Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who Were They?

One of my friends writes a daily blog, and sometimes she hits so close to home that I need to write my thoughts on her subject. Today her wondering was about who her ancestors were and what were they thinking when the photos were taken.

She was so right!  I don't know how many times I've looked at those old sepia or black and white photos and wondered just what was going on in those lives at the time the photos were taken.  There are some stories that swim through my mind, perhaps not exactly the same as I'd heard them originally, and some that are lost for all eternity because the teller is gone, and I didn't listen well enough at the time to retain it.  My grandfather was the best at telling family stories, and unfortunately, in my young years, I thought to myself, "I already heard that story" and I shut off my hearing. Now, at my age, I understand that it was important for him to tell those events. He needed to remember them, and he wanted me to know those folks he spoke of.  It's too late now....and it saddens me.

My mother, as sharp as she is on a lot of things, has faded memories when I ask of things. However, if I just start a subject and let her ramble, often I'll get a new clue to something that went on in her youth.
Her mother, who passed away when I was expecting my second child, probably had a million thoughts and stories of her East Marion,NY family. Unfortunately, she'd had a series of small strokes for years, and it affected her speech. She was a quiet woman, anyway, but after the strokes, she often would say the wrong words, and she knew it. It frustrated her, so she tended to become even quieter.

 Her father owned a fishing fleet, passed away when Gram was about ten years old, and her mother then took over the running of the business. Later, Gram's brother ran it...into the ground, from what I heard from another relative.  Those are things I want to know details of. I want to know if the picture I have of my young grandparents is a wedding seems that it might be, but Mom doesn't think so, 'because that's not Gramma's wedding dress.'  I want to know about the wedding, which was held in the garden. I want to see her dress, but it's gone 'where moth and dust hath corrupt.'  I want to know who those ladies were, in the tremendous hats, sitting with Gramma and eating Nabisco shortbread cookies. (I can see the label on the box in the photo!)

 I want to know so much. I was able to tape a 90 yr old sister of my paternal grandmother shortly before she passed away. She was as sharp as a tack and her sense of humor hadn't waned one iota. She was a Shelter Island girl, and had been raised by a mother who hailed from Newport, RI. She carried some of that New England accent in her voice, and was such fun to listen to. She told of my grandfather,  'Ahtha' (Arthur) when he 'courted' Maud. He'd hide his 'courtin' duds' in the bushes, and 'afta werk, he'd go inta the woods 'n change outta the werk clothes and inta the courtin' clothes.'  They'd sit on the front 'pahtch'  'n Ahtha would sing in his beautiful singin' voice.'   I'm blessed to have that tape.

I also went to visit an old cousin of my father's over on the Island. He was known as Shelter Island's historian. He was a character, to be sure!  He told me a few tales...some I suspect were pretty 'tall' ones!  Eben had a way of embellishing to make the story interesting. I've yet to know if there's any truth to the story that my GrGr Grandfather Case truly did hang himself in the back shed... or if  his wife really was so mad at him for doing so that she buried him in his 'every day wig instead of his red Sunday one.'  (that story is published in a book about the Island, with Eben's name attached to the telling of it.)

The loss of our history has been a lesson to me. This blog has many offerings of family tales, and I'm hoping to add more, so that my children and theirs will know something of their forefathers and mothers. I need to keep going...they just may want to know one day, when they've turned on their hearing ears again.


  1. One of my sisters years ago did a family history type book she gave us all as a gift for Christmas..Which was very nice, don't get me wrong..but the book lacks " the real stories, the sounds of voices, the slang, the tall tales, the sitting on the porch and intense listening"

  2. That's a great idea so use your blog to tell the family get them down into words. Our Swedish family has always been pretty tight-lipped about "personal" stuff, which to them includes even the how you met your spouse stories--any of it. Maybe that is why I am such an open book? Always had rebellious tendencies--LOL! ;)

    That tape sounds absolutely priceless! You should probably make sure to have it copied over on to a CD or something. (Whatever modern thing they have now--LOL!) I do know that tapes disintegrate and you don't ever want to lose that. :)

  3. The tape sounds great. Write those stories down. I've written a few down myself. Some I need to wait for time to pass ( if you get my meaning ) LOL
    Maybe I should just write, " The secret Journal "
    the untold tales, to be released after my passing.
    How mysterious and sneaky that would be. But how to leave the clues so someone could discover it ?