March 14th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Words.  My Mom’s life was all about words.

I am certain that she was stringing them together in complete – and clever – sentences by the time she was one or so.  Because by age sixteen, in 1943, she had written, typed and even bound her autobiography.  All her life she reveled in playing with and making words do her bidding in the art of communicating.  She and Barbara, one of her childhood playmates in Greeley, invented a language of code words – both written and spoken – and they would leave notes for each other in this secret lingo in the front seat of an abandoned automobile in the alley behind their houses.

Mom’s love of life was palpable to all who ever knew her, even for a short time.  Her next oldest brother, Neil, was her great childhood pal, and she admitted that the influence that he and his friends had on her made her a tomboy.  At Greeley High, she and The Gang, her ever-expanding group of girl friends, rode around on the city bus all evening singing songs at the tops of their voices.  Mom was always a singer of silly songs.   Some of them she learned from her mother.  And she passed these ditties with their clever puns, jokes and wordplay on to her sons.  We still laugh every time we sing them – and that’s considerably more often than our spouses or children want to hear them.

By sixteen, when a senior in high school, she was already writing stories for the Greeley Tribune, and that fall, off she went to Boulder to the University of Colorado, where her older sister Eleanor had attended some years earlier.  Like Eleanor, she pledged Alpha Phi and, as they say, history was made.  Alpha Phi was an extraordinarily important part of her life ever afterward.  Lifelong friendships were made.  These were such close friendships that they survived even a little envy creeping in.  One Alpha Phi pal admits that the girls were jealous of Mom’s typewriter – the only one in the house.  But Ann had writing to do, and a lot of it.  She majored in Journalism, and when she graduated from CU she almost immediately headed to the University of Illinois, finishing a Masters in Radio & Television Journalism in just a year.

It was in her post-graduate professional life as a radio station traffic manager that she met our Dad, Paul, the station engineer. We have Jack Hull to blame for setting them up for their first date, by the way; he was Dad’s best friend and the station’s on-air talent. Mom and Dad were married in 1951.  A stint with a Denver advertising agency was soon followed by the arrival of yours truly in 1953, Gary in 1955 and David three years after that.

To Mom’s everlasting annoyance, she never bore a formal Alpha Phi legacy.  But that didn’t stop her from recruiting us for the cause anyway.  All through the 1960s and into the ‘70s, Mom and the Denver Alpha Phi alums sold heart lollipops in local stores, restaurants, banks and the like to benefit the Heart Association.  Ron, Gary and David were roped into delivering the decorated coffee cans with heart lollipops stuffed in their tops and then coming back to collect the money.

We were also responsible for delivering her copy to the assignment desk of the Denver Post on deadline day, while Mom circled the block in the car.  She was writing feature articles and weekly events columns for the Zone Editions of the Post during our elementary and junior high years.  When the Post abolished the Zone editions, she moved her byline to the Washington Park Profile and continued to report and write on community news and feature stories for many more years.

Also for years, Mom was the alumnae editor of the national Alpha Phi Quarterly magazine, and her reporter’s skills were called into play every other summer when she went to the national convention to cover it for the magazine.

Meanwhile, there was the church magazine and a history of the congregation to write and edit, countless bridge games (with or without Dad, who we’re sure was always a reluctant bridge player), the church choir to lend her lovely soprano voice to, clever poems to write for family communications, and of course all those Alpha Phi meetings and events.  Oh, and there were her duties as Cub Scout Den Mother, co-creator of boys’ craft projects (the Cookie Christmas Tree survived in the basement until 2003!), teaching us how to yodel and thus waking up all the neighbors in Palmer Lake, and perhaps most importantly for me: encouraging us to read, read, read; plus editing, advising and mentoring on term papers, poetry, and more recently, my blog.

Thank you, Mom, for all you were and are to me, my brothers, our family and your legion of friends around the world. Your and Dad’s abundant kindness has, I hope, rubbed off at least a little.  The depth and breadth of my love for chocolate almost matches yours. And in our lives we can only hope for a fraction of the return you got on your investment in friendships.  You said when you were sixteen “My greatest accomplishment is having a great many friends.  If friends are an asset, my liabilities are few.”    Well Mom, you are the richest person I’ve ever known.

Your spirit and influence and courage live on forever:  I still have that typewriter you used to help your sorority sisters prepare their term papers in 1946.  You had your words to the end: even when you couldn’t speak them anymore, I know they were with you.  And now you’re gently correcting the angels’ grammar, as you did ours.

Yes, you predicted correctly in that 1943 autobiography: “This I know: whatever Fate has cut out for me, his scissors were a pen point and a book mark.”

I love you.  Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.

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Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

Posted in Heritage, Storytelling
July 13th, 2012 | No Comments »

It’s amazing how visceral memory can be, right?  I am so often convinced that a memory – of a place, a building, a face or an object – is absolutely true and completely accurate, only later to have my certitude blown up in a phaser blast of actuality.

As a romantic, a historian and a storyteller, which by the way can be a very dangerous combination, I often get into this kind of memory trouble.  I can be completely convinced that the story I’m happily telling is based entirely on fact. I know that the historic movie palace that I’m trying to help save from demolition was where my mother took me to see “Pollyanna” in 1960 when the power went out and we sat in the darkened theatre for an hour before going home, disappointed.  Only… it wasn’t.  Probably these accuracy/memory lapses are pretty harmless; a not very important and wholly innocent story, and no one at the City Council hearing will know the difference.  Probably.

But what bigger and more cherished memories are fuzzy, or complete fantasy?  Should it matter?

My brothers and I and our spouses have been working for months at the bittersweet task of clearing out our parents’ Denver home of 40 years in anticipation of its being sold.  There are so many memories boxed up, closeted, stacked and filed in that big ranch house and it’s been hard for us to process them.  For example, there’s the hat.  In the basement, in one of the big, round-topped wooden steamer trunks that our Mom had kept crammed with treasures either valuable or puzzling, we found several ladies’ hats.  My grandmother’s, her mother’s.  From the 1910s, and in pristine condition, they told an immediate and lovely story of a well educated woman with far more style than we grandsons had ever known.  So far, so good, the story.  But I was immediately convinced, without reservation or hesitation, that I recognized one of the hats as having been worn by Ariel on her wedding trip to far off Los Angeles in 1912, it being prominently depicted in photographs in the family albums we had just recently looked through again.  So all weekend long, I told and retold the story: to my husband, my brothers and their wives, to cousins, to anyone who would, or would not, listen.  A small story.  But a story regarded by the listeners as significant and delightful.  And soon we were all to  learn: not true.

Of course, the photograph told the real story, and my story went into the fiction section.  Where, now that I think of it, it will stay and continue to be told.  Fair warning:  I’m admitting now that, my faulty memory and all, absolute accuracy can sometimes get in the way of a good, romantic, history-based story.  I promise, however, to try to not tell them at City Council hearings.  Or in court.



Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

Posted in History, Storytelling