So easy to say, but so hard to live with. The Ying and the Yang and the consequence of action and inaction. The heaviest burden is not that which you lift with your hands, its what is carried by the heart.
When Samuel Harrison Hall was born on September 30, 1869, in Bluefield, Virginia, his father, William, was 48 and his mother, Charlotte, was 40. He married Sarah Lavance “Vancey” Hooper and they had three children together. He died on March 2, 1948, in Arroyo Grande, California, at the age of 78. He is buried there.
Grandpa Sam was my mothers paternal grandfather. He was a steady, kindly man and in a family with its share of rogues was highly regarded, particularly by his grandchildren.
Sam married the daughter of a civil war widow woman whose husband had been killed at the battle of Malvern Hill in 1862 Virginia. Private Hooper of the 23rd North Carolina Infantry, left a pregnant wife whose daughter Sarah LaVance Hooper, Sam took as a wife in 1893 in Carter Tennessee. He had been a farmer and rancher for almost all of his life. He and his wife “Vancey” spent most of their lives moving around following the work.
My mom loved him especially. Off and on throughout her life Barbara lived with him or he lived with she and her parents. She said that growing up in the oilfields meant constant moving and it was nice to have someone in the family who mostly stayed put.
Grandpa Sam built the little house on Short street just down from Ben Shorts. Ben’s pioneer father Newt originally owned the farm there. He built the swinging bridge so he could go back and forth from town to his farm fields. Grandpa Sam also lived in Deer Canyon in the Verde district of Arroyo Grande where my aunt Mariel was born. The house is still there.
In 1948 my mother lived on our farm with my dad, me and my brother Jerry. Grandpa Sam was very sick with the cancer that would take his life and on the 1st of March mom stopped to visit with him. When she was ready to leave he asked her if she would bring him some apples. She promised to do that and stopped at the Commercial Company on the way out to the ranch and picked some up, but instead of turning back she went home figuring she would take them by next day. Grandpa Sam died that night. She never forgot that, she once said, “I broke my own heart.” When she told us kids about the dangers of procrastination she spoke with some authority.
When Barbara Ernestine Hall was born on September 3, 1917, in Madera, California, her father, Bruce, was 21, and her mother, Lilla, was 22. She had three sons with George Gray Shannon. She died on November 17, 1993, in Arroyo Grande, California, at the age of 76. She is buried there.
My mother was a beauty. Though we were never rich she always took the time to look as if she was. Regular perms and precisely cut clothes were some of the things she tended to. They made her feel good. She sat at our kitchen table surrounded by the farm and all that meant, muddy boots, wet clothes to be washed, mice under the couch and stove and water that turned everything yellow. Her kids were always well dressed and groomed, regular trips to the barber and because she worked in a men’s clothing store, she was always up on boys fashion. She had no particular pretensions, she was just well kept. She liked it that way. She would sit in her chair in the kitchen and carefully do her nails. A little clipping, some emery board and then the color applied smoothly. She would hold her hand up with her fingers curled inward, make a little moue and blow on them to dry the polish just a little faster.
It’s easy to forget your own mother was a girl once. I think looking good made her feel better all around. She dressed up to go to the grocery store. She remembered to us the days when women didn’t wear trousers in public, it was considered “Cheap,” a word she did not consider lightly. She remembered when Garbo began wearing them in public in open defiance of the rules, or her own grandmother wearing jodhpurs in order to ride astride for the Santa Barbara Fiesta Days parade. She had a little of that in her too. Just a little edge, but not too much.
I once overheard a conversation with her friend Hazel Talley where they reminisced about Leona Walton’s first time at a Women’s Club meeting. They weren’t being catty but were remembering the wonderful outfit she wore, her two-toned shoes and the fabulous little hat with a veil perched on the side of her head. It was like that.
In the early nineties she was diagnosed with liver cancer and had to undergo chemo. Chemotherapy attempts to kill the disease by poisoning it with chemicals. The chemicals used then were not particularly targeted but tended to destroy more than just the cancer. It was a brutal experience. Devastating.
She was tough as girls who grew up in the depression were but she knew from the beginning it was going to kill her. She was very quiet about that part though and she endured.
Finally she simply became too weak to function and ended up at the Sierra Vista hospital in San Luis Obispo. The doctor who was treating her looked me straight in the eye and said, “She will die here.” That was a very hard thing. He delivered bad news and did not do it well. He was wrong.
Her only surviving sister came down and stayed for a few days waiting for the end. We sat vigil at her bedside for three days and nights. While holding her hand one day I felt the tiniest imaginable pressure. A butterfly would be heavier but it was there. Slowly she resurfaced and came back to life.
We took her home and those wonderful Hospice people came daily to care for her needs.
Four days, thats what she got. A steady stream of friends and family came in to stand vigil at the bedside. Hazel, Nancy Depue, June Waller, Nami, Nancy Loomis, Florence Rust, Janie and Georgie, Billie Swigert and Beth Woods, people who knew her. I’ve often wondered at the kindness of people for those in extremis. They know that you don’t need some kind of friendly payback for your concern. It’s one of the absolutely pure things.
There was sadness all around. Perhaps the most devastated was my aunt who was now the sole surviving member of the Hall family. I will let aunt Patsy tell the story. It’s hers to tell….
“I was the baby, with 4 sets of parents. 2 sisters , brother and their spouses all raised me. I’m the last of our little family. My parents are all gone. I remember when Barbara was in the hospital with cancer. It was time for me to leave, I lived in Northern California then. Barbara held my hand and asked me if I could polish her nails? She always had beautiful long nails. I explained that I had a long drive home and couldn’t do her nails this time. I think of that moment often. Why did I not take a few minutes and do her nails? How shallow I was! I could have stayed and painted her nails, it would have only added a few minutes yet I was in my own world being practical..I loved her so much and I will never forgive myself for being a non thinking little sister. She was so gracious to me, saying OK.
I’m sorry “Buddy”. I hope I can make it up to you when I get to see you again. Love you, Patsy.“
John William Shannon was born on November 3, 1882, in Reno, Nevada, his father, John, was 32 and his mother, Catherine, was 44. He had two sons with Annie Gray between 1910 and 1912. He died on November 28, 1976, in Arroyo Grande, California, at the age of 94, and was buried there.
My father was daddy’s boy. He was very much like his father. When there was work to be done he did it. Whatever each of them did in their lives they treated it as if it were serious business. They were both the kind of men who did what had to be done. Dad loved his family and went out each day went to war with insects, birds and diseases that ruined plants. Blackheart in the celery, Rust on the Romaine leaves and Black Spot on the Chinese peas and too much, or not enough rain and the high winds that blew the poled plants down. Workers who drank or were late to work was part of his burden though he was too kind for his own good. and left much unsaid. Dad understood people who labor have terrible problems of their own. He wouldn’t borrow from anyone but he was a lender to a fault. He hassled with shippers who were slow to pay but who dictated the pace of harvest with an iron hand. He live by the sun, when it came up, when it went down. The rain gauge, the barometer, the Farm Bureau weather report, the Los Angeles and San Francisco crop reports were all harbingers of disaster or beacons of hope. Sometimes both. The three percenters who promised much if you consigned your produce to their wholesale house but often didn’t deliver. A farmer is always waiting for the next disaster. He is always absolutely optimistic too. How else would he survive.
Dad was practical. It’s how he grew up. He often said that being a dirt farmer was terrible hard work but it was easier than growing up on a dairy. Crops have days off, milk cows don’t. He never, and I mean never complained. He did what he had to do.
His father Jack Shannon lived to be 94 years old. The last year of his life was a succession of bumps and bruises. The ills that come with age were slowly wearing him out. He was nearly used up. In November of 1976 he was taken to the hospital with Renal failure for which my dad knew there was no return. He sat with his father on that final day, talking about things, not much really. What is there to be said after a long life together. My grandfather wasn’t coming back; he knew it and my dad knew it too.
My grandfather had been born in the nineteenth century. That was in Reno, Nevada, still a dusty little town barely six years after the transcontinental railroad was finished. There was no electricity or telephone, travel was still mostly by horse and no one imagined an automobile, a flying machine or things like radios and television. Here he was now in the bicentennial year, 1976. He had seen a man walk on the moon. He saw the development of vaccines that saved millions of lives, advances in medicine that staggered the imagination but nothing that could save him for one more day. He knew he was at the end. He knew he would die in that hospital bed.
As dad was to leave that night he kissed his father, took his hand and my grandfather said to his favorite little boy, “Please don’t leave me alone, I don’t want to die here, please take me home. Please son, don’t go.”
But leave he must, there was work to do and early.
His father died late that night and my dad carried that burden for the rest of his own life. He never said a word. Did it hurt? How could it not. Did he have to leave, could he have stayed? Only my father knew and he never spoke of it.
All of them were raised in and lived hard times. They persevered. They could do the difficult thing without complaint. They carried the burden of the thing not done and they did it quietly.
Dedicated to my aunt Pat without whom I would probably never have written. Thank you.