Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Women Behaving Badly-Woman's History Month

March is the official woman's history month-or "Herstory"-for a change.History, we are reminded is written by the winners,you could also add by men to that.But when we only see one side,or gender,or race or social statures views, we lose so much.We miss the big, colorful,chaotic picture that real life is. My Grandmother,May Pearl Arnold(b.19 Feb 1903.Burlington Junction,Missouri.d.5 Feb 1978,Oklahoma City,Oklahoma.)was not famous,or very educated.She did not take part in any history making events that I know of, other than the everyday life of woman of her time.But one day in 1918 her and a friend enjoyed a moment of rebellion and fun that is recorded in this photo and in the story told to me. My Grandma is the woman on the left,the girl on the right was a friend of hers and grandmas brother, Charley's, girl friend.What I remember of the story she told me was they decided to borrow her brothers clothes and they walked around the neighborhood dressed as boys.I guess this was very much frowned upon at the time because she told me the police stopped them and told them to go home and change! My Grandma loved a joke and they look so happy and innocent in this photo!I wish I had the little girl with her's name too.Nothing of the often hard times or 15 pregnancy's and nine living children that were to come coloring this day.And a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy as woman were not so long ago forbidden.This photo also came from Grandma.I don't know if it was the same day or not .The back says Aunt? and I believe I was told this was another moment of humor/rebellion.Maybe it was Halloween? I wish I had asked more questions,I was only a teenager at the time, but I am grateful to have these pictures showing a diffrent side to the women in my family.One with humor and a little bit of daring.Ordinary people doing something a bit out of the ordinary.
And in a bit of a side note, Mays daughter, my Aunt Jean passed on today.She was in ill health for some time and it was a release from pain.I have many fond memories of my aunt and wish her peace in her next journey.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reba Helen Byers 1922-1994

Who to honor?It's like you don't want to leave anything out and it's all so important you never get around to starting because your afraid you won't do them justice.But they live for as long as we say their names so says the Mexican tradition.
My moms sister,my Aunt Helen. Reba Helen Byers, born April 22, 1922 in Arkansas, died December 24,1994 in Stockton CA. She was the oldest child of 9 who lived.And if anyone in my moms family could be said to try to forge them into a family it was her.I think she and I may have shared that hunger to find connections,to make family out of people who wanted to forget.In a family that was never really close she was the link between the siblings.She knew all the children and grandchildren names and who was expecting a new baby.She called and wrote and tried to keep everyone informed about the whereabouts and changes. The kids got out of my Grandfathers house as soon as they could.Aunt Helen got married I believe around 16 and had a baby girl,this was back in Oklahoma were the family lived.
A few years before she died I remember a conversation we had were I was asking her about the family and her early life.I remember the look of determination on her face when she told me about leaving Oklahoma and her teenage marriage."I was not going to live in a dirt floor shack eating beans for the rest of my life.I picked up my baby girl and hitchhiked to California." I can only imagine the courage it took for a poorly educated,raised in a rural area, woman of that time and place to make a decision like that and do it.This was during WW2 and she went to Oakland for awhile working in the war industry there and coffee shops .
My Aunt Helen spent her life working hard as a waitress like my Momma.She owned her own house eventually in Stockton on Ash St.,that was a point of stability in the family that came west to visit or stay. She would remodel and add onto that house herself with only a little help,this long before the days of Home Depot classes for woman home owners! It included putting in a indoor bathroom sometime in the late 60's.I remember the walk in the dark on a wooden walk way to the outhouse when I was a little girl and being afraid I was going to fall in! Few of the kids in my moms family had much education,my mother maybe a 3rd grade one,but I can recall many times Aunt Helen talking about the importance of going to school,of getting a education.Two of her 3 daughters would go to college and I remember how very proud she was of her children and grandchildren getting a education. She liked to garden and grow cactus.I still have some plants that come from starts she gave me.There was a Christmas cactus in her little green house she built out back that she had for over 20 years,it must have been 2 feet across at one point.There was a huge old fig tree in her back yard that we sat under when it was hot.The smell of a fig tree in the California valley heat is like no other,it always takes me back there.I remember playing in the yard with my cousins when I was small. Clowns,I remember Aunt Helen loved clowns and had a collection of them. When my mother had a breakdown when my brothers where still small,Aunt Helen took her sister in and cared for her until she was well enough to return to her children.My dad told me my mom had done the same for her in the past.They were close in their own way that we did not always understand I think.
Helen died on Christmas eve.My mom would not go to the funeral,which upset my cousins very much.She rarely left the house by this point unless it was essential and would not go out otherwise.I think in a way she felt if she did not go it was not real.Her sister was still over there in Stockton-alive.That's the way mom dealt with unpleasant things the last years of her own life.
I did attend her funeral mass.In a small old wooden church in a rough,working class neighborhood her children,grandchildren and friends said their goodbyes.Her faith was a important part of my aunties life and she was at peace with her god when she passed.
My Aunt Helen was cremated and my cousins took her ashes back to Oklahoma to put with her parents.
I still miss her being over there.
She was a rock in our family sea of instability.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

I take a moment here to honor the service of my ancestors in the armed forces of the U.S. On my mothers side I have uncles who served in WW2,Korea and Vietnam.My Grandpa George W. Byers served in WW1.And I have one,James Calvert, for sure and possibly two Great Great grandfathers who served in the Civil War.James survived Andersonville prison camp. My father Vernon Ruse and two of his three brothers served in WW2.My dad spoke little about his service in the war.His discharged papers were lost when I was teen and the records burned in the Veterans fire so we have no paper trail of his service beyond the few recollections he shared and what I remember from reading his discharge papers as a child.I remember he had Bronze and Silver stars,a French sounding cross something and a Purple Heart.My father served in North Africa under Patton and was wounded and sent to England.And he was part of the march across Europe that began with D-Day.He always wished he could return and see Europe "when it wasn't tore all to hell". Manuel John Velasquez was my fathers baby half brother.He served in the Navy,my father in the Army and dads older brother Joseph Ruse in the Air Force.My uncle Stanley, Manuel's full brother was 4-f because of his vision and he worked in agriculture. I can only imagine the wonder a young man from a small valley farm town with limited education must have felt at visiting tropical posts of call. Manuel served on the U.S.S. Boise.On the evening of August 11,1942 at a place called Cape Esperance near Guadalcanal in the Pacific,the Boise engaged the enemy.The Boise sustained much damage during the battle and 107 men died.My uncle Manuel was one of them,they were all buried at sea.He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.His name is inscribed on the wall of Honor at the Manila American Cemetery and on the war memorial in Tracy CA. the town he joined up from. I only remember my dad talking about Manuel a few times,about how he got bit by a squirrel as a child and the older brothers got in trouble for not keeping a close enough watch on him!I have never seen a picture of him if one even exists.I still need to apply for his military records through the freedom of information act, as I would like more detail about his service and the night he died. I remember my father sitting in my living room about a month or so before the leukemia killed him when I was 24.I don't remember how we got on the subject but I asked about Manuel.I can still remember the way my fathers voice sounded when he said"my little baby brother Manuel." The grief,the loss,over 30 years later.Time does not heal all wounds,some losses are forever.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What did your ancestors read?

Abe Books is a Internet seller of books with a amazing selection.They have just sent me a email called "Trench Literature-Reading in WW 1,by Richard Davies, Udo Goellmann & Sara Melendre" you have ancestors who served in WW1 in is very interesting to read what the soldiers themselves were likely reading for entertainment.The article even delves into the different reading material that a college educated officer might have read versus the rank and file and what soldiers other than Americans would have been reading. A bit of history to add to our ancestor research.I don't work for Abe Books or anything though I have bought numerous books through them successfully and find them a great source for rare and out of print or used books for my genealogy research.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Music of our live's

Last night on Randy Seavers Genea-Musings blog he did his Saturday night genealogy fun post.It was basically name your all time favorite song. It was great fun to read everyone's posts but I chickened out on participating. However it got me thinking about my mothers memorial service and the music c.d. I made for it. My mom Marie Francis Byers, b. 4-10-1927 died June 4,2006.She was cremated and we did a simple memorial at my brothers house.My brother and I talked about doing some music for the memorial.I sat down at my computer and strangely enough songs came flooding back to me.Songs I had not heard in 40 years,song titles my parents had said but I had never really heard the song. With the wonders of the internet I was able to make a c.d. of the songs our mother sang to us as children,like,"How much is that doggie in the window?"and "Que Sera Sera".I was able to hear for the first time a song my mother said was one of her favorites,one that she would hear at dances she attended before she married my father,"Cherry Pink and Apple-blossom White".Songs my parents played when we were kids like,"Make the World Go Away" and "Help me make it through The Night". It is amazing how much music can trigger memories,like scents,songs seem to capture moments in time in our lives and just hearing a few notes from a song can take us back to times,places and people who are no longer with us. I sometimes wonder about how much music was a part of my ancestors lives,what they listened to and played.I know one branch of my Castro family were very musically inclined and I believe there is a photo on my mothers side with my grandpa holding a guitar. I wonder, have others written down what music their parents liked?Your grandparents?These are the things that make these people real and alive and not just names and dates on a paper.It's never to soon the write our favorite songs down as well,thanks Randy!But I think I am going to have to go with my top ten-or twenty!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Above the baptismal font,Mission San Juan Bautista,CA.

Monday, August 31, 2009


After not being able to write for awhile it's nice to sit down and let my thoughts run.On Saturday I watched the funeral of Teddy Kennedy.For my whole life there has been a Kennedy in Washington.I know this family evokes strong feelings in people one way or another.all I can say is I'm a blue collar,working class girl from a family of the same and though they were far removed from any life my people ever lived I grew up knowing they worked for people like us.Most of what I remember about John Kennedy was learned after the fact as I was only 3 when he died.I do have a blurry black and white picture of me in front of a t.v. set with him on it.It could not have been long before he died.Bobby I have a real,live memory of.He stopped in Stockton at the Southern Pacific railroad station that was just a few blocks from where we lived just 6 days before he was assassinated.I remember my dad pushing through the crowd to the train and holding my brother Vernon who was 3 up to him and Bobby reaching down to shake my brothers little hand.Shortly after that I moved away from Stockton forever.
Watching Teddy's funeral did evoke the end of something,maybe the knowledge that for those of us with memory's of the brothers lives our time is passing swiftly .For me the memory for Ted will be it getting so dark you could not make out the casket anymore so they showed the eternal flame and the bugler playing taps,flag at half mast, silhouetted dark against the lit building on the hill above.Darkness giving privacy at the end to a family who's life's and death's have been so very public.
I will be 50 in November,my parents have become ancestors,I have become the one of the old ones.Not everyone is given that gift.