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28 August, 2017

Before My Beginning


 A little about my feisty forebearers and a crazy true story about my parents and a fruitcake.

                   My world did NOT begin with me.  It all started with all those old farts before me.  I am like all of them, a little bit of each and that's important. Soon you will see why.  Like I have told people before,  I didn't get crazy all by myself.

My favorite photo of me and my dad in the 70s. Yeah, I am a bottle blonde!

My mom Evelyn and Dad, the "Col". 
                          My Dad's side was descended from nobility, kings and queens, dukes and duchesses of Europe: England, France, Germany, Bavaria, all over the place, and we can prove it.   We are even descended from Charlemagne the Emperor of the West.  Big deal.  But insanity tends to run in those kind of families.  I blame them.  The ancestor I revere most is one many can claim: Governor William Bradford, the first governor of "Plimoth Colony" in Massachusetts, i.e. one of the first Pilgrims. 

                   My cousin Bill is writing a book that myself and another cousin, Bob, are contributing to for publication, all about this family history.  Again, big deal.  We probably will have to hold some grand kids hostage just to get family to buy a copy.

                  Governor Bradford was my 10th great grandfather.  He ruled the colony for nearly 35 years, so he knew how to manage people and problems. That counted for something because the people who settled this country ended up writing the Declaration of Independence and some other of my ancestors signed that.  They weren't crazy!

                    Also my Founding Fathers signed the Constitution, which, despite attack from everywhere, has managed to survive pretty much as the Founding Fathers wrote it.  They are MY family and I am a patriot to the gills.  I am so blue, my blood runs purple!  My oldest son is named after him, and we call him Brad.

Grandma Stella and Theron as newlyweds. Aren't their clothes magnificent?

Great Grampa Charles and Grandma Martha. You can see the little devil in his eyes!
                   My Dad's folks were Browns and  Places, and their folks were Browns, Hebberds, Places and Bellanries (or Bellauries, nobody knows for sure on that lady).  They were Scottish, Irish, and English; they were soldiers, farmers, homemakers, and ranchers for the most part.  My great grandfather, Charles, actually knew Buffalo Bill Cody.  He supplied him horses, in fact, for the "101 Ranch and Buffalo Bill Circus Show."  Ole' Bill gave my dad a retired trick pony named Jerry.  The feisty pinto, Jerry, could count, play dead and buck on command.  Dad ruled the neighborhood with that horse!

                     It is also rumored, (a strong family legend passed down by Dad to me), that Great Grampa Charles actually bought and matched the first Clydesdale team for the Anheiser Busch (Budweiser) Company, as a birthday present from son August Busch to his dad.   But it may have been my grandfather, his son, Theron Charles that actually carried on Grt Grampa's work. 

                      The original team was 12 horses, assembled from all over the East, from New York to Kentucky.  Four studs, 8 mares, and  8 at at time pulled the wagon.  The original color of the horses was light red with matching white stockings and perfect blazes.  Today's horse teams you see are dull browns and not perfect at all.  There are several traveling teams and they have only six horses instead of the original eight horses.
                         Funny how economics ruins history.
                   Doesn't matter, it doesn't make me queen of Luxembourg.  I still eat fried chicken with my fingers.  So did they.  But every time I see those Clydesdales on TV or at rodeos, I feel proud.  You can learn something about parking a car by watching those teams back a beer wagon at a right angle up against an arena wall. The inside team just prances in place while the front teams move their butts to swing the wagon around.  Impressive!

                    Charles and Theron were also adventurers; (that's when it started, and it got passed down to me.)  When the Gold Rush hit the west, they went out to Seattle, at first to look for gold.  They were charged $5 at a local restaurant for a one egg, a piece of ham, toast and coffee. 

                     That was "highway robbery" in those days. My dad relates in his 1978 taped interview that Grt Grampa Charles said to his son, "We're going to stay right here and open up a butcher shop and restaurant!"  And he did. (Gee, was I smart to tape his life interview or what? Anything I tell you here are from his own words. He was quite a story teller and they were all true.)
                    Later they went on to leasing land to raise wheat and capturing wild horses to sell back East.   Grt Grampa Charles' bag was the horses and he was a well known horse judge back East.  Cousin Bill has the gold-headed cane our great grampa used to measure hands height on horses in judging.  The rascal cousin promised to send me a photo of it but he's still too busy writing that book about all of us and our ancestors. I should pound him for that but he's in Texas.

Cousin Bill and me in the 1950s. I had a crush on him at one time.
                  Great Grampa Charles would  ship a boxcar load of "green broke" mustangs to St. Louis and farther east at a cost of $10 a head and then sell them for $28 a head. He provided horses for the Army and Buffalo Bill Cody for example.  That's how Theron, his son, met my Grandma Stella. 

                    She was a pretty lady, educated, cultured, and he was a plain cowboy-farmer.  Somehow he won her heart.  They married and he dragged her out to rough, wild WA state where she lived in a dirt-floored stone way station in the middle of the Siwash Indians. (Way stations are stage coach changing places. My dad called it a ranch but it was more than that.)  Things didn't go well there.  You don't mix the Wild West and Grandma Stella. She could be Hell on wheels!

                    Things started going to heck in a handcart when the Highwayman showed up one dark night.  He was about as scary as a dude could look.  He was dressed in a long black duster and dirty cowboy hat, a black shirt, silk tie, expensive-looking brocade black vest, black pants tucked into nice boots.  What popped Grandma Stella's eyes out was that he also had the biggest gun you ever saw, strapped to his leg.  And it was not just any ordinary gun.

                     According to my Dad, who told me the story, as I grew up, it was a  Buntline Special. 

                    Supposedly, there were only six of those ever made by Ned Buntline, and were given to legendary gunmen. (I think this guy won his in a card game.)  This scary hombre came late at night when the men were on a horse trail drive, gone away to the nearest rail line. She and her mother-in-law, Martha, (also a lady of culture transplanted by Gt Grampa to an unlikely place in WA), were home totally alone.  This "fiend" stopped to rest and water his horse, for a meal and overnight lodging, as was the custom of the times.

                        Grandma Stella told my Dad years later, that when this rapscallion sat down at their wooden trencher table to eat, he had to take his gun out of the holster it was so long. He put it up on the top, lying right in sight.  She said it was as long as her turkey platter, that's how we know it was a Buntline Special.  That platter was about 22 inches long! 

                       The "highwayman" didn't say a word during dinner. He gobbled his food, looked at them, around the meagerly furnished living room, and then back at them.   I am sure they thought he was there to molest or rob them.  They watched him like a hawk, ready to run out the door if he tried anything. Grandma could swing a mean shovel, too.

                     He behaved himself.  At his request, they hesitantly put him up that night in the overhead loft.   They locked the trap door from below as soon as they heard him snoring.  Then they got to thinking he might wake up and find himself locked in and shoot through the loft floor.  So, the two bleary-eyed women stayed up ALL night, by the fire, after unlocking the trap door to the loft.

                        I can almost picture their faces now.

                        Imagine the sight he witnessed when this gnarly dude came down the ladder the next morning: two red-eyed, rumpled women looking like a bear was about to eat them, probably clutching that shovel!  They hastily fed him coffee, ham, eggs and bread.  He didn't say a word and left right away, much to their relief.  They locked and bolted the door, sighed in relief and went to clean up the table.

                       Under his plate they found a  20 DOLLAR GOLD PIECE! 

                       That was like paying $100 for a McDouble!  Can you imagine their thoughts?  Here they thought that guy was a BAD man, but the evidence contradicted the facts.   Stella never forgot that man and the story was passed down by my Dad to me. I think she was embarrassed about the episode, since the "Highwayman" left a small fortune for their trouble,  because only my Dad ever heard about it.  Some things don't stay secret.  That was one of them.

                        But it was the Indians that were the last straw for Grandma Stella.

Yep, it's my DAD looking like Buster Brown - that was the style, and Yes, those are long sausage curls! He didn't get long pants till he was 8.
                          Often the Siwash Indians came to the way station ("Siwash" was a nickname the other tribes gave them that translates "dirty Indian").   Stella hated the Indians.  One time, they came in, sat in HER rocker, squatted on the rug,  touched things on the mantle, and generally made a pest of themselves, (or so she told my dad later on, who was born there). 

                             He told me she burned the rocker, the carpet and quite a few things after they left!  When the Chief tried to "horns waggle" her into raising his semi-orphaned twin sons.   He offered to lease for free, in return,  twice the leased land that the Browns already had.  Stella had a cow!  She was gone in less than a month, with my 4-month old father, back East to NY state! 

                                Enough was enough!

                               There's a love story in that. Theron gave up farming and went back East with her.  For the rest of his life, he did odd jobs, contractor work, building garages, and mine buildings.  He ended up working at her dad's beanery, sewing bags shut in his old age.  He did not like the East and longed to farm and be a cowboy.  He adored her.  But Stella had a wicked sense of humor.  

                                 One time she pulled quite a trick on him.

Grampa Theron in old age
                             Al Frank was a New York politician in those days.   My Grampa Theron would just a soon shoot him as to look at him.   Al Frank was a big mouth Democrat who wore a bowler hat, his trademark.  My Grampa refused to wear such a thing.   He wore cowboy hats all his life.  One Christmas, Stella had  an electric popcorn popper, a new invention to give him. She'd hidden it in a wrapped bowler hat box.  She knew that Grampa loved popcorn!  
                             His hackles stood on end every time he walked by that box.  He'd grumble and kick that box until it was "stove in" and about in shreds.  Imagine her giggles and his face when he unwrapped a very dented popcorn popper!  Way to go Stella!

                           Well, that's just  two of the traditional  family stories.  There are tons more funnier ones I grew up with and was a part of.  From Great Grampa Charles,  Grampa Theron and my dad, I got the "wanderlust."  That's why no moss ever grew under my feet for long.  I also got a big heart and I am a sucker for love.  Just like Grampa Theron.
                             I also liked to surprise/annoy my sons and husband(s) with presents disguised as something else.

                            When my sons became adept at opening their presents and then re-wrapping them, I started switching name tags.  Then I  tried taping everything tight like a drum.  I  wrapped presents so tightly in wide clear strapping tape it would take a chainsaw to open them!   It worked. One of my sons still groans at opening presents at Christmas because he KNOWS it's not his he's opening! Or he knows he needs a chainsaw....

Grandma Stella, Dad, his sister Elizabeth and Dad Theron.

Mom's competition photo as "Miss Mussel Shoals"

Mom sang and played piano on the radio show, Don Day's Breakfast Club, but she never had a lesson or owned a piano!

She was a looker, my Mom in the 30s. She could be a stinker though.
Grampa Bubba, her dad, who died at 35.   I never knew him.
                                 Mom's folks were Moores, Spraggins, and  their folks, were Moores, Chisholms, Spraggins and Whites. 
                                  Ironically, Mom always hid a dark family secret until my dad dug it up and she's never forgiven him.  I am sure she's pounding him solidly in the Spirit World for two things: first, for burying her among "Damn Yankees" in New York State.  Secondly, for letting me know I am 1/8 Cherokee! 

                                I think it was my winning archery contests at  the age of 16, against the state champion's son and other adults that upset her.  That as well as the constant costume contests I won with my Indian garb that hastened her early death.  When I started hanging "leather breeches" (green beans) in the garage rafters as Cherokees have done for centuries, unknown  to me, I think she must have blown a kidney. She was mortified that the neighbors would know.  They did.  They thought we were all weird.  (She actually died of cancer at 69, and I didn't do it!)

Call me Pocahontas, the archer from age 13. I won intercollegiate championships later on.
My Half Cherokee grandma, my mom and sister.

Mom and her Mom, Linnie Bell, who was half Cherokee and with flaming red hair!
                              Mom always thought she was "white trash" because her mom was half Cherokee in Alabama.  If one parent was NOT white, you were "white trash" in the South.  You'd never know she was quarter Cherokee.   Grandma  "passed for white" in those days. 

Linnie with mom in front of one of two homes they owned before Bubba died. They lost it all when he died.
                                Linnie had flaming red hair, clear to her ankles, freckles and the palest white skin.  Nobody would have thought she was anything but Irish. 

                              Fact was she was HALF Irish. 

                             Her dad was a red-headed Irishman named Spraggins and her mom was the Cherokee.  He had the most amazing handwriting and his signature is on several Alabama censuses, that he personally documented. 

                                I don't know what the Cherokee looked like but looking at my mom, with her dark hair but pale white skin, I can imagine. Every other generation expresses itself genetically.

                                Her mom, Grandma Linnie's mom, named Terah Chelone, was full blooded Cherokee.   I think she was also "passing for white".  She appears as a landowner on some 1890 censuses, and Cherokees were considered lower than black people.   They were not allowed to own land then.  So, she fooled somebody and fooled them good.  She had 18 children!!  She deserves a BIG medal for that.  (I didn't have more than three kids and if any had been girls, I would have drowned them.)

                              Little girls are impossible.  I know I was a particularly mouthy and ornery one.   Great Grandma "Terry" had three sets of twins!  That's against an odds of one in 250 thousand that a woman has THREE sets!  Well she did, but not all lived.  Some of her other kids I heard were bonkers. My mom was one of them, and so am I.  It figures.

Grampa Bubba when he was young.  I looked a lot like him as a kid .
                                 My Mom was not "White Trash."   Dad's genealogy work showed she was descended from Methodist ministers and Civil War Officers.  She held her head a bit higher after learning that. Her husband's family were educated people, too, and her own Dad was in the railroad.

                                     Mom's dad, "Bubba" James,  was a railroad engineer on the Burlington Southern. She told me he also had beautiful handwriting and people paid him to write wedding invitations.  I look a lot like him when I was kid, especially around the mouth.  He loved  gardening,  especially his roses. 

                                      One day pricked his forehead on a rose thorn while trimming his precious flowers.  He wiped a dirty paw across his sweaty wound that day.  He was dead in less than 24 hours later of blood poisoning, leaving an unskilled wife and two little daughters to fend for themselves.  Those were hard times.

                                  His father was a pharmacist and inventor of a product called "Moore's White Salve".  The product he invented saved Grandma's bacon for a while. 

                                      The patent had passed to Bubba, and then, after his death, passed to Linnie, my Grandma.  There were no pensions of any great amount, no Social Security then.   The family, my Mom's, lost both their big house and a rental one.  Mom, her sister, and their mom ended up moving down to "Colored town" and taking in laundry for a living. 

                                    My mom never recovered from that economic shock.  She had  a "Negro mammy" who babysat them while her mom worked long, hot, drudging hours.  The worst thing was that her mom did the laundry for "Coloreds", she told me.

                                     It was shameful to her. She actually witnessed a "Colored boy" tarred and feathered by "Klansmen."  They did this because he accidentally bumped into a white woman carrying groceries, making her drop them. The Klu Klux Klan ruled Alabama at that time.  Mom was terrified of them and living among the "Colored's".   She always dreamed of a better time after that.  And she was terrified of retribution all her life.

                                         Linnie sold the patent to Moore's White Salve for $500 to help them survive.  Today that salve is Noxzema.  It still smells the same.  I had an original jar of it, box and all.  Reading the label gives you an idea of what it was good for. Great Grampa William Benson Moore had it manufactured and sold it out of his pharmacy.  Noxzema still stinks.  To think I grew up washing my face with that stuff and never knew my Great Grampa Moore invented it!  

                                           Mom grew up poor, but knowing what it was like to be fairly well off in better times.  So, as an adult woman who had married "well" as she'd say, she lived it up when she could afford it.  "Clotheshorse" was the word to describe her. She loved clothes,  pocketbooks, gloves, shoes and hats.

                                          When she died, we discovered over 400 pairs of shoes in her room. She made Imelda Marcos' shoe collection look like an amateur's.  The price tags were still in some boxes;  some she never got to wear. She still died owning them, so she died happy about that. 

                                   I still have a pair of her long evening gloves, passed on down to my youngest son for his daughter.  Only a child's hands would fit in those gloves.  Unfortunately, she also wore size 5 shoes, which NONE of us 5 girls could stuff our long feet into!  I wear size 12!  Thanks, Dad!

                                     My undaunted mother was thrifty to a fault, and could beat back shopper competitors at any bargain basement sale with her purse. I watched from the sidelines as she'd yell, swing and grab.  It was an art form to her.  I don't think she ever paid full price for a thing in her life!  
Mom in the 50s.  She loved dressing up and doing her hair.
                                    She was also a "slop your happy chops" fantastic Southern cook.  She actually met my dad at Cook's School.  It was there where the officers in between WW I and WW ll who had lost their valets, had to learn to cook.  She was one of the instructors.  She and her sister taught there.

My handsome dad back in the 30s. He had stunning blue eyes!

Happy couple in the South somewhere in the 1930s.

                                  Dad was a widower in his 40's with four half-grown daughters, all farmed out everywhere, but he was not looking for a new wife, or so he said.  He'd been burned twice.  Mom was a Southern Beauty and I am not kidding.  (She won "Miss Mussel Shoals" and was runner up to "Miss Alabama".)  

                                     Dad was about 15 years older than her and a Captain in the Army Corps of  Engineers.  That meant "Food and Gas Ration card" to her, in the Depression, and she landed him in short order.  He got a sexy younger woman or "eye candy" as we'd call her today.   I think she got the bum end of the deal because he was never around for many years because of his job and the Army. He left for overseas when I was four months old.  (When he returned two years later, I screamed my head off when he tried to hold me!)  She had to raise his daughters, and even helped raise her sister's two at one time, plus me!  

Don't they look happy? This was before ME!

                                        One of the funny family stories about her, my middle son David reminded me of telling, was the "Fruitcake story".  You had to be there. Since you weren't, I will tell it.

                                     Mom decided she could save a lot of money one year by learning to make fruitcakes, big ones.  She baked her little heart out (and I stirred and creamed until my arms fell off).  She had one big one she was saving for her own use at Christmas - the others she gave away as gifts.  

                                      She had to do some shopping the day she made the big fruitcake, (shopping was always a thrilling prospect to her) so she left a note for my dad. "Add one cup of sherry to the cake when cooled."  

                                     The fruitcakes were ensconced in large decorated tins, and this one was in the biggest, prettiest tin of all.  The others she'd already taken care of,  but this one was really special.  It was for COMPANY.

Dad was a funny guy. Here he is in his 80s. Great story teller.
                            Dad did his duty and added the sherry, but from his own private liquor stash, not her cooking sherry stash, (which I am sure he could NOT have dreamed she even had.)  Then he got to thinking how good a really "boozed up" fruitcake would taste.  So, he went back and added another CUP!! 

                            Mom came home, checked the sherry stash she had. and saw it was not down any at all.  So, she assumed Dad had blown it (he was gone) and added the one cup that she knew was supposed to be in there.  Then.... she got to thinking how much better a SECOND cup might taste and she added ONE more cup!  You get the picture.  One fruitcake - ONE quart of sherry!  Fruitcakes lurk in unopened tins for weeks until thoroughly drenched and seasoned just right. This one was a bomb waiting to explode.

                              Well, the BIG night came.  Dad's manager and wife came for dinner.  Mom went into the kitchen to "uncork" the treasured fruitcake and serve it.   She was so proud, had been bragging about it all night.   Well..... It was swimming!  The smell of alcohol about blew her out of the kitchen.  She called for Dad.   Upset, she gave him a life-threatening ultimatum: "FIND A FRUITCAKE, any fruitcake, and do it YESTERDAY!!"  

                                Dad flew out the door to the local store, while Mom made small talk about forgetting the whipped cream.  She stalled until he got back with a crummy fruitcake.  Mom fumed. (I swear to God her head was smoking.)   She sliced it, decorated it with a few tablespoons of sherry dripped on it, lots of whipped cream and served it.....   We all held our breaths. ( I was hiding out upstairs, waiting for the gore.)

                                 God bless my Dad's boss. I think Mom got them drunk while Dad was at the store.  Like idiots, they raved over the cake, left shortly after, laughing, and  weaving as they went.  My mom cried like a banshee, threw the cake in the garbage and went upstairs to have a pout and worse cry. In fact, she was HOWLING out of mortification!

Mom at my age.  Still a beauty.  Me, not so much.

                                 Dad DUG the ruined fruitcake out of the GARBAGE, smuggled it down to HIS fridge (the one kept his worms and vodka in).   We don't talk about him eating it in secret.  I KNOW FOR A FACT HE DID!!  They didn't tell each other what they had done to the fruitcake.   It was only later, when they each had confessed to me what they'd done with the EXTRA CUPS added, that I put it all together.  Yep, the "Floating Fruitcake."  

                                Mom never made another.

                                I promised David I'd write the family stories and there are still quite a few left.  Two of them became published short stories in a newspaper in WA state.  One you've already heard briefly, but I embellished it for kiddies, made it into a Christmas story, and sold it to the paper.   More are coming in future posts.  

                          My mom once called me "Intrepid." I think she got the word out of the Reader's Digest, "Word Power," section.   She was not an educated woman so that really impressed me that she used it to describe anything much less ME.  So, I always remembered it and when I started this blog, used it as my "adjective."  I did go on to fulfill  the meaning of that word.  I am Intrepid. 

1 comment:

  1. What a superb and enjoyable blog this is Melinda and with such fantastic photos too!! I love to read the amazing history of your wonderful family and all the anecdotes. Too, too funny about that fruitcake!! I laughed at the way you swop over gifts and tape them up so tight!!! It was also interesting to know how your 'Intrepid' name came about. The whole blog is just wonderful!!