|Back in our day . . .||
I have mentioned before that I had a disease. I still do. However, the medications they make today are far superior to what they had available when I first was diagnosed. In short, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain and the chemicals I take alleviate that and make my life much easier. There were many times of illness before I met your Grandpa. I had to deal with it alone, as does anyone in my situation. I had a good doctor, and good med's, but the work was up to me. The doctor gave me a place to vent and air my feelings. He gave me good advice, took care of me when I couldn't take care of myself, but the hard work was pretty much up to me. I did a lot of writing, reading books on the subject, and interacting with people in society. I did really well once they got the medications balanced for me. They gave me many different types over the year, but the ones they have today are the best. They have the least side effects of any of them. Now you know a little bit about the disease, but unless you see someone suffer with it, you don't know what your Grandpa had to go through. But he never left me, he dealt with it the best he could, and he gave me new insights and new ideas all the time.
When I first met your Grandpa, it was in the spring of 1975. He came to our office to work, but the first time I saw him I thought he was someone from the Data processing side of the organization. He was dressed very nice, and stood in the back of the office with his arms folded across his chest. Then I went about my business and didn't give it another thought. The people I worked with were not really very understanding of me when I went back to work. I don't know if they were afraid of me, or just plain uncomfortable having me in the office. They gave me project on top of project, and when they came back for the first one and I didn't have it finished, there was always an upheaval and they'd get mad and stomp off. Well, your Grandpa watched them mistreat me for a while, and then one day he approached me and he gave me some good advice. The first thing he told me was to not justify myself to anyone. Then he told me about his religion, The Tao. Later on we gave each other our phone numbers and we would talk on breaks at work, and sometimes have lunch together. The first time we made plans, I got sick and we didn't go out. He didn't ask again. Then I moved to Chula Vista from National City because there were a lot of problems there. Chula Vista was a much safer place.
Most of my time at my apartment I was alone. I'd go to work, and then I'd go shopping if I needed to for food or whatever I needed. But usually I'd just go home and have some dinner and then I'd watch TV or do laundry or clean up the apartment. Sometimes I'd write poetry or work on a picture, but not very often. So one Friday evening after work, I went home as usual, and then I remembered having Jack's number. So I called him and asked him if I could come and visit him. He said yes, gave me instructions on how to find his house, and then I left and went to visit and that was the beginning of our friendship. He lived on Madision Avenue just above Mission Valley, just off of Texas street. He lived in a little studio apartment above a garage, and the first time I went to see him, I could see him through the screen door doing dishes. He answered the door, and I went in and we sat on the floor and listened to music and talked for several hours. Then, when I left, he walked me to his car and then he touched my shoulder and told me, "Sometimes all you need is a friend!" I took it in and then I said goodbye and drove home to my apartment. I saw him again the next day at work. A little bit later, he invited me on a date to see the sights in San Diego. He picked me up in a white truck, similar to the one we have now. His Grandmother had promised him he could use her car, but he had been helping them move and they rented a truck for that. When the day came to actually let him use her car, she changed her mind, so he took the truck and they would have to pay for the mileage! And the mileage was quite a bit because he took me all over the scenic drive and I'd never seen so many places. He drove all over the place and we had great fun! We wrapped it up by going to Balboa Park and we parked and got out and walked around looking at everything. We talked a lot and then we drove back to his place and we had a glass of instant breakfast and talked some more and then he took me home.
The next day was Mother's Day, and he had a little more moving to do. He asked me if I had plans for the next day, and I told him I was going to go see my Mother for Mother's Day. I wish a thousand times I had gone with him because the visit with my Mom was so depressing. My Grandmother was there, and as she was getting senile, she often didn't make much sense. My Mother hadn't forgiven me for having a life of my own, so the whole visit was a real drag. I saw him again on Monday, and a little later on he asked me if I'd like to go to the desert sometime and do some exploring. I said yes, and we went places all the time after that. The morning we went to the desert, he came to my place in his Grandma's car and I had made steak and eggs and toast for breakfast. I put on the Camelot Record I had and waited for him. I decided to look out the window to see if he was there yet, and he was on the walkway just below my apartment. He saw me and waved and I opened the door. We had a great breakfast and then we were on our way. We went to the desert and parked his Grandma's car and got out and went exploring. There was one hill he climbed and he told me to come up there with him and look at the view. I stepped on a huge rock and the ground around it broke loose and I slid down the side of Diablo Mountain on my stomach. I went down it seemed like forever, but he was still able to reach me. I took the knife he had given me and stuck it in the side of the hill, just like he had told me to do, and dug my toes into the dirt and tried to hoist myself back up on top. He laid down on his stomach and reach out for me. I grabbed his hand, and between us I was back on top in no time. My hat never came off and for quite some time, the tale was told to friends and co-workers alike.
Something changed that day. He gave me a necklace to wear that he treasured, called an IDIC and it was from a Star Trek movie. It stood for "Infinite diversity through infinite combination." Somehow I just knew that things would be hard for us to combat, but we were together and that would prove to be our saving grace. I don't want to spend too much time today writing about our various and sundry experiences, but I will cover them in some degree through the rest of the story. We have been together for 38 years and there is much to tell. But for today, I have made my point and am happy with the results, so I will say goodbye because I know that Grandpa is ready to use the computer, and I need to make something for dinner! I hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion into a brand new beginning for me. I hope to cover as much of our lives together as I can, and let you see that everyone has hard times. What matters is what you do with those hard times, and the faith you have in the future. People surprise me still with their endurance and spontaneity and I hope to pass it on through your generation as well. I love all of you so much, and I"ll say goodbye for now. Take care, have fun, and learn new things every day.
Well, besides myself, of course... I'm going to institute an audience participation aspect to the blog by putting a topic out here, "showing you mine" if you like, then inviting you to show us yours. I thought an interesting place to begin would be a discussion of the person I knew who reached the farthest back into history.
For me, that's an easy call. That person was my maternal great-grandmother, Louise Willis Holt. Louise, or "Gan," as three generations of children knew her, was born on October 21st, 1888, just weeks before the election of Republican President Benjamin Harrison. The big issues of the day were high protective tariffs, and the payment of pensions to Civil War veterans, both of which he was opposed to. Interestingly, though his opponent, incumbent Grover Cleveland, received most of the popular vote, Harrison won the most Electoral College votes, seemingly thereby thwarting the will of the people. This was the third of four times this has happened in U. S. history, the last being the 2000 election that saw "W" begin his eight year presidency.
But this isn't about politics. This is about my great-grandmother, who also happened to be my primary caregiver. I have already had some less-than-flattering things to say about her child-rearing techniques, but I'm going to refrain from that here. This is about a life, and I would suggest that by the time I came along, she might have been tired.
Louise was born to southern business moguls outside the little town of Ashville, North Carolina. During the Civil War, Ashville was a small village of 2,500 people. The state was occupied by Sherman's troops moving north following the March to the Sea, and they were for the most part on their good behavior. Ashville, however, was the home of an Enfield plant that produced weapons for the Confederacy, and as such was defended by Confederate forces making a determined stand across the Buncombe Turnpike approaches from Tennessee. The town was accordingly treated roughly by General Stoneman's troops, culminating in the burning of some private homes.
Incredibly, I found this photo of the Buck Hotel and a few nearby businesses in downtown Ashville taken in 1888. The town struggled to recover from the burden of being on the losing side of the Civil War, gradually recovering until a boom in the 1910s and 20s, at which time Ashville was the third-largest city in the state. The Great Depression burst the bubble that had developed around the boomtown, and investors and residents who had bought into the skyrocketing prosperity were wiped out overnight; no less than eight of the town's nine banks failed. The novel Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe is generally regarded as a historical fictionalization of Ashville in this period.
Anyway, in 1929, at the age of 41, her husband, William Harvey Holt (father of the aforementioned General), moved the family to California. I don't know much about the journey, but in 1929 they settled in San Diego, where they made a permanent home. If they had lived anywhere besides the Ashville area since the family had come to America, I've never been aware of it, and to commemorate this new chapter in the family saga, he had this opal commissioned for her from a local jeweler. As the next October baby to be born, I inherited it. It's hard to get a good picture of that shimmering blue stone, but with the square cut and the onyx border, it's quite the ring; I'd have to guess that they got out of Ashville before they were ruined.
At some point before this, during the nineteen-ohs, she was a fashion model. This wasn't like today. The girls didn't strut the catwalk, and no one knew their names. They would put on the clothing and pose on small stages around the ballroom or hotel meeting room where the show was being held, and the participants would move around the room to examine the wares. She was in her late teens by all accounts, and her prematurely snow-white hair (like mine) put her in high demand. I've seen a picture; she was quite impressive with all that snow piled and coifed into one of those elaborate Victorian hairstyles.
Her three children, Bill, Helen, and Marie, would have been in the 25-30 age bracket by the time she moved west, and her daughter, Helen, must have found employment (or her husband did) over in the desert at this point, because in 1931, my mother was born in El Centro, thus completing the chain from her to me.
So, what did this woman acquire during her long life that passed itself along to me? Our white hair, of course. Her hereditary migraine; oh, that's been an adventure! Her constant examples of how to live with decency and elegance. This may be telling: She was the child of parents who had been the children of slaveowners. There is quite naturally a racism inherent in this; it doesn't seem possible to own another human being unless you don't truly consider them to be fully human. Like all parents everywhere, she must have learned their attitudes at their knees, so to speak, and while she was very much a racist, she wasn't nasty about it, as modern racists are; it was just an aspect of life that she dealt with. It wasn't discussed, it was understood, but on those rare occasions when she did try to impart attitudes to me, it took the form of admonitions not to hold African-Americans (and believe me, that wasn't the term she used) in contempt, not based on any notion of equality, but because it wasn't their fault; in other words, they, and by implication, everyone, couldn't help being what they were born! There is in that, no matter how you look at it, a lesson to judge a person by the color of his character, rather than the color of his skin. I know that sounds very much like the great Dr. King's words, and given her background, she might be the last one you'd expect to hear that from, but that was just one of the many surprising aspects of her personality.
Great-grandma's life, for the most part, consisted of raising children, and she had to have gotten tired of it. As the third generation under her tutelage, I caught the brunt of that fatigue. Having raised her own children through the 20s, and suffered a financial upheaval at the end of that process, she then assisted in the raising of her grandchildren, and finally had me, and nine years later, my half-sister dumped on her doorstep with nary a by-your-leave. It speaks a lot to her character that she didn't just pass us on to an orphanage. She turned 60 two weeks after I was born, and filled the role of my mother for 17 years thereafter. I remember being a well-mannered little tyke, but no teenager is an easy proposition, and I'm sure I was no exception.
Other than the modeling stint I mentioned above, I'm not aware of her ever taking employment outside the home. Her life-long husband died the year before I was born, and she never remarried. For virtually all of the time I was with her, she lived with her daughter, Helen, who filled the role of breadwinner, having been "Rosie the Riveter" during the Second World War, and being one of the few women skilled enough to keep her job when the men came home. She could certainly manage a home, to the extent that when I was a child, I was never aware of it being managed; everything just fell into place so naturally it was as if it couldn't have gone any other way.
In October of 1969, I left the navy, and came home to begin my civilian career, whatever that was going to be. About three months later, she fell during a midnight potty run and fractured her hip. She never walked again, and I put my life on hold for the next four years to become one of her caregivers. I had to leave that role in 1975, when a career opportunity that I couldn't afford to pass up opened, and in the spring of that year, she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87.
In the course of her lifetime, she had ridden a horse to her one-room school, raised three successful children plus two more generations, flown across the country several times, and seen men walk on the moon. She had gone from reading schoolbooks by candlelight to touring the world via color television, and her music had progressed from classical string quartets to classic rock quartets. Whatever she thought about it herself, and she hid it well if she was disappointed, she lived a fuller life than anyone else I have ever known in terms of things she had experienced. If she was cross sometimes, and harsh in her treatment, I know now that it was all part of her attempt to raise a decent and successful child, and she was following a formula that had proven successful for two previous generations. I look around at the world I inherited from her generation and a couple in between, and I flatter myself that she did all right.
So thanks, Gan, for the great head start. I could have done better, I suppose, but the shortcomings are all on me. For all of my complaining, I never think of her once without missing her. She was my life for the first six years, and those years matter more than any of us realize. I had just met my soon-to-be wife when she died. We weren't courting yet. My greatest regret in all of it is that they never got to meet. She would have loved Bonnie, who is so traditional and dare I say Victorian in so many ways. I would have liked to have shown off my prize catch! Alas...
I'll let it stand there. There are so many negative things I've said about her in these posts, and so many more I've left out, but those are for another time. This one is about a life well-lived, and a person who stepped up and lived it every day. She set a great example, one that I've tried to follow. My wife and children can be the judges of whether I've succeeded.
And on that note, I shall bring this to a close. Who have you known that has reached back farther than anyone else? How have they affected you? Step in and join the conversation; this will be so much more entertaining if you're a part of it...
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
After I came back to California, leaving Minnesota and family behind, they decided to move back to Chula Vista and my Dad would be stationed aboard the Carrier USS Constellation (CV-64). In August of 1965 they returned and I had my things packed and ready to go home with them. I came down with my life-long disease and spent about a year recuperating at home with the family. I spent a lot of time in my room... my life was very difficult. I didn't know what I had, because the symptoms were not apparent to the rest of the family, but I was miserable inside and so insecure and afraid. This disease would reappear off and on in my life, and the rest of the time, I functioned as near to normal as I possibly could. Deep in my heart was a burden of pain that I thought would never go away. But I was in bed one morning and I felt something lift off of me. I began to cry because I began feeling warm in my heart and I just laid there for a while feeling the warmth spread to other parts of my body. I got up, got dressed, and began to live again. I felt a peace I hadn't known in about a year. I participated in family life that day, and it was the beginning of a new day for me.
After about a week of enjoying my family, I began looking for a job. Just anything would do because I wanted to get out of the house. The last year I'd been trying to take care of things at home while my Mom worked at a motel close to Imperial Beach. I asked her one day if she thought I could do what she was doing. She talked to the manager and she decided to hire me even though she said I was awfully young to be subjected to the things that I'd have to do as a motel maid. But I took the job, worked hard, and my health and mental attitude changed. I still had no friends, but I didn't mind. That part of me just wasn't active after all I"d been through. I got involved in making our yard at home look better and bought some trees to plant. My brother and I worked on the yard together. It was better for us than it had been when he was younger. We became closer than we'd ever been. But that didn't last long, because he got into drugs and hung around with the wrong people. But for a while things went well and I didn't question it. I just absorbed the closeness and felt a healing taking place in my mind and heart.
As time went by, I decided to quit at the motel and I looked for a job babysitting. The first job I had was taking care of 3 little kids. Dawn who was about 5, Jack who was 8, and Penny who was only 18 months. Their Mom worked at a bank and their dad worked at something that they didn't feel inclined to discuss. They were good children, and I'd feed them, play with them, clean up the dishes, vacuum if it needed it. They lived in a double wide trailer and had an extra play room in an enclosed patio for the kids. I did such a good job with then that little Jack told his Mommy that if anything happened to them, I could take care of them. I asked of that meant I was getting my walking papers, and she just laughed and said "No! Of course Not!" Later on they decided to move and wanted me to move with them, but I declined and took a little time off. Then I found another job, but in the meanwhile, my old ex-best friend's Mom offered to get me a job at Ratners Clothiers in DownTown San Diego and I took it. I was a bundle girl in a coat and suit manufacturing company. I had a Jewish boss named Samuel Kessel and he was the greatest. He never cursed in front of me, would come in on the weekends and help me get caught up and gave me a raise for every month for the first 3 months. I had taken a Civil Service Test, and passed, and in November I got a phone call to come in for an interview in December. I had my hair done, bought a new dress and new shoes, and went to the interview. I was hired that day and began working for Uncle Sam on the 3 of January of 1968. I was a clerk typist and did a lot of typing of Naval Messages and things of that nature. I was busy from the time I went in till I was leaving for the day. I made friends with the women I worked with and was feeling really good about having a real job.
I met a friend that lived close to me named Corrine Zacharias. She and I would meet at my house around 4:30 in the morning and walk to the bus stop together. We'd sleep on the bus till we got downtown and then we'd get off and have breakfast at a little shop called Dixie's. Then we'd walk to the ferry landing, long before there was a bridge, and we'd take the ferry across the bay and walk to our building. It was still so early, and we'd sleep in the ladies lounge on the couches until time to start work. Every evening we'd run to catch the bus so we always brought our tennis shoes so we could change out of our heels and run better.
Long after we were promoted, I moved to San Diego to live with my Grandmother because I couldn't get along with my family. I was growing and changing and needed a break from the way things were then. It seemed like every day when I'd get home, there would be problems to solve, and my Dad had deserted us. I was the only one working and I'd pay my bills, pay rent, buy food, and all the rest of the things that you do as an adult. My brother stayed home, laid around the house and was defended by my mother. I couldn't take it so I moved. My Grandma was glad to have the company and we had a quiet and very peaceful life. We'd go to church together on Sundays with her friends, and then out for dinner. When I'd get home on the bus in the evenings, if she was going out, she'd leave my dinner in the oven and would set the table for me. I sat and cried one evening and I began to feel like I was a real human being and being treated with love by someone I looked up to. My Grandmother was self-sufficient and independent and I thought the world of her.
My Mom needed help financially and eventually I moved back. It was a big mistake. But I did it to help her, because I loved her in spite of the way she favored my brother and little sister. She felt like she couldn't control me and she didn't know how to act with me. We had been close at one time. But I'd been through so much and I just had changed into someone she didn't really know how to deal with. I was an adult. I was still working for the Government and had been promoted several times. My Dad was still gone from the family, and things at home were chaotic as ever. My brother had met a young girl and had been employed at General Dynamics as a machinist. He got engaged and everything, and then at the last minute, decided that Frances was just not his style, and dumped her. She was heart broken and he quit his job. I had foolishly cosigned for a car for him, but when he quit his job, I had to make the payments. One day we were in a wreck, and I had a bad whip lash. I took the money we got from the settlement, gave him half, and I took my half and made a down payment on a car for myself. It was a new Chevy Nova and I loved it. I then had a way to work without taking the bus, and not much longer afterwards, I moved out again to Imperial Beach with a friend of mine. That lasted for a while. We had a lot of fun, and it was good to be out of the house. My Mom had called me the night I moved out and told me that "One day you'll wish you had a home to come to!" I don't know why she couldn't let go of me, but the disease was still there.... Eventually I fell out with my friend, and I once more moved home. I could tell there was something brewing under the surface for me, and one day I just couldn't think anymore. I went to work, but I couldn't think... couldn't concentrate. I went to the ladies room and laid down... My boss came finally and opened the door and asked me if I was ok. I told him no, and that I needed to go home. That afternoon I finally got home and I told my Mom that they were painting the office and putting down new carpet and fixing all the pot holes on the base and that I would be home for a while. She didn't question me. I went to my room and laid down on the bed. She came in later and asked me if I was sick. I just shook my head and looked away. She disappeared and started making dinner. After 3 days, my boss called to see why I hadn't been at work and hadn't called in. She told him what I said, and he told her that wasn't so. He told her I'd been acting odd at work, and they thought I should see a doctor.
They made up a plan to get me to a doctor to see what he thought. That's when the diagnosis was made and the day I became aware of what the sickness was that would rule me for many years. I read the slip the doctor had written for my boss. I couldn't believe what I read... I was Schizophrenic. I was given medication, which I took without a fight, but it would be horrible as it built up in my system. The years would be long until I was free... Life would be more difficult than you can imagine, but the years would improve and life became a challenge, but at least a manageable one for me. I'll close for now because the rest of my life took a turn for the better and I don't want to spoil the fun and combine it with all the darkness of the days of my past. So for now, I will say so long, but turn the page and give the pen to Jack. As always, I'll be back with more of this saga and the rest will be full of wonderful things, including overcoming my disease to the degree that I will discuss next time!
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??