Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tribute to Mom

This post was originally published on Tangled Roots and Trees on Mother's Day 2014. She died four months later:

I wonder how many of us in the U.S. are writing about our mothers today. I thought long and hard about it as my mother is still alive but she deserves a tribute on this special day. I hope I can do her influence on my life justice.

Mom and Dad on the day of their marriage 15 November 1957; personal

Once many years ago my siblings and their spouses descended on Mom and Dad's for a holiday. My youngest brother had recently taken some sort of personality test at work that consisted of 50 questions. We all had a good laugh when we discovered my husband and my mother had the same personality. They had answered 49 of the 50 questions exactly the same. The joke ever since has been I married my mother. And that's a very good thing!

She is stronger than anyone I know, but let Dad take care of her 55 years of their 57-year marriage. Now, during the last two years, she has become the caregiver. She has very firm ideas about wifely duties and child rearing that might make your hair stand on end if you consider yourself a liberated, modern woman. Yet she encouraged me to be strong, independent and be a partner not subservient in my marriage.

My middle brother, Mom and I at National Memorial Park in Falls Church
Virginia on Easter, visiting the grave of my paternal grandfather; personal

She guarded her children as fiercely as a momma bear but never once blamed the teachers as many parents do today when their children get in trouble. We were punished if we misbehaved in school; the teacher was always right.

I was pigeon-toed as a child. Mom would fuss at me about it and even now at the ripe old age of 55, I look down occasionally to be sure I'm walking with my toes pointed straight ahead. When I see an adult walk the way I did as a child, I admit I wonder why their Mom didn't fix that!

Mom was sure I must have musical talent. Her father played a brass instrument in a marching band and the violin. I should have piano lessons. We bought a used piano and I began taking lessons with wife of our church's musical director. I had wonderful form, but absolutely no talent. I played the piece as well the first time as the fiftieth. But Mom wouldn't let me quit. Until one day, when I came home from school, she told a story on herself. She was in the kitchen getting ready to clean up after breakfast and she heard someone playing the piano. Since the only person in the house that played was me, she was sure I was late for school. She came in the room to tell me to stop practicing and get to school and discovered our Beagle walking up and down the keyboard, shredding a tissue. Quitting my lessons was only one of the very few battles I won. My argument was simple. If she couldn't tell the difference between my playing and the dog's, I had no talent.

Mom feeding my youngest brother; photograph taken in 1968; personal

I was not only the tallest girl in elementary and junior high school, I was the tallest student in the entire school. In the 9th grade I met a girl who was almost as tall as me. She slumped so she would appear shorter. This seemed like a wonderful solution to my embarrassing height problem so I mimicked her slump. My mother disabused me of that behavior in short order.

We had our differences, especially when I was about 14 to 16 years old. I thought she had become a mad woman overnight and she thought the same about me! But for all the years since then she has been my best friend. There's nothing we can't talk about. But most importantly, she's my mother first. She still fusses at me and worries about me and wants the best for me.

A recent photograph of Mom and Dad taken in April 2014;
personal collection

I once told her I hoped I would die before her as I didn't think I could stand it without her in my life. I was totally unprepared for her reaction. She broke down completely and started crying. She said it's natural for a child to lose a parent but it is unnatural for a parent to lose a child. She begged me to stop thinking such thoughts. I have tried. Honestly, I have. But I still don't know how I will survive the deaths of my parents. They are the most wonderful people and gave my brothers and me an idyllic childhood and have been rocks to lean against as adults.

'Mom and Children,' personal colleciton
'Mom and Children at Cemetery,' personal collection
'Mom and Dad at Indian Beach, 2014' personal collection
'Mom and Dad Wedding, Cutting the Cake' personal collection

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tribute to Dad

This post was originally published on Tangled Roots and Trees on Father's Day 2014:

Today is Father's Day in the U.S. So I am writing about my Dad. He and Mom gave my brothers and me an idyllic childhood and we are very lucky we can still share our lives with them.

My favorite photo of Dad on his boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay. 
You can tell from the wake, he is going his favorite speed: Fast; personal

Dad's name is Charles Theodore Jennings; he was born in East St Louis, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St Louis in 1931. His parents were Marvin Edward and Alice (Muir) Jennings. His father was a clerk for the railroad and my Dad was their youngest son. They moved to Washington, DC in 1941 when my grandfather took a job with the federal government. A year later, they bought a home in Arlington, Virginia.

My grandmother says Dad was quite a hell-raiser in his youth. He drank beer, got into bar brawls and raced cars. Grandma used to tell stories about Dad's wild side and he was none too happy about it. As a rebuttal he would tell a story about when he did something good. Once my brother told him, "Dad, that story is a repeat. Grandma is still telling new ones!"

Dad racing his sprint car sometime in the 1950s; personal collection

My Mother's parents didn't like him and didn't go to their wedding, though they changed their mind about Dad after seeing the way he treated their daughter and his children.

Mom and Dad at their wedding; personal colleciton

Dad worked out of our house, which was unusual in the 1960s, but great for his children. He was always home when we came home from school. He was the coach of every team sport my brothers and I played until I decided to try soccer at the age of 17. He told me he didn't know anything about soccer. Even though he didn't coach, he attended every practice and every game.

Dad graduating from Columbia Technical Institute as class
valedictorian; personal collection

When I was in high school he and I attended every varsity football and basketball game, home or away, and later we branched out to wrestling matches. He asked once if anyone was asking me out on dates and was appalled when I replied, "Yes, but I turn them down so we can go together."

Once the big man on campus asked me out on a date and stood me up.  Dad took his very sad daughter out for ice cream and told me how to handle him if he ever called again. And BMOC did call again and I handled him just like Dad explained. It felt great. I was pleasant, never acted like being stood up bothered me, and turned him down every time he asked me out in the future.

I almost married my high school sweetheart but was conflicted. I went to Dad for advice. He said, "I think he'd make a good husband to you, be a good father to your children, but will he be a good provider for your family?" I thought long and hard about that and decided I'd out grown my high school flame. And I thank the heavens for that every day.

Our family after we "acquired" my first sister-in-law; personal collection

After I started working, he continued to give the perfect advice at the perfect time. "When you make a mistake," he told me, "don't wait for someone else to mention it; own it and own the solution." As children, we never heard Dad brag about us, but would hear about it from other people. It made us all proud.

Dad is 82 years old now and still with us and for that our family is very blessed.  He's had major cerebral hemorrhages during the last 10 years that have begun to affect his mind and he can no longer speak much. But even when life has gotten hard, Dad still maintains his happy-go-lucky, sunny outlook on life. He's still teaching me important things.

The manner in which Dad has lived his entire life has made it so easy to love and cherish him and want to do anything for him to make him happy. He was the genealogist in our family for years. He and Mom would often take research field trips to look for old family records. My gift to him, and to myself, is taking that research over so it doesn't die. We talk about what I've discovered every time I visit and I hope he loves every minute of our genealogy discussions.

Dad clowning around

I am the luckiest daughter in the world.

'Dad and His Boat,' personal collection
'Dad Clowning Around,' personal collection
'Dad Racing His Sprint Car,' personal collection
'Dad's Graduating as Valedictorian,' personal collection
'Mom and Dad Wedding,' personal collection
'Ted Jennings, Sr., Family,' personal collection

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Memories of Marvin and Millie (Lange) Jennings

I always say I don't have an immediate family; I have an extended immediate family because I basically had two sets of parents. My father and his brother, Marvin Edward Jennings, Jr., married sisters. Uncle Marvin married Rachel Mildred "Millie" Lange. and Dad married Dorothy Ailein Lange.

When I was 5 months old my parents purchased their first home in Arlington, Virginia. Uncle Marvin had purchased their first home in Vienna, Virginia. On Friday nights the two families gathered for pizza and games of cards. Even before I was old enough to understand the relationship, my cousin, Joyce Jennings, was my best friend. Every time I spent the night at their house, Aunt Millie would cook my favorite dinners and breakfasts. Before bed she would create fabulous root beer floats. That was living!

After croquet. Left to right: Charles Theodore Jennings, Jr.; Charles Theodore
Jennings, Sr.; Joann Marie Jennings; Joyce Elaine Jennings holding Sammy;
Marvin Edward Jennings, Jr.; Schalene Jennings

Uncle Marvin taught me how to pitch and bat a softball and Aunt Millie taught me how to score baseball and softball games -- something I've enjoyed doing whenever I go to the ballpark to watch a game.

In 1967 our family moved to Vienna across town from Uncle Marvin and Aunt Millie. When I was a teenager, Mom and I used to fight from time to time about goodness knows what. In a huff, I would walk to Aunt Millie's house. I don't remember if I ever discussed the details of the fights, but she always made me feel loved.

Our families used to vacation together frequently and during the summer I turned 13, I stayed in Germany with Uncle Marvin and Aunt Millie. Those are some of my favorite memories.

Airport send off. Left to right: Charles Theodore Jennings; Schalene Jennings,
Dorothy (Lange) Jennings holding John Edward Jennings; Ruth (Lange) Meek;
Millie (Lange) Jennings; Charles Theodore Jennings, Jr. (with camera); Alice
(Muir) Jennings; Joyce Elaine Jennings; Joann Marie Jennings; 1970 at
Dulles International Airport; personal collection

In 1977 Uncle Marvin took a job as the town manager of Aurora, North Carolina, and he and Aunt Millie moved there. Mom and Dad moved to nearby Pamlico County the next year. A few years after that Uncle Marvin and Aunt Millie built a home next door to Mom and Dad's. All four of them played golf and would take off in Uncle Marvin's van with their clubs and luggage to all parts of the U.S. and Canada for weeks at a time.

Our families were always back and forth across the yards visiting and Mom and I were frequent visitors at Aunt Millie's for coffee in the mornings. We fished together, waterskied, played cards and on and on together. Memories that will stay with me forever!

Morning coffee. Mom and I at Aunt Millie and Uncle Marvin's house in
Pamlico County; personal collection

'After croquet,' personal collection
'Airport Send Off,' personal collection
'Morning coffee,' personal collection

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rachel Mildred "Millie" (Lange) Jennings Headstone

Rachel Mildred "Millie" (Lange) Jennings was interred in National Memorial Park in Arlington, County, Virginia.

Rachel Mildred "Millie" (Lange) Jennings Headstone, personal collection

Rachel Mildred "Millie" (Lange) Jennings Headstone, personal collection

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rachel Mildred "Millie" (Lange) Jennings Obituary

Mrs. Mildred Lange Jennings, 81, wife of Marvin Jennings, died Friday, October 16, 2009 at Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill. The daughter of Gustav and Wilhelmina Schalin Lange, Mrs. Jennings was native to Cheltenham, MD. She was a graduate of Gwynn Park High School; and she was a homemaker. Funeral services will be 11 AM Tuesday at Jamieson Memorial United Methodist Church with the Reverend Walt Westbrook officiating. Interment and graveside services will be 2 PM Wednesday at National Cemetery in Falls Church, VA. In addition to her husband, Mrs. Jennings is survived by her daughters and sons-in-law, Joyce and Bill Woodfin and Joann and David Wallenburn and her granddaughter, Rachel Jennings. Her sister, Dorothy Jennings and brothers, Arthur, Herbert and Philip Lange also survive.

Washington Post, 19 October 2009