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Family Threads: At the Knee of Grandma G.

Posted by Renee Friday, August 7, 2009

Guest Blogger: Donna Cook (my very favorite 1st Cousin Once Remove)

I never liked history in high school. What I recall from history textbooks is a slew of names and dates I found impossible to remember. It was dry, boring, and bad for my test scores.

Then I grew up and encountered history in a completely new way. I encountered stories. You know, not just the long-winded chronologies in history books, but engaging, flesh-and-bone, pull-you-in stories. Suddenly the names from history became more than just names... they became people. Fascinating people. People I wondered about. What was it like to live back then? What was it like to go through what they went through?

I find myself asking the same questions about the people on my family tree.

For some of these people, I may never know more than the most basic information: where they were born, who they married. Still, when I see things like the death of several small children in a family, I wonder about them. I wonder what it was like for them. It makes them more real and they begin to feel like my family. If only they... or someone... had written their stories down.

For other people on my family tree, I have details that bring them to life. They're small details, I don't have any fabulous civil war diaries hanging out in my family tree like some people do. Even so, I love these small details: the great uncle who ran a grocery store (I even have a picture of him there), the widowed mother who brought her two young boys from Virginia to North Carolina so she could live with her sister, the great-great grandfather who was a preacher. It's not much, but it's enough to pull my heart in their direction. It's enough to make me wonder.

Not surprisingly, the people I know the most about are either still living, or died not that long ago. My favorite story is one about my great-grandma, "Grandma G" (pictured here at age 19). When she was in her 90's, I sat at her feet and she told me what it was like when she was a little girl like me. When she was young, her family moved from Cunningham, Kansas to Campo, Colorado... in a covered wagon. It was a long trip, and there wasn't a lot to do. She explained there were no TV's and no radios. I was genuinely astonished by this. "What did you play with?" I asked her.

"I had one doll to play with," she said, "and I was grateful to have that."

It was a teaching moment for me. To be grateful for one doll. It said a lot about the character of my grandma too, and I've never forgotten it. This is a story I've recorded for future generations to enjoy. It's not fancy. It's not much. But maybe one day my great-grandchildren will wonder what it was like for me to sit at the knees of my great-grandmother and hear a story like that.

It was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

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