Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grandma and the Prince - Part 20 - Barbara Bretton

<==Grandpa Larry and yours truly, a thousand years ago! Estella, congratulations! You're the winner of my July giveaway. All I need is your mailing address and we're in business. You can email me here or here at barbarabretton AT gmail DOT com and I'll do the rest.

And Marybelle, I'm still waiting for your mailing address. You were June's giveaway winner. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

This month I'm sharing a 1980 letter from my Grandpa Larry. He was 84 when he wrote it and legally blind. Keep in mind the man had only a sixth grade education. Everything he knew (and he knew a lot) he taught himself. He had a curious, searching mind, enormous discipline, and amazing wellsprings of strength.

His letter is in answer to one of mine. Right after I came home from the hospital after cancer surgery, I was contacted by a long-lost relative on Grandpa's side of the family. MS was in her early fifties at the time and she had recently embarked on a genealogical project that led her to contact Grandpa Larry, my parents, and me.

I laugh now at my wide-eyed innocence. I couldn't imagine how she had lived her entire life not knowing that Chippewa blood flowed through her veins. (Clearly I still had a lot to learn about family dynamics and keeping secrets.)

This is my grandfather's take on it.


March 11, 1980

Dear Barbara:

I hope that by the time you receive this letter you will be home from the hospital and feeling in good shape. I was glad to get your letter. You write such a nice letter. I hope that both you and Roy have been well. There seems to have been a lot of flu going around.

Well, I can understand your statement that this MS does not know anything about her heritage because her mother Marion did not likely know anything either. You would have to understand about my uncle to get the picture. I suppose that MS probably heard about it from one of the other second cousins.

You see, my uncle was not my favorite uncle, although I respected him and he treated me very well. It was just one of those things. Some relatives you like better than others. I am under the impression that he considered his Indian heritage as a skeleton in the closet and wished to keep it there. He was the youngest of his brothers and sisters and also the better educated. When he was a little boy, the Indian uprisings were still going on. Of course, we know that they were fighting to keep from being pushed back into the barren reservations and there was a lot of bitterness on both sides. Even when I was a small boy, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse – the great Indian commanders – were far more than just a memory. The Custer Affair at Little Big Horn (which happened on your birthday – look it up!) still rankled. As they would say, Indians were not some one you would invite in for a cup of tea. When my mother was so sick, we had another Indian girl named Carrie Zane from another nearby Indian family help take care of my mother. Also nearby was a stately old Indian named Tecumca Tony Jones who had somehow come into money – his family gone to the four winds – lived alone in a big red brick house. Nobody ever paid any attention to him but he always conducted himself with great dignity. So now I will try to tell you about my uncle.

I never knew too much about him early in my life. I don’t know where he went to school. The thing I do know is that he had the finest penmanship of any I have ever seen, barring none. He used the old Spencerian style with pen and ink, a style which started out with the invention of the fountain pen and completely disappeared with the development of the ballpoint pen. It was done with a freehand motion, using the wrist. You have heard the saying “letter perfect,” well that was his writing He could take a sheet of white paper and with that freehand motion of light, shade, and flourishes, draw a most beautiful bird flying through the air. Unbelievable.

Lane, Kansas – where my uncle lived all his life from I guess late teens, was then – and as I remember it – a pretty town of about 800 people. It had an unusual number of good stores and business places, like two blacksmith shops, carpenter shops, and the like. It was located in the center of a rich farming community and many well-to-do farmers lived for miles around and used it as their business center and made Lane a busy, thriving town. But now my sister Lula tells me after the advent of the huge cooperative farms came in and bought up all of the individual farms and the farmers moved away, it went down to nothing and now there is not even a grocery store in the town.

During the good days of Lane, my uncle knew everybody from miles around and everybody knew him and he was a highly respected man. His two older daughters Clo and May, that I knew well, were both graduates of Baker University, a well-known college for women (in existence today) located at Baldwin. Not far from Lawrence, Kansas – the location of the University of Kansas.

He was one of the first, if not the first, to be appointed as a Rural Free Delivery mail carrier, a job he had for many years. His route was about 25 or 30 miles and he delivered six days a week by horseback, horse and buggy, and as the roads became better cared for, by an Indian-made motorcycle, and the last time I was there, by Model A Ford Touring Car. He was a hard-working man, and after he returned from his route, he would work the rest of the day and evening in one of the local stores.

The last ten years of my grandmother’s life, the years I knew her well, I never knew of him visiting her once, although he may have but I don’t think so. I have a pretty good idea why.

Of course, my Uncle Billy lived with her but with the exception of Lula and myself and on one or two occasions my cousin Ed Griffith (my Aunt Belle’s second oldest son) I never knew of a relative visiting her although it may have happened but my grandmother never mentioned it to me and I was with her as often as possible and we talked of many things, about her life as a girl in Ohio with her tribe and her early days in Kansas. But she was in a way too stoic and I never heard her complain about anything.

There is one thing I believe and that is that few, if any, of my uncle’s many friends and neighbors in and around Lane ever knew that the Little Old Injun Lady who lived in the log cabin in the woods near Rantoul – and not many miles from his home – was his mother.

I wonder if it was pride or shame.

This has been a long drawn out explanation but I have tried to show why I think it is highly possible that none of his children or grandchildren knew or were told anything about his mother’s origin and that is why I think that MS would not know and when did find out something, try to find out more.

Take care of yourself.

Love to both of you,



Grandpa was right. MS didn’t find out about her Chippewa heritage until after both of her parents died and she began studying genealogy. She grew up in California at a time when Indian blood was something to hide. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was part Chippewa, but then I grew up in New York City where it was exotic and glamorous. Same country, same family, vastly different takes on an incontrovertible fact.

See you next month!

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and I'm looking to give away some more books to a commenter who'll be chosen at random and announced right here next month.

PPS: The trade edition reprint of SOMEONE LIKE YOU will be out in early October. SPUN BY SORCERY, third in my Sugar Maple series, hits the stands in early November.

PPS: You can find me here or here or on Facebook. I hope you'll stop by and say hello.


Laney4 said...

"He was 84 when he wrote it and legally blind. Keep in mind the man had only a sixth grade education."

Wow. I DID keep that all in mind as I read your blog. What an incredible man! Thanks for sharing this story, as well as including a copy of his "page 8". Amazing. Truly amazing.

I enjoyed this blog tremendously. Perhaps it is all the references, but when it's from the perspective of someone "you know", it seems all the more real. I hope that makes sense to you.

Anyway, thanks again and have a great day.

Alison said...

I'm so fascinated by your stories of your family. I'm looking into my genealogy and my husband's, and each new discovery takes us onto another path. So interesting!

traveler said...

I am captivated by this letter and this entire family history. There is nothing more interesting than true life and these stories always fascinate me.

petite said...

When I begin reading your wonderful blogs they transport me to another time, place, era and these people and their lives become enthralling.

cheryl c said...

I am so enjoying the stories of your family. It touches my heart when I can discover something personal about my relatives whom I only know through pictures.

catslady said...

Absolutely fascinating. So many people have lost so much by not getting the information from relatives that then pass on. I use to love to hear my grandmother's stories and then my mom's of times past and I tried to pass them on but things get forgotten and time passes. My husband has an uncle that spends a lot of time researching and has gone back many generations and finds new distant relatives constantly. Unfortunately, my husband (the last of their immediate family with their last name) isn't very interested and my daughters not so much either.

Pat Cochran said...

In every family there is always a
secret! My MIL told me that during
the Wars, her father told everyone
who asked that their German last
name was Irish!

Pat Cochran

chey said...

Thank you for sharing this letter. Things are so different now.

Estella said...

I love the stories about your family history.
Thanks for sharing with your readers!

Carol said...

I loved reading about your family history. I guess because I also enjoy hearing about my own family history.

Kirsten said...

Grandpa Larry sounds like an amazing man! How wonderful to have his letter knowing how difficult it must have been for him to write. I have a letter from my grandmother in wich she talks about cooking and sends her love. The subject isn't so much what makes me value it as is the fact that it's in her own hand.

mariska said...

" This month I'm sharing a 1980 letter from my Grandpa Larry"

you are a great collector. i guess not much people will keep old letters and old pics.

looking forward to read the another story about your family !!

host said...

Thank you for sharing.

Michele L. said...

Hi Barbara,

Wow! Another great installment! I never tire reading about your family history. I never knew my grandpa's because they both died before I was even born. I just love learning about my family history. I never tire reading about your ancestry.

Barbara Bretton said...

You guys make my day! Thanks for the comments and the encouragement. I wish I had a bigger family and even more stories to share.

Mary said...

I'm really loving the continuing story of your family. I come back each month to read what you've posted.