Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Angels in the Architecture

Hi, friends!! Come join the Peace Train!!

I was thinking about my maternal grandmother recently. This is a picture of her, standing with her younger sister, Marion, whom we knew as Aunt Teet. Aunt Teet died at 93, but was still walking 2 miles a day right before she died.

Although few people know this, My grandmother was probably responsible for ending World War I.

My grandmother had a steel will, a great laugh and a strong impact on my life. She was a hugger and a kisser. When I was a child she lived about two miles away from us and was a frequent presence. She was a good cook and often brought over desserts or came just to visit and talk. My grandfather, who had planted armies of red amaryllis around the entire house, often went outside to tidy up the flower beds.

Momo, as we called her, loved to sew and made most of my clothes. By the time I was 6, all I had to do was draw a picture and she would whip up a pattern and make whatever I desired, not that I cared much what I wore at that age.

I remember drawing a picture of myself sitting on the bank of a creek with a cane fishing pole. By my side there was a can of worms. I was a tomboy. I loved to go down to the "scramble tracks" as we called it with my brothers to find crawdads in the storm ditch by the woods. We'd spend hours there, playing at being pirates and having adventures. I was allowed to run wild just like my brothers.

I showed her that drawing and asked for a simple dress with that picture on the front. She nearly laughed herself silly. She told me with tears in her eyes that it would be very hard to find fabric with worms printed on it.

She made the dress, but we substituted another fabric, although I cannot remember now what it was. What I do remember was that she took me to J.C. Penney's and let me pick out the fabric I liked, which made me feel very grown-up and tremendously pleased with myself.

This is a picture of me and two of my five brothers when I was in about the 4th grade. She made my coat. It had a brown velvet collar.

Even as an old woman, Momo had a beautiful smile, with deep dimples and blue-gray eyes. Her skin was white as milk and as a young woman, her hair was a rich sable. Her sister, my Aunt Teet, once told me that when Alice was young, she was known as "The Belle of New Orleans" because she was so beautiful and had so many beaus.

My great-aunt Teet was not beautiful in the same way, but she was handsome and original-looking, which I thought was more interesting. She had a clever, frank and generous disposition and her eyes twinkled when she looked at me. Some people barely notice you when you are a child, but I liked it when their eyes looked into mine and saw me.

And I liked to look into grownups eyes and "see" them, which sometimes made them uncomfortable. Sometimes I made a point to look at grownups so they wouldn't underestimate me just because I was a child. I let them know I was watching them. It was my way of feeling that power of the stare and showing them that I knew my own worth, so they'd better not trifle with me.

But I digress. Teet was never jealous of her sister, in fact, she did not care for beaus. Or for being pretty. She was quite intelligent in a thoughtful way, a voracious reader and was hooked on the New York Times crossword puzzle, which she finished every night in bed up into her early 90s.

Aunt Teet and her partner, whom we called Aunt Susie, lived together for 50 years in Tulsa and were devoted to each other. They took trips around the world together and brought back fabulous slideshows for us to see of Hawaii, Paris, Italy, all exotic faraway destinations for a kid growing up in Texas.

My grandmother, Alice Madeline Leleu, was a devout but not overly devout Catholic. She collected angels before angels became acceptable icons among the Protestant sects. Her house, kept meticulously, was full of angels. She had big ones, small ones, paintings, sculptures and angel coffee cups. She even had pink ceramic mother and baby cow angels with wings and shiny gold haloes. In retrospect, she was probably somewhat obsessive-compulsive about all her enthusiasms, but I just thought she was fun.

The walls had special shelves that my grandfather made to hold her collection of over 2,000 angels. We always knew what to get her for her birthday. A trip to the dimestore and we brought her our small offerings. She prized our gifts with all the reverence she gave to the ones her brother brought back from Denmark or Italy, where he lived for a time.

But her angels weren't just for show. She was in relationship with them. She talked to them daily, asked favors and made deals. She saw them. When she needed a parking space, she would start talking to them when we were about a block away from our destination. She would said, "OK, angels, fly your little wingies and find me a parking spot."

She said you had to give them travel time to get the job done. Sure enough, there was always a car pulling out right near the door of the department store. I don't remember her ever not getting what she asked of them.

My grandmother was born in 1898 in New Orleans' French quarter. She lived on Canal Street in a house that was torn down many decades ago. Her father, a Sorbonne-educated artist, grew up in a 16th century chateau in the south of France. Her mother was of Irish descent, the daughter of an engineer who oversaw the building of the New Orleans canal. Alice met my grandfather Joseph when she was 19.

Joe, my grandfather, was in the army, the youngest of eleven children who grew up on a hardscrabble farm in Severy, Kansas. He was playing the trombone in the Army band when they met at a military ball. He was 32 and shockingly Protestant, but she was not deterred. World War I was in progress and my grandfather was about to get sent to the front.

It was love at first sight, she told me. They knew each other only 5 days when he proposed. He had met his match in my grandmother. They got a dispensation from the priest and were married immediately.

Her family scraped some money together as a wedding gift to pay the hotel for their wedding night. It was hurried because my grandfather was scheduled to leave the next day for the European front, to fight in the war. I remember my grandmother telling me that she talked to all the saints and to her special angels to spare my grandfather from the war. Her 5 French male cousins were all dead, killed early in the war, as was an entire generation of young Frenchmen and she didn’t want him to go.

She said that when she woke up the morning after her wedding, they heard a great clamor down in the street. There was yelling and singing and strangers were kissing. When they opened their hotel window to ask what was happening, strangers yelled up that the Armistice had been signed and the war was over. We used to joke that she made a deal with her angels to end the war so that her Joe would not be sent away, and maybe we were right. She loved her Joe until the day he died, some 50 years later.

And that's how my grandmother, perhaps with the help of her angels, personally ended World War I.


At 9:04 PM, Blogger The Fat Lady Sings said...

How wonderful that you grew up in a warm and loving family! I have absolutely no experience of that at all. Sometimes I long for memories like that - happy memories of good times and unique people. I wonder what I might have become - how far I might have gone had I the right nudge - someone to push me in a certain direction. If life had been filled with joy instead of apprehension. If my childhood had been one of discovery instead of basic survival. That’s why I appreciate stories like yours so very much. It is so very important to nurture and love. We are, after all, the sum of our individual parts. The beauty of your Grandmothers soul shines on in you. You reflect her love and attention every day of your life. And by the way – I understand her making bargains with angels. As a child I would make promises to god – exchanging good behavior for certain favors. I wrote about that some months back (Sometimes I Hear My Voice). Though my needs were much different than your Grandmothers – I understand the mechanism. I understand it quite well.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Grish said...

I loved your post. She sounds like she was a very dear woman...

At 1:39 AM, Blogger sumo said...

Wonderful story...you must be very proud. I too had a grandmother that did special things...we are the lucky ones.

At 2:34 AM, Anonymous earl bockenfeld said...

A great story and a great family...

Nice work on restoring the family photographs, they look really good, especially the first picture of the two young girls.

At 3:45 AM, Blogger No said...

I love this post..Thanks!

At 4:20 AM, Blogger glenda said...

Yes, she was a force to be reckoned with. She could have run a corporation.
Thanks, friends. I was truly lucky to have such women in my life who encouraged me to be an individual.

At 5:13 AM, Blogger Peacechick Mary said...

Beautiful post. I, too had the luxury of running wild through nature. I'm sad that our children of today don't have that. Your grandparents all sound facinating and powerful - just like you! BTW, where are those angels? We sure could use them now.

At 5:34 AM, Blogger WeezieLou said...

great story, very well written. great pix! true for you, fiction for me. you had one of the extremely rare more-happy-than-not childhoods.

At 6:06 AM, Blogger Mary said...

What a great story. I adore the pictures.

At 6:37 AM, Blogger bluegrrrrl said...

Absolutely wonderful story! I can feel these characters as much as see them--both grandmother and Aunt Teet. I have to admit, I tend to skim through long posts, but this one drew me in & I enjoyed every word! Thanks!

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Candace said...

Glenda, another GREAT post! Loved it.

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Writer Mom said...

I just loved this from beginning to end.
I've gotten infatuated with history over the years, in large part because of my grandmother's pictures, and they way she lovingly told stories about the family through war and peacetime.
This made me smile and think of her.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger DivaJood said...

Glenda, I am in awe of how you wove this history - I was hooked from the beginning, waiting to find out how your grandmother personally ended WWI, and you know what? I believe she did.

Love, peace, prayer are all powerful in the face of great odds. How we survive, and thrive, is completely a product of our attitudes. Thank you for this post.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger azgoddess said...

wow - this is the first post i have read of yours and wow - can you write...

i also had an outside childhood...i loved playing in the woods all day long during summer vacations - i would hate to back to school

and i also liked to look people in the eyes - in fact i still do...that is the only way i know to find out what a person is truly about..if my gut says stay away -- then i better heed

and that angel talking thingy - yes, i am guilty also..most times i don't speak it outloud but i can get the primo best parking space around..

but i don't collect them...i think they collect me though...smile

thanks for the nice memories...and pics

At 3:06 PM, Blogger glenda said...

Thanks, i was so busy at work today that I could not get on the internet, but, wow, thanks, because I know so many of you are also really good writers.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Tabor said...

You are so fortunate to have been so close to your grandparents and to have them be a part of your life. I never knew my grandparents as only my paternal grandfather was alive when I was six and we only saw him on rare occasion.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Tinky/Caddy said...


B&J touched base w/ me this week (by email).

i'll try to call you this weekend


p.s. thanks again for the tag

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Sue Woo said...

Oh Glenda! No wonder you are as stunning as you are! Isn't it nice to know where you came from!

At 7:26 PM, Blogger glenda said...

Hi, tabor! Yes ,i amwas and am lucky n many ways and rich in the ways that are important.

tinky/great! We have not been able to reach them either. I'm glad they materialized, those parents!!! Yes ,definitely, we need to talk again.

sue woo, hi, thanks!
I only hope i haven't been to nostalgic this week. It's all the bombing, makes me yearn for the past.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger eProf2 said...

Glenda, the blue funk was over when I saw the results from CT. Even posted a warning to our Democratic candidate here in AZ for the US Senate asking him if he watched and listened to what happened to Lieberman last night. Dem's had better get on message and lead the American public (60 percent of whom are opposed to the war) out of our mess in the middle-east and try to restore our image around the world as well as address major issues here at home.

At 8:36 PM, Anonymous pekka said...

"Quintessential American epic tale rapped in the international intrique and a love that conquers impossible obstacles ending in an eternal bliss." Here I go again..there is a movie in this fantastic story and an unbeatable ending to boot.

I just finnished watching a very interesting and superbly done movie on TV that Glenda and the rest of you should see; Iron Jawed Angels. It's the HBO production (2003) directed by a German, Katja von Garnier. The film is about women sufferage battles in America starring Hilary Swank, Margo Martindale and Anjelika Huston. If you haven't seen it, I warmly recommend to do so!

Oh, almost forgot - that sweet girl with her brothers is easily recognizable in the lady who's reflection was on the window.

At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Adorable Girlfriend said...

Ya gotta love the angels on the wall. Great story and what a family!

P.S. What was it like growing up in a large family with all those boys? I cannot even imagine.

At 11:30 PM, Blogger GraemeAnfinson said...

Awesome Glenda! The pictures are beautiful, as is the story

At 2:44 AM, Blogger glenda said...

Eprof. Glad to hear, it ...you.ve been MIA!.

pekka, I love Hilery Swank...the roles she played as a female boxer and the girl in a mental hospital were stunning.

graeme, thanks!

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Donnie McDaniel said...

Great lady Glenda. I have been doing family tree work for years. I have a very large data base for my ancestors. So this post is one I can really understand. I have a pic of my 3rd Great Grandmother that was taken in the late 1800's to early 1900's. She was born in 1858 right here in my hometown. She actually lived till 1939.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger glenda said...

That is so great, donnie, that you have all those pictures. I love the old family pics. We have pictures going back 6 generations to the old tintypes. Good thing about having a family of packrats, they never throw away anything.

At 6:04 PM, Blogger troutsky said...

Great story.Keep em comin.

At 9:28 PM, Blogger JBlue said...

Wonderful story. I loved the part about Aunt Teet, too. Is that her with the black bob? Because that is a very striking-looking woman, for sure.

The part about your grandmother making your clothes reminded me of my granny. She made clothes for me AND for my dolls. I loved that.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger enigma4ever said...

WOW ...this was so beautiful and so tenderly written..it is amazing reading what has made so many Bloggers the throughful creative souls that they are, and WHO contributed to their Growth and their History....I like to think of all of our grannies and aunties up in Heaven reading our blogs and sipping tea ( or vodka tonics together)...sigh....Thank you for the wonderful Piece....

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Anita said...

Nice pictures, Glenda. You look particularly great with your two younger brothers.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Lorraine said...

That story (and all the stories within it) was just fantastic.

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