Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bridging the Gap Between Generations

Today, I am so pleased and proud to introduce the Porch's first guest blogger, my daughter Kelsey. At 13, she already is a gifted young writer (um, no. I'm not remotely biased. That's crazy talk!). But you can judge for yourself when you read the piece she has prepared for a school ancestry project on my grandmother, Gladys Marie McCalvin Greenfield.
My grandmother, who died when Kelsey was only six, had a profound influence on my life, which you can read more about here. So it delights me that Kelsey chose her as the family member she wanted to study. After a great deal of research, Kelsey prepared the following monologue she'll present on her "MomMom" and graciously allowed me to share it with you. Kelsey chose to write about my grandmother when she was 15, orphaned, and raising her siblings in the hills of Appalachia during the Depression. She'll perform her monologue in her social studies class next week.

I am certain my grandmother will be smiling down on her.

A Monologue on Young Gladys McCalvin
By Kelsey Reese

(Enters room, yelling out the door) Jesse! I told you once before, hurry up, George is waiting for you out by the garden. (Turns to face room and realizes she has an audience) Ah, oh, sorry about that…I've been up hours prior to sunrise. I just haven't been able to sleep at all the past few days; I think I might be working on a head cold. Not that I get that much rest anyway, since Daddy passed a few months back. Not a lot I can do though. All I'm hoping is that gentleman who courts me to and from church, Dee Rice, will propose. Oh now wouldn’t that be a sight! (Chuckles) A husband is exactly what I need, someone to care for ME once in a while…but it's hard enough getting six-year- old Jesse to obey me; could you imagine a grown man? It's a good thing I have my older brother George to do the disciplinin'. But even he, at 17, still calls upon me. "Gladys do this, Gladys do that, Gladys I don't have the time, would you please? …"

I've taken the role of Mama, who passed away 4 years ago. I was only 11 at the time, so it was really hard. But I always trusted I'd have Daddy to lean on. Now I'm afraid that isn't the case. I'm sad to say my life, along with the lives of my brothers and sisters, has not been pretty. I suppose while I'm here I'll sit and tell y'all a bit.
(Sits on table and takes hair down from bun) I don't know where to begin…but I guess since my life began on October 18 in the year of 1918, that's where I'll start.

I do remember life for me wasn't always as rough as it is today. My daddy was a farmer and a coal miner. He had two big ol' farms and cattle galore. We had a nice house, but the absolute best part of our house was the beautiful organ. Mama played it almost every day and she was far better than I could ever dream of being. The music would fill the house and make everything seem okay, even if I was having a bad day.  That is by far the thing I miss most about her. At least I remember her. My youngest brother, Mac, was just an infant when she died.

Daddy worked even harder after Mama passed, and the younger kids began to rely on me, George and my sister Myrtle, who just recently became a teenager. I remember being the one to tuck all my brothers and sisters in, and Myrtle and I would tidy up the house with Daddy out working. Daddy supplied us with money to live off of, but over time, as demands grew, he became less "Daddy" and more "Mr. McCalvin." He worked hard for what was left of our family though, and I will forever love and respect him for that.

Daddy's recent illness and passing was a surprise, but we coped with it just as we did other hardships, and here I am today. My younger siblings are the focus of my life. I've told you about Jesse and George, they're the men of the family along with little Mac who's now 4. The girls would be Myrtle, who I've already mentioned, Pearl who is 11, Lucile age 9, and Nora, the youngest girl, who is 8.

My biggest fear for my family is the kids being put into orphanages. We have stuck together through everything thrown our way, and our strong family bond never lets us down. Sometimes the thought crosses my mind that maybe it WOULD be easier if there were fewer children to care for, but this family has lost enough. Parents, relatives, animals, land, everything…also, the more people we have in this house, the more people to work. Any little bit helps, even if it's just Mac sweeping crumbs up with a little brush.

Now, as most orphaned children are granted this, we do have a guardian. But she "guards" us in no way shape or form. As soon as she gained custody of all us kids, she sold off almost everything we had: most of the livestock, the machines, she practically got rid of our assets all together. Now we have to have other ways of making an income. For a while, we had two old horses and some cows. We keep a garden, and we would use the horses to plow it. And we sell blueberries, milk and butter. Grandfather sold the horses though, so now all we have is Ol' Molly, an old nag to ride to the store. She can hardly even handle that though, and her days are numbered.

I miss my Momma and Daddy very much, but I certainly do not miss Grandmother Minerva! She was a dreadful and hateful old lady, and even though the good Lord says not to hate, I'll admit it -- I HATED that old woman. I couldn't stand her one little bit. I remember her making me stand at the foot of the bed all day just so her poor little feet wouldn't get chilled. Every time I would (quotations with hands) "smart off" I'd get a smack and hear about what an awful child I was for speaking my opinion. I remember my mother spanking me once when I was throwing away a moldy jar from the cellar and told her how it resembled Grandmother's old wrinkly face. (Smiles fondly)

I do have a few good memories from my earlier childhood, believe it or not. The one that best sticks out in my mind would be putting a saddle on a cow and riding it like a horse. Once, the saddle even tipped over and I landed right in a briar patch. I think I lost half my hair that day pulling those prickly little things out. But that wasn't as bad as the time I ate some wild onions and found a steep hill to roll down. I don't think I've been so sick in my entire life!

There is one person who has stayed close to me through it all, and that is the good Lord. Now, I am certainly not gonna preach to you, but I do know He will guide me through anything. We get dressed up as well as we can every Sunday to go to church. Call us crazy, but George and I have decided to try to tithe our family's income. Sometimes it's easier for us to do that than other times but no matter what, you always have to remember, there is someone out there in worse shape than you are.

I recently had to drop out of school, and it was a very hard decision for me to make. Not to boast, but I am mighty smart. I skipped two grades, you know. I hate that I had to quit school, but we have to keep our family going somehow.

I know my family may seem big enough now, but it would have been even bigger if it were not for the 1914 fire. It was 4 years before I was born, but I've heard so much grief about it I feel as if I was there. The story is this. My mother had three children before George. By the time she was 20 she had Mildred, who was 4, Benjamin who was just a tad bit over a year old, and Luther, 4 months. Mama had been looking out the window one day and noticed the cattle roaming outside the fenced pasture. She figured the kids would be safe napping while she ran out to gather the cows.

While Mama was pursuing the cows, she glanced up to the house on a hill and saw it was submersed in the biggest orange flames you could imagine.  She raced back to the house as fast as her legs could carry her, but by the time she got up the hill, everything was gone -- the house, but far worse, the children.

Long after the fire was out, they still couldn't find Mildred's bones. She was the only child who left no trace of death. My mother has her own opinion on that. She claims the gypsies took her. You see, a while before the fire, Mama had taken Mildred on a trip. On the train, they met gypsies who were captivated by Mildred's beauty and grace. Mildred was also said to have the voice of an angel. The gypsies begged Mama to let them take Mildred and have them perform in their shows, but the answer of course was a big ol' "No!"

So, Mama blamed the gypsies for the fire. She said they had purposefully set the cattle loose so she'd notice, then once she was out of the house and occupied, they had come into the house and kidnapped Mildred, setting the house aflame when they left.

I'm not sure what to believe, but I know Daddy thought for sure she had perished in the flames. One day he was out behind the house crying for the loss of his children and he heard his perished daughter's voice say, "Daddy, don't cry." He musta' thought it was her spirit speaking to him. Mama heard about this story but didn't think the same. She still looked for Mildred everywhere until the day of her own death. She told everyone about it and tracked down every reported sighting of Mildred, but was never able to find a thing.

See what I mean? Life for the children here has always been hard. But, I can't stress enough how tough times are right now. I appreciate any help anyone can offer, and if someone can help out the McCalvin children and they don't, well, I find it to be a very selfish act.

The other day, for example, I was visiting with my aunt. She's certainly not hurting for anything. While rummaging through her bread box, I found some biscuits. I'll be darned if they were two days old. Now my aunt knows very well we kids ain't doing the best we could (not that we let on how rough it is. We're strong people, us McCalvins). But what does she do with those biscuits? She threw them out to her hogs, not offering us a bite! I can't put my agony over that into words. When people do something that disappoints me, you'll bet I'll let them know. I shot her dirty looks for the rest of the day and often grabbed my empty stomach whenever it would growl to hopefully let her know what she had done.

Even though that image haunts me, I have to say I'm not sure if anyone fully understands our situation. I haven't felt truly full in almost a year. Out here in Ashland, Kentucky, it is smack dab right in the middle of nowhere. Look around, what do you see? It's mountains and hills and grass and trees and farmland and the occasional creek or pond. We haven't got neighbors to see what we do on a day to day basis. Maybe if we did things would be different. Maybe...Maybe if people did see what kinds of work we do, people would help.

Then again, we are in a depression and it's a terrible time for everyone. That's what I've read from the covers of the papers on newsstands at the market. I don't spend any more money than necessary, so I never buy one. Occasionally I'll stop to read about President Roosevelt and I hear people complaining all the time I go anywhere about job losses and such things. We also hear lots about the war. I wish I knew more about the Nazis and everything else I've caught snippets of around here. I hardly get any social interaction other than church discussions.

You know…I'm just so glad I have this time to open up. Sometimes, there are days I look around and I just feel so sorry for myself. I want to scream at someone, whoever is putting us through this, and yell STOP. (Grow angry. Throw up arms, etc.) I can't DO this anymore; I can’t put my family through EVERYTHING. It's just not RIGHT!

(Breathing heavily) My sincerest apology for that…sometimes I just lose control of myself, as does everyone I'm sure. There aren’t many positives to how I'm living. Sometimes all the pressure from the countless negatives just builds up inside me and I have to let it go. Whenever I go around the kids, though, I'll have to put my smiley face back on and try to let them know that things could be worse, something I myself sometimes doubt. Then again, I'm not known for my happy-go-lucky spirit.

I'm going to be completely honest with you folks. We’re struggling to survive. All of us are hungry, and we're eating well if we get one loaf of bread for the entire family in a whole week. I do the work of an employed grown man every day except, of course, Sundays.  I haven't got many friends; even if I did I wouldn't be able to see them at all anyway. Every time I leave the house I have a child on my hip and another holding my hand...

Speaking of leaving the house, I have got to go water the garden, and as always, I have children to tend. Thank ya'll for listenin' a bit. I kindly appreciate it.

Goodbye now!

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