Saturday, January 28, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 4

One nice thing about the 52 Stories project is that you can select from a number of different categories for each week's theme. You don't have to write about your life in any particular order. This week I am writing about school, using the following question:
What was your first introduction to formal education - preschool, kindergarten, homeschooling? What do you remember about those first few years?

Lawson Elementary
My family moved from Chicago to Des Moines when I was 5. As the youngest of 4 children, I was the only one still at home during the day with my mom. That fall, my parents tried to enroll me in first grade at Holy Trinity Catholic School where my older brother was going to be a second grader. I would be 6 in October, and they were hoping the school would let my young age slip by since the cutoff date for turning 6 was September 1. The school wouldn't budge however, and as it did not offer kindergarten my parents had to look for an alternative. I ended up at Lawson Elementary School, which is located in the nearby school district of Johnston. That is interesting in and of itself, as Lawson was 3.8 miles from our house, and Woodlawn Elementary in Des Moines was only .7 miles away. However, over-crowding at Woodlawn necessitated that children in the neighborhood be distributed among other schools. A new elementary school which was built on my street - Samuelson Elementary  - would not open until 1965.

kindergarten picture
I have a vague recollection of my mom dropping me off the first day of school, and the tears that followed. After all, I had been used to being with her every day, and even my beloved brother wasn't at the same school. I remember little else of kindergarten other than the fact that I rode the bus every day. The bus picked me up at the corner of Bel-Aire Road and Lawnwoods Drive, a distance of 7 houses. The Edwards family lived on that corner, and Rick Edwards was given the responsibility (by our moms) of watching out for me on the bus. He was a worldly third grader.
Holy Trinity Catholic Church

The next school year my parents sent me to Holy Trinity with my brother. As I understand it from a neighbor, the kids from my area who had been at Lawson for kindergarten were transferred to Cowles Elementary School in Windsor Heights for first and second grades, moving to Samuelson when it opened. So either way I would have had a new school for first grade.

My brother and I took the bus to Holy Trinity every day, this time being picked up at the corner of Lawnwoods Drive and Lindlavista Way. I would guess this to be a couple blocks of walking each way. I didn't mind riding the bus most of the time. However, if someone misbehaved in the classroom, certain teachers punished everyone by making them all stay after school. This would result in me missing the bus. I was lucky in that if my brother didn't see me get on the bus, he would wait after school for me. Because my dad had the only car we owned at work, we would have to walk home. That was a two and a half mile walk. This being before the age of cell phones, we had no way of letting mom know that we had been delayed. How frantic she must have been when we didn't arrive home at the normal time! Fortunately this did not happen often.

friends rocking the HT uniform
We had to wear a uniform each day, with the boys consisting of white shirts and navy blue slacks and the girls wearing white shirts under navy blue jumpers. A navy blue sweater was permitted on cool days. The big girls - those in 8th grade - got to graduate out of the jumpers and into navy blue skirts and white shirts. In all cases, however, the hem of your jumper or skirt had to touch the kneeler when you were on your knees in church. And believe me, they checked! On the last day of the school year, we were allowed to wear a skirt or a dress.

I have mostly fond memories of Holy Trinity. We had to take a sack lunch each day, but twice a year the mothers would come and serve us beef burger sandwiches with pickles and chips. It was such a thrill for me to get to see my mom then. Many of my teachers, all nuns, were quite good and encouraged my writing and poetry. I left Holy Trinity at the end of 7th grade. By then I had some good friends on my street who attended Meredith Junior High, and I wanted to go to school with them. On the last day of 7th grade I took my Kodak Instamatic with me to snap a few photos of my friends. Over the years we lost touch, so it is nice to have the pictures to reflect back on.
last day of 7th grade on the playground

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 3

Since I have been working on some genealogy recently, it seemed appropriate to choose a question about my roots for this week's story:
Where are your roots? Do you feel strong ties to a particular place, either because of your own personal experience or your ancestry?

house where I was born
Though I was born in Cincinnati, we moved away from the area when I was only a couple of months old. Roots on both my mom's side as well as my dad's side run very deep in Cincinnati. It is where the vast majority of our immigrant ancestors settled and ultimately stayed when they came to America. In fact my mom's seven brothers and sisters, and my dad's three sisters never moved very far from home. We were the only branch on either family tree to break off and set down roots someplace else.

My father took an office job with a trucking company, and we relocated to Chicago. Dad went ahead to find a house, and my mom later took the train with their four children to meet him there. I can only imagine how hard that must have been for her to leave her family and support system - we owned the house right next door to her mom and dad. Add onto that the fact that I was only two or three months old, and it must have been terribly difficult for her.

Mom and dad never forgot that Cincinnati was home, however, and our vacations consisted of driving to Cincinnati to visit relatives. Even when we moved to Des Moines when I was five and the drive to Cincinnati became a torturous 12 hours due to the non-existence of interstates at the time, we still managed at least one trip a year back "home". When dad retired in 1984, he and mom sold the house in Des Moines - the only house I ever really knew - and moved back to Cincinnati.

My husband and I lived in St. Louis at that point, and Cincinnati was a much quicker and easier trip for us to make than going up to Des Moines. We ended up being able to see them more often, and visits to Cincinnati were always filled with family gatherings. Mom and dad liked to organize family reunions, so it was a great way to keep up with the relatives. Mom died in 1989, just five years after they moved back home. So when dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, trips to Cincinnati became much more frequent to try to help him out. Other relatives pitched in as well so we were able to keep dad in his own home until the last month of his life.

For all of those reasons, Cincinnati tugs very strongly on my heartstrings, and my sister and I go over for a visit that often includes a family reunion once a year. Two of my mom's sisters are still living, as is one of my dad's sisters. When I can, I squeeze in a second visit to work on my family history. The Queen City will always have a home in my heart.

Cincinnati skyline

Friday, January 13, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 2

It's the second week of January, so that means it's time for my 52 Stories post. Here is the question I selected for week 2, though you will notice that they have again slipped a second question onto this one:
If you are past your child-rearing years, how have you adjusted to life as an empty-nester? What advice do you have for others who are entering this stage of their lives?

We have a son and daughter, and up until 1997 I worked full-time outside the home at MOMEDICO while doing the accounting and some marketing for our business, Organic Resource Management, Inc. at night and on the weekends. In the fall of 1997, our youngest was going to be entering first grade and we needed to make a decision about child-care before and after school for the two kids as it would no longer make sense to have a full-time nanny coming to our home. MOMEDICO had been purchased by a company in Alabama, and it was pretty clear that big changes were going to be made, including down-sizing due to duplicate positions. I had been with the company for 15 years, and was the Vice President of Marketing and Risk Management - the first female to make V.P. Taking everything into account, we decided that I would quit work and focus on my ORMI responsibilities, which I could do from a home office.

Working from home allowed me for the first time to be a room mother, a scout leader and the opportunity to sign up for more field trips with the kids. I could also pursue my passions for writing, genealogy, photography and house history research. I bring all this up to illustrate the fact that while my children were a huge part of my life, they didn't define my life. There were a lot of activities and interests I took part in that did not involve my kids.

Los Angeles
Our daughter graduated from high school in 2009, and finished college in the spring of 2012. She ended her college coursework with a session in Los Angeles, fell in love with the city, and decided that is where she wanted to work. I helped her drive out there in April of that year, staying long enough to see her settled in her first, very own apartment. A moving company delivered her larger belongings shortly thereafter. Empty nest, empty basement! I blogged about the experience of becoming an empty nester in 2012, and you can find that post here.

For me, becoming an empty nester has not been a big adjustment. Perhaps part of that stems from the fact that both of our kids went away to college, which somewhat prepared me for them not being home all the time. But I think the big reason is that my life, while it very much involved my kids, did not revolve around them. The organizations I belonged to, the activities I participated in, the friends I had - those all remained even when the kids moved away.

Similarly, my husband and I did not let parenthood define who we were/are. While we enjoyed our activities and travels as a family, we always made sure there was time for just the two of us as well. We accompanied each other on fun business trips, and also took some short breaks as a couple.

In many ways it is hard for me to relate to parents who cry and are depressed when their kids move out of the house. To me it is the circle of things - we began as a family of two, raised the kids to be independent and successful in their own right, and now we are back to our family of two. I discussed this in a blog post I wrote back in 2013. "Give Them Wings so They Can Fly" is one of my most popular posts, and you can read it here.

My tips for enjoying the empty nest (from my perspective of a 38 year marriage)  include:
- have a life outside of your kids, whether that is volunteering, exploring hobbies, or maintaining friendships
- don't neglect your relationship with your spouse, because the kids will be gone someday and it will be just the two of you again
- embrace the uniqueness of interacting with grown, independent children
- look for new opportunities in your personal and professional life

family love
I can truly say that I have enjoyed the different stages of parenthood, with all of their assorted trials and tribulations. But the empty nester stage has many positives and very few drawbacks. You'll have a whole new connection with your kids while rekindling your bond with the person who helped you become a parent.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Challenge

Elsie Metz's 1912 travel journal 
As someone who enjoys researching my family's history, I often wish some of my ancestors had left journals or diaries behind so that I could take a peak into their lives. (The journal pictured on the left is from a very distance cousin.) I used to keep a diary as a young girl, but I destroyed it before I went to college. I regret that now, as it would be fun to look back on my thoughts and feelings from back then. While I have taken the time to journal many of our trips over the past several years and I have a personal blog located here, I haven't really dedicated any time to writing the back story of my life. It seems like a pretty overwhelming endeavor, so it is easy to put it off.

When I saw a blog post from Family Search offering questions to help you write your story one week at a time, I decided to check it out. Here is a link to the article: Define Your Dash: Start Writing Your Personal History with the #52Stories Project. The article refers to a poem by Linda Ellis entitled "The Dash", which talks about the dash on a tombstone. The date before the dash is when a person was born, and the date after the dash is when the person died. But what happened during the "dash" is what is important and what the person's life was all about. You can read the whole poem here.

Writing one short story at a time each week for 52 weeks seems pretty manageable, and the article actually offers up 144 questions as options to get your creative juices flowing. It is my goal to complete this project, though I admit it may be difficult in February as I will once again be taking part in the Family History Writing Challenge. There I will be committing to writing about an ancestor every day for the entire month. It may be hard to do both of these, but I am certainly going to try.

The Family Search questions do not need to be answered in any order, nor do you need to write your stories in chronological order. For Week 1 I have selected the following question:
How did you earn your very first official paycheck as a teenager or young adult? How did that first job influence the career choices you have made since?

King's Food Host
Okay, they snuck two questions in on me with this one. Like most teenage girls, I began baby-sitting as soon as I could. As the youngest of four children, I always wanted a new baby in our family but that wasn't to be. My sister is 11 years older than me, so about the time she got too old/busy to baby-sit, I was ready to step into her shoes in our neighborhood.

The going rate was 50 cents/hour regardless of whether I watched the two children across from us or the six down the street! (Though there was a doctor in the next block paid $1 per hour for his one child. That was a coveted sitting job.) I bring up the babysitting only to illustrate how important it was to me to get a better paying job as soon as I could. Our family was not wealthy by any means, and I had to pay for my own make-up, entertainment and many of my clothes. So as soon as I turned 16 during my sophomore year in high school, I applied at the local King's Food Host restaurant. A restaurant chain located in 17 states, King's offered sit down dining where orders were called in from a phone built into the wall at each table. While waiting for their orders, guests could choose to listen to music from the individual jukeboxes located in the booths.

I was paid the current minimum wage of $1.60/hour as a waitress, and we were not allowed to accept tips. If a customer insisted on leaving a tip (and some did), it was to be placed in a jar and periodically the restaurant owner would have a small party for the staff. A number of my classmates worked there as well, and I remember the owner being quite reasonable about making sure our schedules were clear on nights when school activities were scheduled. One guy was in the marching band, another gal was a flag twirler and I was a Hooverette (a member of the precision marching drill team), so all of us needed to be off for football and basketball games. What a nightmare that must have presented for scheduling shifts.

My memories about working there include the fact that I had no car, so I walked the 1.2 miles there and back when I had to work. The scary part (looking back on it) is that I used to cut through the woods to get there as it was faster. I'm fairly certain I never did that at night - I think my dad would come and pick me up or I would catch a ride with a co-worker. I also remember a very unfortunate incident at work. There were two corner booths where the seats wrapped the corner and larger groups could sit together. There was limited table space, so I had the tray of beverages balanced on top of the napkin dispenser. When I set removed one of the drinks to set it on the table, the tray tipped, dumping a cup of coffee onto the lap of the unfortunate man sitting there. As I stared in mortification, he simply said, "Normally I would complain about the coffee not being hot enough, but not today." He was so gracious about it. The restaurant paid to clean his slacks and everyone was happy. Today I would have been sued over it no doubt.

By my junior year in high school I had moved on to a job at Josephs Jewelers, a high end jewelry store at the mall near my school. (Josephs will no doubt appear in another one of my 52 Stories.) But I never forgot how hard it was to wait tables, and I think everyone should do that job at least once in their lives to appreciate the service they take for granted when they go out to eat. That first job certainly influenced my decision to go to college and get a degree so that I would have other career opportunities to pursue down the road.