30 March 2011

To Sherry


“Friends are the family we choose.” –Edna Buchanan

The melody is easy. The hard part
Is finding harmony along the line
And making every part sound true and fine
And pulling them together—there’s an art.
I see you in that Blanco Canyon sun
And hear you tuning up to sing again—
It’s time to get to work, to pick and grin,
And sing and play until the fire is done.
The sun rose there like liquid silver shimmer,
We heard the bell ring out its one-note tune.
All day and evening, singing with the moon,
And deep cool sleep until the next dawn’s glimmer.
The melody is easy, we agree,
But only you could do the harmony.

Desert silv’ry blue beneath the pale starlight,
Baby owlet singing as dawn shines above.
‘Twas on a summer evening we walked the forest through.
And who can separate from dear friends without a single tear?

You led because you loved it all so dearly,
And that made other people stop and care.
There was no challenge that you failed to dare,
There was no song you couldn’t sing so clearly.
We faced the storms and wind and sudden showers,
And laughed about it when it all was done.
I really don’t believe your race has run.
I’ll always think of you when first spring flowers.
But the way you harmonized still gives me awe.
It’s a gift that very few now have or know.
To make the high part work by singing low?
You were the best at it I ever saw.
You made me sound good on the melody
Because only you could do the harmony.

Music alone shall live, never to die.
Show to us beauty, vision and joy.
You can hear the whistle blow five hundred miles.
For the river calls, and the roads call, and, oh, the call of the birds.

The fiddle sounds wrong with no soft guitar.
No one tells the stories like you do,
And friends like you will always be too few
And now the distance is so very far.
I was on an icy bridge—it made me shiver—
Trying to make sense of your light leaving,
Watching cranes rise, choking up with grieving,
And heard “Peace, I ask of thee, o river”
As clearly as if you were there and singing,
Reminding me that we honor you by living.
I’ll light a candle in the early evening
And in the morning I’ll be out and giving.
It’s the way you lived, and I think that all agree
That you made everyone sing in harmony.

Dona nobis pacem, our dear friend.
This time, you take the high notes—we’ll chime in.

From Sontsi
March 2011

21 March 2011

Family recipe Monday: boarding house specials

Women's History Month challenge for March 16 — If you could have lunch with any female family member (living or dead) or any famous female who would it be and why? Where would you go? What would you eat?
March 19 — Have you discovered a surprising fact about one of your female ancestors? What was it and how did you learn it? How did you feel when you found out?
March 20 — Is there a female ancestor who is your brick wall? Why? List possible sources for finding more information.
March 21 — Describe a tender moment one of your female ancestors shared with you or another family member.
(I'll get to March 17 and 18 later. These all fit together nicely.)

Victory Cemetery, Altus, Oklahoma

We're obviously, er, a bit behind on the Women's History Month Challenge and Family Recipe Monday posts, this being March 21, but this gives me a chance to catch up a bit. It's been an intense couple of weeks, both at work and on the international scene, and sometimes the gears don't shift into writing mode easily at the end of the day. Not when they've been in git-er-done and set-your-phaser-to-stun modes all day.

But spring is here. That does not necessarily mean that the blizzards are over and gone up here, but it does mean that the sun is moving back up the sky. On Friday, we leave for the annual Craniac trip to Nebraska. Much MUCH needed, I can assure you. Keep watching this space--or the skies, if you are lucky enought to live along the sandhill crane flyways.

In the meantime, howzabout that lunch with one of the older girls? That's easy. I'd like to go to my great-grandmother Mossie's boarding house in Altus, Oklahoma, and help her cook and serve, then do the clean-up for her while she told me what her recipes were and whence she got them. I don't have that information, since she wrote very little down, and I'd like to know what went into her decision to move back to Oklahoma after her husband's death and open this enterprise. I've hit that brick wall on the details. I want to know the whole story now, and we just don't have that.

Mossie's surprising story is that she homesteaded on her own in Oklahoma as a young single woman, giving up her claim only to marry the cute homesteader next door, Newt Brooks. She could do everything a man could do during the day, from building houses to raising crops, and after hours could do everything a woman was expected to do on top of that. She was a gifted seamstress, needleworker and cook, all with no electricity. I am awed and wonder just what it is I do during the day in comparison to her work day.

So no restaurant for us, thanks. We'll eat in at Widow Brooks's boarding house. I think I'll probably ask for chicken and dumplings, and watch exactly how she makes it. If Mossie was anything like her daughter Vada, she will most likely have a spectacular dessert hidden and ready to serve (but only after saying that she didn't have much in the house, but that we were welcome to share in what little there was. Yeah, right. That boarding house table would have been groaning under the weight of all that "little" food.).

If I could request dessert, I'd want to try her Gold Cake to see how that was made. Here is all that is written down about it. I think I can figure it out, but I'd like to know how she made it.

Gran Brooks’s gold cake

1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups butter
1 cup sweet milk
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup jam (any kind)
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
3 cups flour
6 egg yolks
--Mary Marcella Walker Brooks

We might not get a choice, you understand. We might have to settle for the peach cobbler she had made. I think I could manage that.

Then, for the clean-up, I'd be able to see what her homemade soap was like. This is one of the few things that she did write down. The writing is too faint to scan well.


Cold soap: 1 can of lye, ½ gallon clear grease, ½ gallon water. Put lye and water into vessel and let cool. (The lye makes it hot) and dissolve. Then add the melted grease just barely warm and stir until thick.

Cooked soap: 1 gallon water, 1 can lye, 5 lb. grease cracklins (an 8 lb. lard bucket is about 5 lb.). Put ½ gallon water and cracklins and lye in pot and cook until cracklins are eaten up then remove from fire and add the other half gal. of water and stir until thick.
--Mary Marcella Walker Brooks

The girls on that side of the family all tend to be strong (that's the diplomatic word), but Mossie's granddaughter Shirley will always be my rock. And they all show tenderness through feeding people. Except for Shirley, who's sweetness itself, they may have been a bit gruff or snappish at times, but the Johnson-Brooks-Walker-Honnoll women never let anyone go hungry. Ever. That's where the tenderness shows.

It's not food. It's edible love. Go have some, and happy Monday.

20 March 2011

Nice surprises

"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."--John Muir

Threads and Traces got a nice boost yesterday from Alanna Fant at Confessions of a Gene-a-holic.  It came at the end of a long week that did its best to discourage me from all sides, and was a much-needed lift. Thank you. Here's what she said: "I have enjoyed reading your blog and would like to award you with the 'One Lovely Blog' award."

Wow. Somehow I'm always startled to realize that this is not just a one-way rambling effort, but an infinitely interactive network. I'm even more startled that the ramblings resonate with anyone. I've been smiling all day. And it's spring, the sun is out, and next week we make our annual pilgrimage to Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes.

Part of the deal is that I get to pass this on to 15 bloggers who have had the same kind of lovely effect on me. Here's to you all: artists in so many ways. Pass it on in turn.

Elizabeth Merritt:  Badgerosity
Barbara Brackman’s Material Culture
Suzi Parron: Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail
Far Side of Fifty: Forgotten Old Photos
Shay Little Grey Bungalow
Edie McGinnis: Pickledish
Sandy Gervais: Pieces from My Heart
Georgina Ferry: Dodology
Ami Simms Through the Eyes of a Quilter
John Maloof Vivian Meier—Her Undiscovered Work
Teri: Texas History and Genealogy Blog
Miriam Robbins Midkiff AnceStories: The Stories of my Ancestors
Elizabeth Avedon Elizabeth Avedon
Kyra Hicks: Black Threads
Julie Blue: Dancer Diaries

Have one lovely day, and pass it on.

15 March 2011


Women's History Month challenges to date:

March 13 — Moment of Strength: share a story where a female ancestor showed courage or strength in a difficult situation.
March 14 — Newsmakers? Did you have a female ancestor who made the news? Why? Was she famous or notorious? Did she appear in the social column?
March 15 — Write a six-word memoir tribute to one of your female ancestors

Watch me do all three.

The Campo Cemetery in Santa Bárbara d'Oeste, in the State of  São Paulo, Brasil.

The women in the Brooks line of my mother's family are notorious famous for having steel spines, great coping skills and the genteel tact and diplomacy of a wounded mother bear. Their history is nothing but courage and strength. I have yet to find a branch of the family that wasn't devastated by war. One of Nancy Honnoll's siblings died at Richmond. They were all too familiar with childhood and childbirth mortality, failed crops, killer storms, and epidemics that laid whole families low.

For the next few years, the United States will be in the midst of the 150th anniversary of its Civil War. I was not planning to focus on that until yesterday, when I stumbled into the saga of the Confederados and discovered that my father's side of the family had a story to tell that neither Ralph nor I had ever heard before.

The monument pictured above marks the American cemetery in Santa Bárbara d'Oeste, a city in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, where Confederate soldiers and their families moved en masse in the 1860s. They were broken and angry, facing a ruined land and a bitter Reconstruction, and so they left. One group left central Texas in 1867, a group full of Keeses and Hardemans and Seawrights and others, leaving South Carolina and Georgia and Tennessee behind for good. They had first moved to Texas because it was not blighted by battles, but the anger and grief were still too much, and so they set off for a new life with no reminders of the old one.

Nancy Caroline Keese was the daughter of George Washington Keese. She, her husband Thomas Lafayette Keese, her husband Peter Hardeman, and their familes were part of this exodus. They were children of George's first wife, Helen Clarissa, who died in 1848. George remarried Harriet Adeline Perkins (born in Vermont) two years later and started a new family, including my great-grandfather, George Washington Keese Jr.

Loss of a parent, a new Yankee-born stepmother and stepsiblings, the horrors of the Civil War...apparently Thomas Lafayette and Nancy Caroline had enough. Their trip to Brasil was one-way. Their descendants became part of Brazil and only rarely returned. Today there is an annual celebration of the Confederados, including replica Confederate uniforms (splendid dress uniforms at that), American Southern cooking and Civil War songs in Portuguese. The Confederate flag is displayed everywhere, with little or none of the negative significance it has here. There are still Keeses and Hardemans in Brazil. There is still a town called Americana.

The cemetery was set up to serve as the resting place of the overwhelmingly Protestant Confederado community, who could not be buried on Catholic grounds.Thomas, his son Thomas Alonzo Keese, and Lt. Hardeman's names are on the monument, along with dozens of family members.

Nancy's is not. I've identified a dozen of our relatives on this monument, and hers is the most striking absence. Is she there and just overlooked by the chronicler? Is she in an unmarked grave? It's certain that she did not return to the United States.

How did she find the strength to leave her country for an unknown place a hemisphere away? How did she cope with children fluent in a new language? Did she leave the little expatriate community at any time? No matter what one's feelings are on the American Civil War (and they are still deep feelings), emigration as an adult is bitterly difficult.

She was famous in a way--many families were torn apart by the emigration, and many of the emigres are today the only stories still told from that generation. In my father's family, though, it was as if they had never existed by the time Ralph was old enough to hear family stories. This was never mentioned in any way whatsoever. He has cousins in Brazil, which for us is about as exotic and unbelievable as can be imagined. His great-grandfather had older half-siblings who left the country forever.

Today Ralph and I are tracking our family's role in this story. It's a father-daughter effort, and it's addictive stuff. But we don't forget that every record was a living, complex person.

Six words for Nancy Caroline Keese Hardeman: Determined. Griefstricken. Hopeful. Lost. Found. Enigmatic.

12 March 2011


Women's History Month challenge for March 12 — Working girl: Did your mother or grandmother work outside the home? What did she do? Describe her occupation.

Schoolhouse and church, South Dakota

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the girls in my family tend to teach, not preach. Give us a subject and students, and we're off. If we're learning along with the students, so much the better. If the students know more than we do, we'll happily switch places. There's such an infinity of learning out there. We'll be signing up for classes, giving and receiving, in the nursing home, whether they like it or not.

I'm writing this at a time when teachers are underpaid, overworked and under attack. They've never been paid enough, but at one time they were at least highly respected for the unbelievable work they do.

None of my grandparents had the opportunity to go to college. All of their children did. It was a major way for our grandparents to prove to themselves and to the world that the Depression was over and that they could put their children as far ahead in life as possible. When Shirley was a little girl and showing signs of significant smarts, her grandmother could not imagine anything more wonderful than for Shirley to grow up and become a teacher. It was one of the most honored positions in the country towns and settlements of their experience, and one of the few that was considered to be appropriate for a woman at that time.

Shirley al fresco

Shirley did in fact become a middle school English teacher, after earning a journalism degree, raising four children with Ralph and taking care of everyone around her--parents, animals (both domestic and wildlife rehab), gardens....she is a born caretaker and turned out to be a born teacher for a challenging age group. As a teacher, Shirley was a winner. She only left when teaching to the test became more important than teaching the subject. But I'll stay off that soapbox for now.

Women have been teaching the pre-college crowd for a very long time. I still see one-room schoolhouses up here on the prairies and wonder what it was like for the teacher who had to handle everything. In my lifetime, women have become the majority of students in colleges and are gaining parity at the faculty level.

But the other winner has to be our cousin Marsha Johnson, who took her high school science classes into the wild blue yonder to do science. We were so thrilled for and proud of her. Who in the 1950s could have imagined what science education would be when the country first put an emphasis on it?

Cousin Marsha and her class in the NASA sub-gravity parabolic flight.

Can you imagine what these high school students thought about their teacher Mrs. Johnson, who literally took them into the air?

Teachers hold our society together. Please don't ever forget that. More than anyone else, they reach out and touch the future.

11 March 2011

Clorinda, Mary and Myra

Robert Betts, Shirley and Mack in the Johnson family cemetery, Arkansas, 1985.

Women's History Month challenge for March 11 — Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how did this affect the family?

I'm doing the family genealogy project right now and wondering why 85 seems to be our number. So many of our family members make it to 85, but then seem to decide that it's time to see what happens next. We're not original, but we seem to be consistent.

But genealogy is a gaunt framework of dates and places. There are few stories, and you have to dig for those. I'm sure that my friend Bill, a professional genealogist, is laughing at my amateur discoveries as this saga progresses. (I nearly quit last week when I found out about Gene's Deppe relatives who, as first cousins, married each other and had many children--and they were both Deppes. Double Deppes. At that point the family tree goes into a whirling spiral, as does my concentration.)

So here's a story drawn from names and dates that I don't really know. Maybe we can find out more.

My great-grandfather, Dr. John Johnson, married Mary Elizabeth Helms in Arkansas in 1872. They raised a large family, including their oldest daughter, Clorinda, born in 1873 and named for her grandmother Clorinda Fowler Johnson. Mary died in March 1888. Dr. Johnson remarried in November 1888, to Elmyra Elizabeth Wacaster, who was just a year older than Clorinda.

Clorinda grew up and married James Wacaster, Myra's brother, in June of 1892. She died in November 1892, tragically young.

Myra had 6 children, 5 of whom lived to 85 or longer, including my grandfather. Shirley cannot remember any daughter from Dr. Johnson's first marriage ever being mentioned. But the two families were obviously inextricably entwined.

Interestingly, Myra is buried with her original family. Mary is buried with the Johnsons.

So what happened to the younger Clorinda? How did she feel when her widowed father remarried so quickly to a girl her own age? Why did she marry her stepmother's brother? And why did she die so young? And why was she forgotten? She is not a direct ancestor, but her story is haunting me.

I need a lot longer than 85 years to get all these stories hunted down.

10 March 2011

Faith and funeral pie

Women's History Month challenge for March 10 — What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

Historic St. Thomas Chapel, Dover, Delaware

Gene and I both have pictures of our respective parents' marriages in Methodist churches: his in Pennsylvania, mine in Texas. My maternal grandparents were rooted deeply in the life and activities of First Methodist. Everyone they knew was Methodist. My father may have raised a few eyebrows, being raised exotically Presbyterian and asking for forgiveness of debts instead of trespasses.

When I worked in western North Carolina, I heard a local historian and folklorist explain that, in the high Appalachians, the settlement or town generally tended to be all of one faith, depending on which flavor of clergyman first made his way into the deep woods and high altitudes. There was most likely not going to be more than one church built, so everyone lined up behind the banner of the belief that got there first. They were generally solid Protestant churches, nothing fancy or extreme, just places to pull the community together for two things we have nearly lost today: fellowship and mutual help.

For our grandparents, the term "community of faith" was absolutely literal. Their church was who they were. They came from a time when Sundays were all-day events, with Sunday school, services, a quick break for dinner (not lunch), and then singing with supper on the grounds afterward. As they moved to town and the churches grew bigger and grander, they clung to this pattern. The men went to men's Sunday school classes, the women to ladies' classes, and everyone participated in a few social and service circles during the week.

Both my grandmothers defined themselves by their churches and their participation. There were awards for perfect attendance, longest attendance, and greatest service. No life event happened without the church ladies being there with food and helping hands. Our older girls were and are teachers, not preachers, in their faiths. They led by example and service.

When I came across this recipe in Dolly's files, I was startled and initially appalled. Then I did what I should have done in the first place and read up on it. It's actually a lovely thing. Raisins were scarce, a real luxury food at one time. You didn't ever waste them. To have a whole pie filled with raisins was actually a loving and generous gift to a bereaved family. It celebrated the life of someone special and dear. Everyone brought enough food to get the family through a few weeks' worth of sad arrangements and adjustments. It was a promise from the community of faith that life would go on. You took this over, still warm, and helped out, knowing that someday you would be helped out in turn.

Pennsylvania-Dutch funeral pie

Make 2 crust pastry for 9” tin and line tin.

Cook covered until tender (5 minutes): 2 cups seeded raisins in 2 cups water.

Stir in: ½ cup sugar mixed with 2 T flour. Cook over low heat, stirring, and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat ad add ½ cup chopped nuts, 2 T grated lemon rind and 3 T lemon juice. Bake at 425* for 30-40 minutes. Serve warm.
--Dolly Shaffner Hess

Our families' circles of faith were and are drawn to include, not exclude.

09 March 2011

Dolly and Gene

Women's History Month Challenge for March 9 — Take a family document (baptismal certificate, passenger list, naturalization petition, etc.) and write a brief narrative using the information.

The wedding of Dolly Shaffner and Gene Hess Sr., September 18, 1954, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Our summer plans include intensive scanning of everything in Shirley's safe deposit box, including the marriage certificate and other light reading. Stay tuned for details. What I really want to do this summer is to scoop up Shirley and go on a photography road trip to all the old family towns and sites. That should be epic.

In the meantime, here's a story from Gene's side of the family.

In Gene's mom's papers, many of which we hope to scan and post here soon, is a copy of her marriage certificate. It attests that Hulda Shaffner and Gene Hess were married by Rev. Thomas J. Hopkins in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1954. Nothing surprising about any of that until the end of the page, which attests that this is a duplicate license, issued February 24, 1966.

And this is heartbreaking.

You see, just a week or two before in 1966, Dolly and her children, including her two and several foster children, lost everything but their lives in a house fire in Ohio. Gene Sr. was serving in the Air Force in Okinawa and was able to come to them. They met at her mother's home in Delaware, where Dolly had taken the children.

The Hess family post-fire in Delaware. Both Genes, Sr. and Jr., are on the left.

That was the last time they saw Gene Sr. In June 1966, he died when his C-130 went down on the way from South Vietnam to Okinawa. That's a post for another day.

It's amazing that the marriage certificate was replaced so quickly after the disaster. It is so typical of Dolly's character that she immediately got her family to a safe place and started replacing everything that was important, instead of wallowing in shock and self-pity.

This little certificate quietly tells an enormous story.

08 March 2011

The 130-year-old quilt

Women's History Month challenge for March 8 — Did one of your female ancestors leave a diary, journal, or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.

Quilt made by Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker and Mary Marcella Walker Brooks in Mississippi, 1881.

Do I ever wish that they had. I have so many questions now. But maybe this will serve in the place of a journal. Sometimes we get messages from the older girls in forms other than writing. Sometimes. This is one of those times. This story is about an heirloom that is also a record.

I posted about this quilt last year. Here's the rest of the story.

After my grandmother died in 1994, Shirley called me to say that there was something special for each of the grandchildren, something Grandmother particularly wanted us to have. With a slight catch in her voice, Shirley said that Grandmother wanted me to have THE quilt.

"What THE quilt?" I wanted to know. "There are lots of quilts she gave us."

"No," Shirley said, "THE quilt. I didn't even know about it until she told me."

Grandmother had rescued the quilt after a devastating tornado struck her family farm in 1957, destroyed the farmhouse and fatally injured Mossie. She also rescued pages from the family Bible that were scattered in the mud. The quilt was cleaned and put up away from everyone for the rest of Grandmother's life.

It is a slightly tattered beauty with the name "Mossie" and the date 1881 embroidered in one of its panels, and the name alone embroidered in another. We assumed that this was made for Mossie by her mother.

In 2003, I started researching it so that we could get it on the Quilt Index. There aren't that many quilts with such a clear and provable date and place of origin, after all. At that time I knew nothing about my great-grandmother's family except that her mother was a shadowy figure named Gramma Walker. And that didn't get me very far in the genealogy.

With a little digging, I uncovered the Honnoll family, and Gramma Walker turned out to be Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker, whose name was spelled exactly that way in the pages of the family Bible that Grandmother rescued after the storm.

I also realized that Mossie was born in 1874. By 1881 she would have been old enough to start learning sewing and cooking. I can't prove it, but I am betting anything that this was her first project, with her mother's help where needed. I believe that her mother drew the name and date and that Mossie embroidered them, carefully. It's what my mother did for my first embroidery project. Needlework does run in the family.

Name and date block

Name block. Look at that handwriting.

Tornado damage on the back.

Certainly this quilt was of supreme importance to Mossie. In a life filled with some serious hard times and many cross-country moves, it was one thing she never lost.

She didn't write down much, ever, not even recipes, but this quilt is a record and a message in itself.

P.S. When Shirley came up to Delaware for our wedding, she asked me quietly if I still had the Mossie quilt, since she didn't see it anywhere. As casually as I could, I told her that it was put up somewhere. It was. It was put up hanging in the chapel for our wedding the next day. The look on her fact when she saw it there, brilliant and perfect for an October day, is one of the best memories I have in my whole life. It was the day before Mossie's birthday, which I did not realize. Sometimes everything comes together.

07 March 2011

Family recipe Monday: cakes and angels

Women's History Month challenge for March 7 — Share a favorite recipe from your mother or grandmother’s kitchen. Why is this dish your favorite? If you don’t have one that’s been passed down, describe a favorite holiday or other meal you shared with your family.

Perfectly timed to coincide with the regular Family Recipe Monday here, isn't it?

I have been working on a lot on family genealogy lately (bad cold + great cold meds = phenomenal ability to focus on hundreds of fine-print census records). What is most apparent from the rowdy family history is that Southern cooking may actually be encoded in our genes. Both sides moved south and west as fast as they could, it seems, but not north and not back east. They liked Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas a lot, then started taking over Oklahoma and Texas. In the Depression, they headed out for California in large numbers. Some of them stopped for a bit in New Mexico. But few of them ventured north of Oklahoma, and none ever seemed to wander back North. (Being contrary, I did, but then I retraced the wagon routes back west to the Dakotas.)

The older girls in our line were great cooks, but not great believers in writing down things they knew how to do in their sleep. I'm running the Yellow Angel Food Cake recipe first in honor of Gran Brooks (Mary Marcella Walker, for those of you keeping up with this month's saga), who was a phenomenal cook. She moved back to Oklahoma and ran a boarding house when she was widowed. Her claim to fame as a young cook was being able to make a perfect angel food cake on  a wood-fired stove. I heard that when I was little, but it did not register until I was grown, and now I'm just stunned.

Yellow angel food cake

5 eggs
½ cup cold water
1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ cups sugar, sifted 4 times
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp orange extract
¾ tsp cream of tartar

Separate eggs, beat yolks until foamy, add water and beat until lemon colored. Sift flour to which baking powder has been added. Sift sugar 4 times and add to egg yolks, beating vigorously. Add flour a little at a time, beating well. Flavor, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until stiff. Fold carefully into yellow mixture. Pour into ungreased pan. Bake one hour, increasing heat after the first 15 minutes.

Don't skimp on the sifting, and be sure to use the right pan. If you have and strawberries left over from the next recipe, they'd be good served with the angel food cake.

The next recipe was a very popular one for family birthday cakes. It's definitely a time-saver from the 1950s, with the boxed mix in use. It was still wonderful. The older girls would have been appalled at the idea of buying a birthday cake (or any baked goods). Looking back on it, I think that they were right.

Strawberry cake

1 pkg. white cake mix
1 box strawberry Jell-O
1 cup Wesson oil
½ cup water
3 T flour
4 eggs
½ box frozen strawberries

Dump everything except berries into bowl and mix. Fold in strawberries last. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 350* F. Makes 3 layers.

1 box powdered sugar
1 stick margarine
Remaining strawberries

--Lois Holmes, Vada Brooks Johnson

Happy Monday. Indulge a bit.

06 March 2011

Ralph and Shirley II

Women's History Month challenge forMarch 6 — Describe an heirloom you may have inherited from a female ancestor (wedding ring or other jewelry, china, clothing, etc.) If you don’t have any, then write about a specific object you remember from your mother or grandmother, or aunt (a scarf, a hat, cooking utensil, furniture, etc.)

We interrupt the Women's History Month blog challenge to bring you an important announcement. Today is Ralph and Shirley Shelton's 57th wedding anniversary.

Shirley at Texas Tech, glamour shot.

Ralph at Texas Tech, glamour shot.

They majored in journalism and edited the college newspaper. She graduated. He graduated. And on March 6, 1954, they were married in First Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas. They moved to their present house in 1967 and raised four obstreperous young, who fanned out across the country but somehow manage to stay close.

They gave us everything and still do. Heirlooms? I could list some lovely things, but the greatest is the way that they still look at each other. Happy anniversary, you crazy kids, and thanks for the world. From your loving children.

05 March 2011

Ralph and Shirley I

Women's History Month challenge for March 5 — How did they meet? You’ve documented marriages, now, go back a bit. Do you know the story of how your parents met? Your grandparents?

Shirley Johnson and Ralph Shelton, Ko Shari Dinner Dance, Texas Tech, 1952.

I don't know exactly how my grandparents on either side met each other. My parents, though: that's an easy story. Journalism at Texas Tech.

One reason the Johnson grandparents moved from Altus to Lubbock, Texas, was the presence of a good, new state college. Neither one of them went to college, but the Depression and general hard times made them fiercely determined to send their own children to college, no matter what. I think everyone in my mother's crop of cousins went to college, many of them to Texas Tech.

Shirley was a very bright student who skipped two grades and graduated from high school at 16. That happened in those days. She had (and has) a talent for writing and editing, and majored in journalism at Tech. In those days, that was primarily newspaper writing, photography and publication. By her senior year, she was the editor of La Ventana.

Shirley Johnson, editor, ca. 1953.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, Ralph Shelton Jr. confounded his family's plans and made his way to Texas Tech for college as a (you guessed it) journalism major. He is also a talented writer and editor. His great-aunt Blanche Keese Heaton had just moved with her husband, attorney Nathaniel Heaton, to Slaton, where he was the new judge. This gave Ralph a family connection in the area, and a bit of distance from his parents (he is an only child).

Ralph and Shirley are the same age, but grade-skipping put Shirley a year ahead of Ralph. They worked on the paper together. She was editor first, then he was editor the next year. The rest is history, and saved for tomorrow's post.

Ralph Shelton, editor, ca. 1954. He will kill me for posting this. Snicker.   

04 March 2011

Mack and Vada

Women's History Month challenge for March 4 — Do you have marriage records for your grandparents or great-grandparents? Write a post about where they were married and when. Any family stories about the wedding day? Post a photo too if you have one.

Mack and Vada, date uncertain, possibly after their move to Lubbock.

Do we have marriage record stories.....

These are my maternal grandparents, McKinley "Mack" Johnson and Vada Vivian Brooks Johnson, possibly in Lubbock, Texas, where they moved in 1937. They were married in 1923 in Montgomery County, Arkansas. Mack was the youngest child of the local doctor, Dr. John Johnson, and his second wife, Elmyra "Myra" Elizabeth Wacaster Johnson. Mack was a good-looking boy and the first in the area to have his own car. Vada's family had recently moved back to Arkansas following the death of her father Newt Brooks in Homestead, Florida. She set her cap for Mack and got him. 

At the time of their marriage in 1923, Mack was 21. According to the marriage certificate that Shirley has in the safe deposit box, Vada was 16.

Except that Vada was born in 1909.

You do the math.

That's right: Vada married at 14, even though her mother and younger sister tried to talk her out of it. Clearly she fudged the truth on the marriage certificate: the question is, did Mack know, or did she fudge the truth with him, too? Or were they all in it with the county registrar, since she was underage?

No one knows. We didn't find this out until long after the two of them were gone. They never fudged the truth with us. We knew that Grandmother married at 14 and didn't think too much about it. Times were different then, and harder. But we did not know that the marriage certificate told a very different story.

It was a very small, quiet wedding; that much we know. She wore her best dress, but not a wedding dress, which was common in that time and place. They moved to Altus, Oklahoma, with her mother, Mossie, who opened a boarding house. Mack became an architectural draftsman. Guinn was born in 1925, when Vada was 16. Shirley was born at home in Altus in 1933, and discovered, many years later, that she had no birth certificate, again not uncommon in those circumstances. Fortunately, that can be corrected now.

Whoever said "Truth is found, not in accounts, but in account books" should have a word with the registrar of marriages in Montgomery County, Arkansas, and births in Altus, Oklahoma.

03 March 2011

Sallie, Myra and Cinderella

Women's History Month challenge for March 3: Do you share a first name with one of your female ancestors? Perhaps you were named for your great-grandmother, or your name follows a particular naming pattern. If not, then list the most unique or unusual female first name you’ve come across in your family tree.

Mack Johnson with his sister Harriet Johnson Hardcastle in Whitewright, Texas, standing in for his sister Sallie, of whom I do not seem to have a photo. Ca. 1985.

That's several questions, there.

I am a Sally, which is supposed to be a diminutive of Sarah but in my case is not. Just Sally. I am almost but not quite named the same as my mother: she is Shirley Yvonne, I am Sally Yvonne. Both my mother and her brother received lovely romantic names, possibly inspired by my great-aunt Coy, a lover of novels. My uncle was Guinn Selwyn, which was undoubtedly a bit much when he was growing up. We knew him as Uncle Johnny. We know her as Shirley.

Shirley was supposed to have been called Yvonne, but that faded out by her third year. There is a Double Wedding Ring quilt made for her as a baby which has the name Yvonne and the date embroidered on it. If she sends a photo of the quilt, I'll post it. There are no other Shirleys or Yvonnes in the family that I can find, and Yvonne may have been a bit much for Oklahoma and West Texas. She and I carry the name in the family.

There is another Sally, actually a Sallie, and she was one of my grandfather Mack's four older sisters: Nancy, Samantha, Harriet and Sallie, not necessarily in that order. Sallie Johnson Plemmons was a lovely lady. As did so many other people, she and her husband moved to California during the Depression and settled in San Diego. I re-met her when I moved there in 1994. She passed away just shy of her 99th birthday, and her family held a reunion on what would have been her 100th birthday. Sallie seemed to know who I was after all those years, and gave me a ceramic rose a few days later. I still have it. Her brother, my grandfather, had been gone for several years at that point.

Sallie and her siblings were the children of Elmyra "Myra" Elizabeth Wacaster Johnson, Dr. John Johnson's second wife and from all accounts a merry and devout little soul. Sallie was the same, and her family adored her. They still do.

As for unique female names in the family tree: when I was researching the quilt I have (the subject of a later post), I discovered my connections to the Honnoll family. My great-great-grandmother was Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker (the Ellinor spelling comes from the family Bible, so no trying to correct it). Her father, Peter, the beekeeper, had a sister named Cinderella Lucinda Honnoll. I respectfully submit that as our entry in the Unique Female Name Sweepstakes. She was born in Tennessee in 1815 and died before she was 30. I have found no images of her anywhere. They may not exist.

To Sallie, Myra and Cinderella Lucinda.

02 March 2011

Mossie and Newt

Women's History Month challenge for March 2 — Post a photo of one of your female ancestors. Who is in the photo? When was it taken? Why did you select this photo?

Brooks family portrait, date ca. 1917
I cheated and posted a photo of three of my female ancestors at once. I know I've posted this one before, but it bears a little explanation.
I don't know everyone's name in this photo (Shirley needs to weigh in on this one), but on the far left are my great-grandfather Joseph Newton "Newt" Brooks and my great-grandmother Mary Marcella "Mossie" Walker Brooks. I believe that the tiny older lady three people down is Newt's mother, Grandma Wren. Behind her next to the post is my great-aunt Coy McLean Brooks, standing next to my great-uncle Ernest Brooks. The two little girls below them are my great-aunt Gladys Brooks Strickland (who obviously did not care for the picture-taking session), and my grandmother, Vada Vivian Brooks Johnson, Shirley's mother. Several of the rest of the women are undoubtedly Newt's sisters. Ernest, Gladys and Vada were siblings. I am not sure if their fourth sibling, Jesse, is in the picture; he died young, a victim of leukemia. If he is in there, this may be one of the very few pictures of him.
Judging by Vada's apparent age in the photo, and her birth year of 1909, I'm tentatively placing this photo's date at 1917, plus or minus a year or so. This was taken in either Oklahoma or Arkansas. Again, Shirley needs to provide her expertise.
This photo always intrigues me for its look into family dynamics. Mossie, known to us in later years as Gran Brooks, was no fragile lily. She homesteaded on her own and only gave up her homestead to get married.

Newt Brooks and his sisters. 

Mossie was a survivor. She may have been one of the last people who lived in a half-dugout in Texas, close to the present-day Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge, whose wintering sandhill cranes fly over us every fall and spring. I like to think that she loved their calls, too.

Mossie ran a boarding house in Altus, Oklahoma, after Newt's death, and many of the older recipes I've posted over the past year are hers, most notably the teacakes. Most of her recipes were never written down. More about her later in the month.

Mossie's grave in Victory Cemetery, Altus. Newt died in Homestead, Florida, and is buried there half a continent away.

P.S. Happy 175th Texas Independence Day!

01 March 2011

Women's History Month

March 1 marks the start of Women's History Month. Lisa Alzo at The Accidental Genealogist has posted this challenge. Threads and Traces is more than ready to respond to this one. We have fearless females all over the place, and they've left their mark on the world in many ways. If that's true for you, too, join in in the fun and post links to your challenge posts at Thomas Macantee's Facebook page. Or here. We all love reading about everyone's family's cast of characters. Let's give the older girls a chance to shine again.

Here are Lisa's blogging prompts for the first week:

Blogging Prompts

  • March 1 — Do you have a favorite female ancestor? One you are drawn to or want to learn more about? Write down some key facts you have already learned or what you would like to learn and outline your goals and potential sources you plan to check.
  • March 2 — Post a photo of one of your female ancestors. Who is in the photo? When was it taken? Why did you select this photo?
  • March 3 — Do you share a first name with one of your female ancestors? Perhaps you were named for your great-grandmother, or your name follows a particular naming pattern. If not, then list the most unique or unusual female first name you’ve come across in your family tree.
  • March 4 — Do you have marriage records for your grandparents or great-grandparents? Write a post about where they were married and when. Any family stories about the wedding day? Post a photo too if you have one.
  • March 5 — How did they meet? You’ve documented marriages, now, go back a bit. Do you know the story of how your parents met? Your grandparents?
  • March 6 — Describe an heirloom you may have inherited from a female ancestor (wedding ring or other jewelry, china, clothing, etc.) If you don’t have any, then write about a specific object you remember from your mother or grandmother, or aunt (a scarf, a hat, cooking utensil, furniture, etc.)

Nice that this week includes both the 175th anniversary of Texas Independence Day and my parent's 57th anniversary. Lots to talk about. Let's go!