Needed school supplies — midlife nostalgia

I’ve been seeing abundant back-to-school ads lately, the only herald to the new school year now that folded supply lists are not arriving here, one way or another, in duplicate, triplicate and at times quadruplicate.

I had a love-hate relationship with school supplies. Office supply stores with their stacks of colored notebooks, racks of hanging pen packs, and an endless variety of sticky notes, erasers, rulers, scissors, and well, office supplies in general, have always enthralled me. Like a good hardware, craft, or fabric store, I love the possibilities of an office supply store.

Over the years I developed a system that worked fairly well. First we dug out the school backpacks from the corner of the closets where they were carelessly tossed on that last day of school, still filled with the broken pencils, doodled-on spiral notebooks, dried out markers, and lots of dust, paper scraps, broken lead, and pencil shavings.

Then we sorted out the salvagable from the trash.

That’s where the negotiations usually began.

“My list says I need five one-subject spiral notebooks.”

“You have two in here that you only used a couple of pages in.”

Problem number 1. No one wants to use old notebooks that may have curled corners on the covers, scribbles inside, and a few missing pages.

I have a box full of partially used notebooks that will provide all my notebook needs for decidedly the rest of my life.

It would go on from there.

“Do you really need a new eraser? What’s wrong with this one?”

“It’s got ink marks all over it.”

“It looks to me like someone wrote in ink all over it. Who could have done that?

“And the corners have crumbled off.”

“It still works, doesn’t it?”

Granted, we’re only talking about a few cents here or there at times, but the bill when we left the office supply store never failed to shock me.

How I miss those days of juggling 2, 3, or 4 supply lists and keeping track of who had what, crowding the five of us into the store aisles while the cart filled up with necessary items, denying the unending stream of appeals for the frivolous, until my willpower ran out from fatigue and confusion, and I found colored gel ink pens and mini-staplers in my cart at the check out.

We’d arrive home with our heavy bags and set up in the dining room where we sorted, labeled, and filled backpacks.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is a lot about those days of school-supply shopping that I frankly don’t miss at all. But some parts of it were rather nice and I remember those days of excitement for a new beginning in a new grade at occasionally a new school.

And I love office supply stores.

I think I’ll go there today. There are a few things that I need.

Mark Joseph’s (our youngest’s) first day of school, 1996.

Build me up Buttercup

Songs really have a way of transporting me to a different time and place.

Pandora is one of my best discoveries on the web. I love defining my own radio stations. If you’ve not done it, you should give it a try. I just heard  “Don’t sleep in the subway Darling,” on my Petula Clark station.

Now it’s playing one of my old favorites – Ferry Cross the Mersey by Gerry and the Pacemakers. I just love this station.

In the time it took me to look up the links, Ferry Cross the Mersey ended and now they’re playing another goldie, God Alone Knows by the Beach Boys.

Earlier today I heard Build me up Buttercup by the Foundations and was instantly transported back to the talent show my 7th grade year of grade school. I wasn’t performing in the show, but my sister Carol was. She and a friend had worked out a baton routine to this song. My sister had never really done baton before other than to just play around, but her friend knew what she was doing, and she taught Carol.

Carol practiced and practiced and practiced, forever engraving the song into my mind. I knew every step of the routine by heart from watching her practice.

They had little costumes made up and everything. And I think it could have been a knock-out performance.

But Carol didn’t have as much confidence as perhaps she required. She told me before the show, “I hope I catch the first toss. If I catch the first toss, I’ll be fine.”

I sat in the front row of the balcony as Carol and her friend came on stage with their batons and the music started. I held my breath when Carol tossed the baton into the air. Then my shoulders slumped when her spinning baton fell with a thud and a bounce to the floor. Oh no.

I don’t think Carol caught even one of the subsequent gazillion tosses during that song that never ended. And I cringed from the cheap seats every time. The rest of the audience responded as you might expect teenagers of the junior high variety to respond. It was mortifying for me as a mere spectator to my sister’s disastrous performance. My heart bled for her.

But she stayed out there on the stage and kept doing the routine, tossing the baton into the air and dropping it. I suppose she had options. She could have left the stage in the middle of the routine in tears. But she saved the tears for later and saw it through.

Here’s to you, Sis, for an amazing performance of perseverance.

And thank goodness we’re not in junior high anymore.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant and her Singer treadle sewing machine

This is the third in my 10-part series about women ancestors and needlework called The Stitches We Leave Behind.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant 1887 - 1971

The real story of sewing in my father’s family starts with Mary Katherine’s oldest daughter, Cecelia Pearl Bryant, who was a quilter and kept  a quilting frame in her dining room, folded up and pushed against the wall when it wasn’t in use.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant was born October 6, 1887 in Kentucky. Her family moved to the Salina, Ohio area when she was six years old. She was the oldest of nine children.  Her name was Ora Pearl originally, but she changed it to Cecelia when she converted to Catholicism.  Her family and friends called her Pearl.

When she was 22 years old, Cecelia Pearl had a son out of wedlock.  She had worked for a family named Hall.  According to my great aunt Agnes, Mrs. Hall was either pregnant, was in the hospital, or was deceased.  Cecelia later went to court to prove paternity.  She named her son Louis Hall.  But according to my great uncle Ben, she never talked about Louie’s father.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant and William Wirrig 1913

Cecelia moved to the city of Piqua and got a job in the mills, sewing, to support herself and her son.  Later she worked at an underwear factory, the Hosiery.  Cecelia met William Wirrig who was from a farming family north of Piqua.  They were married on November 6, 1913.   My father’s mother, my grandmother, was their first child.

Times were difficult when Cecelia and William were raising their family.  But although money was scarce, Cecelia always tried to give the children a nice Christmas.  She would make doll dresses for the girls.   A car accident and arthritis eventually prevented Cecelia from being able to walk later in life.

Cecelia with her pet bird Toby sitting on her head.

My father remembers, “She used to sew and sew and sew.  And talk to her bird.”

I never knew my great-grandmother Cecelia quilted until recently.  I don’t have anything that she made.  I hope to locate one of her quilts some day.

I do have the treadle sewing machine that my great-grandmother  Cecelia Pearl Bryant Wirrig used at home.  My sister and I used to sew doll clothes, that we designed ourselves, on it when we were young. Too bad I didn’t save some of those gems.

See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

Hardware stores and seat belts

My dad was a great fixer-upper. He knew how to do a lot of things: build with wood or bricks, fix plumbing, fix car engines. If it was something mechanical, he could figure out how to fix it.

I loved to go to the hardware store with my Dad. Just me. I don’t know whether I loved it so much because I loved the hardware store or because I craved the one-on-one time with my dad. Growing up in a household with four siblings, sleeping on the trundle bed in a small room with bunks occupied by two sisters, sitting at a kitchen table waiting while everyone was served, crowding four across the back seat of a station wagon, any time I was going anyplace alone with my dad was special.

But I also loved the hardware store with it’s scents of oil, leather and especially freshly cut wood. I loved the bins of shiny metal bolts, the spools of heavy chains, the long lines made by the smooth tubes of plumbing and the curved shapes of connectors, the stacked rows of lumber, and all the vast possibilities.

On this particular day when we were going to the hardware store, just me and my dad, I was excited and went out to wait in the car. The doors were unlocked, as everyone’s were in those days of the early 60s. I think people thought of the push down locks more as a means to keep children inside the car while it was moving than keeping others out while it was parked.

One of my classmates fell out of a moving car once. I know this because her mom was driving me home one time. I was sitting in the middle of the front seat between my classmate and her mom when my classmate opened the passenger door. I don’t believe she fell out that time. As faulty as my memory has become, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered that.  But based on what I heard, I believe that she had fallen out before. I do remember her mother’s frantic scream with a litany of threats or warnings about falling out that has lasted me a lifetime. You can bet I lock the door when I’m in a moving car.

I was waiting for my dad in the car and I slipped behind the steering wheel to pretend I was driving. I knew I wasn’t supposed to play in the car or touch anything, but I was keeping an eye out for my dad. Then I noticed the new seat belt my mom had gotten him for Christmas and he had installed. It was the original simple lap belt that didn’t retract but was adjustable, very similar to airplane seat belts that you have to flip open the side of the connector to disconnect. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that.

I decided to try out my dad’s seat belt. I connected it across my lap just fine with a click. And then I couldn’t figure out how to get it back off. I pulled. I examined the connector. I turned it over and pushed on a little tracking button on the bottom. I pushed on this little tracking gizmo, and pulled on the belt and I felt it move a little. I pushed and I pulled and it shifted a little more. I was getting frantic. I was going to get caught playing with the seat belt behind the steering wheel. I had caught myself red-handed.

I’m not sure how I got out of that seat belt, but I did. And it wasn’t by flipping open the clasp. Panic helps us do great things.

I was safely settled in the passenger seat with the sweat that had been dripping in my eyes dried off my face by the time my dad got in the car, at which point I showed interest in how the seat belt worked and asked him, with a nonchalant air, how he got it off.  Just wondered.

Today I wonder why I was so afraid of being caught in that seat belt.  I don’t remember ever getting in big trouble with my dad, or my mom either for that matter.

But then maybe my propensity towards panic kept me out of untold troubles.


“By the 1930s in America, the automobile had been mass-produced for several decades, and more and more people were car owners. Yet an estimated 30,000 people died each year in car accidents. In light of these alarming statistics, a group of doctors banded together and created lap restraints for their own vehicles. After initial testing in their cars proved a success, the doctors urged car manufacturers to make the seatbelt standard on all vehicles, as they were on aircraft.” (The History of

By 1965 all 50 states had laws requiring seat belts for the front seats. Two years later they were mandatory for all seats. Car makers weren’t required to provide seat belts until 1975, although many, if not most, did.

Weekly photo challenge: Regret

Honey was our first family dog and only dog besides Arthur, if you can fully consider Arthur a dog. Honey was beautiful. People complimented her everywhere we took her.

In the spring of 2001 we finally broke down and decided to get a dog when the kids were getting older, I was busy running them around, and our youngest son was going to be left home alone more and more. We thought a dog would add a sense of security and companionship to our home.

When I called a local vet about dog breeds, the receptionist said, “You might want to come in and look at a rescue puppy we have here.”  So we went. Anna had always been intimidated by dogs since she had an unfortunate incident when she was young. But we thought a puppy wouldn’t be threatening. When we got to the vet’s and they took us to the outdoor run to show us Honey, Anna took a step back. And I was surprised myself. I was expecting a puppy. Honey, the name the staff had given her, looked like a full-grown dog to me. And she really was full-grown in size by then, but the vet estimated she was only about nine months old. One of their clients had found her lurking around the back of their yard by their shed. Later we found a couple of beebees imbedded in her back legs.

We were told Honey was given the name not only because of her color, but because of her disposition. With that kind of recommendation from experts, we knew we would be getting a sweet dog. We were right.

When she died eight years later, in the spring of 2009, from a spinal disc problem we were trying to treat, we were all devastated.

I regret she wasn’t able to be here with us in our new home where she would have had a large yard to roam, deer to watch, and plenty of squirrels to chase.

Remembering Dad on his birthday and two new calculators

Remembering Dad is one thing I try not to do. Ever since his symptoms of Alzheimer’s have started taking their toll, it makes me feel bad to remember the dark-haired vibrant man with a quick wit that I knew growing up and into my 30s and 40s.

My dad was born in 1933, or as he put it when I started interviewing him for his life story, several years ago at his request:

“I came in on the 18th day of January, 1933 at 715 Manier Ave., Piqua, Ohio. Uncle Paul said it got a little exciting around the house.”

I decided in honor of my dad’s birthday today, to tell you a little story I remember.

My first time in college, when I was a traditional student right out of high school. I was attending the University of Dayton which was a short drive from my parents’ home, but I was living in the dorm on campus. I was working on a chemical engineering degree. We did a lot of heavy-duty calculations in my engineering classes. A calculator was a must.

On the evening before a big test my sophomore year, my calculator I had gotten as a high school graduation present broke. In those days a calculator was a nice gift, costing in the neighborhood of $100 which was a significant amount of money. Calculators were a new thing back in the 1970s. My senior year of high school only one student in my algebra class had a calculator. We used to pass it around the room. One of my teachers had these big bulky calculators that looked (and probably functioned) more like adding machines. We were still being taught how to use slide rules, although I suspect we were one of the last classes to learn that. Calculators were a big deal.

Anyway, I was studying for a test in one of my engineering classes by reworking homework problems when my calculator died—a real death knell for an engineering student. I panicked. I scrambled and found someone I could borrow a calculator from in the morning, but I was worried it would still be problematic because the tests were timed and I would be slowed down by trying to use a calculator I had no experience with. Not to mention that was probably the end of my test preparation for the evening.

So I did what I have always done in my life when I’m worried or in trouble, I called my mom. Crying.

I don’t remember the conversation, and I don’t remember if I felt any better afterwards. But what I do remember is that about an hour later there was a knock on my dorm room door and there stood my parents with a brand new fancy calculator for me. It was one of those stellar, top-ten moments in my life that I’ll never forget.

Earlier this week I was rooting around in the closet in our study when I pulled out a clear plastic tub to see what I was in it. I found an old cell phone complete with both an AC and a car charger; two wireless mice; two apple monitor adapters ( I have no idea what these are for); a two-slot USB port hub, two sets of headphones; a small set of computer speakers; an assortment of wires, cords, and plugs; and in the very bottom, I found my old calculator. The reason I know it is my old Texas Instrument SR-51? Because my dad had inscribed my name in the metal plate so that no one could steal it. I think this is probably my very first calculator that I got at graduation—the one that failed me on the night before my test.

Texas Instruments SR-51

I loved this calculator. It did all the trigonometric functions; it did linear regression (finding slopes, intercepts, and all that other fun algebraic stuff); it did all kinds of statistical functions like the mean and standard deviation (which I rarely if ever used) and it had a function for metric measurement conversions (which I don’t think I even realized at the time, but see now as I examine the back). It was my best friend through my first year and a half of college.

The best part of this little calculator you can see if you look closely at the metal plate above the sin, cos, and tan buttons. This calculator is personalized by my dad with my name, Christine M. Smith, inscribed in metal.

I’m breaking all the simplify-your-life-rules about not hanging on to mementos. This one’s a keeper.

So thank you, Dad (and Mom) for the first and second calculator.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I know you won’t be reading this, but I’m glad that you’re still here to hug.

The clothes Dad wears

When my dad was an infant and young child, someone else dressed him, most likely his mother. She bought, borrowed, made, or somehow acquired his clothes, chose what he would wear, and dressed him.

As he got a little older, I imagine my dad was able to dress himself, but I also suspect his mother was largely involved in what he wore. There is a photo of my dad as a child, standing on a tree stump, and wearing a pair of knickers. “I hated those knickers,” Dad said.

Once my dad started making money, which for him was when he was 10 years old and had a paper route, he had a little more choice in his attire because he had money to spend. And he was very careful about how he spent it.

“I carried papers out in the weather, freezin’ my a— off, getting rained on, whatever. My bike was sitting out there and it looked like a bloomin’ icicle. It had ice all over. My friend got that job at Kroger’s stocking. That was a job where you got paid. Carrying the papers, you had to go get the money and hope you got enough to pay the people that you got the papers from. And whatever was left over you had. My folks never took any of that money away from me, ever. Eventually I paid them to live with them after I got out of school, but even that was a pittance. My friend Bill’s mother, when he when to work, she took all his money and then parcelled it out to him. I think he never really got the appreciation for the value of money.

“Well, I wanted this shirt. It was green and I had saved the money. I had it in my pocket and I told my mom I was going down to Penny’s in downtown Piqua. I was going to go down to buy it. I walked down to Penney’s, went into the store, and decided, No, I don’t really know if I want to spend the money on that shirt. I went home without it. I never did buy that shirt.”

When Dad was in the army, the government decided what he would wear.

My dad and mom in the early 1950s when Mom visited him in S.C. while he was in the army.

I suppose he managed on his own once he was discharged from the army and starting a young family with my mom. Perhaps she helped at times. When we were teenagers, we noticed that he sometimes made less-than-ideal choices of the colors he put together. We laughed at him, or teased him in a loving and affectionate way. “You’re not really going to wear that shirt with those pants, are you?” we’d ask. I don’t know how he felt about it. I think he took it good-naturedly. I think he realized he wasn’t the best judge of color combinations. I think he often changed his clothes.

Later, when he became a fairly distinguished owner of his own company, I suspect my mom played a larger role in not only what was in his wardrobe, but what he wore as he walked out the door. I remember him coming out of his room and asking, “Does this tie look all right?”

So Dad looked pretty good for a lot of years. And then he started back with the creative dressing. Often it was just an inappropriate shirt with his dress pants. Sometimes it was two different shoes. Mom tried to help him out as much as she could, but eventually she started picking her battles and correcting only extreme infractions.

Then my mom started picking out clothes for him. Eventually she began to help him get dressed.

Now Mom buys, makes, or somehow acquires his clothes, chooses what he will wear, and dresses him.

I guess some things in life really do follow a circle.

The Witch on Broadview Boulevard

We used to see her when riding our bikes or running around the neighborhood. She was small, and looked even smaller walking over with a stoop but no limp. She wore eccentric clothes of many colors that sometimes coordinated by accident but often clashed. The lasting image I have in my mind is one of her wearing a long dark overcoat with a bright purple pointed stocking cap, red socks and pointy shoes. Maybe it was the shoes.

My grade school friends and I, roaming the neighborhood on our bikes or by foot, were afraid of her and called her the witch.

She lived all alone in a large English Tudor home on Broadview Boulevard and no one seemed to know her. We only saw her when she was out walking, where ever it was she went. Someone said her entire house was filled with wall-to-wall toys on every surface area. Maybe it was someone who had braved her doorbell selling Girl Scout cookies or perhaps a curious neighbor.

I wonder who she was.

One time I had no choice but to pass her on the sidewalk and I remember she smiled.

She might  have been eccentric. Maybe she even had a screw or two loose. But she wasn’t a witch.

It was cruel of us to think that she was.

She might have been lonely rattling around in a much-too-large house all alone, remembering times when childrens’ voices echoed off the walls.

She might have been content, happy to live life alone on her own terms.

Maybe she had a fascinating and interesting life. Perhaps it was rather dull and noneventful.

I’ll never know.

Christmas gifts for my mother

I knew it might be a rough day as I headed north on I-75 to my parents’ house in Dayton, gifts I’d bought for my dad to give my mother in a bag and wrapping paper in the back seat of the car.

My parents have a tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning, to each other and to Annie while she was still alive. Two years ago, when Dads Alzheimer’s had already started to greatly limit his abilities, I took him shopping for gifts for Mom. He drove a scooter around the store and we picked out some things from a list she had given me. I helped Dad wrap them when we got home.

Last year, Dad wasn’t able to get in and out of a car very easily, and we had pretty much stopped taking him places other than the doctor’s office. I talked to him about what he would like to get Mom and went out and purchased a bathrobe and a few other items. I labeled everything with the prices and had him “shop” from the kitchen table where I displayed them all. Then he added tape to the presents as I helped him wrap them.

This year, there wasn’t a conversation, but I went shopping and bought four small items for him to give her. I spoke to Mom in advance and and she thought if I got there by 11:00 am Dad would be awake long enough to help me wrap the gifts.

As I was driving yesterday, I felt a little weepy. It happens sometimes on the drive to Dayton.

I arrived at about 10:30, dried the tears from my eyes, opened the car door and put my feet on the driveway. I took a deep breath and thought, You can cry later.

Dad was nodding at the kitchen table while eating his breakfast cereal. Let’s just say bad went to worse. When he was finished with his cereal, I put his plate on the table in front of him with toast that his home health aide Paula had prepared for him and cut into small squares. He stabbed about three squares with his fork and dipped them up and down three times in his hot tea. The toast got soggy, and slipped off the fork into his tea. He spent some time fishing it back out. Mom said, “Why don’t I help you eat today, since you’re going to wrap presents.” She took his plate and started to feed him.

When he was finished eating, he was very drowsy and I was trying to keep him awake by rubbing on his hand saying, “Wake up, Dad, we’re going to wrap presents.”

Mom left the room. I placed the gifts on the table. Dad was falling asleep. I put my iPod on the speakers I’d brought and started playing Christmas music. I struggled through showing Dad the gifts and getting him to pay me cash from his wallet. He wasn’t very with it, so I started to wrap the first gift by myself, I needed to get this done today in case I couldn’t make it back next week. I was worried Dad might notice that he didn’t have any gifts for Mom on  Christmas morning. She planned on having a few gifts for him.

My sister Carol, who has been visiting my parents since just before Thanksgiving, came into the room, looked at what was happening and said, “This isn’t going to work right now.”

She got Paula; Paula came and pushed Dad in his wheelchair into his bedroom so that he could take a nap. I felt like I was going to cry. “You can cry later,” I told myself, but I didn’t listen.

I was standing at the kitchen table, wrapping the first present, Breath of Heaven playing from my iPod, and tears streaming down my face, when Carol returned to the kitchen. “Let me help you,” she said.

We decided that she would save the presents and maybe help Dad wrap them later when he was more alert. Then she suggested we go get some lunch and go shopping for a couple of things Mom still wanted to get for Dad.

I was waiting for her in the car when a light bulb at the corner of my parents’ house caught my eye, and it made me cry. I don’t know why. Maybe I was wondering if Dad used to stand out there at night sometimes and need the light to work by.

“I’m afraid I’m on a real crying jag here,” I said to Carol when she got in the car.

“I was working with clay with him the other day,” she said, “and I got a metal meat tenderizer out of the drawer for him to use. I just watched him, how he held the tool, and I thought about all the other tools he had used as a model-maker, and how it is evident by just the way he handled the tenderizer that he was comfortable with a tool in his hand.”

“This isn’t helping me,” I said as I cried harder, and we both laughed.

When we were young, we lived in Piqua, Ohio and my dad worked at NCR in Dayton. Every Christmas, NCR had a big Christmas event for the employees and their families, and my dad would take the four of us. For some reason, I don’t remember if they ever brought Annie. My memory is that Mom always stayed home with Annie, but that could be wrong. I remember being in a big auditorium with a stage where there was a Christmas performance by a magician, or songs, or some kind of entertainment. And we all were given a large mesh stocking full of candy when we left. It was a very special event for us.

Afterwards, Dad would take the four of us shopping for gifts for Mom. You’d think I would remember more, but I don’t. I remember an escalator, in a store that may have been Sears, and potholders. I think I must have gotten Mom potholders that year. It must have been something for my dad to shepherd the four of us up and down escalators and through the store, buying Christmas gifts for my mother.

Christmas 1962. The stockings from the NCR party are hanging on the window sill.

Boys in the tree

Cory Lemmon wasn’t entirely named after his father, Cory Oscar Lemmon.

“When they had me,” Cory said, “well, the old man said he wanted me to be named after him. My mother said, ‘I’ll never do it.’

“He said, ‘I want him to be named after me,’ and he just really bellered on and she said, ‘All right. But the name’s Cory Lemmon and nothin’ else.’

“He said, ‘Well, how ’bout the middle name?’

“‘No middle name. Cory Lemmon and nothin’ else.'”

“He drank and ran around with other women,” Cory said. Other people thought he was the “best guy that ever lived, but he’d go out and get drunk and his mind would just go. I can remember another thing when I was real small. Dad came home one night, drunk, and had a buggy whip, that would sting and cut. He was gonna whip us all. My brother Freeman was big enough; he run up and grabbed him and took it away from him, and run. He knew the old man couldn’t catch him.”

Cory’s mother, Mary Etta Conner, met Cory Oscar somewhere in Ohio near Perrysville, north of Columbus and just a little east of Mansfield. When she was young, Mary Etta’s family lived in a one-room log cabin. There was a ladder to a loft upstairs and that’s where she slept. It was cold up there and sometimes she’d wake in the morning and there would be snow on her bed that had drifted in through the cracks as she slept.

Mary Etta only went to school until the third grade. Times were hard and I suspect she was needed at home. She met and married Cory Oscar Lemmon in 1896 when she was 16 years old. He was 28. “In those days, it wasn’t too much to get married early like that because they didn’t have nothin’ to look forward to,” Cory’s wife, Anna Adams Lemmon, later said. “And if they got married, the parents didn’t have to worry about ’em.”

Cory was the youngest of the eight children that Cory Oscar and Mary Etta had. Cory was just a young boy when Cory Oscar ran off and started another family with another woman. So Cory pretty much grew up in a single-parent home, but his mother was a strong, capable, and determined woman.

“I went to school through the eighth grade,” Cory said, “and then I had to quit and get a job and help Mom. I only made $3.00 a week during the Depression. The worst part about it was, my mother and I had to live and pay rent all winter on that $3.00. She worked at the mill, but she didn’t make any more than enough to get us some beans and gravy.”

Despite the poor example set by his father, Cory grew up to be a responsible family man and father. He worked as a milkman and then as a used-car salesman.

My mother was his oldest daughter of three children. My father was in the army and stationed overseas when my mother was due to deliver my oldest sister. When the time came to go to the hospital,  my grandfather took her, and then sent a telegram to my father  in Germany.

He and my grandmother held a Christmas party every year for their three children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren. During these events, my grandfather wandered around the room snapping photographs with his latest toy, a Polaroid camera. He loved auctions and had a garage full of trinkets and boxes of stuff he had bought. Neighbors used to come to him if they needed a cork, or some little random thing. He gave me a brass floor lamp one time after I was rattling around in the garage with him. In later years, when he played checkers with my little boys, he refused to just let them win. He said when they won, they would know they deserved to win.

In 1992 we celebrated Thanksgiving at the home of one of my cousins in Piqua, Ohio. I had all four of our children by then. Our youngest was one year old. So I might have been distracted and my memories aren’t very clear. I remember only a few things from that Thanksgiving. I remember sitting on a sofa in a small, dim room, so characteristic of many of the homes in that small town. I remember somebody brought oyster dressing for the meal, because I’d never had it before. And I remember as we were leaving, watching my grandfather, wearing his overcoat and  dress hat with my grandmother holding on to his arm, shuffling slowly down the steps, and across the sidewalk to his car.

I never saw him again.

Today I am thankful for all the men and women who came before me, who sometimes persevered in less than the best of circumstances, and who had perhaps a large, or even only a small part in making me who I am.

I am thankful for all the men and women who will come after me, and in whom some small part of me may live on.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Circa late 1880s —Boys in the tree: Cory is at the bottom. His brother William Alvey is at the top.