Life Lore writing

Recovery and Discovery

My faithful readers (all five or so of you), I’m sorry I haven’t updated lately. It took me a long time to recover from being sick, and I’ve been up to my hipwaders in research.

And by golly, I’ve learned a lot.

Thanks to the amazing St. Louis County Library’s generous resources that I can access from home with my library account, I’ve been able to uncover a lot about my maternal grandmother’s past. Given that I can’t drive and don’t feel comfortable taking my daughter on a walk all the way to the nearest library due to my very limited eyesight, it’s been a huge help.

In addition to doing research and recovering from a bad illness, I’ve been seeking out funding to help me be able to help support my family and fund trips to the places where my grandmother used to live and work so that I get an even better feel for what her life was life through her eyes. So far, I haven’t found much for individual authors, but I haven’t given up yet.

Lore writing

A Dig In The Past

As many of my readers know, I’m working on a piece of historical fiction based on the life of my maternal grandmother. What started out as a simple plan to solve a few family mysteries on my mother’s side of the family turned into a full-blown project.

My grandmother, Cora, was someone I didn’t really like. The more I learned about what she put my mom and her siblings through, the more I disliked her. I loved her, because she was family, but I disliked her because of the choices she made. The only thing I really liked about her were the animals she took in to save from harm. I also liked reading the trashy magazines she picked up at the grocery store. She thought the Moon landing was faked, and she was greatly offended if someone even joked that professional wrestling was scripted.

Grandma Cora lied a lot, too. She was forever making up stuff about her heritage, Mom’s biological father, and her own life. I took a DNA test years ago to try and figure out how much of my alleged heritage was real, and how much was pure crap.

Genetically, my heritage proved Grandma Cora was making stuff up, but it also revealed some unexpected ancestry. It also put me in touch with my mother’s one and only biological sister, who was given up for a closed adoption about a year before my own mother was born. That made it worth the sadness at learning that Grandma Cora was making stuff up.

After a woman named Destiny contacted me to try and find out how we were related, I started doing a deep dive to piece together what I could about my family, especially because it looked like Destiny was a relative through my mother’s family.

What I found didn’t make me like Grandma Cora more than I had previously, but it gave me a greater understanding of why she made up so many things.

The truth of her life was a hell of a lot stranger and sadder than fiction.

She was orphaned when she was three years old. Her father died a few months after an industrial accident, right before her third birthday, and her mother died a few months later of cancer. Her siblings were placed with her father’s much older sister and her husband, and her aunt seemed to have an irrational hatred of her.

That hatred drove her to leave their farm at age 14 to live and work in Mexico Missouri. She was 19 when she had her first child, and custody of that baby was ripped from her by the court on the grounds that she, as a single working woman, was an unfit mother, and given to her married cousin. She had another child at 20 and gave her up for adoption. When she had my mother at age 21, she chose to keep her, come hell or high water. For reasons unknown to even my mother, she named my mother after the cousin who got custody of her son.

It wasn’t too long after my mother was born that my grandmother met and married her first husband, a mechanic. Their first child together died when the doctor delivering the child crushed her skull with the forceps. Their second child was delivered with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and had cerebral palsy as a result. My grandmother suffered at least two miscarriages before she had her two youngest children. Just before her youngest child was born, the cousin who got custody of her oldest son died in a car accident while driving home from work late at night.

My grandmother’s marriage was not a happy or peaceful one. She made some choices that traumatized all of her children. I still don’t understand why, but I’m trying to. I loathe her so much for what she allowed to be done to my mother as a child. I’m a mother myself, and I love my husband with all of my heart. If he did even half of what was done to my mother to one of my children, he would be GONE. The part of me that fiercely protects my children cannot comprehend WHY she would put anything above the well-being of a child she chose to keep.

Anyway, I doubt anyone was too sad when her first husband died at age 45 of a heart attack after suffering a coronary the previous year. Grandma Cora got married to husband number two a little over three weeks after her first husband died. He was a decent enough guy. My mother ended up marrying his brother 2 years later, and they were married for 20 years.

As for my grandma, she stayed married to her second husband, my future uncle, until she died at age 66 of a heart attack.

Anyway, there’s a lot there. The more I dig, the more I learn, and the more I learn, the more I understand. I probably won’t ever like her for the choices she made, but at least I’ll have a greater understanding of why she made them.


There’s No Place Like What Could Have Been

I’m not sure how it happened, but a few months ago, I happened to stumble across an episode of Holmes on Homes on Destination: America. I was immediately hooked by Mike’s desire to help people whose homes were in bad shape. I also enjoyed how he educated his audience as he and his crew worked on the houses that were in disrepair. Eventually, I found Holmes Inspection, Buy it Right, Holmes and Holmes, and Holmes Family Rescue.

In addition to enjoying the punny titles, I enjoyed seeing the banter and underlying love between Mike and his adult children as they continued his mission to help people have safe, inhabitable homes. I even bought a gently used copy of his book, The Holmes Inspection, so I could continue to learn from him even when one of his or his kids’ shows weren’t available to watch. He also has a Twitter account and a website with an educational blog that is updated often. Thanks to Mike Holmes, his family, and his crew, I think I am better prepared for when we resume our hunt for our forever home.

There are a lot of shows out there that show home repairs by professionals, so why do Holmes and his family appeal to me so much in particular?

The truth is simple and sad: When I look at Mike Holmes, I remember the only time my father was happy when I was growing up.

You see, my father was born into poverty and worked a number of blue-collar jobs ranging from butchering animals to working on a factory line. Eventually, Dad went to work for Art Bross, a general contractor who went to the same church we did. My father had no formal construction training before he went to work for Art, but he had a keen mind and had been building things since he was very young. Dad’s strongest skill was carpentry, but he also knew how to safely run water, gas, sewer, and electric lines. Our “house” was a one-bedroom, partially gutted trailer. By the time we moved away, my father had built on a “front porch” that was actually a mudroom, two bedrooms, and a laundry room with a back door that led out to the clotheslines in the back yard. It wasn’t pretty, but it was watertight, warm in the winter, and somewhat tolerable in the summer, considering we didn’t have an air conditioner until Art gave us one.

My dad and his dad didn’t have a super-wonderful relationship. My grandpa had grown up in an abusive household and left home when he was very young, then served in the Marine Corps during World War II after he married my grandmother. I imagine he did the best he could, all things considered, and my dad gave his parents a place to live next door to us on the five acres my dad owned, but it doesn’t excuse the choices he made or how he and my grandma hurt my dad, aunts, and uncle growing up. To my dad, Art was the father he wished he’d had, and Art was happy to take Dad under his wing and teach him professionally as they worked together. Art was a man of integrity and heart, and his kindness helped my dad flourish.

It didn’t last.

Four days before Christmas in 1988, Art suffered a heart attack and died at age 66. Not only was my father suddenly unemployed before Christmas, he was suddenly without the person who had become a second father to him. It was sudden and traumatic. My father was also displaced because Art’s two “real” sons had their grief validated, as it should be, but as “just an employee,” my dad’s grief wasn’t recognized, much less validated.

Had things been different, my dad could have been the US version of Mike Holmes. He might not have been a TV star, but every home he touched would have had whatever work they needed carried out with integrity. Those projects would have built the right way, sturdy as an oak.

Unfortunately, things are what they are, and no amount of wishing will change the past. Fortunately, successful guys like Mike Holmes are around to teach what to look for in homes and contractors, and for that, I am grateful.


The Stories in the Stones

It all started with an email from a fourth cousin on

Destinie wanted my help tracking down where we were related along the Smith branch of the family tree. We both enjoy genealogy and are curious about where and how we are connected.

Little did I know that my fall down the rabbit hole would uncover one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in my maternal family’s murky history.

Growing up, my Grandma Cora would spin all sorts of wild stories about her past and her history. She was supposedly related to Jesse James. Then she had a pure Blackfoot ancestress named Little Bear Boat. She also spun tales about my mother’s biological father. By turns he was Mexican, Native American or all manner of exotic combinations.

The truth was that he was an ordinary married white guy who fathered two children on Grandma Cora and deserted her when she refused to give her second child (my mother) up for adoption. Up until then, she apparently believed that he was going to leave his wife and their many children to be with her. After she gave up on him, she married a mechanic who abused her, my mother, and the children they had together. He died at age 45, to the relief of pretty much everyone who knew him. My grandmother then married a man 14 years her junior 24 days later while her 16-year-old daughter was alone in a St. Louis hospital, giving birth to my half-sister.

Two years later, my mother married her stepfather’s younger brother, who was only two years older than her. Even though he was so young, he had been married previously. They had four children, and I, their youngest, was born seven years after they married.

But I digress.

As I tried to find out where my cousin Destinie (great name, by the way) and I were connected, I started to learn more and more about my own family. Some of the information I uncovered unlocked some of my living relatives’ memories, and the people who were just names on stones became more fleshed-out and real to me.

As I searched FindAGrave to find more information about the relatives who were no longer with us, I ran across so many people who shared my relatives’ names but had stories of their own.

And some of those names were children whose lives were cut off far too short.

And some of those names were aunts, uncles, and cousins I never got to know about because the pain of their loss was buried in time and locked away so that their parents could continue surviving and providing for their living children as best they could.

I will do my best to learn and carry their stories, and I hope that my own children and/or niblings will be interested in carrying those stories when I can no longer do so myself.

So it seems that I have taken my late Aunt Ruth’s position as family Loremaster. Remembering those who have gone on before us didn’t actually carry the title “Loremaster,” but it does now, and I will do my best to keep our family’s stories and memories alive until the day I become a memory myself.