Relationships


On my way to work yesterday morning I passed a tree. As a conservative estimate I would say I have passed this tree roughly 4,680 times, but this time it was different because I really noticed it. When the tree first caught my eye in the distance, it somehow looked odd. My initial thought was, “Why on earth is someone hanging Easter eggs on a dead tree in the middle of September?” Then, as I got closer, I realized that the tree wasn’t dead, it was just devoid of leaves, and it wasn’t full of Easter eggs, it was full of pears – ripe, round pears and lots of them.

That’s when it happened. 

Suddenly I was young again and back in my grandmother’s kitchen in North Carolina. Granny, as I always called her, was an incredible cook and one of her specialties was dumplings. Usually she made her dumplings with apples, but occasionally she did them with pears. As a child and young adult I was never fond of pears, but my Granny convinced me to love them through her dumplings. They were sublime. It was impossible to dislike pears after tasting her dumplings. In fact, I eventually I grew to love the pear dumplings more than the apple ones because she made them less often, and thereby they became a rare treat.

As I drove along and thought about Granny and remembered how she made those dumplings – peeling and coring the fruit, stuffing the core with sugar and cinnamon, wrapping the fruit in pastry and nestling them six to a pan to bake until they were tender and golden – made me think for the millionth time how much I loved her and now miss her. 

Granny passed way in the spring of 1998, but after all this time, there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think of her in some way. Often it’s a fleeting thought or memory. Sometimes it’s a wish that my daughter Little M could have known her, or that I could sit at her table and talk (and eat) with her again. Usually the memories are sweet with a gentle tug at the heart, but sometimes – like yesterday, they come when I most vulnerable to them and rake across my soul like a thousand razorblades leaving me raw and exposed.

I spent the better part of the morning yesterday pondering why the pear tree and the memory of those dumplings cut me to the core. I realized that it wasn’t the tree or the dumplings that caused the pain, it’s in missing what my Granny put into those dumplings – all the warmth and unconditional love that defined her character and our relationship – that is gone forever and can never be replaced.

Cindy Bogard did a great guest post over at www.365lesssthings.com on Day 340 about what the “experts” say – via Real Simple Magazine – that we should save for our children.

My thought on the subject is that we should take our cues from our children – find out what they enjoy/value about us, or what holds special memories of us for them, and save those objects.

As I ruminated more on this subject, I couldn’t help but think about my parents and grandparents, and what objects that I would want to have of theirs as a personal memento. Some are still possible others are not. These items stretch beyond photographs or personal papers, which for the budding genealogist in me, goes without saying as desired items.

Here are just a few examples of things I’d love to have…

From my maternal grandfather – he died suddenly in July 1991 of a massive heart attack. I still remember getting the call from my Mom like it was yesterday. Grandpa was a quiet, to himself kind of man, but he always made me feel like I was completely adored. I would love to have any one of the worn Louie L’amour books that he was always reading, or anything from his World War II service. Mostly though, I would love to have the inexpensive little candy dish that was always stocked with Hershey Kisses (my grandparents called them Silver Tips). Whenever I came to visit, he would always open the candy dish and offer them to me by saying, “Sweets for the sweet?” I could recreate this on my own, but it wouldn’t be the same.

From my maternal grandmother – my grandma died in the spring of 1998. When I was a little kid I went every summer and stayed one week with my grandparents. It was a mini vacation from home life for me, and an extra pair of hands around the house for them since my grandparents both still worked full-time in those days. Over the years my grandma did many things for me, but every summer I did one thing for her that is now permanently associated with those summers in my memory. I rolled her change. (This was decades before CoinStar, debit cards, and mindless spending with credit cards, when cash was king and change was still considered spendable money by most people.)  

Grandma kept her change in a giant, plastic peanut and would collect it year round. When I came to visit, I’d dump that peanut out on the bed and would count and roll until I had orderly little stacks of rolled pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. It was one less chore for my hard-working grandma, and looking back, probably soothed my budding obsession with order and organization. Now, all these years later, I want that plastic peanut.

Sidebar: My paternal grandfather was a peanut farmer, so that plastic peanut is meaningful on a variety of levels.

From my Dad – I’m positive that there are a gazillion objects that my Dad owns that would remind me of different aspects of my Dad, his life and personality. But one object that forever shapes my memories of him from when I was a child, and my knowledge of his life throughout the years, and our relationship, has sat in his garage collecting dust since 1978. It is a blue, soft-top, 1968 Super Sport Camaro with white interior. I lust after that car in a way you can’t imagine, and I’ve told my Dad more than once that I would love to have it. His answer has always been, “I’ve got two boys that would probably love to have it too.” Yeah, but I’m the only one old enough to remember riding in it.

From my Mom – Mom has a lot of wonderful things, but the most sentimental of them to me would be her recipe collection – handwritten in little notebooks. My Mom is an incredible cook, from a long line of incredible cooks and those books would be an irreplaceable item of my heritage, our shared love of good food, and a pathway through her life.

There you have it, four eclectic but meaningful objects that remind me of dearly loved individuals and time spent with them. Now there are my paternal grandparents, my step-parents, my siblings, and countless aunts and uncles still to think of…

I took my laptop on vacation with me last week, not so that I could stay “connected”, but so that I could use spare moments to work on my ancestry project.

My husband is a horrible night-time sleeper, but a world class napper, so each day when he and Little M headed off for their afternoon naps, I grabbed the laptop and my pile of papers and got to work adding my peeps into my new family tree software.

As I worked, entering names, dates, and scraps of information pertaining to my relatives stretching back more than 300 years, it occurred to me that I’ve taken on a daunting task, but more importantly a fascinating and exciting one.

Unfamiliar names sparked my curiousity – Who were they? What did they do? What were there hopes and dreams for the future?

Some names brought to mind faded memories of long ago meetings, or snippets of conversation between closer relatives.

Then there were the names of my grandparents and great-grandparents – all are gone now. My grandparents I remember vividly and miss everyday. My great grandparents, those I knew well, are memories that fade in and out, some vivid, some ghost like. All are bittersweet.

As I add each name to my tree I realize once again how quickly time is passing, how quickly my own memories are fading, and how many of my family members and their stories are slipping away. That knowledge has only served to remind me of the importance of my project and the urgency attached to it.  One day when my daughter looks at those same names I want her to be able to have a sense of who they were and where she came from.

Well, today is my birthday and the official launch date of my family history project. Yay!

Now the work begins…

I pulled out that old photocopy of my paternal family history and noticed that 1) the last entries were handwritten in the early 80’s, 2) some of it is faded and difficult to read, and 3) really old photocopied paper makes yours fingers itchy.  Ah well, its a place to start.

My aunt put me in touch with a family cousin who is supposedly really into geneology and has been keeping up with the itchy paper side of the family. I sent her a “may I pick your brain (and files)?” email this morning. Then I sent out an email blast to a large chunk of both my side of the family and my husband’s announcing my project, and asking for any help they could give, and warning them that I would soon be pestering them for info.

My husband has been out of town on business since Wednesday so I haven’t even told him about the project yet. Surprise! Tonight’s dinner conversation should be interesting. I think overall he will be pleased though as he knows very little about his ancestry.

Wish me luck on my project, and if you have any tips on geneology research I’d love to hear them!

A number of years ago (before the days of personal computers in every home) my Dad gave me a photocopy of my paternal family history dating back before the Revolutionary War and involving a land grant from the King of England. At the time I thought it was “really cool” and read through the whole thing, then took it home and filed it away. I’ve pulled it out once or twice since then and flipped through it, and then returned it to its folder. 

Years later my Mom gave me a copy of my maternal family tree dating back to our original clan in Scotland. That family tree is handsomely framed (thanks Mom!) and hangs above my great-grandmother’s Singer sewing machine. Occasionally I’ll have a look at it, find my grandfather’s name, and look at all the brackets of family members that came before him, and wonder. 

From time to time over the years I’ve thought a lot about examining those two family histories, researching them further, updating them, and putting them together in some kind of cohesive fashion, but life always got in the way. Lately, however, I’ve starting thinking about this again, and more urgently. 

Having had Little M a bit later in life than expected, I’ve begun thinking about the importance of having a family history available for her to know where she came from. The more our society becomes digitally connected and less face-to-face connected, the more priceless that sense of history, roots, belonging becomes…at least to me anyway. 

Another thing I’ve thought about is how much I’d love to explore the countries of my ancestry. I’m English, Irish, and Scottish. At a recent networking event related to my day job, I met a woman who was born in Scotland, but has lived stateside for three decades. She still had a lovely Scottish lilt and just listening to her speak had me mentally packing a suitcase and boarding a plane with Little M in hand and my husband bringing up the rear. 

To my knowledge my husband’s family doesn’t have an assembled family history, but it’s a question I’m about to ask. 

I’ve read a lot the last few months about yearlong projects people have undertaken in every conceivable category, and have thought a lot about what I would do as a project without great results. Thinking about my family tree, that lovely Scottish lilt, and what a wonderful gift a sense of history would be for my Little M would be (especially since we live so far away from most of our relatives), I think I’ve find my project.

Friday is my birthday and what better time to start? I’ll devote an hour a week minimum to the project.  I’ll pull out my the family history my Dad gave me, photocopy the family tree in the living room, send out some email inquiries and see where it gets me. I’ll even start a spreadsheet to track my efforts, and maybe a page here, and next August 27th we’ll take a look at my progress.