Sometimes my great Uncle Pete and his wife Ester would come to visit. Uncle Pete was noisy and large and more ostentatious than my grandpa. After the war, when Detroit geared up for civilian consumption, and farm machinery and cars became available Uncle Pete would drive Cadillacs. The pre war dodge that we drove was purchased for my father after he graduated from college. He said it was a gift his parents bought him because he was a good boy and didn't drink. He did relate a story that his mother told him about an uncle who was frequently found drunk in his car. It must have been quite a scandal, but my father seemed to take it all in stride and mused that may have been why he was not very successful. Years later, as I was raising three teenage boys, Calvin constantly sabotaged any restraint in this area by telling them stories about getting his first model T when he had to go to a new school in the seventh grade because it was too far to ride his pony. He told them how to make a pipe bomb and explained he needed to do it in the barn just to have a little excitement. He loved celebrations and when he left every fourth of July his clothes were full of burn holes from dropping fire works too close. He was oblivious.
Calvin was free and could be reckless. We had lots of freedom in the 40s and 50s, and most of our activities would be considered dangerous. Now we must measure our words and actions so that they do not offend. We take precautions so that there is no discomfort, much less harm. If children are hurt, it is now a matter for attorneys and law enforcement or both. There can be no accidents. Calvin and Bijou would be considered criminally casual as parents. In the summer in Iowa, my father would put me on a pony without a saddle and slap it's flanks. I would fly through the corn fields without being able to see anything but the bright azure sky and the clouds above. Corn stalks would slap my face and legs. When the horse decided I should return, my father would still be laughing as he lifted me off. It was a frightening adventure for both of us. There are pictures of my sister my brothers and me hanging over rock cliffs fishing in a Colorado river - perhaps just short of a falls. We are climbing up the side of a giant steep boulder, lying on narrow edges forty feet off the ground, and scaling craggy crevices. We were small. It was not that we did this during unsupervised moments when our parents minds had lapsed. They were fully aware and even memorialized the neglect with pictures. I am put on the back of a horse ridden by an unknown itinerant sheep herder who rides by. I must hold tight as the horse climbs the steep cliffs to the top of the Smokey Mountain Range in Wyoming. We ride through the snow at the top above the timber line looking for stray lambs. Did my parents worry, I was small.
There was another side of Calvin. I find a box of letters from the war. It is a red wooden box with a limp greed satin ribbon tied in a bow. The letters come from all over the county and foreign lands and are written to Calvin. They are written by all the boys from Luverne Minnesota where we lived during World War II. Calvin regularly writes them all to tell them what is the latest news from Rock county. The news is of their town, school, family, friends and neighbors, with a heavy emphasis on school sports. There is a base near us and the freshly uniformed boys come to our house bringing their shy or resolute fiancÚs. They come with hope and promise to be married before they are shipped to the European theater or to the Pacific to do what is required of them. They come for Calvin to marry them. My older sister Nancy and I sit high on the steps above the living room as the simple ceremony is performed. Nancy is precocious and memorizes the wedding vows. There are also letters from the grateful parents of these young men thanking Calvin for giving their sons comfort or a meal before they leave for the unknown, possibly never to return. As we ride from place to place in the grey dodge we pick up hitch hikers who are all wearing the uniform of their country.
Anyway, the machinery in front of Our Hemp Field and our thrashing crew looks spectacular for it's era. This culture is the essence of Calvin and at the end of his life it is who he is.
It's Christmas of 1991. Calvin is dying. I call my brothers, Jim and John and my sister Nancy to come to my house to see him. When my father retired in 1975 he and Bijou moved to the town in Ohio where I live with my husband and three boys, Benji, Brad and Tim. Calvin and Bijou lived near us for sixteen years, and now he is going into the unknown, although to him it is known.
He now has four slightly over middle aged children, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. They will all come for Christmas. It's an edgy difficult family with many agendas. Perhaps the most difficult are my own. I want things to be ok, so I provide the venue - for this - one has to care about them and I do. John, my youngest brother and his wife and one year old son are leaving from my house for a ski trip in the Alps after saying good-bye to Dad. I am so excited to see him, as in many ways he seems to me to be the most stable of us all. It is likely this is the last time many would see Dad. John was seldom here, but I adored him from the moment he was born. He was the youngest of the four children and was born with a faint strawberry birthmark on his forehead identical to mine. In my six year old consciousness this made him mine. He was always happy and adventurous and best of all competent. He would help me with the prickly personalities and physical job of feeding and cleaning and fixing. We were the only two who knew how to take care of people and things. My equally edgy husband could not help - his forte is chaos and competing It would be hard. Nancy and Jim would mentally spar and circle each other. I love them all, but John will help.
We took group pictures in front of the dining room fire place and spilled half way across the room. Marty, my husband took beautiful candid shots of all the grandchildren and great grandchildren. All in all, it was a great send off for a man who's childhood had been filled with family on Iowa farms. My main line protestant father's own family is quite ecumenical. I fanatisize that the proud and independent Germans who made the trip to America for opportunity and freedom would be pleased. Calvin's family is now composed of reform Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Evangelicals, Buddhists, and Muslims, Agnostics - with perhaps a bit of Deism. He married many of them. I asked him how he did it so gracefully giving no offense and he responded, "I just soft- peddle Jesus."
In April of 92 Calvin's younger brother Joe and his wife Rachel flew in to say good-by. He was a man most comfortable when he was in control, and even though his health was poor and he walked with difficulty, he was in control. We had dinner and we sat around the table and talked about family. He was very proud of his German heritage and had named his children Joseph, Barbara and Karl. Gretchen was a child who died in infancy. He spoke about his children with great affection. I know it was a moment in time for him to take some accounting of his life. We talked about a young talented 2nd cousin living on Long Island who had died of aids, and Joe said, "It's been a journey since we were children at the turn of the century. I now know that people must be who they are and there are many mysteries in life, and not so many rules." Resolutely, he went to my father's hospital room and told him he had always loved him and he was proud to be his brother. He said good-by and said he's see him again. This was expressed as a simple fact, straight forwardly, and with dignity. Joe did not sit casually, and even though he could hardly walk, he stood next to the bed. Calvin could not talk, but Joe told him that he knew that he heard what he said. I felt as if I would faint. So this is family. Timing was right on. Daddy did not recover, but died in May. His body was donated to Ohio State Medical Center according to his wishes.
Oh God !!!! Let the Games Begin.
My middle son, Brad once told me in moment of pique that our lives were based on lies and deceptions - Well yes. I'll give him that, although he couldn't know the half of it because I didn't. How can you tell what you don't know?
I was probably 19 when my mother told me she was not an orphan. Until that time, my point of view was that she had just sprouted from nothing in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1913. In my Grandmother Knock's house there were many pictures of my father, wearing a crisp white dress as a baby, riding his pony, dressed up, dressed down, wearing beautiful clothes and wearing overalls - with cousins, parents, friends, his younger brother. In the upstairs hall way there were portraits hung of Great Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins. There was the log book written in meticulous hand from the ship my Great Grandfather used to ship goods around the coast of Europe. The logs were written in German as were the bills of lading. I didn't know how one lived in Iowa and had a ship that carried cargo to European ports, but that is how it happened.
I never saw a picture of Bijou as a child or young girl, nor did I ever see any of her relatives in a picture or in person. Even though she had no evidence of family, it did not prevent her from telling childhood stories. She had a brother, Lincoln Stockton, who was born in 1914. He lived in Washington and later in Pompano Beach. He was brilliant and even though he was a year younger, he was two or three grades ahead of Bijou in school. They did everything together and largely raised each other. When they traveled alone around the city on the trolly to various events and lessons, if someone questioned the safety of it to their mother she replied that she had not raised fools for children, and they could take care of themselves. Their father never lived with them, but lived in a big house on a hill with his parents, several brothers and a sister. He died when Bijou was 10 from an injury she said. At the age of 13 she was taken to live with the principle of a high school in Cincinnati, where she lived until she graduated. A woman by the name of Ethel Sachs seemed to make all the decisions in her life. Her relationship with Ethel Sachs continued throughout her life as she regularly wrote to her (till her mind was stolen by the DEA). I believe that Ethel Sachs made arrangements for her to go to the University of Dubuque in Iowa where she met my father who was 3 years her senior. After graduating from college Calvin went to McCormick Seminary in Chicago for three years and became a Presbyterian minister - and they were married.
Even her name was notional - Bijou. Bijou Knock had exotic stories about her life. These would spilled out throughout the course of her life. She was a dancer, a swimmer, she had braces as a child - did they have braces then? Her must have been the first. Someone must have cared for her, the fillings in her teeth were gold. In 1919, Bijou is in downtown Cincinnati with her mother and brother. As the three of them are getting on a trolley a well dressed matron rushes up to Bijou and presses something in her hand. She shows her mother and asks who the woman was. Her mother says, "That woman was your Grandmother."
Bijou and Lincoln have been sent downtown with money to buy a special doll Bijou needs for a program she will be in. She has been given just enough money for the doll. The doll store is across the street from the bank. A man leaves the bank and crosses the street and approaches them. He is distinguished and forbidding. He must have seen the apprehension on their faces, so he tells them that he is the president of the bank. "Are you the Stockton children?" he asks. They say they are and he says he is a friend of their mother. He buys Bijou a beautiful china doll with an extensive wardrobe and carrying cases, he puts them in a private car and sends them home. She doesn't know why he did this or how they were related if at all.
Bijou did see her mother's father once. He came to the door and she opened it. In front of her was a broken and sick old man who asked to see her mother. Bijou called her mother and as she came around the corner she caught a glimpse of the gentleman. Bijou's mother had a well known temper, but she had never looked so enraged. She stopped at the fireplace on her way to the door and grabbed a poker and rushed to the door and began to beat him with it till he left without stating his reason for the visit.
It is 1972 and I am living in Pittsburgh with my husband and two young children. Marty, my husband is there for a residency so our stay would be a short three years. When we are settled, Bijou said that I should look up her Aunt Bera Mellon. I was quite surprised never having seen or talked to any of her relatives, only hearing strange and eerie stories of them. Bijou gave me "Aunt Bera's" phone number and I called her. Aunt Bera was immediately gracious and kind and asked me to come for lunch. She was very old and was living in a beautiful well appointed residence for seniors in Shady Side. I met her for lunch and she invited me to the Symphony as she had extra tickets. I picked Bera and her friend up in my very compact volkswagon. I can still feel the dismay I had as I tried to fit them both in the car with their huge mink coats. She inquired about the make of the car, and said she had never seen one before but she thought it was quite efficient. Bera had divorced my mother's uncle in the 1920s but was well acquainted with my mother and could talk to me about her childhood. Bijou's mother had married a very young man when she was almost 40 years old. They had two children Bijou and Lincoln. Aunt Bera said that it was the custom in the family that the men did not live with their wives, but stayed in the house with their mother, her husband had done the same. She did not think that mother's father was violent, but probably had a temper. Bijou's mother was named Edna and she had an infamous temper but Bera liked her anyway, her life was chaos and she was incapable of creating order for her children. She didn't know why Bijou's father had died so young, but there were rumors of a terrible accident. Perhaps she was sparing me. I saw Bera sporadically over the next three years. She invited me to eat in the elegant dining room and took me to her apartment where she had family pictures of her childhood. There were pictures of her family in their apartment above the bank and the summer home in Ligonier where she was with all the Mellon Cousins on the large front porch. She groused a little about living on a bunch of old rail road stock. She thought it was of little value. I realized much later in my life, this was the only relative of my mother's I had ever met.
I asked Bijou how she was able to go to college so far from home during the depression. She insists that no one helped her, she worked and finished in four years. Is this possible? Who would pay her for her work. I have never known her to be able to do any domestic labor in a competent manner. Her house was chaos. Not only could she not take care of things, she made it impossible for anyone to help her. We have no memories of wonderful food coming from her kitchen, although she could make good pea soup, oyster stew, pot roast, and cherries jubilee, which she caught on fire. I asked her how she got to a College so far away if no one helped her. She said she was taken by a man she didn't really know, but she thought he was a Jewish Theologian. When he dropped her off, he told her she was to staying Iowa for the next four years without coming home. Bijou dutifully complied although she told stories of unspeakable homesickness.
As I grew up, we had a series of live in girls who helped clean and take care of the children. This should have been of some help, but Bijou seemed to feel that this presented her with one more person to care for, and of course watch to see that they did not organize her life. Over the years she accumulated more and more possession that she did not need, but she was willing to become the permanent caretaker of them. The clutter and storage grew and grew, only being sorted out on the occasion of the five moves she had to make during her married life. Each move and disgorgement was painful and disagreeable.
Now that my father was gone, how would she manage without this very grounded man? Her children talked about it. He was constantly frustrated and irritated with her. She was bright, but totally incapable of producing a product - even if it was just a meal. She spent her days sorting and reading papers that she thought were important, but couldn't quite cope with any action that must be taken. Calvin had carved out small spaces in his life which were soothing like a spa. In these spaces, he kept his things which were totally orderly and predictable. He lined up rows and rows of small leather bound day books that contained the content of his life from 1937 to 1991. These orderly parts of my father were like pockets in a sea of chaos. Bijou felt badly that her style was such a disappointment. but she couldn't accept help. Help to her felt like a scolding. The helper may come in and she would lose control of some corner of security. Thus, anyone who helped fell short in her constantly evaluating mind. How could anyone else know what was valuable, what was the logical place for an item, what needed to be done and what was unimportant. It was exasperating. She did have many valuable characteristics. She was fearless, she was stubborn, vigilant and she had empathy to spare. She could vividly feel the pain of others be it physical or emotional. She was incapable of disciplining her children in a normal way and we all craved calm and order. We created our own. Perhaps now that Calvin was gone she would breath a sigh of relief that she no longer had to compete with his orderly life, and the memory of his orderly mother. Or perhaps not.
First, she got a dog. The dog was a small disagreeable beagle that came from the shelter. He sat in my father's chair, watched television and barked his disagreement with the situation. His name was Bugle Boy and he craved consistency and order also, but instead she presented him with a dizzying array of contradictory commands. If he chewed up a shoe she loved to wear, she gave him an old shoe to chew on. He was never able to distinguish. He was confused, and in short, he had permission to rule the house and make her life miserable and she loved him.
She went to Hawaii in December to spend time with John, my youngest brother and Naomi and their now two year old son, Ethan. Naomi was working on her Phd. They planned to stay in Hawaii until she completed it and then sail around the world. When Bijou returned, she was sun burned from head to toe from being on a boat swimming and snorkeling, even though she was 80.
Now she began her earnest effort to put things in order. Nancy and I bought her files which she began stuffing full of papers - in no particular order. Newspaper clippings, travel documents, recipes, and important tax documents were put together in one folder. When questioned about her filing she retorted authoritatively - everyone doesn't file in the same way, some people file in front of the letter and some behind it. Whether she filed in front or behind was not the problem. These conversations went no where. Nothing was ever eliminated or thrown out. If you suggested that she do things in a consistent way, and put things in the same place, she would tell you she had a photographic memory and had never misplaced anything.
Oh well, we'll sort it out later. Bijou paid bills, settled the estate and continued to go to clubs, meetings, parties, weddings, funerals and church. She did have fun and the year passed. John started calling in November of 1993 asking Mother to come visit. She wanted to put it off till she could go to a Memorial Service for my father and have his ashes returned for burial.
Grandma 80 yrs old
BIJOU ON HER OWN AT 80
John called and called, and yet she did not go. This was unusual as he was the child who was probably most in her heart. He was the youngest, and most probably the one who judged her the least. He was also the child who was always happy, playful and fun. Finally in January she made reservations to fly to Hawaii. She stayed for some time. When I picked her up at the airport, I expected to hear her news - How is John? How is Naomi? How is Ethan? She had nothing to say. Finally she told me that John had not been there at all. He would be out of the country for an extended time on business.
Well that's fine, John was frequently gone for months at a time. Maybe years, he had an interesting life. We could always contact him and talk to him however. He had a hydroponics business for orchids, he imported and cut gems, he made rock to tables and imported antiques. John always traveled and lived out of the country frequently in exotic and unusual places and thus was able to tell wonderful stories about strange lands and exotic animals, cultures, terrain and food. He loved to hunt, fish and ski. He mainly loved his family, friends and dogs. My boys thought he was a character like Indiana Jones. Above all he was happy and loyal, and a treat to be around. His wife was tall, blond, slim, beautiful and calm. To my knowledge, he has always been in love with her. She told me she decided to marry him when she was 13.
When John was born, he was brought home to the large yellow Victorian house where we lived. Scottsbluff was a town in the sand hills that sprung up near the tall jutting bluff where Hiram Scott died a tragic death. Scott was a valued employee of General Ashley who operated a supply train. Scott was well liked and respected by the men he lead. Some time in 1927 Scott was abandoned by his men on this bluff by his men. It was a betrayal done by friends who were frightened and conflicted. They had no gun powder and no way to hunt game. They believed if they left the bluff quickly they could catch up with another wagon train and hold on to the fragile life line they still had. The moral agony was that Scott was too ill to travel. When they returned in the Spring, Scott was many miles from the site although they thought him too ill to go with them. Captain Benjamin Bonneville described the bluff in this way. "High and beetling cliffs of indrivated clay and sandstone bearing the semblance of towers, castles, churches, and fortified cities. At a distance it was scarcely possible to persuade one's self that works of art were not mingled with these fantastic freaks of nature."
Up to the base of the bluff was prairie grassland with a stretch of bad lands. Tumble weed blew across the flat undulating land. You could walk in the ruts of the Oregon Trail and see it's mark to the bluff where the travelers went around or through the two distinct wonders - Scotts Bluff and South Bluff.
Bijou has no respect for the integrity of space and as each child came, new and innovative sleeping arrangements were made. i think one overriding aim was that two children should not be sleeping in the same space. The second floor had large and sun filled bedrooms, but this is not where children slept. Bijou wanted younger children on the lower level as that would be less work should they need attention. John would sleep in the crib in Bijou and Calvin's room. Jim would move from the crib to the comfortable and handy play room that had been my home. I liked this room as it housed all the toys in the cupboards on the wall and a large wardrobe filled with building blocks, coloring books, riding toys, dolls and crafts. This would no longer be my domain. I would be moved to a small bed in a room called the study. It had large dark pocket doors that separated or opened it to the house. It was a formidable room with walls lined with book shelves and a large desk with a swivel chair. The most awesome item was an enormous black leather chair which was true to form and stuffed with horse hair. Above my bed there was a wall sized map of the world I could ponder as I fought or succumbed to sleep. I still believe that North America resembles a cat standing on one foot dancing. Nancy now did move to the second floor where she had a room next to the live in girl who helped with housework and child care. This was a powerful move for her.
Bijou was tired and harassed. She didn't appear to be the athlete that she claimed. Could she dance, swim, run? Two sparkling memories come to me. It is a spring day, and the outside is emerald, not the customary brown of the sand hill. I am alone in the play room pasting pictures in a leather scrapbook. I have cut them from magazines around the house, and they are a strange conglomeration of Princess Elizabeth, the Dionne Quintuplets, and the exotic Madame Chang Kai Check.
Bijou comes into the room and washes my face and whispers that we are going on a picnic, just the two of us. She picks me up and takes me to the garage where there is a bicycle with a basket on the front. Deftly, she places me on the handle bars and we ride down the driveway. We don't stop till we reach a park with picnic benches and a wishing well. Bijou has packed a lunch with sandwiches and a beverage I have never tasted, and later can identify as root beer. We spend the afternoon on the swings, the merry go round, and tetter totter. It is my only memory of playing with abandon with my mother.
I am nine years old and we are on vacation, but I don't know where. We are swimming in a huge pool of hot springs. Bijou, Calvin, Nancy, Beth, Jim and John seem to be the only people in the pool which is covered with a very high roof. Suspended from the roof are swings that move and sway high above the water. John is three and lively. He wants to do everything and begs to be put on the swing so he can fly. Bijou lifts him up and puts him on the seat and gives a mighty push. The trajectory seems to span about fifty feet and the water is deep. John picks his spot and lets go so he can sail down to the water below. We are speechless as he falls to the surface and disappears below. There is no visibility and we cannot see him. Bijou stands quietly waiting for him to reappear and then without a word she dives gracefully into the pool and disappears. My heart pounds as tasks are not completed by Bijou. How could she have sent him to this disaster, but she breaks through the surface holding him and lays him on the side and expels the water from his lungs. Maybe we talked about this event, but my memory is that nothing was said - it is but a memory of a talent and power that she had.
Bijou seemed languid and tired during these days. She spoke of herself as active and athletic, but in the day to day tedium, she did not appear so. She moved slowly and could not accomplish what was expected of her. Mother's help was a live in girl named Jean. She was studious and quiet and plain. She fell in that large hopeless hole of not unattractive, not attractive and not really noticed at all. She rarely smiled and unlike two who followed her she took far too many clues from Bijou. If Bijou was often tired, Jean was clinically depressed.
Jean scrubbed floors, vacuumed with an ancient water filled electrolux vaccume, scrubbed vegetables and washed dishes. Although the house was always in disorder, Bijou had rituals and obsessions that made her feel tidy. After the dishes were washed, they could not be dried until boiling water was poured over them. Jean was not amused.
Every day there was a bright spot. Without a smile Jean would go to the piano, sit down and play Chopin, Motzart, Show Tunes, and Hymns. It seemed she didn't struggle or practice - she just sat down and played. Not much later, Nancy would do the same.