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As often happens to the children when their mother and father pass away, the kids are left with the oft-enormous task of deciding what to do with everything left behind. My grandmother, Florence, was the penultimate pack rat, she kept everything that was important to her and that usually included every piece of paper, letter, postcard, greeting card and especially the clippings of her BY-WAYS newspaper column.
Mom was not only very sentimental - like her mother - but very pragmatic, unlike her mother. My mother did not want her kids to go through the same experience she did when her mother passed away. When Mom helped her mother prepare for that move to her last apartment, Mom spent many, many hours trying to go through things with Gramma, encouraging her to make decisions about what to do with this book, or that letter, or that cross-stitched pillow, what to take and what to leave, what to donate, and what to save. If Gramma wanted to keep it, that was okay with Mom. But Gramma Taylor, at 86, was tired and didn't feel like making those decisions; she had other priorities at that stage of her life and what was to become of her things after she died wasn't one of them.
After Gramma's death in 1983 my mother brought boxes of her mother's things from the apartment and stored them all at their house in South Euclid. Included among her mother's things was the shoebox filled some 400 of the original and now-yellowed Saltsburg Press "The BY-WAYS" clippings. (These were the columns that Gramma wrote from 1918 to sometime in 1950.) There was never a thought to get rid of the clippings, just no decision yet on what to do with them. They would always be a "keeper."
(Photo to the left is my brother, Doug, and Mom, the day she moved from the family homestead in South Euclid to her new mobile home in Olmsted Township).
When my dad died about four years later, we kids were surprised at how quickly Mom decided that the house on Clinton Avenue in South Euclid was too big for her to handle by herself any longer. She decided to sell it and move across town to a double-wide mobile home in Olmsted Township. Olmsted Township, you see, was not far from my brother, Doug, and his family.
Here she is now, some four or five years after that, and my mother is looking at her future, looking down that same road: What's to be done with everything that is important. Mom wanted to make these decisions while she still young enough - and well enough - to do it. Mom didn't want anyone else to have to decide what was to be done with her things, or maybe even experience those sometimes contentious debates between she and her mother over "saving" or "tossing" beloved knick-knacks or tiny yellowed pieces of paper with little poems on them.
Mom had one solution: To start giving away things to her kids and grand-kids. Mom always got more out of giving than receiving, and she wanted to enjoy seeing us enjoy things that were once hers. (I still wear one of her favorite rings made of an Australian opal, in a setting made by an old Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) co-worker, Bill K. It was in the 80's when I merely admired the ring in her jewelry box and suddenly it was mine. I wore that ring nearly every day until late in 2003 when Mom passed away. Now I wear the wedding band that Bill K. also fashioned for Mom; its gold and diamond came from other rings passed on to Mom from her parents.)
I see I've gotten away from the story about Gramma Taylor's newspaper columns. Florence Burlingame Taylor wrote The BY-WAYS columns for her old hometown newspaper, the "Saltsburg Press," in Saltsburg PA. Gramma Taylor was, for the most part, an orphan, owing to her mother's death when she was two and her father's blindness. After being separated from her sister, she was bounced around between family members and finally, wonderfully, ended up in the care of her mother's sister-in-law, in Saltsburg. After finishing her "normal" school education to become a teacher, she ended up living in Cleveland, Ohio, to keep house for her father. Her published writing career began in 1918 with a report on then U.S. Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker's speech at the Armory in Cleveland, and continued nearly uninterrupted until 1947. There were sporadic columns after that, owing mostly to Gramma and Grampa's travels around the country; she didn't have as much time to write because she did all the driving (Grampa was blind by then) and the undependable and spontaneous nature of travel trailer trips.
My mother was very proud of her mother. Although the two women had a somewhat rocky relationship (as many mothers and daughters do), they dearly loved each other and my mother had tremendous respect for all that her mother, Florence, was and did, all those things that she could never do. Gramma Taylor was the writer and creative free spirit while her daughter, Margery Estelle, was the practical home-body, who claimed to lack any creativity. Grandmother Florence managed to keep her house presentable but it was never a priority for her; when she wasn't writing she was off taking care of other members of the family. Her daughter, my mother, took the responsibility of housekeeping very seriously, and also dedicated herself to the well-being of her children. My brother and I were not going to suffer the same kinds of "neglect" that she suffered as a child. Writing always took priority in the Taylor house. Everything stopped until The BY-WAYS columns were done and in the mail for the week.
You might be interested to know that the week before my grandmother died she told her daughter, "I am proud of you." According to my mother, this was apparently the first time she uttered those words. My mother has always told me she was proud of me, she probably didn't want me to bear the same scar she did. Mom didn't always understand me or approve of things I did, but she never missed an opportunity to proudly tell people that "Dianne did this... or Dianne did that", especially when it came to the computer.
After her husband's death, and the move to Olmsted Township, my mother made the decision to make these BY-WAYS columns available to the descendants of Rufus Putnam and Florence B. Taylor. Mom dedicated herself to typing up the nearly 400 columns, converting them to text documents, all with the idea they could be put into one large book, with copies to go to everyone in the family.
Mom would go to work at her secretarial job (at Case Western Reserve University) in the morning and then come home and spend nearly every evening, not to mention hours on the weekends, typing. Mom worked on her beloved Macintosh and then send me a copy of the latest columns on a diskette so that I could edit and print them in New Jersey. I had the easy job of editing because Mom was an excellent typist - far better than I was an editor - and eventually each family received a copy of the enormous book of the columns. I am still finding typos to this day, but not very many, owing to Mom's skill, not mine. Like I said, I wasn't bad as an editor, just not as dedicated to the job as Mom.
In 1995 I began my affair with the Internet and it wasn't much of a stretch to see our Grampa Putnam's memoirs and then The BY-WAYS on the World Wide Web.
About the same time in 1995 Mom began to show the effects of years of smoking Pall Mall's and she was diagnosed with emphysema (COPD). Mom began to suffer repeated bouts with bronchitis and pneumonia, frequently ending up in the hospital. On one trip to Ohio, my husband and I could see that the once-amazing and dedicated house-keeper didn't have enough energy to do her own dishes, let alone run the vacuum, or even fix herself something to eat. In 1998 John and I decided to move from Charlotte, NC, to the West side of Cleveland to try and be of some help to her. But after a year of daily going over to her place and helping out with dishes and fixing meals, Mom had gotten so much worse - and was now afraid to be alone - that she reluctantly agreed to come and live with us.
That was a heart-breaker for Mom, a woman who loved her independence and doing for others. But she was no longer able to go and see her grandchildren play sports because driving was getting to be out of the question. By 1999 she had lost the ability to do much of anything - except crochet "lap-ghans" for the local nursing home residents - but she did love the Saturdays that we two would head off to the grocery store, her in a powered cart, or wheelchair with me pushing. It nearly killed her (took all the air in her lungs) to walk out to the driveway and get into the car, but we lived for those times together; I haven't enjoyed shopping as much since she died.
But I'm getting away from the subject again, aren't I?
Mom knew that I had this web site and I kept her informed on what I was doing but she just wasn't well to see any of it. She just trusted that it was there and somehow the family would see it, too. Mom hadn't always been afraid of high-tech stuff (she first learned how to use a computer when she was in her sixties) but her sight was failing and it was just too hard for her see the computer screen and the BY-WAYS, her vision, her inspiration, out on the WWW for everyone to see.
My mother's brother, Charles Taylor, wrote an introduction and retrospective on those wonderful BY-WAYS columns. Reading it, you get an idea of what it must have been like living with a creative writer.
I wonder if my grandmother, Florence, knows she's become a "Blogger." I suppose Gramma Taylor would approve of blogging in general, but she would most likely rail against the superfluous use of foul language that one finds out there. Long before she became a teacher and a mother, Gram was a writer who really loved words. To her, our language was a wondrous tool and she never really saw a need for cursing when there are so many more expressive words at our fingertips.
If only most of today's bloggers would just spend some time with a thesaurus...
I love you, Mom!
Dianne E. Mueller