Did Not Get the Stentorian Gene

I didn’t know my maternal grandfather, but I knew something about him. He ran for public office in Iowa at some point (as a Democrat), knew many poems by heart, had an interesting sense of humor and liked to give speeches. He used to declaim the alphabet imitating a Baptist preacher consigning everyone to eternal hellfire. In the photo above, my grandfather is the one in back, the obviously iconoclastic one. He was born in 1870.

My dad found my grandpa so funny that when he bought a record making machine in the 40s, he took it to my grandparent’s living room so he could record my grandpa’s stentorian tones. That’s how I heard my grandfather declaim the alphabet long after his death.

My grandfather in 1956.

There were ten kids in my mom’s family, though one died at age 12. I imagine they were a noisy bunch around the dining table because they were when they grew up. Arguing was recreation for them. Montana winters are dark and long…

They look friendly enough but WATCH OUT!!!

But…it takes a thick skin, a dispassionate world view, and the willingness to laugh to survive in THAT milieu. Some of the sisters had it, some didn’t. Some had the sense to stay out, some stayed until they were red with rage.

And what did they argue about? Important stuff sometimes, and sometimes just what they would do if they had a million dollars. There was always something. My Aunt Martha, who never married and succeeded in achieving incredible things in her life, never let go of an argument. She would get seriously invested in any argument and was capable (and willing) to take it up the next morning. The most inflammatory topics for her were women in the military (“A woman can do anything a man can!”) and defense of her lifestyle (which needed no defense but in those days, not marrying was considered strange). Sadly, she was also funny when she got on her soapbox and/or high horse (depending), index finger raised in the air, proclaiming, “I get up every morning at 5:30!” or “I can do anything a man can do!”

Watching these women embroiled in these “debates” I could see their entire childhood. Seven daughters jockeying for position in the family? Each with a distinct personality. My mom was the “walk out of the room” type. My Aunt Jo was fierce but, it seemed to me, not all that serious. Still, she was easily hurt. My Aunt Kelly must have been the kid who would cry. I don’t have any memories of my Aunt Dickie embroiled in these heated debates, but she was a woman with a soft heart and strong opinions. Maybe she just didn’t play. As the youngest, maybe she didn’t have to. I also don’t remember the oldest, my Aunt Florence, getting into these either. She frequently averred that she had changed most of their diapers at one time or another, indicating to me that she viewed them as children.

I’d get upset by these things, and my mom or one of my aunts would say, “We fight but we love each other.”

Arguments aren’t entertaining to me. I’m not a polemical person. The only fight I had with my Aunt Martha was about smoking in the car — which I hated. For a minute I thought she was going to leave me there on I-25 outside of Denver, but finally she capitulated. I don’t think she would have if any of her sisters had been there. I fought with my mom a lot when I was a teenager always when I felt my rights were being trod upon — like I felt I had a right to close my bedroom door. She didn’t. I learned as a little kid that my temperament makes such “entertainment” dangerous. 🙂


16 thoughts on “Did Not Get the Stentorian Gene

  1. At night in winter my parents turned the heater way down. It might have been to save money but my mother insisted it was unhealthy to sleep in a warm room. There was a heater vent in the room that I was supposed to keep closed. She also wanted the door open, again ostensibly for air circulation but I also suspect to discourage me from getting up to the kind of “self-entertainment” boys are prone to.

    OTOH, Outside it could go well below zero F and, with no wall insulation, it probably got down to the low 50s in my room. I hated crawling out of bed to a frigid room, so I kept the door closed AND the heater open.

    My father was very passive and usually absent. My mother wouldn’t have risen off the sofa to go upstairs to check on my room unless the house was on fire. (Probably not even then.) Someone coming up those creaky stairs would have been heard long before any risk of discovery.

    I kept my room warm enough that I couldn’t see my breath in the morning and engaged in all the “self-entertainment” I desired.

  2. “the obviously iconoclastic one” Are you meaning the one without a tie?
    Back in the day, a lot of people seemed to know a lot of poems off by heart — the result of a diligent school system, I think. That was said of my grandfather and grandmother, too.
    Thanks for participating in today’s prompt.

  3. Arguments aren’t entertaining to me either, maybe because growing up they were always very passive aggressive…”we aren’t arguing, BUT”…. Or “How Dare You Dispute My Word?” That makes everybody shut up.
    Your grandfather sounds like a hoot. What fun if you had actually been able to know him. And your aunts! What personalities :). The photos are wonderful slices of life 🙂

  4. That reminds me of the song “Anything you can do, I can do better” by Howard Keel from the movie Annie Get Your Gun. I never saw the movie, but heard the song a lot

  5. Hehe! Perfect description of a large family! My husband’s side is so large that he doesn’t know the names of all of his first cousins!! I on the other had had only one Aunt – and only 4 cousins… I am an expert at avoiding terrible arguments and am mostly a peacemaker. (Though with 2 younger sisters I did provoke them but not as often as they provoked me!)

    • It’s the responsibility of younger siblings to drive us nuts. It’s preparation for life in the workplace where everyone is either our mom or our younger sibling. 😀

  6. What a wonderful heritage. You learned from the best and I can see why you were close to Aunt Martha. She was strong determined and funny. A great roll model all in all.

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