November 16, 2019

"Hannah Rose Blakeley, 26 years old, says listening to stories about her late uncle led her to appreciate her family's resourcefulness in the face of adversity."

"A Vietnam veteran who once worked as a roughneck in rattlesnake-infested oil fields, her uncle donned thick leather work boots, wrapped them in burlap, tromped through the grass and captured any rattlers that thrust their fangs into his protective gear. Then he sold them to laboratories, where their venom was harvested for medicine."

From "The Secret Benefits of Retelling Family Stories/Children learn about family history and identity through stories told by older generations" (WSJ).

It's time once again for the annual fear-of-Thanksgiving stories, and I was glad to see a really positive one.
Intergenerational stories anchor youngsters as part of a larger group, helping them develop a sense of identity. In a 2008 study, researchers at Emory quizzed 40 youngsters ages 10 to 14 on 20 family-history questions, such as how their parents met or where their grandparents grew up. Those who answered more questions correctly showed, on separate assessments, less anxiety and fewer behavior problems. Parents who include in their stories descriptions of feelings they experienced at the time, such as distress, anger or sadness, and tell how they coped with those emotions by venting, reframing or calming them, help children learn to regulate their own emotions....
For those of us who are older, it's too late to hear our parents' stories. You may regret that the younger generation doesn't want to understand what makes you the person they encounter, but at least they've still got time to notice how much they don't know and to listen and even ask. I'm amazed at all the things I never thought to ask my parents that seem so glaringly obvious now. I'm almost tempted to write stories to invent detailed answers.

72 comments:

chickelit said...

Last Sunday my wife and I were hiking at Crystal Cove State Park. We tried a new trail called "Rattlesnake" which is rough and popular with mountain bikers. Lo, I almost stepped on a rattler but caught myself. I stepped over and past it. Then I turned to face my wife. We were separated by what looked to be a 5-6 foot rattler. It didn't sound, but the distinctive rattler was there. We waited, and it slithered off the trail.

Ken B said...

“I am almost tempted ... to invent details.”

Don’t give in to your inner Blasey Ford.

Darrell said...

This article was designed to help Elizabeth Warren. But Warren's tale of family folklore was a lie, too.

Wince said...

The Secret Benefits of Retelling Family Stories/Children learn about family history and identity through stories told by older generations

Replete with all the racism and misogyny?

MountainMan said...

Before he died 7 years ago, my niece did a video of my dad, over an hour long, recounting stories from his life for a project she was doing in college. Many were stories I had never heard before. The best one was how his grandmother, who just turned 15 the week Sherman’s troops came through Burke County, GA, on the March to the Sea, helped her mother move their horses and mules into a nearby swamp adjacent to their farm so the marauding Yankees would not find them and take them. Her father was not there, having gone to Atlanta, and not been able to return. This led me to do some research on what occurred there that week and I found a GA historical marker, just a few miles away, that told the story of how the Union troops had rounded up all the livestock from the farms in the area to replenish their horses and mules. The ones they no longer needed, or did not choose to take, were then taken to a nearby field and slaughtered. Word must have gotten to them and they were successful in preserving their animals as the troops who stopped by the farm to take food from them never went into the swamp. I wish I had talked to my dad more as he got older and had made recordings of our conversations.

LYNNDH said...

It hit me at my Dad's funeral just how little I did know about him. I could recount several accounts (I will NOT call them stories) of his life. My parents were the children of the Depression and young adults of WWII. So they did not tell me much about those times. I wish they had.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

"Very well-- as you say, Elder"

...the Ok, Boomer" of c. 1642

will today's generation really sit to listen?

chuck said...

My paternal grandfather (born 1870) wrote an autobiography :) A bit of a vanity project, perhaps, but reading it did give me a sense of the times.

gspencer said...

My father is now gone a long time; died in 1975 at 58. Now that I'm older and have experienced more of life, I'd like to ask him questions about his WWII experiences on a mine sweeper. Before you can ask intelligent questions, you have to know a little bit about a topic.

Tommy Duncan said...

"I'm amazed at all the things I never thought to ask my parents..."

I regret all the things I never thought to ask my parents...

And it's not just my parents.

Michael K said...

My parents were the children of the Depression and young adults of WWII. So they did not tell me much about those times. I wish they had.

My family are story tellers. My father died when I was 31 but I still got some stories about his life on the farm. My mother lived to 103 and kept her marbles until the end. When my children were early teens they would fly to Chicago to spend a week with her and hear her stories. I took her to see "Titanic" when it came out. She was 14 when it sank. She laughed at some of the scenes.

Fernandistein said...

boots, wrapped them in burlap, tromped through the grass and captured any rattlers that thrust their fangs into his protective gear.

I doubt that he caught any snakes that way. Cute story, though, but not as cute as the Dad who was bald because he'd had a job carrying mattresses on head.

buwaya said...

We only got the family stories gradually. Much of that when we were adults, and much of that the result of my mothers research in just the last two decades.

This is understandable, as a lot of it was dreadful, torture, massacre, death camps and imprisonment.

What I wonder about is the degree of PTSD all these people may have carried with them, from the 1940’s to their deaths. That gang of aunts and great aunts who played mahjong in clouds of cigarette smoke carried who knows what knowledge to the last.

In some cases I think it may explain a lot.

Other bits are the conversion of family stories into facts. All the stories are likely true, so far. Illegitimacy and tragedy and, for that matter, glory. That bit about the old medals my great-aunt somehow lost, turned into the documented fact of feats of arms and the presentation of the Legion d’Honneur and the Cross of San Fernando. And the supposed Turkish ancestor - actually was, and how.

Ann Althouse said...

"Cute story, though, but not as cute as the Dad who was bald because he'd had a job carrying mattresses on head."

My maternal grandfather was bald (and had been bald since he was in his 20s). The story was always told that one day he stuck his head out of the window of a moving car and that's how he lost his hair. So don't stick your hair out of the car window.

Theranter said...

I can recall vividly many fascinating family stories. The tragedy is not having any recordings of the first-hand accounts.

One of favorites, told by my Italian-immigrant Grandfather, was of his brother's wedding day in Pittsburgh. Everyone was there, waiting and waiting, the groom at the alter, the bride in the vestibule, but the Priest had not arrived yet.

Finally, the Priest arrives, and tells the groom there is not enough time to perform the wedding that day.

My Grandfather's brother shouted in broken English, "Fr., imma sleepa with this woman tonight whether you marry us or not!"

So the Priest made time and married them!

bgates said...

I'm almost tempted to write stories to invent detailed answers.

Too much work. Have Bill Ayers do it for you.

Michael K said...

This is understandable, as a lot of it was dreadful, torture, massacre, death camps and imprisonment.<

buwaya, we have a discussion at Ricochet about MacArthur and WWII. Was the Philippine campaign worth it ? Or was it a MacA ego trip ?

Lewis Wetzel said...

Is "adversity" like "diversity"? Which one is better, 'cuz me wants more of it.

narciso said...

hey bgates how have you been,

I think the alternative path might have been invading Taiwan, one wonders how it might have changed the war's path, obviously not the final outcome, the first half of cryptonimicon ends in manila,

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

My nieces, nephews, and children have been subjected to years of hearing their uncles and parents spiel about the past, usually at the dessert phase of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. What they don't know is what we don't want them to know. Ignorance of parental history is often by design. Accept it.

traditionalguy said...

The key is telling them histories while they are 8 or under. That is when they want to hear what they are going to be when they grow up.And it is before the counter socializing of stories by strangers at school. And they find you reading the Bible to them amazingly interesting at that age. The Patriarchy still works when done right.

My younger son shares the same Birthday with me (29 years later). He always wanted to hear the crazy things his father had done. And later in life he did them all himself, just much better. And he added a musical talent and a writing talent that was missing. But the sports ,the college Fraternity and Trial Lawyering were the same but done better. And he spends all his off work time with a brilliant wife, three daughters and a son that I am sure are hearing his crazy stories.

Larry J said...

My maternal grandfather was born in 1908 and lived to 2004. He was a sharecropper who raised five kids through the Great Depression. He told me about only making $20 a month. They raised their own food and made their own clothes. He told me that having a tooth pulled (about the only form of dentistry available) cost $1 with Novocaine (or whatever was the equivalent back then) or 50 cents without. He knew a lot of men who couldn’t afford the extra 50 cents.

My parents were born in 1928 and married after high school graduation in 1946. My father was a carpenter like his father and my mother was a seamstress. They also had five kids. My father died when I was 16 at age 45. That was 45 years ago. I don’t remember much about his stories. My mother lived to age 85, never having married again.

My Uncle Paul Miller was a POW for 30 months during the Korean War. He seldom told anything about his experiences because the memories were too painful. When NBC News did a Profiles in Courage segment back in the 1990s on what happened when he was captured, that was the first time I’d heard it. I recently found that interview on YouTube. Here’s the link:
https://youtu.be/qscaR_tz8Iw

Big Mike said...

@Theranter, wonderful story!

I grew up surrounded by aunts and uncles, but they were pretty reticent about their experiences growing up as the offspring of poor families during the Depression and serving during World War II. All you ever heard about the Depression was “It was hard, it was very, very hard.”

A couple times I asked my father how he came to be awarded a Silver Star, but he always brushed me off. After he passed away one of my sisters found the citation that accompanied his award. Holy shit! My father did all that?!? But he never said a word to me. He did relate two stories, both from North Africa. The first was about finding one of his enlisted men standing on a spot overlooking a battlefield and crying his eyes out.

“What’s the matter, soldier?”

The soldier came from a family that owned a scrap metal firm, and he gestured at all the wrecked vehicles. “Look at all this junk and there’s no way I can get any of this back to Waukegon!”

The second story concerned a soldier who had gone AWOL for a day or two while they were in the North African desert. After the war my father saw the soldier at a unit reunion and asked him where he had gone when he was AWOL, since there were no villages and certainly no bars anywhere around.

“Well Hell, Cap’n. If you don’t know how do you expect me to know?”

Fernandistein said...

Those who answered more [family-history] questions correctly showed, on separate assessments, less anxiety and fewer behavior problems.

Cause and effect not shown and "blank slate" is incorrectly assumed, as usual.

What they (may have) demonstrated is that the children of people in stable families which contain parents and grandparents who enjoy telling personal stories and anecdotes about themselves inherited personalities with less anxiety and fewer behavior problems, because "Presently available clinical genetic studies point to a considerable heritability of anxiety disorders (30-67%)".

Ralph L said...

Somehow my mom's cousin learned stories about my dad's cousin and the JFK assassination (she was at Parkland Hospital and later the cemetery when Oswald was buried, and investigated by the SS for accusing LBJ at a restaurant) that my siblings and I had never heard and Dad didn't remember. But my mom wrote letters. Now I wonder if the cousin was a fabulist.

It's so easy to preserve memories, few young people give a shit.

Carol said...

Lotsa stories on my mom's side, for sure. Lately I've been wondering I didn't ask more questions, but the family curse lay so heavily on us. She was born in China where her grandparents were Methodist missionaries. She was there until age 12, through the warlord years of the 1920s. I think Sun Yat-Sen was supposed to be president but died in the middle of trying to pull it all together.

She said when they moved to Shanghai she walked to school down Babbling Well Road. That there were huge butterflies there. She crossed a field and found a dead baby wrapped in newspaper. The heads of "bandits" were displayed in the city square. Marching bands from the various European concessions were always out parading.

The family was so poor that they fired the cook and amah and mom tried to handle it herself but was so bad they hired the help back. Mom spoke Chinese, of course, and forgot everything, of course.

Later I read letters where her mother complained about not having coal because warlords were hijacking trains..Chinese men standing outside the window at night yakking, on and on, people shitting in the streets and others coming by to collect the "night soil" for the farmers.

Yikes. I'm not too sold on missionary work, generally. This is why Catholic priests are celibate. How can you responsibly raise a family and be a missionary, or tend your flock for that matter. And why subject your kids to violence and tropical disease Pearl Buck felt the same, and supposedly knew my grandmother. Who was apparently a lovely lady but who went off the rails. They were lucky to make it to the US in 1930.

I blame the Missionary Generation,



Seeing Red said...

It seems There wasn’t this much anxiety when I was growing up.

These kids today....so why is is com8ng out more? Is it more acceptable?

dwshelf said...

And sergeant Dow Jones, 27 years old, commanding his very own tank.

Meade said...

Family story from a 1932 Indiana Thanksgiving supper conversation I have heard repeated dozens of times —

6 year-old granddaughter: Grandma, how old ARE you?

(uncomfortable laughter, shushing and tut-tutting from older cousins and brothers all around the table)

67 year-old grandmother: Well, dear, it's a smart child who asks an honest question and I'm glad you asked me that one. My father, your great-grandfather who was born in 1837 and died before you were born, was one of the last men from Indiana to be drafted into the Civil War. But because Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Grant in the spring of 1865, Papa got to stay home on the farm and I was born December 9, 1865.

tcrosse said...

In 1942 my 62 year old grandma got a visit from the FBI. It turns out that she was an Enemy Alien and had failed to register as such, even though she had come over from Germany as a young girl. She pled that having married my grandpa, that made her a citizen. Wrong, said the GMan. Grandpa was still a Canadian, even though he came down in the 1890's, voted, and registered for the draft in both World Wars. Upshot is that Grandpa got naturalized in 1944, grandma had to wait until the War was over to become a citizen.

FullMoon said...
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stephen cooper said...

For the record, lots of people are better off not knowing much about their parents and not knowing much about their parents' "stories".

No generation is better than any other generation, according to the Bible (the thought is repeated multiple times in the Old Testament and is made clear in the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul and John ....., at least I think so), and some older people have a moral duty not to waste the time of the next generation with their boring stories. Not all, and maybe even not most, but some.

But I remember exactly what life was like 7 or so decades ago, so maybe I underrate the value of old-timer's stories to people with shorter memories than mine.

BUMBLE BEE said...

My Grandfather on my mother's side was REALLY good at passing on life important information as well as modelling adult behaviors. He died December 23rd when I was 12. Miss that truly renaissance man dearly. I'd heard about his heart attack and prayed for his survival like never before, or since. Morrison, later in life explained, "You Can Not Petition the Lord With Prayer". No shit, Jim. That Christmas I lost my religion. Never bothered to look for it either.

madAsHell said...

My father-in-law tells the story of growing up in Mexico. He would have to walk up the hill through the snow to reach the school house. At the end of the day, he would walk back up the hill to get home. Sometimes, he would carry on his head a 50 lb bag of coffee up the hill to pay his tuition.

The story gets better every time he tells it.

Michael K said...

I got interested in genealogy a few years ago (about 15) and now have 4500 people in my family tree going back to about 1630. Two ancestors in the Revolutionary War. One possible ancestor who seems to have deserted from the British Army in Canada about 1812.

The other side came from Ireland about 1805, ahead of the potato famine but probably as a result of the early "troubles." I visited Ireland in 1977 but found no family as we had a legend that we were related to the Boston Kennedys. I went to the area south of Dublin that has been called the origin of the Boston family but found no Kennedys at all. Then I visited the genealogy office in Dublin Castle. The clerk there handed me John F Kennedy's file. They had no idea where their ancestors came from. Teddy visited alleged cousins. I twas all bullshit.

My ancestors, and probably JFK's, came from County Armaugh in northern Ireland. I even found the church (now a pub) where my great great grandparents were married in Ireland. A friend who is a retired British Army medical officer and who was stationed in that area, has told me he will take photos if he gets by there.

Next summer I will try to get to northern New York State where my great great grandfather is buried and where they lived after arriving. They came up the St Lawrence River and settled just a few miles south of the banks.

Some of my mother's maternal ancestors, also from Ireland, settled in Canada just north of the St Lawrence. I have visited their farm about 20 years ago. Canada has a very complete genealogy library in Toronto. I found census forms that even listed how many horses he owned and what crops he grew.

Kathryn51 said...

My parents did not come from big families, but as children of the Depression, they saved everything and it filled a three story house and barn. At one time, I took a video of my mom and she went through all of the glassware, special plates, the special sterling silver spoon with some long-ago great-great's initials. I can't find that video no matter how hard I turn my house upside down looking for it.

She also packed away the vintage Christmas ornaments with notes of where they came from or who gave them to her as a gift. I have at least had the sense to make photocopies of her notes w/photos of each item.

I made a special point with my kids of at least repeating stories regarding certain furniture or pottery or glassware that I inherited - and it always gives me a little spark of joy when I hear my kids (Millennials) repeating the stories to their friends/significant others who visit the house.

Bottom line - I agree with the author. Positive family stories provide connection and stability. Tying the stories to tangible items (dog tags, medals, photos) helps even more.

FullMoon said...
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FullMoon said...
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RoseAnne said...

My Dad was the middle child and only boy. When he was young, his mother died in the
Spanish flu epidemic. He and his sisters were dispatched to his 3 paternal aunts who didn't speak to one another. His Dad would visit him - being the only boy - but it was 10 years before Grandpa remarried and the whole family was reunited. 3 Half brothers followed. His sisters married as soon as they could get out of the house, but Dad was left to help support the rest of the family. When he married my Mom his family (other than his brothers) would not talk to her since she was Protestant. New bride living in a rented room in someone else's house still supported him sending money to his parents (who wouldn't speak to her) for 5 years until the brothers were old enough to take care of themselves. People thought my gregarious, quick witted father was the tough one in our family, but Dad always told us that, if not for Mom, he would have ended up in jail or worse. They were far from perfect, but made the decision that their kids would have it better than they did and there they succeeded.

stevew said...

My family are storytellers so I know a lot about my predecessors, or, at least, the stories they told!

It is told and established fact that when my great-grandfather, on the W side, and that emigrated here from Ireland in the late 1800's, was laid to rest his wife, my great-grandmother, also from Ireland, said, "Well, at least we'll know where he is tonight".

My grandfather, on the W side, was a lineman for the telephone company in Boston. He retired around the time I was born (1957) as a foreman. His sons, my father and brothers, told the story that in the early years the crew foreman was paid a premium and didn't have to climb poles and such. The way you got to be foreman was to challenge the current foreman to a fist fight, which would be held Saturday afternoon after quitting time. My grandfather is said to have been foreman for a very long time, up to his retirement.

I don't know if any of that is true, and I don't care. My kids and grandkids enjoy these stories.

Narayanan said...

having a tooth pulled (about the only form of dentistry available) cost $1 with Novocaine (or whatever was the equivalent back then) or 50 cents without. He knew a lot of men who couldn’t afford the extra 50 cents.
____&&&&&_____
Better spent on moonshine after!!??

Phidippus said...

"I'm amazed at all the things I never thought to ask my parents that seem so glaringly obvious now."

How true!

I missed the opportunity to ask my Mother about her days in the Navy. She volunteered (about age 29) when war was declared and worked in the Washington DC cartographic office, making maps (I still have one she made of Kagoshima). Her artistic skills were useful to the Nation there.

I believe that her experiences with other women from around the US made her in some ways more worldly than many of my relatives, who never quite escaped from the lower-middle class Irish Roman Catholic world that they grew up in. Just the same, she seemed hopelessly clueless to me when I was young, so I had no time then for the questions that I have now.

So much waste when people die, so much is lost. I have made a start on my grandchildren's behalf on my family's story, what I know of it, but have not gotten further than an outline. I think it's kind of a duty, whether the recipients seem interested at the time or not.

Narayanan said...

Atlas Shrugged in a way is tale of ancestor worship : Dagny and Francisco are Scions of Industrialist Dynasties competitors : who can do greater glory to Nathaniel Taggart or Sebastian D'Anconia

narciso said...

I mentioned on my grandmothers side of the family, was an Arteaga, another relative was at giron beach, another was the proprietor of the floridita restaurant, which was transplanted from cuba,

todd galle said...

My dad was in the 187th RCT, and jumped at Munsan-ni during the Korean War. He never spoke about anything regarding his service. Though one time, after some Scotch, he did say he'd never carry an M-1 Carbine. Turns out his buddy with a carbine pumped numerous rounds into a Nork, but the NK winter clothing was dense enough to almost act like a bullet proof vest. Dad said an M-1 Garand was the answer. I do have a Garand, and his .45, and his jump pants too.

Bill Peschel said...

We are defined by our stories, both those we create and those we remember. If we have no stories, then who are we?

And it's easy to shrug off our ancestors now, but don't we become more interested as we get older? And if we still don't care, then we haven't lost anything. But what a treasure to those who do!

Howard said...

Was at my Aunt's house last Mother's day. While everyone slowly got stoned on mint Julip's, she read letters between her Mom and grandmother while her Mom was an army nurse in 1918. During this time, my great grandfather was killed working on the rail road, my grandma had dalliances with a couple doctors, survived the Spanish flu and celebrated the end of the War. Was very cool because my aunt's daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter were there to hear these letters.

Michael K said...

Was very cool because my aunt's daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter were there to hear these letters.

I have my great uncle's letter to his wife in the Civil War. He survived Shiloh b ut was wounded on May 22, 1863 on Grant's last attempt to take Vicksburg by storm. After that day he settled down to a siege that lasted in July 4. It was too late for my great great uncle. His last letter to his wife.

Dear Wife,
I take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to inform you of my health. I received a wound in my left arm but it is doing well and I expect to go home as soon as the rush is over, they are not taking any up the river now but the worst cases, you need not worry about me for I am in a good place and when I go up the river I may have to stay at week or two before getting a chance to go on home. I received two letters from you while on the Black River on Sunday night and on Monday we established our lines around Vicksburg, we had them completely surrounded before there was a gun fired. The action commenced on Tuesday and had been kept up ever since. Sometimes very hard fighting and sometimes light. I was wounded on the 22nd while getting supplies to the Regiment. I was sent to this Hospital by way of the Yazoo and arrived here the night of the 23rd with about 350 others, the rest of the Lasalle boys were all safe the last I heard from them hoping these lines may find you in good health I bring this to a close from your absent
W.J. Kennedy
P.S. do not worry or fret about me for I am doing well and will go up the river in a few days


He died June 2, 1863 in Gayoso Hospital Memphis.

Phidippus said...

Michael K @6:20 PM: "I am doing well and will go up the river in a few days..."

Again, how true! Of all of us.

I am just at that point now in Grant's Memoirs, the coming siege of Vicksburg. It is a hefty book, but most of the stories implicit in it are necessarily untold. (Despite the copious footnotes therein.)

You are lucky to have this personal history of your family to pass on.

traditionalguy said...

The mother's side of the family they were English Emigrants that owned a Book and Music Store in Atlanta in 1864. Great Grandfather, S. P. Richards,kept a diary that is quoted from in all Histories of the siege. He had paid 10,000 Confederate dollars for a substitute to serve in the Army. After Sherman won at Jonesboro and was given the town,, P. went north because he had relatives in Buffalo he ordered all civilians to leave. They could either go north by train or south by train. S. P. took the northern option to meet relatives in Philadelphia. But they were all robbed along the way.

After the war he returned and rebuilt his store.The S. P. Richards Paper Company still is in operation today.

The fathers side came to Atlanta before the Cherokees left, and managed to own most of the north side of town. A GG Grandfather was first Postmaster of Terminus because he had a dry goods store when the trains came. They were Colliers and Donaldsons. After the war they opened a brickyard on Peachtree street because no one wanted to use wood again. They ended up owning 3 hotels at Five Points. And the Captain Tom Donaldson built the roads in Fulton County as Superintendent of Public Works( they used convicts on chain gangs) He was the founder of Sardis Methodist Church in 1835, and reached the 33Degree Freemasonry.

The stories go on and on. My son learned most of them from my Father's brother who became a well known writer in NYC for 70 years( See, "Emblems of Conduct" about his experiences with the Atlanta family)

Michael K said...

Michael K @6:20 PM: "I am doing well and will go up the river in a few days..."

Again, how true! Of all of us.


They had to run the wounded past Vicksburg to Memphis where the hospital was. The letter his wife got .

June 22 [1863]

Mrs. Jane Kennedy
I write to inform you of the sad news that your husband died this morning at eight o’clock, through the night and this morning he seemed very quiet & I think not conscious of his suffering. He was brought in to this ward two weeks since. He was shot in the elbow badly and had Typhoid fever slightly and wandering part of the time. His money & effects are in the hands of the Officer of this Hospital Gayoso Hospital Ward J.
I am here taking care of my brother and your husbands cot was close to his and would give him drink & feed him etc. My Br thinks we have a excellent sergeon here he feels perfectly satisfied with the management & good care and attention. This ward is very cool & comfortable.
I writ you by request of the Chaplin
Emeline Brose
Memphis Tenn
Gayoso Hospital
Ward J

wholelottasplainin' said...

Many years ago, my Polish immigrant grandfather, a coal miner in SW Pennsylvania, was to me a kindly old man who liked to sit on a swing with his young grandkids on the front porch.

He, like my grandma, spoke some English, but not much. He obviously loved us, and didn't have to talk much to show it.

From his years in the mines, "Tata" (Polish for Dad) suffered from Black Lung, then esophageal cancer. Towards the end, his food and drink were delivered through a tube directly to his stomach. My uncle used to slip in some vodka down with his meals, figuring it would do no more harm.

Only recently did that uncle tell me more about "Tata's" life, describing how in the winter he would emerge from the hot mines after putting in a hard day's labor, then walk five miles in his work clothes---soaking wet at the start but frozen solid on him when he got home.

He would then have his son, my uncle, go out to get a pint bottle of vodka, which he downed within a half hour.

Next morning he would again set out on a five-mile walk and down into the mines.

That, ladies and gents, is typical of what many of your great-grandparents and grandparent went through.

Segue:

I think I have mentioned here that I began my education in rural Pennsylvania in a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher, 30-odd K 1-8 students, no running water and an outhouse out back. Straight out of the 19th century.

Yet 11 years later I had just completed a year's course in Inorganic Chemistry at St. Paul's School, the hoitiest-toitiest of all American prep schools.

It's a long story as to how that happened, but:

Only in America.




Chris N said...

My dad told me about commuting by train from Watertown to Storrs CT for law school (lived at home, money). One day a conductor looked at his name on the ticket while doing the rounds and apparently said’Mike Navin?’ Any relation to ‘Black Mike Navin? ‘.

Yes, there was.

My great grandfather had been some kind of an enforcer on the Hudson Day Line, between Albany and NYC, earning a reputation for not taking much shit from anyone.

Don’t know quite what to think: A mix of pride with a touch of mild shame? I don’t announce it to everyone, really, but here ya go ya filthy animals.

Friendo said...

My maternal grandmother was, essentially, an Okie by way of Colorado. By all accounts, she could out-fish the men and out-cook anyone.

At her funeral, when I was 20, my favorite uncle Frank told a story that he experienced with her of how two men had come upon her and him fishing a relatively narrow river.

The men across the bank threw their lines in the area where she and my uncle were fishing and she exclaimed: "we're fishing this part of the river".

The men replied "but, you're on the other side of the river".

To which my uncle says she cast a line across the river, right in front of them, causing them to leave.

One of my biggest regrets is not having a substantial relationship with her while she was around.

I have recounted this story to my kids in light of their grandparents, who are still alive at 85 and 90, but to no avail so far.

It saddens me.

fleg9bo said...

My mother was also in the WAVES during WWII, and I also know nothing about her experiences.

My paternal grandparents came from Hungary and my maternals came from Poland or Russia, an area where the borders changed from time to time. Unfortunately I don't know anything more about that either.

My father had to quit school after 8th grade when my grandfather died, to help support his eight siblings. He got caught in the Depression without an education or practical skills and suffered accordingly. The only thing he ever mentioned about that time was that he was a good tennis player and was invited to play on private courts to give the rich folks a challenge.

He joined the army in 1941, before Pearl Harbor, I suspect as a way of guaranteeing a roof (or at least some tent canvas) over his head and three squares. He was 34 when he joined. I wonder if he'd have joined if he saw the war coming. He would have been 35 by December 7 and that would have made him exempt from the draft, as far as I know. So he ended up serving until war's end, after which he married.

I had an aunt who used a phony last name to get a job she liked. Her real name proclaimed her Jewishness and the place she wanted to work didn't hire our kind. She worked there a long time under false pretenses.

I might be related to George Burns. My mother's maiden name is Birnbaum, same as George's real name, and my mom once mentioned that when she was young there was some show-biz big shot who came around and saw the family. I wish I had known that when, around 1961-62, I asked George for his autograph as he was sitting beside the pool at the Las Vegas hotel we were staying at. He was very nice to me and my sister, a couple of nerdy early adolescents.

I'm speculating here but I think the Depression killed what ambition my father might have had. I heard he had considered going into real estate and I think his personality would have served him well with working-class folks. But with a family to take care of, I think he was too afraid of losing the steady, if miniscule, paycheck.

There was a lot of good stuff there that I, like so many others, failed to take interest in until the sources of information were gone.

MountainMan said...

I am glad Ann posted this article. I have enjoyed checking in from time-to-time today and reading everyone's posts about their families.

My wife and I took up genealogy in 1992. We just recently went over 40,000 names in our joint family tree. Majority of these are on her side, her earliest ancestor, Anne Marbury Hutchinson, came to Plymouth colony in 1636. She later was run out due to her religious differences with the Puritan leadership, she is considered the "mother of religious freedom" in America and she helped found Rhode Island with Roger Williams. Many books have been written about her. Her statue, holding the hand of one of her 14 children, stands to the left of the State House door in Boston. I took my wife there a few years ago to see it. Her ancestors were always pioneers, out on the very edge of civilization. They helped settle Kentucky and the Ohio valley, eventually winding up in MO before the Civil War. Along the way there was intermarriage a couple of times by ancestors of both her parents - first cousins no less, and in KY, too! - making her a fairly cousin to herself. There are lots of great stories in her family, and some are quite fascinating. A few of her ancestor's have shown up in some of Allen Eckert's historical novels of the Ohio Valley. She has relatives who served under Geo. Washington in the VA militia; three with George Rogers Clark on his march to Vincennes; many who were among the very early settlers in KY; and one ancestor whose brother was captured as a boy in KY by a young Shawnee Indian during a massacre near the end of the Revolution and became his adopted brother; the Indian's name was Tecumseh. I used to kid her that if he was still alive I was going to send her whole family genealogy and all its stories to James Michener and let him craft one of those 300 year multi-generational sagas out of it. It is really that interesting.

On my side, well, it has been more difficult as all my family is from SC and GA and records are not as good as where my wife's families lived. Of course Gen. Sherman's soldiers wiped out some critical records about my lines. I have sometimes referred to my ancestors as "several long and distinguished lines of poor Southern white trash." There were always many secrets in my mother's family and things that were never discussed - any discussion of my maternal grandfather was a no-no - and we have, through my wife's patient and diligent research, learned what some of them were, from official state records on Ancestry and also from prominent - and embarrassing - articles on the front page of the Atlanta paper in the early 1900s on Newspapers.com. My mother and all my aunts and uncles and cousins turned out to be wonderful people, however, despite those problems. So, when you undertake finding out all these stories you need also to be prepared to find things you may not like and that your family would prefer remain forgotten.

Michael K said...

Yet 11 years later I had just completed a year's course in Inorganic Chemistry at St. Paul's School, the hoitiest-toitiest of all American prep schools.

It's a long story as to how that happened, but:

Only in America.


Another one of those racists we keep hearing about.

God help us.

Ambrose said...

Mine your family members for cute anecdotes - that's the ticket....

RichardJohnson said...

One of my grandmothers lived to 95. As a result, in my 20s and 30s I heard a lot of her stories- including a story passed on about what those dastardly Yankee troops did in Tennessee in the Civil War. Chicken thieves, she told me. She was quite the storyteller. She designated me to do the speech at her funeral, which I naturally filled with her stories. I have contributed five pages of memories for several other funerals/memorial services.

Two family friends wrote their memoirs. Both memoirs I have read more than once. The stepfather of my brother-in-law was one of the Operation Paperclip engineers. He wrote a memoir about his years in Germany and the US. Another good read.

narciso said...

Was it puttkammer, beast might know him.

narciso said...

Or was it wendt?

Kirk Parker said...

Mountain Man,

Interesting! My earliest American ancestor is John Sanford, who was part of the group that went to Rhode Island with Ann Hutchinson, and then married Hutchinson's daughter after his first wife died.

My great-grandfather (his descendant) rode with the Iowa Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War, survived it, and then married at a somewhat late age. My great-grandmother was 24 years younger than he was; he was 63(!) and she was 39 when my grandmother -- their youngest -- was born. As a result I have one fewer generation between me and the Civil War than anyone else of my age that I know.

Nichevo said...

Not that I have anything ready to share myself, but...

Ever notice that none of our usual suspects ever have anything to add of this nature? Why doesn't adss or readering or Howard or ritmo or ARM ever have anything human to share? It seems that is they cannot be attacking, they have nothing to say.

I will throw in my mite. My Grandfather, on my father's side was a delightful and remarkable man. A dashing young man, he used to ride a horse up and down Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn (if you lived here you'd understand how striking that was). He worked in some technical field in the Army in WWII. I don't remember whether it was then, or during Apollo in his work on the LEM, but apparently he executed an illustration of some top secret device or weapon that had him in front of some general demanding where he had taken that photograph! It was no photograph. He had drawn the illustration by hand.

My mom's dad died before I was born. But he did storm the beach at Normandy. Then he came home and sold insurance and made a good life for his family. Grandma disposed of his service weapons and other memorabilia before I was aware of their existence, or they would hold a place of pride in my home.

...And so much more. Shall this all be passed on to future generations? Or will it all be lost in time, like tears in rain?

Skookum John said...

We’ve got a pretty good stock of stories in my family. A pretty colorful bunch. Had 7 ancestors on the Mayflower, including John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of the famous poem by Longfellow. Soldiers in every major war we’ve fought (none on the side of the Confederacy.) Some of my ancestors were Mormons who were on the wagon train of 1847 with Brigham Young. (Thanks to my distant relations who are still Mormon, my genealogical records are well fleshed out.) When my great-grandpa was 12, he killed an Indian when a band of them attacked his family’s log cabin. Many many more stories, all written down for posterity. I also have memorized a long and humorous poem that my grandfather learned from his grandfather who learned it from his father, and I hope to pass it along to one of my own grandsons someday. It will be more than two hundred years old by then. Have silver spoons, a leather saddlebag, and a .41 Long Colt revolver that all belonged to another great-grandfather before the turn of the last century.

gadfly said...

Latest on Trump: He paid an unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Army Hospital - supposedly for some routine medical tests. But truth about Trump comes out faster these days .

Heavy reports that Andrew Vernon, a writer for The Hill tweeted on 11/16 that the visit was due to chest discomfort. The White House reported that the tests were part of his annual physical exam but that makes no sense since facilities available inside the White House are sufficient for routine medical procedures and exams.

The man is 73, at least 260 lbs, and he supposedly sucks down unprescribed pills like candy. Sounds like a a case of AFib to me but could have been a mild heart attack. But not to worry: Old grifters never die --- they just steal away.

Crazy World said...

Carry on Gossiping Gadfly
Surely the walls are closing in for real now.

Marcus said...

My father was a great storyteller. Most of them were based in truth. In his older years, he started writing them out as essays and stored them on his computer. He meant to collect them in hard form but lost interest after my mother passed. Unbeknownst to him, my sister copied his hard drive documents and the three children put together an almost 400 page book full of stories, photos, testimonials by the children and grandchildren and presented it to him on his 80th birthday. He cried and said it was the best birthday present he ever received. All the family members have a copy. He's been gone seven years now, but I still pull out the book and go through it, even though I have read (and slightly edited) all the essays.

THEOLDMAN


I am trying to do the same for my surviving daughter and grandchildren. Not an easy task.

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exhelodrvr1 said...

Great-grandparents, and one grandmother, all born in Germany. Came over in the 1870-1880 period. Settled in the midwest as farmers. We have a lot of stories from my parents about growing up on the farm, a lot of which have been written down, but very little from their parents (my great-grandparents).

Michael K said...

Sounds like a a case of AFib to me but could have been a mild heart attack. But not to worry: Old grifters never die --- they just steal away.

Very classy. Not unexpected from you.

Kay said...

The last member of the oldest generation of my family died this year. That generation had a lot of great stories to tell and I wish I remembered them all. One of my cousins and I, many years ago, wanted to write then all out in some sort of family scrapbook, but unfortunately we never got around to it.

mockturtle said...

Skookum John: I have four: John Howland, his wife-to-be Elizabeth Tilley and her parents. Are you a descendant of any of these?