Friday, September 25, 2009

Helen, The Early Years

When my grandmother was born, she wasn't given a name. She was the first child and her parents couldn't agree on a name, so they brought her home with "Baby Girl" written on the birth certificate. After 6 months, her grandmother insisted they give the poor child a proper name and she was named Helen. Simply Helen, because they couldn't agree on anything for a middle name. It seems odd, but name issues are quite common in my family.

- My grandfather's aunt picked her own name because she was too embarrassed to tell her teacher that her name was "Sis". She picked out "Estaline" and eventually had her birth certificate changed from "Baby Girl", but she was known to the family as Sis or Aunt Sis for the rest of her life.

- My parents had such an problem with naming my older sister that they bought a baby name book when they were expecting me. They started at the beginning of the book. My name is Valerie.

- If you want to have a boy, announce that your girl name is Sarah. It's very effective.

Helen is the oldest child in this picture with her family.

Helen's parents had a farm and she grew up working in the fields. When school started each fall, Helen was kept home until the harvest was in, which meant that she showed up just in time for the first 6-weeks tests. For the rest of the school year, she stayed late every single day to catch up with the rest of her class. Her goal was graduation and she fought fiercely to achieve it. She finally graduated the year she turned 20. A picture of her graduating class sat on top of her stereo and she even named her youngest son after her high school principal. She attended every single one of her grandkids' graduations - high school, college, chiropractic school, medical school, even boot camp - and she kept our graduation pictures on her TV.

Helen is the tall woman at the top right.

After graduation, Helen joined the National Youth Administration (NYA) which was part of the New Deal program during the Great Depression.

I absolutely love this picture of her during her NYA years.

Notice the date on this picture. One day before the entire world changed.

WWII came around and her beau, Henry Patman, enlisted in the army. He came home on leave and married Helen so that she could go with him to his post in Kentucky.

My grandfather had very high cheekbones; he was 1/4 Cherokee.

Henry was eventually deployed and he asked his new wife to live with his mother and little brother as his mother didn't like being alone. There I'm sure is where she learned the incredible story of his mother's life. (Don't worry, some day I'll tell that story.) She felt guilty because she knew that her own parents really needed her help on their farm, but living closer to the big city meant that she could catch the bus into Dallas and work at Sears, earning a paycheck. As the war dragged on, Helen became a "Rosie the Riveter", building bombers.

After Henry was deployed, he wrote a letter to Helen saying that he didn't even have a picture of his wife and would she please have one made to send? Helen went to a portrait studio in Ennis, TX, and had this beautiful photo made.

I think it's neat that our family stayed in the same general area of small-town east Texas for so long. I attended the same school as my dad and my grandmother, then I graduated from the same school as my mother. Heck, we even had the same science teacher. We bought our school clothes at the Sears where my grandmother had worked so long ago. The settings of the stories and pictures are all familiar to me because they were part of my childhood. I remember the day we ran from a corn snake we found in my great-grandmother's barn. I have a mental image of my other great-grandmother standing on her front porch and the brass spittoon she kept in her living room. We had picnics near the place where my mother grew up and sometimes visited the tiny church where she and my dad were married and where my grandmother attended until her death. I try to take my children back often so that they will, too, know where our family came from. Some day they'll be able to look at an old photo and say, "Oh! I know exactly where that's at!"

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