Random Photos: Going Home Again . . . A Vacation Remembered

My husband and I didn’t take too many summer vacations at my parents’ home when our kids were growing up. We saved our visits for every third Christmas. In addition, my parents visited us once or twice a year in Kansas City, and we sent our kids out to Washington State without us as soon as the airlines would let them fly by themselves.

But I recently pulled out a random envelope of snapshots my father had taken of one summer vacation we did take in Washington State at my parents’ house.

Kids swimming, one with water wings, and the other with attitude

I can’t recall exactly which summer it was. The pictures were taken at the large house my parents had in the Meadow Springs development of Richland, Washington. They owned this home between the summer of 1986 and about 1991. I know this wasn’t our first visit there—we’d visited them at this house over Christmas 1986. My daughter looks to be about three or four in the pictures, with my son about six or seven, so I’m guessing it was the summer of 1988 or 1989, but it could have been 1990.

Nanny Winnie supervising my daughter

The house had a swimming pool, which our kids loved. My daughter couldn’t swim yet, so had to wear water wings. My son could swim, and most likely lorded his wing-less state over his little sister. My mother’s mother, Nanny Winnie, visited that week also, and she loved to swim. She was always happy to supervise afternoons at the pool.

Mitzi doesn’t know whether to bark at my son or the pool skimmer

My parents had a Schnauzer named Mitzi. Mitzi wanted to be a part of the pool parties, particularly when the pool skimmer was operating. The dog could swim, but she couldn’t get herself out of the pool. Later, my younger brother taught Mitzi to paddle to the stairs so she could climb out, but at the time of our visit, she had not yet learned this escape route. One time during our visit that week, I had to dive in after her and pull her to safety. She didn’t seem too grateful, and scrabbled and scratched to get out of my helpful arms.

Husband and son canoeing on the Wenatchee River

On the weekend we were there, when my father wasn’t working, my husband, son, father and I went canoeing on the Wenatchee River. We drove through the lovely mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, rented canoes from an outfitter, and put in on the river somewhere near Lake Wenatchee. Then we floated downstream through the alpine Wenatchee National Forest for a couple of hours. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar, then took out where the outfitter had designated and awaited our pick up.

Lunch on the gravel bar

We had two canoes—my husband and son paddled one, and my father and I had the other. This was the first canoe trip I’d been on where I wasn’t in the same boat as my husband. I was used to relying on his skills to get us through any whitewater, but we decided our son needed a strong paddler more than I did. Our son was young enough that his paddling was more for show than power. (As was mine, though I at least had an intellectual understanding of what I should be doing.)

Me with wet shoes, and son

My father was definitely not as competent at paddling as my husband. Still, he and I didn’t have much difficulty until we reached the take-out point. There, even with both Dad and me paddling as hard as we could, we almost didn’t reach shore. I finally had to step out of the boat to pull us out of the current just as we passed the gravel river access road where we were supposed to meet our ride. Dad may have gotten wet also—there is photographic evidence of my wet shoes, but he was taking the pictures, so there’s nothing to verify his actions.

I was happy to find these pictures and to remember that summer vacation back in my birthplace—Washington State, and Richland in particular. In recent years, I’ve only been to Richland for my parents’ funerals in 2014 and 2015. There’s no one left to bury in Richland, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever go home again.

What do you remember of visits to your hometown?

Great-Grandma Lillie: A Midwestern Pioneer

I was thinking recently about my great-grandmothers. It dawned on me that they all probably had very interesting lives—or at least interesting from the perspective of the 21st Century.

I never met any of the four women, and only one was alive during my childhood. That great-grandmother was Lillie Evelena Smith Claudson. She’s the great-grandmother I heard the most stories about, and yet I don’t feel I know much about her.

Lillie was born in Assumption, Illinois, on January 22, 1884. Her parents were Andrew Jackson Smith (an Ohio-born man who was the son of German immigrants, Jacob and Mary Schmidt) and Elizabeth Gertrude Ernst Smith (whose parents were George Jacob & Eva Elizabeth Ernst, probably also of German extraction).

This might be a picture of Lillie’s family when she was a child. But I have no idea which child might be her.

When Lillie was very young, her family moved to Nebraska. Other family obituaries state that the Smiths moved in June 1884, when Lillie would have been just a few months old. That’s consistent with the family stories I was told. The Smiths were one of the first families to settle on the Garfield Table in Nebraska. They farmed there for many years.

On October 3, 1901, Lillie married Luther Monroe Claudson, the son of a Danish immigrant Charles N. Claudson and his wife Elvira Sophronia Vaught Claudson (I know nothing about her background). My father always told me that Lillie and Luther were married in 1900 when Lillie was fifteen, but if the dates I found online are correct, the marriage was in 1901, and she was seventeen at the time.

Family lore also has it that Lillie and Luther moved into a sod hut when they started their married life on their farm and that the first two of her four children were born in that hut. (My grandfather Laverne Ernst Claudson was her second child.) But I can’t substantiate how long she lived in the sod hut, so I can’t verify where they lived when my grandfather was born.

As a child, when I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, I thought of Grandma Claudson’s life story. Wilder wrote about covered wagon trips from one Midwestern locale to another, and I pictured Lillie and her family traveling from Illinois to Nebraska. When I read Wilder’s accounts of moving into a sod hut on the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota, I imagined Lillie as a new bride moving into a similar soddie on the Garfield Plain.

Lille and Luther moved into “town”—the tiny community of Arnold, Nebraska—in 1923. She would have been thirty-nine at the time—still young.

My father talked about his childhood trips to visit his grandparents in Arnold. He played with cousins and helped Grandma Claudson—as Lillie was known by then—in the kitchen, including watching her wring a chicken’s neck for Sunday supper. I got the clear sense from him that she took no nonsense from anyone—including a young grandson—but that he loved her and knew she loved him. I think he needed some discipline in his early life, and she provided it in healthy doses.

Luther died in 1947, and Grandma Claudson lived alone in her little house in Arnold until her death on November 21, 1973, at age 89. I’m told she mowed her own lawn until she died.

My father rarely visited Arnold after my parents were married, and my mother never met Grandma Claudson. Not meeting my dad’s grandmother was one of my mother’s regrets, since she hadn’t known her own grandmothers. Some of my father’s cousins told me that Grandma Claudson always appreciated my mother’s letters. My mother did write numerous newsy letters to relatives and friends. I was glad to learn Grandma Claudson was one of her correspondents.

My father and several of his cousins were Grandma Claudson’s pallbearers at her funeral in 1973. I remember my father going to her funeral, though no one else in our family went with him. At the time, I had just started college, and I didn’t think twice about missing the funeral of a great-grandmother I had never met. But now, like my mother, I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her at some point while she was alive.

Lillie and Luther Claudson’s tombstone, Arnold, Nebraska

I couldn’t even find a picture of Lille to post, though I bet there’s one somewhere in my father’s papers. My siblings and I kept some older photos with no identification of who is depicted—perhaps one of them is of Lillie.

The reason I find Lillie’s story so compelling now is that she was a pioneer. She connects me to settlers in the Midwest. I consider myself a Westerner, though I have now lived in the Midwest for two-thirds of my life. Remembering Lillie—Grandma Claudson, as I think of her, even if I never knew her—reminds me that I have roots in this part of the country as well.

And I can picture her as I write about pioneers to the West in my novels about the settlement of Oregon almost forty years before Lillie and her family moved to Nebraska. It’s still a surprise that the West Coast was settled before some of the Midwest.

What connections does your family have to pioneer days?

Seeking My Roots in Copenhagen

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2007, my daughter and I went to Copenhagen to visit my niece who was studying there. I can trace one branch of my ancestry back to Denmark, so the prospect of visiting that nation appealed to me. I wondered if I would feel a connection there, as I did when I visited Ireland a few years earlier.

My niece and her roommate were busy most of the time, so my daughter and I toured Copenhagen on our own. We took a boat tour of the city. I loved the brightly colored buildings that lined the canals. They reminded me of the row house doors in Dublin.

From the boat tour

We saw The Little Mermaid statue, which was beautiful albeit underwhelming (I’d been warned it was quite small). I remembered reading Hans Christian Andersen’s famous story as a child. I’d never liked Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, which seemed dark and horrific to me. I preferred the Grimms Brothers—as if those were a whole lot merrier.

The Little Mermaid

We climbed a church steeple for a panoramic view of the city. Gorgeous, though we then faced a long walk back to the apartment on tired legs. The view reminded me of Florence, Italy.

Copenhagen from the steeple

We went to museums, where all the signs were in English and German as well as Danish. I learned Danish history, including the very early Viking Danes who were the first Europeans to reach North America (unless the Irish Saint Brendan beat them by a few centuries).

And on one cloudy day, my niece took us to tour Kronberg Castle, supposedly the model for Shakespeare’s Elsinore in Hamlet. I’ve always had a thing for castles—probably because I grew up in a decidedly unromantic town built in the 1940s, which contained nothing remotely resembling a castle.

Kronberg Castle

We ate well. The Scandinavian penchant for fish at breakfast did not appeal to me, but everything else tasted great.

It was a wonderful trip. I loved Copenhagen and felt very comfortable there. What I saw brought to mind many memories, though none of them ancestral. I guess my Danish genes are too diluted (it was my great-great-grandfather who immigrated from Denmark to the United States). My other ancestors were mostly English, Irish, and Scotch, with a little German thrown in.

Still, I’m glad I went to Copenhagen, and I would happily go back. I may not have found my roots, but I enjoyed the trip.

Where are your roots, and when have you sought them out?

Amelia Earhart Day: Memories of Atchison, Kansas

July 24 is Amelia Earhart Day. The news recently has been full of speculation about her disappearance, because of a History Channel show suggesting that a photo might have shown her and her navigator Frank Noonan with the Japanese in the Marshall Islands after her disappearance on July 2, 1937. However, Japanese archivists found the photo in a book published in 1935, long before Earhart and Noonan left on their ill-fated flight. It seems her last days are still a mystery.

Amelia Earhart is a big deal in her hometown of Atchison, Kansas, about an hour’s drive from Kansas City. The town sponsors an Amelia Earhart Festival in July each year. For the past two years, my husband’s Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla has provided security on the Missouri River for the air show that is part of the festival. This year, tragedy struck the day after the air show, when one of the stunt pilots who had performed was killed (along with his passenger) in a post-festival flight.

My father was always fascinated by Amelia Earhart’s story. I think he thought of her as a neighbor because he had been born in Pratt, Kansas—a mere 300 miles from Atchison. He remembered her disappearance from his childhood. In addition, he was always interested in flying and took flying lessons when he was in his fifties.

Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum

On one visit to Kansas City, he and my mother decided to drive to Atchison to see the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in her former home. My daughter was three or four at the time. She skipped preschool that day to go with her grandparents to Atchison.

My parents had planned to have lunch at a tea room in Atchison after seeing the museum. But my daughter had her own plans. She’d been bored in the museum, even though she enjoyed being with her grandparents. When they got back in the car and drove toward the tea room, she started pointing at something and began talking excitedly about “meat libbers.”

Now, my parents had no idea what meat libbers were. But after several attempts to communicate, they finally realized their granddaughter was pointing at the nearby Pizza Hut.

My daughter made it clear that nothing would do but that they eat at Pizza Hut.

Of course, grandchildren generally win these arguments, so my parents took her to Pizza Hut. They sat and received their menus. Finally, my parents realized that my daughter wanted a Meat Lovers pizza. That was our standard order at Pizza Hut and both our children’s favorite restaurant meal.

My parents were disappointed to miss the tea room, but they recognized that their priority as grandparents had to be to keep their grandkids happy. They accomplished that goal on that day so many years ago.

Did your family have any favorite restaurant meals?

Discovering Jane Austen

Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, two hundred years ago tomorrow. I first encountered her novels in the spring of 1970, when I was in the ninth grade and cooped up at home with the mumps. I didn’t have a bad case of the mumps, and I felt pretty healthy. But I couldn’t return to school until the swelling in my cheeks and jaw went down.

“I’m bored,” I whined to my mother.

“Find a book to read.” That was her stock answer any time one of her children said they were bored. Either that, or she told us to clean our rooms.

“I’ve read everything.” I whined some more, as only a fourteen-year-old girl can whine to her mother.

Mother went to the bookshelf in the living room, which contained mostly adult books. Other than the encyclopedia (which was educational) or the twenty or so volumes of Readers Digest Condensed Books (which were pretty well sanitized by the editors who condensed them), I was only allowed to pick a book from the living room bookshelf if I had parental approval.

She skimmed the shelves and pulled down a book. “Here,” she said. “Read this.”

It was Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

I took it back to my bedroom and curled up under the covers and opened the book. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Well, that sounded promising. Even fourteen-year-old me got the humor in that line.

I read the whole book over the next few days. And loved it.

After I was fully recuperated and able to go to the public library again, I searched for other books by Jane Austen. I didn’t read her novels back to back, but I did read them all over the next couple of years.

I really liked Northanger Abbey (a lot like Victoria Holt and other Gothic novels I had read), but I didn’t think any of Austen’s other novels were as good as Pride and Prejudice. Sense and Sensibility was supposed to be her best—and Mother said she liked that one best—but I preferred Pride and Prejudice. Marianne Dashwood was too silly. Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park were fine, but still not as good as Pride and Prejudice.

By the time we studied Pride and Prejudice in my Honors English class during my senior year of high school, I had read everything I could find by Jane Austen—all the novels she had published in her lifetime. My classmates complained about having to read Pride and Prejudice. “Oh, no,” I said. “It’s wonderful!” Not many of them believed me.

Fast forward to when I learned there was a partial manuscript by Jane Austen that someone had completed and was publishing—something new by Austen! I was a working mother, with very little time to read. But I rushed out to find a copy of Sanditon. And I did the same thing when I found a volume that included both Lady Susan and The Watsons, which I’d never read before either.

And, of course, I have watched every televised and movie version of Austen’s novels. I saw the 1940s version of Pride and Prejudice when I was in college. I was very disappointed—the costumes were all wrong, Mr. Darcy was not particularly compelling (sorry, Mr. Olivier), and they skipped huge chunks of the book. The 1980 BBC version shown on Masterpiece Theatre was much better.

In fact, that 1980s version got my husband interested enough in Jane Austen that he read Pride and Prejudice, and later took on some of Austen’s other books as well. (At least Sense and Sensibility—I’m not sure if he read them all or not.)

And then there was the very swoonable 1995 version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

Sigh. . . .

I learned to like Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park better from the Masterpiece and movie versions, though I still like Pride and Prejudice best.

At this point, I’ve read all her novels at least three times. I’ll probably read them all again at least once more before I die.

I look forward to seeing new film versions in my lifetime also. All in search of the perfect Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. And the perfect Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson, wonderful actress though she is, was too old for the role) and Edward Ferrars. And Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow was pretty good, but not quite officious enough for me) and George Knightley.

I have so many more contacts with Austen’s work to look forward to in life. And my interest all started because I was bored one day in 1970.

What have you done out of boredom that turned out to be a good thing?

Random Photo: St. Louis, 1989, Our First Family Vacation

In the summer of 1989, when our daughter was four and our son seven, we took our first “real” family vacation. By that I mean, it was just my husband, me and the two kids, and we went somewhere other than to visit grandparents.

We’d taken our son on a couple of trips before daughter came along, or left her with grandparents when she was a baby. And our son had been places with his cousins and not us. But this was our daughter’s first “big girl” vacation. She was still in preschool and was required at school to “nap” in the afternoons, though she didn’t usually sleep during the rest period anymore.

For our first trip, we chose St. Louis, about a four-hour drive across Missouri from Kansas City. I think we stopped in Marshall, Missouri, first to visit my in-laws. It wasn’t a big vacation, just a long weekend, long enough to test whether our kids were ready for full-fledged adventures.

Husband and kids in front of the Gateway Arch, 1989

We did a lot over those few days in St. Louis. We went up in the Gateway Arch and visited the Museum of Western Expansion located at the Arch. We ate at the McDonald’s by the Arch, which was built on a replica of a steamboat (I understand that McDonald’s is no more, which is too bad because our kids loved it.). We went to the St. Louis Zoo, where our son made friends with a baby tamarind monkey. We went to Union Station and the Science Center. We probably did more, but those are the things I remember.

We were on the move from breakfast until dinner. We did all this over two or three days, spending our nights at some high-rise hotel, which I think was near Union Station.

After our first full day of activities, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. We had toured the entire zoo in the heat that afternoon. At the zoo, knowing that it was large and we would have to walk a lot, we rented a stroller for our daughter. But our son spent more time in the stroller than she did. She was a trouper, determined to prove she was not a baby anymore. She walked and walked and walked some more.

For dinner that night, she wanted spaghetti, so we ordered her a child-sized portion. The dinner came, and she started eating.

But soon her eyes drooped. Her eyelids fell shut, then opened, then fell again. Her head nodded.

My husband caught her just before she did a face-plant into her spaghetti. We moved her plate and laid her head on the table. She slept as the rest of us finished our meal. She slept as my husband carried her to the car and buckled her into her car seat. She slept as we drove to the hotel, as he carried her up to our room, and as I undressed her.

She slept for thirteen hours, from dinner straight through until breakfast time the next morning.

And then she was ready for another day.

She proved herself old enough for “big girl” vacations. And she’s never looked back.

What amusing anecdotes do you have from family vacations?

Fortieth Anniversary of a Speeding Ticket

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this year my husband and I celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. We started dating in March 1977 and were married that November. We were apart for most of the summer of 1977, each working in different locations after our first year of law school. But he came to visit my hometown of Richland, Washington, where I had an internship with a local law firm, for a long weekend around the Fourth of July.

As he got off the plane in the desert, he said, “You poor kid—you grew up here?” And his opinion of Richland never improved.

When I had visited his hometown the month before, we’d toured some of western Missouri. So I returned the favor in July, and took him around my favorite haunts in Washington State. We waterskied on the Columbia River with my younger siblings. We took a day trip to Mount Rainier, where we hiked in snowfields—we shivered in our shorts, which we’d worn because of the heat in southeastern Washington around Richland; I’d forgotten how cold and gray the Cascades could be even in midsummer.

See the brown land between Richland (upper left) and Walla Walla (lower right). The Whitman Mission is near  Walla Walla.

And one day we drove to the Whitman Mission—the day trip of my childhood. My husband-to-be drove my parents’ Capri through rolling hills covered in brown wheat to the mission near the town of Walla Walla. On the way home, back through the wheat fields, he climbed a hill and sped down it. Not that fast, but above the speed limit.

Flashing lights and a siren behind him. A cop. A speeding ticket. A silent ride back to Richland.

My law-abiding fiancé was mortified. There he was, driving his future father-in-law’s car, and he got a ticket.

But my father was very good about it. He didn’t give my fiancé a hard time at all. Hubby-to-be paid the fine, and that was that.

At the Whitman Mission. If we’d been in a covered wagon, we would not have exceeded the speed limit.

Through the years, my father brought it up every so often, chuckling when he did so. But he didn’t mention it any more frequently than my husband did. All in all, they had a good relationship, despite this rocky beginning.

The only beef my father really had with my husband was that Dad wanted my husband to call him “Tom” instead of “Mr. Claudson.” My husband never relented.

That day trip in July 1977 was the last time I went to the Whitman Mission, though the site and Narcissa Whitman played an important role in my novel Lead Me Home. In later years, our family passed through Walla Walla on our way to ski at the Bluewood Resort in the Blue Mountains, but we never stopped at the mission. And my memories of that last visit are lost to me—all I remember of that day is the speeding ticket.

What memories do you have of traffic stops and tickets? Or of similar embarrassing events during your courtship?