Making Our Skeleton Dance, Part 2: Where We Came From

You’ve probably seen this picture before.   It’s a picture of two of the strong women who inspired Pick Up Sticks Jewelry and it’s the inspiration for the “My Mother, My Friend” Pick Up Sticks charm.  We called them Mother and Ruth, but these two women were Glena and Sabrina’s grandmother and great-grandmother.  Creative, persevering, strong women.  Unorthodox for their times.  Always proud.  Good at making their own skeletons dance. . .

Ruth and Mother

A couple of weeks ago we started this series with the tale of how Glena and Sabrina’s forebears made their way to New Mexico.  There were some missteps, some extremely hard times.  By the time we ended that part of the tale, Mother (great-grandmother Ade Johnston) had divorced her husband and become a single mother, something unheard of in the 30’s.  She was sticking it out in Logan, NM, running a cafe and raising little Ruth to be as tough and hard-working as Ade was herself.  But, of course, the story doesn’t end there.

During World War II, Mother and Ruth, who was now a young divorcee with three little girls of her own, found themselves in yet another business, flipping houses in Tucumcari, NM.  They’d pool their resouces, buy an old house and then spend several weeks scraping, sanding and painting before trying to sell it.  Glena’s mom, Anna Lee, says they spackled holes in walls with flour and water.  Times were extremely hard and rationing made finding supplies tricky, but they didn’t give up.  They maybe even made a little money.

Ruidoso, NM, circa 1950

1945 found the two women living in Hatch, NM, where Ruth’s new husband Perk was running a grocery store.  Not to be outdone, Mother opened a restaurant across the street.  Both businesses were successful, but when the polio epidemic swept through southern New Mexico,  the family gathered up Ruth’s three little girls (Anna Lee was four, and the baby at the time) and moved to the mountains in Ruidoso.

Perk with the little girls in front of the Ruidoso store

It was a bump in the road, but nothing to slow down these women, and they had found a willing ally in Perk.  He was up for anything – he bought an old motel and turned it into a long house of rooms for his wife and girls and mother-in-law.  With Ruth’s help, he opened Long’s Store, where they sold everything in the world from blue jeans to needles and thread to flour to tires and car parts.  We wrote about the store before – Perk was the consummate merchant, caring about his customers and connecting with them so that they were always happy to come back.

Ruth and Perk's girls - dance lessons were required. . .

But it wasn’t all work.  By this time, little Dee had joined the family, and now there were four girls to raise.  Ruth was the artist, the progressive thinker, determined to give her girls a world view that was relatively new for the early 50’s.  They took dance lessons and music lessons, they painted and learned to appreciate art.  If there was an event somewhere nearby, Ruth loaded up the girls and they attended, whether it was a concert or a rodeo.

Ruth being Ruth. Every day was an opportunity for adventure. . .

Perk shared Ruth’s thinking –  with their daughters and then their granddaughters (Glena and Sabrina included), they both liked to challenge the idea of traditional women’s roles.  They stressed hard work and education, and taught all their girls to never be financially dependent on a man

Ruidoso downtown - circa 1950

Ruidoso in the 40’s and 50’s was a magical place and time fed by crazy ideas (Perk decided there was big money in sand and gravel and persuaded Ruth to go along with another new company) and lots of activity.  In the midst of rampant entrepreneurship (Perk also bought a gas station in Hollywood, NM), there were  piano and swimming lesssons.

Long’s store catered to the neighboring Mescalero Apache reservation, so the girls learned to mix with and appreciate that culture without question.  At one point, when Perk decided more gas stations would be profitable, Mother moved to Alamogordo and ran a service station.   Were there other grandmothers running gas stations in southern New Mexico in the 50’s?  No, but that didn’t stop this family from trying it!

Bathing Beauties - Ruth with two of her girls

Those four little girls, two of whom would become Sabrina’s and Glena’s mothers, learned that the world was a great wide place full of beauty and possibilities and opportunity, as long as one was willing to work hard and take notice.

It’s just a little more of our story, but we think it’s what made us who we are.  We believe in possibility, in finding success in the craziest of endeavors.  We’re inspired every day by strong women, particularly those in our family.  We grew up in a family where we had the freedom to be who we really are.  That’s what drives us to create inspiring jewelry.  That’s who we are.  And that’s what Pick Up Sticks is.

The four little girls with a friend in Ruidoso. . .

. .And as you can see from the above picture of the four little girls with a donkey and the below  picture of Perk (taken at a mock wedding), we were raised to believe that life is a hilarious adventure everyday – you just have to pay attention and learn to laugh at all of it.

Perk Long. What else can you say?

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Girls, I love stories like this; I love seeing the pics of NM too! I’m popping over from Holly Mathis’s blog today; when I saw your ad on her site, I about fell over because I grew up on Sheldon Street in Clovis. 🙂 My grandparents still live there and we head back occasionally to say hi to the good ol’ hometown. I LOVE your jewelry and I’m definitely going to continue following along to keep up with the NM girls! 😉

    • Jennifer – Does your grandmother live on Sheldon Street!? What a crazy coindence. Where do you live now?


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