looked younger than either my dad or Duckie. If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed his age as early 60s, not his real 80+ years. However, as soon as he started talking embarrassingly loudly, I knew his hearing was gone.

He told my sibling, I don’t hear women’s voices.

Maybe he has high-frequency hearing loss, making it literally more difficult for him hear female speech (http://www.hearatlanta.com/inability-to-hear-womens-voices-is-a-symptom-of-high-frequency-hearing-loss/), but I had to wonder when he was ever in the habit of listening to what women had to say.

Although he was sitting in the pew behind me, I clearly heard Ronnie tell Duckie how he had basically raised my father. My grandmother wasn’t there to refute the statement.

Ronnie then told Duckie our ancestors were royalty and there’s a castle with our name on it back in the old country. It seems a bit strange to keep such information a secret for all these years, but I suppose Ronnie has his reasons. (I suspect one reason it that this royalty and castle idea is a figment of Ronnie’s imagination, as are the alien abductions he tried to tell us about later.)

Then Ronnie approached me.

You’re the oldest, he announced loudly enough for most everyone in the church to hear.

When your daddy changed his religion, he continued, he gave me his Bible. Would you like to have it?

Oh, no, you should keep it, I said brightly but quietly.

Good, he said loudly. We’ll exchange addresses and I’ll send it to you.

I guess he couldn’t hear my woman’s voice.

Before the night was over, Duckie had invited a married fundamentalist Christian woman from my dad’s church to sit in his lap. When someone asked him if his 54 year-old niece was his wife, he said, I wish! while sitting right next to his actual wife of five decades.

When one of the people from my dad’s church asked Ronnie something about his wife, he responded for all to hear, We’ve been married 57 years. We’ve tried everything!

Later he tried to give me a bed built by one of our ancestors soon after his arrival in the New World. Ronnie has not only the bed, but a list of everyone born in it. Apparently, I am the only one of my cousins qualified to own the bed because since I’ve never married, I still carry the family name. When Ronnie mentioned offering the bed to a museum, I enthusiastically endorsed that idea. I’m sure there is no room in my van for an ancestral bed.

And then it was done. My dad was dead, and his memorial service was over. I’d never have to see those men again, dead or alive.

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts for a Family

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I always thought I’d have a family, Lou said to me on more than once occasion as we passed through our late 20s, our 30s, our late 30s. She has her family now.

The husband came first. Lou and I had been out of touch for years when she met him. She and I had just rekindled our friendship when they got married. (By rekindled our friendship, I mean Lou was one of my old friends who worked to find me after I disappeared into the New Mexico night. I remember calling Lou on my new cell phone after I’d been found, and she asked if we could talk later. I’m driving in LA with my boyfriend and his parents, she said, but left out the part about on the way to my wedding.)

Lou’s husband is a nice man. He’s a computer guy and athletic. He’s a good cook too, especially of Korean food and smoked brisket. He generously shared the home he’s made with Lou when I needed a place to stay in late 2012.

After a couple of years of marriage, Lou and her man had a baby, a boy. He’s two, but I haven’t met him yet. I’ve had to be satisfied with viewing his adorableness via photos on Facebook.

And now Lou is pregnant again, this time with a girl. It’s a family for sure.

Some of the first hats I made were fro Lou and her family. The colors of the hats for the adults were weird, and I’d only taught myself the basic hat-making technique. Still, Lou sent me a photo of the three of them grinning

This is the infinity scarf I made for Lou.

This is the infinity scarf I made for Lou.

broadly while wearing the hats I’d made.

I’ve been on a yarn kick this summer. I decided to make an infinity scarf for Lou. I used a pink and brown color scheme.

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This is the tiny pink hat I made for the upcoming baby.

Then I cam across some soft pink yarn and decided to make a little hat for the upcoming baby. The hat turned out so tiny! I couldn’t believe how small it was. It seemed impossibly small. Then I thought of something that size coming out of my vagina, and the hat seemed impossibly large.

Since it’s not fair to send the baby a present and nothing for the older kid, and since the boy’s surely outgrown the tiny hat I made for him nearly two years ago, I made a colorful hat for him.

While Lou’s husband probably does not need another winter hat, I didn’t want to exclude him. Besides, he’ll probably like the colors and design of the new hat better.

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This is the hat I made for Lou’s husband.

If they don’t like the hats and scarf, I’m cool with that. They can take whatever they don’t like downtown and pass it along to people in unconventional living situations.

This is the colorful hat I made for Lou's little son.

This is the colorful hat I made for Lou’s little son.

I took all the photos in this post.