Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Grace suddenly found herself a single parent in 1958, newly arrived and now alone in California with two young children. Even though we were struggling financially, she was determined that she would do her best to be both mother AND father to me and my brother. Not wanting us to be deprived of "normal" family activities, she decided the three of us would go camping for a week in Yosemite. We had no money to purchase camping equipment, but by a stroke of luck the previous tenant of our tiny apartment had left behind a big sack full of S&H Green Stamps in the storage closet. You have to be "of a certain age" to appreciate what a windfall this was, but you got Green Stamps as a bonus with grocery purchases, and after saving up enough of them they could be redeemed for items at a catalog store. But FIRST, you had to lick every darned one of them and stick them to the pages of these little coupon books. Do you have any idea how many stamps you had to lick and paste to earn a Coleman tent, lantern, and camp stove? I can remember the three of us sitting around the kitchen table licking what appeared to be thousands of stamps before Mom finally hit on the idea of employing a wet sponge instead of our gluey little tongues. We felt like millionaires when we finally marched into the redemption store with our bags of lumpy, sticky coupon books! We were so excited about our first camping trip, and so proud of our shiny new camping gear when we pulled into the campground at Yosemite. She was pretty nervous about camping alone with 2 little kids, but pulled off our big adventure without a hitch. It was her 40th birthday, and she spent it hiking with us to the top of Vernal Falls. 40 was not "the new 30" then, and she thought she was the oldest woman in the world to have made that hike!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I remember Grace taking my brother and me on a trip to Corpus Christi, Texas when I was about 4 years old - our first vacation. We stayed in a little cabin right on the Gulf of Mexico, and she spent hours with us on the beach as my brother and I tirelessly combed the sand for odd little treasures, sand dollars, and seashells. Bob and I were having the time of our lives, but she was rewarded for her diligent maternal supervision with a blistering sunburn (no sunscreen in those days) that kept her uncomfortable and sleepless for the rest of the vacation.
Bob and I begged her to let us take home all of our seashore discoveries, which then proceeded to “ripen” in the trunk of the car in the sweltering Texas summer heat and stink to high heaven all the way back to Oklahoma (no AC in the cars then either). It took her months to get that overpowering “dead fish” smell out of the car!

Some of my earliest memories were formed by Grace's two roles of "Mother" and "Teacher" being seamlessly blended into one in the private kindergarten that she taught out of our home in McAlester, Oklahoma. Kindergarten was not a required part of public school when my brother Robert turned five, so she converted our one-car garage into a classroom (you can see our 1949 Ford through the window) and opened her own private kindergarten. I began sneaking away from the sitter to take a peek at the kindergarten activities when I was about 18 months old, and was soon adopted by the students as a "classroom pet" and allowed to stay and participate for the next 5 years until I was ready for first grade. She made learning so much fun that I don't think I realized that I was "in school".... I just knew that there was something wonderful happening out there in that garage every day and I was determined to be a part of it!