Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remembering Rose

Last Gifts and Re-gifts
Ode to Rose
A true child of the nineteen sixties,
a free spirit,
the last child of a family of five and
the first to pass to the other side.
Jan 3, 2011

Angelica, Angie, Mary & Rose -
 Bloomington, Indiana - April 2007

In early December 2010 my middle sister Angie asked me to send Christmas gifts to our youngest sister Rose and her family in Bloomington, Indiana. Requested were a pair of size 8 winter boots for 13 year old Wendy, our niece, a warm sweatshirt for Thomas, our 15 year old autistic nephew and of course something for Rose as well as her husband, Will.  Because Angie was ill herself and unable to do what she’d always done so easily, I agreed reluctantly.  My relutance stemed from the fact that year Rose suffered from delusions as a consequence of a brain tumor.  She saw bugs that weren’t there. When she had a car wreck, she claimed it was caused by what she thought were contracts put out on her life to keep her from "Cherokee"  land she’d inherited in eastern Oklahoma. With this in mind, it occurred to me Rose might think whatever I sent was laced with poison or who knows what, thanks to the effects of that nasty brain tumor. Nevertheless, I decided to send Angie’s suggested gifts for them and re-gift a pair of green leather gloves still in the original gift box to Rose. My Irish friend, Siobhan gave me the gloves at Christmas in 2006. I enclosed a $20 bill between the palms of the two gloves and wrote a note to Rose that if the gloves were too small for her (as they’d been for me), to pass them down to Wendy, her daughter. Before it was over, I decided to send everyone in the family of four, inexpensive gloves, figuring they could all use a set, even if not leather.    

Rose & Mary - April 2007 - Bloomington, Indiana

                                    Thomas Swank

Wendy Swank
A few days after the package arrived, on the 16th of December, Rose left me a phone message saying she received the gifts and her brain tumor was bothering her again. She was dreadfully afraid of having the second operation, over 4 years after her first in 2006. The doctors advised her, she could go blind from the surgical procedure or worse yet she might be an invalid. Her husband doesn’t drive due to complications from serving in the Vietnam War. She might even die, which she did Christmas Eve 2010 at 6:25 p.m. at the age of 49 at the Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Her fear of the second procedure turned out to be well founded when the tumor made an emergency operation inevitable December 20th.

If Angie had not asked me to send Rose and her family Christmas gifts, I probably would not have. This would have been a terrible mistake since it was my last opportunity to send a gift to Rose here on earth. Like the old adage goes, “you always regret what you don’t do.” I sure am glad I don’t have that regret.

The last gift Rose ever sent me was a birthday button when I turned 60 in 2008. The button says, “I’ve survived damn near everything”.  Now that birthday button has an extra special meaning, just like the re-gifted green leather gloves.

Mary Alta Buckingham - January 3, 2011/ Memoir Writing -
                                          December 24, 2011 rewrite

Free Range Christmas Trees

All my life I have been attracted to anything with the price tag of “free” and Christmas trees are no exception. During the 1970s my first husband, Lindy and I use to hunt for the best “free” tree in Cleveland county Oklahoma. The trees we found were too big, too bushy and flat out ugly. We did not begin to have enough decorations to make the tree look right, but the price was right, the tree was FREE.
Mary, me with our FREE Cleveland County Oklahoma Christmas Tree-1972
When I married my Alaska husband Joe in 1982, I truly believed that despite living my Alaska dream, we needed to carry on this tradition of something for nothing. The FREE ugly Christmas tree was part of the picture. Our first Christmas together, Joe and I went south on the Seward Highway to Indian, where this part Cherokee felt right at home. We hiked through the snow to an “open tree cutting area” and found the best free tree to take and decorate. It was a bit scrawny, but in retrospect I think it was much better looking than it’s Oklahoma Christmas tree cousin ten years earlier in 1972. Our live Alaska tree wasn’t perfect.  In some ways it left me wishing we'd put up the one and only fake snow covered tree I ever owned and still do. The 40 inch artificial snow covered tree was bought at B & J Hardware in Anchorage for $16.95 in 1980.  I still have the box that it came in, so I know.  It was purchased in celebration and preparation of my sister Angie's Christmas visit after my near fatal car accident.
These days I have given up on free live trees. I usually settle for several mini metal ones instead. I keep my all time favorite fake snowed covered tree in its box in the crawl space, just in case I get that urge for another Freebie live Christmas tree. It can take its place and this year it did just that.  For the first time in 9 years we put up our old friend, the memory tree.  It waited patiently in its box for us to heal from our adoption fiasco and now is bringing joy to us at Christmas once again.   

old Christmas tree friend
64th birthday - flowers from Angie

Alaska Mary’s Christmas Memoir - December 18, 2012

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Was My Grandfather Phillips Real Name and What Was He Trying to Hide?

Genealogy Breakthroughs and Breakdowns:
The Search for My Paternal Grandfather’s True Identity and a Maternal DNA Mistake

Thomas Mathew Phillips
circa 1905-06
Auburn, NY

For the first 60 years of my life I believed and trusted that my paternal Grandfather’s surname was Phillips, as well as it being my maiden name, until the summer of 2009. After 40 plus years of hunting unsuccessful for my Grandfather Thomas Mathew Phillips’ family, I gave up and forked over $355 to Ancestry for a comprehensive paternal and maternal DNA test for my brother Mathew. In a nutshell we discovered once and for all, Thomas Mathew never was a Phillips and technically neither are we, although everyone in our biological family was born with the surname, Phillips.

This information should have been no surprise. Why? In 1992 after requesting copies from the Veterans Administration of my Grandfather‘s original 1899 army enlistment papers in Detroit, Michigan I discovered Thomas spelled his last name 3 different ways in his original enlistment documents. He claimed to be born in Buffalo, NY and was 5 foot 5 inches, the minimum height requirement to join the military. He was almost 23 years old so he should have been able to spell his last name unless it was a new last name. While serving in the Philippines Thomas taught English and the rumor was he would rather buy a book before worrying about what he was going to eat for the next meal. So again spelling was no problem for Thomas.

In the enlistment papers he started off listing his name as Thomas M. Phillipps. Then a little further down in the documents the name was spelled Philipps. By 1902 the spelling of his surname in his Army papers had morphed into the traditional spelling of Phillips which he died with in Auburn, New York in 1956 when I was 7 living with my maternal grandparents in Chelsea, Oklahoma. Thomas ? is buried in an unmarked grave at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, N.Y. He is entitled to a Veterans’ Cemetery Headstone or Marker. The paperwork sets in my office year after year waiting to find out what Thomas’ real last name was. I want it on the headstone in addition to Phillips, the name he served under for 26 years when he retired as an Army Master Sergeant in 1924.

Thomas Phillips to the right of white Pitcher
at Christmas party in 1924 at Ft. Benning, Columbus, Georgia
 My genealogy search for my paternal Grandfather and grandparents began in earnest in 1976 when I wrote his sister-in-law, my Great Aunt Edna in Cato, NY a letter asking for dates and names for my Dad‘s side of the family. My Grandfather Thomas Phillips’ wife Mary was my Grandmother and Edna’s sister.  Mary died a year after Thomas in 1957 in southern California while living with her son Howard, my Dad‘s only sibling. 
Thomas & Mary Phillips
circa 1905, Auburn, NY

My source to the past on my Dad’s side was my Great Aunt Edna and eventually my uncle Howard. In Edna’s 1976 letter she stated that Thomas had “one brother named McKay he met in Texas while serving in the Army”. Some of the closer DNA matches through my brother’s DNA have linked us to a McKay, a McCoy and a  McCabe, all of which after contacting have turned out to be dead ends. The closest DNA match was to Jimmie McKenzie in Montreal, Canada. Jimmie’s past is also a question to him. In August 2010 he emailed he was on to a breakthrough and a visit to a professional genealogist in Scotland. Unfortunately I learned that health problems required a delay in the trip.

Great Aunt Edna said Thomas’ father, my Great Grandfather ran a newspaper in Dayton, Ohio pre 1899. Years ago I contacted various newspapers in the area and no one had ever edited the newspaper by the name of Phillips. Now perhaps I should go back and ask about a McKay, a McCoy or a McKenzie being an editor of the newspaper.

After Edna passed in 1977, I began to quiz my Dad’s only older brother Howard who lived in California about his Dad, Thomas and family. Howard Phillips wrote in a letter August 15, 1991 saying that his father “ran away from home when he was sixteen because of his Catholic mother’s incessant attacks on his radical father.“ He also said, “Grandpa Phillips (?) went to work in the beet fields of Colorado and got in a gun fight and thought - mistakenly that he had killed a man. He fled and joined the army.” Perhaps this is when and why Thomas changed his last name. Uncle Howard went on to say, my “Great Grandfather (?) was fined $3,000 in 1856 for operating a station on the illegal Underground Railway that moved slaves to freedom in Canada. The fine ruined the family financially.” Howard said his Dad, Thomas was born in Toledo, Ohio, however his marriage certificate states Cincinnati, Ohio and his enlistment papers say Buffalo, NY. My uncle also claimed that Thomas’ Dad ran a newspaper, "The Toledo Blade". Research under the name of Phillips resulted in more dead ends here too, but perhaps again I should have searched for Mc names instead of Phillips?

In conclusion, my brother’s DNA test came out surprizingly different than mine on the maternal line! My test had been done a number of years earlier in 2002 by Family Tree DNA in Houston, Texas. For years I had no DNA matches, so I came to the correct conclusion that there was an error in my original maternal DNA test. I contacted the provider and asked for a new test explaining my questions about the results especially since it did not show my brother and I as siblings. They agreed to do a retest in 2009, 7 years after the original. They did indeed make an error in my original Maternal DNA test and yes my brother and I are siblings, darn it.

Mary Alta Phillips (?) Buckingham -
October 12, 2010/revised Nov. 28, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Memory Jar

   - Gift from My Sister Angie on My 50th Birthday, 1998

My middle sister Angie has always been crafty. In our Alaska home there are a multitude of crafts created by her in Oklahoma through the past 30 years. For example, on our kitchen wall is a framed needle point picture of a sheep that reads, “Ewes not fat, ewes fluffy”. (Think this quote might refer to me?) In my closet hangs a beautiful hand painted Southwestern jean jacket, a style very popular in the 1980s. Angie designed and painted one for both of us. We wore them on a visit together 2 years ago in Santa Fe.

Needlepoint gift from Angie

Angie in Santa Fe, NM - Oct. 2009

The 20 year old southwestern hand painted coats by Angie - Oct. 2009
On my 50th birthday in December 1998 Angie sent me my favorite gift ever, a “memory jar”. She told me she got the idea from watching an Oprah show. The lid was covered with one of her needle point designs. Within the small glass canning jar she placed 50 typed “I remember” notes, one for each year.

“I remember the green dress with strawberries on it that you made me when I was six” (1963)
“I remember playing jacks on Grandpa’s front porch and the fun I had” (mid 1960s)
“I remember sending you my first letter from Villa Ridge, Il. I was 6 ½ or so. I mailed you 6 cents and a stick of gum. The 6 cents was for you to buy a stamp and write me back.”
“I remember everybody wanting to sleep by Mary when we came to visit you and Grandpa” (1964-67)
“I remember going with you to buy a new blouse to wear to the Chelsea Round Up Club and going to the rodeo with you and Grandpa” (1966)
“I remember Mom and Dad so excited that you were going to college” (1967)
“ I remember coming to visit you in your apartment in Tulsa, before you were married) (summer 1971)
“I remember the orange lunch box hot curlers you got for Rose and me for Christmas” (1972)
“I remember the time you came to Ullin, Ill. and I wanted you to help me learn to sing”
(early 1970s, unfortunately I never was much of a singer)
“I remember the day you and Lindy asked me if I wanted to stay and live with you all. I was so happy, yet so embarrassed that I had no home.” (1974)
“I remember the day you took me shopping in Tulsa with Debbie Clinger. That was the first time I had ever had any one do that for me!!!” (fall 1974)
“I remember the Talimena Drive (in SW Oklahoma) and float trips (canoe trips on the Illinois River near Tahlequah) with KFC” (fall 1974)
“I remember going bowling nearly every Friday night in high school” (1974-76)
“I remember you giving me the big green bomb of a car (1967 Olds)!!! 8 miles to a gallon” (1974)
“I remember you explaining to me that I would see dark skinned people and they were not Mexicans, they were Indians” (1974)
“I remember the heart cake you bought me for my 17th birthday”(Nov. 1974)
““I remember shopping at Lerner’s and you getting mad when they called you Miss” (1975)
“I remember trips to the lakes in NE Oklahoma and cutting down a Christmas tree, only to get home and find out it was huge!!!” (1974-76)
I remember my first Christmas in Sapulpa, Okla. and spending all the money I made at Walmart on Christmas. It was the first time I ever had money to buy gifts” (1974)
“I remember going to Sonic in Sapulpa and eating chili cheese conies and onion rings”
“I remember you throwing a fit in Walmart like a little kid!!! What for? I don’t remember” (1975 - I wanted Angie to buy me something that day and it worked.)
“I remember us going to see Grandpa and stopping in Catoosa for corn nuts and diet Dr. Pepper. Those were the red Vega car days!!!” (1974-76)
“I remember you telling a little kid at the bowling alley that your shoes were magic and they could make you fly”
“I remember the time you pretended not to know how to hoe the garden in Sapulpa and I got to do the whole thing“ (summer 1975)
“I remember you telling your students that our family was in the circus and you were a midget wrestler” (mid 1970s)
“I remember the trip to Tahlequah with your high school History Class for a college history trivia contest and stopping at Bells to ride Zingo, the roller coaster, on the way home!” (1975)
“I remember the times we would spend all afternoon to Casa Bonita in Tulsa and eat all you could eat with Barbara!!!”
“I remember the time you bought me “Eagles tickets for my birthday!!! I love the “Eagles”
“I remember the jean jump suit you bought me for Christmas when I was a freshman in college. I was so afraid you bought me a velvet jacket. I was so happy when it was the jump suit“ (1976)
“I remember us sharing clothes when I was in high school in Sapulpa” (1975-1976)
“I remember playing tennis with you” (mid 1970s)
“I remember the Cat Stevens concert with you) ( 1970s)
“I remember you wearing my old formals to your high school reunion!!!” (?)
“I remember the 5 cent Eskimo Joe Days!!! Stories and all! (1977 - 20 mini beers for a dollar!)
“I remember taking swim lessons together in Shawnee!!!” (1977)
“I remember the night we drove all night to New Mexico from OKC, talking all the way” (summer 1977)
“I remember how frightened I was when you had your car wreck and they thought you may not live” (1980)
“ I remember going to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer and taking a picture of us with a clown. My true dream was to be a clown and make people happy!” (fall 1981)
“I remember dressing up for Halloween in Alaska!!! I was a cat and you dressed in pig attire” (1981)
“I remember skiing in Alaska” (1981)
“I remember Thanksgiving in Alaska (1981) and not feeling alone”
“I remember asking you to be my matron of honor in my wedding” (1987)
“I remember you fixing the neck of my wedding dress so it would stay up!!!)
“I remember going to Grandpa’s after he passed away and just hanging out in his back yard!!!” (1988)
“I remember you and Joe taking us to camp in the trailer on our trip to Alaska “ (1989)
“I remember the year you had our cousin Judy pick me up a birthday cake!!! That was very special for me! (early 1990s)
“I remember the joy you shared when I told you I was P.G. I remember you helping me through the miscarriage.” (1992)
“I remember finding the flowers you sent for Mom’s funeral service” (1998)
“I remember when our Grandmother Alta passed away. (1964) I remember seeing you cry. I tried to make myself cry as to do what I thought would be right.” (Why I always liked her, she tried to do what was right.)
“I remember as a child looking up to you. You were my mentor and role model. I love you!!! Here’s to another 50!!!”

Butterfly string art by Angie - gift to Mary, circa 1980s.
(Mary's Memoir - September 26, 2011)

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Employment Journey - Jack of All Trades, Master of None

1967 Chelsea Annual ad, proves I was a waitress.

My first real job to earn a paycheck was working as a waitress at Gliedt’s Café on Highway 66 in Chelsea, Oklahoma. I worked the graveyard shift on weekends during the summer of 1965 after my sophomore year of high school. I was 16. The pay was $3 for 8 hours plus tips which usually wouldn’t have been much more than $3 if I hadn’t been working Friday and Saturday late at night. The weekend partiers from the 2 local bars and underage car drinkers came in to eat something to sober up before heading home. Occasionally the customers were drunk enough to try and impress me with a really big tip, once as much as $5 dollars, probably their entire life savings.
The best part of the weekend graveyard shift was around 3 or 4 in the morning when it quieted down to no customers. The cook and I, both sleep deprived, each selected a red leather booth seat and curled up in it. We’d nap until we heard the first early morning customers arrive for breakfast and jump up and act like we‘d been up all night. Nothing like getting paid to sleep even if only 35 cents an hour. Now I’m sure the café owner Alvin Gliedt didn’t really approve of us sleeping on the job, but he was a big easy going single guy who wore a size 50 inch belt and love to eat. He was no doubt lurking somewhere nearby keeping an eye on his investment. Alvin also had a little mobile trailer called the “Chuck Wagon” that he took to rodeos and other events to sell food. That summer I went to one such event and now wonder if that experience helped lure me into the mobile food business 20 plus years later in the 1980s in Alaska.
Gliedt’s Café’s was built with logs. The front section could comfortably seat 60 people. In the rear was a banquet room that held space for 300. It was in that banquet room that our class held our Jr. and Sr. banquets and proms, but not with me as a waitress.
After that summer job in ‘65 I moved up in the waitress world, or actually down the road to Marie’s Café also on Highway 66. My salary increased to 50 cents an hour, a whole dollar more for an 8 hour shift. During the school year a school bus took all the high school kids with money the 3 miles out to Marie’s Cafe for a quick lunch. Myself and a few other willing poor hungry souls would write down their food orders on the bus, deliver the orders to the cooks (one being Maxine Miller), serve the kids and get a free very quick meal in exchange that we ate on the bus back to school. I worked at Marie’s for two years as a waitress until heading for college in 1967 in part with the help of my big fat waitress savings account. I’d spend the tips and save the checks.
During college I had a multitude of government funded “work study” jobs for struggling low income college students. These positions included the following: August 1968,
Interviewer of Claremore, Oklahoma Rotary Club members for a Rotary Club Scrapbook; Fall 1968 through the spring of 1971 during the school year I worked 15 hours a week at the Oklahoma State University Athletic Department as the sole office assistant to the OSU Athletic Department Secretary. It was revolting to me the way football players were cow towed and catered to. They were fed steaks nightly donated by OSU football team supporters and that was just the tip of the ice burg. Getting an education never seemed a football player’s priority. It was all about winning a football game, God Help! Eventually I developed a total distaste for organized collegiate sports, especially football. After I had the good fortune to leave Oklahoma, I still find myself appalled at the heartland‘s worship of sports, especially football.
The summers of 1969 and 1970 I worked in the Roger’s County Courthouse. In 1969 I reorganized and moved all the Rogers County Court files. It was amazing what I ran across to read such as my Mom’s first divorce and my great uncle’s murder trial (for which he was acquitted). I finished out the summer of ‘69 working at the court clerk’s counter. One marriage license I remember processing was for a young man of 16 and a woman of 45 both chewing gum, slapping their jaws. It was ugly, but usually the man was 45 and the gal 16, so that was refreshing. It was my favorite “work study” job and I got paid approximately a $1.50 an hour. During the summer of 1970 I was back at the Claremore court house working for the County Extension Office after spending the first half of the summer in Monterrey, Mexico going to school. It was boring, but it was a job.
When I graduated from Oklahoma State in 1971, jobs were fairly hard to come by and I wasn’t keen on teaching after my recent negative practice teaching experiences. I moved to Tulsa and got an apartment with a former college dorm mate. Although I had a driver’s license I didn’t drive or have a car, so any job I had had to be on a bus route. I landed a job through ORU, Oral Roberts University, as a typist processing donations to ORU from around the world in a downtown Tulsa office. Donators were sent gifts such as prayer cloths or some other Biblical type nick knack depending on the amount of money they contributed to ORU. Myself and approximately 25 plus other gals processed the paperwork. I usually got stuck with the hard to read ones from Jamaica but being a fast typist was my gift (up to 100 plus word per minute back then) so I was offered overtime, which I declined because it was on Saturdays. Lunchtime was the highlight of the day because I was standing, looking for a place for lunch and not stuck in an office typing my buns off. There was a Coney island spot with no chairs that worked for me.
Meanwhile I got married and we went back to school in the spring of 1972 to work on our graduate degrees. It was then that I gained a new respect for my old “work study” jobs, because I was no longer eligible. Granted my husband’s family owned a small oil company, but they were tighter than a bark on a tree and we were expected to stand on our own two feet. I got a part-time job in one of the dorm cafeterias while continuing my Spanish studies. It truly stank. We had Moslem men (affectionately called “towel heads”) that didn’t want to eat pork and Hindus that didn‘t want to eat beef. They wanted to know exactly what the meat was we were serving and 9 times out of 10 it was what I deemed “mystery meat”. We had no idea whether it contained pork, beef, chicken or a dead rat.
When summer came in 1972 I got a job working for Oklahoma Natural Gas in the collections department. I was great at all the clerical stuff but calling people and hounding them to pay their bill was not my cup of tea. We were due a raise that fall and I will never forget or forgive President Tricky Dick Nixon for the repeated national wage freeze. How could that crook get away with that?
In January of 1973 my first husband and I moved to San Antonio when Lindy was offered a job as an electrical engineer with the Army Corp of Engineers. Meanwhile I signed on with Kelly Girl as a temporary clerk typist and was placed at Trinity University typing numbers for the Accounting Department. Again I relied on my high school typing classes for employment, not my hard earned college degree. The head accountant loved me because accuracy was my focus. I knew with money that was much more important than typing speed. It was also in San Antonio I finally had to learn to drive myself to work when Lindy attended a week conference in Atlanta. I’d go to work an hour early and leave for home an hour late to miss the worse of the big city traffic. I survived against my will and been driving every since. That fall I found a teaching position in a Catholic Junior High, but we decided San Antonio was too big and dangerous for us two Okies. We moved back to Oklahoma in the May of 1973. That summer I took off and would go to Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee and a donut and look at the newspaper for a job. In August of 1973 I started a 3 year position teaching Spanish I & II, American History, World History and Psychology at Kellyville High School. The school was located on the Creek Nation in Kellyville and the area was deemed underprivileged due to economics. Consequently the government forgave 90% of my college student loan while teaching there. Those were the days of teacher shortages and money was made available for teacher training with added encouragement of 90% loan forgiveness if employed for five years in an economically deprived area. It was almost like getting a free college education after it was all said and done.
After three years of being a jack of all trades in my Kellyville country school we moved to a my first and only new house in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Lindy got a promotion with Oklahoma, Gas and Electric and my sister Angie who lived with us had graduated from high school in May of 1976. The rural new 3 bedroom home on an acre lot cost a bundle, $29,000 about $10,000 more than our first one 3 years before, but it had green carpet which I despised. My furniture was red, so it was like Christmas year around at our house. The good news was I returned to Graduate School to study Spanish at Oklahoma University hoping to eventually teach college. I was sick of teaching high school and dealing with the constant discipline problems was annoying. While attending Grad School I got a graduate assistantship and I taught freshman and sophomore level Spanish courses. It was a challenge, but at least one did not have to constantly tell their students to “pay attention“ or more precisely “sit down and shut up”. Maybe that was because the classes weren’t free and one wasn’t forced to attend, like high school. Despite the rewarding experience of the graduate assistantship and 4.0 in Grad School, I was restless. My marriage wasn’t turning out the way I hoped and I decided I wanted to get out and see the world and live my life outside the rigid confines of Oklahoma.
The summer of 1977 I headed for Niagara Falls, NY to try my luck. When I got there the area was suffering 14% unemployment and I was lucky to get a job even as a waitress at the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant near the Falls. It was a great experience for me as I learned how to uncork a bottle of wine something unheard of in Oklahoma at the time. Oklahoma locals only opened Bud or Coors beer and that was as exotic as it got. Some old folks might of drank Mogen David but that brand only had a screw top to remove not a cork.. The first time I uncorked a bottle of wine, I managed to end up with the cork inside the bottle. Despite my efforts I didn’t get a tip for my deranged service and wine opening fiasco. While there I also had the good fortune to meet Chief Iron Eyes Cody. He cried a tear for pollution in TV commercials back in the seventies. Our photo was taken together and it put in the local Niagara News as the meeting of two different tribe members. After his death in 1999 at 94, I discovered the Chief was of Italian Sicilian heritage. He lived his adult life claiming he was American Indian and supported related causes. Cody and his wife Bertha, who was, in fact, an American Indian, adopted several children, all of Indian descent.
I’d always wanted to live in New York and I had my chance, but I was still married and had unfinished business and possessions in Oklahoma. After a few months in upstate New York, I drove back to tornado alley. During the winter of 1977 to 1978 I tried to follow Jack London’s chosen professions. I desk clerked a few months at the University of Oklahoma hotel in Norman whose clients were almost exclusively visiting professors. Then for a few months into 1978 I help manage a new bookshop in Oklahoma City called Books Limited. It didn‘t last much longer than the time I worked there setting it up. The owner was driving cab in OKC the next time I saw him a year later, but having a bookstore continued to be one of my many working fantasies.
In the heat of summer in August 1978 I stepped on the plane in OKC and headed north to Alaska. Little did I know what lay ahead employment wise but it was never boring. My first job was temporary cashier at the University of Alaska bookstore’s beginning of semester fall rush. The neatest part about the job was running into a former high school classmate, George Baker and his wife a high school friend, now divorced many years later. Next I was hired by the Anchorage School District for a year as a bilingual tutor. It was a low stress job tutoring a variety of ethnic minorities such as Korean, Hispanic, Polish and Alaska Native to name just a few. I covered a multitude of schools from elementary to secondary including McLaughlin Youth Detention Center. Years later one of those students would call me from the local jail for someone to talk to. Those calls stopped once I eventually changed to using my new married name. According to what I found out from one of our local lawyer bookstore customers, it was best that those calls from the troubled young man ceased due to his capacity for being dangerous. In addition to my bilingual work, I also found time and energy to work at night at the local Anchorage Book Cache and additional bilingual tutoring with the older married night students at Save High School and the Career Center.
In the summer of 1979 I returned to Oklahoma to finally get divorced. It was on my way back to Alaska after helping take a group of Alaska high school students to Valencia, Spain for summer studies. That fall I started work again with bilingual education until the first big Anchorage teacher strike. We were told that either we substituted in place of the striking teachers or be fired, so I subbed a week at Lake Otis Elementary, maybe 3rd grade. One of the students had a very difficult time reading. Later I ran into him at Fred Meyers and he told me he had learn to read. Crossing the picket line was difficult coming from a pro union family on my Dad’s side, but newly divorced I needed the job. After the strike I was hired to teach Spanish and French at Bartlett High School which was my least favorite teaching experience. The school was huge, almost as big as my home town, the class period lasted way too long, an hour and a half and only met four times a week, I was teaching a subject I didn’t know, French and there was absolutely no school discipline and it was a transient school for military families. It made my rural Oklahoma country school of Kellyville look oh so civilized. The following summer I taught an American History class to all male group of Army GIs. There were absolutely no discipline problems and it was the last time I taught history. Fall of 1980 I began teaching just Spanish at West High, but I had no sooner started than I was in a serious car wreck on October 4th. I returned to work in December 1980. My last semester to teach was spring 1982. Then I found myself returning to school to study Business Administration with the hope of one day opening a bookstore. Eventually I had my bookstore, but not until I had many other employment opportunities including bookkeeper for Down Home Guitar for six months in 1984 and clerk typist for the Engineering Group that handled the C Street Extension in the mid 1980s. During the winter of 1985 after we started our summer mobile food business the Alaskan Renaissance Café, I started a little at home typing service called Done Right Typing, an obsolete profession. It was for cash only, mostly for college students and I advertised it with posters on local bulletin boards. My favorite client was Mr. Standard Oil, a nickname for a retired single man from Spenard who last lived on Lois drive in a log cabin on an acre lot for the past 50 plus years. He returned to school after retiring, but didn‘t type. My least favorite customer was a man accused of being a pedophile. He needed his plea typed and had I known the charge I would have turned it down. I wouldn‘t let him in the house and when he paid and I our stern part wolf dog Cody accompany me to the door. Our tax preparer was impressed that I had made almost $5,000 that year. Now that I think back, so am I.
These self employment ventures kept me busy until Joe retired in 1987 at age 47 from teaching during the Alaska economic downturn of the mid 1980s. We brought a 1969 travel trailer and took a two month road trip. When we returned in October we started going to the Hess and Son auction for entertainment on Thursday nights (?) in Muldoon.
We drink their free rot gut coffee, listen to their corny jokes such as the “el manuel“ typewriter and bid on boxes of unknown items. Many included books that sold for next to nothing. We’d end up with all sorts of stuff that we’d resale at the Egan and Sullivan Flea Markets and home garage sales. What we didn’t sell we’d give away. The books we thought of value we would store in our travel trailer for our future bookstore. We cruised garage, estate and out of storage sales. One of the first bunch of older books we purchased in an out of storage sale belong to someone named “Eleanor“. She led us to researching and discovering the value of out-of-print books. We became acquainted with Eugene Short who owned the Alaskana Bookshop on Arctic and learned the value of Alaska, Polar and Yukon books and on it went. What started as a dream of a small hip bookshop similar to City Lights in San Francisco selling the latest new small press and avant-garde literature and poetry morphed into one specializing in out-of-print and book search services. We advertised the book searches in the AB Bookman prior to its demise and the Internet revolution. We’d receive a book quote usually on a post card describing the book and asking price and we would contact the customer with the info and our price.
If they were interested the customer would prepay and we would order the book. We found many books and had many happy customers, but there was one search and find that was a true pain in the butt. It was for an older edition of the Koran. The customer was a local Pakistani accountant. He paid and asked for the cheapest shipping, which was book rate and took several weeks. Despite knowing this, he came into the shop repeatedly to see if his Koran had arrived, saying he was sure of being robbed by us. When the book did arrive it was not as described and falling apart, nevertheless there was no way he would let us return it. He was a fanatic about his old Koran.
We opened our small quaint bookstore, The Alaskan Renaissance Bookshop in the heart of Spenard December 13th, 1988 the day before I turned 40. It was the end shop down from the Denali Theater where my Joe and I went on our first date just a few 7 years earlier, across from REI where Jackie’s Restaurant is now located and the current home of the extremely popular Bear Tooth Grill. The bookstore was my lifelong dream that we closed in 1993 when lost our lease. We started paying $315 a month and ended at somewhere around $500 for 550 square feet. The shop morphed into a mobile book and internet business home business from 1993 until 2002. We converted our basement into an open by appointment shop of sorts. We bought a trailer, a big outside pop up tent and Joe made 10 wooden bookcases on wheels that we could wheel in and out of the trailer to events. We sold books at the summer Saturday Market, Fur Rondy and Christmas Shows at the Egan and Sullivan Arenas to name just a few places. We rented stall space in an Antique Craft Malls. Meanwhile our Internet Sales grew and in the end we made much more money doing the sporadic shows than we ever made in my dearly beloved mini bookstore. One day at the Saturday Market was as good as a week or two in the store. However, our biggest revenue was at the store with deep sales cuts the month we closed . We also got our first and only hot check. All in all the shop was a labor of love. The bonus was the numerous memorable book buying trips back East to book barns and auctions and everywhere in between searching for that elusive out of print rare book.
When Joe’s brother passed in 2002, we decided after 14 odd years to mark the occasion with the closing of the book business. Our hands were full with our severely emotionally disturbed adopted son and his predator. Plus the handwriting was on the wall regarding books. The times were a changing with the Internet and so must we. We also had grown tired of chasing books. We went back to sporadic tutoring from 2002 to 2009; first with the Educational Talent Search Program through the university for underprivileged Jr. and Sr. high school students for 3 years. Then three years doing independent tutoring starting briefly with a private tutoring agency. From my youth, I went full circle from wanting to teach the underprivileged to being lucky enough to land a job tutoring anybody, even the affluent. Never expected it. It had to be the Creator’s sense of humor at work, but I survived and actually enjoyed it at times. Now at 62, drawing a piddling bit of social security and a minimal annuity I wonder if my working days are over. Time will only tell if I will one day again need or even be able to rely on one of my former skills of waitress, typist, teacher/tutor, sales clerk… jack of all trades, master of none.

 written March 14, 2011/March 21, 2011/ March 28, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival Memories

In the 1980s my husband Joe and I traveled around Southcentral Alaska selling food at special summer events. We sold deep fried potato skins and Buffalo NY style hot chicken wings among other eatables. Talkeetna venues included the Moose Dropping Festival, Miner’s and Trapper’s Day and the most memorable, the annual Talkeetna Blue Grass Festival. The first year we worked the Talkeenta Blue Grass Festival was in 1984 at Sheep Creek. We served homemade corndogs out of a make-shift booth. We slept in a tent and were kept awake 24/7 by partiers, so we should have learned our lesson. But the money was good and I wanted more of it. The next year, 1985 we invested in a 20’ food trailer.

Our new food trailer, summer 1985

In August, 1985 we took our spiffy new food trailer, the “Alaskan Renaissance Café” up to Dirty Ernie’s and Rosco’s annual Talkeetna 3 day blues and bluegrass festival at Goose Creek. My brother Matt, a recent AA convert, flew up from Illinois that summer to help us. Besides local musicians such as Ken Terry (RIP), Jerry Jeff Walker was the star attraction performing “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” among others favorites.

The “Hell’s Angels” were the “official security“ and ironically some of our best customers. They ordered nachos with as many jalapeños that their money allowed.
Our food trailer was the main source of water for everyone and that was before bottled water. We also were the first aid station providing baking soda to treat an abundance of bee stings. There was a unique axe throwing contest that Joe gave a shot at on his meager mini breaks. We have not seen such a contest since. There also were no health inspectors or state troopers anywhere. I always figured the authorities felt any loss of the 400 or 500 partiers there would be a gain to Alaska. 

The way into the festival site was about a quarter mile on an old tractor trail with enough ruts to crack our waste water pipe. We fixed it temporarily. Then the first day, while Joe added grease to the deep fryer, he discovered he had failed to closed the fryer drains after the last cleaning. The trailer floor flooded in cooking oil. The cleanup was difficult since water was such a premium item. Joe stayed and cleaned while I made a 15 mile trip to Sheep Creek, then Trapper Creek to get enough small bottles of oil to refill the restaurant size fryer. What a way to start. The return home to Anchorage was just as perilous. As Joe pulled the food trailer up the hill into Eagle River he heard the clopping of hooves on the pavement. He glanced in the left truck mirror to observe a moose turn away before going between the truck and trailer.

We made money and earned every cent. The first night a customer offered to trade me some marijuana for food saying I looked like an old “hippy chick“ after mentioning he had just got out of prison. I decided at that point we had to figure out a safe place for our cash proceeds. We stored the money in the freezer department of the propane refrigerator. It worked, but when we got home to Anchorage we had to spread it all over our two story house to dry. That was the last time we ventured to do the Talkeetna Bluegrass Event. The money is long gone, but the memories remain.
The rumor is this year (August 5th-7th) is the grand finale for the annual Talkeetna Music Festival some 25 plus years since we last attended. If that is true, I’m going to miss knowing that it is there to go to, whether I go or not. And if there ever was a tee-shirt for the event I always felt it should simply state, “I survived” the Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival”.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Postcard from the Edge

One of my favorite possessions is a “Giant Post Card“ from Big Bear Lake, California - June 1958. It was sent by my Dad to his mother in law, my maternal grandmother: “Mrs. Robert DeLozier, 1020 Pine Street, Chelsea, Oklahoma“. It cost 3 cents to send and the stamp still sticks. The color postcard photo by George E. Watson states, “This picturesque lake high in the San Bernardino Mountains (El. 6,750) is an ideal vacation spot and a fisherman’s paradise. The lake, eight miles long and in some place places over a mile wide, is plentifully stocked with trout, bluegill and other varieties of fish.” As a long time Alaskan of 33 years this fishing comment is a bit of a joke, but for a person in the lower 48, probably true.

My Dad wrote, “Dear Mother DeLozier, Mary and I have been camping out in the mountains. Mary is on vacation now and she I are planning on going back for the weekend on the 4th. Our address at present is 12624 Willowbrook Ave., Willowbrook, Calif. Bobbie (my Mom) and Mathew (my brother) did not go with us as Ruth (my sister Angie) was teething. Mary passed (3rd grade) and her report had seven superior marks and her teacher said she was an excellent student. Bob Phillips and Mary”.

After completing first and second grades living with my grandparents in Oklahoma my parents popped in one very sad day in 1957 to take me back to their wandering lifestyle in Southern Cali as it is now called. We lived in a multitude of poverty stricken places and I wonder what teacher Dad was referring to in the postcard. School was always my sanctuary. I estimated once that I changed schools 3 to 4 times a year between 3rd and 6th grade from California to Missouri. My parents were true bohemian gypsy wantabes

Now back to the postcard. Is that really my Dad calling my Okie Grandma, “Mother DeLozier“? It sounds so formal and upstate New Yorky. Is it really 53 years since I got my first bad sunburn at Big Bear Lake camping with my Dad? And then goggling the old address of Willowbrook I discover it is as bad as I remember. The area is part of Compton and Watts where the LA race riots started in the mid 1960s and today is frequently in the top 20 highest crime rates in the U.S. It was where someone tried to steal my sister Ruth (Angie) out of her bassinet from an open window when she was an infant. My Aussie/Irish teenage neighbors were greatly impressed recently to actually meet someone who had lived there. They are Gangster/Rap music followers and the area has a plethora of musicians of that persuasion. It is a great place to be from and only 80 miles to go camping at Big Bear.

We did go camping again with the whole crew. I have a copy of a photo of my brother Matt, Ruth Angie and I on an outing, probably Labor Day 1958 at Crestview in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was always great to escape LA to camp out even then.

Mary, Ruth Angela & Matt "Phillips"  on a camping trip in the San Bernadino Mountains, Ca. Sept. 1958

Monday, June 27, 2011

My First Trip to Jail and the Cardboard House

My first trip to jail was with my Dad, Bob when I was about six years old in 1955. My baby brother, Mathew, Mom, Dad and I were living around the Bluewater Lagoon in Parker, Arizona on the Colorado River in a mini travel trailer parked next to a cardboard house. The cardboard house was our den. It was a big room made from disassembled very sturdy packing boxes. There were two or three open air windows and a door way without a door and a flat roof. Inside the structure was a propane stove, old ice box and a few lawn chairs with a army cot bed. The cardboard shack was our entertainment center back before any poor folks owned a TV. It was where I cooked up my first gourmet mustard and onion sandwich at the tender age of six. (No wonder I prefer to eat out to this day over cooking at home.)

Nearby our home, I learned, after trying to smoke with another young juvenile boy, that I didn’t have the stomach to smoke tobacco. The cigarette we smoked no doubt was one I had rolled for my Dad and Mom with their loose leaf tobacco, rolling papers and cigarette roller. Rolling smokes was something for me to do and as a kid and I enjoyed doing it. My child mind at some point decided to actually try smoking. The neighbor boy down the road and I gave it a try. Afterwards I vomited profusely. Dad found out, laughed, figured I learned my lesson and at the age of six I gave up on smoking tobacco.

It was also there I learned about quick sand. I was warned about the potential threat on the river bank. It was also here that I had my first clue that there was a difference in the male and female anatomy. This discovery came while out swimming in the Colorado River at the Blue Lagoon. That same trouble making boy smoker asked me to show him my “hamburger” and in exchange he would show me his “hot dog“. The “show” never took place, thankfully. Later after asking my Dad what the kid was talking about, Dad advised me it would be best for me to avoid that boy at all costs thereafter.

Some way or another about this time we came by a couple of ducks. They each took to nesting under the back wheels of my Dad’s car and one day when he was backing up, he accidentally ran over them both. I was devastated, my Dad felt horrible and it was my first taste of death.

Many evenings as the huge golden desert sun would set in the west, my parents, baby brother and I would take walks on the banks of the Colorado River. On one such walk we met an older, generous kind couple. They must have felt sorry for me, going barefoot in the hot desert sun because the next day they brought me a new pair of shoes, toys and miscellaneous treats! One evening shortly thereafter as we were taking one of our customary walks, my parents strayed ahead of my brother Matt and I. Matt, was learning to crawl, and suddenly he commenced to crawl like a wild hyena right into the Colorado River and commence to try and drink the river dry. Now having this very rare pair of new shoes, I suffered my first dilemma. Should I get my new shoes wet and dirty, or go get my brother and try to save him from choking to death on the river water and join the dead ducks on the other side of the rainbow? Although I saved my brother from the grasp of the water and drowning, there are times I wonder if I made a mistake. (Chuckle)

Speaking of water, our drinking water during this period was pumped and hauled from a small rural public pump near by and of course, we bathed in the Colorado River. (All good practice for my future life in Alaska). We were poorer than dirt and needless to say there were no jobs in the desert vicinity, which didn‘t help financial matters. Dad’s car tires were wearing thin and with our constant coming and going across country, flat wearing out. One day, while out and about getting water, Dad spotted some tires in a field he thought were abandoned, perhaps a gift from Heaven. Actually they were placed there by the Devil, I decided later. The Devil must have wanted my Dad to get arrested for “stealing tires”. The local police picked my Dad and me up shortly after we retrieved the tires from the field. They took us to the local jail and I fought my first police man as he tried to unlock my hands from around my Dad’s neck. It was my intention to stay with Dad at all costs. Someway they managed to unlock my 5 year old grip and my Dad spent the night there in jail. They took me back to stay with my poor Mom and baby brother alone for one very, very long night.

The next day Dad was released from jail but without getting to keep the tires. Then we headed further south down the road with our crappy mini travel trailer and lousy tires to live in El Centro. There I attended kindergarten and Dad would look for some sort of job. Saying goodbye to the cardboard house and the Colorado River was a piece of cake. It would be fifty-five years (March 2010) before I returned to that exact area with my dog Moonshine and husband. Moon would swim where I had as a five year old. The cardboard house was long gone, as well as the empty desert vistas and in its place were oodles of manufactured homes. Oh the changes time does bring.

My Moonshine in the Bluewater Lagoon March 2010

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bedtime Prayers with Dad by My Side

Robert (Bob) Thomas Phillips circa 1940s
During the times I lived with my parents as a small child, my Dad was without a doubt my favorite biological parent. My poor Mom was someone I tolerated, God Bless her and may she rest in peace. The most memorable bedtime ritual for me was Dad having me repeat the Lord’s Prayer after him. This nightly occurrence started when I was about age five. Eventually I memorized it. Sometimes we would say the other simpler and shorter prayer that went: “Now I lay me down to sleep, if I should die before I wake, pray my Lord, my soul to take“. We would end this mini prayer with “God Bless” any and everybody we could think of blessing.
In retrospect I’m surprised my Dad even knew the Lord‘s prayer much less taught it to me, his first born.

My Dad, Robert Thomas Phillips, was the second baby son and final child of older parents. His father, my grandfather, Thomas was born in 1877 and fought in the Spanish American War in the Phillipines. Dad’s Mom, my first name namesake and paternal grandmother, Mary was born in 1890 in upstate NY. Both grandparents were products of the Victorian Age. Dad was two years younger than his older brother, Howard, a lifelong bachelor and small time mystery writer.

Dad was born September 2, 1922 in East Syracuse, NY. Bob, as Dad was commonly called was raised as a non practicing Catholic and most of his life was actually a wantabe pagan. However from time to time Dad would practice religion to the point of even becoming a licensed minister in the late 1980s in Carbondale, Illinois. This I know to be true as I have a photo of Dad performing a wedding there outdoors. What church licensed Dad, God only knows.

Although Dad was born on Labor Day, he really wasn’t into working. Dad became well educated and respected education to no end, always encouraging me to obtain a college degree no matter what, but my Dad was lazy and messy. He was the baby of his family what can I say? The second child of much wanted children and spoiled. 

After high school Dad went to Wilson’s Teacher’s college in Washington D.C. but dropped out and began his working career as a small time baseball player. He played in Georgia while trying his hand at acting. He got married but his first wife was killed shortly after in a car wreck in Chicago. He eventually joined the army in WWII where he served briefly as a cook. Dad and Mom met after WWII by both writing and exchanging letters to the “Lonely Hearts Club Magazine“. They dazzled one another with fabricated stories on how wealthy they each were.  Mom said she was an aspiring actress living temporarily in Oklahoma and Dad a rancher from Wyoming living temporarily with his parents in upstate New York. Once they married in January 1948, after honeymooning in Niagara Falls, Dad had a heart shape tattoo on his right arm stating “Bob loves Bobbie“. Dad eventually graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1971 with a degree in Social Work. It so happened to be the same year I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in secondary education.

Dad tried his hand at many professions like myself. My all time favorite as a kid was when he drove a Good Humor Ice Cream Truck in Southern Cali. When I was a toddler Dad worked in the Chicago steel mills until Mom and he decided they would be better off in California mainly because it wasn‘t near as cold. In LA Dad worked briefly as a welder. Eventually my folks became dependant on the government for supporting their growing family of five. It all began during President Johnson‘s War on Poverty. So to say my Dad knew the social work and welfare system from the inside out is an understatement, and for him to obtain a degree in it, only seemed fitting. After Dad finished this degree in 1971 he got a job driving cab in Carbondale, something he was doing in the 1940s in Chicago when I was born. He always said driving cab was his primary profession.

Dad was a Liberal with a capital L, even to the point of being accused of being a Communist during the 1950 McCarthy era. When I was five years old in Southern California, before Dad took me back to my grandparents in Oklahoma to live, that there were two grim looking men in black suites that came to our door asking to speak to Mr. Phillips. Although not quite 5, I knew it wasn‘t a good will visit. Fortunately Mom was there and began hollering for Dad and carrying on so much that I think the FBI ended up feeling sorry for him and let the whole thing go. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Dad would probably more accurately be described as a socialist, being for the underdog and the oppressed working class. However in 1973, Dad made a historic statement by painting his car with anti-Nixon statements and driving it from Carbondale, Illinois to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a very conservative area. My folks were there to visit my first husband, me and my Grandfather Robert. There is a photo postcard my brother, Matt, made of my Dad’s special Impeach Nixon car while in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. It happens to have my Okie maternal Grandfather Robert looking on with disgust and disbelief.

Now if there were ever two people diametrically opposite it was definitely my Dad and my maternal grandfather Robert Hillary DeLozier.  At my first wedding September 4th, 1971 Grandpa Robert was the one who “gave me away“.  Dad arrived late at the First Christian Church. He said he got lost. I don’t think so. He’d been a cab driver in Chicago and been to the small town of Chelsea, Oklahoma many, many times. I think Dad was hurt and maybe embarrassed because I hadn’t asked him to do the “giving away” bit.  I hope he  understood that since I’d lived with Grandpa, his father in law all through high school and before, spending college summers working while living with Grandpa, as well as other vacations, it seemed like Grandpa was the right person to ask. Plus I married into a big time Republican Oklahoma Oil family and of course Dad did not approve.  In the end the marriage only laste 7 years.  It was a bad fit for me from the beginning and of course an even bigger disappointment for my liberal Dad who conveniently couldn't find the church on time that wedding day.

Robert (Bob) Thomas Phillips circa 1990s

Dad passed April 18, 1999 in Carbondale, Illinois 14 months after Mom's passing.  He died in the VA hospital. Although we didn't always see eye to eye, I sure miss talking with him and repeating those nightly prayers together.

Mary Alta Buckingham - Memoir  of my Dad 2/25/2008, revised 6/6/2012 for Father's Day 6/10/2012

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” and My Grandpa Robert

The most influential person in my life and still is to some degree was my maternal grandfather, Robert Hillary DeLozier of predominantly French American descent. Grandpa was born June 15, 1902 in Chelsea, Oklahoma and died there leap year February 24, 1988. My Grandpa was the antithesis of my Dad, his son in law, Bob Phillips. Both people very dear to me, but as opposite as night and day. Grandpa Robert loved to work, was not well educated, only completed the second grade, but encouraged me to excel in school and provided me the opportunity to do so. He was clean and tidy to a fault and although never rich, very thrifty. His favorite sayings included “a place for everything, and everything in its place”. I learned early on these wise adages do simplify and enrich life without a doubt.
Robert DeLozier circa 1940s

Upon rising in the morning the first thing my Grandfather expected any household member or guest to do was wash their face, brush their teeth, comb their hair and dress. Absolutely under no circumstances was one allowed into the kitchen or to be seen by others until these items were completed. To this day I still consider this to be the mark of civilized mankind and am appalled at those who do not live by the same code.

Now I would never say my Grandpa Robert was a saint, for he loved to smoke his cigars or a pipe, and he’d have a nip or two or three of whiskey every Saturday night. The whiskey was suppose to be hidden in his bathroom clothes closet. On Saturday nights while watching Lawrence Welk or the Tulsa wrestling matches on TV, Grandpa made several trips to the bathroom and yes he always came out smiling.

When my Grandmother Alta died suddenly of a stroke at 60 and I was 15, Grandpa rose to the occasion and became a surrogate Mom for me until I graduated high school. He fortunately had raised three daughters, so he had experience with girls. Thankfully, I always felt completely at home and at ease with my Grandpa. For example, his tactful way of trying to find out if I was in need of monthly sanitary pads was to ask me before he went to the general store if I had “come sick”.

As far as being a good provider, Grandpa Robert was top of the line. With Grandma gone I became the yearly organizer of Grandpa’s dump truck business tax figures for the local income tax man, Fraley Insurance.  Grandpa and I also changed churches. We began attending the First Christian, leaving the Church of Christ behind. Once again we heard gospel music with supporting musical instruments.  Each Sunday after church, Grandpa bought a Tulsa Daily World and I would read him the parts I thought important. Grandpa didn’t really read with only a 2nd grade education and he could only write a bit. Numbers were his forte and he lived to the tune of “waste not, want not”.

Robert DeLozier with his dump truck nearby, circa 1967
One of the best things about Grandpa Robert was his great sense of humor. He had all kinds of nick names for me as well as others. My names included Rat-Hole and Whistle-britches. For people he thought weren’t doing what they should, he referred to them as “sorry wads“.

Now my Mom his middle daughter, Bobbie Jean’s lifestyle did aggravate him to no end. The main source of this aggravation, was my folks lack of responsibility in producing kids and their lack of tidiness. He thought three kids was the max and less was more. I remember Grandpa, asking Mom, “why do you keep having more kids, Bobbie, when you aren’t taking care of what you got”? He would go on admonishing her to “get in there and do what needs to be done”, referring to cleaning and cooking. He would remind my Mom that she had not been raised that way, she knew how to do and she just needed to do it. Unfortunately Grandpa was whistling in the wind, trying to talk sense to Mom or Dad. They were free spirits with no common sense or any desire for any. Grandpa and I got to keep it all. And when they would visit, usually unannounced, Grandpa would say upon their departure, “I hate to see them come and I hate to see them go”.

Another endearing quality of Grandpa’s was his thoughtfulness. After I left home, he always remembered my birthday with a birthday card. When I moved to Alaska in 1978 he would continue to send me one yearly and include a silver dollar in it. I still have the birthday cards as well as the silver dollars. Fortunately, I haven’t yet had the need to spend them.

Grandpa Robert was an Oklahoma cowboy and only wore only cowboy boots, owned no shoes except house shoes, loved horses, animals and country music. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys were his favorite musicians. As a young man he called square dances, was involved in rodeos, kept riding horses next to the house until I was in high school. Then the horse property became a trailer rental spot, next to which we always had a huge vegetable garden even after my Grandma passed on. The first year after Grandma Alta passed, I sold the veggies by the bushel for peanuts. We had more than we could process without her.
Grandpa Robert and me, Mary Alta circa 1949
Grandpa Robert was never happier than after a hard day‘s work hauling gravel in his dump truck for Rogers county. That is with the possible exception of doing the laundry or washing dishes. I do believe his first love was scalding the dishes after washing them. He couldn’t sit down after dinner, which he usually cooked until things were cleaned and ready for the next meal.

In his younger days Grandpa wanted to be a horse jockey, but his Mom, Addie Mae Wilson DeLozier nixed that idea saying it was too dangerous. So he went into hauling, hay or whatever needed hauled with horse and mule teams including pulling oil rigs, and moving people from east to west and north to south in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Texas but no further. My Granddad did not have much of a wander lust. Grandma once wanted to go North to Montana for a change, but he knew his place, and that was his home in Chelsea, Oklahoma. He was happy with Chelsea and I was truly blessed to share that special time and place with him.
March 3, 2008/revised September 27, 2010; June 16th, 2012

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Red Billfold and Its Contents

Subtitle: Life with My Maternal Grandmother, Alta Mae Wilson DeLozier

Grandma Alta & Grandpa Robert circa 1962
To say my Grandmother Alta was like a Mother to me is an understatement. Grandma Alta, an enrolled Cherokee Indian from the Deer Clan on the Dawes Rolls, born January 14th, 1904 in Rogers County, Cherokee Nation West in Chelsea, Oklahoma. She died May 16, 1964, a mere sixty years later in the same town from complications due to a stroke. The stroke occurred the night of my (Mary Alta Phillips Buckingham) 9th grade junior high school graduation 3 days earlier. Something just didn’t feel right to me the evening after the graduation ceremony. There was a party to celebrate and I ended up going home early. My grandparents and I had cheese, crackers and green apple slices with hot tea in the kitchen. Afterwards we went to bed and a few hours later Grandma was taken away in an ambulance. She'd had recurrent headaches for days. She was to go the doctor the following Monday but instead she died 3 days later in St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa that May. Had she lived, she would have been completely paralyzed on one side of her body.

This all happened during my third extended stay living with Grandma Alta and Grandpa Robert. I arrived 9 months earlier by Greyhound bus after being released from 2 years of foster care in Los Angeles. Following Grandma Alta’s death, I continued to stay on with my Grandfather to complete high school and eventually study at Oklahoma State University with the financial assistance of National Defense Student Loan program, scholarships, and lots of part-time and summer jobs.

Now back to Grandma Alta. The first time I lived with my Grandparents I was a 2 or 3 month old baby. A neighbor in Chicago phoned my Grandmother Alta and said I needed care. My Grandmother who did not drive, took a train alone to Chicago from Chelsea, Oklahoma in the middle of winter. She brought me back home to Chelsea to live my first three years and it has been my home many times since. My mother was suffering from severe depression and was highly dysfunctional. Mom lost her first child to sudden infant death syndrome a couple of years earlier. After that loss Mom never had a baby without relapsing into overwhelming schizophrenic postpartum  depression complete with hospitalization. However, that did not slow my Mom and Dad from continuing to breed child after child much to my Grandparents dismay. Consequently I believe that one should be licensed to breed.

After my brother Matt was born in 1955 when I was 6 , Dad drove me from El Centro, California to live with Grandma Alta and Grandfather for the second time. This was during my first and second grade. I never bonded with my Mother and we were having a very difficult time then. I have the best of memories living with Grandma Alta upon my return to Chelsea . We would sit at the dining room table for hours on end cutting out paper dolls and having them play all sorts of different roles. She taught me to play checkers and Chinese checkers with marbles, my favorite. She introduced me to sewing and we even made rag dolls with button eyes. Though I’ve had my fair share of friends, Grandma Alta was my first and my very best one.

Alta was the third child of six children, 3 boys and 3 girls and grew up on a farm outside Chelsea. For a time she was the last family member allowed enrollment in the Cherokee nation. Her 3 younger siblings were known as “too lates” or “new horns” in regard to enrollment, because they were born after March 4, 1906. (In 1912 this law was reversed by the US Supreme Court and the “too lates” were allowed full enrollment.) Grandma Alta was also of Irish and English descent. She was slim built, about 5’3” and always hoped to gain weight to the point of having weight gain supplements in the frig. The most she ever weigh was 135 pounds. All her family tended to be thin and that was when thin wasn’t in. Unfortunately I did not inherit that problem.

Grandma Alta had black hair and the first year after she passed, when I was in 10th grade I dyed my hair black. However, she avoided the sun at all cost, wanting a pale complexion, in spite of the fact she had relatively olive color skin. She said, she did not want to look like she worked in the fields for a living. I, being a child of the sixties, wanted to look like a sun baked twiggy and would sun bathe in the yard for hours on end and refuse to eat anything but watermelon or apples. This sun bathing habit would pain Grandma to no end. She would tell me repeatedly that I was going to ruin my skin. Like all teenagers, I refused to listen and have sun spots today to prove it, despite living half my life in Alaska. However, I did hear the story that she and her sisters had once tried to bleach their skin to look whiter. Seems we all want what we don‘t have, be it skin, hair or fat.

Robert & Alta DeLozier circa 1939
Grandma Alta was known for her lemon meringue pie throughout NE Oklahoma’s Rogers County. There was nothing like it before or since. The legend was that once in the 1930s Pretty Boy Floyd, a gangster of that era, was passing through Chelsea and came on a pie supper auction at a social function in nearby Bushyhead. He is said to have paid $25 for one of Grandma Alta’s lemon meringue pies. My grandfather Robert preferred her vinegar pie to the lemon, something I never understood. I’m quite sure Pretty Boy Floyd would have never given an Indian nickel for a vinegar pie, but then maybe he would as the money he was spending wasn’t his, but stolen from who remembers what.

During the 1950s Grandma Alta, Grandpa Robert and I attended Black gospel spiritual music concerts in the summer in Chelsea’s Black part of town, a couple of blocks from where we lived. One summer night in 1956 my Grandparents and I went to one such event in what was then known as “Colored Town” and I had the time of my young life. Till this day I can still hear those gospel spirituals being sung such as We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, Shall We Gather at the River?

In those days the rural town of Chelsea, Oklahoma had a population 2,000 and sported a small movie theater on Main Street, the business district. Grandma Alta and I went to movies there on a regular basis. Movies I remember seeing with Grandma in particular were those staring Elvis Presley, her favorite star who happened to also be part Cherokee. It must have cost no more than 25 to 35 cents each to see and hear Elvis, the pelvis, (as he was fondly nicknamed by those of that generation) perform his tunes that included You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog and Love Me Tender. The expense was worth every cent. Grandpa stayed at home and waited for it to play on TV. Grandma probably would have liked Grandpa to go too, just like she at one time wanted to move to Montana. She talked to Grandpa about giving Montana a try, but that was the one thing my Grandparents differed on and that was living anywhere else or traveling. Grandpa Robert was a stay at home man and Grandma Alta had a bit of wander lust in her. She did travel throughout the Southwest and into the upper Midwest but not with Grandpa, but her daughters.

Grandma Alta went to the one room elementary school house called Sunnyside. The land had been donated by her Dad, my Great Grandfather Claude Wilson. She went on to complete 10th grade and was the brains of the family, since Grandpa Robert only got to go to school through 3rd grade. She did all his truck hauling bookkeeping and when she passed I stepped in to do it.

Grandma was fun to be with, whether attending the Church or Christ, a family picnic, playing paper dolls at the dining room table or having a beer out on the tree swing in summer. She crocheted, cooked southern soul food, including fried okra and squaw bread out of fried cornmeal and onions. One of the last things I learned from my Grandmother Alta was how to can fruits and vegetables. It was my first and only canning experience in the fall of 1963. However, she was a worrier and she did worry about my Mom, Bobbie Jean and her endless herd of kids. This worry probably contributed to the stroke.

When Grandma’s youngest daughter, my Aunt Bootsie passed in 1993, my cousin Judy, her daughter inherited much of what was left behind. What she didn’t want she passed on to my sister, Angie. One of those items my sister Angie sent on to me. It was my Grandmother Alta’s red billfold (sent June 1995) 31 years after Grandma’s passing. My sister was so young when Grandma passed Angie felt she hardly knew her and wanted me to have it. Today 46 (2010) years later this is what I found inside in the billfold:

- pictures of her 2 grandkids that lived near by, Judy and Junior, Aunt Bootsie‘s kids;
- her social security card although she only worked at home;
- 3 Vaccine Immunization Record Forms for Sabin Oral Polio vaccine, two dated 1/20/1963 & one 4/28/1963
- Grandma’s Voter’s Identification Card, Political Party: Dem. dating from Nov. 1959;
- 23 Chelsea First National Bank deposit slips from March 27, 1958 to December 1962 with deposits in amounts of $10 to $60, and one big $3,583 deposit, probably from the estate property sale of Grandpa Wilson‘s home. Most of the deposits appear to be from her father Claude Wilson that lived with them prior to my arrival and his death December 18, 1962 at 90.
- “Female” help wanted ads from the Tulsa Tribune in April 1964 requesting “Lady to work in hamburger stand”. I wonder if she was looking for a job for me who turned 15?
- a slip of paper which had written “3rd Chapter, 11 Timothy, 13th verse: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, Avoid such men as these“.
- Last, but not least was her appointment note to see Dr. Day at the Springer Clinic in Tulsa at 2 p.m. Monday, May 16th,, 1964, the day she died.

Afterthought: While I have many photos of my Grandmother, I have none with just her in it. Most are with my Grandfather Robert, one of their three daughters or other family members. I do have one special one of Grandma and Grandpa (taken circa 1962) in a gold frame sent to me by sister Angie, Christmas of 1994. Angie said in an attached note, “I hope you like this gold wood frame. I chose it because in a sense they (my Grandparents) were your pot of gold as a child.”

May Alta Mae rest in peace next to my Grandpa Robert high on the hill at Chelsea‘s Dawes Cemetery in Rogers County Oklahoma.