Another treasure Ned unearthed today was an envelope filled with some of my aunt Barb's writings. Barb was the writer in the family and we all lived for her funny missives, which she sent whenever the spirit moved her. She was my family idol. One of the painful thing was watching Alzheimers take that talent away from her.
Everything she wrote was entertaining, but some things were less humorous than others. In the envelope was the story of TipToe, the pig that my grandfather loved -- his life, and what happened after he died.) What do you do with a dead beloved pet pig in the Depression? Do you eat it? bury it? cut it up? My grandfather ended up burying him, but the process of moving a 200 lb dead pig to a burial ground was quite something.
She also wrote about "The great lady," a prostitute that my grandfather was coerced into transporting to her rendezvous with Mexican and Chinese farm workers (chosen because they didn't speak English so would not be able to tell anybody about her!) in his boat, and returning her back home a couple of days later. Barb says she's not sure he ever told my grandmother about that.
But then there was a lengthy story of "Aunt Sam," my aunt Mel, the oldest of the 10 Scott children. I never did know why she was called Aunt Sam, except that one of my other aunts was famous for giving everyone nicknames (how my mother ended up being called Chubbie most of her life. She is known by the cousins as "Aunt Chubbie." It took me a long time before I realized that "Chubbie" was not really a regular name.)
Mel was infamous in the family. I only saw her two or three times in my life but I always knew that she had been married twelve times, to eleven men (#5 and #7 were to the same guy and while they were divorced, he married her sister)
When she was diagnosed with brain cancer and facing brain surgery, following which she was "consigned to a month of lunacy before she died," she asked Barb to write her story. She was born in 1900 and "by the time she was in her mid-teens she had become what is now referred to as 'incorrigible' and put into a house of correction where young girls learned the error of their ways." Barb never knew what she had done to be labeled "incorrigible." "My questions were slickly evaded and the subject promptly changed. 'We do not discuss that.' was the word."
But Mel's talents were many and varied. "During her younger years her list of credits included a minor local silent screen personality, a ballet dancer, one of the first female aviators in California, a seamstress and designer for The Emporium in San Francisco, a house builder, a bookkeeper, a barber, an artist, a potter, and a licensed vocational nurse at age 65."
I remember my mother talking about her flying planes. She learned to fly because she was having an affair with the owner of a small airport. "Sam would fly from Stockton to our little ranch near Valley Springs. Because of the terrain there it was impossible for her to land but she would fly low over the house, waggle the wings and dump the paper of the day in our front yard." Barb also adds, "Besides teaching her to fly he was giving her a few lessons in love. When the love lessons ceased, the flying lessons did likewise." After that she decided to become a ballet dancer. I have not seen pictures of her in a tutu, but am assured that they exist somewhere.
"She was probably the only woman known to God and man in those days who lived in a city the size of Stockton and kept a pig in the house as a pet. Her precious pig was bathed, powdered, often dressed and taken for a stroll, with leash attached, down the streets of Stockton."
I have often listened to my mother reflect on her young memories of Mel, who apparently made a lot of their clothes, since she was a seamstress. But most especially because she loved to watch Mel putting on her make up.
"The dressing table was the focal point of her room. Fragile bottles of perfume sat on mirrored and silver trays. An elegant silver mirror with brush and comb to match were centered between small, pale green shaded crystal lamps which completed the perfect setting. Below, the deep, beautifully lined drawers were filled with creams, lotions and makeup, all of which I had never heard of much less seen. To be able to watch her bathe, dress and make up her face was like watching a beautiful butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Always dressed for the occasion, whether it be work, play, or a night on the town. She was perfection."
But with all that she had going for her, "she had one overriding gift which she often mixed with some of her other talents. It was the art of being a drunk. These days we speak of it as having the disease of alcoholism, but in those days it was considered a weakness, a sin and a shame."
"Our sister Jean joined Sam in the consumption of booze in those days. She not only joined her but was in the business of making and selling it with the help of her then very Irish husband." (This was during prohibition.)
But with her penchant at being the best at everything, after many years of drinking, "during the latter part of World War II she became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, which at that time was in its infancy. A. A. not only made a hit with her, she starred in it! It gave her a stage on which to perform and an audience which really appreciated and applauded. She was one of the first women to be allowed into the prisons to speak to the alcoholic inmates, men and women alike. It was there while talking to the men that her star glittered the brightest."
"The following years before she died she was in and out of the swinging doors of A. A. many times. We were all so attuned to her ways that when she announced 'I'm going to the bank and get my hair done,' we knew she would be out of our lives for awhile and on another binge.
When her brain tumor was diagnosed in 1969, the doctors wanted to operate immediately, but she knew it would change her brain and she also knew that the moon landing was about to be attempted and so she postponed the surgery until after she had seen Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
"Living up to her 'uniqueness,' she invited the whole family to her hospital room for a live funeral before the operation." and after her death, she requested that her body be donated to science. I wonder if scientists had any inkling of what an incredible gift they were being given!