Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This must be tomorrow.

Well, tomorrow came and went without me posting anything new. Actually several tomorrows.

I don’t know much about either side of my family beyond my grandparents. I do know my great grandfather on my mother’s side (William England) was a Methodist Minister somewhere in Western Michigan. He was Pennsylvania Dutch and was (as my mother described) a “fire and brimstone” preacher as many were in those days, and VERY strict. I know nothing at all about my Great grandmother.

One of his sons was my Grandfather, Nathan England (“Nate” to all of us kids. He didn’t like “Grandpa Nate”). As in many families that have strict upbringing, my grandfather went the other way. If you have ever known a preachers son you will probably know what I mean.

Nate was a real “bastard” of a man. Mean, hard, and wild as you can get. He grew up and left home at 12 to become a lumberjack in the U.P. He was a big man, just over 6’ tall and muscular well into his 70’s. My mother said that was where I got my height from although there were other reasons expressed later in my life. By the time I knew him he was bald as a queue ball and could make a “knock on wood” sound by rapping on the top of his head. He was a very scary man for a child to see the first time although he never hurt me physically. I remember he always wore plaid shirts (occupational hazard I guess).

I would spend at least one of my school vacations a year with him at his lumber camp near Iron Mountain in the U.P. cutting pulp wood for the paper mills from the time I was 7 or 8 until I was 12. He was the one who taught me to drive, and to fell a tree, swing an axe and use a chainsaw. He taught me to drive draft horses and haul logs on a dray (sled made of logs for logs). Also to pee in a coffee can, although that wasn’t much of a skill in my circles.

My mother absolutely hated him. I’m not entirely sure why, but I remember a vague story my mother told once about Nate and her younger brother George. She had two brothers. Ron was several years older than her, and a younger brother a couple years younger than her that died as a young man. From what I can remember, my mother blamed Nate for him dying. The story she told was about Nate getting angry one day and throwing him thru a glass counter at a store somewhere. She said he never fully recovered and eventually died from the injuries. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but she had a definite hatred for her father.

Nate became an outcast from our house when I was 12. He was watching our dog for us as my folks were taking us all on a rare vacation for a week (Tawas Point I think). When we got back the dog was gone and Nate told my mother he had run away. Nate told her later that the dog had growled at him so he shot it. That ended my lumberjack career and we rarely saw him after that. Usually only at funerals.
His wife and my grandmother was Nellie Keelan, to us kids, “Grammy”. She was a wonderful old lady. 4’11” and 200 pounds. Looked like a snow ball. Pure white hair and ALWAYS wore one of those linen aprons they used to wear. I don’t remember seeing her in anything that wasn’t a faded pale blue and white color.

I remember she always smelled like sugar cookies. She and my great aunt Eloise (Nate’s sister) would cook for the lumberjacks at my grandfathers lumber camp. I have memories of the two of them cooking over a campfire with the biggest cast iron frying pan I have ever seen. It must have been 3 feet across and took both of them to carry it to the campfire. My god they could cook. They would feed 20 men 4 times a day cooking over an open campfire. I believe the two of them had their own diner in Flint for a few years.

Grammy was pure Irish and took NOTHING from my grandfather. They were an unlikely pair when you saw them together.

Nate died after a prolonged hospital stay after being struck by a logging truck when backing out of a parking space in front of a bar up in a lumber town in Michigan (typical Nate). I remember him taking me into a bar in Stiles Michigan when he was 70. He nearly got thrown out for pinching the waitress on the rear as she went by.

Grammy died in Jackson several years later at my mother’s home. She was diabetic, nearly blind from Cateracts, and deaf as a post. It was probably all from the diabetes. My mother almost went insane while Nellie stayed with her as Nellie hummed a completely made up tune from the time she got up in the morning to the time she went to bed. I can still remember my mother setting at the dining room table with her head in her hands and elbows on the table, asking God to make her deaf for just one day so she didn’t have to hear it.

My uncle Ron was alive until 20 years ago or so. I don’t remember his wife at all. He had two kids Rick and Marsha Kay. Rick was a little older than me so I didn't get to know him very well. Marsha Kay was pretty and about my age. I had a crush on her when I was 10-12. They are my only cousins from that side of the family. I haven’t seen or heard from them since I was 16 or so.

My mother was raised a Methodist and was a church going one until somewhere in my early teens. I don’t know what changed her but I think she lost faith around that time. My dad was never a religious man but did believe in God. She had me go to church until I was about 7 and then gave me a choice to go or not. I chose not to and my time in church ended except for weddings and funerals.

She raised the four of us boys pretty much by herself as my dad was always working, on top of being Deaf. Kind of an Ely male tradition.

She had bout after bout with Cancer thru most of my memory of her. First, it was in the Lymph nodes and they ended up removing them from both arm pits. She went 7 years before they detected the next one. She ended up having Cancer 5 times. First was the Lymph nodes, then breast Cancer (double mastectomy), Lung Cancer (lobe of one lung removed), Ovarian Cancer (Hysterectomy), and finally Spinal Cancer (inoperable).

So raising 4 boys like me and my brothers and 5 bouts of Cancer made her a pretty tough woman. Immediately after she had the lobe of her lung removed I can remember her coming home, sitting down at the dining room table and lighting up a Raleigh cigarette.

During the earliest episodes she was taking massive doses of Cortisone to reduce the pain and inflammation from the Cancer treatments. Her temper was incredible at those times. She could switch from Mom to Monster in a second. I can remember her beating the hell out of all of us boys for just about anything. She actually went to using a wire flyswatter handle to spank us when she figured out the belts were not effective anymore. The whistle of a flyswatter still makes me cringe today. I found out later when reading a Readers Digest article on Cortisone that it can cause personality issues much like my mother had when used in massive doses.

My mother was working as a waitress in my grandmother’s truck stop diner in Allen Michigan when she met my father. He was a truck driver at the time. One thing for sure, my mother was the worst cook in the world. She could cook hot dogs (boiling 5 pounds at a time)with Ketchup and mashed potatoes. Her specialty was “goulash” that was basically Macaroni, hamburger and canned stewed tomatoes. And, yes I know you wouldn’t guess that based on how I look. But, it’s true. I remember an occasional sheet of fudge, and fried bologna (god I hated that smell). The only smell I hate worse is my brother Mark's spoon full of Peanut butter in my Corvair in the morning before school (yes, that was his breakfast).

The only thing that was constant in my mothers cooking was the coffee. It was central to life itself. For as long as I can remember she had a 30 cup urn of coffee hot at all times. She would refill it at least once a day and usually two or three times. Everyone in the house drank coffee instead of anything else, including any kids that could hold a cup. I hear it stunts your growth. Yeah, sure. I was drinking it before I could walk.

So from that side of the family you have Diabetes, Obesity, Alcoholism, and Cancer and sever caffeine addiction. We never got the crazy part certified (maybe that was the coffee talking), or the stupid part but its there somewhere.

That’s about all I know from my mother’s side of the family. If I remember anything else I will add it in later.

Linda has done some Geneology on the England side of my family, and A gentleman whose wife is a distant cousin sent me some stuff that shows a lot of the names. I'll post that here as this develops.

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