Saturday, July 23, 2005

Grandma's Collection

This post is sort of a special request. Vest wanted more of my family stories. Sagepaper posted about conversations with her grandparents and great-grandparents. This got me thinking.....

My paternal grandmother was a saver. Grandma never had much, so she never disposed of anything with a potential use. Grandma religiously reused aluminum foil, wrapping paper, screws and washers. Yes folks, she was even known to straighten out used nails! Fabric scraps turned into beautiful quilts and oven mitts.

The other things that Grandma saved, involved emotional attachment. We grandchildren quickly learned to gift Grandma with only our FINEST craft projects. If we gave Grandma something we made, it stayed on display in her home, FOREVER!! Many shapeless hunks of clay and pipecleaners haunted us well into our adult lives. My cousin embroidered Grandma a calendar in 1967, that was still hanging on the dining room wall in 1985!

Grandma's oddest collection was her scrapbooks full of obituaries. One of my earliest memories involved sitting on Grandma's lap, in her beat up rocking chair, listening to the stories connected to these obits. I don't know if SME remembers, but she had this experience too. Grandma's stack of scrapbooks were always neatly stacked by her chair. Her collection contained obits from both her and Grandpa's side of the family; relatives, both close and distant. Too many surnames for a child to keep straight. There were also obits of friends and neighbors dating back to her childhood. As we got older, my cousins and I tended to shy away from Grandma's obituary stories. It just seemed too creepy to our new-found "mature" minds.

Two of my cousins have recently begun exploring our family's history. Much of Grandma's lineage is documented. Our Grandpa's history, other than parents and siblings, is totally blank. My cousins have had grand adventures, armed with machetes and pruning shears, into abandoned cemeteries. They have started filling in a lot of the holes with names and dates acquired off long forgotten tombstones. They have spiral notebooks filled with possible links to our ancestors. Some of these have been added to our family tree; others turned out to be unrelated strangers. They have given me several names and dates to track down as well. It's been a fascinating experience.

The last time I talked to my cousin, J, I mentioned Grandma's scrapbooks. I said: "I know we always laughed about it, but wouldn't it be INVALUABLE to have Grandma's obit collection NOW?" J got a funny look on her face and leaned over and whispered in my ear: "I HAVE them!" At the time of Grandma's death, J had wanted something that had been important to Grandma. Now, almost 20 yrs later, she has a treasure trove of information! The only problem is that NONE of us payed enough attention to Grandma's stories to be able to sort through who's who in the collection. We can't remember which ones are Grandpa's relatives, Grandma's relatives or just friends and neighbors.

The moral to my story is: the next time a family member starts rambling on about long dead relatives; WRITE IT DOWN! Better yet, record or videotape the stories! You will not only keep the links to your past alive; you'll be making your loved one's day, by acknowledging the wisdom in their memories.

20 Comments:

At 7/23/2005 6:16 PM, Blogger Bridget Jones said...

OH can I identify with this one. My grandmother on my mom's side and I were close, as my mom and I are, but I'll be darned if I can remember HALF of the stories and names. As family photographer, I write the names, date and location on all of my photos now so that future folks won't have to go through this.

Bridg

p.s. Glad someone kept the obit files!!

 
At 7/23/2005 7:17 PM, Blogger Courtney said...

You're grandma sounds like my grandpa (and those breadbags and concentrated OJ cans always came in handy). My parents were 40 when I was born, and their mothers and fathers were in their 40's and 60's when they were born, so I missed out on all of those great stories. My sister and I try to piece our family together, but all we end up with are lists of family members names, but no idea how they were related.

 
At 7/23/2005 7:57 PM, Blogger SME said...

I don't remember the obit scrapbook, I'm afraid. But I do know you've inherited that saver gene: jeans from the '70s, old bedspreads, coffeecans...

 
At 7/23/2005 9:12 PM, Blogger zydeco fish said...

That's good advice. My grandmother's (yes, the toilet paper lady) scrapbooks have helped me with my genealogy. My dad's side is a complete void. I still have hundreds of photos of people I don't recognize.

 
At 7/23/2005 11:45 PM, Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Oh, I couldn't agree with you more here. I wish one of us will get around to documenting our ancestors already. Just this year, I found out I was part Hungarian. Had no idea.

It really is too bad that one huge chunk of your family tree is a big blank. Unfortunately, I have a few of those too.

 
At 7/24/2005 2:06 AM, Blogger SME said...

...buttons, Cool Whip containers, plastic bags....

 
At 7/24/2005 7:56 AM, Blogger tshsmom said...

bridg-I TRY to document all our pictures, but they tend to get away from me. The last time I albumized(my word) was when I sprained my ankle in 2000.

Courtney-I'm the "baby" cousin on my Dad's side, so I didn't get to spend as much time with my grandparents. My Grandpa died when I was 5.
After her bread bags got holes in them, my Grandma would crochet them into waterproof entrance mats.(Don't start SME, I haven't done this, YET.)

ZF-My Grandma's cousin was OUR TP dryer. That's why I believed that part. A lot of Grandma's photos disappeared after her death. Hang onto yours, you'll figure it out!

ZS-A couple of years ago, we discovered that Grandpa was half English/Scotch-Irish. We always thought he was all German. We can't understand the voids in his life. We have a feeling that we may discover some "skeletons" in the coming years. Maybe shifty immigration papers or something.

SME-What can I say? You come from a long line of smartasses(obviously) and hoarders. BTW, Grandpa wanted my coffee cans AFTER you made me throw them out. It seems to me that I found cool-whip containers in YOUR cupboard!

 
At 7/24/2005 10:27 AM, Blogger Notta Wallflower said...

Your grandma sounds like both of my grandmas, except the Obit book. I don't know how old your grandmas were, but I'm convinced that mine were thrifty because they lived through the depression (even though they were young kids at the time). People who live through something like that know the value of things.

 
At 7/24/2005 11:34 AM, Blogger tshsmom said...

Jen, my Grandma raised 6 kids through the depression! Thank God they were farmers. They never went hungry.

 
At 7/24/2005 1:43 PM, Blogger SME said...

Richard's the plastic hoarder. I made him throw 'em out.

 
At 7/24/2005 5:44 PM, Blogger KDunk said...

so important to write that stuff down!

 
At 7/24/2005 7:53 PM, Blogger Steph said...

This motivates me to start writing things down. My grandmother was very close to some Native American healers and had a home remedy for literally everything under the sun, and they actually worked! I always meant to spend a great deal of time with her and write them all down and in the meantime, get some great time with her while she was still alive, but sadly I never did. One of my greatest regrets.

I saw your comment on Bridget's blog about being a closet Manilow fan and I had to send you this link...I'm recently out of the closet myself. ;)
http://stephsdrivel.blogspot.com/2005/05/cant-smile-without-him.html

 
At 7/24/2005 9:29 PM, Anonymous ann said...

when i was a child, my father tape recorded my grandmother's voyage from ukraine to new york. she told the whole story, including what happened to her when she landed in castle garden (port at the southern most tip of manhattan--where second class passengers were sometimes sent). anyway, the tape was lost! aghr! it still upsets me to think about it.

 
At 7/24/2005 10:55 PM, Blogger Wandering Coyote said...

That is an important lesson.

My grandmother was a War Bride and I have always wanted to sit down with her with a tape recorder so I could somehow have a record of her experiences. For you Americans, War Brides were a very important group of immigrants, and there aren't many left living now. There are quite a few books about them and I'm sure my grandmother's story is just as fascinating and emotional as the others I've read. She'll be 84 in September, and I have just moved clear across the country from her.

On the other side of my family, we have a bunch of pathological hoarders. When my father inherited his aunt's house in the UK, it was a complete nightmare because she had kept absolutely everything imaginable. Similar patterns elsewhere in that family as well.

 
At 7/24/2005 10:56 PM, Blogger Sagepaper said...

My mother was seriously dating a man before she met my father. She was a library science student at Texas Woman's University. For that day and age, she was doing right well for a smart young lady. Her family background was rural/small town middle class. She grew up with a strong Western/pioneer ethic.

Her boyfriend arranged for Mom to meet his mother, out-of-state. Things were serious -- they might even have been engaged. The Mother was in to genealogy in a snotty way. She saw it as a matter of pedigree. This is not a Western thing -- no one cares what your Daddy did, what have *you* done.

After enduring many hours of tales about the finest of ancestors and relations her boyfriend had, the Mother asked Mom to tell them some about her family. Mom, was by then quite convinced this relationship would not work. She said, "Well, we did do some genealogic study on both sides of my family. We quit, though, when we got to Belle Starr (sp?) and Annie Oakley." That, of course, ended the conversation.

 
At 7/24/2005 11:40 PM, Blogger Courtney said...

Heh heh, those 'breadbags' were used to send home months worth of Sunday Paper kids sections. Every 'find it', 'kids crossword', etc., you could think of. The holey breadbags went to the garden, to use as ties on stakes for anything from tomatoes to clematis!!!

 
At 7/25/2005 1:30 PM, Blogger Jason said...

I was lucky in that my maternal grandmother got into genealogy, so I have a lot of family history at least on that branch. I got some good European perspective on WWII from my Dutch grandfather-in-law before he died, but all in all, I wish I'd listened to old folks more.

 
At 7/25/2005 2:18 PM, Blogger Laura said...

I missed out on this. I know a few tidbits here and there, but no one in my family really ever documented anything. I think someone on my mom's side has a family tree, but there's virtually nothing about my dad's side. I've always felt disconnected from my roots for this reason.

 
At 7/25/2005 7:10 PM, Blogger Sagepaper said...

People in my college dorm made fun of me for saving any and all bags. I didn't just save mine, I begged bags from people headed to the trash with them. They had quite a time at my expense all semester. When the semester ended, though, and the moving began, everyone went nuts trying to find bags. I charged an apology and a grin per bag handed-out.

 
At 7/27/2005 6:46 PM, Blogger Squirl said...

I am a bit of a hoarder, too. Ichabod has gotten me out of most of it though. But those glass peanut butter jars are great for storing all kinds of things. The couple of times Ichabod decided to make homemade butter he used one of those jars to make it.

I used to listen to my grandmother's stories. My mother still knows most everything, too. For some reason I haven't been "hoarding" that information.

 

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