This week we are telling family stories that we hope get handed down in the family.
I know a lot of family stories, (some of which I am not all that sure should be passed down!)
I have had to press the case of other tales. My mother’s parents married when my grandfather was forty-five and she was who was in her early thirties, a widow with three sons. My grandfather treated the boys as his own and when they were old enough, he took them into the business he had with his brother ‘flipping’ houses, (before the term was coined).
The oldest stepson did not want to continue in that line of work, he wanted to run a store, so my grandfather set him up in business. That uncle was well-known and loved as a good man and a man fair in business. He and my grandfather were best friends. An uncle-by-marriage told me that when my grocer-uncle died in his mid-thirties from a ruptured appendix, three surrounding small towns all but completely closed down, he was that well-regarded. Everyone watched out for his widow and two young children afterward.
But that is not the part that I had to press. The other two stepsons stayed in the building business. One ended up in California making scale models and sets for the movies, at (I think) Paramount Pictures. The other became a very successful builder-remodeler. His wife unfortunately also died young, along with their newborn son, leaving him with two daughters. His wife’s family took their care upon themselves when my grandmother, who was no longer young but still had children at home, simply could not take them on, plus my grandfather was in his 70s and had a bad heart by then.
The girls did beautifully under their grandparents’ and aunts’ care, (you’d never meet nicer people than those cousins), but the story their mother’s side of the family told them was that my grandfather was selfish and lazy, never worked and put his nose into everyone’s business.
My grandfather went broke helping others; he could never say no to those who asked for help. He made many loans that were never paid back, and lost property by picking up the loans he had co-signed when the principals defaulted, all done to keep their families safe. My mother and her siblings heard an argument about him giving away money when my grandmother told him he had to stop, since they were losing what they had left. “They have children”, he told her. “What about your children?” she countered. He walked up to her and said softly, “MY children don’t need to have money”. (It made the children who overheard proud, but they learned that he was mistaken.)
Had he not treated my mother’s half-brother as a son and taught him the building trade well, my uncle would not have succeeded, nor would the family have thrived. Nor was it made known to my cousins how very old and unwell my grandfather had been by the time their mother died.
When I heard that my cousins were lied-to and had no idea of the truth, and I told it to them in order to try to set the record straight. I have also contacted their children and told many of them. It simply is not fair for them not to know; it certainly is not fair to my grandfather, flawed man that he was. The cousins had no idea that my uncle was so taken care of and set up for success by my grandfather..
There are many funny stories from Mom’s side of the family as well as serious ones, but I am going to be lightening up this post by going with a couple of stories from my father’s side, since we lost my Aunt Marion, (Dad’s youngest sister), this week, as she was nearing her ninety-ninth birthday.
I wish that I knew more from that side, but several stories stick out and I will tell a few.
Both of my parents’ mothers had 10 surviving children in a short period of time, (Mom’s mother had a break between being widowed and remarried, and another when, after a five year break, she had twins when she was forty-seven and my grandfather was sixty-one.)
My Grandma Joyce first had a daughter, soon after a son, and then my father. The daughter was not quite four and could not say “Irwin”, which was my father’s name, so she called him “Fermin”, a name my grandmother continued to use affectionately, much to my father’s consternation.
Little Aunt Effie apparently did something that caused my grandmother to come down on her and send her to her room. Grandma went back to her work but as she looked out of the kitchen window, she saw her little daughter trotting down the dirt road leading from their house, carrying a bundle. Grandma ran after her and found Newborn Dad in the bundle. “What are you doing?” Grandma cried, to which her little girl said, “I’m running away from home and I’m taking Fermin with me!”
Both of my father’s parents were very religious. When their oldest son was ill and in danger of dying, my grandmother made a pact with God: If he spared her son, she’d see to it that he was a man of God. Uncle Johnnie recovered and made good on his mother’s promise; he became a minister and an Army chaplain.
However, my father was not religious and apparently wasn’t from the start.
Every evening, the Joyce children would sit at the table and plates stayed upside-down until the blessing was said, then everyone flipped their plates and supper started. Each child listened to learn the blessings, so in turn, when they were deemed old enough, they were asked to lead. One day, unexpectedly, his mother said, “Irwin will say the blessing tonight”. My father looked up and said, “But, Mumma, my plate doesn’t have a blessing!” Having paid no attention to what had been being said, he only stared at the bottom of his plate every night and presumed that the hallmarks there were the ‘blessings’.
Grandma had been mistaken; he wasn’t ready to lead the prayers,
and the family never let him live it down.
Love reading these pleasant memories.
You certainly has some interesting forebears.
It troubles me that so many families have schisms of one type or another — sometimes based on perceived slights, sometimes based on outright “cheats”. But how sad for a branch of the larger family to labor under the illusion that Person X was a bum… when in reality, he was big-hearted and maybe “soft-headed” (at times, such as co-signing “iffy” loans in order to allow a family to stay in their own homes).
I wonder, however, whether learning the facts made any difference to that branch of the family. In my own experience, facts seldom trump feelings — and the longer feelings have been hurt, the deeper they’ve taken root.
Great points, Jeff. I heard surprise in the voices of those to whom I explained about their father/grandfather starting the man into his successful business and how very old and ill he was, but since it was a “Them vs Us” mentality in that other side of their family,I doubt that the deep-down beliefs, feelings to family history will change.All I hope for is that they simply stop talking about my grandfather through the generations.
Another problem that separated the families was that my grandfather, (as I said, a flawed man), was an outright Socialist and anti-cleric, and that side of my cousins’ family acted very religious,(not that I said, ‘acted’ because they certainly were not charitable.) Such was the soft-headedness of my grandfather, trying to play the Grand Man, and for my cousins’ other set of grandparents, who would have known what they did for my uncle, but chose malicious gossip instead.
There has been a lot of healing on both sides of the family even by going through some of the painful memories.My father was no saint and in speaking with other members of that family, finding what they saw and what they experienced not only with him but with other members of the family whom I did not know as well as I thought, has been balm for all of us, leading to more insight of the family dynamics.
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I loved reading these family stories – especially when Aunt Effie tried to run away with her precious little brother Fermin. I love when these family memories are passed down through the years – and yes, even when family memories get corrected as needs to happen sometimes.
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Thanks,Trisha. I have a million of them, mostly from my mother’s people, though. I recently pieced together a story my black-sheep-of-the-family uncle told about himself, with a story my aunt told a cousin about him, hooking them together with a story that my mother told to me concerning him. It’s a wild tale, when I realized that they fit together.
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How nice to have these family stories! I’m sure if I’d grown up near my aunts, uncles and cousins I would have heard more. You now have these written here on the blog, so now you need to put the collection in print.