Friday, December 28, 2007

Standing Around in a Stupor

Both of us seem plagued with terminal boredom. Today as I was sitting down with my lunch, R walked over to the cupboard, opened the door, and stood there for a while staring at the contents. I looked over at him and said, “I am going to start eating my lunch.” And his response was, “Well, so am I, as soon as I can figure out why I’m standing here staring at this cupboard.” He never did figure it out and eventually joined me at the table, where I sat giggling periodically; the more I continued to think about it, the funnier it seemed.

Matters deteriorated further a couple of hours later when I went into the kitchen to get some coffee. He came in and opened the refrigerator door and stood there staring at the shelves of food but making no attempt to get anything out. I said, "What are you looking for?", and he said, “I don’t know, I’m just standing around in a stupor.” This struck me as hysterically funny, all out of proportion to the event. He said he has a particularly powerful urge to go get McDonalds to relieve whatever he is feeling inside. We had to have a serious talk with ourselves about not going to McDonalds, and succeeded in talking ourselves out of French fries and hamburgers.

Perhaps this unsettled feeling we have is a reaction to the stress of Christmas earlier in the week, including the big church meal on Sunday and the complicated arrangements to feed our son and the family he has created for himself at the church two days later because our house is just too small to easily seat them all at the able. I did not post anything about Christmas, it was rather stressful and something of an emotional let down.

At any rate, if opening cupboards and refrigerators for no reason is as bad as it gets, I guess we will be OK.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Grandma Schuck

Her grandparents came from Austria and Western Czechoslovakia during that great migration from Europe to America in the mid-1800s. She was born Theresa Rebecca Heim on October 1, 1893, in Florence, Colorado, and she died of a stroke on December 18, 1958, in Gardena, California. She was 65 years old, and I was 9. She left behind a husband, four children, and 9 grandchildren; later, 2 more grandchildren were born.

This picture was taken circa 1911, when she was perhaps 18 years old. I was stunned when I saw it for the first time only a few years ago. It is hard for me to believe that this beautiful girl became my grandmother. My memories of her now—49 years after her death—are very fuzzy. I am not alone, I have been tapping the memory banks of 2 of the older cousins, and they don’t remember much either. Oh, we all remember snippets about her: We all remember going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas and the like, but not really anything very specific, probably because by the time we all developed mentally enough to remember, she was becoming increasingly disabled by a series of strokes and could not interact with us as much.

The only picture I have of her me and her together was taken when I was an infant and she was 56 years old. Her glossy dark hair, which must have been nearly black, is mostly gray, and she is wearing “old lady” shoes that were common in the 1950s —black lace-up shoes with thick 2-inch heels.

My grandfather, Alpha Schuck, owned a soda fountain in Globe, Arizona, and she worked as a chocolate dipper in a candy factory. She was sent into my grandfather’s soda fountain on a sales call, and the rest is history. She divorced her husband, my grandfather’s first wife had left him; they came to Los Angeles, got married, and raised 4 children during the Depression. My mother talked a lot with Grandpa about Theresa in the years after she died. She was “out there,” says my mother, far beyond her time as far as feminism was concerned. She rode a motorcycle. She was very creative. She could look at a dress and design a pattern and make it, and for a while she worked as a seamstress in the costume department of Paramount Studio. She was very intelligent.

She suffered a series of strokes that began shortly after she sent her son, my father, off to WW II in 1942. My mother thinks it was high blood pressure caused by worry over my father’s safety that brought on the initial stroke. She recovered well from that stroke (the treatment prescribed by one doctor was soaking in a bathtub full of ice-cold water), but then more strokes came and took their toll, and she became more and more disabled, and by the time she died, she was mostly confined to bed. My cousin remembers spending the night at their house. Grandpa did the cooking, and she sat by grandma’s bed and ate dinner on a tray. Grandma was mad at President Eisenhower, for some reason.

And a last bit of intrigue: My brother did some research on the Internet and learned that many Jews with the name of Heim were in concentration camps during WW II. Were her grandparents Jews who fled Europe to escape anti-Semitism? Well, it is an interesting think about, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Her genes are now spread among 11 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and a handful of great great grandchildren.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Wheelbarrow

It was a dark and stormy night, and by the time the sky had lightened to a dull gray in the morning, our driveway had become a river. Our land is part of the watershed for the Eleven-Point River System, and the lay of the land and way the highway had been constructed conspired to direct a huge flow of water across our property whenever the rain was heavy. And if it was too heavy, the water would overflow the channel that had been constructed for it and take a short cut down the driveway, where it would meet up with the wet weather spring at the bend, which by that time had usually overflowed its banks as well. Then the water would flow out through the thicket and under the highway and on its way through town, and eventually, into the river a couple of miles south of here. Not quite as dramatic as the dripping snow in the mountains turning into the Mississippi, but dramatic enough when it is your driveway that becomes the river. This drainage pattern was altered when the highway was widened about 10 years ago, which was one good thing to come of the construction, so now there is no more flooding down the entire driveway, although the wet weather spring frequently leaps its banks and makes a large pool at the bend.

At any rate, on this particular morning in mid-December, our friend had dropped off his stepdaughter, who was our son’s age and rode the afternoon bus with him to kindergarten. He and his wife and R were going to a car auction to get us a second car. They didn’t think to leave the keys to his car with me. So, there I was with two children in kindergarten and no way to get them up to the highway to ride the bus. Or so I thought. But then the little Technicolor movie in my mind started playing the scene from my childhood where my dad loaded us kids in the wheelbarrow and careened around the yard with us. What fun that was! I got on the rubber knee boots, loaded the kids in the wheelbarrow, and away we went through the flood and up to the highway. They thought it was a great adventure (especially when I almost tipped them into the water), and lots of fun; and it was!

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Long Sojourn of "Travels With Charley"

When John Steinbeck was 58 years old – the age I am right now – he took delivery of a pick-up truck with a custom-designed camper resting on the back, invited his poodle Charlie (a "big poodle", he hurries to point out -- not one of those little ones), to sit in the passenger seat, and the two of them set of on a road trip to see America. I know this because of my Aunt Vera. She is on my mind at the moment: a big birthday party was held on December 2 in Yuba City to celebrate her 80th.

In the summer of 1962, the Yuba City relatives, my Aunts Vera and Theresa and their respective husbands, Bud and Bob, decided to travel together with the kids to Seattle to see the World Fair. And my Aunt Vera was gracious enough to invite me to go with them. Her oldest daughter is just a bit older than I am, and Vera knew we would have a good time. I
was 13 years old. I had never gone away from my family like that (except to church camp for a week), and I got to fly on an airplane for the first time. The trip was wonderful. Among the things I remember: Uncle Bud was a bit annoyed with me because I fell asleep with gum in my mouth and gum ended up on the seat of the car. The campground outside of Seattle where we stayed was in the rain forest and it was mysterious and I blundered into stinging nettles. We took a ferry ride to Vancouver, and the tree-covered islands off the coast were like emerald jewels, porpoise appeared off the side of the ferry, and I got a little seasick.

As I was getting ready to leave to go back to Los Angeles, Aunt Vera pulled Travels With Charley from the shelf and gave it to me to read. And read it I did. And I kept the book for 50 years. Many books came and went, but not that one -- after all, it did belong to my Aunt Vera and it wasn’t mine to give away or sell at the used bookstore. It moved with me to Orange when I got married, and it moved with me to Oregon, and it moved with me when we took our own road trip East to set up housekeeping in Missouri.

In 2002, Aunt Vera and Uncle Bud stopped here during a visit further East. I finally remembered to give the book back to her, I think she was a little surprised to see it again, and it made the return trip to California. But just the other day, I was at the used bookstore and there was a copy of Travels With Charlie, for a quarter. I don’t know where this book has been, but the trip appears to have been a hard one. It has found a home now. Anyway, happy birthday, Aunt Vera.