In general everything was wonderful at my grandparent’s house. You had to work hard during the day and then in the late afternoon and after dinner, your time was all yours to mostly do what you wanted with it. Sometimes we’d go visit my great grandmother who lived in Porum, Oklahoma. Auda Taylor. She was an absolutely beautiful woman, mostly because of her eyes. Her eyes sparkled like bright blue marbles in the sun but they always looked like she just cried tears of happiness. My grandma looked so much like her. My sister and I would sit around her and listen to her stories for hours. She lived a truly hard life and she was an amazing story teller.
My great grandmother washed and folded up aluminum foil and reused it over and over until it fell apart and she also washed out Ziploc bags and kept them until they had an odor. She raised chickens and sold eggs to the neighbors for spending money. She didn’t have much and wanted for very little. My grandmother, who had much more in her life now always fretted about how she wanted to give her mother more, but my great grandmother never accepted. She wanted to stay in the little house she lived in most of her life and she wanted her chickens and nothing else. So, we’d bring her quilts and night gowns. She wore nothing but night gowns everywhere. I never saw her in any other clothes.
She told us stories about the Great Depression and her father’s Indian allotment land. She shared Cherokee stories around the dances and ceremonies they had and how they would make rattles to put around their ankles made of turtles. We heard stories about Sam and Belle Starr and discovered that her family were Starrs but changed their name to Taylor because of the stigma associated with the name. It wasn’t cool to be related to outlaws. Most of my family from my mother’s side is either buried in a Porum cemetery or the Starr cemetery.
Eventually she would get up and insist on cooking us something. Usually fried okra and some sort of meat. Sometimes we had venison because someone nearby hunted a deer and brought her some. It was typically a simple meal. While she and my grandma cooked, I usually went out and explored. I remember these bugs on the trees that looked like thorns and they would crawl around slowly. You’d miss them completely if you weren’t looking right at them. I’d find more turtles. They were everywhere, especially after it rained.
It was always hard saying goodbye to Auda, because my grandma would cry. She still called her “mama”, which I always found interesting. Auda’s already wet eyes would get wetter as she waved from her front door.
My grandmother was one of many children. She lost one sibling after birth, another had Polio, she had a set of twins, a younger brother the age of my mother and several others. They were all expected to go to school and work on the farm. My grandmother grew up incredibly poor with no electricity, no running water and they sewed all of their own clothes. There were so many kids that they were expected to help take care of each other and keep the house. So, my grandmother said she never had a childhood. She never knew what it meant to be a child and to carelessly play. This concept, she’d tell us, was new to my mother’s generation. Kids back then had to work, else the farm and the family was not to survive.
My grandmother picked cotton and she told me stories of how badly it hurt her hands. Her luxury was picking berries and smashing them and forming them into makeup, so she could have rosy cheeks and lips. She always talked about when she met my grandfather and he bought her a tube of lipstick and how precious it was to her. Everything she had in life was precious. I think this scarcity in her life led her to collecting things, because we were always at yard and estate sales looking for missing pieces of her collections. I think my grandmother had over 10 complete sets of china and depression glassware.
I absolutely loved going treasure hunting with my grandma. She’d tell me what to look for and I’d set to it. Usually my grandfather would give me a dollar and he’d tell me, “don’t spend it all in one place.” What I never figured out was that he was always watching me to see what I did with the dollar. If I had figured this out, I wouldn’t have spent anything and he would have given me more. Instead, I definitely spent it all every time.
Sometimes we’d go to the big professional antique places alongside the highway. We’d spend hours in there and I’d sit in every chair and pretend to order drinks at old-fashioned soda bars. My grandpa would call out to me and have me come over so he could tell me about old coke bottles and the history behind everything in the room. However, we’d always leave with nothing from those places. They were too expensive. It was just fun to fantasize. We’d talk about it in the car. Wouldn’t it be fun to someday have a house with a juke box? Wouldn’t it be fun to have Tiffany lamps?
We’d be high off of our imaginations and we’d stop to get a RC Cola at a local store. My grandfather loved them and he’d bring out these little bottles to all of us. Back then , soda wasn’t huge like it is today. They were tiny bottles. You sipped and savored them. He’d exclaim before he stopped, “Who here wants a pop?!” Sitting in the car drinking “pop” with my family was the best.
That summer was the 1984 Olympics. We never ever ate at McDonalds before this, but my grandfather found out that they were doing giveaways for every gold medal that the US brought home. Well, Russia wasn’t part of the Olympics that year. The campaign was called “When the US wins, you win!”
Always one for a bargain, my grandfather found the nearest one to us and took us several times and we collected the game cards and well, we won a lot of stuff because we took home almost every gold there was. I’m pretty sure we never ate at McDonalds again after this. My grandpa preferred roadside joint with burgers made by locals over big chains.
I’m not sure how my grandparents made plans, but when they did we usually weren’t part of the conversation. We’d wake up and we were told what was happening that day. Well, one day my grandfather announced we were heading to Branson, Missouri. He was taking us to some place called Silver Dollar City. My childhood memories of this place are like going to Wonka’s factory. It was a place of magic. There were women who made these crowns made of fresh flowers, so just about every girl there had a flower crown on. There was delicious food, glass blowing, metal smithing, banjos playing and the best of all - roller coasters. My favorite was one called “Fire in the hole”, which I was just tall enough to ride. It was an underground coaster that took you through a city that was on fire and I think the gist of it was that you were putting the fires out or something. I was addicted to this thing and rode it over and over.
My grandfather didn’t like to pay for hotels, so if we ever went anywhere, we’d drive back that night and he’d drive through the night in order to avoid paying for a hotel. The only time we ever stayed in one was on the way from Arizona to Oklahoma. We’d stay at a motel 6, two to a bed, usually somewhere in Texas. The trip was always done in two days. So, there was a lot of sleeping in the car.
My sister and I were expected to go to church every Sunday. They wouldn’t go with us, but instead they made sure we looked as good as they could make us look. We had to put on our Sunday clothes and the night before, I had to put my hair in rollers, which sucked. I hated sleeping on those things, but my grandmother wanted my hair curly. My sister absolutely hated dresses, so the whole thing was usually an ordeal for her. I liked the praise I got for how I looked.
I looked for this praise, because our mother told my sister and I that we were unattractive. She often told us, “you aren’t pretty, so you better be smart”. Well, I wasn’t smart and if I wasn’t pretty, what was I? So, I took every ounce of praise I could get. It was definitely rare. Our mother also told us that we’d have to find men someday in our lives and given we weren’t very pretty, it might not happen and we’d need to have careers. She’d tell us about all of the careers we could have and she’d dream about what we’d become for us. For me, it was simple. I’d just survive. For my sister, she had to be a doctor or a lawyer. The pressure on her was more intense, as she was supposed to take care of me when we were older.
After church, we’d come home and get out of these clothes as fast as possible because Sunday wasn’t a work day. We could read books, play outside, watch birds and eat watermelons. I’d often just sit around and daydream. I can easily, even to this day, daydream for hours and hours.
We didn’t have a storm cellar where we were, so if a storm came around with a tornado warning, we were told to get in the bathtub. We’d get in there and stay until my grandfather told us it was ok to come out. One night, I was being sassy with my grandfather and talking back to him. Something that was absolutely forbidden. There was a raging storm and he took me and placed me on the patio and locked the door. I looked up at the sky and saw huge flashes of lightning, the turtles were gathering on our porch and the sky was ominous. I thought I was going to die, which my grandfather just found humorous. He’d never let anything happen to me. I banged on the door and begged to get back in and he said, “are you going to talk to me that way again?” “No, grandpa no…” This whole thing probably only lasted five minutes, but it was the scariest five minutes. I knew that when my grandpa said no, he meant it. You had to obey him.
We didn’t have a modern washing machine, we had an old fashioned “agitator” with a thing that rung out your clothes on the other side, flattening your clothes to squeeze the water out. You’d then go take your clothes and hang them on the clothes line. My grandmother and I did this together and it was so hot. I would complain and every time I did that, she’d remind me what her childhood was like. In her day, they didn’t even have an agitator. I had to be thankful for everything, including the time I had with my grandmother washing clothes.
The summer started coming to an end and it was almost time for us to head back to Garland. I was looking forward to going back to see my friends the “pink ladies” and having my room back with my things. Grandma and grandpa would head back to Arizona.
One evening, my Grandfather came running into the living room and told us that he didn’t have much time but needed to ask us something. “Kids, I’m going to pick up your mother. We are gathering your things from your room. I don’t have a lot of time, so tell me what you want the most.” I panicked.
“Grandpa, my stove! My fridge!”
“No! Just my stove and my fridge!”
He hooked a trailer up to his truck and he left. The next night he returned with a full trailer. When he pulled up and got out, I was singularly focused and I ran up to him and asked if he got the fridge and stove and he told me that he didn’t, and instead got my toy box. I sat and sobbed. I didn’t know if I’d ever get one again.
He covered up the trailer with tarps, but we were told that we’d have to leave the next morning for Arizona. We were all going back and we were now going to live in a place called Fort Defiance, but without Bob. Where did Bob go? I had so many questions, but nobody was willing to answer me.
Later on in life, my mother told me that Bob was an angry alcoholic and when we weren’t around over the summer, he beat her. Eventually one night, he chased her out of the house with a gun and tried to shoot her. That wasn’t the Bob I knew, so I’ve never been able to reconcile that in my mind. He was so very kind around me and never seemed drunk. Nothing about this made sense. I knew they argued and didn’t get along well, but it seemed relatively stable.
Once again, I no longer had a father. Once again, I had to make new friends and start all over. Once again, I questioned if I should ever speak. My sister was pretty much the only person I was a chatterbox with. She was on to me and she knew that I could do more than people thought I was capable of. My sister while sometimes distant, was always keeping an eye on me and she fiercely protected me when it mattered.