Friday, December 31, 2010

Somewhat Daily Dose of Wow! Reflections on New Years Eve 2010

Have I, for most of my life, been so concerned with coloring between the lines, except when I would venture over them to test the consequences:
"Boy! That hurt! I won't do that again! "
"Hmmm! What was it that was supposed to be so bad about this?"
that I failed to pull back and see that my little errors are of very little consequence in the vastness of this Universe?

I resolve, in the New Year, to spend more time observing the Universe and less time meddling in its affairs.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Loss In a Year of Loss

Yesterday morning, very very early, my great aunt Mathilde took leave of this earthly plane at the age of 102. She had been in failing health for a while, but was still able to celebrate her birthday with family on November 24. Mathilde was my grandmother Rose's identical twin. In her late 80s or early 90s, my grandmother had the misfortune of somehow triggering the breast cancer gene we carry, and succumbed in 2007 at the age of 98.

The girls were born on November 24, 1908 into the Charles Fouquet family. In the picture above, they are shown with their older sister, Helena. Like all good stories, their birth story contains some mystery. You see, the family has always been told that Grandma (Rose) was the second twin to arrive. In fact, Grandma herself writes:
I was the middle child in a family of five children all born in Andale, Kansas. My twin sister, who preceded me by only three minutes, was named Mathilde Theresa. The doctor, who arrived just a few minutes too late to deliver Mathilde, insisted we should be named Kate and Duplicate, as we were so identical. Fortunately for me, my parents had the good sense not to be influenced by the well-meaning doctor, or I might have gone through life with the nickname “Dupe.” 
It is documented in several places that Mathilde was first (including the Grandma Remembers book that my Grandmother completed for me). However, there is the little matter of the birth certificate, which indicates that Rosalia Bernardine Fouquet was the first of the twins born that day. Now, this makes for some interesting possibilities: 

  1. The family has heard it wrong all these years and Rose was first
  2. The birth certificate is wrong and Rose was really second
  3. (The most provocative possibility) Rose was really Mathilde and Mathilde was really Rose.

The Charles Fouquet Family (1919)
 For a good part of their lives, whether it was Rose or Mathilde was irrelevant because they were inseparable. They wore the same clothes, went to the same schools, shared the same friends, and shared the same bed.  They truly were wombmates, and even addressed letters to each other in that fashion: Dear Wombmate.They dressed alike well into senior adulthood; sometimes on purpose, many times purely coincidentally.

The Roaring Twenties
80th Birthday (1988)
Pentagon Tour 1992

For the past several years, since Rose died, Mathilde has often spoken of her as if she was only out of the room. She has insisted that Rose is living right across the street and she spoke of disagreements she believes they've had. My cousin and her family have kept close watch and have been wonderful about keeping our huge extended family informed. On Christmas day, Aunt Mathilde commented that she'd had a pretty good life and that she thought she would be leaving soon.

August 2002
She departed sometime after midnight on Tuesday morning for that great reunion. God bless you, Aunt Mathilde, and may you rest in peace.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Memories of Christmas Eve 1956

I was only six, although I'm sure I would have claimed "Six and a half!" I don't remember any Christmases before this one, and not a lot about the ones that came after, especially now that there have been so many. Now I am ten times six and am not worried about the half year. Christmas 1956 was memorable because it was the worst and the best Christmas.

As was frequently the case, we (Mom, Barbara and I) were spending the Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa Davis in Martinez, California. It was already kind of a grim Christmas because our handsome daddy who hung the moon and created the stars was way far off in Saudi Arabia working for Aramco. He had been gone six months already, and we were all of us missing him on a cellular level. We had taken him to Stapleton Airport in Denver and watched while he boarded the airplane and it flew off to places we couldn't even imagine. This picture was taken just outside the airport terminal the morning he left. My mom always swore that if you looked at it closely, you could see tears in his eyes.

After he flew off, we drove around the state, visiting with great grandmothers and aunts, uncles and cousins and great aunts, great uncles and second cousins. It was on this trip that I formed my life-long attachment to Del Norte, Colorado where my great grandma Fouquet lived, as well as my great uncle Charles and his family. After everyone was visited, we drove home to Long Beach, California to try and live a routine life until Daddy came home or sent for us to go live with him in Saudi Arabia.

Needless to say, the only thing we two little girls wanted -- and I am sure that goes triple for my mom -- was to have Daddy home for Christmas. But this was not to be the year, and we were all being very brave and trying not to complain too much because it made Mommy so sad.

Then, very late on the eve of Christmas Eve there was a phone call. It was a long distance phone call so everyone had to be quiet. It was for Grandma; and when she hung up she went directly to her room and closed the door. You could hear the sobs from behind the heavy door. The call had come from Colorado. Her brother, Charles, and his son, Dick, had been killed that evening in a plane crash in Del Norte. Grandma left the next day for Colorado.

The story appeared on Christmas Eve on the front page of the Contra Costa Gazette. Charles had served on the Martinez police department for five years, and had been well known in the east bay area. Unfortunately, because the story was printed before all of the facts were known, it got many of them wrong, including the location of the crash which it placed 30 miles away in Alamosa.

A more accurate account came out a few days later in the Monte Vista Journal, again on the front page:

The cause of the crash, which killed four people including my great uncle and cousin, was never really known. But the darkness that it had brought to our entire family's Christmas was palpable, even to a child of six. I cried that Christmas Eve for my uncle and cousin, whom I had only come to know. I cried for my grandmother, who was so sad. I cried for my mother who was now sad AND lonely. And I cried for me because I missed my daddy so much. This was the worst Christmas, ever. Somehow I slept.

I don't remember exactly what woke me or where I was even when I realized that my Daddy was home, and it was not a dream! And it was Christmas! I was a great Santa Claus believer for a great many more years than most children because of this Christmas gift. My dad later told us that he had simply gotten so homesick that he couldn't stand being away from us any longer. He didn't know anything about the tragedy that had recently happened, but I can't help believing that the irresistible urge he had had to be home was a gift of what many would call the Holy Spirit. Dad actually rescued Christmas that year, and for the rest of his life he always kept it in his heart.

I'm not sure what else we got for Christmas that year. It may have been the year of the white vinyl jackets or the coonskin caps and other Daniel Boone accoutrement.  I just remember knowing that Rudolph's red nose had guided Santa in delivering the best Christmas present ever! And so, as I face what will certainly be a different Christmas from those I've become used to, I know there are gifts aplenty. I am blessed with home and family and food in the pantry. These are all good things, and I take none of them for granted.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you know how very blessed you are!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Daughter's Treasure

I have been going through the boxes of papers left me by my grandmother, trying to get a grip on where to start with responsibly archiving this stuff. I pulled out one today that is an edited version of a short history of her life by my daughter's namesake, Emelie Fouquet. I say edited because that's what I deduced from the typeface and my grandmother's notes written on  it. I have further edited it and corrected what I perceived to be typos and not spelling errors, because I am quite certain that Emelie, the accountant of the family, was as precise with her language as she was with her numbers, even if her sentences tend to run on a bit. Uh. Yeah. Must run in the genes.

Emelie would be my great great grand aunt -- I think that's right. She was the daughter of my great great grandfather. I'll be coming back to him at some time in the future, but for now, here is a little piece of what Emelie had to say about her life, from 1891 when Emelie Marie Fouquet was 13 years old, to 1937 when she lost her older brother (my great grandfather):

From A Short History of Our Lives
written in Nov. 1950 
by Emelie [then 72]

Mama and Papa's Mother and Rose [the baby sister] went to France in July, 1891; back home in October.

Our store and home where we lived upstairs at Andale [Kansas] burnt down in 1892, I think in July. Then we moved on the farm about 1/2 mile NW of Andale until the last of February as Papa had sold the farm to stock up the store, but was to give possession March 1st. Therefore, we moved back  in Andale, not far from the depot, until September when Papa and Charles went to Hunnewell, Kansas in a covered wagon and set up a tent at the opening of the Cherokee Strip and sold sandwiches, coffee and pop. Tthey had more than they could do, so papa wired for us to come and we left Andale Monday night on the train, right before the opening. The Thursday before the opening we sold $125.00 of lunches and coffee at 5 cents. After the run, we stayed at Hunnewell until Monday and rested up and packed up and went to Round Pond, or what is now called Pond Creek. We stayed there until March 1895.

We arrived at the school lease (which Papa had made arrangements for) on April 1st. Papa hired Mr. Gelwich to mow the hay, so we set up camp by the hay stack until we built a little log cabin with an attic for a bed room. The neighbors came and had a "log raising" in one day. It did not have a floor until later.

Later Papa worked for Mr. Tate six miles SE of Chandler [Oklahoma] in the fall. He had a little store in Clifton, but we kept the farm going, too. Then in 1900, Papa bought the Tate farm after having inherited some money from Aunt Modest. We lived there until November 9, 1928 when we moved to 205 W. 9th Street in Chandler after having had a sale of the stock and implements we did not need in town.

Papa's mother went to France at the same time mother and Rose went in 1891, but she didn't come back until we lived in Pond Creek, and she lived with us and died on the farm in the year of 1901 or 1902. Mother died June 21st 1933, and father died July 3, 1936 in the O.M. [sic] and was buried in Chandler cemetery. Brother Charles [my great grandfather] died in 1937, May 30, in Pueblo, Colorado and was buried at Monte Vista. Rose and I, Emelie, went to see him April 25th. Rose came back to work, clerking for Bayouth Store. I stayed in Colorado until after Charles' funeral.


This is only one piece of paper, actually two, out of several boxes that include letters written between brothers during the last Great Depression, letters from son to mother while deployed during WWI, and more letters announcing happy and sad events in the family. I am looking forward to spending time seeing those times through their eyes. With your permission, I hope to share some more of it with you as I go, from time to time.

I mean that, with your permission. Please let me know what you think by commenting below.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

O Christmas Tree My Christmas Tree

The decorating for this Christmas is done. It isn't much, but it's definitely more than I felt like doing when I started and I am happy that it is all there. I put some LED lights around the little pines we have on the side of the house right before Thanksgiving. I wanted the house to look cheerful for Sean and Emily when they came.

The decorating inside got a little slower start. I put the Creche up on the mantle during the first week of Advent, as I always do. I think it looks particularly beautiful on this mantle. For me, the Creche keeps the nativity story front and present during the season that is Christmas. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the things that are being done in his name, not just during the Christmas season but in all seasons, by his priests and his people of all Christian persuasions. Thinking about that too long depresses me, so lets talk about our tree.

First let me say that we, the kids and I, were relative newbies in the "going into the woods to get your own tree" business. We didn't make the mistake so many do and pick a tree that is way too big for our space and then has to be butchered to fit it. We sort of went the other way, and picked something a little short (about 5'5"), spindly and frankly a little sad. It is also a split-trunk tree, basically two spindly little trees side-by-side. We had it in the house for over a week before I decorated it. That was about a week ago.

That sad spindly little tree took hours to decorate and it looks like I threw stuff at it! But I love the colors in the sparse lights, and have left the tree on night and day since I decorated it. Each of the ornaments that are hung have sentimental and even historical meaning to me. Many of them were the Mr. and Mrs. Claus ornaments that I gifted to Bill each year that we were married, first from one Hallmark series and then another and then some oddball Santa ornaments when Hallmark could no longer satisfy my yearly need. As I put each on the tree, I reflected on the Christmas it represented. Where were we living that year, what were we doing in our jobs and lives, what were the major events of the year. It was a sweet day of memories, but I have to admit that I took a lot of breaks!

One of the newsletters I get suggests that I go out and buy one of those ornaments this year, to honor the memory of our tradition and commemorate the passage of the year. I think I might, but I think I have to find something other than Mr. and Mrs. Claus to establish the beginning of a new tradition.

I also hung a half dozen or so of the White House commemorative ornaments. It's a rule, or something, that if you live in the DC Metro area and work for the government in any capacity, that you have to at least try to collect these things. I tried. My collection reflects less than 33% of the years we lived in the area, so I guess I failed as a collector. They are, most of them, very beautiful and they are all unique; however, they were also a little pricey. You can't be a collector and be worried about price.

Among my favorite ornaments are the little handcarved angels I bought in a wood carving shop in Oberammergau, Germany in 2000. They are only about 1 1/2" high, with amazing detail in the face and hands. I have three that are painted and three that are unpainted. I'm not sure why this odd number and arrangement. I think when I bought them I intended to give them away to two different people, and then couldn't bear to part with them.

Because the tree has two tops, and they are not very strong, my angel tree-topper is taking the year off with a lot of the other ornaments and decorations. I put a few of the yearly favorites out on the dining room table along with the gorgeous poinsettia I was given at Thanksgiving. There is the Santa sleigh and reindeer that a neighbor handcrafted in ceramics and the troika of angels playing instruments I bought from Home Interiors when Josh was a wee bairn. Then with a few Christmas towels in the powder room I was all done.

I'm just not convinced that it's Merry Christmas. I have the reminders all around me, and yet I am clearly aware that, with the exception of the great pleasure I take in putting gifts together and enjoying the lights and colors, this Christmas is missing key parts. Every Christmas from here on out will be missing those parts. The good thing is that I am now familiar with this knowledge and with these feelings.  I can acknowledge them without giving them aid and comfort!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Somewhat Daily Dose of Wow! 120810

I almost missed this sunset!

It's December Already?

Let me start with a mea culpa: I have been neglectful of my blog. It's not entirely inexcusable -- we had an internet outage at our house that lasted nearly five days, and necessitated our ISP install a repeater on a tower more accessible to our line of sight. While that was a frustrating outage, the result has been better than good and we are experiencing faster speeds and better reliability than we had for some time. I'm really rooting for these guys (directlink) as it is a local business here in Parker, and anybody that gives Comcast a run for their money is ok in my book!

Now for a bit of an update. The Thanksgiving holiday was one of the best I have ever had, and the time with family in the days that followed was especially sweet. We had fun together: went into the woods and cut down a Christmas tree, went to the movies to see Harry Potter, stayed up too late and drank a little too much at least once, and laughed a lot.

The days that followed the end of the holiday were taken up with starting a new job with the Douglas County Office of Veterans Affairs as a brand new, uncertified and unaccredited, veterans services officer. I have italicized job, not to diminish its importance or to indicate that it isn't really a job. It's a real job, and I even get real money (or so I have heard), a stipend of about $200 per month. At my last job before I retired, that would have represented about three hours of labor. After working about 17 hours in the past two weeks, I realize that this is a job that I could work as many hours as I want and it would still never be done. Kind of like housework, but a lot more rewarding. The job is about helping veterans and their families file for their benefits and assisting them with their appeals if they become necessary. It has all the potential to be the best job I ever had.

The office is only open three days a week, and I am the fourth in an office set up for two people, so we'll see where this goes. I haven't hotbunked on a desk since the shiftworking old days in the Surveillance and Warning Centers of Okinawa, south Florida, and south Korea. I was a lot less conscious of the teeming petri dish effect in those days. I am stocking up on alcohol wipes for the telephone, keyboard,'s really rather hopeless. A line from Glee kept coming back to me this week, "I can't help feeling there is an excess of dried skin in the air." Additionally, I am only the second female ever on the team. That's never happened before! I'm joking. It's just so funny for it to be happening at this end of my career. As always, I am in very good company with dedicated gentlemen doing their best to help other veterans.

In the meantime, the Christmas tree sits soaking and unadorned and the presents I have been stashing in the spare room need to be wrapped and mailed with little love-notes for the recipients. I'm not sure I can do the card thing this year. It just seems so forced and artificial. I certainly don't want to write one of those letters that plays the whole year back. I really have had quite enough of this year, and I am all for clearing the decks and getting on with the next. Maybe I will send out Valentines instead?

I'm also trying to get rid of some stuff we don't need anymore. Stuff associated with caregiving, and stuff left from the merging of two families into one house, and stuff that is just stuff. Why is it so much harder to get rid of stuff than it is to collect it? And what is some of this stuff, anyway? In the midst of this purging of stuff, we missed the last two recycling collections -- which for some reason are only every two weeks here -- and so we are totally buried in newspapers and cardboard with the more than occasional wine bottle. I'm trying not to let it make me crazy, but I don't think it is working.