Under Angel Wings


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Growing Up With Aunt Dorothy

Today I'd like to share with you the important influence that Aunt Dorothy has had on my life, and on the lives of my sister, Jan, a myriad of Jenkins cousins, and even the two boys who grew up on the neighboring farm, John and Tom.

This photo was taken at our church for what could be called the Jenkins Family Christening Day on October 17, 1950. C.W. and Minnie's adult children, Bruce, Raymond and Dorothy, had all of their children baptized on this day. There were many of us!

Here my sister and I are shown posed with our godmothers, myself and Aunt Dorothy on the left, and Jan and Aunt Myola on the right. Our mom made our matching dresses as she usually did. Either she made them or purchased identical skirts, blouses and dresses in different sizes from the Montgomery Ward catalog. I've seen other siblings dressed in identical clothes from that era~ it must have been a fifties thing!

My very first memory as a toddler involves a family trip that we took to Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Ronny's house in San Diego for Christmas. Amidst all the excitement of Christmas and staying in a different home, I got a cough. I remember standing up in a crib and Uncle Ronny bringing me cough medicine in a spoon in the night. It's funny to think way back to see what our first memory is.

As I grew older Aunt Dorothy's annual trips up to the ranch with her sons grew more and more important to me. Each June she would bring Rob, Ron and Rich to spend the entire summer. Jan, John, Tom and I all waited for the excitement of that day: summer it seemed would not really begin until they arrived.

Aunt Dorothy always had lots of fun and exciting things to do. She rented the old farmhouse during the nine months of school, and then the tenants vacated so Aunt Dorothy could come for three months. There was always a long list of repair projects to be done on the old home, and her boys were kept busy working on those. Our home that my parents built was right across the street from Aunt Dorothy's house, which was the old homestead purchased by our grandparents.

I was usually hanging around watching or helping, as I did when it came time to paint the bedrooms. Aunt Dorothy taught us all how to paint, a skill that has come in very handy down through the years. Then she taught me how to take antiques such as an iron bedstead and paint it white with gold highlights. We did the same with Grandpa C.W.'s old trunk with his initials on the top wooden stave. We turned it into a girls' trunk painted on the metal parts outside with the same colors. Then we removed the old and torn paper on the inside and I learned how to apply wallpaper.

Another craft project we did involved gluing sparkly decorations and rick rack on decorative bottles, then filling them with colored water. I put them around my bathroom and they were in my parent's home for over fifty years, still pretty! I couldn't bear to throw them away until it came time to clean out our parent's home.

I still remember the fun of making homemade root beer in Aunt Dorothy's bathtub. We bottled it up and drank it up fast! I still love root beer, and it never fails to take me back to those good old days...

Sometimes we'd go out on an evening bike ride and find ourselves pedaling by some nearby watermelon patch. Somehow a nice big juicy one would make it's way into our basket, I don't know how! :D Aunt Dorothy had a large oval oak table out on the screened porch where we ate and played cards in the summer. Many a night growing up all of us kids would gather around the table and play Hearts. Occasionally my cousin Ron would "shoot the moon" successfully and win the game, to collective groans.

Right down the hall from the dining porch was the sleeping porch, a screened-in area large enough for a double bed. If the night wasn't too hot, and there was a little breeze, it was a fabulous place to look up at the stars and fall asleep. We didn't have to worry about intruders in those days, we grew up "topsy" as our mom used to say, running barefooted around the ranch, climbing trees and wading through the irrigation ditches.

Someone built a platform high up in the oak tree out in front of Aunt Dorothy's, and little wooden bar "steps" were hammered in the trunk so we could climb up. We had a bucket on a rope we'd lower down for treats. There was no rail around the platform, but somehow we didn't fall!

Aunt Dorothy had a collection of her mother's dresses, skirts and blouses that we cousins were allowed to play dress up in. Then there were the antique dolls and doll buggy that we got to push around. We have some really sweet photos of all of us cousins dressed up in Grandminnie's clothes. Minnie didn't want to be called Grandma, so Grandminnie it was. I didn't even realize how unusual that was until I grew up and realized no one else had a name like that!

At different times Aunt Dorothy invited pairs of cousins to travel down to their home in L.A. with her. This was a huge treat, as we were farm kids who had traveled very little in those days. My cousin Holly and I got to go together one summer, and everything in the big city was new and exciting. First she took us clothes shopping and we got to pick out identical (there it is again!) play suits with zippers up the front. I remember especially a visit to Old Town on Olvera St. The sights and smells were so different and exciting to me.

When we were young the farm was planted in young orchards that were not producing yet, so times were lean for our family. My mom and dad would put our gifts in a pillow case for us to save money on gift wrap. There was nothing extra for birthday parties or anything like that, so it was always exciting when Aunt Dorothy's birthday and Christmas gifts would arrive in the mail. I still have the felt Christmas stockings she sewed for mom, dad, Jan and I, each one different. They have become family treasures...

Our farm goes down to the river's edge, and we had many happy picnics with aunts and uncles, cousins and friends on the sand bar over the decades. Everyone would drive down in their pick up or jeep, and put the food out on the tailgates. Then roasting sticks were cut off the bushes and we'd have a weenie roast with S'mores for dessert.

Aunt Dorothy used to take us blackberry pickin' down by the river, along about the middle of July. We'd have to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and go early in the morning before it got too hot. If we were lucky, we'd get enough berries (after liberal tasting, of course) to make up some pies or cobblers. One time Aunt D. came home, made her pie, and set it out on the back stoop to cool. Our dog Joe, a family favorite with all of us, grabbed the pie in his jaws and brought it all the way over to our house and ceremoniously put it down on our step. Unfortunately no one got to eat it!

When we were strong enough swimmers we were allowed to float down the river from up above to our sandbar, using old tractor tire inner tubes to hold on to. We must have grown up with angels on our shoulders as we all thankfully survived these summer escapades!

 Uncle Ronny, myself and Aunt Dorothy dressed up in Hawaiian
hats and leis I brought back from a summer trip in 1968

As I grew older Aunt Dorothy remained a very important person in my life. Through college I always had those summers home to look forward to, and her letters arrived regularly during the school year. Her life became a blueprint for my own, as I married and had children. She stayed home with her children and spent her extra time volunteering with Scouts and school projects as did I.

Then after my children reached a certain age in school I felt it was time to get a full-time teaching position to help prepare for college expenses in the future. I always felt that Aunt Dorothy is a natural born teacher. Instead of teaching in the classroom, she has spent her lifetime teaching all of us!

A formal portrait of Ronny and Dorothy

In 1980 Ronny retired from the Bank of America and they sold their home in San Marino and came north to retire on Jenkins Farms. They demolished the old homestead and built a beautiful new home on the property, continually working to improve the surrounding grounds and gardens.

Their new home has been the setting for countless gatherings of family and friends, all of whom enjoy coming home to the farm.

Aunt Dorothy continues to spend her days writing and researching her many projects, and working in the gardens.

Yesterday when I went to visit her for her 96th birthday she was outside marveling over a new plant that was brought from Raymond Villa in Pasadena, where her parents were married. She had never seen this kind of plant so she's excited about researching its name and learning all about it...

Aunt Dorothy is the consummate family historian. Here she is with Uncle Ronny and my dad, Bruce, in front of the 450 year old blue oak tree just steps from where she was born in the original ranch house.

She has written and published two books, Jenkins Farms, and Under The Blue Oak, about all the peoples who have lived under that tree since it took root.

My dad, Bruce, his sister, Dorothy, and my mom, Mary, in front of my home.

My mom's father, Dr. Higgins, delivered Aunt Dorothy in the house under the big blue oak. When my mom married my dad, she and Aunt Dorothy became as close as sisters.

I've always said that Aunt Dorothy is like a 2nd mother to me, and now you know why.

My mom and dad are gone now, so I'm doubly thankful for her love, all the years of my life.

Thank you Cousin Ron, for the formal portrait.

1 comment:

MsJimmi said...

Very nicely done cousin. A fitting tribute to a lovely lady. I too enjoy so many memories of the oak tree in the summer and spending time at Aunt Dorothy's. Remember drying the fruit on the screens..trying not to eat them all before they were "ready?"
Hugs, cousin Linda