February 01, 2019

In My Mother's Footsteps

I've spent some time in earlier posts describing my mother's stories about growing up in Jamaica. When she was in her late 80s or early 90s, she took a biography writing class from Windward Community College. The essays she wrote as assignments in that class inspired me to do the same for my early years. Now that I'm retired, I've decided to act on the inspiration.

I enrolled in a semester-long seminar entitled, "Memories and Memoir: Writing Personal Histories." Our first meeting today included a few first-timers, and several repeat students. Students and instructor are all retirees, and the seminar is one of many offered by the Renaissance Society on the California State University - Sacramento (CSUS or Sac State) campus.

Our first assignment is to determine the outcome we want from the class (vignettes, stories, book, ...) and the audience. Then we are to write stories of up to 800 words to read aloud in class. The instructor will offer guidance for developing characters, creating story lines with tension and resolution, and for determining whether we can make the story stronger by including fiction enhancements.

Most are there to - of course - write about themselves or their parents for their children. Everyone has an interesting story, and I'm looking forward to the journey.

July 15, 2010

The following letter is among my mother's correspondence. Una is her mother. I believe "Uncle David" to be Simon Soutar's brother. Simon was Una's father, and the subject of the "tribute" mentioned in the letter. The "Family Magazine" referred to at the end of the letter used to make the rounds of the far-flung families, each family adding its current news and deleting its old news before sending it on to the next family. Mother referred to it many times, calling it a "round robin", but I believe it ceased circulation in the years after this letter was written.

5 Wood Street
24th April 1923

Dear Una,

I received your letter also that for Aunt Sara & forwarded the same to her. I have seen her since & she hopes to be able to send you a reply. She has been failing during the last 12 months her deafness has increased & now her memory is often at fault. Uncle Alick is not too well either & he worries about her. Still they say that the change back to Scotland has in some ways benefitted them. Their new address is
8 Corse Terrace
West Kilbride

Agnes lost the sight in her right eye a few weeks ago. The Dr traced it to a piece of broken tooth left in the gum. It has been extracted & the sight is coming slowly back.

Sarel [?] (age 13) is in the Scouts. Martin (10) is in the "Cubs", but is having to give them up for a time as under Dr's orders he has to go to bed at 6 P.M. in order to rest himself thoroughly. His heart is weak but the Dr says he will grow out of it. Queenie (9) is in the "Brownies" & is taking part in a "Display" which takes place tomorrow night. Her proper name is Sara Margaret but we call her "Queenie".

Aunt sent me the "Jamaica Papers" I was much impressed by the tributes they paid to your fathers character his enterprise & public spirit.

I have just been reading Uncle David's Journal of his voyage to the West Indies. Uncle Simon & he left Southhampton, on Jan. 18th 1858, on board the good ship R.M.S. Parana 2048 Tons. Its destination was St. Thomas. From there they took a packet, the "Dee" which proceeded via Puerto Rico & Haiti. They landed at Port Royal on Sunday 7th Feby & put up at the Date Tree Hotel which had been recommended as the "first in the island." The journal closes in time for dispatch by first mail.

The "Family Magazine" (which had gone astray) has just come to hand this afternoon.

With kind regards from all to all,

I am
yours sincerely
Oscar S. Bailey

December 18, 2009

Advent calendar of Christmas memories

I stopped adding "memories" posts, because they all led to the same thing. It was a good idea, but I ran out of memories.

We did make a few memories of our own, though. For every Christmas since we moved to California in 1991, we've gone to a tree farm to cut our own tree. The freshness is incomparable to the sorry trees we used to get in Hawaii from the Pacific Northwest.

We used to go to Union Mine Pines in Amador County, where Roz and Bob Deutsch have a small tree farm. However, it is a long way to drive, and Highway 49 is hilly and twisty, and the tree tied to the roof of our small car never seemed quite secure. (That's a part of the tradition, too - checking the tree every few miles to be sure it's still tied down tight.)

Roz used to work for Sacramento Public Library, and she grew up in Hawaii, so we had some memories to share. She, too, was in Hawaii on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. They have a cute cabin on the farm, all decorated in red and green and with a nice wood stove in the living room. Bob collects antique farm equipment, and has lots of stories about them and how they were used. They have a Santa cut-out, and offer hot chocolate, candy canes, and Polaroid photos of the families with their freshly-cut trees. (I should find ours and scan them - good way to see the kids growing up each year!)

Lately, we've been getting our trees from Davis Ranch in Sacramento County. This year, as always, we got the perfect tree. The weather, however, was not perfect last Sunday. We managed to arrive at the ranch between showers, and tromped through the rows of mud to make our choice. Husband lay down on a tarp to saw it off, and then we netted it, loaded up the trunk, and brought it home. The kids are long past the days when they were eager to go find a tree, but Daughter did a beautiful job decorating our tree this year. Not sure what we'll do next year, because we may be empty-nesters by then!

December 09, 2009

December 7, 2009, 68th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Bombing

My cousin"Pickles" Picadura shared this story yesterday by e-mail in a comment on a snow video I had just uploaded to YouTube:

Just think U & Marty did dis on...Pearl Harbor Memorial Day.... I remember da day real well. My dad took 8 mm movies and da US Army came to our house & took da movie film from my dad, plus da telescope he used to film da event. We neva got back anything they took. It seems telescopes was contraband items during da Marshall Law days. At least we got to see da movie he took before da army came to get it. They found out we had it from da film company who developed it. I remember seeing da Japanese pilot when they flew over our house in Kaimuki, he was so low, that my dad thought he was going to crash into da house & told everyone to get out of da house & Rosemarie cried. He flew over many times in a circle like he was looking for something. Kaimuki in those days was only residences & only Kaimuki Town was 3 blocks long on Waialae Ave. Today Kaimuki Town runs from 5th Ave to 13th Ave. on Waialae & Harding Aves. A big change ... unbelieveable buildup from 1950 to present. Catch U later.

December 08, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 7 - Holiday Parties
Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

Our family believed that holidays were for family, and since we had a large family, it turned into a party. The only exception was Christmas eve, when we invited neighbors with children over after dinner to sing Christmas carols and have cookies and punch - a way to keep excited children busy and distract them from the pile of tantalizing gifts under the tree.

December 8 - Christmas Cookies
Did your family or ancestors make Christmas Cookies? How did you help? Did you have a favorite cookie?

Gramma Schulmeister baked sugar cookies every year, dozens and dozens. She would make and roll the dough and let us go to town with the cookie cutters and sugar sprinkles. We felt like we were doing our part to bring Christmas when we stacked cookies in waxed-paper-lined cookie tins to bring home with us. We didn't frost them, but colored them with red, green and yellow sugar sprinkles, and the multicolored little round ones, too. For many years, she bought silver balls and we'd add them to the Christmas trees, wreathes, and stars.

Over time, other cookies became favorites: date bars, macadamia snowballs, and peanut butter blossoms made with Hershey's Kisses. And ginger snaps, too, flattened with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar.

When I was in college, the Honolulu Advertiser published a recipe for an authentic German gingerbread house. I still have the original clipping and cardboard templates for cutting the pieces out of the baked cookies. Now my daughter has shown an interest, and she and her friend made one last Christmas from the same recipe!

December 06, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 5 - Outdoor Decorations
Did people in your neighborhood decorate with lights? Did some people really go “all out” when decorating? Any stories involving your ancestors and decorations?

No one in my family or my neighbohood ever did anything more than outline windows with colored lights. At my own house, the only lights were on the tree, except the 2 years we ran a long indoor/outdoor string of mini lights around the back garden fence.

December 6 - Santa Claus
Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list?” Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

Letters to Santa weren't a huge thing with us. I believe, when I was first learning to write - so, Grades K-3 - I did write to Santa and entrust the letters to my parents to mail. My own kids also wrote letters to Santa, but not every year, and for only a few years. In the early '80s, I discovered JRR Tolkien's "Father Christmas Letters", which I borrowed every year from the library and read to the kids if they would sit still for it. The (mis)adventures of the North Polar Bear and the Red Elves gav me giggles every year!

We had no fireplace, no chimney, so we left one window open for Santa to come in. I was 8 when I learned there was no Santa. I woke up during the night and, since I could see down the hall from my bed, I saw my parents carring boxes and presents from their bedroom to the living room. That was my lightbulb moment, but I didn't spoil it for my younger brothers until the next year.

My kids believed in Santa till they were about the same age, because of the ashy boot-prints on the hearth, and they left him cookies and milk faithfully. One year, Daughter's pre-school sent home Reindeer Food in a baggie (rolled oats mixed with glitter) with instructions to strew it on the lawn to attract Santa's reindeer. (It worked.)

December 04, 2009

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 4 - Christmas Cards
Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?

When I was a small girl, the only way mail came to Hawaii was by boat. We would receive letters weeks after being written and mailed, and we read each one eagerly, before composing a reply that would take equally long to get delivered. Christmas cards had to be sent about 4 to 6 weeks before the date you wanted them to arrive, especially those that were going to other countries, like Canada, Jamaica, and England.

Mother had a silver tray that she placed on the coffee table the day the first Christmas card arrived, and would read and re-read all the notes, letters (not at all like today's Christmas "newsletters", and photos that were included. She had a wide circle of friends and relatives who would share family news and personal greetings every year, and as I grew old enough to decipher the handwriting, I , too, got to know them all. Children grew up, married, and had their own kids; elders passed on; local news was shared about neighbors, neighborhoods, and institutions. We marveled at the beautiful, funny, glittery, gilt, and cut-out cards - every one different, just like snowflakes. Mother was a very good correspondent.

Daddy's father, though, was not. Postcards and letters from his sister and cousin in Austria always admonished him to write more often. They obviously had great affection for him, sending photos and postcards of the family in the Old Country with news of the war, of Papa's health, and the fate of the restaurant they owned. I transcribed one Christmas postcard during the first year of this blog, but I will repeat it here:

Attnang, 25. / IX - 915

Lieber Pepi!
Dir und Lucy und Euren Kindern fröhliche Weihnachten und ein frohes Neues-Jahr! Wir Alle sind gesund! Unser Hans steht in Serbien. Toni ist noch in Brooklyn gibt seine alte Addresse! Unser Bruder Karl steht in Russich-Polen in der Front. Mein Mann ist daheim, ist vom Militärdienst befreit, unsere Eltern sind wohlauf. Sorge Dich um uns nicht! Schreib doch ofters! Grüße und küße Dich, sowie Deine Lieben Alle, Deine Schwester

Attnang, 25 Nov. 1915
Dear Pepi,
To you and Lucy and your children, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We are all in good health! Our Hans is posted in Serbia. Toni is still in Brooklyn, gives his old address! Our brother Karl is posted in Russian-Poland on the Front. My husband is at home, is released from military service. Our parents are doing well. Don’t worry about us! But write more often! Love and kisses to you, as well as to all your loved ones, your sister

We do not own a coffee table. So when the first Christmas card arrives - and it has - I hang a snowman card-holder on the wall in the dining room, and add the new cards as they come. More and more, my correspondents do not write news in the card itself, but include a word-processed newsletter recapping their year. Some even forego the card, and just send the newsletter. This year, I expect more of my friends and family will e-mail their news. That's OK, I guess, but unless we print and post them our kids might never have the pleasure of getting to know our extended family and friends, who span the globe from Singapore and Saipan, Hawaii, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and United Kingdom and Ireland. Husband's friends range even farther afield, to Europe.