Twice Upon a Time...Twins in The Family

Ten years ago around this time, our daughter delighted us with the news she was pregnant the second time around. Oh goodie, I thought, maybe a little sister for our grandson. At 2½, the little guy lived 20 minutes away and was the highlight of our everyday lives. Born just weeks before our older grandkids moved cross-country, he filled the emptiness we felt after six years as hands-on grandparents.
It was a quiet afternoon about four weeks later when the house phone rang. My daughter usually used her cell so I was surprised to see her name on caller ID. “Hi babe,” I answered cheerfully.
Silence.
“Hello” I asked.
 Then I heard a soft, timid-toddler voice whose words sounded like” mama” and “baybee.”
 Or was it “baybeeees???”
Coached to repeat it louder, he made it clearer…“Mama has two babies in her belly!”
 My brain was not registering what I’d heard.  “What does that mean?”I asked when Tracy came on the phone. Laughing and crying at the same time, she exclaimed, “Mom, we’re having twins!”
“Oh my God,” I screamed for my husband. He stared at me for a long time before it sunk into his head too. I sat down on the kitchen floor crying happy tears as my daughter and I went back and forth with a “two of this and two of that” kind of chant.

Freaking out was definitely the term.
They would have three kids under three!
Two more car seats times three cars (including mine) equals nine!
Two cribs,
Two changing tables or one?
Two baby swings,
Two highchairs eventually,
Two playpens, two rocker seats…. and on and on it went.
 Anxiety and anticipation eventually gave way to confidence and joy as time went on; but mom and dad, two sets of grandparents, various in-laws and siblings constantly weighed in on the how, where an having d what of twins in the family.

As they prepared to buy double dollars worth of stuff, the most important question came from ME. ”What about color?” I asked. “Two blues, two pinks or one of each? Gender testing was scheduled for the next week.
 With her first born, Tracy had met me in the baby department at Kohl’s for the big reveal. There she was, holding a little blue outfit…a boy! I agreed to find out the same way this time, near the newborn displays at Kohls. I’ll never forget her coming toward me with two similar outfits; one in blue and one in pink! YAAAY! How blessed we were!

I decided it was time to quit working and plan for a brand new gig; two new babies were going to need grandma’s full attention. I retired from teaching after 33 years. Since my husband’s job enabled him to work remotely and the twins’ arrival date wasn’t ‘til December, we decided to celebrate by renting a cottage in southern California near our son’s house.
It was paradise. A cozy little beach house in a throwback beach town where we spent two months with our grand girls. Volunteering at their school, I became intrigued with the girls’ classmates. Namely, their names, the so-called California names. Sunshine, Shade, Phoenix, River, Bella la Bella and Davy Blue are a few that come to mind. This was also around the time Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez were pregnant with twins. Celebrity shows and social media were full of speculation and wouldn’t you know…I got caught up in the name game too. Actors seemingly one-upped each other with outlandish monikers. Bear, Mowgli, Apple, Pilot and Calico.

I annoyed my daughter on a daily basis with the latest names I heard. (In my defense, I did respect her wishes for no rhyming names such as Barney and Marney or Jenny and Kenny) One day she emailed me and said enough! She’d let me know when they decided. I continued walking on the beach thinking about playing in the sand with two coolly-named kiddos someday. 

During our last few days in town, I was browsing the gift shops along Main Street. Just as I picked up a couple of “I’m the cute twin” tees in the B is for Baby  store, my daughter called. “We’ve decided we love the names Rain and Storm,” she gushed.  I was thrilled! “Cool names,” I kept repeating and assured her it was wise to wait until they arrived to see which name fit which babe. Of course, the saleslady overheard and I over-shared, gushing way too much about helping these soon-to-be grandbabies have trendy names. She looked over her glasses at me and said, “I’m so sorry, dear.”  I bought the identical tee shirts and hurried home to tell grandpa and the rest of the family.

I emailed my teacher friends and gal pals back home, called my mother….a soon to be a great-grandmother of twins, and told the donut ladies at the coffee shop I visited each morning. Did I mention I was thrilled? We flew home at the end of October in time to have our grandson for the weekend, carve a pumpkin and buy Halloween goodies. I told the neighborhood trick-or-treaters Rain and Storm were going to be the most adorable babies ever.

When Tracy and I met at our favorite Mexican restaurant for lunch one afternoon, she nonchalantly mentioned they were rethinking their decision about baby names. She said, “Think about it, Mom. You were a teacher and must have rolled your eyes a few times,” referring to kids with weird names. I nodded. “Can you see Rain and Storm in our suburban Atlanta school?” No….I really couldn’t. When I acknowledged that the trendy name thing seemed normal on the west coast but silly in our corner of the world, she started chuckling. She laughed harder and shook her head saying, “I got you good!”
The light bulb went on. I suddenly knew she’d been joking the whole time. “Well played!” I said. We hugged and segued into the negative aspects of a kid called Storm. Would he/she be an angry, wild child? Would Rain be sad and cry a lot? I was a bit embarrassed that I’d believed her, that I’d never considered the consequences for the twins as they grew up. I promised I wouldn’t ask about names ‘til the newborns’ appearance.

One week into December with the Christmas season in full swing, the day finally came! Twins require a scheduled delivery and we were off to the hospital. The other grandparents were there with our grandson, along with an aunt, uncle and cousins. When daddy came into the waiting room, we all stood up. “Big brother gets to meet the twins first,” he announced. Drew jumped into his arms and the rest of us sat back down. A half hour later he opened the door and waved the grandparents through.
Voila! There they were… a bundled baby boy in blue and a pretty pink-blanketed girl lying in mama’s arms. As she placed the ‘oldest’ in his paternal grandma’s arms, we were introduced to Lane Hudson. My arms reached out to meet Miss Paige Nicole. Two rockers, two grandmas rocking and two brand new babies being rocked! The grandpas finally got a turn as we played pass-the-babies around the room. We cooed at the ten little fingers and toes on each, the mass of dark curls on Paige’s head and the long blond wisps on Lane’s. It wasn’t long before I’d nicknamed these Christmas gifts Prancer and Dancer!

The frazzled parents took time to adjust and set up a routine. When my son-in-law headed back to work and Drew to preschool, it was my turn to show up for duty.  My favorite memory from those early days is Tracy sitting on the floor surrounded by books, reading aloud various passages on the feeding of multiples. Listening, I warmed the bottles of breast milk and settled on the couch feeding the babe in my lap with one hand and the one propped on pillows with the other. She looked up at me and said, “Thank you, Mom.” It was common sense in my opinion. They were both hungry at the same time. But at that moment we both realized it was going to be learn-as-you-go rather than following ‘how-to’ books. Dr. Spock did have good advice when it came to colicky tummy aches. Walking and rubbing Paige’s back as I hummed nursery rhymes soothed her many times. Looking back now, I so admire how my kids handled that first year. Getting three fed, bathed, loved and cherished while grabbing sleep whenever you can is the hardest but greatest job in the world.
 

Drew was a bewildered toddler in the beginning, regressing to join the baby circus. But by 3 ½ he was ready to help entertain and care for the twins. Fetching diapers and this and that from the upstairs nursery is a mighty important job.
Today Lane and Paige are nine. They are happy third graders who love reading and writing. Paige is artistic and Lane is our music man. They’re both great swimmers and excel in sports. Paige is a social butterfly and a sweet friend to everyone. Lane idolizes his big brother and is often annoyed by his one-minute younger sister; but he the peacemaker, the moral compass of the family. He’s witty, sensitive and street smart while Paige is an insightful thinker who likes to ponder every detail. She’s creative with her hands as well as her words. She’s taken gymnastics, cheerleading and dance classes with great poise and a sense of style. Both kids are athletic; playing soccer, baseball and basketball the past several years.

They love family history and made me proud last Veteran’s Day when they presented a Social Studies Fair project about their great-grandfather’s WWII experiences.


Watching these two little people from “mama’s belly” bloom and blossom continually enrich our lives every day. They’re still double the trouble, double the joy….but we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

My 5K Phase to Walking Days


February, 2011


Another 5K this chilly February morning….the Polar Bear Run!  Twenty-five degrees is COLD anywhere, but not too often does it dip this low in Georgia. “What’ll we wear to run in below-freezing weather?” my sister Karen and I whine. This is our fourth race. We’re feeling more confident being members of the "runner world." We know the routine of checking in, warming up, pacing ourselves. We really just want the motivation, the camaraderie of other folks in our over-50 age group. We layer up and wear hats, scarves and gloves. However, our toasty Nanook of the North style clashes with everyone else’s body-hugging, fashionable-looking warm clothes. A few minutes into the race, our pace slows as we unzip, untie and take off our jackets. I stuff my gloves and Kleenex into pockets and sleeves, looking disheveled but able to move much faster now!

After doing years of Zumba, yoga, morning runs and nature hikes together, we realized one day in 2009 we could easily do a 3.1 mile race….no problem. We saw a poster for a “Trail Run” at the local high school and excitedly sent in our $25 registration. The form asked for the usual information...including our ages, but we had no clue what our time/level/capability was. But we had to put something in the red-starred box; if we could sometimes run a 12-minute mile, should we put in 36 minutes? Did we want to seem fast and be in the front of the pack? Hell no. We rounded it to 40 minutes, hoping we’d be placed in the middle at least. But Karen and I really had no idea what we wanted, or what we were getting into. No big deal we told each other….this will be fun! We can do this!

As we parked in back of the school, we noticed the crowd gathering in a weed-high field. Yikes! We nonchalantly wound our way to the registration desk, careful not to trip over ruts and gnarled chunks of dead grass.  Still acting cool, we held the shoe clip in one hand and our paper number in the other trying to figure out where and how to fasten them. As we pretended to stretch and compare numbers, two good-looking guys offered to lean down and “do our shoes.” My sister said “oh, that’s okay, we can do it” while I sputtered, “Oh, thank you so much. This is our first time”as Karen shot me daggers. Not only did they attach it, they explained how Chip Timers recorded our time. Next, they asked if we’d grabbed safety pins from the registration desk. Ahhhhh, no. “You mean there’s an electronic device on our shoes but we still use four safety pins to attach the race number?” I asked, sounding indignant. I ran back and grabbed some, getting a little nervous as the clock moved closer to the 8:00 start time. Meanwhile, my sister enjoyed the company of both young men who were using their "help the old first-timer" manners, I’m sure.

December, 2009; our first 5K...sorta!
The warning horn sounded for runners to line up and we complied; taking each other’s picture to show our official race numbers. A friendly spectator took our photo together, commenting on how hard it was to run in woodsy terrain. Wait, what did that mean?  And there we were….laughing and kidding around….just as the GO horn blew and the camera snapped us!  It was only a matter of seconds, but as we turned around and realized what was happening it was surreal. Could we be any more obvious? We took off feeling foolish, very un-cool and totally discombobulated. We couldn’t believe we were expected to run on a rough, rocky, tangled trunk-rooted trail.  These trails are to be hiked carefully we told other would-be runners…that’s why they make hiking boots. No one paid any attention as they hurried past us.  Little did we know that a Trail Run meant a high level performance race for serious, experienced, win-the-medal-athletes. It was all in the fine print we discovered later. Everyone was swiftly passing us with their feet barely brushing the ground while we fretted about twisting an ankle. It was close to an hour and we knew we were way behind.  Luckily we saw an escape route off to the side where family members were cheering. We hurried past them and headed straight to the car. Our heads may have hung in defeat and disappointment, but we burst into giggles as soon as we left the lot. It was the funniest thing ever. The picture says it all….and every time we tell the story we probably embellish it a bit.  It was out first attempt, but not our last. We were hooked!

January, 2010


A month later, we did the early morning New Year’s Day Race through constant drizzle; but this time it was held on paved, blocked-off streets. We were better prepared and motivated to get it done in 40-45 minutes. As usual, Karen finished ahead of me; I sometimes had to walk a few minutes. But we achieved our goal; less than an hour. Chilled and drenched, I looked pretty unhappy just strolling across the finish line. But I must have run most of it, my time was 46 minutes.


April, 2010
By spring we were motivated again and registered for a church-sponsored 5K. However, April in Georgia can be quite hot. And the route was NOT a blocked-off street; but a nearby residential neighborhood called Rolling Hills….or it should have been called that.
Hot and hilly is not easy; I accepted the shuttle ride up a half-mile high hill. Because of my age…..which I’m sure the computer printout highlights in yellow…..race officials seemed to know whom to keep an eye on. But there were younger, out-of-breath people also on that shuttle. I told myself it was wise; I wanted to live another day to dance in Zumba class! Getting out and running downhill was a breeze and I clocked in at 47.31 minutes.....thanks to cheating.

With a mix of sister rivalry and encouragement, we continued our outdoor and gym activities the rest of the year. Thirteen years younger, Karen says she wants to keep in shape like me as she grows along. In turn, she gets me to try new things. Kayaking, climbing Stone Mountain, swimming laps, weight training are things I might have missed if it wasn’t for her. Although we walked, ran and rode our bikes frequently, we didn’t think about another race until the following February.
We noted our times; but after awhile they weren’t that important. We liked bettering ourselves and the high we got from accomplishing something difficult.

 Shortly after the Polar Bear Race, we discussed Atlanta’s famous Peachtree Road Race! We looked up 10 kilometers and knew we could do 6.2 miles if we put our minds to it. There's a random drawing for this race and wouldn’t you know we were accepted. OMG…this was big time! Scary big-city-crowd big time!  An eight-week training course was offered in our area, so every Saturday in May and June we ran/walked 6 miles with team leaders ahead and behind us. In June it can be 80 degrees first thing in the morning; that was the point….how to stay hydrated and pace ourselves in heat. We learned from speakers and videos and doctors as well as on different practice routes. Clocking it in my car one day, I couldn’t believe it….no one walks six miles to the mall, the new high school or the Greenway! One Saturday I just couldn't do it; worn out, I wanted to bail. I called my husband after four miles or so and asked him to come get me. He said no. I was probably in tears at that point, but forever grateful afterward that he said no. I soldiered on and made it back to the starting point!

My first and only 10K, July 2011
The Peachtree is held on the 4th of July. NO ONE goes downtown that day unless you’re in it…..or there to cheer someone on! Jim and my kids, my sister’s kids…..they all said “No thanks. Have fun, hope you survive!” There’s a steep climb along this race route referred to as Heartbreak Hill due to heart attacks over the years. Survival jokes aside, we’d practiced on hills and felt confident we could handle it. Karen finished before me again, but finishing within two hours was my goal and I did it in 1.54! I felt pretty proud as I realized there were still folks behind me with at least a mile to go before they’d sleep!

"That’s it," we said. "We have done the Peachtree!" After 28 years in Georgia, we’d done the Peachtree. We didn’t need to spend another dime on a race when we could just walk around the parks and trails in our northern suburban community. With a family history of heart disease, we’d improved our strength and endurance as well as pleased our cardiologist!


My sister, now the manager at a senior center and close with city leaders, coaxed me into doing one more 5K…the Mayor’s Race in the winter of 2013. Layered up and wearing the blue ‘lucky’ scarf my niece had made me, we arrived in the dark and drank free cups of coffee as we waited for a 7:00 start time. After the Peachtree, we’d lost the urge to RUN a whole damn race….jogging had become our gait of choice.  Karen took off eagerly, and I waved her on ahead; deciding to just walk and breathe this time. I missed my loud, motivating music and wished I’d brought my ear buds along.  This route was a tree-lined boulevard, down one side and up the other to the finish line. At about the 2.8 mile marker, I stopped, held onto a tree and did a few knee lifts to ease my tightening legs. A police cruiser stopped and the driver asked if I was okay. I assured him I was and jogged onward. But my left leg kept cramping and I worried about stumbling. As the officer drove by again, he stopped and waved me over. Oh God…so cute, so young, so sweet. “How about I give you a lift to the 3 mile marker, just before you turn the corner for that final push?” he winked.  And so…..cheater that I am, I said okay.

January, 2013
I got out of the police car and took off, one of the last to cross the line to applause and cheers. As soon as it was over, the mayor congratulated the participants and began announcing winners. Karen and I were talking and laughing in the back of the crowd as I told her about my new favorite policeman friend. She’d already greeted the mayor, so feeling tired and hungry, we decided to leave. “Joan Stommen!” said the voice over the loudspeaker. “Winner of The Over-65 Age Group; please come forward.” Karen was in stitches as I kept muttering “but I was last; I had a ride.” I received my first-ever medal and shook the mayor’s hand; all the while trying not to giggle. Turned out...at age 69...I was the ONLY one in my age group! True story; and I now have a medal that says First Place.

Winter Blast, February, 2015 
After moving back to Michigan last summer, I  unpacked everything and hung the medal on a hook alongside my scarves and belts. It spoke to me one day last winter and suddenly I wanted to do it again.  I registered my two granddaughters, daughter-in-law and me for the Portage Winter Blast 5K. The three of them, excited about snow and cold after living on the beach in southern California for ten years, showed up to participate in this sport with Grandma. Teen girls and working moms like to sleep in on weekends, so I was touched. Maybe they came to support me and maybe I wanted to prove I could not only finish a three-mile jog/walk, but we could all have fun in cold weather.


 The 2017 Winter Blast is coming soon, but  wouldn’t you know, I’ll be out of town.  I think walking 3.1 miles in Florida sand with my girlfriends will be just about perfect!
                                                                                                             
                                                                      

Understanding Both Sides


 In an effort to better understand how our President-elect has such passionate supporters, I attended a meeting of local communication and community leaders a few weeks ago. I needed to grasp why voters felt he is the best to lead our country. Despite the numerous posts on social media condemning his win and the rallying of folks still upset about Clinton's loss; talking face-to-face with both sides and hearing concrete reasons helped me move away from uncertainty and move toward hope and reason for our country.

The elections are over
The circus goes on.
Trump’s in the White House
What once was is gone.

Goodness; where are you?
Can’t you hear, don’t you see?
Kindness, acceptance getting along
Is how it should be!

Suspend for a moment who won;
We should have known!
Party change every eight years,
Means deep division; unity has flown.

Identity and emotion were in play,
Policies and public service not so much.
Dislocation, economy and society
Mean folks need more than going-Dutch.

Mr. Trump resonated with just one toss;
A gigantic rock through America’s window!
Getting away with it was the new vibe…
Political incorrectness was the way to go!

Cultural differences suddenly showed
The bully monster reared its head.
Passionate supporters said he’s our man…
Now feeling discomfort and conflicted instead.

This is where I’m at now; understanding
Dear colleagues and friends.
Our opposite views doesn’t mean
Family and friendship are at end!

Policies and promises were the sideshow,
Emotion ruled the stage.
Society differences so far apart…
From nice; not-so-nice; to put‘em in a cage!

Respect for our President-elect is
Twirling and whirling one day to another.
As America reels, reaches, reacts...
Let’s keep Goodness above all other.

Moving forward means coming together
The masses now say. I needed to grasp,
Understand and not fear.  
Unity happens when hands we can clasp.


Adult Children and the Holidays...10 Tips to Ease the Stress of Sharing


Many of you have probably started shopping for gifts, made travel reservations or are busy unpacking decorations for the coming winter holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hannukah will soon be here. Have you thought about the actual day of celebration? If your adult children are married or living with significant others; whether you have grandchildren near or far….there are bound to be some question marks about where, when and with whom. After years of familiar routine, change rears its head when our kids grow up. For the past twenty years, my holidays were unpredictable and seemingly different every year. As needs arose and life interfered, I found some solutions that worked for us. Hopefully, you’ll find some soothing memory making ideas here.
  1. Remind yourself that it comes under the heading of letting go.
We raise them, send them off to college, help with wedding preparations and applaud their home and job choices. Welcoming another family member is how the empty nest begins to fill again. Our son was the first to marry and we loved the bonus of another daughter; but they married and settled in Michigan; several states away from us in Georgia. I think there was only time for a sigh of relief before it hit me…things would be different now.



 2. Respect that the newlyweds may want to host a big holiday themselves.
They married in late September and had an autumn honeymoon. The next thing we knew, they wanted to host Thanksgiving. My husband and daughter and I drove north, caught up in the excitement of the newlyweds hosting their first holiday. Having Thanksgiving dinner prepared by someone else and spending time with the other parents was a treat. But being invited back for Christmas was much harder. I didn’t like it and may have whined to my son, “please come to us, we always cut down a tree, decorate it, go to Christmas Eve Mass, get up at the crack of dawn tooogetherrrrr.” Her parents were not able to go, so my son’s pleading that their first Christmas was a really big deal touched my heart. Imagine my delight discovering he followed our same traditions; leaving milk and cookies for Santa, opening a gift on Christmas Eve, making us wait in the hallway Christmas morning until he turned on the lights and exclaimed, “SANTA WAS HERE!”


3. When it's your turn to host a family gathering, invite the son or daughter-in-law's parents.
After our daughter married and bought a home nearby, my husband and I mostly hosted holiday dinners. Our son-in-law's parents lived out of state, so when they were in town we included them as well. I never realized in those early years that the other parents would become lifelong friends.


4. Accept when you’re invited to their homes. Plans and places can change, but you’ll all be together and the kids will be all right.  Sharing a Thanksgiving with my daughter-in-law’s blended family; another with my son-in-law’s extended family….so many that a big hall was rented….were two of the best times we ever had. Your children will beam as they watch the connection of their families grow. Thirteen years ago on a lovely, snowy evening, the young couple invited their moms out for drinks after a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. As the four of us relaxed, his mom and I blurted out at the same time, “when are we getting a grandchild?” We’d held our tongues for three years so we felt entitled. I loved us being on the same page; this favorite friend I now call my “grandmother-in-law.”
5. Discuss your preferences as soon as possible before the holiday

Whether it’s religious purposes, enough space to hold everyone, who really wants to cook, travel or medical considerations; early planning will make it easier for everyone. Letters and conversations throughout the year will make the ’planners’ more comfortable in expressing their wishes. Getting to know the other family members not only makes holiday preparations easier but builds a camaraderie that can only strengthen your kids’ bond in all aspects of marriage. Here my son wanted Thanksgiving dinner in his new home....no furniture, a makeshift table and since the dishware and napkins were still packed, paper towels worked! One of our best family gatherings ever! 

6. If you find you’ll be on your own some Thanksgiving, Christmas or other event…take off!  Don’t stay home and fume or fret; take a road trip, make reservations for holiday dinner at a nice restaurant, head to the Bahamas. There will be years when all your kids go to their in-laws or have plans with pals. My husband and I traveled to San Antonio, Texas one Christmas Day, ate dinner at a Howard Johnson and toured the Alamo. The rest of the week we took day trips and enjoyed the Riverwalk events at night. It tickled us knowing we could have a blast and never missed Christmas with the kids at all!

 7. When the grandkids finally come along! Always respect the new mother’s wishes first….especially the first year. Use common sense and again, discuss it well ahead of time. My son and daughter-in-law moved south to be near us when their first daughter was born. I felt great peace and contentment to do the holidays “my way” again; envisioning my daughter and the new little family all under our roof. But the new mom wanted Thanksgiving; hosting us and her parents from out of town. We hadn’t seen them since the wedding four years earlier and we had lots to catch up on about this new baby girl. Since we got to see our first grandchild frequently, we didn’t mind her other grandparents taking over the feeding, holding and rocking for a few days.

8. Stagger the holidays by years if all parties are acceptable. As time goes by, let your kids decide what works for them. They not only have in-laws to celebrate with but will want to host themselves some years. Some families only want Thanksgiving or Easter; others like to switch off. Open communication and flexibility is the key. Believe me….the day will come when going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house becomes the best for everyone!


9. If everyone lives close enough, stagger the times for opening holiday presents. The whole magical scene will still be there later that afternoon, the next morning or even the next week. Eighteen years ago when our first grandchild came along, I insisted Santa would come down our chimney too…and fill stockings for everyone! Needless to say, he came down every year after and I had four more stockings embroidered with each grandchild’s name. I don’t recommend this; not only can it be costly, but potentially awkward too. It was a bit sticky for my daughter initially. She and her husband wanted their own Christmas morning ritual with their children and liked having Christmas Dinner at the other grandparents’ house. We agreed to wait until the following morning to open the gifts around our tree. Seeing the delight on little faces as they ran in the door made it all worthwhile. One year we spent Christmas morning with our California family; flew home that evening and had Christmas again the next morning with our Georgia family.


10. If you’re a long distant grandparent unable to join the celebration, you can still be present. Just make sure you follow the parent’s suggestions first, then your grandchild’s request and lastly your own surprises. If you’ll miss a Thanksgiving or Easter Dinner, send things that can be included such as a candle or special prayer, inexpensive decorations, stickers or a new shirt or dress for the occasion. When I lived on the other side of the country; I’d wrap and send gifts to go under the girls' tree; then after Christmas, I’d send anything Santa had left under mine, including the filled stockings! Needless to say, we spoiled the kids and kept UPS and FedEx in business.
Now that I’m a widow and the grandchildren are getting older, it amuses me that my son and daughter now want to ‘share’ mom! The first Christmas on my own, I went to my son’s, the next year to my daughter’s. Now he’s moved nearby and would like me to join in their holiday festivities. But I don’t see my daughter’s family as often, so it’d be worth a plane ticket to their house or….I may decide to spend my holidays doing something completely different. After years of appreciating their parents’ flexibility, I’m confident they’ll both be fine with whatever I decide.

Visiting My English Roots

Mom and Tracy in a 'Brummie' cab.

 Armed with a torn map, notebooks, old addresses and cameras, my sixty-something mother, preteen daughter and I climbed into a cab outside the Albany Hotel in Birmingham, England and asked to be taken to Crocketts Road in the Handsworth neighborhood. We had flown across the pond with the Friendship Force; the first week staying with a host family outside of London, the second week on our own exploring our roots.




Sarah Rogers Bickley
Samuel Bickley
My dad’s side of the family was not what you’d call close-knit according to family bibles and tales told by uncles and aunts. Samuel Bickley, my great, great grandfather, was a machinist in a hosiery factory in Leicester when he met Sarah Rogers, his workmate’s daughter. After a short courtship, they married in 1870 and found work as pearl button finishers in Birmingham. They lived for many years at the back of 71 Garbett Street. The family grew to include six children; Harry, an opera singer, Lucy, whose husband owned the midland’s Aston Football Team, Edith,  Sarah, Alice and Samuel Thomas, my great grandfather.


My ancestor's corner store where they lived above.
June, 1984
In their later years, Sarah and Samuel became shopkeepers and lived above the store at 114 Crocketts Road…thus the reason for our visit in June, 1984. There was still a general store on that corner; the original building enlarged and renovated. We met the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Hunt who were quite gracious in helping with our quest for information. Mrs. Hunt went a few doors down the street to get a neighbor, 82-year-old Mrs. Biddlestone, who remembered the Bickleys. She recalled her trips to the store to “buy sweets when she was a child.” 


Mom wandering the cemetery at St. Mary's
Church in Handsworth, Birmingham, England.

Our taxi driver waited patiently as we snapped photos and talked to local residents. Next we asked him to take us to St. Mary’s Church where we could search the cemetery headstones. We took photos of beautifully engraved markers; finding names related to us. Of course we tipped the driver well as he’d spent an afternoon with us, but mom also insisted on exchanging mailing addresses and giving him a big hug!

 The next day we were at it again; in another taxi driven by John Bartley. This time we rode to Victoria Street where my great, great aunts Lucy and Edith had lived across the street from each other. These street addresses had all been recorded in handwritten lists and passed down through the generations. While mom and I took photos of the old homes, the cabbie chatted with the folks walking by. He too was caught up in our mission and eager to help; sure enough an elderly man and his wife remembered our ancestors and invited us into their home! Ada and Jack Popplewell recalled that Edith and her husband owned a dairy and delivered milk along Victoria and the surrounding streets. Mom and the Popplewells kept in touch over the years and at the time I updated this family history in 1998, their granddaughter Ida was still alive and living in North Wales.


Nellie Lavinia and her three boys.
Samuel Thomas left home as a young boy, wandered the streets, worked as a brass finisher, and was a regular at the local pubs. Known as a ladies’ man, his marriage to Nellie Lavinia Warner produced three sons, but the couple soon drifted apart. He apprenticed as a fitter for the motor car industry and made two trips to Canada to pave the way for future employment. Nellie was an alcoholic and unable to care for her young boys, so they were raised by their grandparents, Samuel and Sarah.
 Samuel Thomas and his sons immigrated to America on the HMS Mauritania in July, 1914, leaving Nellie behind. She’d been institutionalized and died of pulmonary congestion the following year. Samuel found work in Detroit….most likely with the automakers and because it was similar to Birmingham’s working class society. He left the boys with three different foster families…a real father of the year!




My grandfather on the left, served in
the Canadian Army during WWI.

My grandfather, Samuel Horace, was the oldest and by age sixteen, he also took to the streets. He eventually joined the Canadian Army where he served during WWI and later met my grandmother Fanny Mae, one of twelve children and as he called her, the “prettiest of four daughters” living in Orillia, Ontario.
After they married and settled on Glastonbury Street in Detroit, Grandma and Grandpa looked for and found his younger brothers, Oliver and Harry. My dad recalled long talks with both his uncles about their different backgrounds growing up. Annual summer visits to  Uncle Harry and Aunt Sadie’s farm in St. Clair Shores continued all through my childhood.

The word farm triggers the smell of cut grass and manure, the thrill of feeling cow’s milk squirted on us, the excitement of climbing high into the barn loft and jumping into piles of hay…over and over again. The highlight of each visit was a tractor ride for us kids….and the huge farm table filled with both family and farmhands eating the huge dinner meal together.

 We were close with Uncle Harry’s three boys. Uncle Oliver had several wives and a daughter we met a few times…..but he never seemed to bond with his brothers or their families. How grateful we are that my grandfather searched for his siblings; otherwise I wouldn’t have a favorite Bickley cousin and west coast buddy today!

Family history passed down through the ages is priceless. I remember discussing the Friendship Force opportunity with my parents. Since my dad was not able to get off work, he urged my mom to go for him. So much was planned for us; touring Windsor Castle, seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and living with a lovely family for a week. But walking the same streets as my ancestors and hearing stories from the past were the highlights of our trip to England. That and the letters of gratitude from the taxi drivers for the friendship pins and hugs mom bestowed on them.
  

Headline of Letter to the Editor I wrote
to the Birmingham Mail; printed
October 12, 1984