Category Archives: Family

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

Women’s History Month has its roots here in Sonoma County, CA. In 1978,  the local Commission on the Status of Women called for a week in March to be set aside to acknowledge the struggles and accomplishments of women. By 1980, the Women’s History Project was underway and Congress declared March our month.

Many women have influenced my life but in this day of attacks on the labor movement and hard-won labor rights I want to honor one woman who led the way, often with controversy. I hope you enjoy this tale. 

Excerpt from HUACHUCA WOMAN     Benson, Arizona   July 1917

Wiping her face of rivulets of sweat, she walked away from him and took a shady bench seat under the eaves of the station house, right alongside me. She was a smallish woman, getting on to thirty or thereabouts, fine featured with a full head of soot black hair, her crowning glory. She had the look of too many miles, too few good nights’ sleep and too much bad food. Her color was off and dark circles pooled under her gray blue eyes. She gave a faint smile.

             “Don’t think I’ll ever grow accustomed to the Arizona sun,” she said, fanning at the heat waves with her bit of the El Paso Herald.

            “I’m Arizona born and bred,” I said. “I’m still not used to it. Name’s Josephine Nichols.”

            “I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.”

            “The one they call ‘the rebel girl?’”

            “My main claim to fame,” she answered.

            “Believe I’ve read about you. You went out and made speeches for those lady silk workers in New Jersey about three, four year ago. Newspaper picture didn’t do you justice and I ‘spect they didn’t do so well by your speech either.”

            “You have that right. The newsies tend to intentionally garble what I say most of the time. Fortunately, the workers heard my message for themselves. It was a time.”

            “Is that what you do?  I mean, travel around the country and talk folks up?”

            “That and some writing,” Elizabeth answered. “What are you doing in this god forsaken place?”

            I laughed. “That’s my machine and trunks they’re trying to get loose. I’m heading back to my folks’ ranch with my boys.” I watched my sons horse around, in their usual fashion, and smiled when I caught Willy’s attention. He waved back. “Their daddy has gone off to the war.”      

“A soldier?  You’d think men would learn from their women to gather over the back fence or a cup of coffee and settle their differences before rushing off to kill one another.”

            “You sound like my Peter. He’s spent the last year or so saying that to anyone that’d listen. When the United States joined in the fray, he studied on it some more until he found a way to help. He’s gone off to drive ambulance for the Red Cross.”

            “Good for him. I hope he returns safely to you. And soon.”

            Wanting to shift the discussion away from Pete, my constant worry, I asked, “Who’s that man y’all were talking to? Your husband?”

            “No, no. He’s Big Bill Haywood, chief organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Some call us ‘Wobblies’ or the IWW. Some call him a ‘rabble rouser.’ There’s no one quite like him for getting the attention of working folks and management alike.”

            “Where y’all headed?”

            “There’s been some ugly business in Bisbee.”

            “Land’s sakes, those mines are so dangerous that it’s big time news when a month goes by without an accident,” I told her.  “Makes the headlines hereabout.”

             “They‘ve been saying the IWW down there is full of traitors and immigrants, people who don’t belong here.”

            “I’ve heard it said,” I responded. “Along the border here, most Mexican laborers come over for a time but go home when they want, and take their money with them.”

            “You might be surprised. The mining companies, at first, recruited Cornish, Welsh and German Austrian miners for their skills.” She took off her jacket and undid a few buttons of her blouse.  I followed suit and found some relief from the heat. “Now, these folks are a long ways from home and, for most, there’s no going back. They’ve settled here, become citizens, own land, have bank accounts, kids in local schools.”

            “German friends of ours just got chased out of El Paso a couple of months ago.”  I could see their sad faces as we saw the Kohls off at the station. “You’re right, there’s no going back to Germany for them. Just back to New York to be with more German Americans, to spare the children not fitting in.”

            “It’s a sad time for some, no doubt about it. Most of us have only a generation or two to look back to for immigration stories. My own family is lace curtain Irish.” She looked blankly into the distance as if seeing her ancestors.       

            “True enough,” I said. “Though to hear some talk, you’d think their people built and rowed the Mayflower across all by theirselves.”

            We both shifted in our seats as the sun moved further west and the shade slid off the bench. We fanned ourselves with more vigor. Late afternoon was coming on quickly toward dusk, still the heat held on. Shimmering light danced off a rock wall across the tracks. Flies hovered over horse patties on the parallel trail while a lizard, long and lean, scurried from under the station platform to begin its trek along the rails.

            Willy and Jim-boy, tired of supervising the repairs, collected coins from the crowd and went in search of cool drinks at the drug store down the road.  I felt drowsiness come on me. Elizabeth’s head lolled to her shoulder, causing her to shake awake. She shifted again in her seat and offered an embarrassed grin.

            “Your sons are quite a nice twosome.”

            “They’re good boys. Do you have children?”

            “I have a son, Fred. We call him Buster,” her face lit up. “He’s seven and spending the summer at the shore with the family. Mama and my sister Kathie look after him since I am away so much.”

            “It must be hard to be so far from him. I mean, if he were to get sick or something.”  I felt I had blundered badly here.

            “You’re right for he’s a thin one and has been sickly. He gets the bronchitis in his lungs and he had appendicitis last fall. Fortunately, I was home at that time. We kept him out of school for the rest of the year, fearing he’d get the infantile paralysis. It’s really bad back in New York.”

            “So I’ve heard. I had a brother die of lung disease,” I said. “Most of the lung problems out this way comes from the mining, but William Ebert didn’t have a chance to burrow under even if he’d a wanted. My first husband was a rock hound, but mostly on the surface.”  She asked after him and I repeated that sad story.

            We talked more of our families and their beginnings. Elizabeth much admired her well-read mother who inspired her daughters to go out into the world and make their mark. She spoke of her son in a wistful way, like a fancy doll she could take off the shelf and hold on special occasions, but didn’t dare get dirty. She worried that Buster would grow to resent her work for keeping her from him. I had no answer to that for I’d never had that particular fear, despite my own work.

            Talking of this and that, in the way women will do, I was interested in how she had traveled all about the country. In my limited experience, few women traveled alone. She had been in the Minnesota mines, the Mesabi Range, that summer, to Seattle and Boston and points in between. I thought she was very brave and told her so.

            “I don’t know that it is bravery, but I thank you. It’s just the way I am. I guess I’ll be fighting for better wages and working conditions until the end of my days. How about you, what do you see for yourself?”

            “I don’t rightly know,” I answered slowly for in contrast, I felt my life to be of  little social worth. “For now, I want to work the ranch. Get up before the chickens, ride the fence line, go on roundup with my daddy and sons, gossip with Mama and be pampered some by her. All the time praying that Peter comes home safe and sound.”

            “I’d say you have your work cut out for you.” She smiled warmly at me, as if knowing my doubts. “What’s Bisbee like?”  Elizabeth asked.

“It’s not hardly like any place else you’ve been, I ‘spect. There’s scarcely a level plain in the whole town. It’s all hillsides and topsy-turvey buildings, a bowl of a town with the houses barely stuck to the sides. And dominating it all are the mines with their sulphur fumes, dust, noise and saloons.”

            “Sounds lively,” said Elizabeth.

            “It’s had fire and floods and horrible epidemics, but it just keeps on thrivin’ and survivin’. One thing about Bisbee, you never know what’s gonna happen next. But something will. That’s Bisbee.”

            “Did you know the miners at the Copper Queen went out on strike?”

            “I been so busy packing up my household, I didn’t get many details,” I said, apologetically. “Is it settled yet?”

            “Far from it. Two thousand good citizens of Bisbee, including company men and spies from the Justice Department, took it upon themselves to run some twelve hundred men out of town, county and state.” Elizabeth stood up and paced on the platform in front of me. “Dragged them out of their beds, and crammed them into boxcars. By sizzling hot noon, they were out in the middle of the desert, at some place called Hermanas in New Mexico. Kept locked up overnight, with little water or bread and no sanitary facilities.” She turned and stared at me.

“Good heavens,” I said. “I’ve heard of pogroms in Europe where they gathered up the Jews and run them off like that. Who’d have thought that could happen right here to home. What’s happened since?”

She took a big breath, came and sat with me again. Her shoulders slumped, perhaps in sorrow, perhaps in fatigue.

            “A few were able to make it back to Bisbee, including our IWW lawyer who was caught up in the transport. Most, though, are sitting it out at the Army base near Columbus with no funds or way to get back here, and under a death threat if they do come.”

            “Now, that ain’t right. I imagine there’s family men amongst them?”

            “Absolutely. Most are citizens. Maybe half registered for the draft, have families and property. There’s even local businessmen caught up among the deportees.”

            “I’m shamed. War or no war, that ain’t right. But you still haven’t said what you’re doing out here, so far from New York.”

            A red capped porter was waving folks to board the branch line, the flatcar affixed in place. Willy and Jim-boy had long since settled down on the platform to wait and were now jumping on board and calling to me. We gathered up our satchels and climbed onto the train.

            “I was headed back east when I got a telegram from Big Bill, asking if I’d come down and speak to the strikers, try to give them heart,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll do that and then be on my way.”

            “All I can say is, you got grit, girly, and out here, that’s saying a mite.”

            She gave me a wide open smile and a pat on my arm. We said our goodbyes as I headed to the forward car and my boys, and she moved to the rear with her escort and the men he’d gathered to him. The boys and I wouldn’t be going as far as Bisbee, but unload at Hereford and head to the ranch. Pity was, I liked that young woman. I think we’d have been fast friends, given the chance.

A UNICORN ON MY HEAD

 Beware of taking a child to the library or you, too, may find a unicorn on your head.

The children’s writer Lewis Buzbee is coming to town soon to do a writing workshop that promises to appeal to adult writers, also. He’s written a book I wanted to read and ask about: Steinbeck’s Ghost.  In it, he writes of Steinbeck and several of his characters and since the third book in my loosely connected trilogy is entitled Rose of Sharon, you might guess we have something in common.

Last Monday was beautifully sunny with temps nearing 70 degrees, unseasonably warm as they say. The rest of the country was wrapped in wool and down and whatever was available to guard against unseasonable cold. I picked Allie up from pre-school and her speech class but it was too nice to head home.  She will be five in April, has a very active imagination and loves books and being read to. With books inherited from her sister and cousins and those bought specifically for her, her shelves runneth over. She’d never been to a library. It was time.

 We talked of how it is possible to take books home for a while, but maybe they better stay in Grandma’s room so not to get lost in hers. She agreed, though we’d come back to that again…and again. When we entered the library, she looked up and down the long aisles of the adult section with something close to shock on her face. In the huge children’s room, she walked up and down, touching book after book, pulling out the small chairs so much prettier than the ones at school. Posters caught her eye, as did the children using computers and headsets. We were early enough that the after-school crowds hadn’t arrived.

 While the librarian helped locate my book, Allie took her time choosing. She made such delightful choices: Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s ready-to-read Dog and Bear: Two Friends and Three Stories. Her other choice: Where go the Boats? Play-Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson.

 Obviously, the child has an innate sense of Great Literature. I mean, Stevenson’s poetry???  Seeger?

Our reading took on a new depth one night. Allie, that dimpled darling redhead, said that her animals wanted to see the books, too. Nothing would do but that they were placed on and around my lap and head (yes, that’s a unicorn up there on high), the better to see and read.  Mind you, I had a hard time seeing the page with all these critters jostling for seats at the banquet. They all liked the poems and, I think, recognized themselves in Dog and Bear.

 The moral of the story: Take a child to the Library; you, too, will find magic in your life if not a unicorn on top of your head!

Sometimes of a Christmas Day

 A sleep-in, all cuddly and snug, with fresh coffee to clear my head,
Then it was off to the valleys, the mountains and coast
Where clouds scurried overhead like imaginary ghosts.

Winter in valleys and pastures alike found trees bare with mist rising,
For the rains had just stopped and the sun shone in full glare
Spreading a pearly softness throughout the air.

A car, here and there, appeared on the road, each destination unknown.
New calves and lambs on hillsides were grazing
There in the long valley called so greenfully amazing.

Down from the hills, onto the plain, impromptu streams poured great froth.
There, Old Watson School since 1856 has kept watch,
Past the lambs wool store and the blooming broom so Scotch.

Soon came Bodega, Victorian in every windowpane and bright light,
We paused to remember all those years long ago,
When the field wasn’t Landscape but land for food to grow.

At Highway One, the big houses and eucalyptus trees so out of place
Are rocking to rhythms from the wind unheard,
And the little bay town, so busy in summer, lies undisturbed.

We stop at Salmon Creek, shed ourselves of the Blue Noise, and take to the trail.
High tide had the ocean climbing the steep beach,
Tossing foam and debris within easy reach.

I graze the sand for treasures, hoping to remake a mobile of my youth.
Instead of odd trinkets of metal and glass,
I am left with an old tire, plastic garbage, no brass.

Winds grab at my long hair and I feel the cold sting of the Pacific calling,
Reminding me of another time in this place
When pregnancy and youth set the pace.

On the road again, following the steep winding path of One’s devious way,
Comes a hot brandy hard won, and famed Timber Cove lunch
Where the swans have long since left, the whole bunch.

Just another tourist, watching the surf beating on the rocks below,
Counting egrets, crumpled old fences and tin barns,
Until the day shrinks and of nighttime it warns.

Up Old Ross Road, away from the Russian Fort so historic,
We climb through the tunnel of wet redwoods and oak,
Giant ferns and huge gulleys all asoak.

Waterfalls emerge, jumping from ledge to ledge and surprise us some more
As the mountains close in and cup us in their grasp
Little of daylight breaks through as we pass.

Suddenly the land jumps to open nature’s door, bring us to rolling meadow.
Here is the sun, brilliant sky and deep crevasses.
Here hang the silvered grey Spanish mosses.

The black ribbon road continues to weave its way through the mountains,
Past the old stage coach stop with its wondrous old view,
Past lonesome country retreat and family homes, too.

Like Dasher, Dancer and crew, we whirl onward this Christmas Day.
Weathered and tumbling down old fences have one story to tell,
And so do the white orange posts from fiber optic hell.

The land levels down near Montgomery School and brings us to Cazadero
Where the redwoods were carved from the soil,
Bringing men hungry for the chance to toil.

A few hardy souls can be seen as we go, but mostly lights and windows glow.
From the smoke in the chimneys now haunting the air,
We know crackling fires are set before many a chair.

We leave the mountains and forest nearly behind as we enter River Road.
Home buildings multiply and cattle dwindle
Where the Russian River churns like thread on a spindle.

It’s homeward we’re bound, as the towns rush by and collide,
Pushing us past Northwoods to Korbel’s gate,
Now vineyards, now river, now lagoon in flood state.

Sometimes of a Christmas Day, things happen to renew our life.
Such was the year in two thousand and three,
When Hubby and me set out for Sonoma County to see.

Arletta Dawdy
December 25, 2003

Remembering Jessa

JESSICA PHAN DAWDY

December 15, 1991-July 30, 2009

 

The Persian poet Kahlil Gibran has written:

          “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

          Remembering Jessica with delight is what I hope for today.

We celebrated my husband’s birthday on our first meeting more than seven years ago. She was shy, quiet, just a little intimidated.  As Greek music played and the dancers twirled, she gave it up and went to sleep, resting her head on Kim’s lap. From then on, she became an important part of our lives…our oldest grandchild.

At Christmas and her birthday, my challenge was to find Chinese or Vietnamese treasures to delight her, while she loved to choose just the right gifts for others.

Sometimes Jessa delighted in outraging her adults…in music, in dress, in argument and hassle. Other times, a giggle, a laugh, a joke I didn’t get reminded me of her zany self.

She loved to multi-task:  baking, eating, watching TV and texting away at the same time. Jessa would sigh dramatically and fix it when I couldn’t figure out simple cell-phone maneuvers.

I wanted much for her in life: to eat her vegetables(she’s arguing with Granddad  Jim about that one;) to be a strong person, a good friend, a better student and to belch quietly; I wanted her to be surrounded with the love she gave others…and  continues to give us in memory, in our hearts.