Thursday, September 8, 2011

Golden Autumn

The New Nesting Moon

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The New Nesting Moon this year came right before my birthday, which is a very important festival in my personal Wheel of the Year. Falling right at the beginning of September, it marks the real end of Summer for me and the beginning of my favorite season - Golden Autumn.

Golden Autumn is that wonderful time when the trees, the grass and the sky all seem to have turned yellow. It hasn't rained in Portland for weeks and this year a late heat wave really dried up any last herbaceous plants holding onto their green. The maples, sweet gums and alders are turning yellow but none of the trees are quite yet orange or red. And the light! Some days I've been confused about what time it is because the light is so low and yellow making mid afternoon feel like mid evening. There have been forest fires in the mountains close to Portland and the smoke has given us some specatcular gold, pink and bronze sunsets. I'm on the look out for a perfect day - cool enough for a sweater in the morning and evening but warm enough for shorts in the afternoon, with the trees having turned color but not dropped their leaves. It will happen soon, in my favorite Golden Autumn season.

Golden Autumn is my birthday season and it is the birthday season of another woman very important to me, my maternal grandmother. I was able to visit with Grandma Jean for a whole week when I was down in Los Angeles last month and it was a long overdue visit. Jean is my only surviving grandparent and the only one I've ever really known. Grandma Jean has always been a strong, feisty and independent woman and many of my childhood memories of her are more of her being a strange and willful force imposed on my life than as a stereotypical matronly grandmother. She retained much of her Midwestern sense of propriety and there is a family joke about her way of shaking her head and spitting out a "Well... I just... well!" when we did things she didn't approve of. When I was in middle school she and I got in quite a fight over my need for church shoes. We were attending a very laid back Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at the time and I was as likely to wear Birkenstocks and pajama pants to church as anything else. No, Grandma, I don't need church shoes. "Well... just... well."

This September Grandma Jean turned 94 and continues to live an amazing and full life. I was able to ask her questions about her life and just listen to her stories this summer, a rare treat. She was born on a farm in Loup City, Nebraska and during the Depression her father lost that farm and they moved to another one in Litchfield.. Her father raised corn and wheat as well as hogs, dairy cattle and 9 children. There was quite an age difference between Jean and her older sisters so she ran with the younger boys in the family and was quite a tom boy. She said she remembered having the milk the cows, up to 15 in an evening, and she hated it. She much preferred riding horses, a pass time she continued up until her kids were born. She graduated from high school and attended just enough college to get a teaching school. She taught in a 1 room school house outside of Litchfield where she had kids ranging from 7 to 18 years old, including boys bigger and older than she was. She hated that, too, but saved up enough money to go on a road trip with some of her girlfriends. Six of them headed out west in one of the girls' Buick, staying in Colorado before heading on to Los Angeles and Tijuana. I can't even begin to imagine what Tijuana was like in 1934! While staying with one of her mother's cousins in Long Beach, California she visited The Pike, a boardwalk with a roller coaster, a salt water plunge and other amusements. She met the man who ran
the Magruder's Salt Water Taffy stand and he offered her and her friends jobs if they wanted to stay. Jean went back to Nebraska that year, but the following year moved back out to California with the family of another friend.

Long Beach must have been a magical place for Jean. She knew she didn't want to stay in Nebraska and Long Beach was a party town in those years. There is a story that one of the farmer's sons back home had courted her but she told him, "Carl, I'm not staying in Litchfield. You'd do better to go out with my sister, Lois." My mother remembers visiting her Uncle Carl and Aunt Lois in Litchfield in the 1960s, where he ran the service station and still farmed. In Long Beach, Jean tried her hand at waitressing, but when that didn't work out ended up working for Mr. Magruder at the Salt Water Taffy stand. She told me she mostly popped popcorn and that it was a lot of work to lift the bags of corn, pop it and sell it. Mr. Magruder was a fatherly figure to the girls, helping them get accustomed to the city life. Apparently, they got the hang of that quickly and became quite the talk of the town. There is a story of the cops getting called on one of their parties but no one getting in trouble because they just decided to stay and enjoy themselves. In 1942 or 43 she met a handsome, clarinet playing elevator attendant who she later married. She remembers going dancing with Bob and their friends, and learning to bowl. "We sure had a lot of fun," she told me. I can only imagine, Grandma!

Bob and Jean had three kids and moved to the suburban community of Lakewood, just north of Long Beach. Bob died in the early 1960s and Jean had to find work. One of the women in the neighborhood suggested she get work at the new Hughes Aircraft factory. "Jean, you should get a job there," she remembers her friend telling her, "they'll hire anybody!" "I had never even held a screwdriver, but they put me on the line," she told me. She quickly was promoted to a line supervisor, a position she really liked because she got to know everyone on the line. I laughed when she said that, that's a trait I see very much through the generations of our family. When her kids were teenagers she was transferred into the office as a receptionistt, another job she loved because of the people she worked with. My mom remembers her baking a dessert for the office every Friday and the friends she made in that office led her into golf and travel, two passions that sustained her through the decades after her kids left home.

Jean traveled independently well into 80s and lived mostly by herself in the house she raised her kids in until well after her 90th birthday. I see now that those traits that made her such a stern grandmother served her well in her adventure filled life. She was never afraid to do something she wanted to do, and was willing to take care of her friends even as her own health began to fade. She now lives with her oldest granddaughter and her family and though she moves a little slower than she used to, and can sometimes be forgetful or confused, she is still the independent, sassy, clever woman she always was. She was no saint, but she sure is a cool woman to have in my family background.

Birthdays by Robert William Service

Let us have birthdays every day,
(I had the thought while I was shaving)
Because a birthday should be gay,
And full of grace and good behaving.
We can't have cakes and candles bright,
And presents are beyond our giving,
But let lt us cherish with delight
The birthday way of lovely living.

For I have passed three-score and ten
And I can count upon my fingers
The years I hope to bide with men,
(Though by God's grace one often lingers.)
So in the summers left to me,
Because I'm blest beyond my merit,
I hope with gratitude and glee
To sparkle with the birthday spirit.

Let me inform myself each day
Who's proudmost on the natal roster;
If Washington or Henry Clay,
Or Eugene Field or Stephen Foster.
oh lots of famous folks I'll find
Who more than measure to my rating,
And so thanksgivingly inclined
Their birthdays I'll be celebrating.

For Oh I know the cheery glow|
Of Anniversary rejoicing;
Let me reflect its radiance so
My daily gladness I'll be voicing.
And though I'm stooped and silver-haired,
Let me with laughter make the hearth gay,
So by the gods I may be spared
Each year to hear: "Pop, Happy Birthday."

This year is my 31st birthday. By the time Jean was my age she had left everything she ever knew in Nebraska to travel with friends and later move to The Big City. She worked and played hard and had met a man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Another Virgo friend of mine noted that I have a prime number age this year. "It's like being a human fortress," she said. "Just try to divide me by anything but myself or one!" I think Jean spent most of her life being a prime number human fortress and I think I am going to strive for that myself this year. I've got student teaching coming up this year and a job search in a scary economy. Being indivisible except by myself and 1 sounds like a pretty good way to step into year 31.

Is it Golden Autumn where you are yet? Is your birthday a big holiday for you or just something you let slip by? Why? Are your grandparents role models for you in any special way? Are you ready for sweater weather? Happy September!!

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New Nesting Moon 2009: Breathe a Sigh of Relief

New Nesting Moon 2010: Ramadan

New Nesting Moon 2011: The Book of Nature

The Full Nesting Moon post for 2009, Hey.. it's my Birfday, is also about my birthday and the Full Harvest Moon 2010 post mentions both my birthday and my crazy family.

The photos are all of my grandmother. The first is Jean fishing in 1939 and the second is Jean with Bob (on the left) and her brother and his wife (on the right) at the Pike in Long Beach in 1948. The third was taken in 1966 after her husband died but before all three kids had moved out of the house.

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