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Saturday, October 11, 2014

In Memoriam: Geneva Elizabeth Raney Charbonneau (1925 - 2014)

Remembering my mom: Geneva Elizabeth Raney Charbonneau

The novel I wrote based on my parents' marriage

This is a very difficult blog to write - in fact, I've put it off since Mom's death on June 4th of this year. I would like to celebrate her life, but the last seven years were awful years for me and, at first, for Mom as she spiraled down into dementia. "What's wrong with me?" she ask me more than once, panic in her voice, during the first couple of years at Guardian Angel. "You have no memory," was all I could say, unable to comfort her, but knowing that within seconds she wouldn't remember what either of us had said. Just once, early on, she said, "I wish I could do it over again," meaning her life. And I wished she could have done it over, too. For she had interesting life, but not a happy marriage, though to many she appeared joyful and funny and warm. She was able to project that about herself. Was I the only one who knew of her anguish throughout much of her life?

She gave birth to me on October 12, 1945, 69 years ago for those of you who can't count. That was the most important day of my life, so thanks, Mom, even though your doctor wanted to go duck hunting and so brought on your labor before we were ready. I almost died and you could never have more children.  Dad refused to pay the doctor's fee, and it was never pursued. The breadwinner could do that in those days if he felt righteous enough.

Geneva Raney, known as Jean, was born at home in Yardley, now part of Spokane, on March 20, 1925. The youngest of six children (the oldest, James, died at age 10 from blood poisoning from a blister on his heel). Her mother was 42 and already deaf, her father 38; they always seemed old to her.
Felts Field in Spokane, Mom looks to be about four.

Siblings Louise, Paul, Mary Agnes, and Denny. Mom is the smallest (c1933)
Her father worked for the Northern Pacific in the roundhouse in Yardley as a mechanic. During the Great Depression they were like so many other familes - poor. If my grandfather had one of his glum days, he'd stay in bed, miss work, and not get paid. Grandma would pick cucumbers for ten cents a bushel basket. Mom didn't have a new dress until she was in high school. Grandma made their slips and underpants from bleached flour sacks. The three girls slept together when they were children and, if she felt bullied, Mom would eat crackers in bed and scatter the crumbs under the covers to make her sisters miserable.

She attended Holy Names Academy (as I would later) and though not a very good student except in French, English and Literature, still she seemed to have a pretty good time. She graduated in 1943, in the middle of the war and immediately got a job at Western Union in downtown Spokane, working swing shift. The streets were crowded with soldiers coming through to Seattle and sailors down on leave from Farragut Naval Training Base up on Lake Pend d'Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho. One evening two Australian soldiers approached her girlfriend and her on their way to the bus stop. "Would you like to 'ave a cuke?" one asked. "What?" she said. "A cuke . . . you know a Cuka-cula." She did enjoy the war years. When my father, Albert Charbonneau, returned from New Guinea in 1944, where he'd been a tail-gunner on a B-24 Liberator, flying 48 missions, they married on November 20th.

They look happy enough here. I took this photo in 1949.

One of my favorite photos of Mom

First it was bad dreams and memories of his plane crash-landing on a coral reef in the middle of the South Pacific in Japanese-infested waters. One engine had stopped working on the way to drop their bombs on Japanese-held islands; on the way back to Port Moresby, another engine went out, unfortunately on the same side. The crew was rescued by an Australian amphibian plane the following day because the navigator had sent out their position. Dad suffered from insomnia and the noise at Kaiser Aluminum where he worked made him keyed up and nervous. We moved up into the hills of Idaho when I was six.

When I was in the seventh grade, Dad was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Oh, yes, he heard voices. Mom had to go to work to support us. Eventually, Dad received benefits as a disabled veteran.

After I left home and went back east, they celebrated Christmases alone, but for their dogs (c. 1969)

She was happy that day. Me, Grandma, my son Donovan, and Mom (1971)

Mom with brothers Paul and Denny (maybe the late 1970s)

c 1984

She loved her vegetable and flower gardens, and her grandson Donovan.

Mom with brother Paul and sister Mary Agnes

Sad day in October 1994 at luncheon after Dad's funeral. Mom, Donovan, Me & husband Jay. Why are we smiling?

By 2007 Mom's dementia couldn't be ignored. Jay took an early retirement from the University of Wyoming and we moved up to Idaho. I stayed with Mom for five months. She didn't know me most of the time, was frightened and hostile. By the end of those months I realized she could no longer stay in her home of 50 years. She could no longer locate the one bathroom in the ranch-style home, believed she was in a stranger's house, and begged me to find her a safe place.

She couldn't remember any of the names of her seven cats. They all looked alike to her. But she was broken-hearted to leave  her dog, Charley. Charley's name and the name she called me, Kerry, were the last words she was able to say near the end of her life. Also, "Be quiet."

This was the photo Jay took November, 2007, the day I put her into assisted living and I think this will be the last I show here. I was in a lot of psychic pain myself.

And so seven years passed and her world shrank until it was as if she were an infant again, unable to walk or talk, hand-fed and diapered. A few years into her stay, she'd focused on me for a few seconds, enough time for her to say, "Don't let me die." She had the best care anyone could ask for and, while I was present Death did not come. But Jay and I hadn't had a vacation for 8 or 9 years and were feeling old. So, we decided in February to go to Scotland for two weeks in May. After we left, I got a call that Mom was being put on hospice because she had pneumonia. She'd had it in March, but had beaten it with some antibiotics. Five days before we were due to return, she slipped away. "The old man's friend" pneumonia used to be called. She was not alone when she died. The day before, Donovan sat with her and offered up his prayers for her. The caregivers I had grown fond of when I came every week to feed her lunch, were themselves fond of Mom. They were there to ease her from this world into whatever lies beyond.

The novel I wrote back in the 1990s is about Mom's struggle to protect her family while married to my schizophrenic father. I mention it here because I believe I accurately portrayed the various facets of her personality and the events that were a part of her life. Mom once went to a support group for family members of schizophrenics. The people there were all parents of schizophrenic children. "Aren't there any spouses?" she asked. Someone said, "Nobody stays married to a schizophrenic."  "Well, I did," she answered. Dad died one month short of their 50th wedding anniversary, though the novel doesn't go that far. It's available on Amazon as a Kindle download and in paperback  here

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finally, the Last Stained Glass Window Installed

 Here it is in all of its glory, catching the morning light - a large antique stained glass lunette window from a demolished church that I purchased years ago on eBay - finally refurbished, surrounded by clear "baroque" glass with a bit of nouveau-ish swirl in it, and set in the large window on our landing.

Our neighbor and carpenter Davy, with the help of another neighbor, Pat, removing the window from Davy's truck. I'm on the balcony taking the photo.

They're carrying it up the stairs to the landing.

Hoisting it up with the help of John, Pat's girlfriend's cousin from the coast.

Getting it into position.

Smile, I said from the second floor as Davy finished stapling the framing. Since Davy did the framing of all of our windows, the wood and stain for the stained glass perfectly match.

And here I am, on the second floor, very happy to finally have it installed. You can see the two antique windows Davy installed last year here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

R.I.P., Geordie

I'm feeling pretty blue tonight. I finally realized today that Geordie was killed by a coyote last Saturday. I'd found him down the hill sitting on my son Donovan's porch. Why do they think  hunting is better away from their own home? I put him in the car and brought him back up the hill. He ate and went back outside. And we haven't seen him since. He must have headed right back down and through the pasture where coyotes like to hunt varmints, too. A deadly combination

He'd been my birthday present from Jay in 2005 - just five months old that October. Always cocky, always thinking he was invincible, no matter how often I scolded. Even the dog's barking, warning coyotes to stay away from the house, wasn't enough this time. The fourth cat we've lost since moving back home. Well, Geordie, you were a fine cat and I will miss you very much.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When Mother Nature Smiles

It was a busy day today and my body aches for it. The photo above shows what fruit will be going to the Post Falls Food Bank this week. The top two boxes are our apples that Jay picked today. They might be Mackintosh. Hardly a worm hole, he said. The lower box on the left is full of Greengage plums that I gleaned from our neighbor Davy's orchard. There was a mighty wind last night, so mostly I picked them up off the ground. The ones still on the trees still appear unripe. Maybe in a few days.  They are very small  - no bigger than a large grape, but  very sweet plum when ripe. The box to the right are Davy's Italian prunes. He is generous to let me pick for the food bank.

This is just a sampling of the three large boxes of Bartlett pears I picked last week from our old tree before they got very ripe. I gave many to the neighbors. They keep pretty well in the refrigerator.

Then after I'd rested up from picking at Davy's, I picked these wild golden plumes from a clump of trees in a secret place. They are very difficult to get at even with a ladder and a picker because the trees are very tall and, of course, the plums mostly grow near the top. If I shake them down, they inevitably fall in brambles and wild rose bushes.

 And this is a variety of red plum that the deer planted years ago by Anna Spring.

Last year there were no wild pink plums on the large tree down by that spring, but this year it was loaded. I've frozen bags and bags of them. The deer come to stand under that tree just waiting for them to fall and that was where our trail camera photographed the black bear a few weeks back at 11 p.m.

It's already a bountiful season and most of the apples haven't even ripened yet.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Old Highland Cemeteries - Part 2 -Cill Chriosd in Isle of Skye & Clachan Duich in Kintail

Clan Map of Northwestern Scotland & Isle of Skye

I think what fascinates me about old Scottish cemeteries is that many are clan oriented. The clearances displaced thousands of highland crofters  from the 1750s through the 1840s so the lairds could use the land for sheep raising, which is why there are so many Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders of highland origin. Yet, many remained. In my last blog I showed photos of the Bolskine Burial Ground, which was on the eastern side of Loch Ness. It was full of Frasers and you can see above in lavender to the right Fraser country along the loch.

Cill Chriosd (Christ's Church or "Kilchrist") 
On the Isle of Skye lies Cill Chriosd burial ground dating back to around 700 A.D., but most graves are from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It was MacKinnon ground. The ruins of the church are post-Reformation, replacing earlier churches.

Scottish cemeteries have such beautiful views

Sheep are allowed in to keep the grass down, but they rub against the stones and many are damaged and turned over. The weather, too, plays a part in wearing down the stones. The day we visited the cemetery, sheep were waiting for the gate to open and went away disappointed when we wouldn't let them in.

It must be open range.
The Clan MacRae burial ground is at Clachan Duich in Kintail - it's in pink on the clan map above, a small area in Wester Ross (that's the mainland) between Orange MacLeod below and blue MacDonnell above. 

Memorial to Clan MacRae men who died in the Great War

View of Clachan Duich Burial Ground from Clan MacRae memorial
It is believed that the ships that destroyed Eileen Donan Castle, the seat of Clan MacRae, in 1719 during that Jacobite uprising, also shelled this church.

Clan MacRae Motto "Fortitudine" - "With Fortitude"
Have I said that the Scots are a vey warm and friendly people. We felt so at home wandering about the highlands.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Old Highland Cemeteries - Part 1: Inverness & Boleskine

Old High Church Cemetery, Inverness, with a view across the Ness River

I have a fascination with old cemeteries. Fortunately, Jay shares it with me or I wouldn't be allowed to linger so long in them. The Old High Church Cemetery in Inverness has many old headstones, but most have been worn away by weather.

One of the oldest that can be deciphered

MacGregors are buried here

And Major Wm Donaldson (died 1881) who knew his duty

John Bain, Book seller Inverness. 
John Bain the book seller of Inverness is buried here, along with his wife, but there is no date on their stone. 

Rabbits inhabit the cemetery, too. Cemeteries are not necessarily magical places. But wandering about, I came upon a fairy circle of toadstools.

Fairy Circle in Inverness cemetery

A second cemetery we visited was south of Inverness along Loch Ness -- the Boleskine Cemetery.

It has a lovely view across the loch. Here are buried Camerons, MacBeans, Afflecks . . . 

And Frasers . . . 

Those of you who are familiar with the Fraser (Lovat) clan, will see its motto, Je Suis Prest, (I Am Ready), on this moss-covered stone surmounted by the stag's head. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jacobite Scotland - (Part 2) - Culloden

Yellow gorse and memorial cairn erected 1881 by Duncan Forbes, owner of land

I had wanted to visit the Culloden battle site for a number of years, having read much about the Jacobites and their risings in 1709, 1715, and their final act in 1745-6, to put the Stuarts back on the throne of Great Britain. The morning Jay and I went, it had rained during the night and the day was misty, much as it had been on April  16, 1746.

At time of battle, this was grazing land with rock walls.

 If you have visited Gettysburg, or any Civil War battlefield such as Antietam or Bull Run, there is nothing joyous in the visit. You are filled with sadness. Over two thousand men fell here, mostly highlanders, but some lowlanders, too, who had borne arms, led by highland chiefs following Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie Prince Charlie - to reinstate his father, the Old Pretender, son of King James II and VI of England and Scotland. If you're interested in the actual battle, you can read about it here.  Visitors, perhaps descendants of clansmen who fought still leave mementos out in the gorse and heather.

After the battle, the locals were ordered by Government forces to dig the mass graves for the highlanders. In 1881 Duncan Forbes, the owner of the land, had memorial stones for the clans set where these mass graves lay.

Clan Fraser

Mixed clans

Clan MacGillivray
Clan Cameron

Well of the Dead

Clan Stewart of Appin
Clans MacGillivray, MacLean, MacLaughlan, Athol Highlanders
Clan MacKintosh
French Jacobites (many of Irish and Scottish descent), who protected the rear of the Highlanders' retreat

The lay of a battlefield will often decide the victory. The marsh, still here as on the morning of the battle, caused the Jacobites on the left to swerve around it to the right, bunching up in the middle,  thus failing to assault the flank of the Government forces.

Note the fellow looking into the window of this small cottage rebuilt after the battle, which was thought to have housed wounded Government soldiers. There is still some doubt where from 50 to 300 British soldiers are thought to have been buried, but archaeologists are working on locating the exact site -- and may actually have by now.

But, for all of the solemnity we felt, there was time for levity in the large new (2007) visitor's center, where Jay was allowed to don a targe and raise a sword  just to see how they felt.

And we had lunch in the cafeteria, which included this bottle of lemonade flavored with rose water - very good. I drank most of it before remembering to photograph it.