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In attempting to define the normal childhood, whatever that might be, I think that perhaps we begin by examining our own and then try to use it in some meaningful way. I therefore insist that mine was a normal childhood, with nothing conspicuous or particularly outstanding, because it is necessary to do so. True, I won two art awards in grade school and I have no idea how that happened since I am not particularly good at drawing or painting. Music came easy for me from a very early age, but that can be said for a lot of people. I played baseball, got into the appropriate number of fistfights, and rode my bicycle around with the other kids. Seems normal enough to me.

Is that all there was to it?

Really, our youths were certainly defined by more than our simple existences and more than our childhood pals, bicycles, brawls, kickball, and so on. In fact, some of my earliest memories come from the inside of a large musky tent on a deep summer's evening near some lake or perhaps a river. I was one of several kids - my brother and my cousins, nestled inside of our sleeping bags while the adults were all outside enjoying a highball or perhaps a beer and some conversation around a small fire. I seldom understood many words from those conversations, and found that it wasn't important what they were saying anyway, simply that those voices from outside of the tent were as good and as safe as any security blanket that could've been provided.

My grandmother - my father's mother - was always there and I always thought that she was perhaps the truest definition of a matriarch that could be found anywhere. In fact, when I was old enough to read, my mother forced a copy of Steinbeck's Grapes Of Wrath on me, I looked at her quizzically, this obviously wasn't Laura Ingalls Wilder stuff. "This is the history of your father's side of the family," she said. "Your grandmother easily could've been Ma Joad." I started to read it, and as I continued I began to increasingly hate John Steinbeck with every page.


Friday, July 30, 2010, was my parents fiftieth anniversary. My parents have never been divorced, imagine that. They married, then argued a lot for about twenty years, then became tired of that and have gotten along ever since. I have a feeling that a lot of couples that live with each other for fifty years do this sort of thing. Maybe they say to each other, "What the hell, we've gone for twenty-five, might as well make it fifty." Maybe this is what happens.

A few years after I came down here to live, after a short time in the hospital where my father almost died, my parents eventually went on to live in Eastern Tennessee. They wanted to get out of Los Angeles. Who could blame them? It was the best thing that ever happened to me. But with this move, the contact has dwindled. The cost from here to there is too much. And in this economy, we simply couldn't afford the airline ticket back there.

I managed to scrape up enough to call my parents on their anniversary. After a good old-fashion political brawl with my mother, things settled down and I found out that someone they knew who belonged to the local Moose Lodge somewhere back there had arranged a big party for them the following weekend. My brother will attend since he lives close by, and perhaps my cousin from Atlanta, and then a bunch of people in the community. That would have never happened in Los Angeles.

Then I talked to my dad. After the usual pleasantries, I told him that I wanted to write about my grandmother, his mother. My memories of a strong matriarch, the centerpiece of his side of the family, was left with a lot of holes in it, and I needed them filled. My dad confessed that there was plenty that he didn't know himself.

"Matriarch? Well, I don't know about that," he said. "Your Grandmother was quite a partygirl when I was growing up."

I took a big slug of tequila, that was the last thing I thought I would hear from my father.


My memory of Wewoka, Oklahoma, is that it was so small that one could spit from one side of town to the other, at least that's how I remember it when I was perhaps ten years old. The very name of the town translates to barking water in Seminole, although there is no water there, save for a creek that runs north of the city, the source of which comes from Oknoname Reservoir. Wewoka is easily forgettable, as are many small towns in old Indian Country. My father was born in Wewoka. My guess is that he never heard any water barking there either.

"Your mother was also born in Wewoka?" I asked. It felt strange to be interviewing my own father.

"She was. Hell, everyone was. Your aunt and uncle, your grandmother's brothers and sisters, of course your grandmother was the baby of her family," he said.

I don't remember if there were ten or twelve in that family. I didn't care to ask, because I began to realize that it would take a long time to wade through this, and since I wanted to get a better idea of how long, I just pressed on.

"So, you were little when you left Wewoka and went to California?"

"A baby. Except we didn't go straight to California," he said

"Funny, I got the impression..."

"No, we lived in Arizona briefly after Oklahoma," he continued. "Then, California. Then, back to Oklahoma, then Arizona again, and then California again, and then back to Arizona..."

At this point, there simply wasn't enough tequila. I had always been under the impression that, like Ma Joad, my grandmother and perhaps my grandfather, along the family had all come straight out of the dust bowl and had landed in paradise in California. While that is, at least in part, true to a point, there were plenty of shenanigans along the way. I knew that at some point early on, my paternal grandparents had separated and eventually divorced. My father wound up in Casa Grande, Arizona, which was another tiny little place so long ago. Unlike Wewoka, Casa Grande is a big place now. They might even have their own Walmart.

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Founder Aug. 1, 2010 @ 8:54 a.m.

I'd suggest that you get or make some audio and or video of your family otherwise once they are not around any longer you will be unable to enjoy the sound of their voices or the look in their eye...

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nan shartel Aug. 1, 2010 @ 10:42 a.m.

i'm so friggin' stammered by this Refried...my mother was raised in Durant and Wewoka Oklahoma...and i can solve ur families floating back and forth between Cally and Arizona in a hurry

KING COTTON my lad...best long strand cotton growing is in Casa Grande and Eloy... Pima Cotton...Eloy (which means GOD in Spanish) is still just a crossroad...not really...fine Horses and cotton..not so much diary now..

the majority of the population is Hispanic....and nice people..yeow..u bet they r!!!!

my best friend Beth who speaks perfect Spanish along with some Native American dialects were there just a few years ago...been to and stayed in Eloy twice...the Spanish speakers use to kid us because of our dog that constantly jumped up and dance around us...they call out...baile con los perros.....better then wolves..maybe

back to Oklahoma ...my mums family 2..to see relatives and check on their OIL RIGHTS...i was taken there by Greyhound when i was about 18months old to be shown off

the only thing about Steinbeck novel that was ramped up was the Communist Unionizing...that was small and inconsequential in reality

Wewoka was Dust Bowl..as was Durant...and many other states in the bread basket of our country ....it extended from the Dakotas..down thru Nebraska..parts of Colorado...Kansas...Oklahoma...New Mexico and Texas

the Choctaw Nation is in Durant...my mum went to an Indian school there as a child...and my grandmother was 1/2 Choctaw

this is all just so amazing to me that we have so much history in common Refried

i bet we're cousins!!!

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nan shartel Aug. 1, 2010 @ 10:45 a.m.

gee i wish i'd known about that Airfare..i'd have fronted u the dough...that's Okies for ya...they'd give u the clothes off their backs if they liked ya

them first thing anyone ever said about my mum or grams was that they were GOOD HEARTED

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David Dodd Aug. 1, 2010 @ 11:01 a.m.

I know about the cotton, nan! Of course, that land was all irrigated and then they used it all up, so no more cotton (or very little now). Back then there were a lot of American Indians, my dad (who is 1/4 Seminole) would tell me stories about them.

So far as the airfare, it isn't as cheap as 1 commentor posted, plus my folks live nowhere near Nashville, plus if I went alone my parents would kill me for not taking the wife and kids, the wife can't get out of work and the kids can't get out of school and my son & his G/F just had a baby, it goes on and on. There will be video shot, and my folks - in deciding to pick up and move across the country - understand that it makes it tough.

It's nice to know, though, that you offered, quite a wonderful gesture! And, you're right, with all of the fork-stabbing that Steinbeck did, in the end he got it right, those people took care of each other, they knew what it meant. Small world, Nan. Very small world.

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nan shartel Aug. 1, 2010 @ 11:12 a.m.

yeah the problem was they deep plowed...didn't know about surface plowing or crop rotation..never left the land fallow for a season or 2..now they plant grass on fallow ground and leave it for at least 2 seasons

the government will even paid hem to always plant prairie grasses

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David Dodd Aug. 1, 2010 @ 11:16 a.m.

And Pima, wow, that reminds me of my dad telling me about Ira Hayes. He was one of the marines that raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Hayes wound up drinking himself to death. My dad was so saddened by it. "Ira Hayes could have done anything he wanted to after the war, he was a hero. Instead, he found the bottle. He died broke."

That was all true, he was a hero. He was a Pima Indian. He was 32 years old when he died. Tragic.

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MsGrant Aug. 1, 2010 @ 11:56 a.m.

Wow, your grandmother sounds like quite the woman!! I want to know how many husbands - come on, you can tell us....

It would have been great to get into your grandmother's head. I like this aspect of womanhood. That not wanting to settle down, the not settling for one man, and especially during that time, when divorce was uncommon. But, I am finding out that it was not as uncommon as we thought.

Funny thing about family is as kids we have this romantic image of our grandparents, like nothing could knock them down. My mom once told me that her parents moved to Boston when they were first married and my grandmother was so homesick she almost divorced him. I could not believe it, she professed her undying love to him until the day he died, and still does to this day. The idea that she could have left him and none of us would be here still startles me.

Great story, I hope you tell us more...I love that your and nan's family followed a similar trajectory!!

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David Dodd Aug. 1, 2010 @ 12:01 p.m.

I will write about her, but Friday's conversation with my father really changed my trajectory. Apparently, I was quite protected from her doings and undoings, I never knew. I also need some communication with my aunt, she would know even more than my father. I'm serious about this being novel material, I could've written eight times what I write in this entry and not have scratched the surface of what little I now know. And apparently there is so much more.

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MsGrant Aug. 1, 2010 @ 12:18 p.m.

Oh, yes, if there are other family members out there, talk to them!! The women always seem to know more. It's like a whole tale unraveling. All these things locked up, stories to be told, secrets to be revealed, I love it!

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David Dodd Aug. 1, 2010 @ 12:25 p.m.

When my grandmother left, I get the feeling that my aunt pretty much raised her older and younger brothers. I have always greatly admired my aunt for a lot of reasons, and my father is passing along her email address, so I look forward to whatever she has to say.

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MsGrant Aug. 1, 2010 @ 12:34 p.m.

Us, too. I started reading Flannery O'Connor and Kate Chopin stories recently, and I love the women in them. Especially Kate Chopin, whose women were shockingly unabashed about their behavior, but they leave you feeling good about their choices. I see your grandma's tale shaping that way.

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nan shartel Aug. 1, 2010 @ 1:19 p.m.

yes that area is Pima land Refried...sounds like u and Grantie have a good story plan for the future...good luck to u both

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MsGrant Aug. 1, 2010 @ 2:02 p.m.

Ha! Nan, the most I can offer is sincere encouragement....

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David Dodd Aug. 1, 2010 @ 3:35 p.m.

I truly thank you both, MsGrant and Nan, for such encouragement. I'll do my best to make good on it.

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antigeekess Aug. 2, 2010 @ 1:19 a.m.

Great entry, gringo.

Yes, it becomes a bit hard to romanticize our dear old GMs when their shenanigans come to light. Here's the big scandal in my (adoptive) family: My adoptive dad was the product of a union between his mother and her SISTER'S HUSBAND. He's been dead 20 years, and she's been dead for way longer, so I don't think anybody much cares now. But yup, my adoptive dad's uncle was actually his dad. And here's the kicker -- he was the spitting image of the dude. No way she could even deny it.

As for my own birthmother, Ruby? Married 7 times that we can document. Maybe 8. Apparently she's the one that Kenny Rogers song is about.

"Oh, Ruuuuuuuuuuuby, don't take your love to town."

She took it. Often.

And, as a result, you have the magnificent bastardette typing this comment. See how it really is the best of all possible worlds?

;)

sigh It's all enough to make you feel like a boring old f*cker by comparison, isn't it?

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David Dodd Aug. 2, 2010 @ 2 a.m.

Oh, AG, funniest thing you should leave this comment right here right now. I just emailed my father. The damnedest load of bricks he dropped, my head is still spinning, I never knew.

My question to you then, how long did it take you to find out about your adoptive dad and your birth mother? Hell, I'm almost fifty, and while I knew my grandmother married a bunch of times, I just figured that the men done her all wrong. The longer I live, the less I know.

And ma'am, if I might say so, you truly are one magnificent bastardette ;)

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nan shartel Aug. 2, 2010 @ 10:28 a.m.

i always hoped i was adopted Auntie G...but at some age i think all kids do..hahaha

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nan shartel Aug. 2, 2010 @ 11:25 a.m.

even a bastardette would have been nice ;-)

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bohemianopus Aug. 4, 2010 @ 8:13 a.m.

I loved reading this--but then I love reading everything you write. There should be a permanent section in this publication for your stories (especially the ones about Baja).

And I hope you gave Steinbeck another chance--he is one of my favorite authors!

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David Dodd Aug. 4, 2010 @ 8:37 a.m.

You are far too kind, thank you :)

And of course, I did come to appreciate Steinbeck very much. When I was in high school, in American literature, the techer assign the Grapes Of Wrath at one point and I politely told her that I had read it and requested an alternate. She gave me a copy of Of Mice And Men. Imagine a teenage boy trying to hide the tears in the classroom when George levels the gun at the back of Lennie's head.

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MsGrant Aug. 4, 2010 @ 9:24 a.m.

Congrats, RFG!!! This was a great blog. And I'm glad to hear you gave Steinbeck another "shot"!!!

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David Dodd Aug. 4, 2010 @ 9:59 a.m.

Thanks, Ms. Grant. I actually wound up reading about all of Steinbeck's novels eventually. But as you might imagine, I had a difficult time rationalizing at an early age how Steinbeck could've portrayed my grandmother as some backward hick ;)

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antigeekess Aug. 4, 2010 @ 11:45 p.m.

Congrats again, refried! And to answer your question:

"My question to you then, how long did it take you to find out about your adoptive dad and your birth mother?"

I'm not really sure how old I was when my adoptive mother (inappropriately) dropped that bomb on me about my adoptive dad. She loved anything that might cast someone else in an unfavorable light. I know I wasn't an adult yet.

As for Ruuuuuuuby, I dug up most of those marriages myself when I did the research to find her. In fact, I think I have 2 of her original divorce decrees -- I thought the clerk handed me copies, but I discovered when I got home they were originals. I was 20-21. Her little sister, my aunt, filled in the gaps.

"Hell, I'm almost fifty, and while I knew my grandmother married a bunch of times, I just figured that the men done her all wrong."

Not uncommon. Most families keep secrets better than mine. And most don't have a nosey little ferret like me trotting down to the county courthouse to root around in their business.

"The longer I live, the less I know."

Exactly.

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." -- Mark Twain

"The more you know the less you understand." -- Tao te Ching

:)

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David Dodd Aug. 5, 2010 @ 12:37 a.m.

"And most don't have a nosey little ferret like me trotting down to the county courthouse to root around in their business."

It's so funny that you say this. A fellow writer just posited that the best thing that a writer could do was to listen, and I had to respond that perhaps, there is some truth in that, but good writers are very nosey. I've always feared that I'm not nosey enough ;)

My wonderful parents, with all of their shortcomings (and I fully expect that my own kids will someday lovingly refer to my own), never clued me in. How about that?

I reckon, like yourself, I'll be relying on my own aunt to fill in some of those gaps.

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Donald Sept. 19, 2010 @ 11:18 a.m.

Really great work, refriedgringo. It makes me want to re-read Grapes of Wrath, which I read far too early in my life to appreciate.

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