Posted in everyday musings, honest stuff, keeping it real, personal musings

The love that didn’t last

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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted in everyday musings, week in focus

The week in review: swearing preschoolers, more rain, and a little local history

When I got back from picking up a few groceries one day this week my 11-year old niece let me know that my daughter, who will be four in October, had been placed in time out while I was gone for taking the Lord’s name in vain. My niece didn’t call it that because my niece hasn’t been brought up in the church so she doesn’t know the Christianese my family does, but she felt that my daughter saying “Jesus!” emphatically several times in a row was not appropriate and so she made her sit in time out. My daughter didn’t mind sitting in time out, by the way, but what did send her into a crying fit was when she was told she couldn’t watch any cartoons for the duration of the time-out. Her time-outs are three minutes so it’s not like not watching a cartoon for that duration is the end of the world, but I suppose it’s a big deal when you are almost four.

Now, in my house I have said “Jesus” several times in a row but not as a swear word. I deal with some chronic health issues so I have been known to say the name Jesus when I can’t think what else to pray. And sometimes I even say it emphatically. I thought maybe this is what my daughter was imitating but I didn’t really have time to try to figure it out at that moment because she needed a nap. I thanked my niece, took Little Miss up for her nap, and didn’t think much about it again until that night at bedtime.

We read The Oscar the Grouch book two times and then she told me she’d learned something that day.

I said, “oh? What did you learn?”

“I learned that geez louise is a really bad word,” she said seriously. “It is not good to say.”

I said, “is that what you were saying today with your cousin?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding and looking a bit bewildered by it all.

Though her brother says he heard her and knows she was saying “Jesus” I have a feeling she thought she was saying “geez louise” and never thought she was somehow swearing at the heavens.

I let her know that geez louise isn’t necessarily a polite word but in our house, it isn’t considered a swear word. After that conversation, I felt relieved my daughter hadn’t picked up an offensive way to speak about Jesus and looked forward to the day her articulation is more developed.


It rained all week again, which left the little town I grew up near dealing with some flooding. I live about 40 minutes north now and we escaped any major damage but we were ready for some sunshine and a change of scenery by the weekend so we traveled to a historical site near us called French Azilum.

It’s touted as the place where Marie Antionette was going to live if she had escaped France alive, which, of course, she didn’t, instead losing her head to the guillotine. A group of her servants traveled on ahead, however, eventually settling the land in the area along the river before some of them eventually returned to France and others left the settlement and founded other villages around the county, including the village I grew up in.

One of the main highlights of the site is the Laporte House, which was built in 1836 by John Laporte, a son of one of the original French settlers. The home is original and provides a look at how life was lived in the early days of our country. Mr. Laporte was a US Senator, a state representative, his family name was carried on in the town name of the county seat of our neighboring county, Sullivan County, and apparently, he was also a very tall and large man at 6′ something and 300 some pounds. A tour of the home and where his family would have lived is something that I had never experienced before, despite living in the area my entire life and having visited the site more than once over the years. My mom has told me I did tour the house at least once, as a child, and though I don’t remember that tour, the house did seem vaguely and eerily familiar to me, which I figured was simply because I grew up in and around very old houses.

A Civil War encampment had been set up on the grounds, unrelated to the historical site, and we were being given a tour by the local historian and camp commander when he was called away to a cast iron frying pan throwing contest. Yes, you read right – a cast iron frying pan throwing contest.

 

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We decided this wasn’t something we wanted to miss so we headed to a field to watch women in long dresses toss cast iron pans toward the camp commander to see how far they could throw. I believe the longest toss was about 37 feet and it was a young girl with a wicked pitching arm. Apparently, the tossers normally have their husbands or intended stand out in the field as a “bit of motivation” for their throw. This time they had the local historian instead and luckily he came out unscathed.

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I was asked to participate and I declined, a decision I now regret, because, as I told my sister-in-law later in the day, I don’t feel you’ve fully lived until you’ve tossed a cast iron pan at a man in a field. If I’m ever asked to toss a pan again I’ll definitely take them up on the offer.

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Posted in keeping it real, personal musings

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.