Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Family

Memories and Old Photos Revisited

1974 May Sherry's 4th Birthday in Altadena

before my eyes
they swim
in salt water

old photos
fresh with memories

I blink
reluctant to move
my eyes

tears water
my face

 ***

Christmas stockings in Altadena

1974 Christmas Altadena Stocking stuffers Sherry and Scott
Peanut butter sandwiches and milk on the lawn

1974 Feb Scott and Sherry eating on the front lawn Altadena house

Picking cherries in California

 1974 Aug Sherry Cherry picking in California

 Thinking deep thoughts with Rosey Grier

FRASER_S_0099

Not sure what to do with all this snow above Altadena!

1975 Jan Sherry and Scott in the snow San Gabriel Mountains

Shopping with Mom – Note boa (?) on daughter’s arm

1975 Elouise with Sherry and Scott shopping ND
Posing with Mom and Dad on a hot day in Arizona

1975 Sep Family portrait in Arizona

Those were the days!
Beauty and memories captured on camera
Reminders of what endures from generation to generation

Have a happy weekend!
And don’t forget to take a few photos.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 March 2016, reposted 23 August 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, except last photo — taken by D’s mother

Mom and Auntie T | 1950s

Mom with first three daughters; dresses and hair by Mom, 1950s 

It’s 1951. Our ‘new’ house on the Vernon River feels like a fairy tale. Fireplaces on both floors, huge pieces of heavy dark furniture, woven cane mats covering dark wooden floors—often with rugs on top of the mats.

Both floors facing the river had screened-in porches, with rocking chairs on the first floor porch. They also had tall French windows that opened onto the porches facing the Vernon River.

The old frame house stood on stilts so water didn’t leak into the first floor. Almost every room in the house had an old steam radiator plus a fireplace.

I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Even better, this was now (sort of) ‘our’ house. Including the dark brown oiled pine slats covering the living room and dining room walls. Heaven for sure.

Until it wasn’t.

Looking back, I can’t imagine what Mom went through. The house didn’t come with a house-cleaner. Mom could do it all, with her three daughters (soon to be four). Surely that would do for servant-power. With Mom in charge of course.

Except she wasn’t.

Auntie T and her husband Dr. T lived in the old slave quarters just behind the big house. Too small for Auntie T’s fancy furniture. So there most of it sat for us to use—and keep clean. Not according to Mom’s already high standards, but according to Auntie T’s higher standards. The kind that got reviewed every time Auntie T dropped by to see how things were going.

Mold grew on the lovely dark pine walls, on books and on dark wood furniture. Dust and pollen accumulated on the porch, and on the linoleum covered grand hallway from the back to the front of the house. Auntie T’s clean white handkerchief found every speck! No matter what Mom did, there was always something she needed to do better.

I think Auntie T was trying to turn Mom into a respectable White Southern Lady. I didn’t often hear Mom complaining. She knew who buttered her bread. Still, in my eyes Mom was the most efficient, organized person in the world.

Looking back, I’m chagrined. We moved to Georgia because Mom was recovering from a serious case of polio. Our California mission house (with 4 to 5 families, and constant guests from abroad) was like a circus. Mom needed to rest and recuperate.

In Savannah, she frequently rested in the middle of the day, sometimes crying softly to herself. Maybe the money was running out, or there wasn’t enough food for supper, or Dad still wanted a son. Or maybe she felt trapped by Auntie T’s expectations and intrusiveness.

Bottom line: Mom didn’t know how to tell us why we weren’t to play with our new black friend. I’m guessing Auntie T’s helper didn’t hesitate to report this to her eldest daughter. Even so, I can’t prove it.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 August 2020
Photo taken by JERenich at Montgomery house, near Savannah, Georgia, 1950s.

A Lesson in Deep South Manners | 1950s

Sister #2 and I hanging onto the front-yard Mimosa tree, 1950s

I don’t remember her name. Her mother was the cook and household helper for Dr. and Mrs. Turner.  Her father took care of yard work and repairs to the Turner’s house.

Dr. Turner was a retired physician. Auntie Turner had worked as his nurse. Once upon a time they owned and lived in the big house. Then they gave it to the mission organization my parents served, and moved out. Now they lived in the old servants’ quarters. The simple wood frame two-story structure sat behind the big house. No one lived on the second floor anymore.

One day the Turner’s cook brought her oldest daughter to work. She was my age. After polite introductions, she and I ran off to play in the front yard by the river. She came several times. When Sister #2 played with us it was even better. That meant we could run races, play dodge ball, hide and seek, or Simon-says.

Our front yard stretched into the neighbor’s front yard which stretched into the next neighbor’s front yard and beyond. All the back yards (where the driveways and garages were) had fences. Most front yards didn’t.

The front yards were beautiful. The river, marsh grass and docks were right there next to us. Our next-door neighbors were often at their main house in the city. They told us we could play in their front yard any time we wanted to. So we did. They were very friendly.

We didn’t dare go beyond their yard, though, because the man in the next big house was mean. He shot Bambi one night with his rifle and Bambi died. Bambi was our new puppy. Sometimes Bambi barked little puppy barks. Mr. S didn’t like barking dogs, even though his great big guard dog barked and even snarled. Mr. S also gave rowdy drinking parties on his dock. We stayed away from Mr. S.

But we didn’t stay away from the huge water oak in our neighbor’s yard. We also had one in our yard. The two oaks became our start and finish lines for all kinds of races and made-up games.

One morning we had great fun racing back and forth between the oaks and then seeing who could twirl around the longest before collapsing on the ground.

The next day Mother quietly told us we weren’t to play with our new friend anymore. In fact, she wasn’t coming back. Ever. Mother looked uncomfortable. I was shocked.

I could tell she wasn’t giving us the full story. She said something like ‘It will be better for all of you if you don’t play together anymore.’ Furthermore, we were to say nothing to anyone else about this and ask no questions. Just do as we’re told.

I still don’t know the full truth. It was clearly about skin color. Our friend was colored; we were white.

I don’t think Mother came up with that by herself. I also don’t think our mean neighbor said anything. But the fact that he was unpredictable, white and rowdy with lots of money probably entered in.

And then there was Auntie Turner. She was never shy about telling us (especially Mother) how things are and how they must remain. Especially when it came to the way Mother took care of the big house, and our manners.

This was my low-key, ice-cold introduction to the social politics of race in the Deep South. My first lesson in Deep South manners and morals. Always ‘for my own good.’

No mixing of coloreds with whites.
Don’t tell the full truth.
Keep your mouth shut.
Don’t ask questions.
Just do as you’re told.
It’s dangerous if you don’t.
You can’t be too careful.

I wonder what Auntie Turner told my friend’s mother, and what she then said to her daughter. I wish I knew.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2015, lightly edited and reposted 17 August 2020
Photo taken by JERenich in the 1950s; Sister #2 and I hanging onto the Mimosa tree in the front yard.

A matter of life and death

Downtown Savannah, Georgia, 1955
Note the historical marker on the far right of the photo

I’ve been thinking about the life and death of John Lewis. My generation paralleled his generation. Yet my life in the Deep South during the 1950s and 60s was light years from his life. It didn’t matter that I saw and heard about the Deep South every day. What mattered was the bubble in which I was raised.

In a nutshell: I didn’t have a clue how much I didn’t know, even though it was in plain view.

Back then, our family had room for many colored people. As a child, I assumed they were our friends. Still, our family was almost always in the mode of ‘helping’ them. Or joining them at special events at which my father sometimes preached. We daughters sat with our mother in reserved seats on the front row, always decked out in our Sunday best.

We also led regular, less formal Bible clubs for children in our rural setting and in Yamacraw Village. The Village was built on what had been a Yamacraw Indian settlement. Now it served colored people on the west side of Savannah.

The Bible clubs were also our family’s way of ‘helping.’ Plenty of fun, lots of singing (I often played the piano), a Bible lesson from my father, Bible verses to memorize, and snacks at the end. I always knew we ‘poor’ white people were more fortunate than they, and assumed they needed us.

Looking back, my family offered me only one role during my growing-up years in Savannah: a friendly helper. I didn’t have the means or courage to change what often felt unfair and even embarrassing.

Alongside family activities, I attended school. Beginning in grade school, we studied the glorified white history of Georgia. Especially the “Civil” War/War between the States. This continued through high school. Sometimes, especially in grade school, we celebrated heroes. A few were colored; most were white. Christopher Columbus was the greatest national hero. The slave trade remained shrouded in mystery, though Savannah was one of the largest East Coast importers of slaves, and exporters of cotton.

Praying you’re as well as you can be right now, and surrounded by activities that bring you joy, comfort, hope, and a challenge or two.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 July 2020
Photo of Downtown Savannah, Georgia (1955) found at reddit.com

moss-laden oaks loom | 1950s in the Deep South

moss-laden oaks, magenta azaleas

I posted this poem in 2014. It’s an attempt to capture my first impressions of the Deep South, including strict segregation between Black and White citizens. There were 5 of us in the car (Sister #4 yet to be conceived). We’d just driven from Southern California to rural Georgia, 15 miles outside of Savannah. Another world. One I’d never imagined in my 7 1/2 years of life. 

moss-laden oaks loom
magenta azaleas blaze
deep south path through woods 

* * *

Late summer, 1950

It’s past midnight
I’m asleep with Sisters #2 and #3
Are we almost there?

Mother’s tired voice wakes me up
Nothing but darkness outside
and cobwebby stuff hanging from tree limbs

A log-cabin tavern fades into view
Neon beer ads flicker on parked cars, old trucks
Daddy reluctantly stops for directions

He goes into the tavern.
Are we lost?
No. We just aren’t there yet.

Daddy drives slowly
No street lights no signs
The old road is dark, narrow, mysterious

Mossy oaks loom overhead reflecting
weak rays of yellow light from car headlights
Weary shacks line the road

Unexpectedly we pass grand fenced-in wooded lots with driveways to nowhere
Then modest houses and a few larger houses
The road ends abruptly.

Daddy stops, gets out, peers at the giant mailbox
He turns into the driveway
We’re there.

Deep South
moss-laden oaks, no blazing azaleas
Just heavy humid air, wealth next door to poverty, fiercely guarded secrets

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 March 2014, reposted with intro14 July 2020
Google image – Springtime in Savannah, Georgia

Poor little rich white girl

Poor little rich white girl
from everywhere
and nowhere in particular
Shrinks in horror
And confusion from
Imperious or friendly voices
Vying for her attention
Her full support
Her obedience
Her submission
Her silence

To be or not to be?

Fear wins the lottery
As she retreats into
Familiar shadows
Of false safety
Unraveling her soul
From the inside out
One stitch at a time
Drifting into slumber
Overflowing with dreams
Of what might have been
Once upon a time before
The clock struck midnight

Covid-19 has disrupted my life. Black Lives Matter has galvanized me. Not because I think we’ll overcome racism in my lifetime, but because I grew up as a poor rich white girl. I was ignorant, confused, and filled with shame about being white and female. Questions about obvious inequalities on display every day of my life went unanswered.

As a preacher’s kid I was fully immersed in the culture of conservative Christianity as interpreted by my father, plus other male preachers and Bible teachers I encountered along the way.

When I married D and left home, I chose to follow a different understanding of Christian faith. Yet even this didn’t give adequate attention to underlying disasters and sins of this country. These included treatment of native American Indians, and treatment of Black women, men and families captured and put on sale to serve as slaves to white Americans.

Being silent today is not an option. Neither is carrying on life as usual.

So I’m asking questions. What does all this mean for me at this time in my life? How will it affect my reading and writing? How will it affect my relationship to the church? What can I do, and What must I NOT do? This isn’t about my generation; it’s about our collective future. With and without me.

I’m also wondering how all this impacts your daily life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2020
Photo of me with my younger sisters; taken by JERenich in 1953; mixed rural neighborhood outside Savannah, Georgia

Coming down from a high | Day 1 Photos revisited

P1090805 The High Dessert in Oregon, on the way to Mitchell, Oregon – October 2015

It’s time for a teeny tiny (safe!) vacation from Covid-19 precautions. Click on photos to enlarge them. And ENJOY! 🙂

Have you ever seen the high desert in central Oregon? The one many early settlers had to travel across to reach the West Coast? Without maps and only occasional guides?

No? Neither had I until last week. I’d seen wheat ranches in Oregon, sea stacks and beaches on the coast, snow on Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, lush forests and state parks drenched with green mosses, waterfalls, creeks running alongside mountain roads, puffins on the sea stacks, and spectacular sunsets. But until a year ago I hadn’t even heard of what I saw last week.

Ten days ago D and I flew out to Portland, Oregon for a visit with our daughter and her husband. It included a two-day road trip to the high desert to see the Painted Hills. Did you know there are painted hills in the USA? I didn’t. Here’s our first photo–a tiny peek as we approached the Painted Hills entrance on Day 1 of our adventure.

P1090807
Painted Hills is one of three units in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We visited two of the three units—Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.

The photos below are from our first day at the Painted Hills Unit. We arrived in the late afternoon on a picture-perfect day. Warm weather with a cool steady wind, dry air, and very few visitors.

P1090827

P1090828 Can you find the spot where DAFraser zoomed in for this close-up? Also, look for animal trails and tracks. No humans allowed!

Here we’re on our way to a lookout at the top of the trail.
Notice the moon hanging in the brilliant blue sky!

P1090875

When we were walking on this path we stopped to listen.
All I heard was silence and the beat of my heart.
“…All nature sings, and ’round me rings
the music of the spheres….”

P1090897 Velvet tones and texture, stripes like a soft woolen blanket; colors of the West

P1090847

 

P1090891

P1090870

Polite signs like this kept reminding us to stay on the path!
In this case, turn around and go back the way you came.
Which we did!

End of Day 1, back at our motel:

P1090905 Wild turkeys on the road up to our motel, after chasing unwelcome cat away….

Hoping you find a way to vacation safely today, even if it’s only in your lovely mind and heart!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 October 2015 and 27 June 2020
Photo credit: Elouise (top photo), DAFraser (all the rest), October 2015
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit

Resisting Mr. Trump


Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965)

What is the content of my character? The question haunts me. I’m in the golden to fading-golden years of my life. Until early this year, all my ducks (as many as I could herd) seemed to be lining up in a neat row, with plans and documents in fairly good order.

The appearance of Mr. Trump on the overtly political stage distressed me in 2016. Today it horrifies me that he’s still there.

This isn’t about who wins the next election. It isn’t even about Covid-19. It’s about resistance and the content of our character.

Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to lose sleep over the content of his character.

I wonder about myself.
Do I understand true resistance?
And what is the content of my character right now?

For decades I minimized the circumstances of my childhood. I thought that if I got on with my life as an adult, the baggage of the past would gradually fade away.

That didn’t happen. It never does. I had to resist openly. I had to open my mouth, and say what I needed to say to the people who most needed to hear from me–my parents. Which I did on the eve of my 50th birthday.

I grew up under the strict, sometimes harsh tutelage of a father who contantly reminded me that he was in control, and I was not. But power is never a sign of ‘rightness’ or even (as in my ordained father’s case) ‘righteousness.’

When I look back at my internal resistance to my father’s heavy-handed methods of control, I wonder how I did it. Stubborn? Yes. I was stubborn–though not in the way my father thought I was.

Instead, I learned to embody stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. Sometimes it worked to my advantage. Overall, however, it did not. My body paid a high price.

It would not be fair or true to say my father and Mr. Trump were cut from the same cloth. Still, there are obvious overlaps, including unhealthy narcissism. The kind that tries to eradicate healthy narcissism in others.

It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Trump wins the next election or not. He has already wreaked havoc here in the USA and abroad. It won’t do for me to hold my nose and wait for November.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 May 2020
Photo of 1965 March from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama found at americanyawp.com

Smudge and the Good Morning News

Our recalcitrant child. No, he is NOT allowed in the sink! Just on it….

You want me to do WHAT?

 

If you insist….

Other good morning news:

Just as I was finishing breakfast, the doorbell rang. D answered. He’d just returned from grocery shopping. A not-so-young man reached out his hand to give D something. It was D’s wallet in a Ziploc bag! It had fallen out of his jacket pocket as he loaded bags of groceries into the car. After he left, I retreated to the kitchen with tears of gratitude in my eyes. It’s one thing to do something unexpected for someone else. It’s another to be on the receiving end. Especially as one of those ‘elderly’ people.

Also this morning, as I was drinking my breakfast smoothie, I signed up to follow Longwood Gardens on Instagram. Today’s theme is wisteria. Glorious lavender wisteria! Get the photos for yourself. Just go to the very bottom of the link above. Or, if you’re already on Instagram, add Longwood Gardens to your account. There are several other ways to get the photos. So take a look at the link above! No excuses!

Yesterday morning I had a scheduled phone conversation with my favorite cardiologist. I enjoyed it so much, I’m considering a request that there be No More In Person Visits! Bottom line: I got cleared for another six months. Nothing new, and my heart and blood pressure are doing well for now, all things considered.

Best of all, the sun is out today! Not as blistering hot as yesterday, but sunny enough for a nice late afternoon walk with D.

Cheers!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 May 2020
Photos of Smudge taken by ERF, March 2020

Cast onshore

Cast onshore
Of a deserted island
Shaking water
From my eyes
Seeing nothing
And nobody
As unanticipated
I wonder aloud
Who am I
And why am I here
Now and not then
When all seemed well
that ended well

All talk of getting back to business rings hollow.

  • Will we ever leave or re-enter our homes again without going through new rituals of warfare?
  • And how will we grieve what is  gone forever after the enemy is subdued?
  • Or ensure that the world is now a safer place for all survivors?

Just a few questions going through my mind these days. They pop up most often after I’ve talked on the phone with one of my family members. Especially those who are younger than I, which would be almost all of them.

Right now it takes hope, courage and determination to get out of bed each morning. Especially given conflict about how to handle this pandemic, and what it will take to resume some semblance of everyday life.

In the meantime, to answer the question of my poem, I believe I’m here to pay attention. Especially now. Eyes wide open. Doing what I can to make life a less lonely or frightening for those most endangered, including myself.

Praying your day is filled with bits of light from unexpected sources!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 April 2020
Photo found at nationalgeographic.com.au

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