During this time of year that we pause to give thanks, I think it is very fitting that this weeks’ blog should be on Gratitude. We all have a lot to be grateful for, just sometimes we forget to stop and count our blessings and to express gratitude for what we do have.
I am grateful for Genealogy. I wasn’t raised around family since my parents moved us from Missouri to Arizona when I was 11 months old. I lived in Missouri from age 12-14 but because of my mothers mental illness we didn’t get to know many of the relatives. After my mother died in 1999, I had a great desire to know where I came from. And so my journey really began.
Over the last 21 years I have discovered so many amazing things about my ancestors. The most excited thing I have found is actual family! With the onset of social media I have been able to connect with hundreds of relatives. Most are more distant ones but I do have over 150 closer relatives, and only a handful were known to me before this. I have been able to meet a few in person, or talked with them by phone. I have had several who have mailed or emailed me photos and stories about our shared family.
As of two years ago I am the only living member of my family lines going to me. My Dad died in 1974, my mother who disowned me in 1986, died in 1999, my sister who did the same because of my mothers pressure, died in 2012 and my brother who my mother disowned in 1980, died in 2018. I have always felt disconnected from family because of my mother, however now I have a sense of family because of the blessing of finding so many wonderful cousins. I am full of Gratitude!
I thought I would spend these next 3 weeks leading up to Halloween telling stories of things that happened in not only my childhood but in the lives of my Ancestors that helped form most of my mothers superstition beliefs, the ones she tried to pass down to my sister and me. I hope you will enjoy them and even get a laugh or two out of them.
Superstition: Watch what you eat!
My Grandpa was John Pleasant Smith Sr. born September 8, 1882, in Hazel Hill Missouri. On John’s mothers side his roots grew deep into Ireland’s fertile soil. He had all the superstitions of your typical Irishman, but he also had some that was passed down from his father’s side. Pleasant Smith was said to be a Creek Indian. I haven’t been able to prove nor disprove this since he is my biggest brick wall. I do know that my beloved Grandpa had one Superstition that I have never forgotten.
John Pleasant Smith Sr and my mother Emmajane, 1967
When I was 12 years old, we had just moved back to Missouri, and we settled in the quaint little town of Oak Grove, Missouri. It wasn’t a permanent situation, but we were there long enough for me to finally get to know my Grandpa. The house we rented was only 6 blocks from his home. I would go visit him after school and on Saturdays. He taught me a lot about growing vegetables and taking care of fruit trees. I always thought some of his planting ideas were really just Superstitions. He taught me to plant anything that grows on top of the soil when the Moon is full and anything that grows beneath the soil should be planted in the dark of the Moon. Over the years I have had bumper crops of veggies by following his instructions and I recently discovered that this is even written about in the Farmer’s Almanac. Oh well, so much for that Superstition.
He did other things because of his belief in Superstitions. One was if he left the house by the back door he would have to re-enter the house by that same door. To do otherwise brought bad luck. He believed that if the Moon had a ring around it then it was sure to rain within 3 days. I distinctly remember one day while I was visiting, my Grandma and I were sitting in the living room shelling peas. My Grandpa came in and asked me if I wanted to see a Yellow Headed Blackbird. I was so excited I jumped out of the rocking chair I was sitting in and ran towards the door. My Grandpa froze in place and told me to go back and stop the chair from rocking. He believed if you leave a rocking chair rocking when empty, it invites evil spirits to come into your house to sit in the rocking chair.
Although I remember these Superstitions, they are not the strangest one that he had, the one that has stuck with me all these years. It all started the first time we went to eat at my Grandparents home. We were all sitting around the kitchen table and after my Grandpa said “Grace” my Grandma and mom served our plates. I sat in astonishment as my Grandma brought a plate with only 2 pieces of chicken on it and set it in front of my Grandpa. She went back into the kitchen and came back with 2 smaller plates, one with mashed potatoes and one with green beans, and she placed these in front of him. By the time all the plates were placed on the table Grandpa had 5 separate plates with just one specific food on each one. I had never seen anything like it. I looked at my own plate. I had all the same things as he did but it was all on just one plate. I watched as Grandpa slowly ate each plate of food, one right after the other. After dinner, I asked him why he ate his food like that. He told me that he was raised to believe that if you let your food touch each other on your plate that you will get sick and die. My Grandpa was 84 years old so it made it easy for me to believe it too!
I decided to eat the same way; I mean why risk it, right? When I told my mom about my decision she said if that is what I wanted then go ahead and do it, but I would have to wash my own dishes afterwards. Eating this way only lasted a couple of days. It just wasn’t worth adding all those extra dishes for me to wash!
Here are some other Superstitions held by my mom and Grandpa.
Finding a penny brings good luck. When you pick it up you MUST say “Find a penny, pick it up all the day you’ll have good luck!”
Crossing your fingers for luck or to ward off evil or to not have to tell the truth
Do you or anyone in your family have a Superstition? I would love to hear about them.
On February 10th, 1991, my mother passed away. If you have read any of my previous blogs pertaining to my mother, you know that she had a lot of mental problems. She also had a lot of other problems as well, such as being a racist. In 1986 when I married my husband George my mother gave me a choice, “Either get a divorce or be disowned!” Why? It was because George is Hispanic. I chose him over my mother and that was the last time I saw her or heard from her. My sister who is 4 years older than I still lived with my Mother, having never married nor having children, so as a result she too disowned me.
I remember this day very clearly. My two younger children, aged 13 and 15 were home with me in the early afternoon. There came a knock on the door and when I opened it, there stood two policemen. I knew it was bad news when I looked at their faces. I had seen that look before when the police came to tell me my previous husband had died in an accident. After verifying who I was they told me that my Mother had died the day before and my sister wanted me to call her and they gave me her phone number. Although it had been several years since we had seen her we were all very upset.
I immediately ran to the phone and called my sister. When she answered, I told her I had received her message and I wanted to know what happened. All she said was “Mom died, I already had her cremated so you are not needed for anything, I just felt you should know” then she hung up. I called both my husband and our Pastor. They arrived at the house at the same time. It was a very trying evening.
Fast-forward to 1997. My oldest son had taken off on his own in 1990. When he came back into our lives in 1993 and this is when he found out his Grandma had died. They had always been very close when he was growing up. Four years later he decided to get in touch with my sister. I gave him the last phone number I had for her, and he called. To everyone’s surprise, my mother answered the phone! She proceeded to tell him that I had purposely lied to him to keep him away from her. This was typical behavior for her. Even though both of the younger children told him about the day the police came and I called my sister, he did not believe them. He promptly decided that he too would disown me. About a year later he came back and apologized and wanted back into my life. Of course, I said yes. He was afraid my mother would find out, and then she would disown him. I told him that she would never find out from me.
June 16, 1999, is another day I will always remember. I was sitting at my desk at work and I received a phone call from my son. He told me, “Granny has died!” To be honest, I didn’t know how to feel. My mother and sister had pulled a horrible prank on me before so I was very apprehensive. I called the Funeral Home where they supposedly took her and found out it was true. I had to make the 180-mile trip from our home in Mesa, AZ to the Funeral Home in Tucson, AZ to sign a permission slip for her to be cremated.
It is a difficult experience to lose a parent. My Dad died when I was 19, and I was devastated! My mothers’ mental illness had always put a wall between her and me because I loved my Dad, and she didn’t (This is another very long story). It doesn’t matter the relationship, she will always be my mother. Going through her death was bad enough the first time, but it was even harder the second time.
My mother, Emmajane Smith was born on April 25, 1919, in the small rural town of Napoleon, Missouri. She was the youngest of 6 children born to John Pleasant Smith (1882-1968), and Ella McGowan (1888-1921). Two of her siblings died before she was born. Her family had a small farm just outside of town and her dad worked in the coal mines. Her mom died when she was 2 years old and her dad married a second time when she was 7 years old.
Napoleon is situated on the Missouri River about 30miles east of Kansas City and in 1920 the population was 156 residents. When Emmajane started school in 1925, there were about 20 children that attended the one-room schoolhouse. Her two oldest siblings where aged 19 and 20, so they no longer went to school. Only her and her slightly older brother Gene were in school. Growing up, my mother didn’t talk very much about her school years, but what she did tell us was she loved to read.
In 1987, my husband and I took a trip to Missouri and while we were there we visited my Uncle Gene. He was more than happy to fill us in on the life of my mother. I found out that had always been a hypochondriac, even as a young girl. However, it seemed as though she would use it to her advantage. When it was time to do any work around the house or farm she would always be sick. As soon as the work was over, she would make a astounding recovery. This is also how it was in school.
According to my uncle, my mother really did love to read! She would take a new book home every week, and she would spend all her “recuperating time” reading them. Reading was the only thing she excelled at and by 3rd grade she was reading anything that was available. When the Nancy Drew series began in 1930, she read each one as they were published and this is where she got her love of mystery novels.
My mother is in the second row, the girl with her arms crossed. My Uncle Gene is in the back row on the far left.
The few stories that I remember her telling us were ones that most kids of that era would tell. The winters were cold, and they would have to walk to school in the snow and each child had to bring a small bucket of coal for the furnace. Since most of the men in the community worked in the coal mines, that was not a problem. My mother told us that she never owned a new dress, or any new clothes for that matter. Everything they wore was second hand, but this too would have been a normal occurrence since she attended school during the Great Depression.
My mother got married when she was 16 years old and that was the end of her formal education. She was a very smart woman in spite of her mental illness. I do thank her for one thing and that is she passed on her love for reading mysteries to me.