This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.
My mother and grandmother in the kitchen doing the dishes and cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner in 1963. Unlike in the everyday world, my sister and I didn’t help with the dishes at my grandmother’s house. The adults did it all
Below is something I wrote in 2012. Since then I have found the answers to many of the questions I had then. Links are to posts answering some of the questions. But I still wish I had asked.
Questions I Wish I’d Asked
The generations gathered around my Graham grandparents dining room table in 1963 for Thanksgiving dinner. There was turkey with cornbread dressing cooked by my grandfather. There was white rice, cranberry jelly, green beans, corn pudding and sweet potatoes. There was my grandmother’s finely chopped green salad and her homemade biscuits with butter and with a relish plate holding olives, sweet pickles and carrot sticks.
One thing there wasn’t, was talk about the old days. My grandparents were born in 1888. My grandmother was born Fannie Turner in Lowndes County, Alabama. My grandfather was born Mershell Graham in Elmore County, Alabama. They met and married in Montgomery. My great great Aunt Abbie was born in 1877 in Montgomery, Alabama and was the second to youngest child of Dock and Eliza Allen. My mother told us stories she had heard from her mother, mainly about Dock and Eliza and their children. I remember once my older cousin was trimming Aunt Abbie’s toenails when Aunt Abbie mentioned that she used to trim her grandmother’s toenails when she was a girl. And that her grandmother also had arthritis. And that they called her “The African.”I have always remembered that, but I didn’t ask any follow up questions about her grandmother, Annie Williams who was born a slave and was full grown and the mother of a fully grown woman when she was freed. And Aunt Abbie didn’t say anything else about it.
My grandfather, who we called Poppy, was a mystery. My mother only had little parts of stories she had gotten from her mother, things that just made the mystery deeper in most cases. What were his siblings names and what happened to them? Are the ones I’ve found that I think are his siblings, really his siblings? In 1900, I found these possible siblings living with a man who is listed as their father but has a name not listed on any of their death certificates, was he their father with a different name? And where was he, my grandfather, in 1900? Why wasn’t he there, or anywhere else I can find? Where was their mother? What was the name of the little white girl he was servant of when he was a boy? The one he slept on the floor outside of her bedroom door? The one who changed his name from Michele to Mershell because Michele sounded too “foreign”? How did he learn to read? Did he go to school? Did he know his grandparents and what plantation did his parents come off of? There was a photograph of his sister and her children in the album. I would like to ask him what their names were. Are they the ones I’ve found in the census?
I would like to ask my grandmother some of the same questions about her father’s family. Howard Turner died when she was 4 and her mother moved away from that community and went back to her family in Montgomery. I was able to find her father’s family because I knew his name, his age and the community he came from but I have no stories about his parents and siblings or what plantation they came off of. I only know that his father, Joseph Turner of Hayneville, Lowndes County was a farmer and owned his own land and had given his son some land which he didn’t want him to sell and the two of them argued about it.
When we went by my other grandparent’s house for desert I would ask where my grandfather’s mother, Celia Rice Cleage Sherman is buried. And why my grandmother Pearl thought her grandmother was Cherokee.
Unfortunately, I can’t go back to 1963 and sit around the table and steer the conversation around to who was where and when and how and why. I can only use the information I do have to keep looking and hope that one day some cousins from those mysterious lines will turn up and perhaps have some of the answers to my questions.
19 thoughts on “I – IN the Kitchen”
I often wish I had asked more questions of my family members, too. Some of the older generation do know about my grandparents’ parents and so on, at least on my mother’s side, but my father’s side is mostly a mystery. I should at least get what I can from my father while I still can.
I is for Inks
You really should! Every little bit helps.
Those would have been great questions, and you might have received some answers, though maybe not. I sure did enjoy hearing my grandmother talk about her early years…but she left out the painful parts. It was my first glimpse into what family histories were about…not the stories so much, but at least who married who, and where. Some of which is now documented.
I really like the stories. They make all those people marrying and dying come alive.
Definitely sometimes people are cagey with answers and don’t want to talk about things.
And then also even if I heard family stories I didn’t write them down at the time and only half-remember them.
And sometimes the memories our elders share are those kind – where they hear the stories, didn’t write them down and got them confused. I just found a letter from my mother that my mother wrote in 1980 where she gets names mixed up between Eliza and her mother Annie. But it has her mother’s description of both of them that I must have seen before but have no memory of at all!
This is the quandary, isn’t it. When we are young and not yet interested, we neglect to ask the questions — and now those with the answers are often gone. But I have to believe that the snatches we did hear (and remember) can still help guide us in our research. And I have also found that living friends of older generations can be helpful in filling in the gaps.
Yes, the bits we get are a definite help. And those friends too. As long as they are around. And cousins we didn’t know we had that we find.
A lovely photo of your mother and grandmother. I like photos that catch ordinary life much better than posed photos.
So do I!
This post is fascinating. I must return to read more when I get free time. I’m visiting from A-Z. I love the old pictures and the questions you have…intriguing. I would want to know too. How can we find these answers.
We can look at records and try to find other cousins from other branches who have additional stories. Sometimes we can find journals and letters.
At grandma’s house, the adults were the children, so they did the work! Did she have two refrigerators? So many stories – the records are findable, but the stories, not so much.
I see two refrigerators in the photo, but I don’t remember there being two. I know we ate dinner at the kitchen table for years after this photo when I came during a weekday and there was no refrigerator there. Maybe it was moved to the basement or maybe the one with the stamps was replaced by the other.
I have a feeling that doing the dishes is not a big deal when you are grown, that they knew where everything was and the way things were done and that it gave them a chance to talk while they work.
The stories are best found by finding cousins in other branches of the family who often have different memories and different stories that fill in some of the blanks.
I did take notes on some of my father-in-law’s stories, but it was hard to ask questions. Three of my four grandparents had died before I could get their stories, and the fourth hated to talk about “old stuff.” Which of course begs the question why she was so reluctant.
Alphabet of Alphabets: Infant’s Insects
I was close to my grandparents who lived next door and I don’t know whether I was too selfish and self-centred as a youngster to ask questions. I do think though that they just didn’t talk much at all about their histories. it’s such a loss that even primary documents can’t fill.
I think I just didn’t wonder about what my grandparents lives had been when they were young. They seemed like they had always been who they were. And when I got older and they were right downstairs, I was worried about my own life. You are right no documents can fill that lack.
I think it’s amazing you have found as much information about your family roots as you have! And I wish I had retained more of the stories I heard as a child from my great aunts of things like riding to school on horseback.
Sometimes when I start writing things down, I remember more than I did at first.
Seems like we would have wanted to know more about things like riding to school on horseback at the time, doesn’t it? But we didn’t ask anyway.