Chapter 4 - Extended Families
Updated: Aug 10
My Maternal Extended (James) Family
As long as we lived in Colorado, we traveled to Grandma and Grandpa James’ house a few times a year. Having all the cousins together made me so happy. Of all twelve kids, only five were boys so get-togethers were great fun with lots of girl cousins. One year near Easter we had a huge family picture taken.
The family picture included Grandma and Grandpa, their four children, four in-laws and twelve grandchildren. Looking at that picture I calculate that Grandma was in her early 50’s…the age I am now! How different the world she found herself and chose!
Their oldest child, Mettie Lee stood next to her high school sweetheart, now husband, Charles Brown. I always looked up to their oldest two children. Earl was three years older than I; his sister, Charyl Lee, a year older than I, and Curtis one year younger than Wes. They lived in Pueblo where Charles managed a bank.
Jess was placed next to his wife, Nancy. Their girls, Bonita Lynn and Donna Marie are the youngest girls in the picture. We always called Charyl Lee, Bonita Lynn and Donna Marie by both names, good southern style.
Mom and Dad look so young and in good health. The four of us children are scattered around. Don’t you love the boys’ suits?
The youngest, Sue and her husband Daryl smile even though she abhorred being photographed. I never understood that because she was so pretty. Their daughters, Lana and Deana, two and three years younger than Anne, respectively, were always dressed perfectly and were so cute. Greg is the youngest.
Grandpa and Grandma James
Grandpa born the oldest of ten children, attended school through sixth grade when his family lost their ranch due to a season of five blizzards, but developed or innately possessed a business sense that would have earned him millions more if he could have packaged it.
He showed me a picture once of his grandfather at a Civil War soldiers reunion that they attended. The family moved from the East to Oklahoma territory following the conflict.
Your Daddy and I discussed our diverse views of this tragic divisive time in US history. Having spent several formative years in Virginia, surrounded by constant reminders of battles fought in the area, the devastating reality impressed me.
Officers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War were not allowed to vote or own property, so the family made the courageous and dangerous choice to move west to Texas and the Territory of Oklahoma. Here their skills were valued and they could build new lives with a future unclouded by prejudice.
Grandpa told the story of one aunt (Aunt Sue, for whom I’m named) who gave birth to several sets of twins. A Cherokee chief living nearby offered her husband two squaws and a horse for his wife because they considered twins a good luck charm. Her husband declined the lucrative offer.
The James family tree goes back to pre-Revolutionary times. One branch landed in what is now Korea, Maine after missing the target of Jamestown, VA. As the story goes, they moved south to Virginia, stopping in Massachusetts to be on the initial board of Harvard and in Rhode Island because they were Baptists (Rhode Island was started by that denomination).
Another branch moved to Tennessee and one became a governor of that state.
During the Civil War, the Yankee soldiers acted in ways acceptable prior to the Geneva Convention. One family member was dragged behind a horse because she refused to tell that the men were hidden in a well. As the family escaped the former Confederacy, they were interrogated by Yankee soldiers who stole all their valuables.
Grandpa was born in Oklahoma when it was still a territory, before it became a state.
His family moved to the Texas Panhandle and owned the largest family owned ranch in the US when he was a child. They lost it after a series of blizzards left them with debts they could never pay when he was in eighth grade and he had to leave school to work.
Never ones to accept charity, they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and moved on to various levels of success.
During the Great Dustbowl after “get rich quick” schemers enticed people to move to the high plains area and plow the buffalo grass into farmland, Grandpa and his brothers bemoaned the stupidity of doing so. They had lived long enough to know that drought always followed plenty and watched helplessly as neighbors lost their land due to mismanagement and poor advice.
We have a copy of the book written about this time and contains some of Grandpa’s memories. It’s called “High Plains Yesterday” and the family put together a memory called “The History and a few tall tales of the James Brothers Ranch.”
Grandpa’s mother’s maiden name was Taylor and she was not only a proud southern woman, who had a confederate flag hanging in her room when we visited, but a descendant of President Taylor. She quoted poetry about “The South Will Rise Again” and the Prohibition favorite, “Lips that Touch Wine Shall Never Touch Mine.” When I looked into her eyes during her quoting, you’d think the war and prohibition were still happening.
Grandpa’s youngest sister, Lois, spent many hours tracing family lineage back to England in the 1500 and 1600’s so it is well-documented. Grandma’s family history isn’t as clearly defined.
Grandma never cried in my presence, ever. During the 1994 O.J. Simpson trial for killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend, I began to comprehend why.
At that time, she lived in a retirement village apartment on Rockrimmon Boulevard in Colorado Springs. Her dad ran a pool hall according to what she told Wes once when they visited her there. There was a pool table not far from her apartment. She said they should go play but she insisted she would watch. She then informed them that her father ran a pool hall but would never let her attend because women with good character don’t go in pool halls.
I usually talked and listened when I visited, instead of playing pool. One day I stopped over when she flipped through the television channels, each one showing updates of the OJ Simpson trial. She adamantly declared, “He is innocent!” Shocked, because it seemed obvious to me the man killed his ex-wife and her boyfriend, I asked why she believed that. She told me the story of her father’s trial for murder when she was fourteen years old.
Providentially, a neighbor woman came forward and testified under oath that on that day while she hung clothes on the line she distinctly heard two shots. Under cross-examination her story remained and the jury found him not guilty. Because two shots proved he acted in self-defense.
Later the year she told me the story, I visited her sister, Rebecca, who lived just south of Dallas when there on business. She told me that another day, a year or so later, stood out more in her mind—The day their mother died. Grandma and her siblings called their parents by their first names, Milt and Leonnie. Her mother’s given name was Tina Leonnie Robinson. Her first name was pronounced “Tee-I-na”. I am named for her.
Grandpa James said once referring to Grandma’s mother, “She died of a broken heart”. That may be true because being a devout Christian, having a husband who ended up in jail charged with murder smarted, I’m sure.
She belonged to the Methodist Church in their southwestern Texas town of Brownfield, and spent her spare time taking food to the poor and sick, during the Spanish Flu Epidemic. July 31, 1925 she came home exhausted and went to bed. When the woman who became my Grandmother got home, the doctor told her that her mother died of influenza. In the days before antibiotics, the pandemic took many lives.
Grandma (Flora Robinson), Rebecca and their younger brother who went by “Bunk” moved quite a distance northeast to Kerrick, Texas. They lived with their paternal grandmother, a socialite, who wasn’t thrilled to have three teenagers in her house. Mom always called it “the Big White House,” and when we drove past that house once, I thought it would be fun to live in it if it wasn’t in the dry, windy Texas panhandle.
The children were not allowed to mention their mother. This seems odd since she gave their father a picture which I now have of their mother for Christmas that year. Years later when Bunk asked Grandma what color their mother’s eyes were (blue), she was sad that he was too young (ten years old) to remember such a detail. They were required to leave the house after breakfast and not return until dinnertime.
The children joined the Episcopal Church since their grandmother belonged.
During high school, Grandma played girls basketball when there were 6 person teams. I guess they didn’t think girls had the strength to play 5-person ball. When she graduated from high school, she worked for Dr. Garner the town dentist. She babysat his son Carl who after serving in WWII, grew up to marry Grandpa James’ youngest sister, Lois. Grandma wore dentures all the time I knew her and I often wondered why Grandma didn’t have her teeth fixed while she worked for the dentist. Perhaps that’s when she got dentures at a young age because of lack of good dental care.
Grandma was named for her Aunt Flora, a colorful character. When Grandma gave me the card table set we always used as children to play the domino game, “42”, she told me about her. Apparently, Aunt Flora married the same guy five times! I couldn’t understand this until Grandma told me, “She liked a lot of men” in a tone of voice that indicated she wasn’t real moral. At the time, naively, the reference to mirrors on her ceiling went over my head!
Grandpa later said if he’d known Grandma was related to the “real” Flora Robinson, he would have thought twice before marrying her. Apparently, Aunt Flora’s reputation hurt the family.
It’s no surprise considering the confusion in her life that Grandma met, fell in love with, and married Grandpa within a few weeks!
The town hosted dances on a regular basis, and at one of these, Grandma met Grandpa. Years later, she teased him that he was there with someone named “Opal” but he never admitted to that and laughed at her claim.
My Great-grandfather Robinson told Grandma, “Jesse is from a good family and he’s a good man so you should marry him.” Wow, what a recommendation! One I hope your future father-in-law will give you. They married two weeks after their first meeting. To imagine, their marriage lasted nearly seventy years without months of counseling, premarital compatibility tests, marriage conferences, and years of dating!
When they married, Great-grandma James was the witness. Grandpa wanted the Baptist preacher to perform the ceremony and they waited quite a while for him. When news came that he wouldn’t be able to make it until the next week, Grandpa allowed an Episcopalian minister to marry them, rather than wait.
When they were children no one required Grandma and her siblings to complete household chores. After she and Grandpa married, she worked hard. Grandpa’s mother once made her re-peel the potatoes because too much potato remained on the skins! Great-grandma James said she didn’t understand how someone could be 18 years old and not be able to peel potatoes!
I suppose this tendency had positive effects, too. Every year Grandma bought at least one nice, new dress per season and said, “This is for Mrs. James’ funeral!” I thought that was odd because she didn’t save it so it would be new at the presumed funeral but proudly wore it to any significant occasion such as weddings, graduations, or baby dedications. Actually, I see wisdom in her actions because she always had a new dress for special events.
Grandma learned to cook well enough to please her husband. They were teetotalers, not drinking alcohol, so she changed the family fruitcake recipe to eliminate the alcohol. Her cakes were special and one of the few people I met who honestly liked fruitcake was Mom. Candied fruit never appealed to me but Mom would even eat the packaged ones sold without expiration dates in stores!
When the Robinson family moved west after the War of Northern Aggression they were each searched. The prejudice of the soldiers kept them from searching an eight-year-old girl who had all the family silver tied around her waist. One of those spoons is in the collection I inherited.
Once a traveling salesman came by Grandma and Grandpa’s house pedaling the latest in sewing machines. Grandma told him she needed to ask her husband and said to come back the next day. Instead, the salesman found Grandpa in the corral and told him his wife bought a new sewing machine and demanded money. When he got home and told her what happened, Grandma was upset because she planned to choose a different wood and style sewing machine than the one he gave Grandpa. Those were the days before a person expected guarantees…maybe this is why there are laws promising money-back for three days!
Grandpa’s decisions usually proved positive. His business skills for a guy who dropped out of school after sixth grade to work served him well. This is one reason I was glad to have your middle name after him.
Mom told him about Wes’ baling business. One summer when Wes had a pickup, he contracted to pick up hay bales for a Lafayette farmer. He hired several friends to work with them and split the money. Mom thought he should allow the youngest kids to drive and that Wes, in particular, should do the muscle work. Grandpa disagreed with her analysis and said that driving the pickup while the hired help put the bales in it indicated Wes was a good businessman! This shocked Mom whose life credo seemed to be, “Let the other person go first and give them the best.”
Grandma, one of those southern ladies who always let her husband believe she agreed with him, mentioned to me the only times Grandpa did something they didn’t agree on. She said he usually listened to her reasoning and seriously considered her opinions in his decision-making.
She wasn’t alone in the first. Grandpa’s father validated her concerns about buying the ranch on the Black Mesa. There was no water – not “no running water” – no water at all. Grandma was pregnant with Jess at the time and quite a trooper. Grandpa lost everything in what we now call the Dust Bowl, and they moved back to Kerrick, Texas before my mom was born.
Once, the family camped out on the Black Mesa because it was a special place. That may have been when he decided to put all his money in the new bank, across the street from the one his dad had used forever. Between the stock market crash and the Dust Bowl the economy of the area was depressed, Grandpa’s bank folded while his dad’s bank kept going.
Grandpa blamed the farmers who moved into the area and plowed the beautiful buffalo grass. When a drought hit after years of unusually rainy seasons, the plowed-up land blew across the country because it had nothing to hold it. People who became rich overnight lost everything when their crops blew away.
A Cowpokes calendar always hung in their house. Until I read a book, called The Worst Hard Time which vividly described the Dust Bowl time in US history, I didn’t appreciate why he liked the drawings of emaciated cattle and people. I believe now it’s because he saw cattle like that and survived to see fat cattle.
The other time he went against Grandma’s wishes, after they sold the ranch in Eads and moved to Colorado Springs, he invested heavily in a Savings and Loan institution when Grandma said something didn’t seem right about it. A picture in the Colorado Springs Gazette showed him shaking hands with the president of the S&L carried the headline, “Jesse James No Longer Robs Banks, He (partially) Owns One!”
Grandpa wasn’t the only investor who lost his investment during the S&L crisis in the 1980’s. Fortunately, he invested other places as well. No bailouts for investors existed. However, most of Grandpa James’ decisions proved wise and he retired well. His life is also a lesson about marrying a good woman.
Grandma gave Mom “Ozell” as her middle name to show respect for her stepmother, though she didn’t particularly like her. Mom never liked this middle name, nor changed it, although after she married, she always signed her name “Virginia James Kemper” instead.
Her name confused me and I told John Bonds, the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Virginia, that Mom’s middle name was Hosea, like in the Bible. He teased me about that for a long time!
In 1953, just before I was born (I’m sure there’s no connection!) my great-grandfather Robinson committed suicide. This created additional life-long pain for those left behind.
When Grandma and Grandpa sold the ranch and moved to Colorado Springs in 1972, they bought a rancher house on Hackmore Street across the parking lot from where you went for DIBELs tests. That church was originally Vista Grande Baptist Church on Flintridge. They bought that house partly because there was a good Southern Baptist church just a parking lot away. Usually they walked to church but as their health or the weather declined Grandma drove around the corner to the church.
Grandma drove most of the time when they lived in Colorado Springs and Grandpa had a funny way of saying “Woop, woop, woop!” if he thought she was about to hit something. I’m not sure she ever did.
Grandma said something interesting to me one day, “If I had it to do over, I would spoil my kids more. I didn’t make them work too hard but that’s the one thing I’d change...I’d let them play more.”
Grandma always wore what she called a “bandana” outdoors and worked hard to shelter her skin from the unforgiving sun. She had a beautiful complexion all her life.
Grandma’s sister, Rebecca chose a different life from ranching. She married a guy named Jay Wells who owned a ranch and insurance agencies in Wellington. Grandma may have been jealous at time of Rebecca’s life but hers was the best from my perspective. Rebecca laughed when she told me of meeting Jay for the first time. He walked up to her and used the oldest line in the world, according to her. He said, “Hey, beautiful, where have you been all my life?”
Because of their affluence, they traveled extensively and loved Cuba, especially Havana, in the years before Castro and the Communists took over.
Money didn’t buy happiness and Rebecca told me during one volatile time she called her grandmother, telling her that she was leaving Jay and “coming home.” According to Rebecca, her grandmother gave her the best advice of her life. She told her, “Go back there and work it out. Once you married, you cannot move back into my house!”
She also told me once about the painful infertility treatments she endured. None was successful and they adopted a four-year-old boy they named Jennings, after William Jennings Bryant, who was a few years older than I. She thought that Grandma told her that if she had a girl the last time she was pregnant, she would give her to Rebecca.
Our aunt Sue was named for Rebecca but Grandma never would have given a baby away even if she thought the baby would have had a more comfortable life.
Jay died young and left Rebecca well-off but emotionally vulnerable, brokenhearted. She didn’t remarry but poured everything into Jennings, thinking if she gave him all he wanted, he would love her like Jay had.
That motive might work in movies or books but I’ve never heard of the Pygmalion complex functioning well in real life. If someone loves you, they love you. If they don’t, no amount of money will “buy” love or loyalty. You are better off, investing your money in mutual relationships, ones in which each person gives and receives.
Rebecca sent Jennings to college in Hawaii, bought a few race cars and paid way too much for his three divorces.
Jennings never had children and Rebecca told me that she thought she would have been happier if she were a grandmother “like Flora.” I believe happiness is an attitude and basing it on other people’s actions is setting yourself up to be hurt.
The last time I saw her she flew to Colorado Springs to visit Grandma’s retirement apartment. I took a couple days off work and drove them to visit their younger, only remaining brother in Boise City, Oklahoma. The trip was rather uneventful for us and I enjoyed watching the siblings and imagining how fun it would be when I get together with Anne, Wes and Mark and look back on nine decades of life! They were so cute. Grandma and Rebecca slept most of the way back, so I turned on the radio, distractedly thinking about long lives and how seemingly minor choices affect a person’s entire life. It was April 19, 1995 and news kept interrupting the background music. I finally turned up the radio during one of the disrupting breaks to hear that a federal building in Oklahoma City had been bombed. I tried not to upset the octogenarians but later when they heard, they were confused because we had been in Oklahoma and they thought their “little” brother might be in danger.
On a business trip a year or two later I went to the site of the bombing, which at that time still looked like a war scene. Buildings for blocks around still had broken windows and the chain link fence around the federal center was covered with mementos of the 168 people killed and over 800 injured.
A couple of men, angry at the United States, put explosives they built in a rental truck and parked it vehicle near the entrance. The saddest thing from my perspective is that a day care facility was closest to the homemade bomb when it detonated.
Security around the nation tightened near every governmental agency.
Rebecca died the next year and I couldn’t get away from a business trip in Syracuse, NY to attend the funeral. Jess and Nancy drove Grandma to Wellington for it, however.
Jennings died a year or so later. I always wonder who ended up with Rebecca jewelry and keepsakes from her “good old days.” I almost wish I had taken them when she offered me some and split them with my cousins not because of their value, but because it would have meant a lot to Rebecca, but she didn’t ask twice.
Move to Virginia
My primary concern when we moved to Virginia was the lunchbox I’d carried in first grade that became a planter. Mom let me plant another favorite vegetable, asparagus, in it, and I looked forward to eating the fruits of my labor. I guess leaving that behind may have tainted my interest in gardening. Or we may have packed the plants and they died enroute.
My Paternal Extended (Kemper) Family
As much as I enjoyed being at Grandma and Grandpa Kemper’s, I liked it best when many cousins, aunts and uncles visited, too. I’m not sure they were reunions but I looked forward to them.
Grandma always began cooking early in the morning before Grandpa even got up to milk the cows. On Sundays, trays of rolls, bowls of fresh, steaming veggies and platters of meat covered the BIG table. We children sat in the kitchen while grownups ate at the big table. Many pies, cakes and cookies waited in the kitchen, too. It was hard not to snitch a bite.
Grandma’s mashed potatoes had lumps unlike Mom’s smooth ones but I especially loved the meals that included a large tray of sliced tomatoes. Grandpa liked to cover his tomatoes with a layer of sugar or salt, depending on his mood, but I thought spices took away from the taste.
Grandma drank coffee from sunup to sundown or whenever she was awake. She put a pot on the coal stove, and even when Grandpa bought her a new stove, she preferred the original. The pot of coffee continued to brew all day and by the end of the day was so strong it poured into the cup with the consistency of syrup! (When I learned about my hypothyroidism which makes me tired when I don’t take synthroid regularly I wondered if perhaps Grandma suffered the same malady? I drank iced tea and diet pop because the caffeine gave me a boost.)
Grandma liked to tell stories of her youth. She talked about a Valentine’s Day card Grandpa bought for her when they were teens. Grandpa borrowed money from his sister “to buy something for a girl.” His sister wanted her money back when she found out it was Grandma. That story made me sad, but Grandma and Grandpa just laughed. Obviously, their love outlasted the sister’s disapproval.
Grandma’s mother spent some time in a hospital apparently from a nervous breakdown but no one talked about it so I’m not sure what the deal was. I wonder if she perhaps had undiagnosed thyroid problems because before I was diagnosed, I experienced feeling “out of control” at times. This was incongruous to me because by the time I met her “Grandma Ritchie” was a passive, sweet lady who let me play with her salt and pepper shaker collection.
Grandma Kemper also showed me a metal box which she said contained all the Ritchie family’s money when they came on the ship from Germany. As the story goes, one of the children got sick on the way over and most of the gold in the box was given to the ship’s doctor.
The Kempers also came from Germany and were related to at least one governor of the state of Virginia.
By the time I could remember. they were established in a farm outside Purcellville, VA. When Grandma and Grandpa planned to sell the farm in the 1970s, they felt one of their sons should take it over. Since the other three brothers had jobs with the government, they thought Dad should leave his church and become a pastor-farmer. Wow, my life would have been different!
Jimmie, Dad’s youngest brother, always had a girlfriend. One he brought to family deals, named Jane, found three-year-old Mark adorable. Mark attracted girls wherever he went. Mark told Jane all about the Curious George books he liked so well and she gave him a Curious George monkey plush toy (we politically incorrectly referred to it as a “stuffed animal”) which he carried everywhere. Mom had a rough time washing it because Mark wouldn’t let go even when he napped!
Jimmie teased Mom because she dressed Wes and Mark with suspenders when they were little. Little boys’ pants manufactured in the 1960’s were designed like men’s pants but little boys don’t have hips. They fell down easily. No one considered using elastic in the waistbands. Mom thought they looked cute in suspenders and they didn’t tug on their pants to keep them up. Jimmie said belts would do the same thing and they would go round and round about it. I think he just enjoyed bantering with anyone about anything that they would squabble with him about!
When Jimmie married a divorcee named Lois, Mom and Dad accepted her and her children with open arms. This surprised me because I knew they didn’t approve of divorce but in practice they obviously believed once a person joined the family that person deserved to be included.
Lois’ two daughters, Madonna and Faith became part of the family and remained so even after Lois and Jimmie divorced. Faith made the group of girl cousins total six, beginning with me and ending with Anne, 15 months younger. Gayle and Jeannie were about a year younger than I and Faith and Sandi sometime before Anne.
Madonna, a teenager, seemed so grown up even though she was only three years older than I. She still laughs about how afraid she was the first time she went to the farm. Jimmie told her that the roads would become gradually smaller, going from interstate with two paved lanes on each side to a dirt one-lane road and finally, a footpath for the last mile over rivers.
Jimmie’s second wife, Joan, introduced herself by sending me an umbrella for college graduation. Gifts from Jimmie had been sporadic over the years and except for a silver dollar the last year they were minted in all silver, this was the first gift from them. Joan always seemed to truly care about our entire family. She was an only child who lost her dad not long after she and Jimmie married and I’m sure just learning everyone’s names was a chore!
Like Mom, I seldom carried an umbrella but I moved to Evansville, Indiana after college to teach and gladly carried the umbrella from Joan. I kept it for a long time. It was the new style with a compact handle so the total length when folded was about one foot. Interestingly enough, when I traveled so much in my 30’s and 40’s I bought several umbrellas because I never seemed to have packed an umbrella when I needed it.
Joan became a good friend because she is only a few years older than I. When I began dating Daddy she encouraged me that marrying a divorced guy can be a great life, even if not trouble-free!
Our oldest Kemper uncle Harry and Ardis lived in exotic Florida, a place I didn’t visit until I was in my 20’s. As children we heard Mom say she’d visit Florida in 1980 as though that was a far distant possibility. I believe Dad took her there even before then. Harry and Ardis had three children, Jeannie, Don and Carolyn. I believe they lost their first baby, a boy named Michael, I believe, before I was born.
Next in order was “Sis”, whose given name was Lillie. I love listening to her tell stories of Dad as though he were a little boy but, as an older sister, I understand how she feels responsibility. She married a man named Herman after finishing nurses training. He managed Safeway stores when we lived in Virginia. Their children were Clark, Gayle, Julie and Ellen. Clark was the only cousin older than I but I never knew him well.
We were at Grandma and Grandpa’s when they received the call about the youngest child’s, Ellen’s birth. Grandma misunderstood that her name was Helen like hers and was so proud. She showed no disappointment when she found out they named the baby Ellen instead. I thought for the first time how important a name can be and how much it means to have someone named after you.
Sis and Herman divorced after we moved back to Colorado and that saddened me. Sis later met a high school boyfriend and married him for a few years. Herman married a lady I met once.
Dad was third in the family with a brother Robert just one year younger. Robert married Millie and had two children, Joannie and Bobby. I loved watching Bobby because he was such an easy-going kid and one I could play with, without having to share my mom with him! Once Millie put him on Grandma’s kitchen table and he promptly rolled off, fell to the floor laughing delightedly.
Funny thing is that some said Anne resembled Joannie and I resembled our cousin, Jeannie. Not sure why cousins favor each other more than siblings, but biology is interesting
Lalia, the second daughter and fifth child, married Arthur (Art) French about the same time Mom and Dad married. They bought a house with the youngest sister, Helen and her husband, Paul. Helen and Paul lived in an apartment downstairs while Lalia and Arthur lived in the one upstairs.
They waited several years to have children. Lalia smoked because she thought it was fashionable, as shown in movies of that time period, but quit when she became pregnant with Scott, and never smoked again.
I thought all my aunts, Sis, Lalia and Helen were as pretty as Dorothy (Dot), the sister between Lalia and Helen. However, Dot must have had that indefinable “it” factor because men, especially, found her more attractive than her sisters, or so the sisters thought. I know Lalia said that one reason she married Art was that he was the first man who preferred her to Dot.
Arthur loved teasing Grandpa about everything. One Christmas he gave Grandpa a long red pigtail wig because he’d mentioned his bald head got cold when he milked the cows. Another time Art gave him a nose warmer with strings that tied around his head to keep his nose warm, too, when milking the cows. Grandpa never appreciated Art’s humor as much as everyone else did!
Helen, the youngest of the eight children, married Paul Runion and had two daughters when we lived in Virginia, Gloria and Pat. Paula and Gary were born later.
I like the story about the French and Runion cousins sitting alternately and referring to themselves as “French fry, onion ring, French fry, onion ring.” I wished we had a cool name like theirs.
The only time someone thought my name was fun was in high school, a guy named Danny, who lived in a fancy apartment in downtown Denver called Brooks Towers, drew a camper on the top of my paper. We had exchanged papers to check answers in class and he changed my writing of “Kemper” to “camper”.
We called our aunts and uncles by their first names. I’m not sure why because Mom and Dad insisted we called adults Mr., Mrs., or Miss to show respect.
Grandma and Grandpa Kemper’s house was so much fun. We could play (bang on) the piano, go through the stuff in the closet in the parlor, the parlor our parents were only allowed to enter on Christmas and when guests were there, bake cookies without cleaning up and listen to endless stories Grandma and Grandpa told about their lives. I cherish the times I spent with them.
One fall day they took all four of us for a ride over Skyline Drive. Grandpa kept us in stitches with his corny jokes and silly comments. The section of road we rode wound through the Blue Ridge Mountains. One particularly funny thing he said, “This road is so curvy, watch as we go around this corner, to see if you can see us on the other side.” I have no idea what it meant but we giggled for miles, I guess you had to be there.
Dad and Mom cleaned the church one Saturday and didn’t want us underfoot so we stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Wes and Mark decided to run away so they could go play with Tommy Gray because they thought he was at the church with them. Grandpa was quite annoyed but got in his car and found the boys who hadn’t walked very far. He thought the boys should have been spanked when Mom and Dad got back but I was just glad they were safe. Our parents were exhausted, too, no doubt.
Another time Dad and Grandpa went to a meeting for the day and we played on the farm. One of us, probably me, had read that sliding down a haystack was fun so we thought we’d try it. We jumped from the top floor of the barn to the haystack that wasn’t as scary as it sounds. Also, sliding on the haystack wasn’t as fun as I expected because it smelled and was itchy when some pieces of hay poked our skin.
Again, Grandpa thought that we should have been spanked because he knew how much work it would take to re-stack the haystack. Mom and Dad were too tired to spank us but none of us would have been interested in doing it again anyway.
Grandpa loved to sing silly songs such as “The Bulldog on the Bank and the Bullfrog in the Pool.” He entertained us when we sleepily waited for Mom and Dad to pick us up after church visitation with variations and new verses I’m sure he invented!
Prayer time ended every evening at their house, too, and we children prayed in order, youngest to oldest. Grandpa prayed after Grandma and I was sure his prayers lasted half an hour. But each prayer went through all eight children's names, their spouses and grandchildren. I must admit after I received a wristwatch for my tenth birthday, I timed him and I found out his prayers were only about five minutes’ duration.
With watches available now for $1 at Walmart, it may surprise you that children owning a watch in the 60’s was a rare, big deal. Digital watches, if they were invented, weren’t readily available or affordable. Mom and Dad emphasized the privilege of wearing a watch when I was ten. Also, each morning you had to wind it or it stopped running.
We played near the garage where Grandpa kept his car that was quite a distance from the house. There were several buildings in a row that protected farm equipment. The one on the end was for the car. A wasp nest hung over one during one summer and even though we knew we weren’t supposed to play there, we did and my face swelled significantly because of several bee stings.
One year a family picture taken at Grandma and Grandpa Kemper’s showed all of the Kemper siblings, spouses of the married ones and all their children. I love the picture because it’s such a tribute and everyone looks happy.
Grandma Moore tired of military life and Grandpa Moore achieved retirement status with the Air Force so they transferred back to New York she convinced him to leave the Air Force and become a civilian.
Grandpa Moore worked for several banks since his position in the Air Force had been accounting related.
Daddy enjoyed school more than anything and always did very well.
After a few years, Daddy’s family moved from New York to Florida. Daddy didn’t like Florida because of humidity and bugs. He and his younger brothers developed coughs due to the humidity so he never really felt good there.
He excelled in school wherever they lived and though he seldom had a friend more than a year or so he always enjoyed the familiar environment of school. They moved frequently because his mom got tired of living in Florida’s heat and wanted to return to New York and then tired of New York’s cold and moved to Florida.
One Fourth of July, while everyone was on the beach, shooting off fireworks, Aunt Nancy was struck by a firecracker, which left a permanent scar on her right cheek.
Daddy particularly liked one of his teachers, named Mrs. Degangy. She was young and pretty and thought he was funny.
On November 8, 1965 a huge power outage dimmed the entire northeast of the US. Daddy remembers running around in the dark and eating by candlelight.