Friday, September 16, 2005

Even if I didn’t know him I would have recognized Grampy; he had a smile that could light a room when I entered. He was in a library speaking with a few friends when I arrived. That smile made the whole trip worthwhile. He introduced me to his friends and then I pushed him and his wheel chair out toward the lobby; he was looking forward to going out for lunch. Gramps’ finds the hardest thing about getting old his losing his mobility. While his mind is still sharp, his legs have failed him and at minimum he needs a walker to get around.

A car had been arranged to bring us to a small restaurant not for from his apartment. In our conversation as we reviewed the menus he commented, “You’re wearing Millie’s pearls,” a tear forming at the corner of his eye quickly wiped away. And I was wearing my grandmother’s pearls. I nodded and told him that I thought of her whenever I put them on and we both smiled.

After lunch we returned to the apartment and we flipped on the TV to watch the latest news from New Orleans. “If your grandmother were alive she’d give young Bush and that crew in Washington a piece of her mind.” He said. As her children grew older my grandmother became a proponent of civil rights and an advocate for the disadvantaged.

His bringing her up again gave me an opportunity to ask some questions about her. An aunt and cousin had cataloged my grandparent’s photographs, diaries and letters to create a website to share them with the rest of us. In reviewing the information I had become very curious about who my grandmother was and what her life was like. I peppered my father and aunt and uncles for as much information as they had but there were still many holes in my knowledge of her that I wanted to fill. So I asked Grampy.

Grammy was the youngest child and only daughter, her parent’s a physician and a former nurse living in southern NJ. She was smart and precocious when it came time to go to college she convinced her parents to let her go to Paris for school (I hadn’t known that). Shortly after arriving she withdrew and lived a Sally Bowles-ish life across Europe. Apparently her parents didn’t find out right away and then had a fit when they did. But she wasn’t to be restrained and kept living the high life. The last straw for her father was when she disappeared into the Middle East and North Africa with a man twenty years her senior. She would regularly send letters and pictures but never gave them any indication on how she could be reached.

Among her letters from that time is one from her father threatening to disown her, saying something like “if you don’t return to Trenton immediately we’ll no longer have a daughter.” Her diary covers much of the same material but shows how she continued to connive in order to remain in Europe.

Around that time she met Grampy in London. Gramps describes himself at that time as a straitlaced, homesick, stick in the mud, who couldn’t for the life of him understand why his father had forced him to move to England in order work in a friend’s business for the experience. Grampy said that he would have been perfectly happy to have stayed in NJ and worked in the family business while spending his spare time hunting and fishing in the Meadowlands.

He said that for him and he thinks maybe for her, it was love at first sight. He describes her as a pixie and like no other woman he ever met. She managed to put off the inevitable return home for another six months and when the gig was up she announced she was returning with a gentleman in which she had a strong interest. She hadn’t indicated who this gentleman was and that set off her father, but as I looked at the dates of the letters and telegrams (all from him) I realized that it was all a stall. Finally a name and some family information was provided, and great grandfather was mollified, his daughter’s gentleman was a young man from an upstanding family.

Kim

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oral history references in US

http://lcweb.loc.gov/folklife/fieldwk.html

www.jwa.org/aboutjwa/programs/ 350years/oralhistory.html

http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/1minute.html

http://www.ghi-dc.org/guide8/about.html

I gathered these over one year ago and am not certain if they are that good, or the best.
Iowa

1:58 PM  
Blogger Garrison Steelle said...

Damn spammers.

What a WONDERFUL story! How precious it is that you were able to spend such time with your grandfather, and I'm sure he enjoyed every second you were there.

-G

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I have been misunderstood, the purpose of the references is to encourage the collection of family histories. MC's lunch with Grampy uncovered new information about Grammy which went undocumented.

I have written interviews with the only two people who have any memory of my family's life in Kansas City; my brother does the paternal side from Wisconsin while my sister does the maternal Kansas side. Next step is to meld the two efforts. Without this, my nephews and nieces will know nothing about the three gnerations before them.

MC was learning family historical information that, perhaps, no one else has.

Straight forward, MC consider documenting Grampy's recollections before that information is gone forever.

The links are a starting point for guidelines on how to collect oral histories.

Iowa

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clarification - long
If I have been misunderstood, let me clarify. The references in the first comment are guidelines on how to collect familial historical information, specifically through oral interviews. Straight forward, MC please consider documenting Grampy’s recollections before they are gone forever.

MC wrote that family “cataloged my grandparent’s photographs, diaries and letters … but there were still many holes in my knowledge of …” Grammy. Her lunch was essentially an oral interview that revealed wonderful personal information about Grampy and Grammy getting together, that no one else apparently shares, other than MC and Grumpy. Wonderful family history at her finger tips.

I have written interviews with the only two remaining folks that have any memories of my family’s life in Kansas City; my brother does the paternal side, Wisconsin, and my sister, the maternal Kansas side. My brother, as an engineer is concerned with whether it is “factual or not”; who gives a phooey, it is their memory. Without this effort, the nephews and nieces in my family will have no information about the three preceding generations.

I assume most folks reading the blog are thirty and under or forty and under and it may seem as if you have time in your life for everything. So focus on your elders. MC doesn’t have that many years with Grampy.

Point being, MC, collect as many informal memories of family with Grampy as you can while you can. Set aside the immigration papers, wedding photos, letters, and telegrams, - get the memories.

Enough
Iowa

2:46 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Iowa, I understood what your posts were about.

G, it must be that time of month, huh? :O

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the touching story Kim. It's always good to know these family precedents. And from NJ too. You come from good stock kid, never forget it. Hunting in the Meadowlands indeed. That's just swell. And yes, Iowa, I understood you at the first post.

Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'

9:56 AM  
Blogger Pete from Cal said...

Wow Grammy was such free-spirited woman; I admire her! I envy how she managed to live life on her own terms until she is good and ready. She must have some interesting adventures from her days in Europe, Africa, and Middle-East. Hope those stories will not be lost! Thank you for sharing it with us! :)

4:32 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Alas Pete, those stories remained her secret till she died. If others knew they have not said anything. Grandfather knew only the generalities, that she lived in Europe during a period of time and spent time in several cities. For instance he didn't know, couldn't remember or wouldn't say who the older man was, only that he thought he was Italian, a Count of somewhere.

Kim

12:35 PM  

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