Monthly Archives: February 2013

Elisabeth of Sonthofen







Elisabeth tucked my shoes, and Mom’s cup and saucer in her shoulder bag, then draped the Butterfly Dress over it so it wouldn’t get wrinkled.  She patted it twice, grinned at me and grabbed my hand, leading me inside to the ice cream counter where she bought us each a single scoop cone of King Tut.


We stepped outside with our cones and waited on the corner for traffic to pass.  It was very hot and we licked quickly as the ice cream melted.  When the street was clear we and crossed Main St. then turned left toward Aalders, just a few blocks away. 

 I knew from Elisabeth’s accent that she was from another country. She sounded like the Summer People who came up from The City to take the waters. 

 “You aren’t from my continent, are you, Elisabeth.” 

 Elisabeth looked down at me and her eyes widened.

 “You are right, Mellie!  How did you know?” she laughed.

 “Because you sound like the Summer People, and they weren’t born on my Continent.  My brother Billy says we have three big countries on our continent and everybody but the Mexicans speak English.  So you are from a continent across one of the big oceans.”  

I didn’t know how many continents the world had, but I certainly knew about my Continent.  Billy studied them and was saving up to buy a globe of the world.  He wants to join the Navy and sail the seas when he grows up.

“Well, that is true.  I was born in Germany and then my parents sent me to France when I was a baby.  Those countries are on the large continent called Europe, and we speak many, many languages there.  Oops! They speak many languages there,” she giggled, “Silly me, I forget sometimes I am now American!”

 I listened carefully, thinking that she said she was born in Germany, which she doesn’t remember.  Then her parents sent her to France when she was just a baby to live with her mother’s sister.  I thought I had something in common with Elisabeth!

My mother was going to adopt me out when I was four because the photographer and his wife wanted me to be their little girl.  They took me on a long vacation trip, but I got very sick from missing my mother and brother, so they brought me home.

Bud and Diane were killed in a head-on collision two weeks later, and Mom said I would have been killed too.  It’s proof that God works in mysterious ways, and gave us a miracle.

“Were your parents adopting you out, Elisabeth?”

“Oh, no!  My goodness no, Mellie!  They wouldn’t do that to me!”  She paused and looked close at me like Mom did sometimes. I hoped Elisabeth wasn’t going to get mad. “How old are you again?”

“I’m six, remember?  I’ll be seven in October, after school starts and before Halloween.”   How fun would it be fun to dress up with Elisabeth and go Trick or Treating!

 “Well, times were bad in Germany before I was born.  And war was coming again.  My Mutti and Papa wanted to leave as soon as possible, but to do so meant Mutti needed to work too, so they could save money for passage quicker.  So they put me on a train with friends leaving for France.  My Aunt and Uncle met them at the train to and took me home.  

My aunt’s house was near the sea, and the friends stayed there too until they sailed.   My aunt said we were waiting for my Mutti and Papa to join us.  We all planned to sail a ship to your continent, to find Calistoga!”

We walked along licking our ice creams as fast as possible and got the freeze from eating too fast.  The sun wouldn’t be going down for a long time.

“How do your Mom and Dad know Miss Lillie?”

“Ooh, Mellie!   I think you will surely grow up to be an attorney!  “It was my Aunt and Uncle in France who knew Miss Lilly’s husband, Mr. Smith.  Mr. Smith was a soldier there during the first war.  And when we arrived in California, Miss Lilly and Mr. Smith picked us up at the train.  I don’t remember because I was a baby, but the Smiths are the reason my Aunt and I come to Calistoga for a visit each year.”

“Oh!  My daddy was in the first war too, Elisabeth!  He was a sailor!   And he has a tattoo on his arm too, but he doesn’t have any numbers, only a picture of a Hula Girl!”  I was thrilled that my Dad had something in common with my new friend and couldn’t wait to tell him next time he visited us.

Elisabeth suddenly spun around, with her face tilted toward the sky.  Her blue skirt flared, showing her petticoats.  The handbag with the butterfly dress became yellow wings  as she twirled, with both hands raised to the mountains, a blur of blue, white and yellow against the summer sky.

 I heard her take long, deep breaths like I do when I dive to the bottom of Aalders pool.  “How beautiful it is here, Mellie!”  Her voice was small I wondered if she was going to cry, but she didn’t.

“We must remember the beautiful things in our lives, yes?”  She stopped spinning, and stared Mt.St. Helena to our North.

“I have a picture of my parents on my dresser in San Francisco.  They stand in front of the cottage in Germany that I was born in, and my mother’s belly is big with me inside.   My father has his arm around her.  She is smiling up to him and he is such a proud and very happy man.

Our cottage was in a village called Sonthofen, in the foothills of the Alps.  You can see the great mountains in back of our house, so big and white and magical.   I think in summer Sonthofen must look like your valley.  Of course, in the photograph it was winter and the mountains were white with snow!” 

She pointed to Mt.St. Helena, “I think your mountain may not be as tall, but I’m sure it is as magical as any in The Alps!  So lovely!”

I wanted to know more things about continents, like how long it took to get from her continent to mine.  I pulled on her skirt and she looked down and smiled.

“How long did it take for you and your aunt and uncle to get to my continent, Elisabeth?  My brother Billy says it took the Pilgrims over three months to get to across the oceans.”

Elisabeth got very quiet, and didn’t answer right away, so I skipped down the street to the corner of Washington St. and skipped back again, taking her free hand.

“Well, it didn’t take three months, but I was very small, not even two years old.  I never asked, so my Aunt and Uncle never told me how long it took.  Shall I find out for you?”  I nodded yes.

We held hands as we walked along, without talking very much.  We made the turn onto Washington St. then jay-walked at Franklin.

“Oh, Look!  We are home!  Here, let’s wrap your mother’s pretty cup and saucer in your Butterfly Dress and put your pretty shoes in your pockets.  You can try them on for your mother!  Shall we take a picnic lunch to the park tomorrow?  We can wade in the creek and swing and play games.  Would you like that?”   

Elisabeth talked in a low voice, and snuffled like I do when I cry.  She didn’t look at my eyes.

So I just nodded, thinking about showing her the bull-frog-pollywogs that were bigger than my hands, and where the turtle family lived, too.  I hoped she could walk barefoot on the rocks.  Some girls say it hurts too much.

“So, come to cottage number 14, when you are ready.  I’ll make our lunch, and we can swing on the swings!” 

Elisabeth gave me a hug and kissed the top of my head.  Her eyes looked wet, but she smiled and said with her hands on my shoulders, “This has been the best day of my life, Mellie, it really has!”

She turned and walked down the street, and then she turned once more and waved her hand, “I’ll see you tomorrow!”   Neither of us knew she was walking out of my life.

I skipped carefully home and started up our steep stairs and saw Mom leaning on the wall by the front door, looking down at me with arms folded, and a cigarette in one hand.  She tapped her foot as I approached.



















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Manners and Self Respect


‬Last summer an interaction between of a group of middle-school boys and their school bus monitor,‭ ‬a‭ ‬68‭ ‬year old widow made the news.  She‭ ‬may have been a working elder,‭ ‬perhaps trying to make her way through the now elusive golden years in arguably the worst-ever decade of America‭ ‬History.  Sadder,‭ ‬she may have volunteered for the job to just keep‭ ‬other people’s children‭ ‬safe.  Instead she was subjected to a vicious verbal assault by a group of pre-teen boys.  
It is heartwarming that the public came to her aid and admirable that the thoughtless youngsters actually made their‭ ‬sincere‭ ‬apologies.  I give kudos to the boys for manning up and rectifying such a heartbreaking moment in their young lives.
I will call the boys‭’ ‬behavior‭ “‬Mob Mind‭”‬.  It is something I experienced twice in my young years of the early‭ ‬1960s.  I’m first to admit that the good old days theory is a nice idea, however,‭ ‬they aren’t all that they were cracked up to be.‭
Mob Mind is a crazed condition,‭ ‬and happens most often at sporting events.‭ ‬ It might be related to delayed development of the frontal lobe in young people.  Current research indicates people may be lucky to make it to their‭ ‬26th year when actual judiciousness finally sets in.  
I believe‭ ‬has a lot to do with not having‭ ‬ “manners‭”‬,‭ ‬a word used for respecting and caring for fellow beings,‭ ‬and it needs done long before a child enters school.

1‭)‬  All children need tools in order to successfully navigate their lives.  A household agenda of civility and manners‭; ‬respect and caring needs to be instilled by the time they are walking.   This would be those‭ “‬yes please,‭ ‬thank you,‭ ‬pardon me,‭ ‬may I‭” ‬phrases with which children are received with approval from the rest of the world.  Pre-school children are known for being amiable and cooperative,‭ ‬and professional mimics‭! ‬ They are fixated on mirroring what they see and hear.  Parents,‭ ‬please do walk the walk‭; ‬ and‭ ‬talk the talk.    What your child sees,‭ ‬our world‭ ‬gets.
2‭)‬  Encourage the older child to‭ ‬develop and‭ ‬respect an inner sense of responsibility.  Teach them as they move into elementary school that they need to rely on their sense of respect,‭ ‬of honor,‭ “‬as Our Family always does.‭”‬  Let them take pride in moving positively through their world.  Teach them it is their responsibility to sound the alarm,‭ ‬their duty to alert the school,‭ ‬church,‭ ‬or call‭ ‬911‭ ‬when they see certain acts,‭ ‬like bullying,‭ ‬and physical or sexual violence. 

I find it amusing that although I was reared in a welfare family,‭ ‬my brother and I learned all the above as toddlers.  And by the time we were ready for kindergarten we knew to stand up when a lady enters the room‭; ‬if you are a gentlemen you remove hat on entering a room‭; ‬you give‭ ‬up your chair as a seat for a lady or an elder‭; ‬the gentleman opens the car door for the lady,‭ ‬and seats her in the restaurant,‭ ‬etcetera,‭ ‬etcetera,‭ ‬etcetera‭…‬..‭ ‬   

Mother took things a little further,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬and taught us how to curtsy and bow.  I assume she fancied us being presented to royalty one day.
She may not have been able to provide a lot of real necessities as we grew up,‭ ‬but she was able to give us the most priceless tools for navigating society and the workforce:  how to comfortably give respect,‭ ‬and employ some very Victorian manners‭!‬  Well,‭ ‬it worked for us both,‭ ‬and I have passed along most of what she taught to my own children‭ (‬sans‭ ‬bow and‭ ‬curtsy‭) ‬and‭ ‬to my grandchildren.
All my life I wondered about‭ ‬the ways man civilized himself.  I‭ ‬once hoped to get a degree in archaeology after‭ ‬taking Physical and Cultural Anthropology.  I‭ ‬envisioned myself landing a job in the Olduvai Gorge with Doctors Louis and Mary Leaky,‭ ‬sifting sand in my khaki shorts and pith helmet‭; ‬finding shards of bones,‭ ‬brushing dirt from ancient footprints. ‭
Cultural Anthropology particularly fascinated me.‭ ‬How did they civilize themselves‭?‬  There‭ ‬must have been lots of death.
I envision the cave man coming out of his cave early in the morning to go hunting with his club or‭ ‬his‭ ‬rocks.  He has a mate,‭ ‬and‭ ‬maybe a couple of children still sleeping in their cave,‭ ‬trusting Papa will not be an idiot and get himself killed by annoying‭ ‬other hunters.  

I am certain that on meeting another human,‭ ‬Papa adopted a submissive,‭ ‬or at minimum a respectful posture,‭ ‬hoping to establish some mutually beneficial relationship based on marrying off his female offspring,‭ ‬trading,‭ ‬or just staying alive. 
Inspired by that thought,‭ ‬I searched online for the‭ “‬origins of etiquette‭” ‬and found Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette.  I learned that Miss Emily’s Great-Grandson,‭ ‬Peter Post has written‭ ‬5‭ ‬books on etiquette,‭ ‬so obviously much of the world still acknowledges this social requirement. 
I searched further and found some support for my caveman theory:
1‭) ‬2,600‭ ‬years ago the first‭ “‬book of etiquette‭” ‬was written by Ptahhotep,‭ ‬who was a city administrator under Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi.
2‭) ‬3,300‭ ‬years ago mankind’s first written form of communication,‭ ‬Cuneiform,‭ ‬was developed,‭ ‬probably in Persia and it represents the origin of all written languages.
3‭) ‬5,000‭ ‬years ago,‭ ‬in Mesopotamia,‭ ‬records of stores of grain and other agricultural products were kept by using forms of clay tokens or coins.
It took my‭ ‬imaginary‭ ‬caveman a very long time to get from‭ ‬just trying to feed his family without getting killed,‭ ‬to honing the social posturing‭ ‬that would keep him alive,‭ ‬and eons later keep him out of prisons.

I think it is time to go back to respectful interactions between people,‭ ‬not the short hand,‭ ‬short changing quick hits of‭ “‬social‭” ‬interactions.‭

And,‭ ‬it is especially important to our youngest ones,‭ ‬who hold our future in their hands.‭ ‬We adults are either somewhere on track,‭ ‬or nearing the end of the track of our own lives.‭

Our youngest ones desperately need the tools to do as we have done and are doing and to undo the worst of what we have done.

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Blabbin’ da Book Part I

Over the past two years of blogging on three different sites I worked up a few chapters into a memoir. According to persons more experienced, I should blog my book, as a memoir.  According to other writers, instructors, editors (as well as my personal not-yet-for-profit Copy Editor) I’m working my writing: I have “voice”.

For decades it has made me feel uncomfortable to go public with what I want to say.  Yesterday I read in an article on writing that when we finally set ourselves to do something, we either keep it secret or we never stop talking and doing that something.   I’m ready to blab.

I shook down the content of my past and finally got a feel for how it brought me to the life I am in, the one I believed in, and eventually created.  I like my journey.  I am happy with me remaining a works in progress, hopefully to my last breath.

As a child I annoyed my mother by saying “I just can’t wait!” and her weary reply was “You are just wishing your life away, Miss Priss.”  

As I move on down the line of life, gaining new “retrospectives”, then this is indeed the larger, juiciest part, I think.  It’s about gaining new perspectives;  releasing others.

My early years, were fairly ghastly until the day I threw my mother across the room.  I was sixteen and I don’t remember what set her off, other than something to do with my sassy mouth, and for the last time she laid her hands on me. 

Mom broke a thick wooden coat hanger over my head, and with blood spurting from my scalp I lifted her up by the elbows and sent her flying across the room.   We had our “special bonding moment” with my stunned mother sprawled in the armchair staring at the blood streaming down my face.  Did she tend to my wound?  Probably.  Mom always showed a remarkably generous and tender side when nursing Bill, me, neighbors or friends when we were down with a flu or other condition.  She had a wonderful way with her hands.  Her touch was gentle, warm and healing.

Mom finally respected me and we became friends, and once we became friends, a playful little bratty part of me appeared, one that others have commented on and seem to enjoy:  I began to sneak up behind my mother when she was least expecting and gave her a big hug.  Her body always stiffened, like I was hugging a telephone pole.  

I hoped against hope to  feel relaxation in her body, some warmth, some pleasure.  It never happened.  So I just kissed her on the cheek and “let her go”.   As soon as I broke touch with her she giggled and blushed like a delighted two year old.

So I ask, dear reader, dear copy editor, can that into a useful book?  Can I format broken histories without making my readers think “Okay, we get it, Would-Be Author, we see you as a survivor, and we will believe you, molestations, hardship, violence and all!  It makes a sorry sense that when your Mom found out about the pre-teen sexual abuse, she beat you not only with the belt, but perhaps more with her own feelings of failure.”

Well, I have never been hesitant to follow hunches and my hunch is telling me I have bits of information to share, methods to pass along regarding learning to live with the kind of wounds that won’t disappear.  My wounds no longer obstruct my life, in fact they remain present and real as information now, neither good nor bad, but a permanent part of me, showing up only as just another memory.

When I started my Genealogical Safari I had no awareness of living family with the exception of  an 87 year old half brother I’d met when I was about 23 and a couple of half-nephews my age.  We send Christmas Cards every year without fail. 

Minutes into my initial genealogical searching I “found family’ on both maternal and paternal sides’ right here in Northern California, a few of which were within hollerin’ distance.   An hour later I discovered a Family Tree with my name in it.

That piece floored me.  It was difficult to grasp that somebody knew we all existed:  me, my brother, our parents.  I wondered uneasily if my parents ever knew  of them.  The family tree took me immediately back to our first paternal Scot-Irish Immigrant, who arrived in Pennsylvania around 1720, Revolutionary Soldiers and all that. 

During the first two years I unearthed stories of my parents lives, and their ancestors lives in census, newspaper articles and in obituaries. I learned how  both Mom and Dad felt their parents deserted them, abandoned them. 

It’s a fact that Dad, abandoned by his natural father, lived only occasionally with his natural mother; a sadder fact that Mom was sent to be reared by maternal grandparents around the age of thirteen months.  And, she had an older brother I hadn’t known about who was sent to the paternal grandparents when he was just two.

Lost Children always find each other. The shame is that in their neediness they didn’t know what to do with or for each other.  My parents had no way of passing nurturing love on down to little kids.

Sometimes I hear thuds and shouts in the middle of the night, see the flashing lights of a squad car.  Their relationship was all about who wasn’t staying in the guidelines of the other partner’s idea of “What You Would Do if You Really Truly Loved Me!”

I’ve reared two children of my own, imperfectly, but always lovingly.  I wish I could have raised my own dear, deceased, middle-aged-kid-parents.








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