I Talk to the Trees

Or, rather, the Family Tree, since we were asked this week:

“Is there a certain ancestor that you wish you could travel back in time to spend a year with? What do you hope to learn? Why that relative?” 

Tough one.
While thinking this over,  my relatives got more interesting, but until Jeff-the-Hound brought it up in yesterday’s post, giving up a year of my life now is just not  something that I would do; I know that my time is getting shorter. If I was offered this when I was younger,(and a guarantee that I would get back to modern times), I might have considered it.

Let me ask you this, of the relatives below, whom would you say that I should pick?

My mother’s mother, (the only one that I knew at all),  grew up in a olive-growing region north of Rome and saw much change in the world. When she was young, she walked to the village and saw John Philip Sousa and the U.S. Marine Corp band  and loved his marches all of her life, which was odd.
 Twin daughters had died, but she was a young widow with three surviving sons when she married my older grandfather. She and my grandfather had an additional seven children, the last being twins (again) when she was 47 and he was 61.
As legendary as my mother’s cooking still is among friends and family,(seriously, I hear from people all the time who still bring it up), her own mother’s cooking was completely out-of-this-world, according to anyone who ever ate her food, (including all of her in-laws). I would like to have a year  with her to spy on her secrets, which I would have to do, because she took most to her grave.
She was widowed a second time, with the twins still in high school.
Her two brothers were MIA in World War I when she was already in America, but she went back to Italy after fifty years. Something went wrong and she came back, lived a few more years and died a month before she turned 89. I’d like to know about everything.

Her second husband, (my grandfather), was an anti-cleric in Italy before and after the turn of the 20th century. In his years of college and in teaching, he ran across many soon-to-be famous people including Giglielmo Marconi.

He was involved with the group where Benito Mussolini rose in ranks, but my grandfather and many friends ,(including Arturo Toscanini),split when Mussolini’s ideas were taking a different path, (we all know how Benito ended up), and my grandfather had to leave Italy, quickly. He left teaching behind as well and started ‘flipping’ houses with his youngest brother in Pennsylvania. He helped many people, to his financial ruin, and although he tried, not always successfully, to raise his children with contempt for the Church, he worked to impart many virtues and good values into them. No one knows why, at the age of 14 in Italy, (c.1877), he turned so viciously from organized religion. He refused his hereditary position as oldest son and did not to take his father’s prominent job, but passed it to his next-younger brother, (nor do we know why he would never speak about that brother). He dreamed of taking everyone back to Italy, even though most of the children had married and put down roots in America.  He had been a doting father and a great step-father. When his oldest stepson was grown, they were best friends;  the youngest one, a good, quiet, boy and man, was never afraid of work and they got along well. The middle son worked hard, but became the black sheep of the family anyway. However, even he spoke of my grandfather with great affection all of his life. I think we can give the man credit for that.
 My grandfather died of heart failure just when World War II broke out. I believe in the direct connection between the two. There would be so much to find out from that man.

That grandfather’s father was, according to my grandmother and extended relatives, a good man who was well-liked, even though he was the regional tax collector. (It is understandable that my grandfather could not see himself in that position. He never said so, but reflecting now I suppose that he knew that he would never have been popular, and besides, he would be working for a government he wanted to overthrow.) My great-grandfather man was devoutly religious and helped put on the local Passion Play during Lent; what a complex man he must have been, and what a thorn in his side my grandfather must have been.  Little that I know, he is one of the most interesting to me.

My Italian grandmother’s mother raised her two sons and daughter when her husband ran off with another woman. My grandmother’s family did well, and if you consider again that was in the north of Italy in the late 1800s, my great-grandmother somehow keeping her children and herself in good repute despite her husband’s scandal, was incredible. (No divorce in Italy back then at all.) She would be someone to know more about.

This woman’s mother, my great-great-grandmother, was said to be a scrupulously clean woman who threw out an entire pot of soup because one of the family members found a fly in their bowl; she wouldn’t take any chances. She made her granddaughter, (my grandmother), carry the family laundry high above their village, past the general washing place of the local women, upstream where the water would be cleaner, plus, she could not bear the gossiping that went on while the others washed. The other women were indignant, and I suppose it was understandable. I’d like to know what made this great-grandmother tick.

With extended Joyce family getting big into genealogy, I found that my father’s father, who had a sawmill in North Carolina, was also an inventor and held patents. I had no idea of this until just a couple of years ago, when cousins found documentation of several patents, complete with his drawings.  I would love to talk to him about them. He and his wife were also a devoutly religious, he less of a church-goer than his wife, (who whenever they moved to more forestland, found whatever congregation was available her). No matter what or how far out in the country they lived, they always saw to it that their children got an education, even if in a one-room schoolhouse. I find it all fascinating.

My mother always said that her mother-in-law, my Joyce grandmother, was a smart and well-read woman who used to write for her local newspaper. She died before I was born and Mom always wished that we had known her, because she liked her very much. In fact, Mom made my middle name a version of her mother-in-law’s name. Grandma Joyce was also a great cook, who made massive breakfasts every day for her children and the workers in the mill; I have some of her recipes. She was a capable woman, who was also widowed and left with the youngest two of her ten surviving children still at home. She herself was a survivor, and I have heard stories from those who loved her and those who less-than admired her. I’d like to be able to judge for myself.

I know very little about her family.

Although my inventing grandfather is fascinating to me, his father, (Great-grandfather Joyce), had been a lawyer in Wisconsin who picked up his wife and kids they had then and moved to the Richmond area.  He did not practice law again, since none of us knew that he had been a lawyer until the family tree was looked into. There is a bit of a mystery there. My oldest uncle told his oldest son that when he asked his father about the trip, my grandfather said well, he had been a child, but he remembered that a great number of people came to the train station to see them off, then added, “I don’t know whether they came out of affection or if they were making sure we got out of town!” My uncle had regretted not asking more. I only recently saw pictures of their house near Richmond, which is now out of family hands. It is big and still has a lot of land attached to it.  There’s a story there, for sure.

According to my father, his grandmother, (the ex-lawyer’s wife), was well-read and comported herself as a lady at all times. She had five or six children, most were born after they moved to  Virginia. When the grandparents would visit my father’s family, she would stay out of her daughter-in-law’s way and make lace and crochet, beautifully, (so Dad said). I would love to have learned that from her, and it would probably have taken me a year anyway. I wonder how the move affected her, what and who she left behind.

So, weigh in. Which of these relatives do you think that I would be best served spending a year with? Do any of them interst you?


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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8 Responses to I Talk to the Trees

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I vote for either your maternal grandmother or grandfather. Your grandfather’s story is fascinating and the list of his famous connections is impressive. On the other hand, anyone who can become a bear twelve children, assimilate in a new country, and be a legendary cook would definitely have wonderful stories to tell.


    • I had the granddaughter who was here read this and she also made that choice. I’m not sure that “Nonna” ever actually assimilated, though. She only spoke Italian all those years, (she understood more than she thought she let on); even her Polich daughter-in-law learned Italian for her.
      I started a ‘six-degrees-of-separation’ list for myself about 15 years ago and I can tell you, between people I, or just close family, I a had a ‘three degree’ list that was most impressive. Of course, my grandfather’s connections and the fact that we lived in the Washington, DC area, (and some in New York City at some point), really helped, (and here with my Bruckheimer connection, I can’t imagine who I am NOT connected to by the time we could get to a sixth degree.


  2. Jeff Salter says:

    gosh, you’ve listed over a dozen possibilities here!
    I think I’d want to know more about your father’s father, who had a sawmill in North Carolina, was also an inventor and held patents.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carla Hostetter says:

    A lot of interesting people and strong women. I’d take the one who wrote for a newspaper back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grandma Joyce. my father’s mother. As I said, my own mother really liked her. Her youngest daughter, who died a few months ago at almost 99, said that they could not have had better mother, and she was one who was left alone with her.


  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    You have so many interesting people in your family. It’s hard to pick just one, but if I had to, I’d like to spend time with your maternal grandmother. I’m sure she could help me become a better cook, and I’d love to hear all of her stories about her large family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She’s the only one that I knew at all, Elaine , but don’t put any money on her giving me any of her real secrets! Her Polish daughter-in-law, with whom she lived for many years, had to spy on her, not to mention the fact that my mother ‘caught’ my grandmother sneaking ingredients into some of her dishes.


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