This I Believe

Cheryl - South Euclid, Ohio
Entered on November 20, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family, legacy

This I Believe

Family history is important. I am 52 years old, and the youngest of four children in my family, but I’m sure I’m the only one that knows many of the little “tidbits” of interesting family lore. They didn’t listen to our elders talk and they didn’t ask many questions either. Here are a few items of family trivia I know that they don’t:

My mother loved the apple tree in her yard growing up, like it was her friend, and used to sit in it as a child.

Her four male cousins, like beloved brothers to her, once tied her to a tree and left her. She would never tell on them because she was afraid her father would get so mad at the boys that she wouldn’t be allowed to play with them anymore. She loved them too much to let that happen.

She wanted to take a college prep course in high school but her father wouldn’t let her, thinking a “business course” was more practical. She never got to take French and she didn’t go to college, but she did learn to type. This was the 30s. Her job was to find a husband to take care of her, and she did. But she was smart, and loved learning—and she wanted more.

When her mother sold their home after being widowed, she sold all the furniture with it. My mother lost her roll top desk, full of memories and old letters. She’s still sad about that over fifty years later.

My father, at age 13 (in 1933), accompanied his mother and a female friend on a several month-long roadtrip to Reno, Nevada, to get a divorce from his philandering father. Divorce was pretty hard in those days (and there were no interstates). I’ve seen pictures of him and her from that trip in old albums. The roads were rough and dirt, and in one, my grandmother is in riding jodhpurs—this was a vacation and she was having a GOOD time.

My grandmother was so bitter about her husband’s unfaithfulness that she threw out every picture of him, or cut his head out of group shots. On top of that, she referred to her second husband (Arthur) as Frank, as this was my father’s name, furthering the re-write of history that A) First husband, my dad’s father, never lived and, B) Second husband, she and my dad had always been one happy little family. I was 7 or 8 before I had a clue that my grandfather was not related to us by blood. And none of us has any idea what our real grandfather looked like, to this day.

I believe it’s important to know the little things about family, and your history. I believe it’s cool to know this stuff. It makes me happy and I can more clearly understand who we all are and how we got that way. I believe it’s important for our parents and grandparents and others to think we’re interested in the details of their lives: what they did, where they did it, who they cared about, what funny or sad things happened to them. And how they felt about events.

My grandparents have been gone for many years. My father had a stroke and lost his memory for the last 7 years of his life, and he died 6 years ago. I listened more than anyone else, but I should have asked more. My mother is 85 and has progressing Alzheimer’s—she remembers less and less. Time is running out.

Cheryl Denninger