Looking at her young face staring back at me from the vintage, monochrome photograph it suddenly struck me how young she had been when her world fell apart. Her story was family folklore, passed down as one of those subjects discussed in hushed tones and only around certain family members.
Here she was, though, appearing to me younger than I had ever imagined her when I had heard the stories as a child, a teen and even as an adult. I saw in her eyes a bit of fear, maybe trepidation, but also a lot of grit mixed with the slightest hint of humor.
When she’d met the man she would one day married she was head over heels in love. He was handsome and charming, and loud and boisterous. Some, though, especially her family, called him trouble.
She wrote love letters to him and told him she couldn’t wait until they could be alone again, married and on their own.
The details are hazy, the story one fractured by memories not as strong as they once were, possible family biases, maybe a bit of resentment and a whole lot of “he said, she said.” What is known is they married, he did something that hurt her deeply, her family chased him off with a shotgun and she came home with a 2-month old baby and soon to be divorced, something not often heard of at that time.
The baby was born with the last name of Hakes, but a line was struck through that name and it was eliminated, one might say. When the divorce was final the baby’s last name became Robinson, his mother’s maiden name, and stayed that way, even when she became an Allen through a new marriage, years later. Family lore, accurate or not, says her family wouldn’t allow the little boy to have his father’s last name. So, the baby, my grandfather, was Hakes by blood but not by name.
Raising a son alone, so young, with a broken heart and maybe added shame, must have been close to impossible, even with the help of her family. I often wonder how those events shaped her inner being, how it maybe led her to throw up walls that it took years to let down, if she ever did.
It seems when we get older we are told new stories about family members, or more of the story or maybe we just listen better and find out what we had always thought was the full story really wasn’t.
More pieces to the puzzle of the story of my great aunt, taken away from her family to live in a mental hospital and then a nursing home were recently given to me, correcting my belief that she was placed in the home at a young age. Instead, she was apparently closer to 30 when her parents had her committed and one reason was the fear she would harm my dad, who was about three or four at the time.
And she wasn’t really abandoned there, as I had previously thought. Instead, she withdrew into herself after years of odd behavior and her parents felt she was safer in the hospital. They also had limited income and only one vehicle to visit her with or bring her home.
So while I heard new information about my great aunt’s story recently, the story that remains a mystery for most of our family is what really led to my great-grandmother Blanche leaving Howard Hakes. It’s not really a topic you bring up when meeting distant relations only at family funerals every few years.
“Hey, so whatever happened with that whole divorce thing with Blanch and Howard anyhow?” you can’t simply ask. Or, “Was that Howard a real jerk or what’s the real story?”
It wouldn’t exactly be polite dinner (or funeral) conversation.
There are the family “rumors”, of course. He liked his parties, women, and alcohol, was the one rumor. Blanche, had finally had enough, some say, and she left Waverly, NY, considered the “big city” back then in the early 1900s and returned to her family’s farm with her young son, Walter, who happens to be my grandfather.
It’s always a bit awkward to write about family drama when some of those family members who might know more are still alive so I will admit that I know very little about what led to the end of the marriage. Not too mention, because it was so long ago and I never met Blanche and was only about 2 when my grandfather died, I don’t have a “dog in this fight” so to speak. I don’t see either party as an enemy or at fault, simply because I wasn’t there, therefore I truly have no idea.
What I do have is a wonder about how Blanche felt about it all, and even how Howard felt. And when you get right down to it, what did Walter feel about it?I wish he was around for me to ask.
Whatever led to the failed marriage, it came and my grandfather was raised without knowing his father. It wasn’t until Blanche died, well after my grandfather was an adult with two adult daughters and one young son, that Howard showed back up. My dad remembers he was about 13, returning from a Boy Scout camp out, when a man approached him in town and told him, “I’m your grandfather.”
Later that day, sitting with my grandfather on the porch of my dad’s house, now remarried and a father of other children, Howard tried to make peace with his firstborn, asking him, “Well, your first born is always your favorite, aren’t they?”
“I don’t play favorites,” my dad remembers my grandfather saying in a deep, stern voice.
My dad was the baby of the family, his sister Eleanor was the oldest and sister Doris the middle. And no, Walter wasn’t going to play favorites.
Maybe Grandpa was telling Howard he wasn’t about to accept an attempt to suggest one child should be loved over another as any type of apology for being an absent father.
Even if my grandfather couldn’t accept the failed attempt of an apology that day, some sort of peace was made. Visits were had, half-sisters were met and Howard’s funeral was even attended many years later.
Two, faded and short, letters are tucked away in a jewelry box in my parent’s room and my parents aren’t even sure where they came from. It’s clear they were written by Blanche to Howard and start with “My Love.”
“They are heartbreaking,” my mom told me one day. “She really loved him.”
And she did. Telling Howard she hoped his new job was going well and that she couldn’t wait “until you are here in my bedroom with me again.”
Gasp! In her bedroom?
Scandalous stuff for 1900.
Maybe so scandalous some in my family might not think I should air the family’s “dirty laundry.”
But, if we are honest, every family has their own dirty laundry and some of that dirty laundry isn’t really dirty, but just heartbreak caused by broken people.
Time with Grandpa | Athens, PA Photographer
The weekends are often reserved for time with my parents and sometimes my dad takes the kids out to help him with chores.
This weekend he wanted to dig up gladiolus bulbs from this summer so he can use them again to plant in his garden next year. My youngest was determined to use the clippers to cut the bulbs off, which was making me nervous. Before long, though, she was completely distracted by the worms being dug up in the dirt. Like she often does she felt she needed to take care of the worms so she began collecting them in her gloved hands, then just in her hands. She followed me around asking me to hold them and keep them warm.
At one point Grandpa found what we call a nightcrawler around here – a huge worm that almost looks like a baby snake. She wanted to take him home too, but her big brother put the worm under the leaves instead so he could find a new home. We didn’t make it out without a bucket full of worms sitting on the front seat of the car and now in our house. She’s been told the worms need to go out in our now defunct garden, but she says we can’t put them outside because she needs to take care of them.
Honestly, none of this surprises me since her brother once made us bring a slug home to keep as a pet. What a sad day it was when daddy tried to clean out the slug’s home and instead lost him somewhere on the floor in the process.
Little Miss didn’t find it funny at all when her brother pretended he was going to eat the nightcrawler. In the end he didn’t, of course, but she was quite offended and told him “You’re rude! Don’t eat my worms!”
The ironic thing about all this is how we previously told her she couldn’t bring her worms inside, yet somehow she ended up convincing us to bring worms inside.
Pulling it into the light
I have a photo of my daughter looking at an old, black and white photo of a couple and the woman in the photo is her namesake. The woman is my great grandmother and I’ve heard some funny stories about her over the years but I wish I knew more.
One story came from my mom who said great-grandma had once reached into a cabinet while mom was visiting her and pulled out a small bottle, took a swig, looked over her shoulder and told my mom “It’s for the heart, don’t you know…”
And then she giggled.
I guess there was always something about the photos of my great grandmother that caused me to imagine she had been a fun person, but also one full of strength and wisdom.
I know she most likely also had some big hurts hidden in that heart, especially the pain of a mentally ill daughter who was sent away from the family because back then no one knew how to treat schizophrenia. My grandmother probably felt that pain as well but I never heard her say. It was only her and her sister and then one day her sister was gone and in a hospital hundreds of miles away.
Onieta, my great aunt, sent letters, begging to be allowed to come home with her family. Her life was cut abruptly short in so many ways, not in a physical death but certainly an emotional one as the promise of a future as an artist, a wife, a mom were taken from her by a medical world that didn’t know how to help her and in many cases didn’t want to because of the stigma mental illness stamped on a person.
I didn’t know about her until I was almost nine or 10 when I traveled with my parents and grandmother to see her in a nursing home about an hour from us. I wasn’t allowed to see her, actually. I sat in the car with my mom who explained it all to me as my dad and grandmother went inside. Dad told me later she didn’t really know them but she hugged her sister.
I imagined the rest for myself-that sister bond that could not be broken, even by mental illness no one knew how to treat. I imagined how close the two were growing up and how shattered their lives must have been all those years apart. When my great aunt died, she died alone and I don’t remember her funeral.
For me she was merely a dream I’d once had and later her life was a tangible fear that when I turned 21 I’d go crazy like she has at the same age.She was an artist and even before I knew she existed I had liked art as well. Maybe art was the gateway to crazy I had once thought. Or maybe 21 was the magic age when the genetics kicked in and schizophrenia rose up and took over and you jumped out an upstairs window like she had.
But schizophrenia never tormented me, other than through fear that I would be the next in the family line to crack. Mental illness didn’t affect me the way it did Onieta , though I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. It didn’t tear my life apart or pull me away from the ones I loved in the way it did her. I was lucky to be born in a time of more understanding and more pharmaceutical advances.
Maybe it isn’t the same for others in my family, but for me, Onieta was our big family secret, something hidden and dark, not because of her mental illness but because she was hidden away, pushed away and almost never spoken of within the family. For me, at least, she never really existed. But for my great grandparents and my grandmother the pain of losing her must have been unbearable.
There is something about a mother’s heart that is hit especially hard by the loss of a child, whether that child is lost in a world of confusion or physically lost. A mother spends nine months with a child inside her, feeling the movements, talking and loving the child before they are even born outside the body.
Then the first few years of life are spent caring for the child’s every needs until they are old enough to do it themselves. Back in those days my great grandmother would have done almost all of it – breakfast and lunch and bedtimes and middle of the night cries. For her the day they knew they could no longer care for a daughter whose mental illness had taken over her mind must have been mental and emotional torture.
My heart aches for the women I never knew – my great grandmother and my great aunt – for their heartache and their emotional anguish. I wish I could go back and take it all away for them, hand Onieta some medicine or find out if a thyroid or hormone issue or even a vitamin deficiency was the problem, and let them be a real family, let her live a life full of promise, fulfillment and joy.
I can’t, of course, do that but by dragging it all from the darkness into the light, maybe I can help to be sure history does not repeat itself. If a member of our family faces a similar tragedy I want to be sure they aren’t hidden away, pushed away and loved only in the darkness of secrecy and through memories of who they once were.
I want them to be loved in the light for who they are.
I’ve started to think about how I owe it to Onieta to live my life fully alive, with fears pushed aside, to experience life the way she was never allowed to. The best way to pull her from the darkness of exclusion and back into the family is to not keep her a dark, hidden family secret.
She’s gone from this earth now but if we keep talking about her and imagining even a little of the pain she faced, then we keep her memory alive and we keep the determination for it not to happen again alive. Because of what she faced and suffered through hopefully others will be spared. Hopefully I will spare myself from a life limited by fear, anxiety, illness and mental pain. Sometimes I feel like Onieta is urging me to really live, do what she could never do, be who she could never be and feel free the way she never did.
I am going to be a writer today or what is really like to be a writer.
I am going to be a writer today.
I am going to write.
I am going to make things happen.
I am going to – wait for my computer to install updates for 15 minutes.
I am going to get breakfast.
I am going to notice the living room is a mess.
I am going to pick up the living room. I am going to sit with the toddler because she wants to cuddle.
I am going to make tea for the boy because he is sick today.
I am going to make tea for myself because the boy is sick today.
I am going to feed the cat, who keeps wrapping her paws around my ankles and biting my toes, apparently trying to knock me to the ground so she can kill me and eat me.
Oh! Computer is updated!
I am going to write.
I am going to be a writer today.
I am going to write.
I am going to make things happen.
And then I am going to keyword my stock photos to get them up for sale. All 300 of them. With 50 keywords each.
Oh yes, I am.
And then I am going to start drafts for a weeks worth of blog posts and resize all the images I want to use for each post.
Here I go.
I am going to –
wait for the computer to restart and install more updates.
I am going to bounce my forehead off this desk seven times because I once read seven is the number of God and only God can keep me from throwing this computer into the street in front of one of those gigantic hillbilly pick up trucks that rumble by every half hour.
Stuffed animals need hugs too
“Mama, wanna play with me? You wanna play with me?”
Her pleas sounded more like a demand than a request and I knew if I said ‘no’ she would keep asking, demanding and continue to look heartbroken and crestfallen.
Each day she follows me around with the same demand – I mean request – so I know the drill now and most days I’m thrilled she wants me to play with her. What an honor to be the main person she wants to play and interact with in this season of her life.
On this day she had dragged her stuffed animal entourage onto the front steps and sidewalk. She set them up in a circle and sat in the middle of them and instructed me to do the same. Then I was directed to “‘tend you Mama bear,” which is the stuffed white Christmas themed bear that was given to me by my husband.
I pretended I was Mama Bear and asked the other animals how they were and Little Miss about her day.
I hugged the fluffy white Christmas bear against me and buried my face in its’ white fur.
Sitting there on the sidewalk in front of our house I felt nostalgic thinking about how my daughter was doing what I had once done.
As a child I would drag all my stuffed animals outside in our side yard in the country and set them up on a blanket and cuddle with them and care for them by covering them with blankets.
Even in our youth we women seem to have that mother instinct already ingrained in us it seems. We cradle and rock babies and whisper to them it’s all going to be okay even if we aren’t sure what okay means.
“What are you doing?” a small, slightly indignant voice brought me from rural memories back to the reality of the concrete surface of town life.
“I’m hugging the bears,” I answered, sure she would agree with my reason. “They need a hug right?”
Her expression was a mix of disgust and pity.
“Mama, they don’t need hugs,” she said and I swear I saw her tiny toddler eyes roll up just like a teenager. “They’re just toys.”
And just like that she burst my sentimental bubble of imagination and shattered it in a million pieces on the ground with her cruel dose of reality.
Then I hugged the fluffy white bear and sniffled a little in its’ fluffy fur.
That’s okay. Someday she’d be old enough to understand that stuffed animals need hugs too.
Money saving tips: Don’t be afraid to buy cheaper cuts of meat, your veggies whole
Panic set in when money got tight this last year but after a lot of prayer I’ve been learning more about how to save money and reduce expenses. This learning is a long process that is coming in stages.
Currently my money saving focus is on groceries and household items.
Groceries is one of the biggest expenses for our family, and probably most families, so that’s where I first started looking for ways to save. While groceries are expensive overall anymore, the highest costs are in the meat department. In the past I didn’t pay much attention to the cost of meat per pound but when Ihad to fit my purchases within a certain budget I knew I would need to start focusing on it.
Of course the better quality meats cost more, which was frustrating to me until I started to watch a couple of cooking shows and learned that meats that are thought of as “lower quality” can be used to create a variety of delicious meals.
There are many sites and cook books available to help you use not only cheaper cuts of meat to make amazing meals, but also supporting ingredients and dishes.
Stretching these cuts of meat by cutting them up and freezing them for later can also reduce the grocery budget.
I try to cook mainly Paleo meals for my family since gluten, dairy and sugar cause different health issues for each of us. If a recipe isn’t Paleo, I do my best to adapt it to fit our food lifestyle (I am not a fan of calling Paleo a diet, because I don’t eat that way to lose weight, but simply to feel better).
Because the rest of my family is not full Paleo, not every meal I cook adheres to the Paleo guidelines. I do add wheat and dairy to some meals, but avoid it for myself.
If you’re wondering what Paleo even means, Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo has a great explanation on her blog.
Michelle’s blog is a new source for me for meal planning after she turned me on to cooking with an Instapot via her Facebook live videos. I purchased the Instapot this past week (no, I am not getting any kind of payment from them) and am excited to see how it not only saves on time, but money, in relation to preparing meals for our family.
You can find her instapot recipes HERE.
About a year ago I read some invaluable information on a blog about cutting food expenses. One of the suggestions was to buy meats with the bone still in and skin still on and cut the meat up yourself to avoid the butcher passing the cost of cutting up the meat on to you. It’s the same for vegetables and fruits which are priced higher if you purchase them already cleaned and cut for you. While convenient, buying your meats, vegetables and fruit prepackaged can increase your grocery budget. It’s also not always the healthiest option as sometimes extra sugar or preservatives are added to keep the products “more fresh” for a longer period of time.
Ree Drummond, otherwise known as The Pioneer Woman, recently opened my eyes to cost saving ways to use various cuts of beef, the highest priced meat on the market. In the past I cooked an entire roast in a crockpot and sometimes used the leftovers for vegetable beef stew. Based on Ree’s ideas I’ve started buying a roast and then cutting it into either cubes for stew, slices for breakfast steak (haven’t tried this yet) or strips for stir fry. For chicken I have been buying split chicken breasts with the bone and skin still on, deboning it and then either keeping the breast whole or slicing it into tenders or chunks. I can use the chunks for chicken spiedies (if you’re not from the Northeastern part of the United States you can find a definition of those HERE), to add to salads, to make chicken nuggets or to add to a one-pan bake.
I plan to buy whole chickens in the future and cut them up into the cuts I want to use later. Tips on how to cut up and entire chicken or roast or debone chicken and fish, can be found on many sites online, including video tutorials like this one by Gordon Ramsey on YouTube (no swear words in this series, but beware of his salty language in other YouTube clips, of course.). Tips on how to cook a variety of recipes and food can also be found on YouTube.
A few YouTube video tips I’ve enjoyed include:
How to make the perfect rice by Gordon Ramsey;
How to make the perfect omelet by Jamie Oliver (apparently I like the British chefs).
How to make crackling chicken by Nom Nom Paleo.
Adding vegetables or beans, rice or fruitcan help stretch your meat and budget even more. When it comes to vegetables and fruit savings, a great idea is either growing your own and freezing them for later or stocking up on your favorites when they are on sale and freezing them for later. Buying items you use a lot of when they are on sale is one way my parents, who are on a fixed income, save money. This tactic can be used for groceries, household items, clothing, and just about any other needed product (versus wanted ones.)
Another great idea by Ree to stretch the budget, and make sure you get your veggies, is to make one pan meals with ingredients all piled into a roasting pan. You can find her one pan recipes on her site here.
I will make a quick disclaimer about Ree’s recipes – they are not Paleo in the least and often not super healthy. If you have watched her show or bought her cookbook you know she uses tons of flour, grains, dairy and sugar. Despite the fact I try not to use any, or at least less, of these ingredients I enjoy watching her Food Network show and reading her blog (which I followed before she became famous) . She offers some money and time saving tips, I enjoy her posts about her family, she seems very authentic in how she presents herself and I can often “hack”
her recipes to fit my family’s eating style.
I’ve given you a few ideas I’ve been using to reduce our grocery budget, now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear some of your tips in the comments or on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/lisahoweler and with your permission I’ll use them in a future blog post about ways to save money.
The days are long
Lightstock photo by Lisa R. Howeler
It’s the end of a very long day and all I can think is:
Did I pay attention to them enough today?
Did I listen to them?
Do they know I love them?
Was I too distracted?
Too overwhelmed with other things that were not important?
The answer to some of those questions are ‘no’ and some are ‘yes’ and my heart aches as I scroll in my mind back through the day, recalling moments of failure, playing it all back like an old movie reel.
It’s summer and bedtime seems to be later and later each night. It also makes days longer and breaks of quit time for me non-existent. No stolen moments to recharge leaves me mentally depleted, drained, overwhelmed.
I want to try to embrace these long days as a gift – more time with them – instead of resenting the loss of free time. Some days I do but often I fail.
She’s laying next to me in a diaper, finally asleep after begging to hold a flashlight at bedtime that she kept shining in me eyes, asking to turn a light on, lay on one side of the bed instead of the other, anything to not have to actually lay down. There is red and green and blue streaks of marker on her legs and belly from when she drew on herself earlier in the day.
I mentally chide myself for not giving her a bath to scrub off all the mess but then I smile as I look at it with the light of the phone and think about her wild spirit, her determination, her laughter when she found me to ask “how do I look?” after she’d drawn on her skin.
Her stubbornness often has my emotions knotted up in frustration. She insists she no longer needs naps but without one she bristles like a bear at the smallest provoking.
Today she refused a nap, yet I knew if we left the house to do something she’d cry and cling and it would be clear she had needed the nap.
“I just can’t do this anymore!” I told her, finally at the end of my rope.
“Yes you can!” She declared, leaning in close. “Be brave.”
The irony was not lost on me that I’ve been listening to a series of sermons imploring us to “be brave.”
Be brave when we are anxious.
Be brave when we doubt.
Be brave when we don’t understand.
Be brave when nothing seems to be going right.
Be brave when dreams are lost.
Be brave when inadequacy rules your feelings.
Be brave and embrace the moments that don’t fit where you thought they should.
Embrace the unexpected, the changes, the winding trails through motherhood and life.
The saying is true – the days are long but the years are short.
It wasn’t long ago he was two instead of ten. He was stubborn and tough and full of energy.
He and I survived those long days when I embraced our time together, accepting some days would be long, some days too short.
Maybe instead of seeing a day as long I need to see it as full.
Full is good.
Full is positive.
Full is life.
Even long is good.
Long is more.
Long is more time for hugs.
Long is more time for learning.
Long is more laughter.
Long is more moments, more smiles, more touches, more life lived fully alive.
Real life parenting moments
I’m in the kitchen trying to perfect a Ree Drummond recipe but every few moments my oldest is shouting that the cat is on his Lego table knocking pieces off to smack around on the floor or the youngest is holding an empty bowl and asking me when she can have “port top” (pork chop).
She’s looking up at me like a child from Oliver Twist, big green eyes, pitiful and pleading. One would think she hadn’t eaten in days, instead of five minutes before when her cheeks were full of apples.
Let’s be honest, I know I’m no Ree Drummond, whose children aren’t under foot when she cooks, or at least when she films for her show, but it would be nice to have at least twenty minutes uninterrupted to try to complete a new recipe (incidentally one of the Pioneer Woman’s. I had to leave out the grits because I’m allergic to corn.).
If I only have two children and a cat interrupting me then I have no idea how parents with more than two children cook, although they might have the benefit of an extra parent to help out. Extra help is rarely a luxury here thanks to my husband’s late afternoon to late night schedule and most of the time I really don’t mind.
On this day the ultimate interruption came between cooking the apple part of the recipe and browning the pork chops.
I heard the footsteps and the words before I even looked away from the cast iron pan the chops were sizzling in.
“Mama. I jus’ poop!”
I remember at that moment how Jonathan told me earlier his sister had stripped down naked. And sure enough she’s standing before me in her natural state pointing toward – not the bathroom – but the dining room.
“What do you mean you pooped? In the potty? You pooped in the potty?”
I knew she didn’t poop in the potty. Call it a intuition. Call it a horrible dreading feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“No. Right der. ” She was still pointing in the dining room.
“Where?” I asked, somewhat frantic to find “it” before my or my son’s feet did.
“Der! Under table!”
And indeed it was there.
Under the table.
Looking much different than it does squished in against her little tush in her diaper.
Yes, be thankful this is one of those life moments I didn’t photograph.
Unlike other similar events in the past (though this was the first pooping on the floor incident) I was able to stay calm and instead of asking “what were you thinking?!”because she wasn’t, because she’s two, I kept myself calm and used this as a learning experience for us both.
I ushered her into the bathroom and reminded her that was where we went when we had to poop, not under the dining room table.
She sat on the potty but let me know she didn’t have anymore poop left so I suggested she pee, which she did.
We celebrated and then I made sure she was instantly clad in a diaper before I let her loose in the house again.
I mentally committed to quickly respond with running to her with a diaper if I ever heard again, “Gracie just took all her clothes off.”
And despite all the interruptions, I managed not to burn dinner.