Sunday, October 19, 2008

Although she died when my mother was thirteen, Winnifred Vermilion was a big part of my family oral and preserved history. I have spent the cold Sunday morning leafing through her journal written in the 1920's.  On the first page, dated Nov.4th, 1920, Sherman, Texas, she has written the alphabet with symbols underneath each letter. 'A Written - 'code' she notes underneath. 

It is an accountants journal with its charts of weight per bushel of grain, and it lists the quantity of seed required to plant an acre of parsnips and any other vegetable. Also charted is the carrying capacity of a freight car and so much more, typed on the inside binding, front and back, loaded with business information. Each page is numbered. The pages are crisp and yellowed and it looks as though many have been ripped out. It smells musty, she wrote in pencil only. On page 11 is her first entry.
But there should be -love-hope-faith-honor and chastity. 
Truth like a white winged dove-should reign supreme.
Love next-faith and faithfulness; walk hand in hand.
Beauty and  contentment_ in close communion.
If unselfishness were the ruling Monarch, the whole earth and the people on it_ the beauty of it would completely out rival the brightness of the sun_ where no cloud could ever hide. 
But Selfishness has blackened the whole world. 

Winnie, as folks seemed to have called her in her younger years 
was a radical in her day. She wasn't a baptist. My mother recalled having rocks thrown at them as they walked down the street because of this. There are many rants in her journal on this subject, especially after  a minister stops by unannounced hoping for dinner, for whom she killed and cooked a chicken, though he was behaving strangely. 
She wonders if he has some deep trouble which is the cause of his peculiar manner, writing 'No matter_the world is full of people in trouble. I wanted to be kind but I fear I failed.'  
She didn't think much of organized religion. Though most of her writing is spiritual in nature.

She questioned whether he was a landmark baptist, or a convention man. Whatever he told her, she was not convinced. "He left just like he came_without warning", she writes.

I look at her photo, yellowed, she is sitting on the floor listening to the Victrola. Hair gone wild. Of the hundreds of photo's I have seen  of her, this is her only hippie shot. My sister Vanna inherited her hair for sure.

She looks much more together in this one with her daughter, my grandmother, Aubrey.
 They weren't popular in town because there were no permanent men in the household for many of their years in Texas, she rented out to boarders. I think her maiden name was Craig, due to letters from old friends that are tucked into the journal addressing her in quotes as 'Winnie Craig'.
Foster was her married name, a son died very young in that marriage, I saw his birth/death certificate in an old box a long time ago with a very scary looking Klu Klux Klan ID card. I don't remember the name on the card, it is long gone. 

I was told by my mother that during the depression she married a man she hated. She had a young daughter, was widowed and felt she had no other choice. She couldn't stand to bear his children, and gave herself two abortions with knitting needles. 

He eventually shot himself in the foot and died of gangrene. (I get a glimpse of her on that run down farm, refusing to use her healing skills as well as she should have at the time)
They were not too popular either, due to his temperament. He was always threatening to shoot people. There is a receipt for a memorial stone for Robert E. Vermillion tucked into the Journal dated Jan, 22, 1940.

Apparently the horror stories she told the neighborhood children who sat at her feet, captivated, while she quilted and chain smoked on the front porch, came from that time. They were stories of murders, suicide and disappearances. My mother also told variations of these stories to roomfuls of little girls tucked into sleeping bags at the slumber parties my sister and I had often when we were young. We loved to hear them, huddling together for comfort, as she recounted the bizarre in the darkness of candlelight for us.

Aubrey, my grandmother grew into a graceful beauty, 
did some modeling and soon married a tall handsome wildcat oilman, but he was gone soon after my mother was born. It was  up to Winnifred, Aubrey and Barbara to raise each other, this was during the war when money was scarce and most things were rationed. Whatever memories Aubrey carried of her childhood she kept to herself. But at times, bursts of anger and rage erupted out of this gentle, peaceful woman that did tell a story of feeling overwhelmed at times. Growing sweet smelling roses brought out her gentle beauty. 

My mother called Barbie Jean, spent her pre teen years, watching the Hardy boys, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. She taught herself to dance from these movie stars so she could go on to become something other than a fatherless, poor and somewhat lonely little girl in El Paso

She formed big dreams while working in the gardens with her grandmother playing with her chickens and kitties while her mother was away working as a traveling saleswoman who peddled brassieres between Tulsa and Dallas. Her dreams were in bright living color too.
My mother sent a letter to the seed company asking for some baby seeds. They sent her a pack of baby pea seeds instead. She had been wanting to grow a sister. She thought the seed company was so stupid they didn't know what baby seeds were.

My mother loved her chickens and kitties. They even had a pet pig that rode in the convertible with them into town. 

They quilted a lot. I still have a few lace doilies my great grandmother created, though all of the quilts have worn to dust.(My sister Vanna has just taken up quilting with a frenzy!)

I don't get that Winnifred was an outgoing, affectionate woman. She seemed to have high standards and integrity. She did hold great love, poetry and beauty in her soul. That is evident in her journal. 

Later as a dancer, my mother sewed all her costumes, and fought hard for abortion rights. Our family has never gotten over the knitting needle story. One thing is clear in the journal, when facing difficulty and hard choices, she based her decisions on the inner energy of love and from a higher perspective.

Three pages of Winnifred's Journal have all her trees shrubs and flowers listed. In another section she has listed all of her tools. It was her garden that fed them in the tough years.

There are loving letters to Aubrey tucked in there, pamphlets and receipts.  There are sketches of dress patterns and a few sketches of faces as well. The photo;s of her standing in front of the morning glories resemble my houses and gardens before I ever found these lists and photo's.  When I discovered the journal I realized the same exact plants were growing in my garden that year. 

I have always felt a connection this woman who I never met. It is evident in her journal that she was sensitive and brilliant. An intellectual and a thinking woman. Her heart had definitely been broken somewhere along the line. She knew a lot of trials. There is a recurring theme of feeling an outsider in her writing over the years, few personal or daily details. She mostly pondered a big bright picture of the what the world could be.

Winnifred always said she was just going to die in her sleep one day, and she did, the same year Aubrey married again, and life got much, much better in many ways for both Aubrey and Barbara. It is clear in their letters the three women loved each other deeply. None ever felt they married a true love. These women married for survival. Which is funny, because they all worked for a living, everyone of them, even when they didn't have to.

Miss Barrie Ann Walker has the ancestry of some very interesting, and loving women in her DNA. At times my daughters and I have to overwrite a belief system that life is a struggle due to some sort of cellular memory in our blood. But, that is only because we also know that sometimes, not having a lot of monetary resources doesn't mean that we aren't with out the talent, wit, grace, beauty,brains and common sense that we inherited from her as well.

I have her woven native american basket on my dresser, I always have. 
It is filled with little trinkets from her lifetime and now mine. Someday Barrie may want to root through the basket as she learns to empower herself by learning who she is and hears the stories about the women who paved the way before her. I have added her mothers baby bracelet and other such things. 

She enters a world that is so different, so much improved, yet still so much the same, as the one her great, great, great grandmother traversed. She raised her daughter and granddaughter as a single woman amongst religious intolerance, during two world wars, the dust bowl and and the great depression. Dang!

In spite of their dire circumstances there is much evidence of beauty, passion and joy that accompanied them on their journey as well. I am grateful for knowingabout her, even a little.


Heather Meyer-Boothby said...

Andy, those are some seriously beautiful women!!! No wonder your the amazing person you are!!! What a gift for Barrie Ann

Fernmountain said...

Heather, This story is a book really, funny how families repeat themes.

GrandPa Tom, the oil man that abandoned them after my mother was born, used to say 'You are my ascendants, every generation gets better and better'.

He taught me to ride quarter horses when I was in high school. Showing up with a horse, and a piano in a trailer from Osage, Oklahoma after so many years....That story is just another chapter, waiting to be written.

Anonymous said...

I am moved. You are so fortunate to have a diary to your past. Beautiful and deep writtings. You continue your family tradition of expressing words on paper that "touch".

Fernmountain said...

Thank you Anonymous for your kind words as well. I am so grateful that you took the time to read this post.

Your comment affirms for me that when I write with my heart, it does touch other hearts that I don't even

Anonymous said...

Simply want to say your article is as tonishing. The clearness in your post is simply spectacular and i can assume you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your rss feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.