Happy Birthday, Lulu–From Farm Girl to World Traveler

Happy Birthday, Lulu–From Farm Girl to World Traveler

For years, I wanted to understand Lulu Frances, the girl who became the woman who was my grandmother. She was always “Gram,” the person who rescued me and raised me, the person who offered me the gifts of music and culture. She also grew to be fierce and scary, out of control at times with her anger. But Lulu’s beauty and innocence in the early photographs I have make me feel tender toward her.  Perhaps they reveal her original self, who she was before she was hurt or disappointed or  lost. Maybe she was lost even then—I’ll never know. The photographs of Lulu when she was young are the ones that stop my heart.

In that little girl above I see wistfulness, resignation, and a clear eyed view toward her future. She told me of her big imagination then, how she’d run through the corn fields laughing as the big leaves slapped at her body. Her world, if she had not escaped it would have been years of washing, childbirth, rough hands, and more resignation. Perhaps even then she was wanting something more. It is the girl who wanted something more, and got it, that I celebrate today. It’s her birthday, and I have spent years trying to understand her. Through writing Song of the Plains, I believe I have woven the fragments of story together and can honor her. Certainly I have forgiven her for the years of abuse. My guess is that she might have needed to forgive herself. That when she was older and dying slowing of smoking and depression, her young life was a dream.

By the time this photo was taken, she had eloped–gasp–an act that was “against the rules” in 1911. She escaped her working class background by marrying up. Her husband, Blaine, was 18 years old, she was barely 17, and they scandalized their families and community. No, she was not pregnant.

Miss Lulu Garrett, who resides at the Stineman home, had been united in Marriage to Blaine Hawkins at Des Moines, IA, on April 4. The letter which conveyed the announcement of the nuptial event was from Miss Garrett. Mrs. Hawkins, who is less than eighteen years of age and has been a student of the Muscatine high school, left this city at the opening of the spring vacation and declared at that time that she was going to Sterling, Ill., to visit with the La Grille family, formerly of Muscatine. It appears, however, that the girl proceeded to Des Moines, where she met Mr. Hawkins and the matrimonial event took place that had been previously planned.The groom is the son of R. G. Hawkins, editor of the Wapello Republican, and is well known at Wapello. He left there a short time ago for Des Moines and had been employed as a printer in the Capital City. He is under 20 years of age. The many Muscatine friends of Mrs. Hawkins will be surprised to hear of her marriage, as not the slightest intimation had been given out as to the romantic turn which affairs were given.

Years later, when I met my grandfather, Blaine, I could sense the electricity between them. Even at the age of eight, I sensed a history through their body  language, the way that words hung in the air. I would spend my life trying to find out their story. It’s in my book Song of the Plains.

It’s this woman, traveling by herself in the 1930’s that I discovered in my research. Four times she traveled on the Ausonia, the Montclaire, the Duchess of Bedford to England, staying a month at a time. She traveled on buses and trains, traveled to Scotland, to Ireland, and soaked in the history and the landscape she loved so much. She used to say to me, “I stood in front of a castle and knew that I was born at the wrong time.” So romantic she was.

The Ausonia

Following in her footsteps–I didn’t know these details about her travels until I researched her in Ancestry,com, I have traveled to England and Scotland, and I would take her with me, the few shreds of stories I had. I too visited castles, ruins, and took tea in London. This year I found out through the DNA test that we are 75% English. Well, some things ARE inherited!

I celebrate you Lulu for the courage for the life you lived, at least for a while. I wish you good travels today.