Mother, Grandmother and My Life: Through the Lens of Women’s Equality

Attached is a biographical / autobiographical piece that Billie wrote in the 2000’s. She intended it to be a history of women’s issues as seen through the experience of her grandmother, her mother and herself.

Mother, Grandmother and My Life Through the Lens of Women’s Equality

Editorial Note: I’m still editing this to provide links to other documents and photos and to make it more readable. Social media will post these minor updates as “new.’

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Tucson Heart Hospital Instructions

Photo of Tucson Heart Hospital instructions

Tucson Heart Hospital post-surgery instructions

When Billie had heart surgery to treat atrial fibrillation — thought to have been caused by childhood rheumatic (“scarlet”) fever — she received these instructions.

Trapped in a Hailstorm and Free Rides to El Paso

Sent: Monday, December 17, 2012 12:04 PM

Dear Kris,
Your cousin, Dorie in California had written me about her Dad, your Uncle Dick. I came across this email your mother had sent to Uncle Jay and me when we were asking questions about our older siblings. You’ve probably heard these stories, but if there’s anything new in these recollections, would you send them along to your brothers and sisters?  Here we go:

I found this email written about ten years ago. Uncle Jay and I were asking questions about Aunt Billie and your father.  Thought you might be interested. So here are Aunt Billie’s thoughts.

[About Dick] Yes, we were very close. Because we moved so often and our lives were so troubled we only had each other. Until he started getting wise, he would play any game that I suggested and since I was pretty bossy, those were the only ones we played. I can remember being in a back yard playing “store”when a hailstorm trapped us so that we couldn’t get to the house until it was all over.

My clearest memories of us as children were the trips he and I took to El Paso. Because we had railroad passes, of course, the only cost was our meals. We would get on a train car early in the morning. wander around the downtown area and return that afternoon. Again, I’m not sure of our ages but we must have been pretty young, probably preteens.

Billie and DickMy other vivid memories are not so pleasant. At 427 East 8th Street he and I did the dishes together. I washed and he was supposed to wipe. He couldn’t be seen from the living room, so he would flip his damp towel at my leg until I retaliated.  Because he was hiding, I received the punishment. Oh, I was such a martyr!

Dick and I went to the Dials over Christmas. I would guess we were 6 and 8, but I’m not sure about our ages. It was a memorable time, they heaped the gifts on us. Something is tickling my memory here. I can remember going to Channing, Texas and there were lots and lots of grasshoppers. That wouldn’t have been a Christmas time, would it? Maybe we were there twice.

Merry Christmas,Kris.
Love,
Aunt Jo

Abandoned Careers

By Don Richards

I remember well when my niece had a potential singing career taken from her by those who had no appreciation for an emerging young voice …. a career that might have taken her to the heights of international acclaim as an operatic Diva or at least to the stages of Broadway.

Her young and promising voice was first stilled by a chorus of “Hush up!” from an unappreciative audience traveling with her from her mother’s ancestral home in Kansas to Tucson in 1931.

The final and complete stifling of her singing career came from those who were expected to reach out and guide a gifted voice to the heights of recognition and success … instead, as a member of the Tucson High School Choir, she was pointedly asked by the music teacher to just stand in the Chorus and mouth the words, but for goodness sake don’t let out a sound.

Why this denial of opportunity? Why the crushing of this young girl’s hope and dreams? Simply, it was because she could not carry a tune — could not hit a note that anyone could recognize.

But this brilliant young girl was not to be denied her claim to recognition and fame in some other field of endeavor, and truly believing in ” try and try again,” she turned to the culinary arts. Collaborating with her uncle, a connoisseur of chocolate fudge, she took her first step to a new potential career. Using an age-old family recipe, ingredients were measured and combined and made ready for cooking to the degree of specified perfection.

Only to fail again … The fudge was lovely to look at, creamy, with smooth sculptured form but too salty to eat. A teaspoon ingredient of table salt had been translated in the mind of the chef and her collaborator into a TABLESPOON of salt … Neither the chef nor the collaborator, nor siblings could eat it … So much for a culinary career.

I will leave it to others to tell how this very capable and very very intelligent young woman had successful and rewarding professional careers … I could speak to that, but then I might get teary and who wants to see her uncle cry?

Billie Underwood Ends Long Journey

Obituary as published in the Tucson Daily Star and Citizen

Billie Jeanne Underwood died peacefully January 19, 2009.

She will be dearly missed by her children Mark (Ann), Kris, Cele, Page (Phillip), Beth (Jeff), Ross (Sue) grandchildren Blake, Preston, Loren, Rachel, Cole, Emily, Seth, sister Joanne Kartchner (Dean), brother Jay (Margaret), uncle Donald (Brenda) Richards, numerous nieces and nephews, and friend Eugene Scott.

A native Arizonan, Billie’s adult life began as a commissioned nurse in World War II (Good Samaritan Hospital).  While a nurse, she met (and later married) Captain Don Robert Underwood at Birmingham General Hospital in 1948. After raising six children, she embarked upon an academic career,  graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a PhD in Psychology from the University of Arizona, and retiring as a Professor at Pima Community College.

Billie was committed to many civic causes, including Head Start, Pima Council on Aging, Common Cause, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Planned Parenthood.  Much to the chagrin of some of her peers, she was an early contributor to MoveOn.org.

A memorial service was held at St Marks Presbyterian Church (3809 East 3rd Street, Tucson, AZ) Saturday January 24 at 2:00p. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Helen Keller International.

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