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I didn’t really get to know my Grandmother – my mother’s mother – until I was 26. It was my second occasion ever to see her. The whole story is quite complicated.

My Grandmother Ruby left her family when my mother was 6 months old. She abandoned her 3 sons and husband to run off with another man. She took my mother with her. This man and my grandmother robbed a train together and my grandmother was convicted of being an accomplice in the crime. She served 4 years in Federal prison in  Atlanta (See Tell the Story: Ruby ) and my mother was sent to an orphanage. My grandfather found my mother 6 months later, when she was 1 year old, and brought her home.

My Grandmother

But this story isn’t only about my grandmother and her choices, but instead getting to know this woman after hearing about her during my entire childhood years. The first time I met Ruby she came to visit our house for a week. I was in 8th grade and it was a big deal that she was visiting. I believe it was the first time that my mother saw her since her childhood. Ruby spent much time hugging my Mom and trying to caress her. My Mom was extremely uncomfortable with this show of affection. My uncle urged my Mom to get to know her mother. He had reached out to her and he said he didn’t regret it. It took years for my Mom to forgive her mother and invite her to stay at our home.

My Mom opened our door, but she kept didn’t completely open her heart. I watched my Grandmother with curiosity  – she was truly the one that I always heard stories about. Her previous antics were legendary. This woman who spent time in prison was a guest in our home. I also observed my Mom and saw a good sense of dignity and class, and forgiveness. I remember feeling compassion and respect for my Mom. But I had never seen my mother that uncomfortable.

Later, when I was first married, I received word from my uncle that my grandmother was in the hospital in Washington, D.C. Ruby lived in the projects in D.C. and during the night, she had been bitten by a rat. The infection in her leg was severe. It really bothered me that my grandmother was living in an environment that allowed this situation to happen. I didn’t have a relationship with her, but technically she was my grandmother. At my first job after college, I received a bonus check for Christmas. I decided to send this extra money to my grandmother. It seemed that she needed it more than I did.

Letter from Ruby

A few months later I received a letter from my grandmother thanking me for the gift. The letters were telling. She grasped for what to talk about. She knew what not to talk about. She thanked me for the gift and asked about my family. She remarked that I married in a Catholic church and that she grew up Catholic as well (which I didn’t know). She didn’t talk about the past, or the future – she stayed in the here and now. Most conversations between grandmothers and granddaughters are filled with expressions of affection. Ours were filled with expressions of wonder and curiosity.

A year later  my husband and I were going to the East Coast to visit my husband’s grandparents. We were driving and decided to detour through D.C. to visit my grandmother. My grandmother awaited our visit and was pleased that family was coming to see her. We parked the car outside her senior-living high-rise apartment and my husband, my baby boy and I nervously crossed the street to get inside. The neighborhood was marked with graffiti and some building had broken windows. We thought we might not see our car when we came back out, but ventured into the apartment building anyhow. We were all nervous, but not sure what caused us the most angst: the visit itself or the neighborhood. We only had 3 hours for the visit because we had booked a hotel out of town for the night.

Getting to know my Grandmother

I hadn’t seen Ruby in 14 years and she had definitely aged. Remarkably, she exhibited my mother’s mannerisms. She stuttered when she answered the phone and as a nervous habit, she rubbed her thumb and forefinger together in a circle – as my mother often did. Her apartment was sparsely furnished and she gave me the grand tour. The tour seemed to fill the space that existed between us. She showed me a china doll that she had kept through the years. It had a broken face and I remembered my mother telling me about a Christmas when she received a doll just like this and her older brother had broken the face. I wanted to ask if this was my mother’s doll.

Just as much as I wanted to ask her questions about her life and my mother, she tried to avoid the conversation. I wasn’t visiting to get a complete story from her, but, in the depth of my soul, I wanted to know why she left or really how she could leave. What was going on in her life to cause her to leave my mother and her family? But the question hung silently in the room unasked.

When it was time to leave, Ruby asked me if I would like to meet someone very special to her. She seemed hesitant to ask, but I could tell it was her intent from start. She called and invited her friend to her apartment to meet us. He was an older black gentleman who clearly had feelings for my grandmother. He treated her very kindly and he was nervous about being accepted. My son Scott helped us all get through the nervousness. He entertained us and helped us laugh together. We left a few minutes later and as I hugged her, I was fairly certain that it would be the last time I would ever see her. I left with the memories of a pleasant visit – what remained were the answers to all the questions.

We sent each other several letters after that. She died 2 years later on my birthday. My uncle called me to tell me that she was gone. My grandmother left instructions for him to call me after she died.

Life is sometimes an unanswered question. But I know why families are created with all their imperfections.  It humanizes us. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” In my way, I suppose I loved this grandmother that I never really knew.

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Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime. Call us to scan your heirloom photos or to preserve your videos. 512-263-0546

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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I recognize fun. In the transition between a person’s thought and the first inkling that something spontaneous is about to happen, I am on full alert to participate. I’m drawn to it like a magnet. And if anyone else has that predisposition for fun, I can tell it in the first minute of meeting them. It’s an exclusive club and instead of a secret handshake, we greet each other with a twinkle in our eye. It’s one of the gifts that I inherited from my Dad.

My Daddy was a play-on-the-floor kind of Dad (See: Sharing our Family’s Memories: Knock-Knock ). He was my pony ride, my chariot, or super sports car –  or whatever I chose for the day. They say if you put two gifted kids together, the result of their work or play is greater than the sum of the parts. My Dad and I could create worlds of fun that didn’t make sense to most people, but to us it did. I might ask for a pony ride, but by the end of our time of play, we traveled to Oz, fooled the trolls by the side of the road, and shot predators along our way. All we had to do was open ourselves up to whatever situation presented itself.

Photo Scanning Austin

My Dad and I

Music seemed to provide the platform for most of our antics. My Dad and I couldn’t stand it if Lawrence Welk was on TV, and we weren’t moving to the music. I learned to dance standing on his toes. He was the zoot-suit-wearing jitterbug king and I was his flying-through-the-air partner. On the morning of my wedding, he played the song “Going to the Chapel” and we line-danced to the lyrics. He walked me down the aisle that day in the traditional way, but we both knew that at any moment, it could end up being a very impromptu dance to the front of the church instead. We smiled at the mere image of it.

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My Dad playing guitar

My teen-age cousin visited from Indiana once and my Dad pulled out an electric guitar he was learning to play, grabbed my cousin’s long black Cher-like wig from her head, placed it on his head, and played his newest boogie. We were his back-up  and the best doo-op singers ever. What fun we had. I had two choices: I could shake my head at the ridiculous-ness of it all or join in. I did both, but joining in was the better choice.

My Dad died 28 years ago. He made an impact on me that transcends our short time together on this earth. He made sure that I would recognize this ability to have fun in other people. E.E. Cummings said, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” My Dad is my star. I live my life twinkle by twinkle.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime. Call us to scan your heirloom photos or to preserve your videos. 512-263-0546

* VHS or reels to DVD
* Scan your photos or slides
* Preserve your Memories.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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For every story told in my family, there are innumerable mysteries. I wish I had asked more questions of my relatives when they were alive to get answers to those burning questions I have now.

My grandmother

For instance, my father’s mother – the one who had 14 children (see Being a Middle Child, #7 of 14)- once told me when I was a  teenager that she traveled in every state in the United States, except 2. She died in 1981 at the age of 84 and to my knowledge she lived in poverty for most of her life. My grandfather died in 1962 and my grandmother never re-married. I don’t know when or how my grandmother did her traveling. I don’t doubt that she did it, but it surprises me that she had the desire to see our country and that I never heard of her travels.

Ruby

I went to visit my mother’s mother in Washington, D. C. in 1983. Ruby left my mother’s family when my Mom was  a baby. She reportedly robbed a train and served 3 or 4 years in prison. (see Archive the Photo AND Tell the Story: Ruby)When I visited my grandmother, the woman who I only saw 2 previous times in my life, I was polite with her, caught up on her current life, let her visit with my 18 month old son, but didn’t ask her too questions about her life. For example, what she did after her prison sentence, what her life was like when she was growing up, how she met her husband – my grandfather, and was it true that she was a secretary for a congressman in Washington, D.C. She did tell me that she grew up Catholic, and that her childhood wasn’t a happy one. She had a doll baby that belonged to my mother that had a ceramic face – and I didn’t ask how it survived her years in prison. I wish I could have that visit over again.

My father - World War II

My Dad was in World War II (see The Front Line) and his war experience at the age of 20 in Europe in the midst of war, must have been incredible. My sisters and I asked him several times about his war years, but he refused to talk about it. We knew he was injured 3 different times (see blog), but he would only talk about the funny things. We have re-created his trek through Europe and the battles that he must have been in, but it would have been rich to hear his impression of this  personal, but historic adventure.  I relished the 50th anniversary of World War II when veterans of this war finally talked about their years in the war.

All Skate

I came across a website a few months ago that features the untold story.  http://www.AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com accepts personal family photos and stories that leave the website visitor wondering about the circumstances surrounding these submissions. For example http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/2010/02/28/all-skate/ shows us a family skating at a local ice rink. I can only wonder about the tradition leading up to this photo.

<Ancestry.com® is having a contest called The Ultimate Family History Journey™ to help their customers find answers to their family mysteries. The winner gets $20,000, 8 hours with a genealogy expert, and additional experts to fill in the blanks. Perhaps that’s how I might get some answers to my questions.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »