I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
--Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
It is not yet summer and I, now forty-nine years old, otherwise feel quite in accord with Mr Whitman.
His “Leaves of Grass” went through several iterations and perhaps this blog will too. At this point, my intention is to share stories about my ancestors, and my reactions to those stories. One of Whitman’s versions of his “Song of Myself” was divided into fifty-two parts, which neatly corresponds with the number of weeks in a year, a lovely echo of Time, and which appeals to my sense of structure, so I am planning to write fifty-two posts. Each post will focus on one family member, or at least use him or her as a jumping off point.
This being the last week of March, I am acutely aware of two things: that my mother died a year ago this month, and that my parents were married fifty years ago this month. (Those of you who know my birth date can see that this blog will not be entirely free from scandal….) Any kind of examination of my family begins here.
My mother’s death was the catalyst for my re-interest in genealogy. After her death, while sorting through her things at my grandparents’ house, I discovered many photos, letters, etc., with which I was unfamiliar, which, perhaps naturally, got me thinking about family. When I got home, I pulled out an old binder I had with some early attempts at genealogy, then went online to learn more. From this was born a hobby (although the word seems hardly adequate, “obsession” being perhaps too strong), as well as this blog. Ironically, my mother took almost no interest in history or “the past” herself.
But she did like to tell stories. One story that she told at most family gatherings was about her banty rooster, Debbie, a family pet she had while growing up in Oakland, California, and which she apparently named herself, unaware that Debbie was a he-chicken. (Later, she owned a parakeet she named Jim Beam the Fifth, which she tried to “take for a walk” by tying a string to its leg, but that is another story….) While riding with the family to her grandparents’ house for Sunday dinner, she was quite sure she heard Debbie crowing, and looked back several times to see if he was following the car. Her parents convinced her she was imagining things, but she was quite sure she had heard Debbie. The next day she was horrified to discover Debbie was missing. My grandfather assured her that Debbie must have gotten loose and run away, and that possibly my mother could have been right about thinking she had heard Debbie chasing the car. It was not until a few weeks later, discovering feathers in the trunk of the car, that she realized that Debbie had been the Sunday dinner. The story would always conclude with my mother jokingly saying that she would never forgive her parents for the deception. (Perhaps coincidently, Stephen and I are going this afternoon to pick up chicks--meaning poultry--at the local farm supply, as we are going to attempt to keep chickens ourselves.)
Another of my mother’s childhood companions was Suzy, the doll. Happily, Suzy met with a better fate than Debbie, and still lives with me today, resting on a bureau.
|Beverly and Suzy. Regretably, there are no pictures of Debbie.|
Beverly Alane Brown was born August 8, 1934, at 9:37 a.m. in the Swedish Hospital (six pounds, nine ounces, Dr C. O. Maland delivering) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a fact she disputed, always claiming she was a California native. The family did move to Oakland, California when she was just a year old. She was christened by a Reverend Ratz on October 21, 1936 (her parents’ third anniversary). The Browns lived in the San Francisco bay area, then moved to Long Beach, California, when my mother was in her teens. She attended Wilson High School and Long Beach City College (noted mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne was a sorority sister). Her first marriage was brief, and after moving back home, she worked for Shell Oil and later Proctor & Gamble, where she met my father, whom she married March 4, 1961. After moving to Fountain Valley, California in 1965, she became very active in the Friends of the Library and FV Women’s Club, both of which organizations she served as President, among other roles. After living briefly in Ohio, the family (my sister having been born in 1969) returned to Fountain Valley, where my mother resumed volunteering, winning recognition as Citizen of the Year in 1990, due in part for having led a recall of the mayor the previous year. My parents divorced in 1983. In 2003, my mother moved into the house her parents had built in Long Beach, at which time she made the newly-formed Fountain Valley Police Department RSVP program her priority, receiving numerous recognitions for her leadership and the number of hours she volunteered. After her death, on March 7, 2010, the Police Department created an annual award in her name to recognize other individuals who follow her example by making a positive contribution to the city she loved.