Mondays for Me #57 ~ In the Garden

When we moved from the desert of Arizona to the lush, green State of Missouri, I was what could be called “gardening ignorant”. It was difficult to learn much about growing fruits or vegetables in the extreme heat of the Southwestern summers. I was 12 years old and I had never grown anything except cactus.

My parents bought a small house in Independence that had ½ an acre for the backyard. To me it was enormous! My Dad was so excited to plant a garden, and I was anxious to help. That first summer it was a “small” garden, at least by my Dad’s perspective. He and I dug up the ground and made the rows for the various vegetables that we were going to plant. We sowed carrot, cucumber, lettuce, radish, peas, corn, and green bean seeds. We made a trip to the nursery, and we came back with tomato plants and some blackberry bushes. I really had fun with the entire process.

Over the summer I helped to hoe the garden and tie up the tomato, peas, and green bean plants. I can still remember how excited I was when I saw the first little vegetable growing on the vine. I was a little confused when my Dad took me to the grocery store and told me we needed to find a bag of potatoes with lots of “eyes” on them. We had always avoided that type before. When we got home he showed me how to cut the “eyes” off and plant them in the ground, and he told me we were going to grow new potatoes. Yeah, right! We also had three large, well established peach trees standing side by side in the yard. I was fascinated with their bright pink blooms that smelled so good. Everything was coming to life with very minimal effort. In Arizona my Dad planted two peach trees and one apricot tree. During the summer they had to be watered every day and fertilized often. In the twelve years we lived there, we only got six peaches and one apricot from the trees.

June came and the backyard was full of things to eat. The first things to ripen were the peaches! Each tree was hanging low with fruit in different stages of ripeness. We picked so many for us, and I probably ate the majority of them. I just loved them. We soon had some of our relatives come over and pick as many as they wanted. Then my Aunt Margaret came and helped me pick enough to can. I had never done this before so it was a treat. Finally, my Dad put a notice in the newspaper for “free peaches”, and after several people came and picked what they wanted, we still had fruit on the trees!

We also had an abundance of other vegetables that could be canned. Again, my aunt came and taught me about each requirement for the various ones. We spent several days canning and talking. It was a very special time. It also felt good to have contributed to food stored up for the winter.

The potatoes where the last crop we dealt with. I was amazed at how many had grown from those little “eyes”. It was fun to dig in the dirt and not get yelled at! My Dad loaded the potatoes into the bed of the truck, and we drove them into Kansas City to my aunts home, and we stored them in her basement covered in lye. We all had potatoes for the next 9 months. This was a good experience for me. I learned a lot about how to plant and grow anything I wanted and I learned both patience and hard work.

When Autumn came and the temperature got colder, I missed the excitement of gardening. One day I was waling in the yard and I noticed a lot of hard round balls laying under a very tall tree on the south side of our house. I really never paid attention to it, it was only a tree! I picked one up and brought it to my Dad. He told me the tree was a black walnut tree. He and I then went outside and picked up a few of the balls, and we used a knife to open the outer casing of the nut. Once that was done, we had a walnut in a shell like I had seen in the grocery stores. To be honest, I didn’t like the process. It seemed like too much trouble, especially since walnuts were not my favorite nut at the time. My Dad did enjoy sitting in his chair and coaxing the nut to come out!

The next year we did the same, only this time the blackberry bushes gave us an abundance of fruit. Because of this, and the above mentioned peaches, these two became my two favorite fruits.

When we had to sell our home and move to California I felt so bad for my Dad. He seemed to thrive in this environment and I knew he would miss it. When we left Missouri, we were able to leave a lot of the produce with our relatives. This two and a half years were some of the best of my childhood!

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have written two books “Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time” and “Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip”, both available on Amazon. You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter @VHughesAuthor.

Monday’s for Me #55 ~ Going to the Swimming Hole

Me age 5

I was always a tom-boy growing up, always the first one to take a dare and run with it. I remember so many times that the outcome of these daring feats ended in disaster. Once I ended up with stitches in my knee, another time I sprained my ankle so badly from roller skating off our wooden picnic table onto the concrete patio that I was on crutches for 2 weeks.

A perfect example of accepting a dare was when I was 5 years old. We lived on Circle A Drive and the street was shaped like a horseshoe. For the first 8 years that we lived there the street was unpaved. It was not uncommon for the county to dig large holes on the side of the streets to fix pipes or other issues. There was a boy named Terry who lived down the street from us, and he was about 6 years older than me. One day he came over and said they were putting in a swimming pool a few houses down, and he asked if we wanted to see it. My sister and I immediately said yes and off we went.

My sister aged 8 and me aged 4

Sure enough, right in the front of their yard was a large 6-foot deep hole half filled with murky water. My sister said that she had never seen a pool without cement in it and Terry told her that after they are sure the hole is deep enough and that it is the right shape, they drain it and put in the cement. He then challenged my sister to jump in. My sister wasn’t a good swimmer and although she was only 9 years old she already weighted close to 200 pounds, so she was afraid to try. Terry only just began the challenge directed to me when I ran and jumped in the hole!

I remember going under the water and when I came to the surface I couldn’t breathe. My skin had a light brown sludge on and I couldn’t “swim” to the edge. Totally frightened Terry jumped in close to the edge and reached his hand out for me to grab. It took a couple of tries, but we finally clasped hands. After pulling me to the edge he shoved me up onto the dirt. He then struggled to climb up but couldn’t get a good footing. My sister had run to Terry’s house and got his Dad to come help. Eventually we were both laying on the ground. Terry’s Dad was laughing so hard he could hardly speak.

He sent my sister to tell my mother that he was carrying me home and to meet us in the yard with some towels. Terry was instructed to go home. When we got to my house my mother and sister were standing in the yard with the towels and my mother looked angry. That was until she saw me. She started screaming from fear and rushed to get the water hose. She turned it on and began spraying me head to toe trying to wash the sludge off of me. I was still struggling to catch my breath and coughing.

After I got cleaned up enough to go inside, my mother told me to go take a hot shower and wash my hair and body really good. By the time I got out, Terry’s parents were in the living room, along with a freshly scrubbed Terry. They were explaining what had happened, and they told her they would take me with them because we needed to go see our doctor. That is when I found out that the “swimming pool” was actually a hole that was dug to fix a sewer line. Apparently the leak got bigger overnight and sewage had filled the hole. The county workers had been by early in the morning and had dumped some chemicals in it to keep the smell down. This was in 1960 before all of our current regulations. You can image my reaction when I realized I had jumped in a hole of poop!

Thankfully, I had no adverse reactions to the chemicals or from being submerged in the mess. I wish that this event had taught me not to take a dare in the future, but it didn’t. I must say, if nothing else, my childhood was colorful!

Monday’s for Me #46 ~ Here Comes Santa Claus

It is at this time of year that I always reflect back to those Christmas’ of my childhood. If you have read any of my blogs you would know that I didn’t have the best upbringing. My mother and my sister Mary, both had mental problems so some of my memories have been tainted by these two.

My Dad always tried to make Christmas special. He would always ask Mary and I what we wanted Santa to bring us, and we always gave him plenty of ideas. Mary was 4 years older than I so the things we were interested in were so different. This was a good thing! She had a habit of “claiming” anything I received if she liked it so I always tried to ask for something that I knew she wouldn’t like.

There are 19 days between Christmas and my birthday, so this event happened when I was almost 6 years old. On Christmas Eve I was excitedly watching out of our bedroom window, hoping to get a glimpse of Rudolph leading the sleigh. Mary was annoyed because she said that I was letting in too much light by holding the curtain open and I was keeping her awake. She blurted out, “You now, there is no such thing as Santa. Dad and mom buy all of the toys and put them under the tree before we get up in the morning. They just lie about it”. I was devastated!

The next morning I didn’t come into the living room with the same enthusiasm as I had in previous years. My Dad kept asking me what was wrong, but I refused to talk. My mother and sister eagerly opened their presents and my sister gushed over the items “Santa” left her. I just quietly opened my presents and didn’t even glance at what was sitting under the tree. I finally told my Dad what Mary had said about Santa and he was really mad. He started yelling at her, telling her that she had been allowed to believe until just a couple of months ago, and she had no right to spoil the fun for me. My mother of course, came too Mary’s defense.

By the next year, I had gotten over it so I played along and told my Dad I only wanted one thing for Christmas, a Barbie doll with wigs! I was hoping and praying for one. About two weeks before the big day my parents went to visit a neighbor that lived a few houses down the street from us. While they were gone, Mary pulled the step stool out of the closet. In the living room we had one wall that had a large floor to ceiling closet in it. There were two large doors on the bottom and two separate smaller doors just above them. Mary used the stool to reach the top closet, and she began pulling out all of the things “Santa” was going to bring us. Sure enough, there was my Barbie with wigs! Instead of being excited, I felt kind of cheated. Christmas was never the same after this.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Monday’s for Me #44 ~ My First Date

Because of my upbringing, I was left with little knowledge about life outside my family. My sister was 4 years older than I, but she had never had a boyfriend nor been on a date. If you have read any of my other personal life blogs, you would know it was because she was so mean. My only glimpse into the life of a teenager was what I viewed on TV.

We were living in Independence, Missouri. I was 13 years old and in 8th grade in Junior High. It was near the end of the school year and the School was having a dance to celebrate. I loved to dance. I would spend hours with my friend Bonnie making up dance routines. We would spend our Saturday’s watching American Bandstand and practicing the moves. We even took dance in gym class during the second semester.

When I heard about the dance, I never dreamed I would get asked to go. Bonnie was seeing a guy named Ted, and he had a friend named Brad. They were both 9th graders. When Ted asked Bonnie to the dance he asked if she thought I might want to go with Brad, and we could all go together. So it was set up that we would go on a double date. I was so excited. Brad was a tall 15-year old with blonde hair and green eyes. I could barely say “yes” when he officially asked me out. None of us had a drivers license so Ted’s sister offered to drive us.

Friday night came quickly, and I was a bundle of nerves. There was one problem that I had not been aware of, Brad was a Mormon, and he didn’t dance! When we got to the school, I found myself standing on the sidelines watching all the dancing. This was a genuine sock hop because everyone entering the gym had to take their shoes off. Then I noticed that Bonnie wasn’t dancing either, and she had a look on her face that I am sure was a mirror of the one on mine. She walked over and said “Let’s show them how it is done!”, and she grabbed my hand pulling me out to the dance floor. We spent the next hour and a half dancing and having the best time.

At the end of the night we met back up with the boys, and we got into the car for the drive home. Ted’s sister suggested we stop at the fast food drive in where the boys bought us a burger and onion rings. I had never had onion rings before, and I was hooked. I don’t remember the conversations but I do recall the knot I got in my stomach when Bonnie leaned over and asked me if I was going to kiss Brad goodnight. Suddenly, I felt sick! When we got to my house Brad got out of the car so I could get out and I hurried to the front door with him fast behind me. I said thank you for the nice time and tried to open the front door, but it was locked. I started to panic, I did not want to kiss this guy! So I started pounding on the door and I could see my mother peeking out the window, and she was laughing. I just stood there knocking and pulling on the door handle. Finally, my Dad came and unlocked the door and let me in. When I turned and looked out the door I saw the car pulling away. I was angry and humiliated by what my mother did, but because of her mental illness I new not to mention it.

A girl never forgets her first date, especially when they are as strange as this!

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Mondays for Me #38 ~ Take it to the Bank!

I loved school as a child. I loved learning, I loved reading and writing, I loved recess, but mostly I loved just being away from home. My home life wasn’t the best and this was my escape. I was fortunate enough to have a great 5th grade teacher, who recognized my situation and showed me extra attention and kindness. When anything came up at school that required each classrooms’ participation, Mrs. Holman always picked me for it.

During the second week of school we were informed that one person from each grade would be chosen to be the “banker” for that grade. There were 3 classes per grade so it was a big deal to be chosen. I don’t know how it was determined who would represent a grade, but I was chosen for mine. I was so excited, even though I had no idea what I was going to be doing. Within a couple of days we had the first meeting of the “school bankers”. I learned that our responsibility was to go to all 3 of our grades’ classrooms and give a talk about why it was important to save money. Then we informed the kids that they could open their own savings account and on each Friday they could bring their money to school and “deposit” it in the bank. The perk for me was all 6 of the “bankers” got to go to the large Valley National Bank building in downtown Tucson, AZ. We were to take a tour of it and learn about money.

On the day of the trip to the bank, we all wore our best clothes. To be honest, when we pulled up to this 11-story building I had big butterflies in my stomach. However, once we went inside, they disappeared! There was so much to look at, especially all the people. We got to go behind the counter and watch the tellers give and receive money. We toured the safe deposit box room and along the way, the guide explained what everything was and its purpose. Then we were herded into the elevator, and we rode it to the 11th floor. All of these floors were just offices, but we did get to look out the windows. What a treat for a bunch of kids who had never been in a tall building before!

Then came the best part. We returned to the main floor and met the bank manager. He escorted us to the elevator once again, only this time we went to the basement. There was an enormous, round, metal door with a large lever on it. The manager opened it and we got to go inside. We were in the bank vault where all the money was kept. We viewed how they banded and stacked the different denominations of bills and coins. The manager reached into a drawer and pulled out a bill. He told us we were getting a special treat because very few people got to see what we were about to see. He then pulled out a 100,000 dollar bill! It was passed around, and we all got to hold it and look at it. It was a great day and experience.

That Friday after lunch, we were set up in the cafeteria with each grade having our own table. The children filed in and came to their grades table with their money in hand. My job was to “open” an account for them by putting their name on a saving book. I then took the money and wrote the amount on the first line, and then gave the book to the student. I counted all of the money from that day and place it in an envelope with the amount written on the outside. When we all were done, we took them to the Principals office. We did this each week, adding the new amount to the individual books until the end of school, when we refunded the children’s money. The average payout was $9, which was a lot of cash in 1966. I learned a lot during this process, the most important one was how and why to save money. Oh, I have had a great story to tell about handling a 100,000 dollar bill for all these years.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Monday’s for Me ~ Twice In One Day

CartwheelI remember when I was 10 years old that I was jealous of my next-door neighbor who got to be in a gymnastic class. I loved watching the Summer Olympics and I was enthralled with the floor exercises. I wanted to jump and tumble and do somersaults and handsprings. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when Beverly said she would show me some moves. She suggested I start with something easy like cartwheels and headstands. It wasn’t long before I doing cartwheels all over the yard. Headstands were a little harder for me.

One Saturday morning I got up early to practice my headstands against the side of the house outside. I did Headstandit over and over again and I was feeling pretty good about myself. Saturdays were my favorite days. I would get up just before the sun came up, fix myself a bowl of Rice Krispies and 2 pieces of toast. Then I would take my little red step stool outside and sit in the grass, making a table of the stool and eating my breakfast without being bothered by my sister. I loved listening to the turtle doves, the sound of them cooing still today takes me back to my Saturday breakfast ritual. About the time I finished, my dad was beginning his weekend yard cleaning. So, I went to the other side of the house to continue practicing. As usual, my mother was standing looking out the window, watching every move I made. As long as I could remember she did this anytime my sister or I went out in the yard. I decided to do a headstand but this time not against the wall. I got the momentum going and up I went. My legs actually went straight up and I was doing it with no help. Then I lost my balance and my body fell backward but my head stayed straight. I had the worse pain in my neck as I stood up and that was the last thing I remembered. When I finally opened my eyes, my dad was holding a wet towel against my head. This was the first time I had ever fainted.

My mother had seen the whole thing from the window and had rushed outside yelling for my dad to help me. Once I got my bearings I was able to walk into the house. My dad had to make a trip to the hardware store so my mother insisted that it would be good for me to go with him. I have to admit it felt good to ride with the windows down and feel the air on my face. My dad wasn’t much of a talker so we rode in silence. I don’t recall what I was looking at but all of a sudden I heard tires squealing and brakes locking and I felt my dad’s arm fly out in front of me pushing me back into my seat. When I looked up I saw a crashed carvehicle directly in front of us, facing us and another one with a large dent in its side sitting on my dad’s side of the car. My dad got out and rushed around and got me out of the car and told me not to move. He ran to the car in front of us. The man inside had his head resting face down on the steering wheel. My dad lifted his head up and his forehead was cut badly from one side to the other. Blood was gushing out everywhere. I saw my dad take his shirt off and place it on the man’s head. The next thing I knew I opened my eyes and a man and women I didn’t know were holding a cup of water over my head, slowly dripping it on my head. I had fainted again! The couple didn’t let me look in the direction of the accident, they just kept telling me everything was alright. After a while my dad came and got me, thanking these kind people for caring for me. As he carried me to the car I remember a few very vivid sights, The first was we had not been involved in the accident. Apparently, my dad was able to brake quickly enough that we were not hit. Second, I saw that you could maybe place an adult size hand between our car and the one facing us. It stopped that short of us. Third, all the people who were in the accident were gone but their cars were there. And fourth, there was a head size hole in the window of the car in front of us. It is strange how those things have stuck with me all these years.

We never made it to the hardware store. My dad turned around and we went straight home. My mother and sister freaked when we got out of the car. My dad only had on a white A-shirt and it was stained red from the blood. He had left his overshirt at the scene of the accident. After everything calmed down I spent the rest of the day sitting quietly, reading a book. and being thankful that we were alive. I have fainted maybe 6 times total in my life. But I have never fainted twice in one day again!


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Mondays for Me ~ Can You Say That Again?

Me11I started first grade at the ripe old age of 6. Way back then there was no such thing as Kindergarten, they just threw you right into the classroom. In Arizona if your birthday is before December 31st you could start school at the age of 5, my birthday is in January so I had to wait another whole year. I was so excited, for many reasons. First, I loved to learn. Even though I couldn’t read yet I would spend hours combing through the World Book Encyclopedias we had at home, looking at the pictures. Second, I could make new friends. Ones that didn’t know my sister. Third, I would be out of the house, away from my mother for 8 hours a day! Growing up, I remember talking with other kids and they would either laugh at me or ask me to “say that again”. Most adults would just walk away giving me a sad look. I was quite confused by this so away from home I barely talked.

The first day my teacher, Mrs. Woods, had each one of us stand up and tell the others ourMe22 name and one thing about ourselves. As I listened to the other kids I ran all sorts of things through my head. Should I tell the class I loved to ride my bike? Or perhaps I could tell them our family had a dog? It was hard to decide. When it came to my turn I said: “My name is Valerie and I love to ride my bike”. All the kids started laughing at me. I turned and ran crying from the room. When the teacher caught up with me she just hugged me for what seemed like a very long time. She then took me back into the room and scolded the kids for being cruel. She told them I had a speech problem and the school was going to help me with it.

A speech problem? I never heard that before. On the way home that day a carried a note from Mrs. Woods for my parents to read. I was petrified. My sister, who was four years older than me, was always bringing home notes and my Dad would yell at her and send her to our room. The look on my mothers face when I handed it to her would have killed me if it had the power. When she read it she didn’t look angry or say one word to me. I felt relief. The next morning she drove me to school and we went to the principal’s office. There she told the principal, Mrs. Reinche. that they knew I had a speech problem but they thought it would correct itself as I got older. My mother and sister always spoke baby talk to me since I was born and thought it was hilarious that I talked this way. I can still visualize the look on the principal’s face. She told my mother “We will handle this” and pointed to the door. After she left Mrs. Reinche told me I would be going to speech therapy 3 times a week at the school and it wouldn’t be long before I could speak correctly.

1960s-speech therapyI loved going for the therapy. It was one on one with the therapist and we played “games” and she taught me phonics, helping me to pronounce each word correctly by sounding them out. In class, we were learning to read by using the “Fun with Dick and Jane” series. If you don’t know what that is it was just repetitive words over and over again. Like “See Dick run, run Dick run”. You were learning to read by memory. Since I was learning phonics in therapy I was learning how to sound out the words, and this gave me a great advantage. Once I was able to speak in an understandable way I had enough confidence to stand and read to the class instead of being passed over. I read so well that Mrs. Woods started sending me home with second-grade level books. I would read them and bring them back then she and I would talk about them. She also helped me with my writing and by the end of the school year, I was writing stories.

One of the best things was I no longer got laughed at. I made great friends and I loved school. I was reading third-grade level books by the end of the year and I discovered I loved to write. Using my imagination and writing stories help get me through my very unpleasant childhood. I did have to take a refresher therapy class for my third-grade year, but I didn’t mind. There are still, to this day, some words I have trouble pronouncing. Even so, I am glad I don’t have to hear “can you say that again?’ from others.


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.