from the photo albums of my grandmother, Gladys Corinne Walker. Previous entries have chronicled the lives of Gladys and her two children, Ginger and Al.
In the early 1950s, Gladys began to suffer so much from arthritis in her knees that she could no longer stand in her job as elevator operator at the Federal Building, so she took a tall stool to work so she could sit. Her employers would not accept this solution and she was fired (I am sure with regret as she was beloved of the regular elevator-riders.) She became a self employed house cleaner and gardener. One of her housecleaning clients said to her, “You are the only cleaning lady who ever gave me square corners”, meaning that Gladys got the cloth or mop into each corner instead of just swiping by in a curve. (Decades later when I had a cleaning business, I called it Square Corners Housecleaning.)
She joined a rug hooking group with her friends and had a large rug making rack set up in her living room in the winter.
I hope to share some more of her artistry with rug making and needlepoint in a later post.
In 1995, her second grandchild was born…me!
(The painting behind the couch is of the Argyle, Michigan farm house my grandmother grew up in. Maddeningly, when my mother went into assisted living, the painting was in her possession. At that time, it had been years since I had perused the old photo albums. She told me it was the house of unhappy memories where she had grown up in, with her dad and aunt, after her mother and dad had divorced, and that I should sell it at her moving sale. Little did I know till now that I had sold a precious painting of my grandma’s childhood home. I can tell by the distinctive peaked roof.)
When I was six weeks old, my mother went back to her office job. At the time, my dad was fitfully employed and drank a lot; she could not count on him, with a succession of short lived door to door saleman jobs, to support her and me.
So Ginger hired my grandmother to be my caregiver, and Gladys quit her cleaning jobs and began to take in a few other children into her home for daytime care. Back then, she did not need to be licensed as a day care center. Thus I, an only child, grew up in a group of other children.
With more time at home, Gladys had turned her garden into a paradise from front yard to back. She took in ironing as well as having her daycare business. Her fold down ironing board had a view out of the back door, and she had the discipline to iron for hours while wanting to be outside. I remember well dressed women and men stopping by in the evening to pick up freshly ironed and starched shirts. (Ironing perfection is a skill that I decidedly did not inherit from her, even though I’ve tried.)
I loved my step grandpa, Harry Walker; for reasons unremembered, I called him Bumpy. He wasn’t there always because of his fishing profession. However, having grown older, he spent more time at home and his heavy drinking had a negative impact on Gladys’s life. He became abusive. She told me later that when she “went to the judge downtown and showed him the bruises on my arms, he granted the divorce.” I hope she did not put up with the abuse for long. Because she often told me “I was too damn stubborn and independent to live with a man”, I think she did not.
One of my first memories is of Harry standing in the breakfast nook crying, waving a handgun about and begging Gladys “Just shoot me! Just shoot me!” Later, she said that having him do this in front of her three year old grand daughter was the final end of the marriage, along with the physical abuse. Gladys’s son Al took Harry in for a few days. My next memory is of Harry in the bathroom of my uncle Al’s house, his face covered with shaving foam, weeping. He moved onto his boat, the Eden, at Fisherman’s Wharf near Ballard. Although I visited him a few times and he sent birthday cards for awhile, he basically disappeared out of our lives.
I grew up surrounded by my grandmother’s many friends who often came over for garden parties and delicious dinners. Gram’s life revolved around her home and garden, and between her tiny day care center and the taking in of ironing, she managed to spend most of her time at home.
Years after painting the house red, considered an outlandish choice at the time, she was pleased to find this article:
Gram involved herself in my school, which was a block away, by sending glorious bouquets of flowers with me to my teachers, and by running a plant booth for the yearly fun fair. A succession of children passed through her day care center, and I wonder if any of them (Sally? Sandra? Trisha? Mike and Bob?) later became dedicated gardeners.
Anyone who came to visit got a tour of the garden – a mere 3000 square feet in a neighborhood near Seattle’s Green Lake – and would leave with “slips” (cuttings) of plants: African violets, hardy fuchsias, roses … and a bouquet of anything in bloom.
Letter written to her by the secretary of the PTA:
Dear Mrs. Walker,
Your many friends in the John B. Allen P.T.A. wish to express their sincere thanks for the many, many years you have devoted to our school and the lovely plants you have donated to help make our Fun Night a success.
Both you and your plants have been genuinely appreciated and we felt it was time to say “thank you”. Many a child has gone home happy because he bought his mommy a plant…whether she needed it or not, she loved it.
Thanks again for everything.
In the photo above, two of the women were May and Adeline, who lived together nearby on on Fremont Avenue. Their steep back yard had stone stairs and a pond. I believe they were my grandmother’s closest friends.
By the cement path, just as it went round the corner, was a sign that read “Follow the fuchsia trail to….” and then as you entered the side gate after walking past shrub fuchsias and a fuchsia windowbox, another sign read “The Enchanted Forest”, and then you went round the corner into the back garden where she had fuchsia baskets hanging from the pear and plum trees.
Somehow she kept the garden perfect despite having up to 5 children at a time in her daycare. One time I said I had found a weed and no one believed me till I proved it; a dandelion had snuck up through the inside of a shrub. My finding that weed became a family legend.
Up til the mid 60s, she entered plants in the local begonia show.
She loved “antiquing”, and during summer school vacation, we would often walk up to 85th and Greenwood in Seattle along quiet residential Fremont Avenue and then browse the antique shops on the way back on Greenwood, sometimes finding a piece of her favourite Blue Onion china. Or we would take the bus to the Pike Place Market, look through the antique shops on the lower level and then have a donut before taking the bus home.
During the big earthquake in an earlier decade, she had run from shelf to shelf holding her china and antiques onto the shelves. Each was precious as she had little money for them and had often bought a piece on time purchase. During the big earthquake of 1965, she had to protect little me instead of the antiques.
Her son Al, now a successful CPA and toy train dealer, had a grown stepson named George, shown here in the only photo I have of him:
George and his significant other, Bob, lived in an elegant little house in Wallingford, lavishly decorated, with an antique shop on the ground floor. I loved to visit there, partly because of their upstairs library with velvet curtains and a velvet couch and glass front bookcases, partly because they threw wonderful family parties, partly because they were both kind and funny, and not least because they had two Great Danes. Bob and George broke up when I was in my early 20s.In 1994, years after losing touch with George I saw his obituary in Seattle Gay News and was so filled with regret at not continuing to know him.
In 1970, for my grandmother’s 73rd birthday, Bob made her a cake in the shape of her beloved little red house. Oh, how she loved her house. Her return address labels said “the little red house” and she had no desire to travel; she preferred being at home over anything.
My uncle told her he would take her on a trip to Hawaii so she could see all the tropical flowers. She was tempted but said that she would rather be at home.
In the photo above, she is sewing a tiny cushion for a “tin can” chair. In her mid 7os, she made and sold dozens of these to supplement her income. I still have several of them.
Gladys had a stroke when she was 79; after returning home from the hospital, she was able to live at home with live in caregivers (one barely adequate, one horrible, one excellent) for a couple of years. After my uncle had himself declared her legal guardian in 1978, he put her in a nursing home because she could no longer care for herself and had too much dementia to have a caregiver live with her. He was about to sell her house when I bought it in 1979. She begged me to always keep it red, and I did (and so did the folks who bought it from me when I moved to the beach in 1992). The nursing home experience was bad and not the right way for a well-lived generous loving life to end. She died two years later in 1980.
I always remembered her in the garden. You can see many of the above garden pictures followed by photos of the garden when it was mine in this page on my gardening blog.
She died in 1980. Not a day goes by when I do not think of her and miss her. In many ways my life has been similar to hers: being “damn stubborn and independent”, being self employed as a housecleaner and gardener, being in a marriage with an alcoholic followed by divorce, being and avid gardener and a homebody. One way that I did not get to follow her was by being a grandmother, and I think with her example I would have excelled at it.
Al Cox, Gladys’s son
Gladys’s son Al died in 2008, a respected man in the toy train world: “Al Cox was a US toy train collector and dealer perhaps as famous for his sale catalog, or wish book, as for his amazing toy train collection kept in the catacombs of his Seattle home. Many US collectors admit that they only knew of the existence of many items from Al’s wish list, which was also the nearest thing to a published valuation list back then.” He had Parkinson’s late in life but kept his enjoyment of life.
“I’ve been told by many that I can’t take my collection with me, but I have selected my worst melted plastic Lionel scout engine boiler which is so warped that no one but me would keep such a treasure. It will go down with me with my hands crossed on my chest holding it with a smile on my face and a sign saying: “See, you guys were all wrong!” Al Cox, Tinplate Times
Ginger Johnston, Gladys’s daughter
After saying she would never garden after having worked on her dad’s farm, Ginger became an avid gardener after retirement.
“In 1977, my husband Bruce and I both left our jobs with the City of Seattle. (He retired at 63 and I quit at 55.) We moved to our retirement home outside of Yelm. Then for ten years we snowbirded to Mesa, Arizona, six months out of the year.
After Bruce died in 1995, my daughter wanted me to move to the Long Beach Peninsula to be nearer to her. (She lives in Ilwaco.) I moved to Long Beach in 1999 where I lived until 2009, when I moved to Golden Sands Assisted Living Facility. If I can’t live at my home, this is a wonderful place to be. ”
Ginger died in 2010 at age 86. Three years of her garden diaries are being shared over on the Tangly Cottage Journal.
Gladys’s grandson, John
John still raises and trains dogs and has moved back to live in his father Al’s house with his wife, his St Bernards and her Corgis. You can see his dogs along with John and his wife on his Youtube channel.
That’s me. I blog about gardening over on the Tangly Cottage Journal. Gardening is my life and in many ways my life is a memorial to my grandmother.
“…We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration….
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”