Friday, February 27, 2015


I suppose the "trope" of waiting for a letter from a sweetheart doesn't work anymore.  In the first place it was a sort of war-time preoccupation.  In the second place today's communication is via electronic device, which means a constant stream of instant gratification.  In the third place this is a rural photo and no one lives in the country anymore.  In the fourth place people who are coupled up just move in together.  There is no moment of decision to enter "adult life" together, just a matter of one's possessions being moved gradually into the better living accommodations.  Of course, since most of what one owns these days is music and the music can be electronic, then there's no awkward moment of moving out when the albums must be sorted.  Pets are kind of a breaking point, but it's not as though they're actual livestock.

This is my mother in Roseburg, Oregon, a timber town.  She is one of three daughters who were supposed to be boys, but their father claimed they were "just as good" as boys.  (He came from a family-based construction firm of all boys that built the massive dairy barns of the NW at the time.)
There were originally four girls, one of whom was killed in a car accident as a teenager.  This the father handled by declaring that the family would simply pretend she was still alive.  He was not a man who valued reality.  Maybe it was because of his temperament which some would claim was Irish, though others would point out his family was in Kentucky hill country for several generations.

Approaching thirty and still not spotting anyone worthy, my mother made the best of it by becoming a force in the Business and Professional Women's Club.  She sang in the Presbyterian choir (her father's church -- her mother was Baptist) where she attracted the attention of a traveling wool-buyer, my father who was an atheist (he would willingly tell you) but attended church to watch my mother sing.

My father wooed my mother by offering her a house in the big city of Portland, where she had the idea he understood all about culture and politics.  His family did attend a lot of lectures and were major library users beside buying books.  They were quiet people.  But making bread is about the same everywhere.  This kitchen was nothing like what contemporary women expect.  It had a little "cooler," a cupboard with a screened window to the outside, and an ironing board lowered from inside one wall.  

Mama and Paul

Then the babies began to come and that made it all worthwhile, esp. when the second one was a boy.  But there were supposed to be two children.  The third, another boy, wasn't planned, but once arrived was a real charmer.  Still . . . one-third more cost, more effort, more space needed -- my father didn't rise to the challenge.

Lou and Beck

The two oldest girls were close.   (Lucy, called "Lou,"and her sister, called "Beck" for Becky though her real name was Vera.  She had read "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" and was so struck by it that she renamed herself.)  Beck became an RN, trained at the early version of OHSU in Portland, so was often around in the early years of the marriage.  There was a lively on-going debate among the sisters about what a woman's life ought to be.  Lou was the big sister who took care of everyone and ran head-to-head with her father; Beck was liberated and ready for adventure; Allie married her high school sweetheart and worked hard as a sheep-rancher's wife.  She had three little girls, including a set of twins, but on the ranch three were as easy to manage as two.  

Beck was head nurse in the surgery at a Great Falls Hospital when WWII broke out.  She joined up and was stationed in Oxford and Rheims.  She was not a literary woman, but she sent us English storybooks and a French lamp with a silk shade.  When she came back, she married her sister's husband's brother and accepted that life, having four children that included another set of twins but only one girl.  Her health was not good and it didn't help to be a nurse because she tinkered all the time and took docs too seriously.  (My mother's opinion.)

May, Beulah and Lucy.  (They never called her Lou.)

My mother married a man with two big healthy brothers, figuring that they knew how to prosper and it would be safe.  She loved her mother-in-law, though her father-in-law was the one who really clicked with her.  He admired her brains.  Her sister-in-law was beautiful, a bit of a princess though not afraid of hard work, and tightly bonded to her mother.  My mother's efforts to guide everyone were not very welcome.

Ethel Grace Cochran Pinkerton

My mother's mother was a gentle woman, dependent on her fiery husband and a dependable guidance for her four ringleted daughters.  I have her mouth and teeth but not her excellent hair.  She was from a prosperous family (Cochran) and married "down."  Her mother died very young (childbirth infection) and her stepmother was not cherishing or protective.  As an older teen, she was sent to Portland to live with a family friend while all her teeth were pulled and replaced with dentures.  My mother did the same thing about the time her third child arrived.  One of the last things I did for my comatose dying mother was to pry her false teeth out and put them aside.  My own teeth have been saved by constant dentistry.  

Her name was Ethel Grace and my father's mother's name was Beulah.  My mother used to tease me by saying she had originally intended to name me for the two grandmothers:  "Ethel Beulah" or "Beulah Ethel."  Instead I was sort of slantwise named for my father's sister and my mother's dead sister.  

Great Grandpa Cochran

This is my mother's mother's father, my great-grandfather Cochran, holding myself.  This was a bit of family healing, presenting the first grandchild as a sign that old resentments were over and the family generations would go on.  This man was wealthy, proud, a pioneer in Oregon's history.

Mothers should never do this, but the need to feed everyone (or in this case offer water) is strong, along with the temptation to show how brave you are.  It was a small black bear, probably had cubs, and should not have been mooching along the road.  Today it would be driven off with noise and rubber bullets, or simply be shot.

My father's job was circulating among farm communities in the NW to promote Pacific Supply Cooperative and their wholesale products to be sold by small local co-ops.  He also did a certain amount of untangling of organizational problems.  In the photo above he has been pushing a new petroleum by-product, wax, and had persuaded my mother to demonstrate how to make novelty candles so that farm wives would buy wax.  If you saw this audience from behind, photos demonstrate, you would see that the town was so small that there was only one hair-dresser, who gave everyone the same pin-curled  hairdo.  My mother therefore was also demonstrating a short haircut topped with a beret.  

The actual candle she holding is an "Easter egg" made by dipping a water balloon into melted wax and then cut to make a jagged edge which was given a glitter rim.  You had to add a birthday candle to light it.  It was interesting that most of the candles were Christian themed: Easter, Christmas.  I don't remember any Fourth of July candles.

This jolly little group was only one of the organizations my mother belonged to.  It took me a while to figure out who these women were.  Finally I recognized the sweet older lady in front, Mrs. McPherson, my 4H sewing class instructor and a professional seamstress.  So these were 4H leaders entertaining themselves with a contest to see who could make the most fetching hat out of things found in a kitchen. I think my mother won.  I'm sure she tried to.  I would.

If you think all this is trivial and personal,  read this:

But it all stopped with me: NO children.  I thought.  It turns out that other people's children come to find you and fill up the spaces.

1 comment:

Jake Allsop said...

It's good to reminisce about the family. I know a great deal about my mother's family, but very little about my father's, except that my stepsister told me once "The Allsops were the most hated family in Netherton". Too late to find out why.