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Mom's ukes -- still in action!

July 22, 2011

I've been thinking about Mom a lot in the last few days as this first anniversary has passed.  I have both her ukuleles, which I treasure. While I don't have many occasions to play them myself, I lend them out from time to time to help friends get started playing music with others. Last night was a perfect example of how satisfying this can be. One ukulelist friend, Maureen, had just borrowed the two ukes for a few days, to try out and compare with her own. She returned them to me last night, at our last practice with guitarist Simon Nyberg, a talented teacher who has been here for several months from Sweden. Another friend, Pia, came to the practice "just to listen" and enjoy a final evening with Simon. Pia loves music but has no experience with any instrument. Darned if Mom's fluke (a type of uke) didn't find its way directly from Maureen's hand into Pia's, and the next thing we knew Simon was showing Pia a simple harmony line she could pluck, and then she learned a couple of chords, and she was part of the group! Her eyes were shining with delighted surprise, and I knew just how Mom felt when she helped beginners get their feet wet making music. Pia now has the fluke and I'm sure she'll enjoy learning to make music. This was a happy way to remember Mom at this time.

More on Mom's good advice

August 3, 2010

I would have written almost exactly the same story as Cathy's about the good advice that we daughters received from Mom. Another of her key principles for a happy life was always to  make the best of your situation. Since our family moved rather often, this attitude included finding something to like in each new place you lived, no matter how unpromising it might seem at first. She truly believed that home was where your family was, and there was joy and beauty to be found everywhere if you looked for it. 

Mom  never preached; she just knew the right time to deliver her ideas. She influenced by example as well by talking.

Kit and organized religion

August 3, 2010

As Cathy mentioned in her piece on Kit’s feelings about Nature, Kit had a very personal attitude toward religion and, in her adult years, was not a church-goer. Nonetheless, her background, from family to school to Scouting, was permeated with spiritual  values. Her firm conviction was that religion was a private matter, not a suitable topic for social conversation, and that the spiritual beliefs and activities of others must be respected.

Her attitude toward organized religion stemmed from a couple of major influences. First, she was brought up early in the Swedenborgian church. Nowadays, that small sect is an admirable model of tolerance and reason --

But back in the 1920s, the Swedenborgian church Kit’s family attended was a different matter. As a small child in Delaware, Kit spent a lot of time with her maternal grandparents. On Sundays, she was forced to sit through long, terrifying sermons about hellfire and brimstone. Then her grandmother would read her more sermons as bedtime stories. For weeks after each visit, she would be plagued with nightmares of tormented souls swimming around in burning sulfur.

Kit’s parents were probably somewhat relieved when they moved to McCloud CA, far away from the Swedenborgian sermons. In McCloud at that time, there were only two churches, let’s call them A and B, representing two fine mainstream denominations. The Williamsons attended Church A and all seemed well. Then came Kit’s high school graduation. It was traditional for all McCloud’s graduating students to attend short services at both churches together before receiving their diplomas. The order of the services was Church A first, then Church B. As Kit told the story, the Church B folks insisted on this order because their kids needed a special blessing after their exposure to Church A’s service! I rather imagine that the two congregations coexisted happily and this insult was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind, but to Kit, it was an egregious example of petty sectarianism.

Though they did not attend church at home, Kit and Hank always tried to visit Native Hawaiian church services when they were in Hawaii. They both loved the simple sincerity of the services and the beauty of the Hawaiian church music, with its rhythmic energy, heavily influenced by 19th--century missionaries and their old-timey hymns.





Mom's love of nature

August 1, 2010

Mom spent her adolescence in McCloud, California, at the foot of Mt. Shasta, surrounded by magnificent alpine scenery. In the summers she hiked on the mountain and swam and dived in icy rock pools. In the winters she skied. Her mother complained that Mom's nose never stopped peeling because of the year-round outdoor activity. The last hurrah was several months of camping in the forest with her family during her father's transition from the McCloud River Lumber Company to a federal research lab. (Something tells me this was more fun for Granddaddy and Mom than for Grandma!)

This youthful immersion in nature had a profound effect on Mom. She told me once that she wasn't too moved by church services, but that nature awakened her religious sentiments. "I feel closest to God when I'm in a forest full of tall trees, or when I'm on top of a mountain."

Knowing this, I can only marvel at the good grace with which Mom sacrificed her closeness to nature in order to spend as much time as possible with Dad. His love of comfort, his dislike of physical effort, and his utter loathing of cold weather precluded skiing, serious hiking, and camping.

Mom managed to keep in touch with nature to some extent through scouting and through an association with the Houston Museum of Natural History. She got a lot of pleasure, vicarious and direct, from Judith's marriage and family. Judith and Randall shared the hiking, camping, and skiing that Mom had loved as a girl, and they passed these interests on to their sons--a legacy of four generations, considering that Granddaddy was also an outdoor enthusiast. Whenever Mom visited Judith, she had a chance to revive her old love of nature in the exquisite landscape of British Columbia.

Game master

August 1, 2010

Dad loved puzzles and games, and he was quite competitive. Mom, on the other hand, had no particular interest in games and only played them to be sociable.

When Judith and I were children, the whole family enjoyed playing hearts. Dad was aggressive and flamboyant and tried to shoot the moon whenever the opportunity presented itself. This was a risky tactic. More often than not, it was Mom who managed to take one trick with a heart in it and thus thwart him. More surprising, over the course of many games, where the normal goal was to avoid the Queen of Spades and to take as few hearts as possible, it was Mom who consistently had the lowest scores. In her quiet way, she played a brilliant defensive game and got the best of all of us.

Later, in retirement, Dad developed an interest in backgammon. He bought books to study the strategy; one, I remember, was called Backgammon for Blood. Despite his passion and study, Mom casually beat him most of the time. Eric Clayfield, at that point a close family friend and frequent visitor, confirmed Mom's mystifying dominance at backgammon. Later, when they were partners in Laguna Woods, he told me that he wouldn't play backgammon with her. There was no point: she always won.

Mom and her granddaughters-in-law

August 1, 2010

Mom had a lively interest in people from other cultures, an interest she indulged by sponsoring and entertaining exchange students from Europe, Asia, and especially Latin America. She was thrilled when her three grandsons fell in love with, and eventually married, immigrant women. She loved to reflect on the fact that each of her granddaughters-in-law was of a different race and from a different continent. Phil's wife, Marilyn, is an Afro-Caribbean from the island of Dominica; David's wife, Tanja, emigrated to Canada from Bosnia; and Michael's wife, Vivien, emigrated with her parents to Canada from Hong Kong. Mom often said with pride that her family had become a miniature U.N.

Mom liked to compare the openness of the younger generation with the insularity of her ancestors. When she announced her engagement to her great aunts, they wanted to know about the distinguished lineage of her fiancee. He had none, of course, being descended from Norwegian immigrants of the shopkeeping class. The great aunts looked non-plussed, and then one of them said brightly, "Oh, well, maybe he's descended from the Vikings."

Mom and her father

August 1, 2010

Mom shared some important interests with her father. He was a strong hiker and maybe even had some technical mountaineering skills. He climbed Mont Blanc in the French Alps at the age of 20. During his years in McCloud, California, he took Mom along on some attempts to summit Mt. Shasta. On one occasion she was forced to turn back to escort a weaker friend down the mountain. On another occasion she and Granddaddy were running late and were still high on the mountain at dusk. Granddaddy deemed it too dangerous to attempt to hike through the forest after dark, so they bivouacked on the mountain. They were awakened the next morning by a rescue team sent by the one member of the family who had remained at home (our grandmother). Poor Grandma Williamson had been dreadfully worried when her husband and daughter had failed to return from their hike.

Another interest shared by father and daughter was photography. Granddaddy owned fine cameras and had a darkroom in the house so that he could develop his own negatives. Mom learned her photography skills from her father, including the tricks of the darkroom. Thanks to his instruction she held a job for a time in a camera shop. (So far as I know, this was the only time she ever held a paying job.)

As a photographer, Mom was especially good at portraits; she took wonderful closeups of people's faces. She also had a knack for photographing cats. When she moved to Laguna Woods as a widow, we urged her to get involved with the Photography Club. She did, indeed, take one field trip with the club to the desert Southwest. But she was reluctant to interrupt her other activities at Laguna Woods and never signed up for another trip. In the end, she was undone by technological revolution. When digital cameras suddenly and completely displaced film cameras, she had reached an age when it was difficult to learn new techniques. She never could quite master all the settings of a digital camera and reluctantly gave up photography.

Mom's good advice

August 1, 2010

Several pieces of advice that Mom gave me in childhood or adolescence have stuck with me through the years. They are so simple and sensible that they seem almost banal, and yet they are not widely observed today.

"Don't go alone to a boy's room if you want to keep your good reputation." (O.K., "reputation" was a code word for something else.)

"Don't tell your friends how much money your father makes." (As if I even knew!)

"Don't discuss religion or politics with your friends or relations, unless you know in advance that they agree with you."

These three pieces of advice open a window on an ideal, genteel world in which people tried to behave well towards one another, showing courtesy and consideration. That was the world Mom grew up in and carried within her. I hope we can keep that spirit alive against all the forces in today's society that seem to be pulling in the opposite direction!

Mom's handicrafts

August 1, 2010

Mom inherited artistic talent from both her father and her mother, and she liked to keep busy. Over the years, she dabbled in every imaginable handicraft. Here are just a few of her craft endeavors that gave me special pleasure.

Mom helped our maternal grandmother keep Dad supplied with hand-knit socks. Around the time her grandchildren were born, she began to knit garments for other family members. I have a collection of sweaters she knit for me--yes, they're still in good shape, and they still attract compliments whenever I wear them.

For her grandsons Mom made two memory quilts, with scenes showing the boys, their homes, favorite toys, and other subjects personal to them. When I showed Phil's quilt to a friend, she was utterly impressed and urged me to enter it in a quilt contest. I never did that, in fact, but it was Mom's interest in quilting that opening my mind and eyes to the field as an artistic medium: Mom took me to an international quilt exhibit in Houston and I was blown away by the creativity and beauty of the non-traditional designs, especially those of Japanese quilters.

Mom took an upholstery class so that she could reupholster her own furniture. The results looked totally professional and she must have saved thousands of dollars. Once, visiting Barry and me, she offered to reupholster a set of antique dining room chairs we'd just acquired. She went to an upholstery shop to buy the fabric and came back rather flustered and excited. The shop owner had complained about a shortage of qualified upholsterers and had tried to hire her on the spot!

Barry and I learned about china painting from Glen and Alice Robertson, the parents of one of his conducting students. They invited us over for dinner and served the meal on china hand painted by Alice's mother. The set was so beautiful that I told Mom about it and suggested that she should try her hand at china painting. Over the next few years she gave me many gifts of hand painted china, mostly small boxes of varying shapes for holding odds and ends, but also a couple of serving plates. These objects are part of my daily life and, like the sweaters and dining room chairs, they remind me constantly of Mom, her special talents, and her generosity.

Mothers and Daughters

July 29, 2010

We are not a blended family, but in fact Kit’s dad, Robert Vernon Williamson, was married three times. Here are brief stories of Grandaddy’s three wives -- all, in varied existential ways, mothers to Kit.

Kit’s own mother, Catharine Fletcher Williamson, descended from an old Maryland Eastern Shore family, which owned and operated the plantation “Perry Hall” in Talbot county. Despite her blue blood and her father’s belief that women should not attend college, Grandmother Williamson graduated from university and worked for a time as a chemist before her marriage to Grandaddy in 1920. Cathy and I never knew her, because she died unexpectedly in 1946 at the age of 50, after a hysterectomy. In those days, surgical patients were kept strictly in bed, and she developed fatal pneumonia as a result. Kit, busy with baby Cathy at the time, didn’t even know her mother was to have surgery, and she was severely shocked and grief-stricken by this loss. Even late in life, Kit would choke up when she spoke of her mother’s sudden death.

Though our Williamson grandparents were prosperous and happily married, all the photos we have of Grandmother Williamson portray her with a serious, even dour,  expression. Kit resembled her mother in many ways and they shared many interests, but clearly she did not inherit her beautiful smile from Grandmother Williamson.

Grandaddy did not thrive on his own and was married again in 1948 to Helen Banta, a long-time friend of the family. “Dobbie”, as we called her, was therefore the grandmother Cathy and I knew and loved on our mother’s side. The only times I remember her being stern with us were when she had to shoo us away from Grandaddy’s huge collection of WWI gas masks, ordnance, and other military souvenirs. Needless to say, these items were irresistible, though frightening, for us little girls.

Dobbie was gracious, attractive, and always elegant in dress and bearing. Kit was very fond of her. The only difference of opinion that I ever heard of between them occurred when Kit brought Cathy and me as very young children, to visit her father and stepmother in Peoria, in 1950 or so. The train ride from California involved several nights in a small compartment with two feisty little preschoolers.. When Kit gratefully dragged us off the train in Peoria, the first thing Dobbie said to her was “Kitty, where on earth are your hat and gloves? Surely you didn’t travel dressed like that?”

In the early 1930s, when Kit was 11 or 12 years old, she and her parents visited Grandaddy’s family in Benton County, Oregon. While they were there, mother and daughter had an appointment at the beauty salon. When Grandmother Williamson announced her name as “Mrs. Robert Williamson” to the hairdresser, she was approached by an older customer, a complete stranger. “Are you Mrs. Robert Vernon Williamson, by any chance?” When told the affirmative, the older woman’s eyes filled with tears. “I’ve wanted to meet you ever since I heard that Robert had married again. He was my son-in-law, and I’ve always wondered how things turned out for him.”

Grandma Williamson was flabbergasted. Grandaddy had never told her of his first marriage. She now discovered that, in February 1910, while living in Portland, he had married a young woman named Juanita Davis. Six months later, in the summer of 1910, he lost her to appendicitis. She was 21 years old. He had waited ten years to marry again.

At the time of that chance meeting in the early 1930s, Juanita had been dead for over twenty years. But Mrs. Davis continued to remember and mourn for her. In 1956, Grandaddy died and Kit had to go through his belongings quickly as she helped Dobbie clean out  their big Peoria house. In the middle of all the kerfuffle, a letter arrived from Mrs. Davis – “Dear Catharine, I am sorry to hear you have lost your father. If you come across any photos of my daughter Juanita as you go through his things, could you please send them to me?” Kit didn’t know how to respond. She remembered the meeting with Mrs. Davis, but she had been only a child at the time and had no idea how to recognize Juanita in a photo. Anyway there were hundreds of photos and no time to go through them all. So she just packed up the albums in boxes and took them home.

Forty years later, in the late 1990s, Kit finally found an occasion to look through the photos of her father’s early adult years. He had been quite the ladies’ man; the images showed him surrounded by friends, and a lot of them were female. Nonetheless, Kit noticed that one pretty, dark-haired young woman appeared more often than the others, and then there were some  photos of just that girl and Grandaddy at his house, looking pleased with themselves. Kit realized she was looking at pictures of Juanita. Stylishly dressed in the long hobble-skirt and wide hat of the period, her dark eyes and direct gaze revealed a charming mixture of mischief and gravity. This was the girl her father had loved so, whose mother had still mourned and longed for any remembrance of her, 46 years after her death. If only Kit had looked at the pictures forty years earlier – but it was far too late now for her discovery to comfort Mrs. Davis.

Juanita Davis Williamson died 100 years ago this summer. And, imponderably, we – Kit, Cathy and I, and our descendants -- owe our existence to her tragic death, because we would not be here if she had lived.

For me, Dobbie, the grandmother I knew, is a warm, contented summer day. Grandmother Williamson, the grandmother I never knew, is a dream, always a bit out of focus. And Juanita is déjà vu, someone else’s stabbingly intense memory, mysteriously now my own via Kit’s experience. May Juanita too be remembered.


Viva Mexico!

July 29, 2010

We traveled extensively in Mexico while our family lived in Houston, TX, and Mom continued to visit Mexico and various Central American countries, with Dad or with friends, for many years. Her interests there included cultural appreciation, natural history (especially snorkeling), and archaeology. She studied Spanish eagerly and though she never really became conversant, people appreciated her efforts.

Our family visits in the 1950s and 1960s introduced us to Mexico before the days of overgrown tourist developments and drug-related violence. We kids were often free to explore on our own while the adults enjoyed a drink at the hotel bar. Only once did that pattern get reversed, when Cathy and I became lost in Saltillo and Mom and Dad were the ones roaming the streets, searching for us. They eventually found us, of course, sipping Cokes in the bar at the Hotel Arizpe.

We often stayed at a rustic dude ranch, Rancho El Morillo, in the high Sierra Madre desert near Saltillo. The air was so clear it seemed you could reach out and touch the mountains. Afternoon thunderstorms provided a tingly frisson if you touched plumbing fixtures or other metal objects, and once we narrowly escaped a flash flood when a storm blew up as we explored the nearby ravines. The desert was filled with wildflowers and fascinating ruins of old abode structures. At El Morillo’s stables, Cathy and I would insist on the most “spirited” steeds (funny how those spirited stallions were quite swaybacked and trotted home a lot faster than they ambled out). We rode around at will and thrilled at the sense of independent adventure, though I suspect Mom and Dad kept closer track of us than we were aware of. We always knew where to find them when we got back – in the bar, often deep in conversation with an old gentleman named Don Blas.

Don Blas was a sharpminded living link to old Mexico. Once, we were there at American election time, and Mom and Dad commented on what a miracle of modern technology it was that they could get the election results the very next morning. “That’s nothing,” said Don Blas. “Here in Mexico we know the election results six months before the votes are even cast!”

One day I complimented Don Blas on the big white cowboy hat he wore. Immediately he handed it to me, saying “Es tuyo!” [It’s yours!] I was horribly embarrassed; I didn’t want the hat, and it was far too big for me in any case, but it seemed I had to take it. Mom explained to me later that, if you praised something owned by another, it was customary for them to give it to you. Yipes! After that I was careful about what I said, but later I experienced the other side of the coin. As part of a language-school session, we were staying with a host family in Saltillo, and Lupe, the girl my age, complimented me on my favourite blouse with its splashy blue, green, and purple flowers. Mom was not there to coach me, but I knew what to do, so I smiled bravely and said “Es tuyo!” I mourned that blouse for months  -- the acquisition of Don Blas’ hat hardly made up for its loss --  and hoped that Lupe loved it as much as I did!

We had some wonderful adventures in southern Mexico as well. We were in San Cristóbal de las Casas the first day that television came to town. A TV set was placed in one of the main squares, the churchbells rang, and folks crowded together for their first taste of the vast media wasteland – bourgeois townspeople mixed with the Mayan folks dressed in their gorgeous handwoven belts and huipiles. Later that day we were honoured to visit an anthropologist, whose name I have forgotten, who had lived in the area for many years and was considered the city’s grande dame. She expressed her concerns about the changes that modern media would bring to the region. How sad it was to hear, a few years later, that Chiapas had become engulfed in violent ethnic conflict.

After a visit to the Mayan ruins at Palenque, we decided to spend Christmas on the coast at Villahermosa (which was recently in the news as the scene of a dreadful flood). We did not appreciate this charming little Tabascan seaside town. In fact, our visit there was one of the few occasions I ever heard Mom complain! Part of the disappointment, from my teenaged point of view, was the hot sticky weather, and the pathetic ersatz Christmas trees -- bare branches decorated with ribbons and baubles, which the kids carried around as they sang Mexican Christmas songs. But Mom’s complaints stemmed from the larger failings of “Villanous Hermosa”. First, Mom and Dad’s room was adjacent to the hotel’s heating plant, and thus was more like a sauna than a breezy tropical love nest. Second, the restaurant had an incorrigible habit of placing a basket of Bimbo Bread (Mexican Wonder Bread) on the table for Gringo customers. Mom repeatedly trotted out her very best Spanish to ask for tortillas, which could be clearly seen on the nearby tables occupied by locals. But to no avail. Our hopes rose once when the waiter finally smiled and nodded, and carried our basket back to the kitchen. But when he returned, he brought a bigger basket – filled with even more Bimbo Bread. Before returning to their sauna-room, Mom and Dad really did have to stop at the bar for spiritual fortification. 

And we knew Manzanillo long before it became a tourist destination. At that time, it was a picturesque fishing village, and the tourist accommodations were open-air cottages of the most minimal sort. When we were not jumping around in the treacherous surf, Cathy and I would dar la vuelta (wander around -- the universal teenage pastime). Cathy, older and so pretty, was considerably better than I at catching the attention of handsome Mexican boys. On one occasion I had returned to the cottage alone, feeling left out as only a 12-year-old girl can, and plunked myself down near the screen door to await, with wide-open ears, Cathy’s return from her “date”. As Cathy and her guapo muchacho were saying goodbye at the door, they were interrupted by a loud and profane discussion between Mom and Dad about a certain critical failure of the bathroom plumbing. Never has a sisterly vigil been so richly rewarded!

Mom's collections

July 28, 2010

Mom had a penchant for collecting. When we were children, she proudly showed us several small collections she had formed in her own childhood, or had inherited: a set of obsidian arrowheads and spearheads she'd found in the Mt. Shasta area and had framed; a mineral collection with a ceramic slab for scratch testing; and a coin collection whose star pieces were several Confederate coins and bills plus a few very worn French coins of the seventeenth or eighteenth century that her father had found in his garden in Peoria, Illinois.

Mom encouraged Judith and me to form collections as well. When we lived in southern Illinois, we made family outings in search of fossils and Indian artifacts. And when Mom got involved in rescue archaeology through her courses at Washington University, she took us along to the excavations and we were officially allowed to keep anything we found on the surface. (That was theory; the fact was that interesting finds--notably a bone arrowhead of the Cahokia type--were confiscated.) Mom also got us started collecting butterflies--but the cruelty of killing these beautiful insects, and the difficulty of storing and displaying the fragile corpses, kept this from becoming a major interest.

After we moved to Houston, Texas, the emphasis shifted to shell collecting. Whatever we brought home from the beaches at Galveston and Freeport was looked up in a book on North American shells and classified. This interest was serious enough that one of our family vacations was to Sanibel Island, Florida, where we (once again) collected live animals and euthanized them for their shells. Years later we continued this activity in Manzanillo, Mexico. Today, attitudes toward our fellow creatures have changed and it's hard to imagine that we wantonly killed them to form collections of their remains. But those were different times. We couldn't imagine that within just a few decades sea molluscs would  become rare and endangered.

Mom's greatest collection was formed around the theme of family history. She had drawers full of old letters, newspaper clippings, literary output by family members, genealogical tables, a few historic deeds, old photo albums, paintings of and by family members, antique silverware, antique china (mostly mass-produced export ware from China), and many pieces of antique furniture, both large and small. She was very proud of her family heritage and extremely attached to all of these relics. Often she would lament that she wanted to organize and study the documents, but she couldn't find the time or she didn't know where to start. Once Judith and I spent a day with her trying to catalogue the materials, hoping that once we got the process started she'd feel able to continue it on her own. Unfortunately, our starting point--letters written by Christopher Christian Cox--proved quite boring and that discouraged us from carrying the enterprise any further.

In the last several decades of her life, Mom's enthusiasm for Polynesian culture and for music led to the formation of new collections. These included videotapes of lessons from several kumu hula (master hula teachers), cassettes and CDs of Hawaiian music, and a huge library of sheet music, part for her Hawaiian performing groups, part for ukuleles clubs, and part for her own use in informal small groups.

When Mom decided to move to assisted living early this year, she still had some of her oldest collections stored in her garage. The Indian artifacts from Northern California had disappeared somewhere along the way, and the coin collection had been transformed into an accumulation of left over change from her many foreign travels. But she still had the minerals, a stamp collection, and a selection of favorite shells.

Kit and the uke

July 27, 2010

Mom loved everything Hawaiian, but the ukulele was probably her favourite part of Hawaiian culture. My Dad played guitar and ukulele as a young man, but he didn't play much for quite a few years and later turned to the piano when the Muse called him to sing or compose. It wasn't until the 1980s that Mom picked up Dad's old Martin uke, taught herself a few chords, and joined a uke club in Houston. After her move to CA,  the ukulele club in Laguna Woods Village became especially dear to her. She was the club's librarian for several years, a huge task that involved copying and collating over two hundred songs, with words and chords, for every member of the club. I was librarian of a community orchestra at the same time, and we used to compare notes about the complexities and frustrations of the job. 

Mom  was an active learner and enjoyed improving her ukulele skills at various festivals and workshops. Uncle Roy Durand was a particularly fine musical mentor for her. In her turn, she taught quite a few beginners, including me. We had a lot of fun playing together at home  and with the club.

Kit and scouting

July 26, 2010

I'm not sure whether the sailor suit above was a Girl Scout uniform or just the fashion of the time. But certainly Scouting was important to Mom and to me. Mom was a Brownie and Scout leader just about every year of my childhood, and that was a tough job. She was no disciplinarian and she must have been driven crazy a lot of the time. As young teens, our troop  spiced up every campout with at least one horrible practical joke, ranging from shortsheeting the leaders' beds to placing Saran Wrap cunningly across the toilets, under the seats. But the rewards of Scouting were pure gold -- fellowship, singing, camping, developing skills and knowledge while earning badges. Scouting was and is a great international movement, and though Mom never preached about its ideals, she truly embodied the Girl Scout Law --

I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

Pearl Harbor bride

July 26, 2010

Kit and Hank were married on 27 December, 1941, just 3 weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor turned America upside-down. The wedding was a modest affair, and their honeymoon was also frugal, at a rustic ski resort up in the Sierras. It was on this occasion that Kit discovered Hank wasn't all that fond of cold weather and snow, having grown up in Wisconsin and Minnesota. But she took this shocking information in stride and didn't force the issue. Kit was a master at making the best of every situation and found plenty of occasions to enjoy outdoor life in other ways.

Hank  was not drafted. As a chemist, he was instead seconded to Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, where he worked on poison gases (yes, the US has always indulged in preparations for chemical warfare). His work consisted of testing the gases on unfortunate herds of goats, and when the gases escaped Dugway, as they often did, they had similar lethal effects on  herds of cattle and sheep on the neighbouring ranches. Hank  hated this work, the more so because the military brass insisted that the lab had to be completely shut down, spic and span, for every inspection -- and there was an inspection nearly every day. It was hard to get much done under those circumstances, for which we should probably be glad.

At the first opportunity, Hank returned to his job with Shell Oil Company.

In 1942, the American government  turned on its citizens and residents of Japanese background, confiscating their property and sending them to internment camps far from the coast. Mom disagreed with this policy instantly, but of course was helpless to do much about it. She told a story of a Japanese-American artist friend who lived and worked nearby. The only way she could think of to help him was to purchase some of his work  before it was confiscated. So she bought what she could, and then watched in sorrowful shame as his studio was emptied by the authorities and he was sent away to an internment camp.

Growing up in those post-war years, I remember the grownups often talked about "the war". I was a bit confused about this because I thought a battlefield was just another kind of baseball field. But then, one day, Mom told me something that made the war experience real: "For a long time, we were afraid the Germans would win the war." She didn't use the word "afraid"  very often -- that got my attention!

Polynesian cruises

July 26, 2010

Mom and Eric loved cruises. I believe this photo was taken on a cruise that included Tahiti among other South Pacific destinations. With her and Eric wrapped in a beautiful textile, this became one of her favourite photos.  Eric loved the photo and the memory as well, but perhaps for different reasons!

Only child

July 26, 2010

Mom was the daughter of two chemists, and married a chemist (Hank). Her dad worked on agricultural disinfectants before WWI, and hoped that this research area would keep him out of the draft, since it could be applied to wounded soldiers as well. But no, he was drafted and sent to France, where his hardship post was to live with a French farm family behind the lines. There, he tested gas masks and other protective gear throughout the war, and flirted with the daughters at his billet in his off hours. Grandaddy later developed some of the first plastics, from wood byproducts, in McCloud. Biomass plastics are coming back into fashion, 70 years later!

Mom's mother worked for the Hercules Powder Company -- -- now a part of Alliant. We have a photo of her at her bench, working on some explosive no doubt, without goggles and with an open bunsen burner at her fingertips. After Mom was born in 1921, her mother became a homemaker. But they had only one child -- maybe she dreamed of returning to paid employment some day. I'm just glad she didn't blow herself up!

Mom was lonely as an only child and as a consequence, she made sure to produce two kids herself. She often told us daughters how very disappointed she was to discover that we sisters, rather than playing sweetly with each other as she'd expected, instead quarreled at every opportunity. Well, darn it, you have to defend yourself when your older sister washes the dishes faster than you can dry them, or always gets to be the Arabian when you're playing horses, or holds you harmlessly at arms' length when you are trying to hit her. Mom just never grasped this self-evident truth.

Kit and cats

July 26, 2010

It wasn't for nothing that Mom's childhood nickname was Kitty. She started young as a cat lover, and passed the bug on to our entire family. We daughters required no persuasion, of course, but Dad was a tougher nut to crack. When they got their first kitten, he insisted that it should be shut in the kitchen at night, like any well-disciplined dog. But the pathetic mewing that  echoed faintly through the house softened him up pretty fast. The kitty was sleeping with them before Mom could say "I told you so".

Mom really did dote on our cats. Back in the 1950s, there wasn't much selection in the way of prepared cat foods, and Mom somehow got the idea that she needed to make her own. So she would buy packages of -- yuck -- frozen horse meat and boil them up for the cats. I can still smell that pungent odour! The kitties loved this high-quality fare, of course, and soon would refuse anything but horsemeat or shrimp. Mom was smart enough to save the shrimp for special cat-occasions, such as  when she had to be midwife to a litter of kittens and would feed the  mother cat bits of shrimp as she laboured. However, the cats didn't quite understand the difference between cat-occasions and human dinner parties, so Mom really had to batten down the hatches when she cooked shrimp for company!



The Schofield/Cox Letters

July 26, 2010

 I only knew Kit during the last few years of her life and then I guess somewhat superficially.... a few phone calls, several emails, and one very nice visit with her and Judith in Vancouver last summer. I am writing a book based upon approximately 12,000 letters written by the family of Admiral Frank Schofield of Penn Yan, NY, his wife Claribel Cox Schofield of Perry Hall outside Easton MD, and her family.  I ran across Kit’s name in the Cox family file at the Historical Society of Talbot County (MD) and found that she was related to Claribel, knew her well,  and knew a lot about Perry Hall. I tracked Kit down and contacted her. She had a keen appreciation of family history, was excited about my project and shared with me what she had relating to the Cox family and Perry Hall. She was tremendously helpful and I’m sad that she didn’t live to see the finished product of my work and her contributions.  Having read hundreds of letters written by Claribel Schofield, her mother, and her sisters,  it was clear to me that Kit  fit the mold of the women of Perry Hall .... intelligent, gracious,accomplished,  and talented. She was my living connection to what I was reading about in her family’s letters, many of which were written over a hundred years ago and I consider myself lucky to have connected with her. 

Mother and daughter ski trip

July 24, 2010

Here we are at Hollyburn Mountain, sometime in the early 2000s, near my home in Vancouver. After many years deprived of skiing, Mom gamely came out with me and we skimmed around some of the gentler slopes. We were under strict  orders from Eric (Mom's partner) not to ship her home  wearing a cast, so we did not indulge in ski-jumping this time. She would have had to teach me to jump in any case, so it's just as well...

Intrepid skier

July 24, 2010

During Kit's teen years in McCloud (near Mt. Shasta), there was so much snow that people put their cars away for the winter and the kids spent their weekends skiing. They laborously packed down the snow with their skis and built their own ski-jumps. They tarred and waxed their skis, each with a personal recipe for the mess. No sissy chairlifts, grooming machines, or automatic binding releases for them, nor was jumping only for the guys! We lived in semitropical Houston TX for many years,  but Mom's ski stories made me long for a place with real winters and winter sports. I headed north at the first opportunity.

Skiing wasn't the only hazardous activity Kit enjoyed while in McCloud. The kids there used to swim in the icy McCloud River, and Mom told us how they would dive off the rocks into the maelstrom at the bottom of Lower Falls. When we were in McCloud in the 1986, the diving spot at the Falls was still in use by the local young people, complete with a handy but very very  long ladder.  I could hardly let my sons see that I was too chicken to do the same dive that their Grandma had done so many times. So I did it -- I have no idea how high it was. It took forever before I hit the water and was instantly sprung to the surface by the foam. The cold was shocking, but the young guys behind me on the cliff waited patiently as I splashed frantically out of the way. Once was enough to satisfy my pride and impress my sons, thank goodness!



Dancing through life

July 24, 2010

Kit loved to dance, perhaps rather more than Hank. But back in those better days, Real Men knew how to waltz and foxtrot, even if it wasn't their favourite activity.  When Kit couldn't get Hank out for the evening, this was no cause for sulking. She just put on her grass skirt and went swaying off with the girls.

50th anniversary

July 24, 2010

We got the whole clan together in Houston for Kit and Hank's 50th wedding anniversary on 27 December, 1991. L to R: Kit, Judith, Cathy, Michael (age 10), Barry, Philip (age 12), Hank, David (age 13), Randall. Michael and David are Judith and Randall's kids; Philip is Cathy and Barry's son.

Kit...the welcome committee....

July 24, 2010

When my parents, George and Beatrice (Bea), moved to Laguna Woods in 2007, I said to myself..."Out of all my friends, who would be the best one to introduce my folks to?"  There was no doubt who that someone would be...immediately, I introduced them to my friend, Kit.  She welcomed them into her life, included them in the ukulele classes at her home and began sharing her life with them.  Unfortunately, my father died in 2008 and did not have the chance to enjoy Kit's friendship but my Mom, Bea has.  They became very good friends.  After the loss of their loved ones, the two girls became even closer.  They enjoyed the many groups, social activites and all the musical shows Laguna Woods has to offer.  Kit even encouraged Bea to join the Harmonaires, a Laguna Woods choral group.  Bea and Kit were quite the "singers".  Bea being a soprano and Kit being an alto.  What a wonderful friendship they shared !  Bea has expressed the sadness she feels that Kit is no longer with us.  And tells me of the void she now has in her heart.  Kit will always be remembered whenever Bea sings with the Harmonaires and when she plays her ukulele.  She will be missed.

Maybe not authentic, but lots of fun!

July 24, 2010

Well, this is what the Hawaiian craze looked like in the 1950s. These mid-western ladies had a blast in their plastic grass skirts and immodest tops that would have shocked the missionaries! Kit never really lost the Hawaiian bug, and when she renewed her interest seriously in the 1990s, she joined real halaus (schools dedicated to serious study of Hawaiian arts and culture) in both Houston and Laguna Woods. She loved  hula, ukulele playing, and all types of Hawaiian music.

Perry Hall

July 24, 2010

Mom's grandmother was born just after the Civil War at the historic plantation "Perry Hall" in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Mom spent a lot of time there as a child and the Perry Hall stories and personalities live on vividly in our family. Mom's living room was always dominated by the 8-foot-long aerial view of Perry Hall painted by her parents -- to say nothing of  the enormous old Steinway grand piano that Hank inherited from his sister. Downsizing was never an option for them!

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