On What We Leave Behind: Writing
A kind thank you to writer Paul Chiddicks who inspired this post.
My grandfather Milo Dean Mosier was a writer and I often find myself writing about him, for of all of my ancestors, I know more about his life, how he felt, and what moved him; precisely because he left behind a written record. In poems, stories and hundreds of letters his voice emerges. From the crumpled letter he never sent to the slim book of poetry he self published for family and friends, his life I am privileged to know, because he had the courage to put the words upon the page.
I would be remiss if I did not mention here, his mother, Mary ‘Lulu’ Paden Mosier. Lulu, who upon leaving Minneapolis on a train headed for San Francisco, began writing in earnest in a supreme act of courage, which arguably would change her life. Lulu’s diary was supposed to have been destroyed by her daughter when she died—but Jessie thought better of it and I am grateful that it is preserved. In its pages we watch the transformation of a women from overworked, brow-beaten wife and mother of eight children, to a woman who finally confronts her husband over his abuse and leaves him. Without those pages how would I know who she was? Her first substantial entry before her trip West:
“ Sept 12 1913 Friday morning dawned bright and fair in Col. Hgts [Columbia Heights]. Cool enough for winter coats, Our cosmos won’t bloom but the sweet alyssum and nasturtiums and dahlias are doing splendid, In the afternoon Mrs Schreveder and I and baby Ruth went to the Bijou to see the Battle of Gettysburg. It was a moving picture in 5 reels. Romance, patriotism, love and devotion, fidelity to duty, heroic bravery, and cruel wars inexorable toll of human lives were enacted before us with wonderful cleanness and realism. Lincoln’s speech at the dedication of the monument was beautifully shown, his sad countenance moving with feeling the placid shawl over his shoulders and the crowd standing about in old-fashioned garb made it seem very realm and left a lasting impression of the unspeakable horrors of war.”
I know she was a kindred spirit just from this small bit of prose. Knowing that Milo and I follow Lulu’s impulse to write makes me smile. Milo was lucky to have siblings he kept in touch with via letter and in their last decades they reminisce in letters telling childhood stories. Milo typed most of his letters on an old black Standard Royal Typewriter [that I remember well] and he kept carbon copies of his letters!
So for most of the last ten years of his life I have both sides of the correspondence. Milo’s sister Lolita writes: “You mentioned a poem you wrote in the 8th grade, for which Miss Shea hugged you. I remember the assignment that inspired it. I believe she wrote 4 or 5 words on the black board and requested the class to write a sentence—composition or anything they desired using the words—like brook, path—pool etc. She liked yours so much she read it to our class. Of course I was proud of my big brother….Any way I will try & remember what I can of your poem—
The little brooklet ripples along,
Over its path of gold
It curves around a rock
To form a pool, clear and cold.
So was this one of many incidents that spurred Milo’s writing? Sadly Lolita recounts “Miss Shea became ill…never came back and died during the following summer vacation.” [Note: Miss Mary Teresa Shea was born 1858 in NY of Irish parents Michael & Bridget Shea. She died 8 Jan 1917 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, San Francisco, California] Let it been known that she is remembered here as someone who appreciated the aspiring writer.
Before Milo left Minneapolis his mother Lulu took him as a boy to the University for classes on mycology (the study of mushrooms) as recorded on the back of a photo of her in his hand and mentioned in his Eulogy. If we are lucky enough to inherit the ephemera of a relative we hold the threads of many stories. And the genesis of so much more. A letter to Milo in 1957 from his older brother Leo: “Thank you for the tear sheet with your poem and comments of Jack Burroughs [Oakland Tribune, columnist]. Carrie [ Leo’s wife] thinks the poem exceptional, and wonders where you got your fine vocabulary and the ability to write so well. I’m not surprised, because I have known it as part of you ever since I can remember. Some day you should gather up your poems and publish them in book form.” [In 1967 Milo had completed that task!] Rather than tell fanciful tales of our ancestors we can ground their stories in their own words and those that knew them best.
Milo went from attending Crocker Intermediate School to Polytechnic High School both in San Francisco. He replies to a letter to Lolita: “You mentioned not knowing why I left home, but you did at the time; because we talked about it, at least once. I didn’t see you much after that until I came back from France [WWI] You told me, a day or so after the incident, that the Old Man had said, ‘Now see what you did—You made Milo Leave home.’ I went into the room to see what he was doing to you, and he grabbed me by the vest front and threw me out like a bean-bag. I think it possible that my leaving had some effect on him; I don’t know—He always liked me, but I didn’t know that he had beaten you, the way you described.” So in those few lines we know the why of Milo’s leaving home and subsequently not finishing high school. We know why Lolita never spoke of her childhood to her grandchildren. We know a bit more detail than in Lulu’s diary of the level of abuse. And we have a reason for the interwoven shame Milo carried at not being able to protect his younger sister and not finishing his education.
While his formal education ceased in 1916 his life education had just begun. His first employment in 1915 to 1916 was as an apprentice jeweler. We do not know with whom he stayed after he left home and school behind. He worked as a clerk and delivery boy at a grocery store and as an apprentice at Quayle’s Motor Works learning Electric motor repair. But none of the jobs he would have in nearly fifty years would account for his interest in writing. There was a bit of the wander lust in Milo that took him to France in WWI and into the Pacific in WWII. I can know that wherever he went there was probably a book of verse in hand. He like his mother was an avid reader with a particular fondness for verse. Here the first of the poems in his book Artifacts:
Peace, Lord to us: we stand
with wet feet on the sand
Of thy great sea.
Even now our boat is manned
Its program taped and scanned,
To launch us from the strand
As Vikings free.
Far though the deeps expand,
Farther thy mansions grand—
Adorn the astral land—
Perhaps with cities planned
By such as we.
O Lord of Heaven’s band,
When Space at last is spanned,
Teach us to hold the hand
That erst, with bloody brand,
The flames of hatred fanned
In mock of Thee. . .Amen.
Appeared in the Oakland Tribune 27th of November 1957
In a 1964 letter to Leo he writes; “ You keep referencing your Great Books discussion class. Is this in any way connected with the Britannica edition of the Great Books? Before I retired I bought that set of books, knowing I wouldn’t be able to afford them. Oddly I find little time to read them. I enjoy Fielding and Rousseau, but I disliked the emasculated translation of Aristophanes. In the Lysistrata at least.” The comments of a well read writer, I should say. I can’t claim to have read Aristophanes, have you? I remember these books and Milo’s thumbing through them from time to time usually during a highly heated discussion with my father over some point being debated. In verbal combat they sometimes appeared to be mortal enemies with fists pounding on the dining room table to be followed only a few minutes later with happy banter and then snoring as they both fell asleep “watching” the television.
A writer is someone who writes. No more, no less. His or her education can be self driven or from the pages of life. It doesn’t really matter. What matters to me as a family historian is that the few ancestors whose words are preserved, leave landmarks for me in my own life, touchstones to a past I may never know, but carry within my DNA. I was reflecting on this post and thought why I am writing about this now? And it came to me—-I am nearly the same age as Milo when he died. Life is short, time’s a wasting. Don’t worry about what you write or how well you will write—please just start writing now. I will close this post with another of Milo’s poems. In this case a Haiku, to show that even just 17 syllables can tell a story.
The snowflake settles
Where once these barren branches
Dropped cherry petals.
Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved.