Storytellers

I love research. I will research something with the quickness! Most recently, my mom was driving as she and my grandmother were on our way back from Tennessee. I guess I was so into my phone, more than the usual gameplay attention, that she asked me what I was looking at. I looked at her and said, “Oh! I’m just looking up how tree rings are formed during the growth process.” Once it came out of my mouth and there was a pregnant pause I said, “It didn’t seem so nerdy until I said it out loud.” She laughed. Hard.

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Of course, I felt like I had to explain.  “I saw some trees back there that were tall and pretty. Then I started thinking about how old they must be to be so tall. Then I was wondering about how the rings are actually formed in the tree.” I never quite recovered my street cred…not that I had any with mom…she has, by default of her position, seen me at my worst.

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I share that story to say, my it takes the littlest bit of curiosity to consume me in research. One thing leads to another and another and so on.

I recently submitted my DNA to Ancestry and received my results. I have since been (you guessed it) consumed in researching about my peoples. Some of that research is combing through documents and cross-checking information to make sure what I put on my tree is correct. Some of the research involved interviewing family members that I meet along the way. I would love to find out which of my peoples came from which countries and such but, interviewing is the best part.

I’ve already share conversations with my cousins Michael and Mattie. They are both older people. The older, the better. Why? Because they have stories for hooouuurrrsss on end. And you know what else? I don’t care that they may be so old their memory skews the story a little bit. I don’t even care if they intentionally changed a minor detail. Granted, for accuracy purposes, the scientist in me is a little peeved by that, but I love a good story. (Sidebar: I have found so many who have changed their names, fallen off the face of the earth, people lied about their age all. the. time. which makes it hard to track and verify if these are my folks. Just a smidgen annoying) 

I tell stories all the time. Some stories I make up just to see how convincing they are. But the stories of people who have lived through the Civil Rights Movement or collected stories from their grandparents who were slaves…unbeatable. I spoke to two cousins alone who were 80+ years old. Both of them had stories. Both of them had different stories. Both of them had different stories about the family.

With Ancestry, you have the opportunity to find living relatives but you may not always know how you’re connected. These stories are like additional clues in how to spin the puzzle piece to fit. Again, the older the better. One told a story about how he went with his grandmother (my great great grandmother) down south to visit her sister and the cousins he met. He threw out names that were like buzzwords for me because I was trying to see how they were related. I had another hint.

I spoke to his sister later in the day. She told me about how she was always sitting and talking with her grandmother. She asked tons of questions because she was curious. She said, “If I wasn’t sitting with her, I was talking with Grandpa.” She said, “The stories grandma told about slavery would make you cry. She would have to stop sometimes because it was too much for her. But, you know, she was half white.” That information was news to me based on my research so I beckoned for more. “Yea. Silas, her father, was half white. She was in the sun so much it bleached her hands and arms dark like the rest of us. You know, she didn’t wear stockings like the ones we wear now. She never wore white and she wore thick cotton stockings because she didn’t want her legs to show. They were white.”

I was stumped. I will post a picture of this lady’s 50th anniversary with their spawns. She was a dark lady. Now, whether or not the details of the story are true – which I guess they could be, I don’t know. Again, the lady is 82.

Mi Familia

You know what I like about hearing older people tell stories? They tell it like narrating a movie.  I feel like I’m there. The warmth in their voice when they describe their love and admiration for someone. The sparkle when they explain how gorgeous someone was. The pride when they proclaim how good-looking the family was in general. What was once names on a page are now characters, people. Real people. My people.

Ok, one more story. The lady I spoke with earlier today said, “Your grandmother and I fell out. Ask your uncle, he knows some of it. I told him why we fell out too. Your grandmother…she was a good dancer. An outstanding dancer; I’ll give her that. She could dance. I was a great skater. She could dance and I could skate. We used to go to this skating rink. I couldn’t dance like she could and she couldn’t skate like me. And that made her mad. So we fell out.” She laughed. Hard.  “And there was this boy named Big Charles. I liked Big Charles and she like Big Charles. And we fell out over that. And you know what? Charles went on to the military and married someone that wasn’t neither one of us!” She laughed again. Hard. Again. And I joined along.

My paternal grandmother's family
I never met my great grandparents (the lady in the middle and the gentleman on the end) but I’ve had the pleasure of knowing my grandmother (on the far right) and my aunt and uncles. Mighty fine people.
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“It was Communion Sunday…”

I believe I shared in another post I have met a lot of new family members lately.  One gentleman I met, Michael, an artist who is living between California and Mississippi, is a talker.  He can talk for minutes on end, keep you on the phone so long that you wonder if his body functions like a normal human needing sustenance or release.  Interestingly enough, he is fully aware of his exhaustive story-telling.

I enjoy story-tellers, I am one myself. It’s great to be quiet sometimes and listen to people talk, reminisce about “this one time…”  When Michael realized he was wandering off, he would bring himself back to the topic at hand. Once, he stopped to talk about how his mother held conversation.  He said, “She would try to tell me about when she spoke to my brother and say, ‘I spoke to your brother about two weeks ago…well, it was on a Sunday…it was Communion Sunday,’ you see how this is not relevant to the story,” he said.  He laughed as he thought about how long the conversations could be with her as she thought out loud – each thought having their own mini monologues. But isn’t that the fun of conversation?

I have a friend who has a degree in Biology like I do and our dialogues jump off the tracks soooo many times! Mostly, they divert to some nerdy application of our education to the topic.  Last time we spoke, we had a list of things to look up once we ended the conversation: how rice is grown, pussy willows, “those plants that look like hotdogs on a stick,” pineapple plants and cranberries. I can’t recall what we were discussing in the first place but I know there were a couple of diversions that got us there.

I feel we get too busy to have a great dialogue with someone.  There seems to be something more important on social media, some movie we don’t want interrupted, some project we have to do, some album that just dropped, some thing that is more important than making (or strengthening) a relationship with another human being.  Let’s be honest, real relationships are rarely built through social media. Then again, how are we defining “real?”  Some don’t have real relationships with the people right in front of them. Maybe that’s why we find something else to focus on – something that makes us feel connected, a part.

I am both guilty of and frustrated by this.  I mean, some things take so much focus that stopping to answer the phone isn’t worth it.  Equally, we all need time to ourselves for self care and can do whatever the heck we want with that time. I’m merely pointing out I am aware of how many people put in their headphones while sitting in a full room. Families forgoing conversation at restaurants because they are all on their phones.  My most memorable moments are when I put the phone up and engage those around me. I’m almost annoyed I need to keep my phone on me in case of emergencies. I sometimes wish we could go back to payphones and quarters.

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Let me take a moment to divert from the main topic, as I would if we were sitting and talking in person, to tell a funny story about payphones and quarters. I, like many youth, had my days of threatening to runaway when I was a kid. One day I was so angry that I went into my mom’s purse, took a quarter and rode my bike to the library without telling her beforehand.  I felt rebellious and brazen, chest-puffed out. I might have been as bold in actuality as I was in my head with the exception of leaving her a note to tell her what I did and where I went. LOL! On top of that, the library?!

Anywho, sometimes it is a little annoying to stop and converse with someone because they aren’t talking about anything you’re interested in, or you feel you could be doing something better with your time, but I don’t think there is anything better to do with your time than to make someone else’s life better.  Pausing to listen to someone can make a big difference in their day. With as little dialogue as we are having these days, there are sure to be some pretty lonely people out there. Just stop and listen, and maybe even share.  You may walk away with something inspiring, enlightening or give them something to walk away with. I, personally, feel a conversation isn’t fruitful unless either of us walked away with something – a memory, a laugh, a challenge of thought, etc.

Well, on that note, it’s been nice talking to ya. I’m going to get back to watching Footloose and continue some art projects. Until next time folks. 🙂

Pull Over!

I have recently made time to spend with family.  Sometimes we get so busy in everything we need to do that we don’t remember to enjoy life.  At this particular point in my life, I have pulled over to enjoy the moments, people and scenery around me – none of this will last forever.  This adventure we took on the road.

3 Generations, 4 states. A family friend turned 50 years old this past weekend prompting my grandmother, mother and I to hop in a car and travel across 4 states to celebrate with her.  The car temperature was perfect, the snacks were plentiful and each person had headphones in case they happen to listen to something opposite to the radio – which we all used.

You learn a lot about a person spending 12 hours in a car – never being apart throughout the weekend with the exception of a shower.  Some things I gathered:

  •  My grandmother is getting older.  That sounds like an obvious thing but she is busy – always on the go, getting into everyone’s business and very independent. Seeing her be absent-minded was a little jarring.
  • My mother prefers headphones and an audiobook to having conversation with those in the room.
  • My grandmother remembers the song “The Freaks Come Out At Night”…yeah no
  • I can completely tune out a host of conversations while sitting at a table of five.  I must be great at looking like I’m still present because they thought I was still in the discussion.                                                             sure
  • My mom looked into joining a bowling league twice when I was younger.
  • My grandmother probably will always see my mom and I as children – especially as she felt it necessary to referee a minor spat in the mall.
  • My grandmother speeds.
  • My mom will dance in public except at a party and she is a horrible wingman. lol  She got up from the table, took all of her belongings and when I realized she wasn’t returning, I grabbed my things to walk out only to see her standing in the lobby.  She said she was going to text me later…whet.jpg
  • I wouldn’t want to road trip with anyone else.  We had a blast and have a generational tradition of mothers and daughters being roadies. My grandmother would drag my mother around all day as my mom did with me and now we do it together.

Here are some pics from our trip across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.  I do not have any pics of my grandmother as she prefers to keep her picture off of the internet (social media sites). LOL Sorry for the graininess of some of these.

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At the party looking like royalty
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Mom and I before heading to the party
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Headed to bday lady’s home
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 Passing through the storm headed home

She Told Me I Was Going To Starve

In the last month I have met many family members from all over the country. One feisty 70 plus year-old woman asked me for a favor upon receiving my call.  She said, “Tell me a time when I can call you back. I’m canning figs…”  This hoot of a woman lives in Mississippi so you can imagine the southern twang; not strong but present nonetheless.  She continued, “do you know know what that is?!”  With a tiny bit of anxiety that comes when older people ask if I know of some survival skill, I replied, “I’ve heard of canning, yes…”  She chuckled and I braced myself for the fuss that was to come, “Boy I hope this modern thing lasts ’cause if it doesn’t, you young people are going to starve.” I exhaled.  Her response wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be.

Mattie made me think of, again, all of the things I don’t know how to do. I wanted to reply in frustration that my own grandmother doesn’t can – that she doesn’t go to fields to pick berries or anything of the sort.  Hell, I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t know if we have fields nearby to pick fresh fruits and vegetables. My grandmother, plus or minus 2 years in age to Mattie, did not pass those things along as her mother did to her.  Truth be told, I do feel a little unprepared for the zombie apocalypse.  I mean, both sides of my family come from frugal, pie crust pan saving, biscuits and water for dinner times and I can make as much as an afghan blanket.  To be fair, I was taught how to cook and can coupon with the best of them – who doesn’t love a good sale and discount?!  I buy what I want and keep up with modern technology but Mattie is right(ish).

Most recently, I have scheduled (yes, scheduled) weekly meetings with my grandmother to teach me to sew.  She was the one to teach me to make an afghan blanket. Not only do I want to learn to make my own clothes (if I wanted to to) and spend some QT with my grandmother, she is the last one who can teach me.  My mother to this day says she’ll go to the source (speaking of my grandmother in response to learning to sew) but my grandmother won’t be here forever and when she dies, I don’t want those basic skills to be gone with her.  I want to be able to buy fabric and make something I see in my head but can’t find in the stores. I want to be able to whip and fluffy blanket together in about a week. I want to be able to make a super moist pound cake and cabbage that tastes like home – though mine isn’t far behind hers.

Mattie is right.  Our modern way of living has robbed (maybe too strong of a word or not) us of our roots.  It has, in some ways, taken away our independence – crippled us a little bit. I can make a list of other examples but I’ll save that for another blog.  I just find in this moment, I want to absorb everything I can from the ones before us because they have demonstrated resiliency and strength.  I’ve personally learned that some times the lessons we learn from the generations before us come with needle and thread, milk and butter, crochet hook and yarn.

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          The skirt my grandmother taught me to sew on my first sewing lesson