Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The zoo

Between 1920 and 1930, my grandmother (the middle lady pictured here in probably December 1970) had 7 babies. Only babies No.1, No. 2, and No.7 survive. My mother, No. 5, on the left died 2 years ago after a very long descent into the hell of Alzheimer's. (Also pictured here is a reluctant teenager who couldn't keep her eyes open for even a second. By the time she got to college, she got rid of the 'granny glasses'.)

Yesterday I had lunch with the eldest, Ginny almost 90 and  the youngest, Carol almost 80, (both aunts in this picture)and my cousin Donna, just a couple years younger than me. Over the past few years, Aunt Ginny has filled in many pieces of my mom's life for me but as she was 7 years older, she lived in a slightly different world. Aunt Carol, 3 years younger than my mom, who normally lives in Florida, was in town and I was hoping to find out more from her, which I did.

We met in a nice restaurant in Royal Oak (Cafe Muse) and had some good conversations catching up on family comings and goings.Donna has wanted to go to the Zoo for some time. Now a little history, although my father had a day job (analytical chemist for Ford's glass division-had left Corning Glassworks for that), he spent every spare moment taking photos that he marketed through various agencies for extra cash and he was quite successful. During the 50s and 60s, every photostore would have a frieze of 20 to 30 16x20 prints sponsored by Kodak and my job would be to pick out which were his, not a hard task-usually 2 or 3 would be his. The agencies would not tell him to whom they sold his photos but he would find them on puzzles, magazine ads, petfood labels, etc. I remember as a first grader, bringing  my Weekly Reader home, and the feature story on raccoons was illustrated by one of his photos. Even as late as Shanna being in middle school, I found a Scholastic poster on the wall when I went in for parents' night and there was my kitty Pebbles on the wall. When not travelling around the country for photostock (these trips were not fun at all for us Sherpas but I did get to see a great deal of the country and Canada), the zoo was a good source of subjects. He even had his own parking place there. Often I had to go to the zoo with him, not to see the animals, but carry the equipment so he could take photos of the animals. (We also spent lots of time in cat and dogshows-my houseguest came along often and she counted these as happy childhood memories-for me, not so happy) He specialized in 'large format' photography 4x6s (never would he stoop so low to use a 35 mm camera-horrors!). Suffice it to say, his equipment could not be carried in a little fannypack (such as my camera that served so well in Italy and now is travelling in Texas-could have used it yesterday) and he conscripted help--me. So going to the zoo was work for me as a child and not pleasant work as he was ill tempered and not above taking his frustrations out on me. He was extremely easily frustrated. Yesterday the zoo had plenty of peacocks walking around begging food reminding me of one bizarre piece of equipment that one of us had to carry-the peacock mirror. This he made of flexible carboard covered with aluminum foil. He would place it in front of a male peacock (some redundancy here) hoping to prod it into displaying its tailfeathers (Think NBC peacock). This would actually work some of the time to give good, profitable photos. Everything was about money. Can I ride the zoo train? Nope, that cost money. Can I get a ZooKey to listen about the animals? No, just read the signs instead, you can read can't you?
So I wasn't too excited about the zoo. I did take the kids there once or twice, but I usually went to the Toledo Zoo instead.
Aunt Ginny begged off but Aunt Carol was game although the cold after almost 4 hours of walking was getting to her. Not cold for this one (55-60 deg) but I don't live in Florida either. Also, sad to say, I have more fat on one arm than the combined excess of all my moms' relatives put together, they are a very thin bunch. I can't blame their genes for my current state. She is also close to 80 but my moms' people are a healthy lot. But we talked and walked with me trying to extract as much info as I could about my mystery mom. Theirs was a chaotic household. My grandma, a very nice interesting woman, really wasn't too big on nurturing. She had side projects to pursue, the kids, well, they could just raise themselves. An example, Baby No. 1 was (4years old!!!!) was to watch her 2 year old sister. The 2 year old swallowed some poison and died. Now who do you blame here. The four year old was blamed!!! She still feels bad about this 85 years later. (All the neighbors agreed, it was all my fault.) Everyone in the family was quite musical (except my mother) and they played and sang together. So much fun was going on in the family that neighbor kids and only children who were cousins wanted to be around too and were invited in. My mom, however, was just lost inside of all this. My aunt insists that my mom was her mother's favorite and that she as the baby, got the least attention of all. I was very surprised by this as my mom would have been my last choice as a favorite-there was the extremely handsome one (who was very troubled and killed himself in his 20s), Ginny with her outgoing, fun-loving personality; Carol, the cute baby and my nice, personable uncles Gordy and Carl would have made good favorites too. Not my boring mom, who seemed to have no personality. Oh, but she had a personality, and she was very smart! But still, my mom was not thriving. There was little money and food too.  She was advised to leave and go to a boarding school for 'special kids". Now I wondered about this 'special school' I know my mom had some fluency disorder-did they think she was stupid? Who was paying for this? From what I could tell, the disorder was emotional-severe shyness. She didn't last long at the school and at 16, went out into the world on her own. So I still don't know everything about my mom, just a little bit more.
I did enjoy the zoo despite some unpleasant memories. It has changed a lot. The butterfly and hummingbird house was very interesting with 25 different species flitting around-my favorite-the giant morpho with very beautiful turquoise wings) and the purple hummingbird. Donna got to see the lemur twins born this summer. I liked the meerkats and the bear cats-none of them truly cats. Carol liked the bears who wanted to hide from us. I've been having bad luck lately with bears. We walked a mile to see the bear pit in Bern and it was empty! There were two trees there that each had at least 50 vultures perched on them. These are uninvited guests. There are a lot of volunteers there who have buttons on them saying Ask me. A very talkative lot and hardly any other visitors to talk to so we got lots of time. The zoo has an eagle, who looks fine but will never be able to fly. One day, they found another eagle with it who flew in to share the food. It stayed around for several months, coming and going as it pleased. The vultures find plenty of food  in the displays to share with the pernament guests.
They have a new (to me) display: the Outback Experience, in which you can walk inside the kangaroo enclosure but the 'roos kept their distance. But I had an interesting day in Royal Oak.


Dr. Swill said...

Hello Sue!

I wanted to let you know about an interesting cancer blog a group of cancer patients have been working on.

A fellow tongue cancer patient was sent home to die. There was nothing more that can be done. Cancer survivors ask him life altering questions.

Please read: Dead Man Talking

Peace B

Donna said...

Hi Sue. You left a comment on my blog a while ago and I'm slowly learning my way around this blogging world. I enjoyed reading about your family and the time you spent with your aging aunts. My Mom turned 84 yesterday and has four living sisters in their 70s and 80s who tell stories about their unengaged and sometimes mean mother who was widowed and left to raise 9 children in the aftermath of The Great Depression. I love getting the five of them together and hear their childhood stories. Seems you and I have more than triple negative breast cancer in common!

All my best,


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