TOUGH WOMEN

My grandmother Eileen gave birth to four children, only one in a hospital and even that was in the middle of an earthquake in 1933. She could pack up a house, take the kids out of school and be on the road to a new town in hours. She could take care of her kids, clean the house, make her husbands lunch and spend the day fighting a war to the finish against millions of ravenous mice. (Bakersfield 1926) She washed her husbands work clothes in kerosene; BARE HANDED! She never ever fought with her husband. She wore her hair down past her fanny, 100 brush strokes every night, wove it into a single braid, wrapped it around her head and got on with the day. They were so poor during the depression they lived with relatives. In Santa Barbara, Grandma went to the relief office for help but was told they would have to sell the car to qualify. Grandpa needed that car go to work so they muddled through. They lived in 78 houses in 44 years. Tough

My grandpa Bruce was an oilman and they moved with the work. It took one to three months to drill an average well and if the company needed you on another lease site, you had to go. My mother never attended any school for an entire year until she was 17 and was able to stay at Santa Barbara High School while grandpa drilled at the Rincon and Elwood leases in Santa Barbara County. She had to make a place for herself two or three times a year in new schools. She married young and was sorry for it. He beat her. She was a good girl though and got my dad on the second try. She raised three boys in an old farm house, where screech owls drowned in the water on the tank house and came through the pipes and into  the kitchen sink. We had one electric heater for the whole house and a single tub in the bath. She shared this with four of us men and yet could still go on a date with my dad and be so beautiful it made your heart hurt. She would say, “Kiss your mother goodbye and don’t smear the lipstick,” so we would kiss her on the cheek before she left. She once wrote in a letter to her mother that “she hoped George makes some money this year because I’m tired of hamburger.” She hated the hard Arroyo Grande valley water that turned our clothes yellow. It even turned the side of the house yellow when the sprinklers hit it. She worried about my dad getting hurt on the ranch but never told him so and when the awful cancer that took her life was killing her she kept her mouth shut and did her suffering in silence. Tough.

My aunt Mariel married a cowboy and they lived on a ranch in the Watts Valley near Tollhouse California. It was rough living by modern standing, Hot as hades in the summer, cold as a well diggers knee in the winter. An old wood stove heated the kitchen but in the back, well just add another blanket in the winter. In the summer a fifty pound block of ice covered with burlap and set in front of a fan did the job. They drank their milk unpastuerized, warm from the cow and their whiskey straight. Mixes dilute the liquor so they didn’t pour them that way. Those old houses couldn’t be kept clean. Dust leaked in everywhere. If you’ve ever lived in a house built in the nineteenth century you know what I mean. I never heard her complain, she loved her husband and her boys to pieces. She was a great person. Tough.

My aunt Pat married young too, right after high school and had four children pretty quickly. The marriage soured and in a few years she was left alone with four kids and no place to go. She moved to Arroyo Grande, got a job in the newspaper business, brought up her children to be good citizens and made a new life for herself. An unmarried woman in the sixties had a hard road to hoe. She never made as much as a man in the same job and had to work twice as hard too. She persisted though. Tough

My grandmother Annie came from a rich family and never wanted for anything. She was a university graduate in a day when not many women did that. She had all the advantages. The families said to her, “Don’t do it,” but she married the boy anyway. They moved to a three hundred acre farm in 1918. They had to kick the filipino family out of the the house that was old even then. The house had three rooms a board floor and was a typical 18th century farmhouse of single wall construction.  She had a wood stove, no well, no electricity, two little boys and a husband that worked like the devil 7 days a week. No more finery for her. She hauled her wood, cooked the meals, sewed their clothes on a White treadle sewing machine. She could darn a stock, sew on a button and milk a cow. She put up with hogs, cattle, dogs, cats, squirrels, weasels and raccoons in cages but she couldn’t abide goats. They were for the “shanty” Irish. She never complained because, you see, she loved the boy. Tough

Clockwise from top left.  Barbara Hall Shannon, Eileen Cayce Hall, Annie Gray Shannon, Patricia Hall Dilbeck and Mariel Hall Long.

 

 

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