22 September 2011

Remember When? No.

They won't tell stories. None of them ever lapses into, Remember when Lucy did this? When Bobby did that? 

I'll start with the nine girls, see if I can name them:  Ethel, Lucille, Mildred, Erma Irene, Eileen, Nellie Lou, Margaret, Mary Belle (my mother), and Carol Sue. And the three boys, that's easy:  Bill, Donald, and Bobby.
This is the one photo
I have of my grandma.

My grandma raised all twelve kids, working as a psychiatric aide in a series of "State Schools" (mental institutions) in Ohio from the 1920s to the 1970s. (Not pretty work.)

My grandfather, part-Cherokee and part coal miner, came around often enough and just long enough to get my grandma pregnant those twelve and probably more times. I heard 16. 

After the youngest, Carol Sue, was born in the 1940s, no one heard from my grandfather again until 1968. I forget why he came, but I met him. There were dozens of us cousins--literally dozens--running around and he didn't know any of us. How could he? He didn't know his daughters until they told him their names. Even then, did he know them?

My Grandma Myrtle was there the day he showed up, too. She'd never had much to say for or about him, and on that day she had absolutely nothing to say to him. But then she wasn't one to pitch a fit. 

The three boys didn't speak to him either. They kept a neutral countenance although I remember thinking that my Uncle Don's face looked very dark that day, like it was all closed in on itself.

There are almost no photos of my mother's family until well into the 1960s. Of course with twelve children, my grandma couldn't afford to keep them fed, let alone develop pictures from the camera she didn't own. I think my mother had one or two pictures, one where she was combing out my Grandma's hair, and--like my hair--it stood straight out on all sides of her head. I should try to find those pictures.

So I understand why there are no family pictures; I'm disappointed that there are no stories. Not one of my aunts and uncles brings out an anecdote from the past to share, to tease about, to lament, or to mourn. Are the memories so consistently terrible? Does a deep, dark cloud cover their childhood? Others tell stories about horrifying childhoods in times of poverty and war. Why are my many relatives afraid to stir it up? Is it to protect themselves, or one another? I'm afraid to stir it up, too, but I want to hear their stories. I want to know them.

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