Monday, August 30, 2010

We Cried and Kissed Little Forkerberry Goodbye

While I'm writing stories for this blog I'm also working on a larger story about our family. This is what my mother wanted me to do, and it's why she spent so much time dredging up her memories, some of which were painful to her.

Right now I'm working on a chapter about Jim's mother, or "Mamma." Jim's life and those of her other siblings too, were largely shaped by their mother's influence. Jim said to me once, "Mamma was my moral compass."

I found a scrap of paper among Jim's keepsakes entitled "My Creed." It was in Mamma's handwriting.

My creed in life is to be independant. & not be any trouble to any one. Be good to animals. such as Birds, Squirrels, & doggs. I like children. I love art. & flowers. love friends. I've just finished reading The Case of the Velvet Claugh by Earl Stanley Gardner.

And that's just how Mamma was. I don't think anyone could improve on her own description of herself.

Mamma spent most of her childhood, from the age of about seven until she was eleven, on a farm near Palmer Station, Arkansas. Mamma was like Jim in that she could remember vividly details from her past, and she especially loved to tell stories about Arkansas. Jim said, "We were always trying to get Mamma to tell us stories about her childhood."

All of Mamma's children were devoted to her. Every summer Jim's younger sister Oteka would drive up to Pauls Valley from Texas with her younger son Steve, and they would spend a couple of weeks there with Mamma. Of course while they were there the rest of us would go down to visit also. In the summer of 1958 Aunt Oteka and Steve made their usual trip to Pauls Valley, but this year they had a special plan. They were going to take Mamma to Palmer Station, Arkansas, her childhood home.

Mamma was excited about the trip. She wanted to find her father's farm, her older sister Cora's home - Cora was married while they lived there - and she wanted to see if she could find any descendents of the old pioneers she remembered. Mamma was anxious to visit the cemetery to look for the graves of her brother Luther and her sister Eula who had died there. Last but not least, she wanted to take some plants back with her to Pauls Valley that would remind her of Arkansas, like Jack-in-the-pulpits, blackberries, and paw paws.

So Mamma made arrangements with Uncle Haskell to feed her chickens, her dog Spot, and her parakeet, and after she made sure the gas was turned off, the little group left for Palmer Station. When they arrived they discovered there was no longer a town there, just a fork in the road with a couple of houses, so they got rooms at a motel in nearby Searcy and started asking around to locate land marks and old timers. The landmarks Mamma remembered, like houses, big trees and hills, were either long gone or impossible to identify. They did find an old cemetery that might have contained Luther and Eula's graves, but there were no identifiable markers.

Nothing, howeve, could dampen Mamma's enthusiasm. She talked to everyone she met, asking about the old houses, the old cemetery and the old pioneers. Steve said that she filled their trunk with plants. Mamma would see a plant at the side of the road and yell for Oteka to stop. Then they would all get out of the car and wade through the bushes to get to the plant that Mamma wanted. Steve said that one time Mamma disturbed a snake with her shovel, causing the little party to high tail it back to the car while the snake slithered off into the grass.

To me the best thing about the trip was how it pleased Mamma to be 'home' again. Here is a letter that she wrote to Oteka shortly after returning to Pauls Valley. You can just feel the excitement in her words as her memories of Arkansas gush forth.

Dear Oteka,
it is going to rain. but the Birds are singing. & I have put feed out for them & fed my pets in the House. My Pidgeons on my Porch are a pare, because one crokes & the other does not. it is so cloudy and damp. I hope it will save my Ark Rose bushes. I am glad I got to go back to Palmer Station I must have been tirable happy there. I don't believe that we were on the rite place where Eula was Burried they have changed those Roads & I don't believe that we were far enough out. they had Country Roads & not verry good ones at that. we went to Mr Scruses grave all rite the House that Sister Cora lived in, also. but I think Papas place was on the opside (opposite?) Side of the road. that is still a cotton country. some day if I live I am going back. this was a flying visit. it sure made old memories come alive. in early spring will be a good time to go. Haskell is just as anxious as I am. I would have to be there several days because things have changed and people have passed away. but that old cypress will remain the same. Henry Morris who married Sister Cora was born & raised in Marvil & his people are burried there. I love those first memories. Sister Cora lived in Hide Park & Kittie Staid with her & went to School at Hide Park. & I was alway jellous because I did (not?) Get to go there to. Papa had a Friend by name of Fitzpatric who lived in Helena. he is the (one?) Who sent me the little Bantam Chickens. we also had a little dog. I think that he was lost & came to our House. his master had died & Papa sent little Forkerberry to the mans wife & we cride kissed little Forkerberry goodbye.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Even More Loose Ends

My last few posts have been as disconnected as usual so I'll try to desribe to you the thoughts that were going through my mind that led to such chaos.

After telling how important our heritage was to my mother in "Our Indian Heritage" and "Aristocrats," I wanted to follow up with some details, so I put down most of what I know about my great - great - great - great - great grand uncle, John Paul Jones, the first in a long line of colorful characters in the Paul family.

Just after writing about John Paul Jones I got my copy of the Chickasaw Times which contained my mother's obituary, so I just printed it as the next post. That got me thinking about my mother's last days and how much suffering she went through. She had told me about saying a prayer for her older sister Kaliteyo when she died, the same childhood prayer that they had said together as children before going to sleep. It was also the only thing I could think of to say for Jim when she died.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

It's hard to explain how I felt when my mother died. When I said that prayer for her I had spent the better part of two months sharing her fear, her apprehension, and finally her suffering. During that time, memories or our lives together had been going through my mind, so much to understand, so many questions left unanswered. When it was all over, that overwhelming confusion and tension that I had felt were gone, and in their place was just a gaping hole. I felt so helpless and afraid, like a child. At the time I said that prayer for Jim, it was just as much for me as for her. Finally I understood how she had felt when she had said the prayer for her sister Kaliteyo.

That was about as much writing about Jim's death as I could stand, so I returned to our family's story. The first story that came to mind was the one about Smith Paul running away from home as a small boy, and being taken in by the Chickasaw Indians. I love that story. We don't know many details, but there's so much food for the imagination: The boldness of an eleven year old boy in striking out on his own; the hardships of those relatively primitive times; the incredible distances they traveled on horseback or in a wagon, when 15 or 20 miles was a day's journey; the hospitality of the Chickasaws; the experience of growing up with people of an entirely different culture; how the bonds of friendship and loyalty grew that caused Smith Paul to stay with the Chickasaws and to share their fate.

After telling the beginning of the story of Smith Paul, I just had to write something else about the Chickasaws. I wish I had another life to spend learning more about native American history. While most of what we know is through the writing of white men, the story you can piece together of the native Americans in general, and of the Chickasaws in particular, is fascinating.

In my opinion the Chickasaws' encounter with Hernando De Soto is one of the most incredible stories in history. The Chickasaws, instead of being awed by the advanced technology of the Europeans, were able to see them for the selfish, arrogant bullies they were, and the Chickasaws were able to prevail by using their own native intelligence and ingenuity.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hernando De Soto

I've been reading about Chickasaw history ever since high school, and in recent years I've been able to get into more detail and put some of my fragments of knowledge into a context. This is something my mother and I enjoyed sharing with each other. She would show me a paper being discussed by the Chickasaw Historical Society, and I'd tell her about stories I had found in my reading.

In general, reading Indian history is a depressing exercise. You read one story after another about the Indians being deceived, robbed, divided against one another, and cruelly slaughtered because of the white man's greed. The story of the Chickasaws, although in the end as tragic as that of the other tribes, has some bright spots, and one of those is the story of their encounter with Hernando De Soto, the Spanish 'Conquistador.'

After successfully subjugating the powerful Incas in Peru as a captain under Francisco Pizarro, De Soto returned to Spain a wealthy hero. He was rewarded by being made governor of Cuba, and from there he was expected to extend Spain's influence across the 'new world' by colonizing North America. Hopefully he would also find some gold along the way.

De Soto landed in Florida in 1539 with nine ships carrying over 600 men, and tons of armor and supplies, including 240 horses and 200 pigs. He quickly developed a system of communicating with the natives by using the survivor of a prior Spanish expedition as an interpreter. De Soto's Spanish interpreter managed to communicate with most of the tribes they encountered by finding members of his adopted tribe among them.

De Soto moved north up the eastern seaboard during 1539 and 1540, leaving a trail of devastation and plunder in his wake. He played on the Indians' superstition by spreading the rumor that he was an incarnation of the sun god. Finally one tribe decided to stand up to De Soto's army, attacking him with several thousand warriors at the town of Mabila in what is now southern Alabama. De Soto slaughtered the warriors, burned the town, and then headed north and west toward the Chickasaws' domain, in what is now northern Mississippi.

When De Soto came to the Tombigbee River, near modern Tupelo, he was impressed with the Chickasaws' extensive fields of maize, and he decided to spend the winter there. After slight resistance at the river De Soto was received hospitably by the Chickasaws, and he chose to treat them more diplomatically than was his habit. His men even accompanied the Chickasaws in a raid on a neighboring tribe.

When spring came though, De Soto reverted to form and demanded that the Chickasaws supply 200 litter bearers, hacking the hands off an unfortunate brave to show that he meant business. The Chickasaws not only said no to the mighty Spaniards, they decided to evict them. The Chickasaw warriors routed De Soto's men in a surprise night attack, sending the Spaniards running for their lives wearing only their underwear. The Chickasaw women also participated in the attack by carrying coals in earthen pots to set the Spaniards' camp afire. De Soto lost a dozen men killed and many wounded, and 60 horses were either killed or captured. The only thing that saved the Spanish from total annihilation was the confusion caused by their stampeding horses, which caused the Chickasaws to fear a mounted counterattack. The Chickasaws lost only one man.

De Soto's men fled to a nearby village where they repaired and replaced their weapons and other equipment as best they could. The Spaniards were able to fight off a second attack by the Chickasaws at their new encampment, and when they had recovered enough to flee north toward the Mississippi River, the Chickasaws pursued them and inflicted more casualties. De Soto crossed the Mississippi and continued his expedition for another two years, but he never messed with the Chickasaws again.

I have always thought this was a remarkable story. The Chickasaws, never numbering more than a few hundred warriors and armed only with primative weapons, managed to defeat a well armed Spanish army which had previously decimated an Indian force of thousands.

The Chickasaws were and are something special, well deserving of their motto: Unconquered and Unconquerable."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back to New Bern

Actually John Paul Jones wasn't our only family member to fight in the Revolutionary War. John's nephew Jacob was a member of the Virginia Militia. Jacob migrated down to New Bern, North Carolina, after the war, where he began farming. Jacob's son Rhesa settled there too, and in 1808 married Tamsey Whealton. In 1809 Rhesa and Tamsey had a son, and they named him Smith, Smith Paul, my great great grandfather.

Smith was the oldest of nine siblings. His mother Tamsey died in 1819, and Smith, at the age of eleven, left home and joined a band of Chickasaw Indians. He must have had some pretty exciting adventures during this time, but we know very little. What we do know is that New Bern, North Carolina, is on the east coast, and the Chickasaws' homeland in Mississippi is about 400 miles away as the crow flies, too far for an eleven year old boy to travel by himself. I think that Smith must run across a group of Chickasaws on a trading mission.

At any rate, Smith ended up living with the Chickasaws until their forced removal to Indian Territory in 1837, 17 years later, so he spent most of his childhood with them.

The Chickasaws were more influenced by the white culture than many tribes, and by this period in history many were traders and farmers, but the old Chickasaw traditions and culture were still well known and practiced by many. Smith Paul grew up speaking the Chickasaw language, and he would have learned many of the Chickasaw traditions. By the time he decided to go with them to what is now Oklahoma, "Smith Paul was an Indian," as my mother put it.

According to my Uncle Haskell's story, which he got from Uncle Buck, Smith Paul's grandson, Smith made two trips to California with wagon trains before the Removal, so he was familiar with the country west of Mississippi. His daughter, 'Aunt Sippia,' said of him: "My father was interested in farming. It was always his desire to go into the farming business on a large scale."

Apparently Smith Paul saw the Removal as an opportunity to pursue his dream. He had kept in contact with his family through the years, and before his journey west with the Chickasaws he made one last trip home to tell his family of his decision to cast his lot with the Indians.

After saying goodbye to his family, Smith Paul returned to begin the arduous journey which would come to be known as the "Trail of Tears" by the Five Civilized Tribes. Neither he nor his adopted people could have imagined the hardships that were in store for them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

My mother was Episcopalian like her mother. Jim said that "Mamma" had joined the church when she was 16 after her mother passed away. The Episcopal Church was one of the few churches who had missionaries in Indian Territory at that time.

The Episcopal church served Mamma well, helping her through the deaths of her three older children. She also credited the prayers of the Episcopal priest and congregation with the recovery of her daughter, Kaliteyo, who almost died from a bad case of pneumonia in 1923.

In the mid '20's, when the Episcopal Church could no longer afford to send a priest to Pauls Valley, Mamma took her children to the nearest parish which was in Sulfur, Oklahoma, 30 miles away, riding with neighbors. When the church reestablished a parish in Pauls Valley 25 years later, Mamma became one of its charter members.

In 1941 when my parents were married, my father became an Episcopalian, and during my childhood most of our family life centered around the church. Jim was a member of the altar guild, and she helped to organize many church projects. My father was elected to the vestry and I was an acolyte.

After I graduated from college and left home, my parents continued to be active in the church and after my father died in 2000, Jim continued to attend services as long as she was able.

One evening, during the last days of Jim's life, she said to me: Mamma taught us to kneel down by the side of our bed and say a little prayer before we went to sleep. I said it for Kaliteyo when she died."

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I also said the prayer for Jim when she died.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Obituary, Chickasaw Times

This is a copy of my mother's obituary, published this month in the Chickasaw Times:

James Wenonah Paul Gunning died in her home in Oklahoma City on May 2nd, after a short illness.

Mrs Gunning, or “Jim” as she was known to her family and to older friends, was born on November 16, 1913, in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, and was a great granddaughter to that town’s founder, Smith Paul. Jim was the last of the third generation of his direct descendants.

The Paul family home was in Pauls Valley, but they also owned a small farm near town, the Chickasaw allotment of Jim’s oldest brother, Willie. Jim's fondest childhood memories were of the time she spent at the farm, riding the horses, climbing trees, and catching fish in the creek which ran through the property. At the home in town the family kept a cow, a goat, and chickens. Jim's chores included milking the cow and the goat, and gathering kindling for the big wood stove her mother used for cooking.

One of the highlights of Jim’s childhood was spending her first year of junior high school at Bloomfield Academy for Chickasaw and Choctaw girls in Ardmore, Oklahoma. She had a wonderful experience there, getting acquainted with other girls of Chickasaw heritage, and being free from the prejudice against Indians she had experienced at home. Jim was frustrated by the school’s policy of forbidding the girls to speak their native language, but the girls taught Jim a few words on the sly. Jim’s father, who spoke Chickasaw fluently also refused to teach Jim his native language, beyond counting to ten and a few simple words, thinking it was more important for her to fit in with the white culture.

The next year Jim decided to return to school in Pauls Valley. She said, “I probably should have stayed at Bloomfield, but I was just too home sick.” In 1931, when Jim graduated from high school, times were tough. The Depression had begun, and Jim had recently lost both her father and her oldest brother, but Jim’s brother Homer, by then a state senator, wanted his younger siblings to have a college education, so he arranged for room and board for Jim with her other brother Haskell, who had recently earned a law degree himself and worked for the state School Land Department. So at a time when women weren’t expected to go to college, with barely enough money for food and clothing, Jim attended the University of Oklahoma and earned a degree in social work. Social work was a new field at the time, created by the need for workers to administer the funds appropriated by Congress for the relief of those hit hardest by the depression.

After her graduation in 1935, Jim was assigned to work out of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, helping mostly Indian families in need due to the depression.

In 1941 Jim married Donald D Gunning, and after the beginning of WWII she did volunteer work for the Oklahoma City Hospitality Club, working with children of poor families, and for the American Red Cross, where she used her training in social work to help decide which men to release from military service to return home to support their families.

In 1942, Mr. Gunning was hired by Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, and the Gunnings spent the rest of the War there. After the birth of her son Robin in 1942, Jim devoted herself to being a mother and a housewife. She remained active however in many civic and church projects.

After the death of her mother in 1962, Jim went back to work as a social worker, this time using her middle name of “Wenonah,” the name of Hiawatha’s mother, from Longfellow’s epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.” Wenonah then worked for 13 more years for the Oklahoma State Welfare Department, starting at the Oklahoma County Office and working her way up to a position as consultant for the State Director.

After her retirement from the Welfare Department in 1984, Wenonah was appointed to the Chickasaw Historical Society Board of Directors on the recommendation of her brother Haskell Paul, a member of the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. She served proudly as a member of the Board until unable to attend meetings for health reasons in 2008.

It was impossible not to be impressed by Mrs Gunning’s pride in her family and heritage, her enthusiasm for her beliefs, and her personal interest in everyone she met. In 2005, when she found out that a friend’s adopted child had been taken from him by the state, she helped him make connections to appeal the decision. In 2007, at the age of 93, she helped her nephew find an apartment at Ada in Chickasaw Senior housing. Mrs Gunning never stopped trying to help others.

Mrs Gunning was preceded in death by her husband, Donald D Gunning. She is survived by a son, Robin R Gunning, MD, of Denver, Colorado, three grandchildren, Donald Gunning, Cheryl Pichette, and Therese Pichette of Spokane, Washington, and 13 great grandchildren.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It All Started with John Paul Jones

In one of Jim's early lessons about our heritage, she mentioned in passing that we were related to John Paul Jones. "His name wasn't really Jones though," she said. "It was Paul."

I didn't learn much more than that until much later. Oh, I learned in school that John Paul Jones had taken over the fledgling American navy and had surprised the arrogant British by defeating them on several occasions. I learned about his famous battle with the British Man of War, Serapis, during which the British commander asked if he was ready to surrender. John Paul Jones replied, "I have not yet begun to fight," and then went on to win the battle.

In recent years, while doing research about the family, I found out that John Paul Jones was notorious for more than just being the father of the US Navy. More in character for a Paul, he actually came to America as a fugitive from justice. John Paul - his original name - was born in Kirkcudbright, in southern Scotland. He left home at age 13 as a ship's apprentice, and by age 21 he had been promoted to the rank of captain. The Paul temper eventually got John into trouble though. First he flogged a sailor who died of his wounds, and later he ran a man through during an argument over pay. Ben Franklin said that John Paul told him that the man had been involved in a mutiny attempt, but John must have thought there were some holes in his defense, because he didn't stay for the trial, but instead high tailed it to the American Colonies, where his brother William had recently passed away. John was the executor of the will and received a sizable inheritance. Along the way, he changed his sir name to Jones to throw off his pursuers.

I suppose a lot of people claim to be kin to the founding fathers, but I believe that our claim is legitimate, not just because John's behavior seems to fit the Paul mold, but because when I was a teenager, Uncle Haskell travelled to Virginia and checked out the court documents. Also he corresponded with some cousins of ours who had enough proof to get themselves admitted to the DAR.

According to Haskell's research, William Paul, John Paul's brother, was the great grandfather to Smith Paul, my great great grandfather, and the founder of Pauls Valley.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Loose Ends

Looking back on my last few posts, they don't seem any more connected than my first few. I guess it's part of the grieving process, but memories of my mother keep popping into my head kind of at random. Hopefully it's not too confusing to skip around like this. It might be a good way to get across the idea that Jim was a very complicated multifaceted person.

I had intended to go back and talk about the family's origins, to kind of follow up on my post about our Indian heritage, but I started thinking about the strength of Jim's character, and how she was able to give a feeling of security to me as a child, as well as to my kids, as illustrated by the story of Donald's nightmare about the lions.

I did then get back to the subject of our family history, summarizing the stories Jim told me when I was little, when she was trying to instill in me the same pride she felt in our ancestors.

In the middle of these entries I made a trip home to deal with Jim's estate, to decide what to save and what to sell, so I posted a blog about how hard it was to part with anything that was hers.

The stories Jim told me about her childhood are my favorites. They tell about her life when she was still a carefree child, before her life was burdened by hardship and struck by tragedy, but I don't have many pictures of Jim as a child. The family picture taken when she refused to stand with her brothers and sister is therefore a special treasure, so I wanted to show it. I think it says something about Jim's personality, and it gave me an opportunity to give a brief description of each member of her family at that time.

I could hardly show the picture of Jim as a child without telling about some of her adventures. It was always hard for me to imagine Jim as an ornery undisciplined little tomboy because she was always so strict and disciplined as a mother.

Telling about Jim's fights led me to a description of Mamma's methods of discipline. I didn't want to give the impression that Jim and Bob misbehaved without being punished. Actually Jim claimed that Mamma was quite strict, and that she and her brothers and sisters were usually polite and well behaved.

Be that as it may, none of the Paul children were inhibited in any way. As my cousin Steve put it, "They all had strong personalities."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

She Cried Like Mamma Was Whippin' Her with the Ironin' Cord

I don't want to imply that Jim and Bob got away with fighting and breaking the glass in the back door without any punishment. Mamma tried her best to make them behave. Jim said that she gave them a lot of spankings, mostly for fighting.

All of Mamma's children got spankings, and the younger children sometimes got advice from their older siblings on how to avoid punishment. Jim said that Snip told Haskell if he cried real loud during a spanking Mamma would feel sorry for him. I doubt if this worked more than once or twice.

Jim's brother Bob had a little dog named Ring that was protective of him, and she said, "Ring would try to take the switch away from Mamma when she spanked Bob, and she would get tickled and stop."

Mamma had different levels of spankings. When the children were little she would hold their heads between her knees and slap their bottoms with her hands. As the children got older she used a switch. Since Jim and Bob were always together, they usually got spanked together. Jim said, "Mamma would tell each of us to go get a switch for the other. I would get a normal sized switch and Bob would pick out a 'limb' for me." Mamma's youngest children, Oteka and Tom, got into trouble together too, and although it was Jim's opinion that they got off easily, Oteka told the same story about Tom.

For the worst offenses Mamma would get out the 'ironing cord.' This was the removable cord that connected the iron to the electrical socket. The ironing cord was strong; it was narrow enough to sting, and its surface was rough enough to scratch the skin. The ironing cord would bring tears to even the toughest of Mamma's boys.

Once when I was little my Uncle Tom and Aunt Kaliteyo went to the show together. They were both single and sometimes they would double date. The next day they were both over at our house and Tom was teasing Kaliteyo about crying in the movie. He said, "Kaliteyo cried just like Mamma had been whippin' her with the ironin' cord."

Author Camping

I will be camping this week with my son and grandson so I won't be here to answer comments. Robin

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I Just Wanted to Find Out if I Could Whip Her

My mother was tiny as a grown woman, not quite 5 feet 4 inches, and she was also tiny as a child. You wouldn't expect her to have been much of a fighter.

One day as I was going through a box, I found a list of Jim's gradeschool classmates, so I read the names and asked her what she could remember about each person. I loved going through old records and pictures with Jim because it almost always reminded her of one or two good stories.

I wasn't disappointed this time either. When I got to one girl's name Jim said: "I had a big fight with her." She continued: "When we started fighting the whole class gathered around to watch. Althea was a big girl, and stronger than me. She got me down, and I had to bite her to get loose."

I asked Jim what had started the fight, thinking that she had probably been the victim of some injustice. Jim hesitated for a moment and then said, matter of factly, "I just wanted to find out if I could whip her."

Jim really wanted to be a boy. She told me that she tried hard to kiss her elbow when she was little because someone told her that would turn her into a boy. She had a lot of useful boy skills. She made a slingshot and a pea shooter for me when I was little, and she could whistle really loud through her teeth. She tried to teach me but I could never get it right.

Jim got to practice fighting a lot with her brother Bob, who was about two years younger than she was. She told me, "I could whip him too, until he got bigger and learned to hit me in the stomach." It took a while though for Bob to learn that trick. In the meantime he used whatever was at hand as an equalizer. Jim had a scar over her right eye from one of her fights with Bob. He had beaned her with a soup bone from the kitchen.

Jim said that Bob evaluated other boys he knew by whether or not he could "whup" them, and I don't think Jim's attitude was much different. When I tried to sympathize with her for getting hit with the bone, she replied with pride, "I gave as good as I got."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Earliest Memories

This picture was taken in about 1917, when Jim, or "Jamie" as she was called then, was about 4 years old. It's one of my favorite pictures of my mother. She had just refused to join the other children for a family portrait. She had climbed up on the porch thinking she was out of the picture, but the photographer - Pappa? - included her anyway. Actually there's another picture taken later, after Jim had been coaxed down to join the group, but I like this one better.

The other children are - starting from the left - Haskell age 10, Bob age 2, Kaliteyo age 7, and Homer (Snip) age 13. Absent from the picture is Jim's oldest brother Willie, who was 16 at the time this picture was taken. He was away at military school in Alton, Illinois.

Haskell was Mamma's "Angel boy." He was neat, studious, and shy. Once when he was little a teacher prejudiced against Indians kept him in after school, and Pappa made a visit the superintendent. Haskell was changed to a different class. Mamma's comment was, "If you don't like Indians you shouldn't live in Indian country."

Bob was a toddler at this time but he would soon become Jim's favorite playmate. They climbed trees together, and played on top of the family's two story house. They went to the farm, about three miles from town, and rode the horses, and they fought. Jim said, "The glass window in the back door was always broken from being slammed when Bob and I chased each other."

Kaliteyo and Jim had completely different personalities. As Jim put it, "Mamma tried to make a lady out of Kaliteyo." Actually Mamma kept Kaliteyo inside most of the time because she was 'sickly' instead of letting her run and play with the other children. Kaliteyo was four years older than Jim, and Mamma made her take Jim along when she visited her friends. Kaliteyo eventually came to think of Jim as a pest. The two sisters had to sleep together though until Kaliteyo went off to college. Jim recalled, "I would try to snuggle up to Kaliteyo when it was cold. I can still feel her elbow in my ribs."

Jim's other brother, Homer, nicknamed "Snip" because his baby picture had a corner snipped off, was as opposite from Haskell as Jim was from Kaliteyo. Snip was outgoing and popular in school but he never studied. Jim said, "When Snip graduated from high school Mamma said she wanted to go out on the front porch and yell Hallelujah!" Snip loved animals and he always had several pets.

At this time Jim's "Grandpa" lived with the family. Jim, his namesake, was his favorite, and she remembers him singing to her and telling her stories. Grandpa always had several pins stuck in his lapel that he had picked up off the floor so the children wouldn't step on them. He chewed tobacco and spit into a spittoon which sat in the living room. Stuck in every roll of tobacco was a pin with the figure of a donkey on the end. Jim cherished the collection of donkeys that Grandpa had given her. Every day after breakfast Grandpa would put on his hat - he never seemed to know where it was even though it was always in the punch bowl where he had thrown it the day before - and walked down town to visit with his 'cronies.'

Mamma and Pappa were having conflicts by this time, but it seems that the family had adjusted to it. Pappa drank, but his drinking was in sprees and Jim said that he was never drunk at home. He got dressed every morning in a suit and tie; went out and revved up his Model A Ford, - Jim said he loved to race the motor - and drove off to his real estate office downtown.

In spite of her parents' conflicts Jim said, "Mamma and Pappa always loved each other." Pappa never had affairs with other women, and Mamma kept getting pregnant. Mamma had ten children all together, and Jim's youngest brother Tom was a "change of life" baby. Mamma devoted herself to her children. Jim said, "When I think of Mamma, I think of babies." Once when Mamma had just returned from picking up Pappa stranded after one of his "toots," she recalled, "I was sitting in the train on the way to Oklahoma City, and I kept thinking that something was missing. Finally I realized it was because I wasn't holding a baby."