Songs to Raise Girls: The Humpty Dumpty Blues

This is Malcolm K. Ottaway, my father, singing the Humpty Dumpty Blues in 2009.

He made them up when I was two. Here are the two stories that my mother would tell and that I finally linked.

In the early 1960s my parents married at age 21 and were both going to the University of Tennessee. They married in June and I was born the next March. In a tuberculosis sanatorium, because my mother started coughing blood at 8 months pregnant. She thought she was going to die. She didn’t die, but after I was born she did not hold me again until I was nine months old. I was suspicious of adults by then, because they kept giving me away.

My parents had music parties, where my father played guitar. My mother had a prodigious memory and would remember every verse, so she was the last one singing. My mother said, “At one party you wanted your father to play Humpty Dumpty. He wouldn’t. You were the only child there. You kept asking. Finally he made up the Humpty Dumpty Blues. You were so angry at him that you stomped your feet at him and everyone laughed.”

And the second story: “One morning after a party, your father picked up his guitar. It RATTLED. It had 17 beer bottle caps in it. We checked and not one person had seen you pick up a beer bottle cap or put it through the strings. It took your father hours to slide the bottle caps out from under the strings with a butter knife.”

Well, that will teach him to not sing a song for the two year old. At any rate, he sang the Humpty Dumpty Blues my whole life. I don’t remember the original party or sliding bottle caps through the strings. I must have done it after the party was over, right? Did I go during the party and pick up every cap I could find, or did I already have a hidden stash? Two year olds can be sneaky, apparently.

At any rate, I am very happy to have the recording now, even though the original made me stomp my feet.

The photograph is of me, in about 1963 or 64. I don’t know who took it, but it was taken at Lake Matinenda, in Ontario, Canada.

Songs to Raise Girls: three songs

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today is memorize, and oh, what I have memorized! I saw a t-shirt at the Nowhereelse Festival in Ohio that said, “My memory is 80% lyrics.” Yes, me too, a mix of songs, poetry and books that I have read. My sister Chris and I were busily memorizing songs as soon as we could. Here are three very educational songs for young girls. The last one we learned from our cousin, who was a girl scout and a girl scout leader. She was in the calendar one year, making cookies. I was very very impressed and a little jealous.

I bought a four hour recording session at a silent auction and the recordings are me and my sister and my father. We did them in two sessions. We made a list of songs and lost it immediately so we all took turns suggesting songs. My mother had already died of cancer. My sister died in 2012 and my father in 2013. I am so glad to have these recordings. We called it Mocoko for Malcolm Ottaway, Chris Ottaway and Katherine Ottaway. We sang most of them just once and so they are not polished, but I still am happy to have them.

Bridget O’Flynn

I sang Bridget O’Flynn to my daughter when she called me about dancing. “Mom! I love to twirl!” Um, well, yes, your parents met at a contra dance at Glenn Echo Park in Maryland. We love to twirl too.

Late in the evening

A cautionary song, an old barbershop quartet song, that we sang.

Fascinating Lady

I wonder if the girl scouts still sing this.

The photograph is my son scaring me. Ok, that boulder is sitting there balanced BUT! GET OUT OF THERE! Taken in Palm Springs in 2011 up on the mesa. Beautiful.

Unexpected hero

When I first think about divorce, I call my sister.

I say, “I am thinking about a divorce.”

She replies, “YOU don’t want to be a single mom.”

I think, well, crap, that is true. Me: “I AM a single mom. It’s just that one of them is FIFTY.”

My sister proceeds to tell me how difficult it is to be a single mother.

I have to self examine my OWN prejudices against single mothers.

Then I wade in, to solo and couples counseling, for a year. My ex fires our couples counselor after a YEAR. He says the counselor is on my side. “We have been talking to him for a year!” I protest.

“I want a new one,” says my then husband.

I find a new one. I am filling out the paperwork. It asks, what is your goal?

That is the moment I decide: I write “Amicable divorce.”

The two years before that moment, I am not sure. I am trying very very hard to see if it can be fixed. But it takes two to tango and my then husband will not tango. Not one step.

We were each attracted to something specific in the other person. My then husband did not want to work at any sort of traditional job. His father would come home angry from work for years. I loved working, always.

I was a terribly serious child, growing up in an alcoholic family, and I have food insecurity. That is, at some deep level, I always worry about whether there will be food. When I meet my then husband he says that his goal is “To have fun every day.”

This slays me. Have fun? And he WAS fun. Biking, jitterbug dancing, he was a tennis and golf pro, he was smart, well read, divorced from a marriage of convenience to a lesbian to cover so she could be a small town librarian. Really? Yes, really. I demanded to see the divorce papers before we got married. My then husband thought I was very very funny and I thought he was too.

When we divorce, people tell me he will never pay child support. He won’t stay in contact with the kids. There are a lot of opinions.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. My ex returns to school, gets a “displaced homemaker scholarship” because he was a househusband (yeah, I said he was smart). He goes to nursing school and gets an RN. “You’ve yammered about medicine at me for fourteen years, I might as well.”

He gave me hell about us living in an “old person’s” town. Then in nursing school he calls. “Hey, I’m doing a rotation. Guess what it is.”

“Don’t know, what?”

“Nursing home.”

I laugh.

“I LOVE these OLD PEOPLE.” he says. And he DOES. He is wonderful with them. He works in a nursing home for years. He gives scholarships to the medical assistants when they leave for nursing school. He brings coffee to his medical assistants and the other staff. He drives by on his day off because one elderly woman will only take her medicine if he gives it to her. He gets pianos for the nursing homes. He does memory loss concerts, where he tries to engage memory loss folks. We store music as entire songs, or entire albums, so if someone starts a song, they can often go through the whole thing. He can sometimes get someone singing who no longer can string a sentence together. Families love it.

Early in covid he calls me. “I have covid.”

“Sh-t.” I say. “Are you ok?”

“Oh, yeah. Everyone at the facility has it. Two staff didn’t so we sent them home. We are working sick because there isn’t anyone else.”

“Holy crap.”

“Yeah, it’s a little depressing. My memory loss folks can look ok at the start of the shift and are dead by the end.”

A quarter of the patients die. This is before the vaccine. My ex sails through covid, says he doesn’t feel bad, for him it’s just a cold. He says, “I miss some of them.” Yeah, holy crap.

So another hero. And he paid the child support every single month and stayed in touch with his kids in his own odd way. “Mom, he tells me about his golf shots,” says my daughter. I laugh, “Yeah. Well, he loves you.” “I don’t care about golf.” she says. “I know, me either,” I say.

The photograph was taken with my camera by my friend Amelia in 2014, I think. It is me and my ex, seven years after the divorce was final.

I read this to my ex prior to posting. Posted with his approval.

Family

The photograph is from left to right, my sister Christine Robbins Ottaway, my (sort of but not blood) cousin Katy, and me. This is a fourth of July. We wanted to DO something. We were at my maternal grandparents’ in Trumansburg, New York. My mother suggested that we dress up and do a presentation. We wore her 1950s prom dresses, held a small parade involving three dogs and a cat who were also in costume, and read the Declaration of Independance and the Preamble to the Constitution to a group of adults in lawn chairs. This was in lieu of fireworks. We had fun but we still missed fireworks.

I am thinking about asking. I could not ask my mother for specific things I wanted as a child. She would get me a different and cheaper alternative. If I was disappointed, I would be guilt tripped or humiliated. I did not ask my father for things either. He would make and break promises, too sick from alcohol or he would have forgotten. I stopped asking because I did not like being disappointed and I did not like being shamed. Once I really really wanted something for Christmas. My sister and I made a quiet deal, showing each other exactly which toy we longed for. Then we each shopped with our mother and insisted on the toy the other wanted. Our mother did try to talk each of us out of the toy. We had arranged it so that we were spending the same amount of money: $20. She thought that was outrageous and that something cheaper would do just as well. We both stood our ground on the other’s behalf and then open the presents on Christmas day with faked surprise and real joy. We did NOT tell our mother.

On an earlier Christmas I sewed my sister a toy stuffed snake. My mother was discouraging, but she let me have cloth and needle and thread. “Why do you want to make her a snake? A snake?” I couldn’t really explain well. We had gone to a county fair and my sister and I both longed for the velvet snakes, six feet long and deep red. The snake I made for my sister was only a foot and a half long and I had flowered fabric, not velvet. I coiled it in a circle and wrapped it. My sister was delighted with it and held it all Christmas morning. My mother just shook her head. “A snake.” she muttered.

The things that I could ask for were books and music. I was the kid that the teacher would hand the scholastic book box to after she handed out one or two books to the other kids. I would order 20 books. My father said I could have as many as I wanted as long as I read them all. The only books I avoided were about television or movies. I loved a non fiction book about WWI Flying Aces. The technology of the airplanes and the problem of bullets ricocheting off the propeller were amazing. I also liked that it talked about the ACEs on both sides: German, English, French, American.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: ask.

I don’t know who took the photograph. I think it was one of my grandparents. Oh, I think “cousin” Adam is in the picture too, though he is nearly hidden behind the flag.

Sun tui

A photograph of a photograph. This is my father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, sailing Sun Tui, our 1960s boat. A 23 foot sloop built in Hong Kong by American Marine. The tiller is a dragon with the world in it’s mouth and inside there is a carving of Kwan Yin.

My father died in 2013. I still have the boat. Needs some work, but hoping I can sail again soon.

I can’t credit the original photographer because I don’t know who it is. It might have been me.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: sail.

A dragon with the world in her mouth.
Carving of Kwan Yin (or Guan Yin).
Sun Tui.

Juneteenth and Father’s Day

Juneteenth and Father’s Day, I am celebrating and thinking of both, and missing my father and my grandfathers. Yesterday was a delayed memorial for my ex mother-in-law. I loved her and we stayed in touch and I continued to visit her and also loved her second husband. He was another grandfather to my children. We had six grandparents, with my ex’s parents divorcing a year after he and I married. Now we have one living. My paternal aunts and uncle have stepped in as the parents and grandparents that are missing for me and my children.

The pressman is my paternal grandfather Kenyon Charles Ottaway. Or Charles Kenyon? Now I need to ask my Aunts. I do not know what year that was taken. He was head pressman in Knoxville Tennessee in the early 1960s. He went by Ken. My Aunt Pat adds that he was nicknamed “Inky” and that the above photograph was taken in Bridgeport, CT. On the back it says ’45, so our guess is 1945.

My father, me, and my sister Chris.

The second photograph is my father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, and me and my sister. My father went by Mac.

Jubilee for freedom and for both father’s day and Juneteenth. I miss my parents and my grandparents, love to all of them. Hooray for Sweet Honey in the Rock, too.

Sending love and peace.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: jubilee.

Z is for Zarasthustra

Last day of April A to Z, blogging about Women Artists and particularly Helen Burling Ottaway, my mother. Can you name five women artists now?

This etching is from 1975. I was fourteen years old. I remember my parents discussing titles of etchings. My father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, would often help title them. This etching is titled “Thus spoke Zarasthustra”. I wish that my parents were alive so that I could ask about this etching. Why Friedrich Nietzsche? When I am fourteen, my father receives his MA in mathematics and leaves SUNY Binghampton for a job at General Electric in Alexandria, Virginia. We move from New York State to Virginia and I start high school that year. I think that Alexandria was a much better place for my mother, all the art and artists, than for my father.

I hope that you have had a wonderful month in April: and I hold those in my heart in the war zones or who are lost and suffering.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

V is for La Vague

I am blogging from A to Z on women artists.

My father would pretend to speak French, but he spoke terrible French. Right after high school my mother went to Europe with her parents. They traveled and she stayed in Paris, doing art. Her French was much better than his.

Helen Burling Ottaway was influenced particularly by Japanese art and the empty space on the page. We have an ancestor named Morris Temple. I have a photograph of him in his Civil War uniform and of his wife. He was the owner of Temple Pumps. However, the family story is that he was more interested in Japanese art then pumps and proceeded to “run the company in to the ground”. I do not actually know if this is true. My maternal grandfather’s mother was Tessie Temple, and Morris Temple was her father. My middle name is Temple and my cousin is Fred Temple Burling II but goes by Temple, as my maternal grandfather did. He was F. Temple Burling I.

My mother started a series of paintings of Mount Rainier after she moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1996. I think that she planned to do fifty views or one hundred. She did not get to finish the series but I do have some of them. La Vague and the views of Rainier are tributes to other artists that she loved.

This is an etching where more than one color is applied to the plate. This is a proof, so she is still messing around trying to decide what she wants as final colors for the edition.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #Christine Robbins Ottaway #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

N is for Normal.

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

My family was not Normal. No, no, not normal. I don’t think anyone is normal, really. In clinic one year I think, wow, all of my people are SO interesting. Why am I so lucky to have all of these wonderful people? And then I think: OH. Everyone is interesting. No one is “normal”. They may try really hard to pass for normal. I certainly had MY work cut out. And why is that, you say. I am so glad you asked that question!

My parents were both obsessed. My mother was obsessed with art. With music, a secondary joy. My father was all about music. Mathematics and language was his secondary joy. By age nine I discover poetry and that is it for me. That is the be all end all. I am so obsessed that I am amazed at age 40 when I make a discovery: poetry is not it for everyone.

I am fired by the hospital for fighting a clinic quota of patients. I might have kept the job if I had shut my mouth and been diplomatic, but I was not diplomatic. I write a protest song and sing it at the open mike and sing it into the CFO’s voicemail. I think I could be the poster girl for the opposite of diplomatic, right?I thought about quitting and then thought, no, I stay and fight this for my patients. I am fired the next day.

A group of people try to intervene and get me rehired. At some point I suggest sending one of my poems to the hospital commissioners. Six people email: NO!

I am confused: What do you mean, no? Why not?

YOU DO NOT COMMUNICATE WITH HOSPITAL COMMISSIONERS VIA POETRY.

I am still confused: I communicate by poetry. Poetry is the highest form of communication.

HOSPITAL COMMISSIONS DO NOT LIKE OR UNDERSTAND POETRY.

Ok, THAT is mind blowing for me. I call my father. What is this about?

My father says People are afraid of poetry.

I say You are kidding me.

My father says Poetry is magic. People are afraid of magic.

I say I’m not afraid of poetry.

That is because you are a poet, says my father.

And I really look at my thoughts on writing and poetry. I realize that writing and poetry are SO IMPORTANT to me that I assume that EVERYONE WANTS TO WRITE AND BE A POET. I ask my group of people trying to get me reinstated. None of them want to be poets. I ask my father. He does not want to be a poet. I am completely floored. I realize that I thought my mother loves art but wants to be a poet. My father loves music but wants to be a poet. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It must have been rather weird for my sister Chris, three years younger. She has three people who are all obsessed with their form of art. My sister Chris was a brilliant writer, an excellent musician and an artist. But I don’t think she was obsessed with any of them the way the rest of the family was. That must have been a little lonely.

The photograph is me and my sister in 1965. I am four and she is one year.

I say to a counselor once that in spite of alcohol problems in the family, the music was amazing and my sister and I learned it. The counselor replies, “Children connect with adults where they can.” I think OH. That is amazing. My sister and I see my father praise my mother for knowing all the words to the songs. She is always be the last one singing because she knows verse 8, 9 and 10. My sister and I assume that this is a woman’s job: memorize the words. We did. We photocopy the back of Beatles albums and on long car trips we memorize ALL THE WORDS. I think I can still sing Yellow Submarine start to finish.

I start school. I know there will be singing. No one knows my songs. The songs they know are the songs to television shows and we do not have one. I quickly go silent. I play flute and I sing all the songs in my head when I am bored, but I do not sing out loud. And I choose medicine because I want to understand people, for the writing. I still think people are very very weird. But I have written the whole time, every single day. And that is how my mother did art and how my father did music. Every single day.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link

K-k-k-Katy

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

This is a multigenerational post. I am Katy, Katherine after my maternal grandmother. The drawing is of that grandmother, done by my mother H. Ottaway in 1978. My mother mailed me the sketch diary for Christmas. My grandmother was Katy B, for Katherine Burling, and I was Katy O, for Katherine Ottaway. I have inherited a spoon that has Gertrude, Margaret and Kathryn engraved on the bowl. A different spelling, so I don’t know which Kathryn that was.

So K is for Katy. My father used to sing K-k-k-Katy to me when I was very little. It is from 1917!

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.