QC Blog: January 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Shadow of your Smile

If you noticed the comments to the last blog entry, my friend mentioned that the phrase "each one of our ancestors on our tongues" in the inaugural poem is how she sees me. She explained "I think that you are very tied to your ancestors...and they are near your 'surface.' In your everyday life you think about, and search, and do things your ancestors have done.....I do not think that is "Noise" to you, and if it is, it's a good noise that keeps you grounded in family." How ironic that she would say that, considering what I wanted to write about today.

I've spent the last few months, with my son Zack's help, scanning photos from the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's (almost done). We started on this project so that everyone in the family could have a copy of my grandmother's photos, even though there aren't a ton of them. I took the opportunity to ask around for more photos from other relatives. I had photos from 6 different sources, my grandmother, my great-aunt, my mom, 2 of her sisters, and then my dad's photo albums.

I've sat with my grandmother and my mother looking at most of these photos, having them tell me who they are. I've looked at the photos in my dad's photo album, absorbing and analyzing them, and he had the insight to label most of his photos. For the most part, I've lived these pictures over and over again, so identifying them wasn't expected to be hard, just time consuming.

The six folders of photos had several that crossed over, and one aunt would label it one way, and the other aunt another. Sometimes the back of the photos said something else. I wanted to start teaching Zack who some of these people are (it seems so obvious to me). Except for the fact that he kept labeling everyone who was young as Nanny (his grandmother), we finally got into a rhythm. We used labels in one folder to help us in another folder. We soon realized that there were two or three parties scattered over the photos, with different photos in the folders. Zack started using clothes to help identify people in certain photos, which was very perceptive.

Then I lost my helper because he had to go back to school in January, so I continued. I came across one photo of kids that I sent to my "genealogy cousin" (because his dad and mom were at this party) and it turns out they were his brothers and sisters. The party pictures were taken by my dad (most of the 40's-50's photos are after he came on the scene), so I've seen them before. He would take group photos of the adults in the family, one of the brothers and sisters, one of the kids. Does this sound familiar to anyone who knows me? Then I came across a picture with my dad and one of my aunts in it, and several people I wasn't sure of. I identified some from other labels, and kept thinking it over, trying to puzzle out why those people would be in a photo together. A day later, it hit me - it was an "outlaw" photo, and that narrowed down the choices of who the others were in the picture.

My mother has two brothers who are identical twins. We just kept labeling those as "twins" because as babies, who can tell? That's where my dad's photo albums came in. Meticulous to a fault, my dad labeled the photos of the twins in almost every circumstance. I am so thankful he had the foresight to label those baby photos of the twins, or none of us would have had a clue.

I used my genealogy file to cross reference ages with people in the photos or cars in the photo to determine a year for the picture. While I was doing this labeling, I signed on and was using a free trial to Ancestry.com. I've done genealogy research before, but now that the census reports are online, it's so much easier to find someone. I worked all day last Saturday online doing census research that would have taken weeks to do at the library on microfiche. Happily, my relatives are pretty reliably in Pittsburgh, and not too hard to find. There are a few stragglers though, that I'm having a hard time with. You can get so caught up in cross referencing this person with that person, and knowing when they married, and what happened in their lives so would they still be in Pittsburgh in 1920? My head was spinning when I went to bed at 4:00am that night. I dreamt of being in a maze of streets with different names and trying to find cross streets and where they intersected one another. I love to see names that have descended through the generations, and reflect on how much of a wonder it is that we ended up here at all. In a family, sometimes, only one child survived and that happens to be our ancestor.

So then, I'm back to the photos, reviewing them, and I start getting lost in their faces. I see my aunt's face in her children and grandchildren. I see my other aunt in her youngest daughter. I look at my cousins and I can tell who they are as a baby because they have the same smile at 51. I get lost in the smiles and marvel that I didn't realize until recently that I have my mother's smile. I look at my great-grandmother and I think maybe I have her smile too. I wonder what it would have been like to travel here as a young person on a boat, that probably took anywhere from 10-14 days to come to America from Ireland and from England. Did they come alone? Did they travel with family? I wonder how they met one another. I sometimes get lost in what their lives were like. My head spins for awhile over things I'll never know the answer to. I have so many questions now that no one can answer, because people who might know aren't here anymore.

Shortly before my 75 year old grandmother went into the hospital back in 1980, she and I sat on her couch for hours looking at some of these photos. She told me who was in the photos, and told me stories about the people in them. She was so thrilled to talk about her life. I know we exhausted each other that day, but I knew I was going back to Maryland (where I was living at the time) that day and she was going into the hospital soon. I wanted to squeeze every moment out of that special day, because it was unlike any other. She told me with enthusiasm about the day she first married her husband and had to keep it a secret. I had to look at her in a totally different way than I ever had before. I suddenly saw the young girl inside her - that person we all are in our mind, no matter how wrinkled our faces get, or how old or infirm we are.

So my lesson for today, is ask the questions. Ask your parents who they are and how they met. Ask them about what they like and what they are interested in. Ask about their parents and who they were and about their grandparents and where they were from. What kinds of jobs did they have and what drove them? What were their personalities like? And then write it down - for your children and your grandchildren. And then write down your own story. Write down every detail you know today, because 10 years from now, that memory will be gone from your brain. Write down every story your parents tell so it will survive them. Most importantly, when they start to talk, LISTEN.

And while you're at it - label those photos.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History in the Making

I just finished watching the inauguration of Barack Obama. They estimate 1.4 million people were in the Washington Mall area to see it. It was an incredible moment in US History. I'm so proud of the American people to see past the color barrier and elect him as our President.

I really loved when Aretha Franklin sang My Country 'Tis of Thee -what an awesome HAT she had on. She wore it with style. Chrissie took me to a play once that was about black women and the hats they wear and how they assume the dignity to then wear it with style. Wasn't the poem that was read after the oath of office wonderful too? The writer even mentioned stitching a hem in the poem so it ties into quilting, sorta. (quite a stretch). I love watching all the protocol surrounding the actual ceremony. The order of things - visiting the White House, having "coffee", making their way together to the site of the inauguration, how beautiful Michelle Obama looked and how cute Obama's girls looked. His oldest daughter had her digital camera. Then they had dozens of big screen TVs in the Washington Mall this time. (I don't recall that for Clinton), so the people miles away could see his face on the screen. The way everyone files in and is announced by that guy with the big voice on the speaker (wonder who he is).

Until you're about 25 or 30 years old, you think your life just revolves around you and you're just living your life, then one day you realize, you're living "HISTORY." This was one of those days.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl!!!!!

Yeah, can you believe it? Pittsburgh is going to the Super Bowl again! After a nail-biter of a game, we beat the Baltimore Ravens and won the AFC Championship and will be playing in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, 2009.

If I weren't so excited about this, I'd be totally consumed by the fact that Barack Obama is being inaugurated tomorrow as President of the U.S. I'm going to take a Steeler break for tomorrow and immerse myself in the ceremony, then throw myself over to the Black and Gold fever that overtakes the city when something like this happens.

There's a really cool picture of Pittsburgh circulating the Internet with a Steeler moon hanging over the city and a Terrible towel in the rivers reflection. Awesome!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside!

I just finished listening to a new Live From Daryl's House (Daryl Hall, of course) with Company of Thieves. It was very good. I'm being exposed to music my sons haven't even heard of. (Is that good or bad? Hmmm...)

It's freezing here in Pittsburgh. The kind of cold that is in the minus number category. When I told my kids I love cold weather they actually scoffed at me - and said "you hate the cold, you're always complaining about being cold." I told them there's a great difference between "being cold" and liking cold weather. Just because I always make sure I have a hat, scarf, and gloves for cold weather does not mean I hate the cold. I hate feeling cold in the house, where I should be warm, and not being able to get warm. But I love white, crispy snow, and the sound your boots make when you walk outside. I love when the sun shines on a cold day (like yesterday) and the contrast between the blue sky and the white snow. I love the vision of the steam your breath makes in cold weather. I love bundling up for a cold day, and feeling toasty warm when I walk outside, despite the freezing temperatures. It makes me feel alive and ever respectful of the weather gods, because you never know what to expect.

My mother's birthday was this past week on Jan.14. It was strange not to celebrate with her this year. Happy Birthday Mom.

I started a new quilt (yes I'm still working on the other ones) this week. It has large squares of Thimbleberries fabric that I bought as a kit. I'm adding a sashing in between and hopefully will be able to find a border that will accent it properly. I also am going to machine quilt another quilt for a friend as soon as I get the King Tut thread I ordered in the mail.

But the really important thing this week is that everyone has Black and Gold fever right now. The Steelers are playing in the AFC championship game tomorrow night against the Baltimore Ravens. And guess what? My sister, Patty, sent our Iceland photo of the three of us on top of the glacier with our Terrible Towels to the Steeler Digest, a paper that's printed every two weeks or so. They put our picture in this week!! What a perfect week to make the paper.


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