I just read Lauren’s post on LSS — and I’ve forgotten the rest. Sorry Lauren. Brain freeze I think. Anyway, it was a story about ancestors and it broke my heart to see that she didn’t get to know most of hers. I grew up around family, so rather than use her formula I’ll just talk about that and what it’s like to be one person in a family of hundreds.
First of all I have four brothers, three of whom are still living. We lost Steve two years ago. There are also two sisters, both living. I have three living children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. My parents are deceased and the family is scattered but we are still close.
My mother was from a family of thirteen children. No, that’s not a typo, she had ten brothers and two sisters and one of my aunts still lives. She will be 93 on Monday and we will celebrate on Sunday.
Altogether I had close to 75 first cousins, most of us living with a one mile radius of each other. I am including both sides of the family here. My dad had one brother and five sisters, all deceased now, and one of his sisters married one of my mothers brothers. So among these cousins, five are double first cousins.
I grew up on Highway 81, a little known area with a well known name — Rome, KY. Well, Rome is a well known name and the reaction from people if we told them we grew up in Rome was priceless. Most of my cousins lived along that stretch of highway and they were my first friends and playmates. We went to school in a four room brick building — St. Martins School. It no longer exists but the church is still there and as far as I know it’s going strong with several of my cousins still in the congregation.
Our house was just across a pasture from my maternal grandparents and we were in and out of their house almost as much as our own. I can remember crossing that pasture, avoiding the cows and bull when possible, and spending summer afternoons with my grandmother, watching the soap operas on the only TV in the family for a long time but only after helping her with the dinner dishes. For us dinner was the noon meal and the evening one was supper. My grandmother was also a great cook and between my mother and her plus my paternal grandmother I learned to be a pretty good cook myself. We all canned vegetables and fruit in season and enjoyed opening those jars all winter long. Grandmother and Papa had a farm and in addition the cows they had chickens and pigs, all of which ended up on our tables. We also had fresh eggs every day, and after Dad got our first cow and pig and Mother got a house full of chickens we were pretty independent as far as groceries went. I can remember churning the cream into some of the best butter ever. During the autumn season we gathered black walnuts that fell from the tree at the end of our property and produced enough each year for most of the family. Mother sold the extra eggs and butter to the neighbors and used that money for Christmas gifts for all of us. Not much extra money those days but my parents made sure none of us knew it. Since everyone else was in the same financial boat we never knew we were dirt poor. We had what we needed and some of the things we wanted.
My paternal grandparents lived a couple of miles away and had a dairy farm. I loved going out to the milking barn with Mom and Pop, the name they were known as even to strangers. Pop would hook most of the cows up to the milking machines but Mom had almost a dozen that she had raised from newborn and she refused to hook them to a machine, preferring to hand milk them twice a day every day. Dairy farmers don’t get days off, or even a morning or afternoon off. Mom also raised geese and plucked them periodically to make the feather pillows she kept her entire family well stocked with. From her I not only learned to bake bread and fruit cobblers, but also how to save every scrap of fabric to make quilts. I’m still making quilts now even though my family are already well stocked. They each still love receiving new ones once in a while.
We have a treasure trove of stories and some of my personal ones are almost unbelievable these days. I learned to walk and talk by nine months of age and then proceeded to teach my older brother my wicked ways. He soon learned some tricks of his own though and I became the follower while he was my much adored leader. If he said do it I listened. He and a neighbor boy gave me my first haircut one night when Mother was shopping and Dad was “watching” us. Not sure how it happened but Dad didn’t catch the haircutting. We caught it though when Mother got home and saw the results.
After we moved from town out to the house on Highway 81, my brother had the job of burning the trash. I should add here that the land we lived on had been bought from one of my uncles, and he still had a barn full of hay behind our house. His plan was to leave the barn there until he had used all the hay and then tear it down, giving us more space for whatever Dad decided to do. He didn’t get the chance to tear the barn down or even to use up the hay though. My brother watched Dad demonstrate how the cinder blocks our house was being built of wouldn’t burn and brother was watching as Dad lit a match and placed it on a block watching until it burned itself out without burning the block. Brother decided to show me how safe our house was but he used a little bit of imagination there, stuffing the holes in the block with some of the loose hay before lighting the match he had kept after burning the morning trash. That barn full of dry hay went up fast and brother pulled me into the hen house to hide, while they had to pull Mother away from the barn when she couldn’t see us. She kept trying to run in and save us but one of the fire fighters kept her back while others went in to look. That was the worst trouble he ever got me into, but I still followed every place he went. Even after the rest of the siblings grew big enough to play with us, big brother remained just as today, my hero!
When he started to school I did homework with him, so when my turn came to go to the big red brick school and we were both in the same room I already knew the first grade material and again did my homework with him. Only one time did one of the teachers put me in the same class with him and she told me many years later that she wanted to see if I could beat his top scores in everything. I never tried to beat him. If I had I have no doubt to this day that he would have beat me in a much different way.
We had family reunions each summer even though we lived in each others pockets all year. But to get that many people together for barbecue chicken and all the trimings was a treat in itself. Home made ice cream for dessert was the food of the gods.
Lauren mentioned going through Ancestry.com to find her family and one of my sisters did that as well. What she found was probably a lot of fairy tales, but according to that we are descended from royalty on both sides of the family. Henry VIII on Mother’s side, and Attila on Dad’s. Not too sure if I should even say that since neither of them had a claim for doing good deeds.
So many memories are coming to me now, but it would take the rest of the week to write them all down. I have been writing some of them down for my daughter since Christmas, one chapter a week and will continue doing so until I run out of life or memory, whichever comes first. My daughter used to sit at my Grandmother’s feet and listen to her stories, my granddaughter sat at my Mother’s side and did the same. I am writing my stories down in journals and online as a way to keep them alive for anyone who wants to read about their past and the wonderful people they are descended from. And I am aware that my grammar is all bad now, but it’s easier for me this way. After all, I’m closing in on 80 years and don’t have the time to worry about grammar now. I still have some quilts to finish