Today is my Grandpa Wes' birthday. He was the grandfather I never knew--who died before I was born. Yet, I've always craved to know everything about him, his family, their history and the indirect impact of his life on my own. He and his identical twin, John (whose birthday was yesterday), began working at the early age of nine, after their mother died and father left them in Missouri. Their lives beyond that have been somewhat of a mystery to me that I have tried to resolve time and time again.
I spent last weekend in the Salinas area, where I spent the first five years of my life. After attending a conference for work in Pacific Grove, I thought I would take advantage of its proximity to my family who remained there. My aunt gave up her bed for the weekend so that I would have a place to stay. Together we spent much time over a glass of iced tea, engaged in discussions of life, family, love and anything else that came to mind.
I also had the privilege of spending time with my great-uncle John's son, Frank, and his family. Frank and Priscilla's son, Jason, played on my brother's basketball team when they were in High School. I remember going to those games, like it was yesterday. A young girl, then, I wanted nothing more than to be a cheerleader and chimed in with the squad to root for my big brother. "He's got great big feet and he's six-feet tall; He dribbles, shoots, dunks and that ain't all; He's got bas-ket-ball...He's got bas-ket-ball." I've never forgotten the rhyme.
I would climb up and down the bleachers, trying to occupy my four-year-old self when Frank and Priscilla impressed me deeply. They would comment on my "pretty red hair" and shower me with compliments. And I believed them. They helped me see the positive in myself at an early age.
Aunt Mae and I spent the evenings at Frank and Priscilla's where we talked over a meal and laughed at jokes that were cast from every end of the table (like most Bigham gatherings). We looked through photo albums, which naturally spurred our conversations in the direction I hoped for: the Bighams in the early days.
I knew many members of my family worked in produce. And I knew long hours at the cooler deprived them in a sense. But I never knew how deeply this less-than-prominant lifestyle penetrated my family history.
Their employment required them to follow the produce in season, earning a migrant reputation--and I'm sure many sneers from the "holier-than-thous." The women, were dubbed "fruit tramps" and "lettuce tramps" and the men were known as boozers and brawlers. Depending on their duties, they were dubbed "loaders," "set-offs" and "push-backs." But they took pride in earning a living and being good at the job they did.
I learned of my great-great-uncle's association with the Chicago mob, my great-aunt, outlawed for bank robbery and a great-uncle who sang with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
As I drove back home, making my way through the San Joaquin Valley, my eyes absorbed the productive land lining the highways and a few things began to make sense:
1. This land was settled by people form the South, like my ancestors, who did the only thing they knew to do when they arrived. They farmed. Lucky for them, this was some of the richest agricultural land and it remains such, today.
2. My deep love for and understanding of country music goes beyond a mere liking. It's imbedded in my blood. It's a part of where I come from. As I scanned the green fields, dropping down over the Pacheco Pass, I inserted a Merle Haggard cassette tape and sang along to, "Mama never had the luxuries she waned. But it wasn't cause my daddy didn't try." And I realized the depth of the truth those lyrics spoke to so many in their time.
3. After becoming more acquainted with Jason, this trip, and recognizing his striking similarities to my own brother, I realized the meaning behind my enduring respect for Frank and immediate bond with both men. Their tie to uncle John serves as a connection to Grandpa Wes for me. They are more than blood. They are the descendants of my grandfather's twin. And being with them has helped me understand my grandfather (and myself) a little more.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
To those of you who made this a very memorable Christmas for both my parents and I, I want to thank you. They were truly touched by your sentiments and I am grateful.
I typed your quotes up and placed them on an assortment of backgrounds, like you see above. They were placed inside a jar and I presented them to Mom and Dad Christmas afternoon. If you didn't have the chance to, please send me a memory of them and I will be sure they are added to their jars of love. Feel free to continue reading, to see some of the things that were shared by loved ones about my parents, whom I deeply love.
"I remember Uncle Wesley saying if we ate sugar we would get worms!! lol”
“One time we were at Shannon's house and the kids were all excited because one of the chickens had laid eggs. So this chicken was all nested up inside the shed in the backyard. You know, the one kinda by the pool? So anyway, the kids were all excited and Noah wanted to see too. So Deb (who was recuperating from hip surgery) and I take the kids in the shed.
Now, I'm not from a farm and I certainly have no business being around winged animals of any kind. So, needless to say,
I'm a bit timid. But, I'm trying to play it cool, because my son is there and I don't want the kids to laugh at me.
So we go in. The kids venture in and I make sure Deb goes in first. Then all hell broke loose. The chicken completely flips out and starts flapping her wings like CRAZY! Thump! Thump! Thump! Baagaaaaacck!!
Completely reacting in the moment, I push Deb toward the chicken and run out. I leave Noah screaming with the other kids
and completely save myself from the impending doom of a freaked-out chicken. I don't even think Deb realized I pushed her. She was super-sweet and didn't say anything.
It was good to know, that if we ever experienced a life-threatening incident, I could push her toward danger and she would be able to handle herself. She's one tough cookie and she knows how to handle chickens (not the bird....but people like me).”
“You must know my favorite memory!! I always loved sleepovers at your house, and that your mom thought I was the bad kid. I also enjoyed that when your mom wasn't home, your dad let us get away with pretty much anything!”
“One of my best memories was when my family came down to visit when I was little. your dad always took me out and let me ride the horses when I was there. I remember getting so excited to come down cause I knew I would get to ride horses and see the whole family. Your parents are such a blessing. I still get excited when we come visit. Your mom kind of reminds me of my mom in a way. So kind and warmhearted :) i love both if them very much and i hope all of you have a blessed Christmas!”
“I remember the long conversations about business and life with your Dad in front of the old feed shop. I remember his wisdom and kindness. I remember wondering exactly what I should take out of the conversations, since there was usually such an abundance of great information and substance, that I often wasn't sure exactly what was most important. In the end, I suppose I learned three things:
1. Business is important and character in business even more so.
2. Fulfillment in life is more important than any amount of business success.
3. Family is more important than 1 & 2.”
" I remembered back in 1968 when Deb was helping me clean house and the piano fell on me. My ankle was crushed and leg broken. The piano had tripped on a rug when we were moving it. Deb called the ambulance. Amy was just about 5-6 months old when this happened. It was so wonderful that Deb could help out with Amy, she was such a Blessing. Luddie lived across the street with the kids and Deb was there. Deb, I wish that I could be there with you. And I hope that you all have a wonderful Christmas. I love you.”
“To Aunt Deb and Uncle Wes, I remember the warm and tender times of the family. The times you were there to help, the times you were there to share, to love. These are the special time that I remember growing up you were a special part of my life I thank god to have you both. That he has given to me the both of you to pray for to love to call you family. The bible says in 1Corinthians ch.13 vs.7 love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, most of all it endures all all things. Gods love for the both of you never fails. You are two very special people and I love you. Have a very merry Christmas."
I am so thankful for the time I got to spend at your house growing up! I always felt just like I belonged there and knew that you cared about me like extended parents. Thank you for the love and hospitality you showed all of us girls.
"Your family has always been really special to me. I have one memory in particular that has always been with me through the years. When I was quite a bit younger I remember Charri and I coming down to Fresno for a visit on the train. We stayed at your house and Uncle Wesley and Aunt Debbie had plans to go the the Paso Robles fair. I dont think they had planned for Charri and I to be at your house then but I remember Aunt Rita and Uncle Chet were going to come and pick us up from your house and we did not want to go (not that we didn't want to see them, they did not have kids). Uncle Wesley and Aunt Debbie did not make us go and they woke us up the next morning telling us to get ready. They took us with them to the fair to see George Strait. Every time I hear a George Strait song it reminds me of this and how your parents unselfishly gave to us."
"To My bubby, I love you so very much. I have a great many memories of our childhood Christmas's with our family, I also remember peeling potatoes for you to eat with salt and scratching your back. Wish we could be closer and spend more time together, Think of you often."
“Deb, some of my first memories of you are as the lunch lady at T.K.”