Saturday, May 13, 2006

We Had Granny (An Ode to Grandma Rosie)

Yep, and we had Granny
That bourbon-drinking grammy

Oh that Grandma Rosie
That Texas-born, mold broken Posie
snuff makin'
pan cookin'
hose rollin'
domino playin'
spectacle wearin'
blue hairin'
Grandma of ours

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Life on the Lillie Sue as told by John

As a baby, a toddler, and throughout my prepubescent years, I spent a lot of time with my mom and dad, but mostly just with my dad (as after my little brother was born and later my sister, my mom had to stay home to perform her motherly duties), going out on the Chesapeake Bay on the boats my dad had christened after my mom: the Lillie Sue and the Lillie Sue II. And it was on the Lillie Sue that I spoke my first word (which was lighthouse, of all things), and my parents used to tell a story that kind of led up to that momentous occasion.

As a small boy, when I reached the age at which most children begin to speak, I remained mute. Needless to say, my parents grew concerned. They took me to my pediatrician and explained the situation.

The doctor asked them, "Does he point?"

"Yes," my parents answered.

"Do you give him what he points at?"

"Yes, we do."

"Then he doesn't need to speak," the doctor explained, and with that my parent's worries were placated. But how it was that I came to speak lighthouse as my first word still remains a mystery.

My dad kept the Lillie Sue docked at a small marina in Smith's Creek, Maryland, which was six miles from the Chesapeake Bay. It was about an hour's ride to get there by car from our home in Arlington, Virginia, and my dad liked to leave early in the morning so that he could get an early start out on the water. I would often still be sleepy on the ride down, and while he was driving my dad would let me lay my head down on his leg to take a nap. It was warm and familiar, and I would quickly fall asleep.

Once at the marina, I would wake refreshed and ready to start the day. My dad and I would walk down towards the boat, and I can still remember the hollow sound our shoes would make as we stepped along the wooden beams of the dock. The Lillie Sue sat at a right angle in a slip about halfway down the dock, and a small, perpendicular extension that jutted alongside the boat allowed access to the side entrance.

Depending on the tide, one either had to take a step up or a step down to get on the boat, and it was when the step down was rather steep that scared me. I was always afraid that I would slip off into the water. Once on the boat, however, I never felt afraid of falling off even when traversing the narrow ledge that led along the port and starboard sides from the stern to the bow, as there were secure handholds with which to grip.

I felt very much at home on the boat, as I had practically grown up on it and its predecessor. The first Lillie Sue was a 24 ft. cabin cruiser. One of my earliest memories on that boat was when we took it up the Potomac to Washington, DC. It was a long two-hour cruise that seemed to last forever. Then there were the countless fishing trips out on the bay when we would eat Vienna sausages and Spam sandwiches. It doesn't sound very appetizing now, but it sure seemed good then. I never did care for fishing much; I much rather enjoyed watching. After a day's catch, we would head back to port where once docked I would watch my mom and dad clean the fish. I never had any desire to take part in the act myself, with the exception of scaling the fish, but I was fascinated with the process of the actual gutting. I remember my dad pointing out that one could tell a pregnant female by the eggs in her insides

The second Lillie Sue, the Lillie Sue II, was a 27 ft. cabin cruiser, and my dad got that when I was around eight or nine. I went out on both boats with my dad scores of times, but the most fateful trip was when my dad took our family and friend's family out on the Lillie Sue II. I must've been around nine or ten for I remember my younger brother Jim and little sister Rosa were on board. The other family had a couple of kids, too.

While we were out on the bay, we ran into some bad weather, and my dad told all of us kids to sit down in the stern with our backs against the wall. The wind began whipping the seas into a violent fury, and I remember the boat continuously going up into the air bow first and then slamming back down hard onto the water. I was scared but in retrospect not as scared as my dad was. In retelling the story, he told how he thought the boat's bottom was going to bust pounding as hard as it was on the water. Had it busted up the boat would've sank, of course, and though everyone was wearing life preservers, who knows what our fate might had been. As luck would have it, though, we weathered the storm out and made it back to port safely.

With the exception of that trip, and the two rare trips that I got seasick, life on the Lillie Sue and the Lillie Sue II with my mom and dad (and just my dad after my mom had Jim and Rosa and had to stay home to take care of the young children). In many a sense, the boat was my home away from home.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bill's Early Years as told by John

On August 30, 1914 in Sherman, Texas, Walter Lee and Rosa Ivey had their fourth child, Wilbur Vernice, and he weighed in at 12 lbs. and change. Back then, child birthing was done in the home, generally with the help only of a midwife. There was no doctor, no anesthetic, and no cesareans. When Vernice came out of the womb it was quite a stretch, literally, and soon after Rosa told Walter, "No more!"

Vernice was the youngest of four children. Ollie Mae was the oldest, then Oswald Lee, then Eunice Marie and finally Vernice, the baby boy (who from here on will be referred to as Bill for continuity's sake). Whether it was planned or happenstance, there was a three-year gap between all of Rosa's pregnancies.

Walter Lee's father, who is known in family records only as W. H. Ivey, moved his family from Tupelo, Mississippi to Grayson County, Texas in 1863. It is speculated that the relocation was due to the inevitable encroachment at that time of Tupelo by the Union Army during the Civil War. Walter was one of 11 siblings, one of whom was named Montezuma, or Uncle 'Zumer, as Bill remembered him.

Walter laid down stakes in Sherman, which was the county seat of Grayson, and married Rosa Dodd. He became a merchant and a very lucrative one. After World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Walter watched events unfold, and shortly before the United states entered the war in 1917, he bought all the flour that he could store. After war broke out for America, the price of flour quadrupled in Sherman, and Walter made his fortune.

Though Walter was never wanting after that, Bill remembered him as being stingy and miserly. Ollie, on the other hand, was very generous to Bill. At the age of 10 or so, Bill wanted a light for his bicycle, and Ollie gave him four dollars for him to buy it. Sometime later Bill found out that that was Ollie's last four dollars, and after that there was nothing Bill would not do for Ollie.

Ollie was not the only one who indulged young Bill. He shared a bed with his older brother, and Oswald, usually going to bed first, would warm up Bill's side of the bed for him. Oswald was a high school football star who gained the nickname "No Hips" Ivey, as no one could ever seem to tackle him. Had it not been for a back injury sustained from playing ball, Oswald could've gone to college on a football scholarship (though Bill always maintained that Oswald had hurt his back lifting a Model T's wheel back up on the road from where it had slid off in the mud).

One night, when Bill was in his early teens, one of Oswald's friends spent the night with them. After they went to bed Bill found five dollars in the friend's pants pocket, and Bill took the money. Oswald's friend pressed charges, and Bill was sent off to reform school.

The young delinquent arrived at the detention center wearing a nice pair of shoes and was soon offered a sum of money to trade shoes with one of the other detainees. Bill wanted the money more than the shoes and took the other boy's offer. He used the money to buy cigarettes and other necessities.

Now Bill was a bully, and in any enclosed situation when there is more than one bully, a confrontation is bound to occur, and that was the case with Bill and Bud Fox. There was a fight between the two with no clear-cut conclusion after the fact other than that the two became best friends. Even into their golden years, Bill and Bud remained friends.

By the time Bill finished reform school, the great Depression was in full swing, and he and Oswald took off for California in a Model T Ford in search of better times.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sue's Young Years as told to Rosemary

Isn't it funny how each child picks up different things from their parents? My brother John, I think, grew up in a totally different household from me. I always have to post my comments to his posts like "huh?" And, I'm sure our two other brothers would have a totally different perspective on our family unit.

This is what I remember mom saying about her young years. In order to keep these posts more concise, as I do tend to ramble, I'm going to break them down into different times of our parents' lives--or at least that of what I can remember. I wish we had started this years ago while my dad was still alive, and we all were a bit younger. These days, mom's memory is getting shorter and shorter. But, hey, so is mine.

My mom was born Lillie Sue Bailey in February of 1924. Her mom died when she was only a few weeks old. There are different stories as to what the cause of death was. My mom insists it was a combination of childbirth and heartache (probably what we would call depression today). She tells the story of how her father, Charles, moved pregnant Jimmie out of town to way out into the country. Jimmie despised the country, and my mom seems to think she was heart broken while she was pregnant with her 6th child (my mom). When she gave birth, there were complications from which she never recovered. There were no doctors close, so who knows the whole story there? On the other hand, the eldest daughter, Mary, says that their mother died from kidney problems. As she was ten years old when my mother was born, she is probably a more reliable source on this subject. I'm sure the broken heart came from somewhere. There is usually a thread of truth in these old stories. So who really knows? There were no medical records for that place and time, unfortunately.

As I said, my mom was born in February 1924, and she celebrates her birthday on the 16th. I remember vaguely when I was about 10 there was some confusion as to what the actual date of her birth was. Since she was born at home, there was no birth certificate. I don't remember the circumstances, but my mom did receive her birth certificate around 1970. And, if I remember correctly, it was merely from her sister's memory that February 16 was the date of her birth. We really don't know for sure.

My mom says she was always taken care of by her closest sister Nita who was eight years her senior. Nita was the mother my mom never had. The two grew up sharing the same bed; and mom remembers Nita having to do more than her fair share of chores. Mom was the baby, and she was treated as such. She said that she was always a cry baby and "wimpy." She tells the story of her dad preparing the wood stove before dawn, and it was Nita's job to get up shortly thereafter to make the coffee. Their dad would call out, "Nita, are you up?" Nita's response "Yep, up in the bed" after which mom says she would get scared and tell Nita they better get up or there would be trouble. They both would always start giggling. My mom says she was pampered so much by Nita that once when she had a sore on her knee and her brother John cut it open with a straight razor to get the "poison" out, and as she couldn't walk for quite a while, it was Nita who carried her on her back everywhere.

There are also the stories of mom and Nita visiting their Aunt Corra. Mom says her aunts were "big women." "That big ol' woman would hold me between her knees and just start brushing all the kinks out of my hair since no one else ever did. I would sit there with tears rolling down my cheeks the entire time." I can totally relate, mom. I remember her doing the same to me when I was a little girl! We both had long thick curly hair that tangled easily. When the two girls would visit and stay over night, they would beg Aunt Corra to allow them to sleep on her "fancy" feather bed. Mom was a bed wetter, and Aunt Corra would say, "Now don't you pee on that featherbed." Both would promise to keep it clean. But mom always would wet the bed, of course. Nita was there to cover it up so Aunt Corra never knew (until after they left, I'm sure!).

Mom says her sister Mary was wild from a very early age; she was 10 years mom's senior. Mary was sent away to Aunt Cora's boarding house to help clean and cook when she was a teen. That was one thing my grandfather didn't need while trying to raise six kids on his own: a wild teenager with raging hormones. I know my mom only finished school through the fourth grade. After that she had to work to help support the family. Mom, without a doubt, did her share of picking cotton. "My little fingers would just bleed and stay sore all over," she says. She refused to wear a hat like all the other workers, and her brothers affectionately called her smut because she was so dark. (They called their brother Ralph "Koot." Dunno. Don't ask me.

I just pulled out mom's old, and I do mean OLD, photo album and this may be one of the earliest photos of my mom. Growing up, we never had a photo album of us kids. I guess my dad being a photographer paradoxically nixed that. Having so many photos, I guess it may have been overwhelming for mom to keep track of them all. My point is, I just don't see my mom keeping a photo album and a journal. I don't remember her being sentimental that way. But I did find a journal that she wrote for Joe when he was a baby. Perhaps she went through so much as a young woman that she gave up early on keeping records. I don't know. It was my Aunt Mary who kept everything. I am more like her in that respect. And, thus the beginning of a family journal, so to speak.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Life with Dad (the early years) as told by John

I was my dad's firstborn baby boy, and he loved me like no other thing in this world. I was a good baby, too. I rarely cried and would always smile when my dad would wake me to show me off. And he loved to show me off. So much so that before my first birthday he and my mom along with my older half-brother Joe (from my mom's first marriage) crisscrossed the southern United States with the express purpose of showing me to every family member and friend that he had, which included but was not limited to my mother's family in Georgia, his own family in Texas and his brother in California.

My dad had a small boat, a 24 ft. cabin cruiser that he took out on the Chesapeake Bay with my mom and I. As my dad told me years later, my mom seemed to be able to "smell" the fish in the water. She would tell my dad, "Bill, stop here," and they would more than likely start catching them as fast as they could reel them in.

I said my first word on the boat (which he had christened the Lillie Sue after my mom). As the story goes, we were headed back in after a day of fishing and as we rounded Point Lookout, where the Potomac River meets the bay, I pointed and said quite distinctly, "Lighthouse."

When I was about three my mother got pregnant again and eventually had to stay home to take care of my newborn baby brother James Edward and later my little sister Rosemary. That didn't prevent me and my dad from going out on the boat, though. I loved being with my dad. I wasn't that crazy about my mom for some reason. That would come later. But my dad? Well, I couldn't spend enough time with him.

During the springtime, my dad took photos of school groups that were visiting Washington. He posed them on the steps of the Grant Memorial so that the US Capitol showed in the background.
Before I started school, he would take me with him, and when I wasn't hanging out watching him take pictures, I loved to explore the area.

The Grant Memorial was a very touristy place with lots of vendors selling souvenirs and ice cream, and I ran around collecting up the discarded popsicle sticks. Back then popsicle sticks were a treasured item among the kids on my block, and I was the popsicle stick king. As the walkways around the Grant Memorial were a mother lode of popsicle sticks, I had more, way more, than anyone else.

Besides collecting popsicle sticks, I liked to "mine" the marble base of the statues for their "gold." To this day, I don't know what the tiny little yellow flecks embedded in the marble were, but at the time I was sure that it was gold. Now, I don't know what the statute of limitations is for defacing government property is, but I would take a hammer and nail and chisel those little nuggets out of the marble. Looking back on it, surely someone would have stopped me, but best as I can recall no one ever did.

Across the street from the Grant Memorial is the
this United States Botanic Garden, and when not vandalizing national monuments, the Botanic Garden provided an entire new world
for me to discover. It was a huge place especially for a small boy and had a maze of walkways throughout the many different sections, desert, tropical, etc. Every visit was a new adventure, and it seemed as if every trip through the place took me to someplace new via some previously undiscovered route.

The Garden is warm throughout and in the central area, the tropics, warm and humid. During one visit I got sleepy, and I lay down on a concrete bench and took a nap. When I woke up and looked around, the place was empty. I had slept too long, and now my personal land of adventure was closed! I panicked. My heart racing, I ran to the entrance, but it was locked. I would have to spend the night, and the thought terrified me. I stood frightened looking through the glass doors. Impending doom weighed heavy on my mind. What was I to do?

Just then, a man I recognized as being one of the workers there came sauntering towards me, and I just knew that I was in trouble. But he was very nice unlocking the door for me so that I could make my escape to freedom. Was I ever relieved.

I crossed the street back to the Grant Memorial, and found my dad. I told him what had happened, and to my chagrin he found the story amusing. I wanted to cry...

A Brief Background of the Ivey Family as told by John

My dad's full name was Wilber Vernice Ivey, though he went by the name of Bill. He was born August 30, 1914 in Sherman, Texas, a small industrialized town 60 miles north of Dallas.

My mom, Lillie Sue, or Sue for short, was born in the rural town of Carrollton, Georgia on February 16, 1924. She grew up dirt poor during the Depression.

With the advent of World War II, the United States boomed economically, and both my parents saw better times.

Sue, who grew up working in the fields for pennies a day, got dragged out on dates somewhat unwillingly by her older sister Nita (short for Juanita) because a guy that liked Sue had a car.

Bill, who had worked with on what he called CC camps (Civilian Conservation Corps), went to work for the more lucrative aircraft factories in California.

After the war was over, Sue got married to William Joseph Owens, Jr. with whom she had a child, William Joseph III or Joe for short. He was a womanizer, and Sue divorced him soon after. She got a room in a boarding house in Columbus, Georgia and went to work in a garment factory.

Bill, who had been working in an Army aircraft plant in Hawaii when the Japanese surrendered had taken a correspondence course in photography, and was a beckoned by his sister, Ollie, to come to work as a photographer in Washington, DC. Her husband, Vin, ran a profitable sightseeing company there and saw the potential for a photographer to take pictures of tourist groups and sell them copies of the photo.

Bill did just that and hired a fellow named Ralph to help him process the photos. During the slow season, Ralph took Bill to visit his family down in Georgia, and that was where he was introduced to Ralph's beautiful sister Sue. Bill fell in love with her, and he talked her into marrying him. They were wed in 1952. Bill was 38, Sue 28 and Joe six.

I was born in February 1955 and christened Johnny Lee. My brother, James Edward, came along in December 1958 and my sister Rosemary in November 1960. And thus the Ivey family was complete.