Aunties

Aunties

My maternal grandmother, Katherine Calahan Murrison, was born just after the turn of the century in 1902 and lived her life in and around Topeka, Kansas, until the late 1950’s when she and her retired and ailing husband, Earl, picked up their belongings and moved to Washington State. C1 is named after this woman.  Legend has it that Calahan is the name of the nurse wife that help to birth my grandmother.  The name Katherine is found frequently in our family lineage and is the surname of both my mother and one of her granddaughters..my niece Katie.  It is binding to have this common connection in a name like Katherine and Calahan and Katie and Callie.

My grandmother was a big woman with those upper arms that feel like warm bread dough just perfect for putting in the oven.  She always brought us store-bought cookies which my mother would never buy for us Hauck kids.  Grandma was born into a large family of seven girls and one under achieving boy, Andrew (he aspired to town drunk).  The girls were named  Flora Ellen, Gertrude Viola, Katherine Calahan, Effie Estella, Leo Francis, Mary Regina and Esther Georgia.  These were my crazy and wonderful aunties.  Flora died before I was old enough to  know her.  Gertrude was the wise auntie that lived out in sunny California with her partner in a beautiful Cally style home with a yard full of exotic flowers, lemon trees and  hedges of jade.  We would visit her during school breaks and go to Disney and take in at least one Hollywood  television show like Name that Tune or Hollywood Squares.  I wear her platinum and sapphire ring on my right finger.  She also passed on to me some of her delicate dishes which I cherish to this day.  Aunt Gertrude (never Gertie) lived with her sister (my grandmother) before she moved to California for work and love so my mother and her were quite close.  Aunt Gertrude always wore her hair up in a tight bun.  Mom told me when she was in her teens she used to help Gertrude with her hair by washing the long braids and combing them out.  She said it took several hours of her concentration to do it right.  Mom always wondered what happened to the ivory brush and comb set.

Aunt Effie and her husband and children, lived on a tiny farm outside of Topeka and worked the soil day and night.  Aunt Effie had been bitten on her face by a mad dog as a small child and that scar always fascinated and scared me at the same time.  She was a tiny women and quiet but loved her husband and kids and was a good woman.

Aunt Leo and Aunt Mary on the other hand were free spirits — they both divorced husbands when that was considered unattractive at best.  After their divorces, they lived together in a ranch style house out on the outskirts of southeast Topeka.  We visited them often in that home particularly at Easter and Memorial Day.  When Earl died, this home is where we all gathered to pile into the limos for the ride to the funeral home to the graveside service and then back for the comforting site of a table full of corn casseroles and scratch rolls.  The family meals at Mary and Leo’s always included baked ham and homemade pie.  Leo and Mary loved animals — in particular cats and parrots.  They had a colorful and noisy parrot that lived in a cage in their well-appointed dining room and made crazy talk until one of the aunties covered his cage for the night.  He especially liked to squawk out “Leo” repeatedly.  When I stayed the night sleeping on their nubby green 1960’s mid-century modern couch, I would wake to the loud bark of the parrot greeting me “Good, Morning,”  “Leo, Leo, Leo!” The aunties also had a pet cemetery in their back yard before this idea was as keenly posh as it is now.  My mom and I thought it was kind of creepy and giggled together whenever we were requested to visit a recent cat demise and the new quirky headstone.  Where did they get these personalized pet headstones back in the 1970’s?  They daily fed the birds that lived in their backyard trees high out of reach of the ever-expanding, co-existing cat population.

But every Saturday night when there was a scheduled match, my aunties headed to the Topeka Capitol City Convention Center to watch professional wrestling.  They always dressed up like they were prepared to sing in the choir at their church with little pill hats, hose and heels.  Leo and Mary loved to shop for new dresses and everything always matched to perfection.  Girdles were MANDATORY.  My dad thought their infatuation with professional wrestling was hysterical and was always trying to get them irritated by questioning the authenticity of the stage performances.  Between matches at the center, they would keep up with the sport on television.  When a match was televised, they would demand that all of their house guests watch along with them.  My dad would snicker when one of the wrestlers would throw his body on top of an opponent’s face.  HH would ask not-so-innocently “if this violence is real how did that act not possibly kill the opponent”?  Aunt Leo and Mary would get really defensive and basically just chew dad out for even questioning the professionalism of these aficionados.  Dad always said that the aunties “got off” on the wrestling just a bit too much.  Looking back, why ruin the fantasy they were living out? — it didn’t hurt anybody.  In their older years, when unable to drive to the matches, they hired my oldest brother, Mike, to chauffeur them to the center in their land yacht of an ancient Cadillac.  Mike probably has insights about these fight-nights that would curl your hair.

Aunt Esther was the baby of the family and lived a quiet life with her devoted mate, Art Tolbert, in a small town outside of Topeka.  She was busy raising her kids and grandkids and always gardening.  She and her husband always showed up for family gatherings when my grandmother came back for a visit from her new home in Washington.  Below is a picture of the four last surviving aunties taken at my grandmother’s 80th birthday in 1982. From left to right in back:  Esther, Leo and Mary.  Front and center:  Katherine.

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Snake River in Idaho and a Swim My Brothers and I Will Never Forget.

Snake River in Idaho and a Swim My Brothers and I Will Never Forget.

At least I think it was Snake River as we were on about day six or seven of a cross country, Chevy Chase-like, family vacation from western Kansas to the rain forest of Quinault, Washington in 1969. We made this trek multiple times during my childhood.  On this particular trip, I was only eight but I remember the unfortunate event that day in Idaho like it happened last week.  The grand plan for the adventure was to put all four Hauck kids in the back of an old green station wagon and limp nearly 2,000 miles; stopping when we found a good (cheap) camping spot and other assorted places of interest to my educator father and social conscious mother.  Good places as defined by our parental units were always state parks, historical sites, campgrounds and nature preserves – no Howard Johnson’s ever.  Mom and Dad had rented a used U-Haul trailer to hook up to the back of the family wagon and then proceeded to fill both the wagon and the trailer with kids, sleeping bags, cookware, food, tents, blankets, and all the other necessary supplies for a two-week road trip to and from Washington State.  We normally got back home just in time for the start of school.  We borrowed heavily from the local Wolverine Scout Troop for the necessary camping and survival supplies.  The boys (or maybe Mom as pack leader?) were so into that club that we had a huge and terrifying Wolverine painted on the cement wall of our basement for the troop meetings.

The day of the memorable event had been long and hot.  I think we had driven the longest length of time that day of the entire trip so when we arrived at the camp site nudged up to the Snake River, we were ready to get out of the car and take a dip.  Keep in mind, we were all highly competent swimmers as Mom and Dad made sure we all had mastered the American Crawl, had the stamina to tread water for 30 minutes, and had demonstrated our ability to swim back and forth across the town pool in front of a licensed life guard all by the time we entered first grade. Mom and Dad supplemented their meager wages by teaching swimming lessons at the town pool so we all thought we were prepared for river swimming.  We were wrong.

Before we could venture off and do a fun activity at our nightly stops, we normally had to help set up the camp site.  At that time, most tents were canvass with wooden poles and spikes that had to be pounded into the ground to support the tent.  This took all of us to get the multiple tents upright because the ground was always rocky and hard or muddy and wet.  That day our parents took pity on us and let us get into our swim gear and then head on down to the river before the tent raising ritual.   Like I said it was a hot day and a long ride in the car.  Looking back on it, our parents were probably so tired of our constant chatter and consistent whining and bickering that they craved a few minutes of separation from us. I ran to the river’s edge and put both feet in.  The river was not very wide but you could see small white caps as the water rumbled along across a few boulders and fallen trees peeking up out of the surface of the water.  The river was like hot ice to the back of my legs and top of my feet but it beckoned the four of us in for a fresh dip.  We jumped in and started doing the usual kid water tricks.  We noticed the swift current but where we were located on the edge of the tributary, it felt good streaming by against our stiff legs.  We stood on our hands, swam between each other’s legs, splashed each other and dived under, threw some rocks to see who could make them skip the best — we  were having a great time.  We could see Mom and Dad heading down to the river edge so one of us immediately got the amazing idea to cross over to the other side of the river.  Were we running from our parents?  I don’t remember.  Were we thinking that well, we now have adult supervision so we can venture further out?  I don’t remember.  But we started across — the four of us.  Mike was holding my arm as we began to tread quickly across the river.  I remember the bottom was covered in pebbles that hurt my feet so I preferred to paddle along versus hopping up and down like I sometimes did in our town pool.  We had not gone far when we lost Tom.  He was treading along and all of a sudden he was sucked up in a mighty current and down the river he went.  I think another kid went with him.  As I remember it was a major commotion.  We immediately started screaming for help from the shore.  My dad was already in full sprint down the side of the river following Tom as he bobbed along unable to get to shore.  I could see his wet head and that he was picking up speed unable to get out of the swift current that surrounded him.  I imagined him swept to sea.  Just ahead of him lay a fallen tree in the water.  Tom smacked into the limb of the tree and went under.  Then he was up again and then back under.   Dad splashed into the water (he was a tall man thank goodness), reached under the limb and pulled Tom out of the water by the back of his trunks all while struggling to keep his balance in the current.  If the tree had not been strategically placed I am not sure how this story would end.  Someone helped the other lost boy out from the same predicament and everyone limped back to the shore.  Of course, Mike, Ed and I are still out in the middle of the river afraid to make a move forward or back for fear the same thing would happen to us.  Dad and Mom yelled “don’t move…we are coming to get you!”  And they did. And we still had to help put up the tents.

Needless to say, the rest of the trip we were more subdued and all the more aware of how quick a beautiful day can turn grey.  This experience in the Snake River was an important life lesson — that life can end in a blink of an eye or a misstep in a beautiful river. A lesson we are so painfully reminded of this week with the unexplained Boston bombings and the tragic explosion at West.

Female Financial Matters

Female Financial Matters

This week was incredibly full and productive.  On Wednesday, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Women’s Policy Forum  (WPF). The guest speakers for the luncheon were women who are all well versed in financial matters for women and make their living advising others in financial planning.  During one of the talks, the speaker referenced a book, The Millionaire Next Door:  The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy in the discussion. The book’s premise is that these wealthy individuals are not living today’s earn-and-consume culture but adhere to a rule of living below their means. So answer these questions and pretend you’re a millionaire when you answer them.

Q. What is the most you would pay for a pair of shoes?

A.  No more than $120

Q. What is the most you would pay for a new car?

A.  No more than $40,000

“We aren’t what we drive”, according to the author.

My advice is start saving early and regularly…it is amazing how the compounding of money works for you.  If you invest $2,000 in a mutual fund, save $250 a month for 20 years and have a percent yield of 8.0%, you will have a balance of $157,109.  If you are able to save even more then do it.  Another golden nugget of advice from one of the members from the panel was that when you are budgeting think about it in terms of what you will be able to buy not what you won’t be able to buy.

In addition to the discussion about thriftiness, these advisers reminded us to get our houses in order related to estate planning. Especially for women who often rely on our male partners to take care of our financial matters for us.  Especially for many of us in the audience who are over 50 and older.  At a minimum, an estate plan should include the following elements:

  •  A Will – legally-binding document that names who will receive your personal property at the time of your death.
  •  Durable or Financial Power of Attorney- a way to plan for those times when you are incapacitated.
  •  Health Care Power of Attorney – basically a power of attorney to make decisions about your health.
  •  Advanced Medical Directives/Living Will – includes a health care proxy; a living will and other important medical instructions.

If you followed this long into the blog…one of the speakers asked us to recite the children’s rhyme…Ring Around the Rosie.  This rhyme isn’t as innocent as you think as it dates back to the Great Plague of London in 1665.  The “Ashes Ashes” refers to the cremation of the dead bodies and each line in this sweet rhyme is reference to illness and death.  Google it if you don’t believe me.  Oh, yeah, check out “olly olly oxen free”…if you think it means you are safe to come out into the open without losing the game, then you are in for a surprise.

Memoirs, Travel and Foodie Books

Memoirs, Travel and Foodie Books

Upon a random review of my Kindle books, I found a pattern in my book choices.  I love memoirs, travel and foodie books. I can’t resist a novel set in Paris, or Italy, or Mexico, or England, or on a island, or on a mountain top….  I really need to branch out a bit especially with two titles on my list with “stuff” in it.  Here are my top choices from 2012.  My other little addiction is cookbooks but I will save that for another blog although several of these books have some pretty terrific recipes in them.  See Stuffed and Cakewalk in particular.  Guess I will go find me a good book to read…please share if you have recommendations for me.

  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
  • Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed
  • Stuffed:  Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk
  • Cakewalk:  A Memoir by Kate Moses
  • Good Stuff:  A Reminiscence of My Father:  Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant
  • The Table Comes First:  Family, France and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gropnik
  • The Boy Kings of Texas:  A Memoir by Domingo Martinez
  • A Journey of Days:  Relearning Life’s Lessons on the Camino de Santiago by Guy Thatcher