August 5, 2009

Oh How Sweet But Oh How Bitter

Telling stories is a part of my heritage. Remember and writing down the stories is and has always been my avocation. I learned by age five that telling and keeping stories was important to my family, and helped shape who I am today.

My maternal grandmother taped histories of elderly citizens at our town library. She used reel-to-reel and then fragile cassettes. I hope these recordings have survived the last four decades. My father also interviewed several people, elderly farmers who lived through world wars and hard times.

My mother encouraged me to use her Royal manual typewriter. I learned to type almost before I learned cursive writing (which explains my chicken scratching.) Because of my interest in stories and the machines and means to preserve them, I am a family historian.

Both sides of my family have blessed (or cursed) me with treasures, letters, pictures, histories, clippings. I have gathered items from my husband’s families and preserved my son’s own treasures. Family relics are great clues and insights into to the past (or at least the happy things we wish to remember, and relegate other memories to our mental shredders).

As I grow older, however, I realize what these relics do not do. For example, I wish I could better record the memory of walking into my paternal grandmother’s kitchen from her porch. Once the glass and wooden door opened, the aroma of her homemade goodies pulled you in. There was always a pie waiting for a family visitor on the 1940s vintage Sellers cabinet. How can I explain the lightness of her homemade crust and the tart sweetness of the fruit?

Words are also inadequate in describing my maternal grandfather’s laugh. If living August 2, my grandfather would have been 110 years old. He was a handsome and stylish man, sometimes reserved, sometimes proper, but could let out with an infectious throaty belly laugh at his own joke or others.

My uncles might have been the subject of Reader’s Digest “Most Unforgettable Character”. My Uncle W, an avowed Democrat, held court at family gatherings, sitting slightly forward in an overstuffed chair, talking slowly and keeping the rapt attention of the room with his wit and wisdom. I have yet to separate the history part from the tall tale part.

My Uncle C, who suffered from lung disease, which made his already gravelly voice fierce and deep, looked like a Buddha in bib overalls. I was scared to death of him as a small child, but eventually learned that he was just a Teddy bear. He was full of sayings, such as “Oh, how sweet but oh how bitter, to kiss an old tobacco spitter” or “Damn said the ram as he fell off the cliff, I didn’t see that ewe turn.”

My Uncle D was a real cowboy on a New Mexico ranch in the late 1940s and 1950s. My father remembers visiting him in 1950 and Uncle D took Dad to visit a neighbor. Uncle D. borrowed the rancher’s truck, visiting the “neighbor” who was miles away across open range, reality imitating an old Western movie.

To nieces and nephews Uncle D. was the best. (One of his nieces was quite prissy and preferred to read and write about horses, rather than actually be near them. She did occasionally sat reluctantly on Jack the donkey, with the encouragement of Uncle D.) Uncle D. always kept horses and had the very gentle Jack the Donkey for many years. Uncle D. looked like a cowboy – boots, jeans rolled up at the bottom, and slightly ruddy face from too much sun.

His last ride was in great style, in a horse-drawn hearse to the Logansport cemetery with the family and seven nephews walking behind as a final show of respect.

While sounds, taste, and smells are only best experienced in person, words and pictures preserve many memories for future generations. The Internet forum is not perfect, but I am grateful for this permanent medium to record, just as my forbearers did, our family stories and tall tales. Quoth the raven.