Lola, Queen of the Maypole

My aunt, Lola Alvord, always liked school. In eight years of grammar school and four years of high school, she never missed a single day, including the morning she broke both her arms on the playground. She was about nine years old, and instead of going home, she just walked to the doctor, had her arms set, and returned to school. She figured out a way to write with just her fingertips and she was all set.

It was a surprise to no one when after graduation she decided to become a teacher. In 1935, she got a two year teaching certificate from a local community college and started teaching in a one room schoolhouse in the same county in southern Minnesota where she had attended school.

She taught for about five years until she married – married women were not allowed to teach school in the 1930s. When the children were older, she started looking for a job as a teacher. It wasn’t easy with only a two year degree, but she found a principal who really liked her and gave her a chance. It was a good match and she was a good teacher. She taught there until her retirement in the late 1980s.

Eventually, the two year degree was not enough, and she went back to school nights to earns credits for a Minnesota teaching certificate. Later, she went back to school again to earn even more credits to become both a reading and math specialist. She was an artist and her classrooms were always filled with the most amazing artwork.

Lola’s favorite school day was May Day. She’d always had a maypole growing up, and when she had her own classroom, of course there was a maypole on May Day. Hers was usually a red and white striped pole with multicolored ribbons. According to tradition, children grab the ribbons and dance around the pole. The ribbons wrap around the pole in a design that creeps down the pole. Then the dancers reverse direction to unwind the design. The maypole symbolized longer days and the coming of summer. Later, the children made may baskets to leave on the door steps of shut-in neighbors and nursing homes.

Example of a maypole. This one is from Disney via Pixabay.

At Lola’s retirement party, she was crowned Queen of the Maypole, with a crown of flowers and scepter. Although her party was not on May Day, it was fitting that they had it in May, and many of her former students came back to celebrate with her. When they shared their memories, May Day and the maypole was one of their favorites.

Lola and her daughter on her 87th Birthday

Written in response to 52 Ancestors weekly prompt: Back to School.

Celebrating Nurses

Labor was a difficult prompt for me. I thought about some of the more interesting and unusual occupations in my family- blacksmith, prospector, ship builder, pirate, but in the end, I decided to highlight three of my female family members who were nurses.

First there is my husband’s grandmother Kristine Lee. Kristine was not an official nurse, but she was a midwife and she had her satchel of herbs and potions, bandages and other tools of healing. In the early part of the 20th century, calling the doctor was reserved for the most serious occasions. People like Kristine were who you called for your everyday medical needs. She brought some of her knowledge with her from Norway and learned the rest from other nurses and healers like her. She often left her own family to care for someone else’s family. She was witness to births and deaths, epidemics and seasonal illnesses. She was an integral part of the farming community where she lived.

Kristine Lee

Next is my grandmother, Maybelle Kateley. Maybelle was an official nurse. She left home in her late teens, went to nursing school, and worked in a hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa until her marriage when she was 27.

She gave up her career for her husband and family. When her husband was killed in an accident in 1926, she was devastated. Her family was concerned. After the funeral, they had a meeting in her kitchen to decide who were the best candidates to marry her. A woman with 5 children didn’t work in 1926 unless she ran a boarding house or was a seamstress or hat maker. My grandmother’s house was tiny, no room for boarders and she hated sewing.

She told her family, she would not be married off, that she could take care of herself, and asked them to leave. Then she worked out a plan to be a single, working mother. She did private duty nursing. She took jobs and stayed with the sick person until they got better or died. While she was gone, two of the older children lived with her brother on his farm. The two youngest stayed with her parents during the day and their 15 year old sister after school and on school vacations.. After a nursing job ended, grandma returned home and they lived on grandma’s salary until it was gone. Then she took another job. It seemed there were always nursing jobs available. She continued private duty nursing until the late 1940’s.

Maybelle Kateley

The third nurse I’d like to tell you about is my aunt, Harriet Alvord, Maybelle’s daughter. In 1930, she left home for nursing school at the Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota. She graduated with her nursing degree from the Kahler School of Nursing in 1933. Like a lot of the Alvord line of the family, Harriet was a bit of a wanderlust. She wanted to travel. Like her mother, she did a lot of private duty nursing. Being single, she was free to take jobs where ever she fancied. One job took her to the Black Hills. I’m not real clear on all the details, but she was working for a senator, taking care of his wife. When President Roosevelt came for a meeting, she took care of him, too. Somewhere there is a photo of her pushing his wheelchair.

In 1937 Harriet’s wanderlust took her to Hawaii where she worked in a hospital in Honolulu. She fell in love with Hawaii and Tom Campbell, who lived there, and she stayed. She was at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack and along with everyone available worked with the injured and dying. I can’t imagine the terrible suffering she saw.

Harriet continued nursing off and on after her marriage and children. She and her husband Tom are buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Honolulu.

Harriet Alvord

Like today, all three were essential workers. They all did their jobs quietly, without attention. They considered it a calling, not just a job, and all of them were committed to their work.

So, on this Labor Day, I remember Kristine, Maybelle, and Harriet, nurses extraordinaire.

Written in response to 52 Ancestors Prompt: Labor

Finding Balance

A while ago, I read an article about Queen Elizabeth II. According to the article, she drinks a glass of champagne every evening before bed. It suggests at 90+ years she has a lot to celebrate.

Since then, this has been totally debunked. She doesn’t drink champagne before bed, certainly not to celebrate. She does, however, like an occasional gin and tonic at lunchtime. It’s said to help her keep her day in balance.

I’m not much for champagne, and gin not at all, but balance is something I need. I miss my yoga class, cancelled because of the COVID. It helped center me, and like the queen’s gin and tonic balanced out my day. Yoga online is not the same. My mind wanders and I don’t find the peace and harmony I do with an instructor.

I sometimes feel like I’m caught in the middle. If I listen to the news, the old way of doing things is gone and something new is on the way. What that new thing is and when it’s coming is unclear. Where is the balance and where do I fit? Will the election change things? Will there be chaos or a new normal?

Maybe instead of looking for something new, I’ll find balance with meditation, or tai chi. Maybe I’ll celebrate at the end of the day with a glass of sparkling cider, or maybe some ice cream.

Lilly, Forgotten and Unforgettable

As all of you who research your family history know, there are often surprises. Lilly was my surprise.

I found Lilly when I was researching my grandmother Maybelle Kateley. Maybelle’s life had a lot of gaps, and I was looking for pictures and stories, or information that could help me create a story. I did find some helpful information, but I also found a sister that none of my family knew about.

Lillian, called Lilly, was the youngest of Franklin and Caroline Kateley’s seven children. She was five years younger than my grandmother who we all thought was the youngest. They must have been friends. I later found she was one of the witnesses at my grandmother’s wedding. But no one in my mother’s family ever talked about her.

There were no pictures, or family stories that any of us heard. She died before I was born, but according to family, she never went to or attended any of the family reunions and no one spoke her name. It was as if they’d all forgotten her.

She’s listed as living in a boarding house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the 1920 Census, working as a seamstress in a glove factory. In 1921 she married Olin Fitkin in Cedar Rapids. I don’t know how long they were married, but it wasn’t long because he remarried in 1927.

After her divorce, Lilly moved to Sioux City, lived in a boarding house and self employed as a seamstress. That’s all I know about her until 1939 when she developed chronic kidney disease. In 1940 she moved into the Woodbury County Home for nursing care. She died there two years later.

Her death certificate lists no next of kin. It seems so sad having no one remember her. But she wasn’t forgotten. Someone must have known where she was. Her body was removed to Ceylon, Minnesota and buried in the family plot. There is no last name on the marker, it only says Lillian. Cemetery records have her listed as Lillian Kateley.

Even though it seemed like everyone forgot her, someone found her unforgettable.

Written in response to 52 Ancestors weekly prompt: Unforgettable

Bat Nights

Today starts International Bat Night Weekend, celebrating the needs and benefits of bats in nature. Associated with Halloween, and often maligned and misunderstood, bats are often portrayed as dark and menacing creatures.

Although they are a risk for rabies, and you should not go near one, bats are really quite harmless and can be beneficial. They eat thousands of mosquitos every night and their droppings distribute plant seeds over large areas. Doctors have studied the anticoagulant qualities of bites from vampire bats, the most maligned and creepy species, and have used the information in developing medication for heart disease and stroke patients.

Anyway, I don’t mind bats, as long as they stay away from me. When I was a child and we visited grandma, there would be an occasional bat that got in through the attic. Everyone would get all excited and yell to cover your head. Then someone would get the broom and chase the bat around and out the door. My sister and I thought it was great fun.

Years ago, when we replaced the shutters on our house, we found a nest of bats living under the shutters. We chased them away and left the shutters off for quite a while, so they wouldn’t come back. I really don’t want them living next to the house, although I do like the idea of them eating mosquitos. I thought of a bat house in the yard, but I don’t think the neighbors would like it. The county park near my house has many bat houses, maybe that’s the best place for both the bat houses and the bats.

Squirrel Census

I was watching TV last week and I heard Stephen Colbert talking about a squirrel census in Milwaukee. I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not, so I looked it up. It’s a real thing. 

Since many of the programs sponsored by the Milwaukee County Parks are cancelled or postponed because of Covid-19, they have created a Squirrel Census App as a “simple way for everyone to enjoy some wildlife spotting” from their home.

You simply download the app to your phone, record squirrel sightings on the home screen, note the number of squirrels, type, and area of their sighting. You can make notes about what they were doing or anything unusual about them. 

 Originally, I thought this was kind of silly. With the exception of children, who would enjoy doing this? Why would anyone care about what the squirrels were doing in my yard? They raid the bird feeders, bury nuts in the lawn, chase each other and sleep in a big messy nest in the tall trees.

We mostly have gray squirrels in the area, but I did see a red one once and my neighbor has an all white one that comes to her feeder. They are very tame, and some come right up to the patio window and peek in.

There is nothing about them to report. Until recently. I now have a squirrel coming to the feeder with a hairless tail. Looks like a rat’s tail. I’ve tried to get a picture, but he’s too quick.

After some research, I found out he probably has mange and it’s not all that uncommon. If it’s not too bad a case, the hair might grow back. With a severe case, sickness will follow and maybe death. It’s spread by mites that burrow under the skin and feed on their blood. Ewww. Good thing the mites don’t like people. My guy seems pretty spry, so maybe he will be okay.

Is a squirrel with a hairless tail something to report? Maybe I’ll consider it.

Blondie and Roast Beef and Pickles

My aunt, Violet Bourson, who everyone called Blondie, was my aunt by marriage. She was the second wife of my Dad’s oldest brother Allan. She and my uncle never had any children of their own and all the extra love they had to share was spilled out on their nieces and nephews.

I especially remember Blondie, as Uncle Allen worked all over the world and was often away at work. As a child, she seemed so intriguing to me. First there was her name. I never knew anyone named Blondie. And her sister was Toots. How cool was that. Then there was the fact she was from Bowbells, North Dakota. It sounded like something out of a Little House on the Prairie book, which I was obsessed with.

Before she married my uncle Allen, she worked as a butter wrapper at the creamery in Minneapolis. For some reason the eight year old me thought that was the most exciting job. I wondered if I might want to be a butter wrapper, but decided a cowboy was better.

When I was eight or nine, they moved into a house across from the backyard of my school. In the winter, the school flooded part of the playground for a skating rink and built a warming house so that we could use it for times other than recess and P.E.

After school and on Saturdays, I would skate and then go over to see Blondie. She was a baker and there was always something good to eat. Often she gave me cookie sandwiches and hot chocolate. On Saturdays she taught me to make mac and cheese and then I stayed for supper.

If I came to visit in the spring or fall, Uncle Allan would bring out the peanuts and we would shell them on the porch for a snack. It was the only place I was ever allowed to throw the shells on the floor. We would make a mess on purpose and then Blondie would come with the broom to clean it up.

But the best thing I remember about Blondie was learning to make roast beef and pickles. I don’t remember what we were making them for, probably some big family gathering, but Mom and I went to Blondie’s to make mounds of roast beef and pickle spread. I got to use the meat grinder, and do the mixing. Blondie was was more patient than mom, and I loved cooking with her. I never had roast beef and pickle spread before, and I loved it.

I don’t make roast beef and pickle spread often, but when I do, I always remember Blondie and her secret ingredient in all her cooking – love. She was only my aunt by marriage, but she chose to make me feel as special as family.

Written in response to this week’s 52 Ancestors prompt: Chosen Family

Body Art and Stress

I recently read an article that suggested the desire to have a tattoo has increased greatly during the pandemic. Apparently people were thinking about and planning and drawing them while they were staying at home and in those places where tattoo parlors have reopened business is brisk.

Culture has changed a lot in my lifetime. Growing up, the only people who had tattoos were bikers, ex-cons, and men in the military and generally they were trend driven, not artistic. Women with tattoos, no way. Now it’s very common, and even many boomers like me and some who are even older have tattoos.

But today’s tattoos aren’t just ink, they’re body art. I have tattoos. Five of them, reminents from radiation treatment. Although they remind me I survived, they’re just ink on my body. Today’s tattoos are body art, an expression of who we are, how we feel, what’s important to us. We draw meaningful art on our bodies as memories we want to keep close to us.

The article I read speculated that in times of stress and anxiety and in times of social unrest, we long to express ourselves creatively and artistically. It’s our nature to make something artistic out of chaos. Tattoos are one of those ways. I don’t know if I agree, but it’s an interesting idea.

I asked my daughter-in-law about her tattoo and she said she wanted something beautiful on her body. Her tattoo is vibrant and lovely, an expression of who she is. Another young friend has a tattoo reminding her of her infant daughter who died. So, I guess it’s not such a stretch to see body art increasing right now in a time of stress and loss, longing and uncertainty.

As for me getting inked, don’t hold your breath. I’ll find other ways to express myself. I have some exciting ideas for a new quilt design, so maybe Covid has had an effect after all.

How does she know if her hands are clean?

Source article


Esther Learns to Drive

Esther 1926
Esther was not a troublemaker most of the time, but learning to drive certainly caused trouble for everyone else on the road.

My aunt, Esther Christina Hildeen, was born in December, 1894, the oldest daughter of my grandparent’s eleven children. She was an independent sort right from the beginning. She always did things in her own way and her own time. She was extremely fashion conscious, always wearing the latest clothes with stylish hats, gloves and shoes to match. And jewelry, lots of beautiful jewelry. Her hair was immaculately done in the latest style. She was a fashion plate.

My grandfather gave all of his children an opportunity to learn to support themselves. Every one of them learned a trade or skill. Esther worked at the courthouse. The courthouse was just a few blocks away from the family home in Mankato, and Esther walked to work. She lived just four blocks from downtown and walked to go shopping. One of her many boyfriends took her wherever else she needed to go. She didn’t need a car and she didn’t know how to drive.

In the mid 1920s, after a breakup with one of her boyfriends, Esther decided she needed to learn how to drive. Even though he was progressive about her working, grandpa didn’t think it was a good idea, and he sure didn’t want her to use his car. But she persisted and he finally agreed to teach her.

It didn’t go well. Grandpa wasn’t patient and she was overly eager. Eventually he quit giving her lessons and she just took the car and learned to drive by herself. She was jerky handling the clutch, she didn’t bother with hand signals for turning and she drove down the middle of the road. She never did learn to back up, so if she needed to, she just went around the block.

Driving licenses weren’t required in Minnesota until 1933, and no test was required, so she was able to get a license and she drove for quite a few years with surprisingly few accidents. Her driving ended in the late 30s when she broke her leg in a car accident (she wasn’t driving). After that she never really wanted to drive and she’d acquired a new boyfriend willing to take her anywhere.

Later, whenever she rode in a car with any of us, she reveled in being a back seat driver. She always knew best how to do everything, and would tell us what a great driver she was. But she never offered to drive. She kept up her license though. She still had it when she died at 92.

Written in response to 52 Ancestor’s weekly prompt: Troublemaker


Adult Band Camp is Latest Covid Victum

I should be in beautiful Door County celebrating the last day of Adult Band Camp. We planned to add a couple of days extra, stay in a nice hotel overlooking Lake Michigan, and make a mini vacation of it.

Community band is my passion and this camp is an opportunity to sharpen my skills on both flute and piccolo. I usually play weekly with an older adult band, but Band Camp is a chance to play with a higher level band and get lessons and master classes.  Besides the twice daily whole band practices there is a big finale concert on Sunday in a barn refurbished as a concert venue.

Covid has decimated my band passion. Band Camp has been canceled. My older adult band has not met since March and there are no plans to start up anytime soon. I know it’s best for everyone’s health, but it’s disappointing none the less. I miss my regular band practices and Door County is beautiful this time of year. I guess I can start planning for next year. I’m hopeful things will be more normal then.

Adult Band Camp is like the grace notes in music. It adds the zest. I can’t imagine a life without either.

Last year’s Adult Band Camp finale