The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Mother’s Day


Tomorrow is another Mother’s Day, and I would like to ignore the celebration of it. I will not because I am also a grandmother, and my grandmothers were an important part of this day. Of course my grandsons will never remember this particular Mother’s Day, because they are too young. This is the Mother’s Day that my son will spend in jail. I will want to forget this one for that reason, but it will be one I will remember. That is the way it is; the things we want to forget we never can. Jacob will probably not even call me tomorrow. He has been in lock down for a couple of days because they found three shivs in the pod. That is not very comforting for any mother.

When I was growing up, my grandmothers spent Mother’s Day with us. We commemorated the day with that family snapshot from which my father was usually missing because he was behind the lens. The day was one of those rare occasions when we went to a restaurant; I can remember that thrill when my father would suddenly announce after church that we were going out to eat. That is what is missing now from the restaurant experience—that thrill is gone.


Mabel, my mother’s mother lived alone as a widow from the year I was born. She lived in a small house on North 9th Street in Indiana and rented her spare rooms to young women. Sometimes they were students from the college and sometimes office workers. They came and went with the semesters and years except for my namesake. She lived with my grandmother for years before she left to get married. Barbara was held up to my cousin and I as the example of appearance and neatness we should strive to achieve. Her clothes were ironed as smooth as silk with nary a wrinkle. I think she returned from work looking as fresh as when she left in the morning. My cousin and I never achieved her perfection.

My grandmother’s house is a still photo in my head. When I drive by it now though, it is unrecognizable. In my memory photo it is dark green with a covered front porch whose steps lead to the half-glass door with a brass mail slot and crank door buzzer. The door window is leaded glass with a daisy-like design. The front windows of the living room and dining room have transoms with patterned leaded-glass. Those features are all gone now as I am sure are all the round wooden doorknobs and the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room. Looking into the backyard, the striking blue delphiniums stood tall in summer then; I have always loved them. I wonder if they are gone too. What made her house special and memorable went with her. That is fitting.

Maternal 2Grandma grew up in Indiana County and attended the Indiana Normal School for training as a teacher. I know nothing of her teaching life though, because I never asked. She married my widower grandfather who was 20 years her senior and had children close to my grandmother’s age. My grandmother’s daughters, Ruth (my mother) and Marian, followed in Grandma’s footsteps attending what was then the Indiana State Teacher’s College to earn teaching credentials. Both of them spent most of their working years in the classroom. I rejected their teaching tradition and their college opting for the large and flashy Penn State where my father had earned his degrees. Alas, that was the wrong choice for a small-town girl who got lost in the crowd. Decades later I followed my maternal relatives through the oak grove of Indiana University of Pennsylvania to finally earn that bachelor’s degree. None of those women were there to see me get that diploma.

Grandma never had a television when I was growing up, yet I was always happy at her house. I dug sheet music out of the piano bench and pounded out halting tunes on the upright piano which she offered to give me many times (My father always said we did not have room for it.). She taught me to play Flinch as my mother later taught my children. On one occasion she took me to play in a Flinch game with her friends at the Community Center that is now home to the Jimmy Stewart Museum. Sometimes we visited Grandma’s neighbor, Violet, who was a spinster seamstress who made fudge. I loved to visit her 2nd floor apartment where her furniture all wore flowery slip-covers she had sewn. It was always the fudge that brought me though. In later years, Violet developed dementia. She would call my grandmother repeatedly at all hours; maybe it was the one thing she remembered. Cuba and Spider lived across the street, but I cannot remember much about them except for their names and that they traveled and had no children. Cuba left my mother a large turquoise and silver necklace in her will that I now own.

I do not remember any other children in this neighborhood, so perhaps I was dragged off to neighbors to show off.


My paternal grandmother lived on the farm of her married life only two miles from our house in town. I spent hours at her house playing with my cousin who lived next door. I rode my bike down the gravel side road and crashed for the first time. I twirled my baton haphazardly striking the electric fence which helped me to develop respect for its power. I climbed her tree. I walked up the hill to a cistern where my brother’s house now sits. I picked berries in patches that are now empty fields. I watched her sew and bake. I sat in her kitchen watching the lunchtime soap operas. I watched chickens running around with their heads cut off and then helped to pluck the feathers from those same chickens while hoping to find a hidden egg inside one of them. How old was I when I participated in this plucking ritual?

This grandma also became a widow the year I was born. With my birth ominously came two deaths. Grandma lost her husband quite tragically that year while she gained two granddaughters and then lost the oldest of her four sons the next year. When I think of her and my great-aunt who lost her husband, three sons and grandson before her own death, I know that the unbearable is always bearable. As a child I had no understanding of the pain that life would bring. My early life while not idyllic was very happy.

Grandma was a highly trained seamstress who could cut her own patterns and was called upon to alter and sew clothes for many relatives. She made aprons that we all wore and wish we still had. I still see myself in the red winter coat, leggings and hat that she made for me. At least I think I remember it, but maybe it is a picture that reminds me of it. I recently talked to someone about the dotted Swiss dress she made for my cousin and I in different colors. This person looked blank and said, “I don’t know what that is.” My other cousins talked about the matching dresses she made for them and their mother. Do mothers and daughters still do that kind of thing? My brother said he never had a store-bought suit until he graduated high school. I had not remembered the things she sewed for him. Grandma sewed with a treadle sewing machine and ironed with the cast irons heated on the stove. I cannot remember if she ever had an electric sewing machine. Strangely, she did not make her own Sunday dresses; we shopped at Jaffe’s in Butler for those.

Grandma Claypoole in her garden - Summer 1965

Grandma Claypoole in her garden – Summer 1965

Marybelle was a typical farm wife, although she had grown up in town. Town was small and surrounded by farms. She had a garden of vegetables edged by flowers. When she was not sewing or cooking or baking or canning, she was hoeing in her garden. I remember that she was an excellent cook and baker and the standard that we tried to equal. Of course it was impossible because we had not studied under her tutelage while she lived. It was too late after she was gone to try to acquire the little secrets that made her the touchstone. Following the same recipe did not produce the same results. I made suet pudding and chocolate pie and sweet rolls from her recipes; and while they came close, they just did not quite make it. Her cinnamon rolls were legendary and possibly never equaled, but my sister-in-law gave it the greatest effort and was appreciated as much for the effort as for the sweetness of her rolls. We are missing them now too.


Mother’s Day 2013 was only a few days away from me becoming a mother-in-law. Jacob invited us to his house in Pittsburgh for brunch that year with his soon to be in-laws. When we arrived the female members of that family including the accuser and family (sister and mother) were already there. I think they had drinks in hand. Jacob had driven to the store for more strawberries. Roy was the only man there and felt a bit out of place as if he had walked in uninvited to a private affair. In the year between arrest and trial, Jacob told me that apparently his future father-in-law would not visit the homes of his children while they ‘lived in sin’. Perhaps this was his judgment as a Catholic deacon. Whether it was that or that he simply did not like Jacob as I always felt, who knows?

Jacob made a French toast casserole with strawberries and asparagus and of course some type of mimosa or brunch alcoholic drink. The children (accuser and sister) had spent the night at the house. They had also been there the first time we visited the house after Jacob and his then fiancée moved in January of that same year. That day the two children were lying on the futon in the basement watching television or playing a game by themselves. Upstairs Jacob offered us a cinnamon roll, but his fiancée quickly informed him that there was not enough because they were promised. I was embarrassed and embarrassed for Jacob. I quickly said I did not want any.

Why do I remember Mother’s Day 2013? It was the day of an alleged incident my ex-daughter-in-law reported in her police statement several days after Jacob’s arrest in September 2014. In that statement she maligned Jacob’s character implying improper behavior that Mother’s Day, improper behavior with an employer that still employed him, and theft and possible drug use. This statement was made over a week after she learned of the accusations. Her statement did sling mud at Jacob, but I think it portrayed she and her mother in an unfavorable light also. She suggested improper behavior that day that she then discussed with her mother over the telephone even though the woman was there in person. Then they did nothing. They did not report it. They did not ask Jacob to explain it. The legal marriage took place several days later. The wedding fanfare took place about two weeks after that; and despite Jacob’s ex-mother-in-law’s assertion that family members had told her how unhappy her daughter was, she did nothing.

I suggest that they did nothing about this alleged incident because it never happened. It was a little fabrication for Jacob’s ex-wife to bolster and support the accusations. Of course, if anyone were to ask about this woman’s statement now; they would suddenly remember it and perhaps add a few more details. What is that quote from Hamlet? “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”


So joined with the sweet memories of Mother’s Days are the tainted and sour memories of more recent times. So often the good comes with bad, and the bad with the good.

The conviction and stigma that has attached to Jacob’s life permeates my own now also. It is the thing I can not let go; I can not forget. I have been invaded by social media stories of Beyoncé’s healthy and brave and strong forgiveness. I have my own view of that story that can wait for another post or be completely forgotten. There is no dispute that her story has boosted her tour and music sales.

The day for release and peace may come, but that day is not today and probably not tomorrow.


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