(Guest Blog by my Cousin Cheryl on the 35th Anniversary of her mother's death)
♫ ♫ There's no way of knowing what tomorrow brings
Life's too short to waste it, I say bring on anything
Life's too short to waste it, I say bring on anything
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance…♫ ♫*
I hope you dance…♫ ♫*
Vina Louise Tucker was the 4th surviving child born to Effa Belle Graves Tucker and Alva Ashbury Tucker. She danced into this world on Tuesday, March 22, 1927 in Aberdeen, WA, and as a Tuesday’s child, was full of grace.
♫ ♫You must have been a beautiful baby,You must have been a wonderful child…♫♫**
She was a beautiful baby, and whether or not she was a wonderful child depended on who you asked.
On May 25, 1927, her young life would change and be forever influenced by a tragic event: her father, Alva, who by all accounts was a good, kind man and who provided well for his family, drowned when the tugboat he was on went down at sea.
Photos taken May 1927 with Big Sister Elva, and Mom being held by beloved Aunt Mayme. Had there been a funeral, I would say these were taken on that day, but perhaps there were taken on the day of the drowning or in the following days.
Mom and her older siblings who could have expected moderate advantages in life, were rather quickly thrust into poverty and all of the social and economic issues that accompany that circumstance. Grandma and her children moved to Mary’s Corner in Lewis County on or near the property where Grandma’s parents, Mattie and JT Graves lived.
By all accounts, others were sad for Mom because she had no chance to know her loving father, which resulted in two things. First, she was doted on and probably spoiled to make up for a missing father, hence, the debate about whether or not she was a wonderful child. However, she was adorable with white-blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes, full of sunshine and life, just the type of child who may have been doted on anyway. Secondly, Grandma had a lovely large photograph of Alva, 2-year-old Stella and herself in an oval frame that always hung on her wall, even two husbands later. It was as much a part of Grandma’s house as the beautiful clock, the family bible and a few other memorable pieces. This photograph belonged to Mom, and there was never any doubt it would go to her upon Grandma’s death. It did, and it continued to hang on the wall, but now in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. When I walked to the kitchen, I would glance into the bedroom and imagined Grandma and my grandfather watching over me. One day, as I was passing through, I suddenly saw how much my brother, Jeff, looked like our grandfather. Mom was pleased to discover this, and from that moment on, we all knew the photo would always belong to Jeff.
Mom loved music and dancing. She sat at the pump organ at church and taught herself to play. She played by ear and taught herself to also play the piano and accordion. The love of music and dancing was such that a dancer in Mary’s Corner gave her lessons in tap and acrobatics. It’s unclear if this was done out of the kindness of her heart, or if Mattie or Grandma found the money to channel Mom's passion. It’s highly unlikely it was Mattie, because anything expressive done with the body was the work of the devil.
The transition from living near her grandparents to having a new step-father, Warren Nixon, is a bit hazy, and an issue Mom didn’t really talk about in terms of time frames. Within a couple of years, Grandma married Warren Nixon, and had a son, Jack, but that marriage ended when Jack was a toddler.
Jackie 18 mo. and Mom, 5 1/2 Mom, 5 ½, Stella, 15 ½, Arnold 13
Note which person in the pictures managed to accessorize. Some habits start early.
Mom had 2 more younger siblings in addition to Jack as a result of a relationship Grandma had with a man she hadn’t married. The shame from this situation, as well as a legal issue involving this man and Mom caused a split in the family when Mom was 8. She carried the burden of her older siblings’ anger and inability to forgive their mother over this situation.
Older siblings were moving out and three younger siblings were being born. One can only imagine the chaos and instability she experienced. Poverty was still an issue, and Mom’s family was so poor that she was unable to attend school for a period of time because she had no dresses to wear. She never forgot how her brother, Arnold bought her two dresses so she could return to school.
The stress of too many children and too little money resulted in the kind of anger in Grandma that only fear can produce and she and Mom started having conflicts. Mom was 14 and in her own words, was a little too big for her own britches. When her mother told her to leave, she had no idea where to go. She went to the docks (not sure where) where her aunt, Irma, was living on a boat. In a somewhat frantic tone, Irma told her she had to get away from there because it wasn’t safe for her. Irma didn’t know where Mom could go, but she told her she could not be at Irma’s boat. When Mom grew up and put the pieces of rumors together, she realized that Irma was desperate for her to leave the docks because Irma was a “working woman.” When other family members wanted to pooh-pooh the rumors about Irma, Mom was quick to confirm that Irma was indeed a woman who was generous with her body.
Mom didn’t say whether or not she went back home or stayed someplace else, but at 15 she became pregnant and married a soldier, Larry Bortell. They were living in Michigan when her son, Larry was born. Enough said about this mess.
After Mom obtained a divorce, she was living in the Longview area with Larry. She needed a fresh start, and wrote to her beloved Aunt Mayme who had long ago divorced Mom’s worthless uncle, Vern Graves. Mayme had remarried to Bob Nelson, and had two toddlers, born almost exactly a year apart. She could use the help, and invited Mom to come to Packwood, WA and stay with her.
Enter the tall, dark, handsome semi-stranger: Mayme had a ”baby brother,” Teck who had been home from the war for a year or so. Mayme introduced Teck and Mom. Music played, fireworks filled the sky and quite possibly within 48 hours, they were an item. Needless to say, Mayme didn’t get much help with those two toddlers.
Dad and Mom courting
Outside Rosalie and Mitch’s in Seattle
Dad, Mom and Larry lived in the Packwood area while Dad worked in construction. After Dad injured his foot, they moved into a cabin on the Cowlitz River on the Carr Road property owned by Dad's brother, Eddie. Mom’s younger sisters, Myrna and Cleta stayed with them there. That same year, Dad heard about a job opening in Mt. Rainier National Park. He applied and got the job which became one of their best experiences. Mom also got a job at the park, and between the two of them, they earned $21 a day, which was a wage they could live on. Dad, Mom and Larry camped out in a Quonset hut that had a cook stove and running water. Mom’s sister, Rosalie and her sons, Marc and Terry, stayed in the park with them and then Rosalie’s husband, Mitch joined them on the weekends. They had numerous experiences with Mother Nature, including an encounter with a hungry bear that decided to relieve them of some of their vittles.
There were challenging times and good times. Grandma Chris died on December 20, and that same year, two of Dad’s brothers drowned in a car accident on Christmas Eve. In addition to his grief, Dad and Mom were both dealing with his misunderstood and undiagnosed PTSD from WWII. The difficult pregnancy with Jeff was caused by the placenta separating, and Mom required complete bed rest, trying to avoid further separation until the baby could develop enough to survive. During that time, I was 2 and was sent to live with Mom’s sister, Stella. Larry stayed in Seattle with Mom’s brother and his wife, Arnold and Laura. Jeff was born 2 months early, and thrived. Ten months later, Mom was pregnant with Steven. She had not yet recovered from the stress of the previous pregnancy, and although this last pregnancy was uneventful, it was followed by a severe postpartum depression and psychosis. Always a mother who fought for her children, Mom refused to be hospitalized and stayed home to care for her family as best she could. She later confessed that she was terrified that if she agreed to be hospitalized, she would never get out. Given the times, that fear was not irrational. Her doctor was unsympathetic, and she struggled for 5 years to recover.
A significant contributor to Mom’s recovery was that she was asked to apply for a job at the Packwood Lumber Mill. The job required her to calculate board feet of lumber and she didn’t think she could do it. This was a reflection of her insecurities over having an 8th grade education. However, her friend and neighbor, Jean Russel convinced her she could do it, and said she’d work with her until she mastered it. Mom interviewed with the General Manager, Larry Ostrom, and he hired her! She was grateful to Larry and when we prepared to move away from Packwood to Battle Ground to be closer to Dad’s job, Larry was sorry to lose her. He convinced her to come back and work the following summer. She may not have had an adequate education, but she was definitely smart, and Larry’s invitation to return for the summer was the confirmation she needed.
Despite those challenges, the house was filled with musicians, music, singing and Mom’s tap dancing across the kitchen floor. Both Mom and Dad were self-taught musicians and their voices were beautiful together. Mom loved being surrounded by beauty, and would not only paint and hang wall paper, but was also known for giving home permanents to neighbors who also wanted a bit of beauty for themselves. She sewed, and I especially loved it when she made doll clothes. On Saturday evenings, Mom would whip up a plate of peanut butter fudge and make buttered popcorn. The trick was to accomplish both in time for all of us to gather around the television and watch “Twilight Zone” and the “Alfred Hitchcock Show.”
A remnant left from Mom’s childhood was evident. Dad worked in the woods, and Mom frequently expressed to her children that she didn’t want him to go to work with angry words between them. She always said if something happened to him in the woods, she wanted to know that she had kissed him good-bye. It made me wonder if Grandma had been angry the last day that Alva had left for work and had not kissed him before he left. The other issue that I suspect was connected to her father’s drowning, was that she was terrified of water. If we waded in any body of water up to our knees, she could be heard yelling at us to go no further. Dad was no fan of water either and it’s no small miracle that my brothers and I managed to dog paddle, let alone swim and dive.
Falling trees was dangerous work, and one day while I was at a friend’s house, an ambulance went past us. I had an eerie feeling, but was too young to understand what that was. When Mom called me home, (by yelling, not by telephone), she told me that Dad had broken his arm. To me, this meant his arm had broken off, and I was scared that I would be afraid of him without an arm. It turns out he was struck by a “widow maker,” two limbs crossing over each other and coming down. Typically this was a fatal event, but Dad survived. It was time to leave the woods. Dad then worked in the mill, but that was shutting down, so he got a job at a new International Paper plywood mill in Chelatchie Prairie, WA. We left everything and everyone familiar and moved to Battle Ground.
Although there was a lot of love and grace between Dad and Mom, life caught up with them and their marriage ended. They couldn’t live with one another and they couldn’t live without one another. Despite divorcing, they continued to see each other. The only way Mom could figure out how to make the break was to impulsively marry someone she had known for only 3 weeks. One day she was living her life, and the next she was calling from Reno saying she was married.
This third husband, Bob Patterson, proved to be Mom’s demise. Too late, she discovered that he was a controlling, abusive, compulsive gambler. She became a woman controlled by fear. It was Bob’s daughter, Sharon, who called Mom out and exposed the cover up. When Mom reported she had been in a car accident and hit her face on the back of the seat causing extensive bruising, Sharon said, “You haven’t been in a car accident. My dad did this.” Sure enough. Mom had been a strong, confident woman and it was hard to imagine her staying in this situation. I begged her to leave and stay with me. She wouldn’t because she knew Bob would come looking for her and she was afraid he wouldn’t be satisfied just killing her. She was afraid he would kill me and my children. As always, she was still looking out for and fighting for her children.
However, a bright spot was that she still loved to dance, and said she heard about a tap class for adults. I convinced her to sign up for the class, and on about September 12, 1979, we shopped for her new tap shoes. With the shoe box under her arm, she moved down the sidewalk with more joy that I had seen in a long, long time.
Living in fear took its toll; regardless of numerous changes in medication, her doctor was unable to get her blood pressure under control. On September 19, 1979, at 52, my mother died from a massive heart attack.
Eleven days before Mom passed, her second granddaughter, Chivonne, was born. Mom and I had gone to Packwood to visit Aunt Mayme and Uncle Bob. We stopped by my brother Jeff’s on our way home to meet this beautiful baby.
- I think that each of Mom’s children secretly believes s/he was her favorite. That’s an amazing mother who can accomplish that.
- Her homemade cinnamon rolls were an act of love, and to this day, if I walk past a Cinnabon store and smell that fragrance of yeast dough and cinnamon baking, I’m flooded with the feeling of being loved.
- She was the peacemaker in her family. Before Grandma died, each of Mom’s older siblings re-established a relationship with their mother. Mom could release the burden.
- Also, she left me with that beautiful last memory of the joy she found in buying the tap shoes and anticipating the opportunity to resurrect her love.
Forever I will miss the way she held my face in her two hands when she kissed me good-bye.
Where ever you are, Mama, I Hope You Dance…
*I Hope You Dance written by Mark Daniel Sanders and Tia M Sillers
**You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer