Monday’s for Me #47 ~ A Christmas Lesson

I remember the Christmas that I was almost 9 years old because it had a very profound effect on my life. It all began the last Sunday of November. During the church service the pastor announce that we were going to be collecting new and used toys and clothing to give to less fortunate children for Christmas. He gave the instructions concerning the time frame to get the items to the church. He also said that more information about this campaign would be given in a couple of weeks.

On the way home my mother gave my sister Mary and I a list of things to do when we got home. This week she added that we were to begin going through our clothes and toys so we could take them to the church the next week. Mary, who was 4 years older than I, immediately began to cry. She didn’t want to give away any of her belongings. As a matter of fact she frequently claimed anything that I received if it was something she liked. Because this is how it had always been, I really didn’t have feelings toward this either way.

My Dad brought two medium-sized boxes into our room and told us to put clothes in one and toys in the other. I decided to get it over with so I began to go through my things. Mary out weighed me by about 100 pounds so she could have cared less about the clothes I found. However, she kept saying “If you don’t want that, I will take it” to any toy or book I put in. By Saturday morning I had accomplished filling the clothes box half full, but there were only a few of the toys that Mary didn’t want in the bottom of the other one. She had not put in one item!

Over the next 2 weeks, each Sunday when we returned from church the same thing happened and my mother would yell at me for being selfish. I finally went to my Dad and told him what happened, and he confronted Mary, who immediately broke into tears and told him I was lying. My mother came running in and all heck broke out. I finally yelled for them to go check in the spare bedrooms closet! Mary ran to the door trying to keep them from leaving the room, but my Dad threatened her with a spanking. So, she reluctantly moved. My parents came back in the room with my 2 boxes of toys. My mother just left the room and said nothing, my Dad grounded my sister, and he gave me a hug! Nothing more was said about the “incident”.

The big surprise was the next Sunday after church we went into a classroom and all those who participated got to wrap the presents. We then loaded paper grocery store bags filled with the gifts into the back of the trucks and trunks of the cars and drove off. I can’t tell you how far we drove but it seemed to take forever to arrive at our destination. We pulled onto a long dirt road that had newly plowed fields on both sides. (We lived in Tucson and the farmers could plow in December). We pulled into a makeshift town of tents and wooden shacks. It was a migrant workers camp, just to the South of Tucson. I saw open fires with poorly dressed women cooking in big pots over the flames. I saw so many raggedly clothed kids, many with no shoes, playing and running around. A gentleman came over and spoke to the pastor, then he turned and with a loud bullhorn he spoke to the people in Spanish. The kids came running and the adults cautiously approached us. Then the pastor turned to us and told us to help hand out the wrapped gifts and for the adults to help give the food boxes to the grownups.

My Dad had dropped the tailgate of our truck, so I climbed in and started grabbing the gifts. They had been wrapped in red for girls and green for boys so it was easy to know who to give it to. I saw the kids excitedly open the gift and I saw a few of them crying with joy. Then I spotted one girl about my age open a doll I had given. She hugged it and kissed it as she had tears running down her cheeks. I, too, had tears leaking out of my eyes determined to run down my cheeks and land on my dress. My tears were from mixed feelings. I felt joy at seeing others so happy, but at the same time I felt sad that these kids were so happy to receive what I probably would have eventually just thrown away. I couldn’t wait to start a new box to give away the next year. This day taught me so many lessons during the short period of time we were at the camp, ones that I have carried with me and that I attempt to still adhere too for over 55 years.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Monday’s for Me #46 ~ Here Comes Santa Claus

It is at this time of year that I always reflect back to those Christmas’ of my childhood. If you have read any of my blogs you would know that I didn’t have the best upbringing. My mother and my sister Mary, both had mental problems so some of my memories have been tainted by these two.

My Dad always tried to make Christmas special. He would always ask Mary and I what we wanted Santa to bring us, and we always gave him plenty of ideas. Mary was 4 years older than I so the things we were interested in were so different. This was a good thing! She had a habit of “claiming” anything I received if she liked it so I always tried to ask for something that I knew she wouldn’t like.

There are 19 days between Christmas and my birthday, so this event happened when I was almost 6 years old. On Christmas Eve I was excitedly watching out of our bedroom window, hoping to get a glimpse of Rudolph leading the sleigh. Mary was annoyed because she said that I was letting in too much light by holding the curtain open and I was keeping her awake. She blurted out, “You now, there is no such thing as Santa. Dad and mom buy all of the toys and put them under the tree before we get up in the morning. They just lie about it”. I was devastated!

The next morning I didn’t come into the living room with the same enthusiasm as I had in previous years. My Dad kept asking me what was wrong, but I refused to talk. My mother and sister eagerly opened their presents and my sister gushed over the items “Santa” left her. I just quietly opened my presents and didn’t even glance at what was sitting under the tree. I finally told my Dad what Mary had said about Santa and he was really mad. He started yelling at her, telling her that she had been allowed to believe until just a couple of months ago, and she had no right to spoil the fun for me. My mother of course, came too Mary’s defense.

By the next year, I had gotten over it so I played along and told my Dad I only wanted one thing for Christmas, a Barbie doll with wigs! I was hoping and praying for one. About two weeks before the big day my parents went to visit a neighbor that lived a few houses down the street from us. While they were gone, Mary pulled the step stool out of the closet. In the living room we had one wall that had a large floor to ceiling closet in it. There were two large doors on the bottom and two separate smaller doors just above them. Mary used the stool to reach the top closet, and she began pulling out all of the things “Santa” was going to bring us. Sure enough, there was my Barbie with wigs! Instead of being excited, I felt kind of cheated. Christmas was never the same after this.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Monday’s for Me #42 ~ Winterhaven

When you live in the Sonoran Desert, you have to make adjustments to some of the “standard” Christmas traditions. Like snowball fights! Unless you want to make the trip up the 9000+feet tall Mount Lemon to play in the couple of feet of snow that peppers the mountain in December and January. Caroling is another tradition that had to change a bit. I wrote in a previous blog about the last Christmas we spent in Tucson when I was about 12 years old. I received both a bike and a swimsuit as gifts and I put on the suit and went outside to ride the bike. Because of the warm winters, we couldn’t wear coats, scarves or gloves to go caroling. Although I loved hot chocolate, it was always too hot to really enjoy it.


Me at age 5 with
“wreath” in window.

One of the main traditions that everyone had to adapt to our weather was decorating the outside of our houses My mother took one of my hula hoops and cut holes in it to string blue Christmas lights on it. She then wrapped silver tinsel between the lights. She hung it in our enormous front window, and we plugged it in a night. Regular live wreaths dried up within days. We also had an aluminum Christmas tree with the color wheel. When my parents first moved to Tucson when I was 11 months old it was December 3rd. They bought a real tree and only had it up for about a week before it was totally dead! Hench, the aluminum one. Granted my mother was a very lazy person, and she probably forgot to water it, but once was enough for my Dad.

My earliest memory of Christmas was a place called Winterhaven. It was a newer subdivision in the northwest part of town. They decided as part of the celebration of the last house being bought that they would encourage all of the homeowners to decorate their yards. There was newspaper article written about it and that year, every night in December, hundreds of cars drove through the neighborhood to look at the sights. The next year they encouraged people to park and walk through. Although our family really had no traditions to speak of, this was one thing my Dad insisted we do every year. I looked forward to it every year because most of the people changed their decorations each season, each time trying to out do their neighbors!

I normally don’t add a lot of photos to my blogs, but I found out today that they decided to not decorate Winterhaven this year and the board also decided to not do it again. It is so sad to see it disappear after over 60 years of tradition. So I hope you enjoy these photos from the late 50s to mid 60s.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Christmas morning

I am often envious of those who have wonderful Christmas memories from their childhood. I was raised in a dysfunctional home where my Mother had a serious mental illness and my mean older sister was allowed to rule. I do have some good memories although they are mixed in with some very bad ones. Our family did have some Christmas traditions that I continued to carry on into the lives of my own children. These are the things I like to remember.

We moved to Tucson Arizona just before my first Christmas. Living in a Aluminum Treedesert area you learn to adapt some regular traditions to what is available.  Live Christmas trees, although available, were almost impossible to keep alive until Christmas morning. The air was too dry and it was still warm in December so after the first year my Dad went out and bought an aluminum Color WheelChristmas tree. Yes, I said aluminum!  It came with a color wheel which you aimed at the tree and when it was on it would cast the colors of green, red, yellow and blue onto the tree. The tree would then illuminate the room in the various colors.

Me at 5 years old
Me at 5 years old

My Mother found the Indian culture of the area fascinating and she especially loved the turquoise jewelry that was made here. When it came time to paint the outside of our home it was white with a turquoise trim. So, she brought those colors into our Christmas decorations. The aluminum tree was decked with turquoise colored ornaments and garland. We had white tinsel on the tree. Even the lighted star at the top of the tree was turquoise. One year she made a large wreath to hang in our oversized front windows. It was an old hula hoop wrapped in white garland. She inserted a string of lights inside the hoop and covered each bulb with a silver aluminum pan that came from the pot pies we ate. Of course, the lights were a turquoise color. My Dad would string white and blue lights along the edge of our flat roof and drape some inside the huge Century plant in the front yard.

me & dadInside the house, we would remove all the pictures hanging on the walls and wrap them like presents, complete with bows. The large Nativity scene was placed atop the Television and candles were placed everywhere.

Every year we would make sugar cookies and decorate them with M&M’s. We would then wrap them in saran wrap and hang them from the tree. Guests could remove one and eat it when they came to visit and on Christmas Eve my sister and I got to have one along with hot chocolate. We were also allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve; of course, it was one that was specifically wrapped for that purpose!

I remember the last Christmas that we spent in Arizona when I was almost Saguaro Cactus12 years old. I got a new bicycle and a one-piece swimsuit. I put on the suit and jumped on my bike and rode around for hours. When we moved to Missouri a few months later some of the kids in my class were asking me questions about AZ.  When I told them I was excited to actually have snow for the Holidays they asked about  Christmas in Tucson. When I told them about the swimsuit and bike experience they called me a liar. They couldn’t fathom how it could possibly be 79 degrees on Christmas morning!

Passing along the traditions that we had while growing up is important to the cohesiveness of the generations. It connects us to the past and helps us to share our reasons for these traditions. Spend some time thinking about how you celebrated the Holidays and then write them down. Future generations will love them!

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Hints on How to Gather Information at That Holiday Family Get Together!

christmasWe have all experienced it. You arrive at a Holiday dinner only to see Cousin Ray, the braggart, has already arrived. You know that for the next few days you will be hearing him brag about his woodworking and listening to him describe in long detail the process of creating his latest masterpiece. Your first inclination is to turn and run but you know you can’t do that. So you decide that you will make every effort to avoid Cousin Ray.

Holiday get togethers are a time to celebrate family and friends and to share with one another. Happy ThanksgivingHowever when one person monopolizes the conversations it can make the other people want to avoid them altogether. Let’s be honest, most people have skipped a party or dinner because they found out that someone who can only talk about their latest scrapbooking or [insert hobby/cause here] project was going to be there.

No braggingNow for some hard truth, some of us Genealogists are guilty of the same mind numbing talking that we try to avoid. We can get so excited over our recent discoveries that we want to be sure that everyone hears the fantastic news. We also want to take this opportune time to ask questions of those present. Who knows when you many see them again or get a chance to possibly fill in some blanks in our trees? Here are some suggestions that may help you to not become the person everyone wants to avoid.

  • If you know who is going to attend the upcoming party or get-together, write a short letter explaining that you are working on the Family Genealogy and that you would like to ask them some questions. Tell them to help avoid long, possibly boring conversations that they may not be interested in, you would like them to consider these few questions and if they could, they can bring the answers with them. Mail or email this to them a couple of weeks in advance. If you don’t know who will be there or if you don’t have contact information for some of the guests, you can take a few extra letters and ask them to fill it out and mail it to you. You can even include a self addressed stamped envelope to make it easy for them!
  • You can also ask at this time if they have any old photos or documents that they would be willing to share with you. Let them know that you will be either scanning them or taking pictures of them at the get together so they will not have to give them to you.
  • Ask them if they know any stories about their ancestors and see if they would either write them down for you and bring clip-art-interviewing-them along or maybe they would be willing to tell them to you. If possible bring a tape recorder so you can record the tales and then transcribe them later.
  • Do some research and ask specific questions about that side of the family that you need help with. Something like, was Uncle Joe Jones ever married? If so, do you know his wife’s name? Did they have children?
  • Be sure to add somewhere in the correspondence that you have found some exciting information about the Familys’ History and you look forward to adding more to it. Hopefully a little enticement will peak their interest in what you are doing.

poster

  • I helped a friend do all of the above before a family event and they all worked very well. She gathered a lot of new information, stories and even a few photos. One thing I helped her with was a poster board display. I had her print out the family tree associated with those who were attending. I had her post a few interesting documents and photos on it and one of the amazing stories that she had found about a Great Grandfather. She included her name at the bottom of the poster so people would know who to talk to. When she arrived at the event she placed it in a place where people could easily view it. Because she wasn’t intrusive she actually had several relatives come up to her wanting to know more and telling her stories. Some even promised to email some photos and documents to her. She was ecstatic as one bit of information she received broke down one of her brick walls!

To those of us who love Genealogy it is so easy to talk about it and we want to share our enthusiasm with others. Sometimes this becomes a hindrance instead of a help. By coming up with alternative ways to engage someone in our passion we can “hook” them without making their eyes glaze over in boredom.

I am positive that if you think about it, you can come up with plenty of ways to gather information this Holiday season without alienating your family. Good luck!

If you think of any other ways to do this please let me know, I would love to hear your ideas!

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.