Books Read in 2007
I found this great story of the most unique person in our family, my aunt Mel (often called "Sam"), written by my Aunt Barb and decided to share it with all of you. It's a bit long, so I made the print smaller.
To be ordered from a death bed to "write my story, and tell it like it is," was not my idea of a dream come true. Such was Samís directive to me before she had brain surgery and was consigned to a month of lunacy before she died. That order has been shelved for many years with snips of remembrances, pictures and stories handed down from other members of the family, all awaiting the day for me to take pen in hand.
When the oldest member of the family of ten decides the youngest kid should do the telling, there is a lot of room for error and conjecture. Since at this writing, in my 74th year, the sisters have dwindled to two and the three brothers have died, the pickings are poor as to early dates, information and accuracy. At best or worst, however one perceives her, Sam was unique, a "ONER."
The year was 1900, a full generation before World War I, when the American Expeditionary Forces under the command of General John J. Pershing sailed off to Europe to fight the "War to end all wars." Since weíve had one very large war and several smaller ones since that time, it would be safe to assume the General lost the battle.
Our mother and dad lived in Crockett, California at the time. Anyone crossing the Carquinez Bridge can look down at the old sugar warehouse on the straits and know that somewhere behind it still stands the house where Sam was born. Our sister Jean was born a year later in Brentwood and our brother Jim made his entry into the world five years after that in Stockton where the family settled for several years.
By the time Sam was in her mid teens she had become what is now referred to as "incorrigible" and was put into a house of correction where young girls learned the error of their ways and also were taught how to become proficient in various talents. There she learned cooking, sewing, painting and certain office procedures. Fortunately, all of these talents were used to perfection for the remainder of her life.
No one has ever defined "incorrigible" to me as it related to just exactly what Sam was guilty of. It wasnít that I didnít ask but my questions were slickly evaded and the subject promptly changed. However, in those days sins real and imagined were buried very deep. "We do not discuss that," was the word. About the only message that came across from those earlier events was that because of Samís actions, our father beat her so badly, that when it was over he vowed never to physically punish any of his children again. As far as I can recall, he never did.
Samís talents were many and varied. During her younger years her list of "credits" included a minor local silent screen personality, a ballet dancer, one of the first female aviators in California, a seamstress and designer for the Emporium in San Francisco, a house builder, a bookkeeper, a barber, an artist, a potter and the jewel in her crown of talents, a licensed Vocational Nurse at the age of 65.
I can well remember the excitement generated in our house when occasionally Sam would fly from Stockton to our little ranch near Valley Springs. Because of the terrain there it was impossible for her to land, but she would fly low over the house, waggle the wings and drop the paper of the day in our front yard.
While she was learning to fly, she was having an affair with the owner of a small airport which was located midway between Stockton and Lodi. His name was Ed Oranges. Besides teaching her to fly he was giving her a few lessons in love. When the love lessons ceased, the flying lessons did likewise.
Perhaps forty years later when Sam was in her early sixties she was living in her self-built house across the street from our sister Marge and her family in Citrus Heights. We chanced to be visiting them one weekend and we were invited over to check out her new home. In her carpentry days Sam lived in blue overalls, clumpy shoes and gaudy, paint spattered shirts with little or no makeup. While checking out her bedroom, I was more than surprised to see a lacy dress with a jeweled bodice draped artistically across her perfectly made bed. On one of her dressers sat a shoebox which held a pair of three inch heeled shoes with jewels covering both heels and instep.
It was while examining these marvels that she told me she had gotten word that Ed Oranges was free to marry again and she was going to Stockton and "check him out." She was positive that something would come of it as the dress and shoes were sure to captivate him. Later on when asked about her trip and renewed romance, she begrudgingly admitted that the visit hadnít gone well as Mr. Oranges had gotten old, deaf, drunk and very mean and had asked her to get out of his house.
It was also during those flying lessons that Sam decided to become a ballet dancer. To prove this, there are pictures of her in a tutu somewhere in the family albums. Whether she performed in local productions, I canít be sure.
If there was anything unusual or off beat to do in those days, Sam would be the first one to give it a try. Sometimes her choices bounded on the ridiculous. She was probably the only woman known to God and man in those days who lived in a city the size of Stockton and kept a pig in the house as a pet. She acquired the little darling from our dad who was in the pig farming business in Valley Springs. Samís pig mothering knew no bounds and one can assume her sanity was surely questioned by her neighbors. Her precious pig was bathed, powdered, often dressed and taken for a stroll, with leash attached, down the streets of Stockton.
Samís interests during her lifetime were numerous and varied. In looking back on all of her accomplishments it seems to me she was forever in competition with anyone who had a talent which she thought she could equal or surpass. Surpass is the keyword here. The only one I was ever aware of who Sam could never quite equal or surpass was our sister Betsy whose innate artistic abilities were impossible for our older sister to match.
Later in life, I became her target for at least a moment. I had started writing bits and pieces of supposedly humorous notes which I sent to some of our brothers and sisters. Until that time I donít recall ever getting a letter from Sam. In her first and probably only letter to me, she said someone had shown her my "attempt" at writing and she was "amused." She then told me of an incident that had to do with her trying to get out of a girdle. It was hilariously funny. In essence, she was saying to me, "you may have a little talent here, but I can and always will beat you." To my everlasting shame I tore up her letter and until this day have never mentioned it to a soul. In my heart and head I know I was being foolish; but at that time Sam had so many talents and thought I had none. I couldnít understand her not letting me have my one tiny moment in the sun.
However, she had one overriding gift which she often mixed with some of her other talents. It was the art of being a drunk. These days we speak of it as having the disease of alcoholism, but in those days it was considered a weakness, a sin and a shame.
There was a time in our lives known as the Prohibition Era, when the making or selling any kind of alcoholic beverages was illegal. Article 17 of our Constitution left no doubt as to the lawís legality. However, people being people with many talents legal and otherwise, managed to circumvent the law in many devious ways. Those were the years of "rum runners" "room the Caribbean Islands who, in the wee hours of the night, unloaded their illegal cargo all along the Atlantic Coast.
The bars as we know them today were non-existent. There were, instead, private clubs which were called "Speak-Easyís" and were patronized by wealthy members who were allowed to bring in outside guests. For the poor people who couldnít afford such luxury, there was the option of making their own "Home Brew" as beer was called. "Bathtub Gin", came into being then. It got itís elegant name because the private home bathtubs was where it was made. Wine was probably the easiest made and most popular drink for the middle and poor classes. The southern states, especially the rural areaís had what they called "stills" which produced much of the alcohol consumed during that time. It was a very potent mixture which the locals called "Moonshine" or "White Lightning."
Our sister Jean joined Sam in the consumption of booze in those days. She not only joined her but was in the business of making and selling it with the help of her then very Irish husband, Mickey Lynch.
My very first recollection of Sam was at about the age of five when the family lived in Valley Springs. She was living in Stockton then and would drive the twenty miles or so to see us about once a month. I donít recall just which husband she was married to then because all I saw or remembered was a beautiful vision in furs and jewels who filled my little being with awe and wonder. She wore a certain perfume which, to this day, if someone is wearing it, my thoughts immediately turn to Sam.
Perfume wasnít the only odor I was aware of in those days. Our home always seemed to have a peculiar smell, the origin of which I was never able to understand or locate. Perhaps because it was so different than the unique odor of the pigs my father raised during that time. Oddly enough, when Sam came home the smell was overpowering. It wasnít until many years later that I learned that our attic was a storehouse for illegal wine. Our father had let an acquaintance of his store his barrels of his illegal wine in our attic.
Samís first husband, Howard Humphry, a veteran of World War I, was eliminated from the marriage soon after their son, at age six, was killed in a truck accident. The trauma which Sam experienced because of this terrible tragedy may have set the stage for not only her alcoholism but an unfruitful search for marital happiness the rest of her life.
My first real personal relationship with Sam began in 1936 when our family moved from the valley to San Francisco. The flat which we rented was just a block from Sam and her then husband, Frank Barry. He was her fifth husband and that marriage was the one in which she had the lengthiest and happiest years of sobriety that I was ever aware of.
During those years she worked as a seamstress and designer for the Emporium and I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of her sewing talents. She designed and stitched many of my school clothes which instantly made me appear as a city girl instead of a little hick from the country, which, in reality, I was.
In my very young observations, her apartment was the ultimate. Everything in each room that could be stitched was created by her. Those items included drapes, curtains, bedspreads, pillows and table covers. On the walls hung her paintings. Her pottery adorned the tables and she never owned a potted plant that didnít grow to her specifications.
Her clothes closet was a young girls dream. Formal gowns, suits, dresses, blouses and slacks hung on padded hangers in perfect rows. Shoes which matched the clothes were in boxes on racks below. Overhead was an array of hats which would have put Queen Elizabethís collection to shame. Her bedroom was decorated in hues of green, white and beige. Beautifully designed draperies with sheer curtains complimented her bay windows.
The dressing table was the focal point of her room. Fragile bottles of perfume sat on mirrored and silver trays. An elegant silver mirror with brush and comb to match were centered between small, pale green shaded crystal lamps which completed the perfect setting. Below, the deep, beautifully lined drawers were filled with creams, lotions and makeup; all of which I had never heard of, much less seen.
To be able to watch her bathe, dress and make up her face was like watching a beautiful butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Always dressed for the occasion, whether it be work, play or a night on the town, she was perfection.
During the later part of World War II she became involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, which at that time was in its infancy. A. A. not only made a hit with her, ..she starred in it! Her ability to identify with each new baby was a tremendous help to those who suffered the disease of alcoholism. It also gave her a stage on which to perform and an audience which really appreciated and applauded. She was also one of the first women to be allowed into the prisons to speak to the alcoholic inmates; men and women alike. It was there while talking to the men that her star glittered the brightest.
The following years before she died, she was in and out of the swinging doors of A. A. many times. We were all so attuned to her ways that when she announced, "Iím going to the bank and get my hair done," we knew she would be out of our lives for awhile and on another binge.
On one of her later "slips" she bought a case of whiskey and a train ticket to the furthest eastern point possible. It was ten days before she arrived in Connecticut -- dead drunk -- whisky gone and not a dime to her name. When we hadnít heard from her for over a month we all began to worry about her, thinking she might be dead. I have long since forgotten how she finally got home. I do know that she lived to go on quite a few more "train rides."
After a series of perhaps five later husbands, some of whom I never met (they came and went in a hurry) she became ill with a brain tumor. As the tumor grew and the pain increased she began to drink again.
It was soon decided that she should have an operation to ease the pain. It was only a stop gap measure and had nothing to do with recovery which by then was out of the question. The doctors told her that the end result of such an operation would be not only the loss of speech but her thinking processes would be affected. That was the year of the moon walk and she insisted that she be able to watch it before anything was done to her.
Living up to her "uniqueness," she invited the whole family to her hospital room for a "live funeralí before the operation. I wasnít able to attend her going out party, but most of the family was there. While she was in the hospital in Sacramento, she asked me to write her story. She was moved from that hospital to one located in Placerville after the brain surgery. It was there that I saw her for the last time. She, like so many of our family, requested her remains be donated to science.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Melva Marion Scott
This is entry #2687