from Sandy Needham

Sunday, September 29, 2013

6-Week Dispatch: Oklahoma

We settled into the luxury of a three-night stay (no repacking for three whole days!) in my own Tulsa-town. We love the attic bedroom in the beautiful home and with the beautiful company of Vivian and Mike Nemec, who live in the same house where Vivian grew up just down the street from me. Sitting on her screened-in back porch in the morning and actually recognizing from my childhood the sweet summer smells of 22nd Street was sheer heaven. (The last time I was here - January of 2011 while Newton was in San Francisco - Vivian and Mike and I were stuck in the house for six days in a huge snowstorm. They were SO wonderful to me…even helping me dig my car out so I could eventually leave!)

Newton and I got to see my nephew Mark and his family, while meeting Jeremy, the fiance of my grandniece, Lainey. Best of all, we got to see some of the preparations for their upcoming wedding. What fun!

Here are Lainey and her little sister Taylor showing me the wedding gown; Lainey and Jeremy at their wedding in July (we had to miss it):
lainey's dresslainey & Jeremy
Lainey and her mother Jenny:                          Lainey and Mark:
Jenny & Laineymark & laine

I drove to the nearby town of Bartlesville to meet half-way (from Kansas) an old family friend I hadn’t seen in probably 50 years! Judy Richter Dillon is the daughter of Jean Richter, my Mother’s best friend and the reason for my own middle name! Judy is an actress and an avid genealogist, not to mention still a raving beauty. We met for lunch at the famous Price Tower, an office building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, now used as a museum and hotel. Lunch was in the stunning Copper Bar. It was amazing to see Judy after becoming email friends in the last few years! Jean was 98 when she passed the very next month, after a magnificent life as a painter and journalist and incredible human (and my idol). Here are my Mother with my oldest sister Janet, and Jean Richter with Judy in 1941:

Judy Dillon and me Price Towermother jean janet judy

With the overriding theme of cousins this trip, I couldn’t miss my Tulsa cousin from the Needham side - Mary Kay Davies Grosvald (who grew up in California). We had lunch at the more-chic-than-ever Utica Square, just a short walk away. ‎She is Administrative Editor at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Mary Kay is always an inspiration to me, especially because she consciously chose to respond to her battle with cancer not as a victim, but with amazing fortitude and sanity. I’m so happy I get to see her from time to time.

I will be missing the official 49-year reunion of my beloved Woodrow Wilson Junior High School buddies at a Tulsa hotel this October. Most of us were born in ‘49; most of us are 64, and we graduated 9th grade in ‘64! Luckily, a group of alums were able to come to Vivian’s while we were there for an amazing summer evening picnic that Vivian single-handedly prepared. Jimmy Walker drove in from Texas so he could supply nine bottles of fine champagne! We enjoyed the international stories from opera singer, Linda Roark Strummer. Somehow, I just can’t see that mature lawyer guy as anyone but Little Jimmy Ferris I knew since 2nd grade! (He actually looks the same.) Annette Villines has the same figure she had in 9th grade. I got far too little a dose of Linda Butler Jones, a local favorite of mine who is a private investigator, and Jean Barsh Hatfield, who drove in from Oklahoma City. It is always a treat to see my Wilson homies. What a group!

The next event awaiting us was the Cousins Dinner in Oklahoma City. This is the same Cousins Dinner that had been arranged in January 2011, but got snowed out! I thought for sure we’d easily pull it off in June, but it did look iffy after that horrendous tornedo destroyed the nearby town of Moore. We drove our rental car across the flat, flat plains of the turnpike to Oklahoma City without spotting any funnels. Whew.
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The dinner was at the home of my cousin Diane McCracken Mueller and her husband David. You may be tired of hearing this, but I have barely seen Diane in my adult life and even when I did, it was in a big crowd. Her father, Uncle Lawrence, was my mother’s twin brother, and she and I used to visit each other in Oklahoma City and Tulsa every summer. Diane is a retired schoolteacher. It was so fun to see her house for the first time and find out that she, like me, is a very visual person. There were all sorts of stunning colors accented by black and white to delight my eyes! Her sister Linda, whom we had just seen in Texas, drove up; unfortunately, my cousin Carolyn McCracken Aten had gotten sick after our Mexican dinner together in Fort Worth, Texas, and couldn’t make it. Her sister, Kathy McCracken Brasel, also couldn’t make it, so I still need to see her again some day! Their brother, Tad McCracken (known as Don now, after my Uncle) DID make it! He is an adorable butcher. I had brunch with his three lawyer children in New York City a couple of years back, but cannot say when I last saw him! We got to meet his lovely new wife, Sheila. Another long-lost cousin, Jesse McCracken (son of my Uncle Wilson), arrived with his wife Diane. He works as a Federal Marshal for the courts in Guthrie, Oklahoma. I am always amazed to remember years ago when I was a cheerleader in high school and our basketball team went to the state finals in Oklahoma City, I ran into Jesse at the game! He was in the Navy at that time. Like I said, adult cousin sightings have been rare! Arriving with her incredible, signature spunk after nearly dying from an infection just a few short months ago was my cousin Norma Crossley Neal, one of my Aunt Mildred’s twin daughters. Her husband Harold, who is taking good care of her, came as well. Norma is an accomplished amateur comedienne who claims there are only two things that separate her from Dolly Parton. It took me a couple of seconds to get that, but she claimed that Harold will not let her get breast augmentation surgery despite the recent sale advertised in the newspaper! I must say, she kept the table in stitches the entire evening with her dry wit and impeccable timing. Her fraternal twin sister Mary lives in California.

You can see people are recording notes about the relatives below. Norma brought everyone a set of old family photos, which inaugurated the discussion of our family tree.

Cousin Jesse and wife Diane, Cousin Linda and Tad’s wife Sheila;  Sheila again, Cousin Tad, and Cousin Norma: 
2013-06-13 20.43.22   2013-06-13 20.43.27
Cousin Diane and Norma’s husband, Harold:   
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Newton started an online family tree on My Heritage for the family. We were picking everyone’s brains for names and dates! Jesse’s wife wowed the crowd by reciting the name and birth date of each of her many grandchildren for us!

We had some fun trying to name all of my Grandfather McCracken’s sisters, as he was the only boy of nine: Pearl, Jessie, Molly, Lizzy, Sarah, Etta, Flora, and Mary Jane.

Notice the old woman in the center of the photo below. That is Della Griffith Brown, my great-grandmother. What I did not know is that my very lily white grandmother, her daughter Dollie Brown, who died the day my mother and my Uncle Lawrence were born in 1914, had a brother who was tall, bronze, with straight black hair – very Native American looking. (My cousin Linda knew him.) I had never heard this. Apparently Great-Grandmother Brown had at least some blood of the Kickapoo Tribe…which means I have indigenous blood, too! It was quite an exciting revelation for me to imagine I’m not as boring white bread as I thought! I believe this information was not commonly known to us because of the forced assimilation of the tribe and the practice of not always claiming Native status in those days.

mother's family

In this photo are all the cousins’ parents: Back row, left to right: my mother’s twin, Lawrence; their older sister, Mildred; my mother, Laurene; their older brother, Wilson. Front row l to r: my step-grandmother, Maud Hill McCracken; my great-grandmother, Della Brown with my Uncle Donald on her lap; my grandfather, Walter Thomas McCracken.

I love the way some look so serious in the photo, but my mother and my grandfather cannot suppress their smiles! Perhaps my step-Grandmother Maud felt ambivalent about having the mother of her husband’s deceased first wife visiting? Or maybe Maud loved having Della’s help with the four step-children she inherited (about nine years before this photo when the twins were two), and I’m misreading her body language completely. She’s was always Grandmother to me!

Especially because I had seen so little of my cousins since we grew up, I found it endlessly fascinating to hear their stories, study their features for the resemblances, recognize what family traits we share, and connect again AT LAST!! It was fantastic.

Next (and last) stop on this 6-week sojourn: Colorado.



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