HOW WILL WE REMEMBER OUR ANCESTORS? by Cheryl Pierson

How will we remember our ancestors? In these days of hectic living, when there is very little oral tradition–much less written documentation–of our family history, what can we do to preserve the memories of these people who came before us? For their life experiences were so different than ours, yet the same–births and deaths come to every generation, along with the happiness and sadness those events bring with them. But learning about our family and the events that brought us to the place we are, as individuals, NOW–is a precious gift that is slipping away from us.

Every so often, (and it’s been a while now!) I teach a class called “Writing Your Life Story.” Most of the people who are there for classes are senior citizens, who, for the most part, have been urged by family members to come.

As they introduce themselves, it goes something like this:  “I’m Jane Doe, and I’m here because my children keep telling me I need to write this all down—but I don’t know where to begin.”

My first assurance to them all is that they don’t need to write like Laura Ingalls Wilder—their families will be thrilled with anything they put down on paper.  It’s amazing to me how many people don’t feel they have anything of interest to tell their descendants!

This is a picture of me and my aunt, Emogene (my mom’s sister) on one of her visits. She was one of the funniest, sweetest, and MOST REBELLIOUS people I ever knew. I loved her with all my heart, and I do think maybe I got a bit of that rebellious attitude of hers! I was 6 here. There was never a dull moment with her–and I have some wonderful memories to cherish.

Cheryl and Aunt Emogene 1964I want to tell you about my parents, because they were the epitome of opposites when it came to this. My mother told stories from the time I can remember about her family, about her friends, the small town she grew up in. These were details of an ordinary life that gave me insight into the way times were during the Dustbowl days in Oklahoma. It told me about her life in particular and life in general, and it also brought people I never knew to reality for me through her memories.

Mom had a dear friend, just her age, named Mary. They were both the eldest of their respective families, each with many younger siblings that they were responsible for. Mom mentioned how she and Mary both longed for an d cherished the few times when they could be alone to talk “girl talk” without each having two or three little ones they had to look after.

One of their favorite places to go was the cemetery. They’d both been born in Albany, so they knew the stories of everyone buried there in the small cemetery: The Taylor family, whose six children went berry picking, only to take shelter under an oak tree when a storm blew up suddenly. Lightning struck the tree and killed all but two of them. The oldest boy crawled to a nearby farmhouse for help, but died later. Out of the six, only one survived. There were no markers on their graves, but Mom showed me where each was buried.

A drawing I found when going through my mom’s things after she died. She did this in 1939–she would have been 17. Of course, it’s faded and blotchy, but I can’t help but marvel at the talent she had for someone with no artistic training, with only a pencil and piece of paper. My daughter inherited this from her…I can’t draw to save my life!

Another grave she showed me was that of a young child who, at eighteen months, crawled under the porch and drank tree poison his father had believed was well-hidden. Mom told me how his lips were stained purple She and Mary had gone to the funeral and it was imprinted in her mind forever.

Christmases were sparse in that time. It was a good Christmas if they each received and apple, and orange, and some hard candy in their stockings, and maybe a doll, in addition, in the better-then-most years. I wrote a story called SILVER MAGIC for an Adams Media Christmas anthology about something she told me. They’d brought home a Christmas tree that particular year, and one of her younger brothers had suggested maybe they could have some tinsel…My grandfather went into the shed and hand-cut tinsel and a star from the foil covering of an old battery. What a thrill that was for them! Yet, who would ever dream that was something that could be done, now, in our world of buy-it-already made?

 

GENEALOGY STALLINGS AUNT JOYCE487347_384127544966584_100001080247175_1016691_1728302232_nFrom Mom I learned about our family ancestors—where they’d come from and who they were. As a child, I thought of them as a story she told, but as I grew older, they became real people to me.

I learned about her, too—how, as a teen, she’d pool her hard-earned money with her younger sister, Joyce, to buy the newest Hit Parade Magazine with all the lyrics to the latest songs. They had sung together from the time they knew how, adding more harmonies as more sisters came along.

 

My aunt, Joyce. She was something else! She was in the Navy during WWII where she met and married her husband, Bill. Remember the expression “cuss like a sailor”? She could, and did–regularly. My mom always gave her the “big sister look” and said, “Joy-y-y-c-ce” in that shaming voice. She always just laughed. And she could cook like nobody’s business. Her heart was huge.

 

MOM AND DADScans 009My dad never talked about his adolescence much. Even though he and Mom grew up together in the same small community, he never had much to add to the conversations. What I know of his family, I learned mostly from my aunt, his younger sister–and my mom, who had known him from the time they started elementary school together. Theirs was a love story for all times–they grew up together, married, had their family, and were married over 60 years–and they died within 3 weeks of one another.

Why write it all down now? Because most people never believe they’ll run out of time. “Someday” never comes. My mom had such fascinating stories, filled with tenderness, charged with emotion—stories that made it seem as if I was there along with her as she spoke. She was a painter, an artist, and she could paint pictures with her words, as well.

 

El Wanda and Fred Moss, my parents, newlyweds in 1944–ready to take on the world!

Mom told stories of my great grandparents, who I never met–who eloped and ran away from Tennessee in the dead of night. (He was a high-tempered school master…and she was one of his students.) Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

This is my great grandmother, Josie Belle Walls McLain Martin,  the granddaughter of the Indian boy who was stolen by the cavalry (see story below). In this picture she was only about 25 years old, and already getting gray hair. She had 4 children, very young, and her husband had been killed in a freak accident. She married a man with children and they had more between them, for a grand total of seventeen kids before it was all said and done! Mom loved her “grandma”–I did get to know her when I was very young, but she passed when I was in elementary school.

GenealogyJosieBelleWallsMcLainMartin1882-1972made1907542164_386610498051622_691310310_nAnother story of my great-great-great-grandfather, a young Indian boy, who was stolen by the cavalry from his village and given to a white Presbyterian minister to raise, and “assimilate” into his family (my story One Magic Night is based on this–he finally got his happy ending). His name was changed, and I don’t believe he ever saw his real family again, once he was adopted.

And my dad’s grandmother, who stopped beneath the shade of a tree long enough to have her third child as she and her husband made their way to a new life in Indian Territory? He must have been a typical man–they stayed two nights and moved on, her with a new baby and two “stairstep” children just a little older.

I treasure these stories now, but oh, how I wish I’d had my mom a little longer, and that I’d been a little older, to be able to ask her questions that now overrun my thoughts. Mom always had good intentions, but like so many, never found the time before it was too late, and Altzheimer’s took away that ability.

I will write it all down…all that I can remember of it. But I can’t help thinking how I wish she had written her story, with all the vivid details and description she used in telling about it. There is so much I won’t know. So much will be lost, simply because this was her life.

My mom (the oldest) with some of her siblings. Dustbowl Oklahoma–taken probably 1935 or so–she’s on the far left in the back. Hard, hard times.

Genealogy Stallings kids484279_386540661391939_100001080247175_1022301_589553159_nThe memories are hers: the hard times, as well as the good—the days in an everyday life…and, the nights, when entertainment was nothing more than the beautiful harmonies of the four little girls, floating in the summer stillness for miles as they sang on the front porch…in a much simpler, slower time.

Do you have any special “family” stories that have been handed down from your ancestors? Any special memories of special family members from the past? I would love to hear them!

 

Cheryl’s Amazon Author Page:  http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson/span/a/p?tag=pettpist-20

Here’s an excerpt from my story ONE MAGIC NIGHT–an oldie but a goodie!–based on the life of my great great- great-grandfather, David Walls (his name after he was adopted).  I’ll be giving away a digital copy to one lucky commenter! Leave your contact info in your comment so I can reach you if you win!

PRP One Magic Night WebONE MAGIC NIGHT EXCERPT:

As Whitworth’s hand started its descent, Katrina turned away.  But Shay’s arm shot out, grasping Whitworth’s hand and holding it immobile.

You will not.”

Three words, quietly spoken, but with a heat that could have melted iron, a force that could have toppled mountains.

Katrina’s father’s face contorted, his teeth bared, finally, as he tried to jerk away. He didn’t utter a word.  He stared up into Shay Logan’s eyes that promised retribution, as the seconds ticked by.  Finally, he lunged once more, trying to pull free, but Shay still held him locked in a grip of steel.  Only when he released that grip was Whitworth freed.

“You presume too much, Doctor Logan, unless you are assuming the care and responsibility of my daughter.”

“Papa! Oh, please!” Katrina felt herself dissolving into a puddle of less than nothing beneath stares of the townspeople of Talihina.  What had started as an exciting, beautiful evening had become an embarrassing nightmare.  It was torture to think that she was the cause of it all.  How she wished she had stayed home with Jeremy as she’d first planned, before Mrs. Howard had volunteered to keep him company.

Now, Papa was saying these things that she knew he would regret later.  It was always this way when he drank too much.  These accusations had gone beyond the pale of anything he’d ever said before.  But Shay Logan wouldn’t realize that.  He wouldn’t know that Papa would be sorry tomorrow.

Evidently, there was one thing Shay did recognize, though.  She saw the very slight flare of his nostrils as he drew in the scent of alcohol on her father’s breath, and in that instant, there was a flash of understanding in his eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink, Mr. Whitworth,” he said in an even tone.  “I will overlook your behavior toward me because of that, but not toward your daughter.  She has done nothing, yet you would strike her, and cause her shame.”

“She’s my daughter,” Whitworth replied sullenly.

“But not your property, Whitworth.  Never that.  You owe her an apology.”

“No, Shay, really—” Katrina began, then as her father whirled to look at her, she broke off, realizing her mistake.  ‘Shay,’ she had called him.  As if she had known him forever.  As if she was entitled to use his given name freely.  As if she were his betrothed.

“‘Shay’ is it, daughter?  Not, ‘Dr. Logan’Shay.”  He spit the words out bitterly.  He drew himself up, looking Shay in the face.  “I’ll not be apologizing to her—or to you.  And I’ll expect nothing less than a wedding before this week’s end.  Do you understand me, Doctor?”

Shay had lost any patience he might have harbored.  “You understand me, Whitworth.  You will not dictate to me, or to your daughter on such matters of the heart.  As I say, the alcohol has got you saying things you’re going to regret, and—”

“Threatening me, are you?  Threatening me?”

“Truman.”  Jack Thompson stepped out of the crowd and smoothly came to stand beside Katrina.  “Let’s put this…unfortunate incident…behind us, shall we?”  He confidently tucked Katrina’s hand around his arm.  “I can see that the church auxiliary ladies have almost got everything set up for this wonderful Independence Day meal—” he frowned at Mrs. Beal, nodding at the picnic tables behind her.  She jumped, motioning the other ladies to resume the preparation.

He gave a sweeping glance around the group of onlookers.  “I, for one, am ready to eat! How about you all?”

Katrina was swept along at his side as he walked toward the tables, speaking to acquaintances and friends, laughing and…and seething with tense anger the entire time.  She could feel it in his body, with every step he took and the tightness of his grip as he covered her hand with his. Katrina glanced back over her shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shay, but the crowd blocked her view.

“Smile, my dear,” Jack gritted into her ear.  “I’m hoping we can still salvage your virtue, no matter what happened, really, between you and the good doctor.  If I see him near you again, I’ll kill him.”

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Cheryl Pierson
A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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http://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules

32 Comments

  1. What great family stories you have! I am afraid my people were not storytellers and there were no exciting tales.

    1. My mother loved to talk about her childhood–which always amazed me because she had a HARD life. But she saw a lot of that through rose-colored glasses as she got older, and she always felt so loved and blessed no matter how little they had. Thanks for stopping by, Melanie!

  2. What an interesting post. Great pictures. Like your mom, mine told stories of her life & family as far back as I can remember. My Dad would tell a few stories about himself and his 9 siblings. I Loved how he would tell us how he and mom had met. But when it came to stories about his Army days in WWII he was silent. He obviously told my mom and she shared. As he got older a couple of the grandkids had school projects to write about a loved family member and they asked him about his life. So he sat down one day I wrote his story. Amazingly it was a gift for all of us. Now being a great grandparent myself I’ve been thinking I should write out story for future generations to get a glimpse of their ancestors.

    1. Carol, what a wonderful gift–your dad writing his story! Yes, you should write yours, too. Your grandkids and their kids will be interested. I’ve done bits and pieces, but would love to just have the time to sit down and work on that from start to finish. It feels good to get even part of it down! So glad you stopped by. (Hubby doesn’t talk about his Vietnam days much…war is so horrible.)

  3. Cheryl- What Amazing family stories you have preserved. Thank you for sharing. I must write some of the ones I know down before it’s too late. Have a great week, My Dear!

    1. Tonya, I am saying the same thing–I have written some of them down but not nearly all of them, and I have an aunt who knows a lot of genealogy on my mom’s side of the family. Would love to just go visit with her and record her telling stuff about relatives and family stuff from ‘back in the day’! So glad you stopped by!

  4. On my paternal grandmother side the men were all fisherman up till her brothers. Both my paternal grandparents immigrated from Norway. Not much info on my maternal grandparents side.

    1. That is so interesting, Kim! My uncle did one of those DNA tests and found out he was a LOT Norwegian/Swedish. I didn’t know this, but not everyone in the family’s DNA will be the same when it comes to nationality. Isn’t that interesting? Some can be more of a percentage of one thing or another!

  5. I loved the glimsp into your past.. I wish I had more stories of my families past. But sadly I dont… And this Story sounds amazing. I was intrigued by what little I read.. It’s 6 am. Woke up with headache… Now I’m glad I did… Just to get to see th glimsp into your past… Have a great day.

    1. Tonya, I’m so sorry about your headache. My oldest sister used to get terrible migraines! I hope you are feeling better and so glad that my post was a little bit of a diversion for you!

  6. Fantastic stories. I would love to take the class. I studied Oral Traditions and earned an M.A. The problem is we seldom take time to share family stories.

    1. Debra, I think oral Traditions would be fascinating. I had one student who was an elderly Chickasaw woman who was a storyteller. She had some wonderful, wonderful stories and kept us spellbound! Yes, time seems to be at a premium these days, doesn’t it? I wish there was more of it!

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    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. My mom remembers that she had to stay inside the house when they got the bull over for the girls. If you know what I mean. No going near the windows. Having her dad take everything from the refrigerator and putting it in one pot and they had to finish it all before they got anything else. She doesn’t talk much about her life or my grandmother and grandfather. She grew up in foster care. I heard a couple of times about when my brother drank gasoline from a soda bottle thinking it was soda. He is alive still. How my mom lived in a old big house and it burned down and she had to walk down the road a mile to the neighbors to call the fire department pulling 3 girls in a wagon while pregnant with my brother. She got her photo in the local newspaper. They rebuilt the house into a 2 room house with outdoor plumbing. When I was 13 she remodeled the house into a 5 bedroom home with indoor plumbing all by herself while working nights. I’ve learned through Ancestry that I am related to William Bradford, Clint Eastwood and Christopher Reeves. Also a woman who portrayed a man in the civil war and only was discovered because she was shot. Deborah Sampson was her name. Have a wonderful day and thank you again for sharing.

    1. Oh, Charlene you made me laugh out loud about the bull and the girls. LOL When I was in elementary school, the windows in my 6th grade classroom faced out on a pasture across the street from the school. Well, there were horses over there, and you know what happened. When the kids would start to giggle and point, the teacher would walk over and start pulling the blinds while she continued to lecture. LOL I will never forget that! Mom told me they did what your family did when the bulls were put in the pasture with the “girls” and that they were not even allowed to say “bull” because it carried sexual connotations. LOLLOL! WOW, what a story about your mom pulling you all in the wagon a MILE to call the fire department…WHILE PREGNANT! Good gracious, that was one strong woman. I have always wanted to join Ancestry . com. I am going to do it, but I want to do it when I have enough time to sit down and USE it. Will that day ever come? I think I better just join and hope for the best! LOL

  8. What great memories you have! I know next to nothing about my ancestors. All of my grandparents, but one, passed away before I was born. My parents didn’t talk about their families.

    1. Estella, I knew both sets of my grandparents, and I also knew “Grandma” (above in the picture)–my mom loved her dearly and had so many fond memories of her. I didn’t know any of my other great grandparents, because I was born when my parents were 35–that was kinda “old” back then to have a baby…I believe I was not planned. LOL Dad didn’t talk a lot about his family unless you asked him point-blank questions. But Mom talked a lot about growing up in the dustbowl here in Oklahoma.

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    I have wonderful memories of my paternal grandparents because for the first few years of my life my parents, brother and I actually lived in an “apartment” in their big farmhouse. In a matter of minutes (remember I had short legs and small steps) I could go to Mamaw & Papaw’s house and be the center of attention. There are debates about early memories but I do remember sitting on the step between the kitchen and the step-down living room and singing while my grandmother worked and sang in her kitchen. I also remember her making biscuits and as she rolled out the dough and cut the biscuits for the adults, she gave me an alka-seltzer lid and allowed me to cut out biscuits for me and my baby doll! These are memories that I am sharing with my almost 5 year old granddaughter as we make cornbread and cakes together!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. Connie, that is so wonderful! You are making some great memories with your granddaughter, and you know she will remember it just like you remember doing that with your grandmother! Thanks so much for stopping by. You made me think of my mom talking about how they lived catty-cornered from her grandparents (her dad’s parents) and how she would have to go help her grandmother and sometimes spend the night with her after her granddad died. Her grandmother didn’t like to be alone at night, so usually she or one of her siblings or would have to go over there and spend the night. Just a few steps away, and she had so many good memories of those times.

  10. Thanks for sharing your story from your ancestors. Most of my ancestors stories died with my parents.

    1. Aw, that’s too bad, Kathleen. I’ve always been so curious about my ancestors and wondered where they came from, who they were, etc. I know on my dad’s side, there was a James Casey who came over from Ireland and married an Indian woman (we think Iroquois maybe) named “Horseshoe”–this was back in the very early 1800s. My aunt got a copy of the ship’s manifest that he was sailing on. That’s one story I would love to know more about!

  11. When I was in 6th grade, we had to write our family histories from both sides of the family. I wrote to my great-aunt and received a lot of what I needed from my mom’s side. We had some information from my dad’s side. My mom and dad gave me info about themselves. I still have it, plus a family tree.

    My MIL has info from Ancestry, but she won’t share any written documentation for our kids for her family or that of my FIL. Guess I’ll have to do it myself.

    1. Oh, Denise! I’m so sorry–I honestly do not understand people like your mil, who have the info and won’t share it. That’s so sad. I will never understand that. But you know what? I bet you might find out some things SHE doesn’t know. And the other thing is, that if you do the search, I bet that would be so much fun, and you will be the one to be able to share it with your family!

      I think that would be such a great project for a 6th grader to do. It gives kids a sense of purpose and learning about their family.

  12. Wonderful post Cheryl!

    1. Thank you, Caryl! So glad you stopped by today!

  13. I love these stories! I could listen to them all day long.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I wish so much that I had been a better listener. I wish that I had not been the youngest, the caboose, and I wish I’d been older sooner, when my mom had not been going through Alzheimer’s. Seems that looking back on it, she tries to tell me so many stories of her growing up years, and I didn’t listen as well as I could have. I really regret that, but it’s so true that “youth is wasted on the young”–I would love to have a do-over!

  14. Avatar

    I regret not writing down stories that my grandparents told so I need to get with it and write dowm the stories my parents tell before its too late.

    1. Oh, yes, Stephanie! Yes, while your parents are still living and aren’t suffering dementia or Alzheimer’s–get a tape recorder and ask them questions! Get them talking. You can later transcribe it and also have the tape to be able to hear their voices once more in years to come. That would be a priceless treasure!

  15. Cheryl, loved your remembrances–some of them reminded me so much of my family. My mother also sketched and I had some of her early sketches from the 1930’s. Over time, though, I lost so much of my family and had so many tubs full of diaries and pictures and such that I didn’t have proper storage, and sad to say, I’ve lost a lot of that documentation. So, nice you still have those things.

    1. I wonder if I’ll ever get it organized enough (what I have) to be able to pass down to my kids if they are interested in it? I have often thought about old pictures in 2nd hand stores…family pictures that meant the world to someone but now, no one even knows who the people are or what they did when they lived. Kind of sad. Thanks so much for stopping by today, Hebby!

  16. Wonderful post, Cheryl. Looking at your comment above reminds me of a trip to the thrift store. There was a small vintage suitcase I wanted. When I opened it, it was filled with photos. Family pictures of parties and holidays, children at different ages, parents, grandparents , aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. I asked if they knew the family that brought the pictures in so I could return them, but they didn’t. Over 15 years later I still have them. It seems so wrong to just throw them away.
    Thankfully, one of my brothers has become very involved in genealogy. He even teaches and has written several books. He has collected stories of our families and published many of them. I remember so many from my grandparents’ generation, but so many have faded. On my father’s side of the family I am the oldest one still around. My siblings and cousins are the oldest generation still alive. What a depressing thought. Really makes me feel old. I think most frustrating of all was when we did ask questions, we wouldn’t get answers. My maternal grandfather in particular would just dismiss us with a “Why would you want to know that?”
    Our daughter did give us books several years ago.A sort of fill in the blanks family history and story book. I have done a bit of it, but really need to get serious about it. Hope you are surviving the winter well.

    1. Hi Patricia–you’re so busy, I know it would be hard to find time to sit down and write your family stories down, but how I wish my grandparents had done that. They probably thought no one would care or be interested in their daily lives later on in future generations, but we just never know who will want to learn about past generations! We didn’t have the problem of not getting answers, but of just daily living going by us and not even thinking of asking them! When you have little kids underfoot and running around and needing to be fed, etc. you just don’t think about those other things. I hope you will be able to find time to do it.

      Yes, we are surviving winter. Two big snowstorms have missed us–very thankful for that!

      So glad you came by–I always love your comments, Patricia!

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