Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ever Your Loving Grandfather

Ike and Bessie. Beloved maternal Grandparents. 1956 wedding anniversary.

Grandpa Couts was that "special Grandpa" that I loved. He was born in 1878 and so when I was born my dear Grandpa was already 72 years old. And so when I knew him, he seemed very old indeed to me.

Grandpa Couts influenced my life in positive ways. When we would visit Iowa he treated me special. He gave Bobby and I pennies to walk to the store and buy penny taffy and black jack and clove gum. He had arthritis and used a walker. The hammock on the front porch offered him some relief and he would let me crawl into the hammock and gently rock with him. From that safe place we gazed out across mile upon mile of cornfields, the very cornfields he had farmed when he was young and strong and my own mother was a little girl as I was then. And we talked and talked and talked. He seemed to have no time limit when it came to me.

Once, he got angry with me and my twin for dashing across the street in front of a car. Mind you, the "street" was a dirt road and had exactly four houses on it, old railroad tracks, a feed store and livery, a post office, and an old Methodist Church--at one time there had been a grainery and even railroad tracks. I need not mention there was not a single stop light, let alone a stop sign. That experience broke my heart because I had been enjoying such complete acceptance and love from him and I could hardly bear disappointing him.

Granda would send me cards with a stick of gum inside or pennies taped to the inside and every correspondence began with, "My dear little Becky." Once he sent me his collar box with a letter that is one of my most precious treasures. The letter says in part, "these was the collars your grandpa wore when he was a' courtin' your dear grandma." The box has other precious treasures, seashells collected while visiting California, cufflinks, old broken pieces of jewelry and several yellowed and stiff collars. He sent me tracts and books of poems and stories. I put many of them to memory as a child, they meant so much to me.

Oh yes, I was dearly loved by my grandpa Couts and I loved him back. I didn't really cry when he died in 1966 because I knew I would be in Heaven with him one day. As he signed every card and letter, "Ever your loving grandfather," I know that my grandpa is standing and waiting and is ever my loving grandfather.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


In 1956, the L.A. City School system determined that for the well being of twins everywhere, that they should be separated in the classroom. This was, surely, to ensure the individuality and independence of the twins and followed brilliant self-help works by Dr. Spock and others. For anyone reading this who may be from later generations, this was before there was a such thing as "quads," and before triplets were an every day occurance. In the fifties, twins were actually rare.

One day as my twin and I were enjoying first grade coloring, printing, and Dick and Jane, I saw Mrs. Black, the school principal, waltz into our classroom in her sensible yet plain black dress and her proper black pumps and hold an intense conversation with our teacher. Being the ever observant child that I was, and keeping an ever watchful eye on the location of my twin across the room from me, I soon realized that the conversation involved me and my other half. The tension began to build inside of me as I caught on that something very big was about to happen. Before I fully comprehended that they were about to remove him from the classroom altogether, and before he could lift his crayon from the cowboys and indians he had just created, I sprang into action to save my brother from being stolen from me and from where he belonged. He began to cry and struggle to break free from the arms that were removing him from his nursery-sized chair, just as I reached Mrs. Black's skirts. I was in tears and struggled to pull my twin from her grasp. I was unsuccessful and both of us knew we had lost the battle as our arms reached out for each other and Bobby was taken from the classroom.

Now, would it have hurt Mrs. Black, or my teacher, to have mentioned their wretched little scheme to our mother who might have warned her little children that we were to be separated and placed in different classrooms? After all, we had never been separated before--we were still sleeping in the same crib for Heaven's sake! We went to the doctor together for our penicillen shots, watched Romper Room and Engineer Bill together every day, splashed in rain puddles together, and were walking the 1/4 mile to school together--alone.

I still remember how terrified I was--and confused. For all I knew, I would never see my brother again. I don't really know how my brother was feeling at the moment, but I knew that school was not a happy place and my future attitudes toward my education began to take shape that day. And we were never in the same class together again.

So here we are 50 years later, and on this very day I have driven past several schools where anarchy reigns. Students have taken to the streets in protest of what they do not understand waving flags of another country and burning our own. Somehow I can't help but wonder if perhaps the misguided pop-psych thought of the day back in 1956 might have been okay afterall?

The Hollyhock House

Grandmother’s house was little and warm. It was humble and low and old fashioned, and settled beside wide sweeping farmland.

Inside was Grandmother, and warmth and safety and homemade Popsicles, a garbage pail and the scent of Grandfather’s ointment spilling out the happiness in that house. Grandmother was soft and wrinkled and busy, and always aproned in blue checks embroidered with cross-stitch done by her own hands and with dimming eyesight. She talked mostly to the grown ups around, but she knew without asking when it was time to lay a loving hand on the head of the little girl and little boy who came there to visit. And she knew when it was time to hand them another Popsicle.

In all these many years since as Grandmother sleeps, and the little girl and the little boy have long since become woman and man, the scent of Hollyhocks roll back the years for the woman and the day returns again when the tiny yard around the hollyhock house seems like a large part of the wonderful, beautiful world. She again hears the bees humming, the birds making their conversation. She sees the sunshine, the hollyhocks, the iris, and the peonies, so sweet their memory lingers forever through dozens of summers since, and the woman knows again a moment of perfect beauty and security that is unspoiled by the knowledge that comes with time.

The woman’s children coming to her for “more” reminds the woman of her childhood playmate and brother, both now with silver hair and she hears again his bid for another Popsicle. And together hand in hand she sees the little boy and girl together in memory approaching Grandmother with a wordless plea for more, and the sweet safe memory fades away, and in it’s place are eight outstretched hands reaching out towards the woman, and she hears them calling her by her new name, “Grandma.”

And it reminds her that the hollyhock house still stands, and the springtime and summer sun will shine again, and a new generation of birds sing, but she knows that only the enchanted eyes of childhood will ever see it as it lives in her and the little boy’s memory.

The busy little grandmother is no more on earth, but the woman sees her plainly, uniting one by one with those who join her, and waiting with God for her child and the generations that have come and will continue to come.

And the scent of hollyhocks grows sweet and heavy…

Visiting Grandmother's final resting place...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

School Days

My twin and I would be ready for school in 1955 and found our elementary school a world of wonder with its kitchen toys for the little girls and building blocks for the boys. On the playground there would be a Halloween parade in the day and a carnival at night. The Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile would sometimes come to the school or a diorama of a huge trailer-sized forest complete with a real live Smokey the Bear. Sometimes Chucko the Clown would come and cowboy Monty Montana! We weren’t as thrilled when the traveling dental bus would come and check out our teeth, and we really dreaded the nurses dispensing penicillin shots to every Los Angeles school child. When we were old enough to go on field trips, the school system saw to it we were introduced to culture at the Shrine Auditorium with ballets and little opera of fairy tales. We were taken to the zoo, the La Brea tar pits, gardens, and the Museum of Natural History.

It seemed our self-esteem wasn’t of much concern to the system, but we thrived despite the taunts from other children, insensitivity of the teachers, and complete lack of political correctness of the day.

As adults my siblings and I have often talked about and wondered why we weren’t scholastic achievers and what about our education held us back. It could be our somewhat similar personalities, lack of motivation, or our parents’ attitudes that valued respect, honesty, and hard work over pre-college grades and coursework. We really can’t put our finger on it, but, regardless, all of us have grown into adulthood as avid readers, politically savvy, hard working, and successful to one degree or another.

Life on Oso Street

Here is my family Easter Sunday, 1951--I'm one of the twins. I grew up with a twin brother who was my childhood playmate and my lifetime friend. My older sister was my mentor and idol, and my older brother was my tormenter and became my strongest ally. My parents were beautiful, worked hard, and did their best to raise their family up with their values.

If you had peeked into the windows of our house, you would see the epitome of a typical 50s family with just enough for food on the table and a once a year trip to downtown Canoga Park department stores for saddle oxfords and school dresses, PE clothes for big sister, and plaid shirts for the brothers. Saturday nights consisted of popcorn, fresh apples, and an evening of Ed Sullivan and Gunsmoke. Mom worked hard in the kitchen and it was common to smell the aroma of fresh baked bread, brownies, banana bread, or cinnamon rolls waiting for us when we got home from school. Dad worked for the City and every Saturday and Sunday on tree jobs. Church was not an option in our home. Even when Dad worked on tree jobs, he hurried home in time for church, changed real quick, and off the family of six would go to church.

My older brother taunted me unmercifully and in my memory got away with it! Since my sister was seven years older than I, her teenage years unfolded before me and I watched her every move with fascination and admiration. She wore poodle skirts and neckscarves and had a group of girlfriends that spoke Double-Dutch and giggled constantly.

She instilled a good appreciation of horror by reading Edgar Allen Poe to my twin brother and I at night by flashlight after “lights out.” Later she took us to the scariest of films because she was too frightened herself to go alone. It didn’t seem to matter that we were MUCH younger than she and the impression might have been pretty intense!

I spent my little girl years reading everything from Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, The Bobbsey Twins, Heidi, A Child’s Garden of Verses, “Little Orphant Annie,” Golden Books, and every fairy tale imaginable.

Our family life included strong discipline but I felt loved and adored by my parents. They taught by example and truly expected us to behave. So much so, that it took them by complete surprise when we disappointed them.

Holidays were filled with lots and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins of all ages. Even though most of our extended family relations lived in Iowa, many came to visit or stay with us and family visits were always a time for celebration.

Our backyard was filled with numerous play opportunities, hideouts, Madame X, my playhouse, the mound, trees to climb in and swing from, and usually a litter of kittens for me to love.

Our parents loved each other and were affectionate to one another and to us. There was lots of laughter and we waited by the front window for Daddy to get home from work where dinner would be waiting, and all would go to bed early to be ready to begin the next day.


I've learned that the individual is responsible for his or her own happiness. I learned this at a very young age from my mother's own testimony and from my sister who created her own happiness when her marriage was so unhappy. In this lesson was the understanding that the individual alone answers to God for what is done in life; not the spouse, or the unhappy childhood, or negligent parents, or lack of education, or any other influence.

I have learned that the tongue can destroy relationships, reputations, and careers. And that my own tongue often runs rampant, seemingly without control or check.

I have learned that God has made me exactly who I am--with my own unique personality and hard-wiring and there's not much that can change without my being willing to allow God Himself to work in my heart, mind, and soul.

I have learned that my children are the only "things" I will take to eternity with me, and, therefore, my showing them the way to Jesus was a huge responsibility. Only they can choose life eternal, but my influence was essential.

I've learned that grandchildren crown one's life with joy.

I've learned that a critical spirit is bad.

I've learned that it is hard to say good-bye.