My mother Beverlee
My mother was born in Coffeeville, Kansas on April 22, 1926. She died on June 8, 2004.
I was just outside at one of the hundreds of old oak trees dotting my private slice of heaven. It is a majestic oak, one spare in the fire that raced through the property nearly 30 years ago. Oaks are tough that way, which may be one reason we chose to scatter my mother’s ashes around it four years ago.
Her Oak and home now.
Mom’s father, Grandpa Ted, or as we grandchildren fondly dubbed him, Smackleface, was a traveling salesman for as long as I can remember. I saw he was during the 30’s too, courtesy of census records. One time we would be visiting he would be selling shoes out of his trunk, another time chenille bedspreads and in the end he sold advertising items, ashtrays, rain bonnets, key chains and pens. I think he had found his niché. Each Christmas we could always count on a big box from him, chock full of ashtrays advertising Joe’s Bar, plastic folding rain-bonnets for Mary Lou’s Beauty Salon, pens for Lorraine’s Lunch Counter, key chains for Pop Louis’ Ford Dealership, and matchbooks (horrors) for many different businesses. It was a different time, all marketed by those “freebies” that we children delighted in, and mom could not keep us away from. (Of course he also included a doll and maybe a truck for my younger brothers.)
Smackleface and his brother Don
He divorced Hazel at some point before my memories of them began, going on to remarry several times, including twice to the one I came to know as Susan. She was the one with the nasty Pekinese that slept in a small four poster bed and ate scrambled eggs she cooked for him. His home base was Joplin for many years, then Springfield, Missouri.
Smackleface may have been a little bit eccentric, or maybe he was a lot eccentric. He usually was living in a motel, to him it made sense, and it sure made it easy to sleep our family of five whenever we visited. It did not matter to us kids, he was Smackleface, synonymous with fun. He was the grandpa who when stopped at a red stoplight, stuck his fedora wearing red- haired head out of his window and howled like a hound dog. “Ou-uuuuuh!” Other times he would just break into a loud “Me----oooow” and my brothers and I would break out laughing. He would pull his late model automobile up to one of the many businesses he supplied advertising novelties for and bring us grandkids in to show us off. He loved us and we knew it.
Hazel had also remarried, to a full-blooded Cherokee Indian named Vern. I remember us visiting them when they lived in Houston (he worked at an oil refinery) in a small clapboard house squeezed among so many along the railroad tracks. I remember how much they seemed to love each other; they were never shy about holding hands and showing affection.
One thing wonderful about staying there was awakening to the smell of fresh coffee brewing each morning and biscuits baking in the oven. This sure did beat the smell of oil so pervasive in the area. Then, at the small kitchen table where we kids sat before our parents got up, we got to observe something we rarely saw at home, physical affection between the adults. Nanaw, as we called her, would sit on Pepaw's knee, and he would ask her, "Would you like some sugar this morning?" She would always smile, look into his eyes and say, "Why yes I would!" He would lovingly stir a spoonful of sugar into her cup.
It always amazed us kids how strong he must have been to let her sit on his lap (she was grossly overweight), and why he never seemed to know she wanted sugar in her coffee.
Pepaw was missing a part of a finger, due to a work related accident. Whenever we kids came to visit them the first thing we would do is give them both big hugs and kisses then our begging would begin, “Pepaw please let us see your finger”. It was an endless source of amusement, though he told us this what we could expect to happen to us, if we were to stick a finger into a fan. We never, ever touched the fans, even though the spinning blades mesmerized us. Summer in Houston meant fans were always on.
After he retired from the refinery they bought a farm in Oklahoma, and those were incredible days spent riding his horse, and lazing around on rafts in the pond
Vern with baby brother Brian and me one summer.
Mother went to Washington DC just prior to WWII. She worked at the Pentagon as a telephone operator when she met my father, a pilot in the Army Air Corps. Mother was singing “I Don’t Want to Set The World on Fire” on the radio when they interrupted her to break the news of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. She and father married on Aug. 15, 1945 when the war had ended. I was born just shy of three years later, one of the first to live in Occupied Japan.
My Christening day in Japan, 1948.
Since father was a military man his whole life, he was not around too much. Pilots were always flying somewhere. Mother was left in charge of the family, and she ran the household and her three children with a precision not unfamiliar to those in the military. She had much on her shoulders, and not once did she falter in her responsibilities. She was a good mom in most ways, but she was human, capable of mistakes.
Each Easter she would make sure we all had new clothes for church, and many times she made my outfits. When I was twelve she made a lovely pink and white dress for me, and my hat...well, they were in fashion, I thought I looked great at the time.
At twelve on Easter Sunday in my new dress.
Mom and I became friends about the time I truly needed a friend, after I was married and became a mother. She was a terrific grandmother, one I hope to emulate when and if my own son has children.
My mother and I on a girl's trip to Switzerland in 1989.
She accepted the woman I had become. Sure, we had strong differences of opinion on lots of things, but I know she finally listened to me without passing judgment, and this was of utmost importance to me. Her upbringing was ultimately apparent in the strong moral compass present within me. She gave us a good foundation to build on; it just took awhile to get there. She also had the best sense of humor and passed it on, thankfully.
In the end, when she had spent several months in the hospital fighting for her life, it was daddy and I who understood the end was near and mom wanted to be at home one last time. And on her fourth day home, she opened her blue eyes, squeezed my hand and the last thing she said to me was, “I’m sorry I was such a bitch.” She died later that Sunday. I had forgiven her long ago but appreciated she felt this was important enough to reiterate on her deathbed.
When we spread her ashes, it was on her birthday nearly a year later. Those metal boxes from crematoriums are tough to open. I remember joking with my dad about how long it took to pry it open, “Knowing mom, she’s already sewn and hung curtains in there!” We both laughed, knowing how mom would get the house set up so quickly after each move. She would have laughed at our dark humor, after all, she taught us how to appreciate it.
I told dad I would get one of those garden stones to place there; you know the ones with a carved word, TRANQUILITY, SERENITY, etc. I thought LOVE would be nice. Well, of course I spent a weekend in search of the perfect one, but to no avail. Finally at the last stop I found one that said, “Our Beloved Pet”. I propped it temporarily against the tree base. I know she would have laughed too.