English Family

My husband’s Great-Grandfather in England with his sisters. He’s on the right, quite dapper I think. Don’t you love the hats?

Although her father migrated from England and we don’t think she ever visited, his grandmother wrote to her English cousins throughout her life. Sadly, by the time we became interested in meeting that side of the family, his grandmother had died. We decided to travel to England to see if we could locate them. (It would have been cheaper but less fun to write to the address he had…)

Before the English trip, I went on a tour to China. Among the group were a couple of Brits and I mentioned that I was traveling to England soon. “Oh where?” “Just a tiny town. Hebdenbridge.” “My, we live just a few miles from there.” The story of why we were visting was told and the British women decided to help. We sent them the address and one Saturday we got a call. A very-out-of-breath voice said, “I just ran up the hill to a phone box. I’ve found them!”

The house had been sold but the people living there knew my husband’s relatives (the pleasures of small town living.) The upshot was a wonderful afternoon with many many cousins, eating, talking and learning various recipes for trifle. One of the cousins had just completed a family geneology, but had been unable to locate the U.S. relation. We completed her information which was displayed in a large family tree on the wall and there were namtags for everyone that identified relationships – daughter of Emma, and so on. The tags for the women who had made the reunion possible read “Go between.”

A result of this trip, besides some wonderful hours, was a confirmation of U.S. family gossip that that great-grandfather and his wife moved to the States because their first child was born “too soon.” The Brits said there were always whispers that stopped when they came into the room but they didn’t know why.

My indelible image of that afternoon, besides all the food and conversation, came when we were leaving. Ella, the oldest surviving relative stood at the top of the stairs and waved us off with a British flag, singing “Till we meet again.”

Portuguese Rooster

Carved Wooden Rooster from Portugal. My mother traveled to Spain and Portugal with her best friends, the next door neighbors. Their son was studying in Barcelona and Mother went along on the trip. This is typical of the kind of bright souvenir that would catch her eye.

Allthough this little bird is just a tchotchke, it reminds me of a rooster story my grandmother told:

“When we lived on the farm, our rooster was a big old mean thing. He liked to chase your mother and aunt, cornering them on the porch against the railing. They weren’t much taller than he was, and once he’d cornered them, he’d hop and peck and crow. It got so they were afraid to go out in the yard. Time for rooster soup!

“While the soup was cooking, the girls played zoo in the front room. Your mother [mine] pretended to be a lion caged under a chair. Roaring, she stuck her head through the rungs. And got wedged in. Her sister began jumping around, yelling, ‘You won’t get any jumping rooster soup.’ Neither soap nor vaseline could unstick her head. We had to take the chair apart.”

How satisfying as a child to know your mother was a scamp!

This being Mother’s Day, I want to add how terribly I miss her. She was a scamp her whole life (perhaps I should post the picture of her sticking out her tongue as proof). But she was also generous, helpful, loving, and smart. How lucky I was to have such a mother.

Washing Ewer and Bowl

Antique pottery bowl and ewer used for washing. These are not a set. One belonged to my mother’s maternal and the other to her paternal grandmother. They are delicate, so it’s easy to understand that a set might not survive.

In houses without plumbing, most houses at the time these were made, water was kept ready in the pitcher for morning wash-ups in the bedroom. The piece of furniture the bowl sat on was called a commode. It had a rack for a towel, sometimes a mirror, and a chamber pot was kept in the cabinet. I’m eternally grateful to have been born well after a commode was necessary!

My mother’s two grandmothers were very different. The one was stout and looks in pictures as if she likes to cook – she often wears an apron. The other was very thin. Mother said when they visited her father’s family, she was sometimes chosen to sleep with her grandmother. The bed was high and difficult for a young girl to climb into. Mother would cling to the edge, hoping not to fall out, but worried she’d roll over in the night and squash her grandmother.

BTW, the flowers, sadly, are fake.

Ceramic Bowl / Guest Post

Our First Guest Post, from the family of Cat Lazaroff.
This bowl was made by my great-great-grandmother, Jeannette Garr Washburn Kelsey, more than 100 years ago. Jeannette was, according to my grandmother, quite a hellraiser, traveling the world, trying the latest fads. She was also obsessed with our family’s link to the Scottish clan Sinclair, through James Sinclair, the black-sheep son of the Earl of Caithness. James left Scotland to fight in the American Revolutionary War, then worked merchant ships that traveled to Spain, South America, all round the Atlantic.

I’d heard this story from my grandmother and in 1996 went to my first Scottish festival, in Fergus, Ontario. In the Sinclair booth I scanned the genealogy chart for a name from the stories: William, the 10th Earl of Caithness. Couldn’t find him. Was my memory faulty? Still crouched in front of the framed chart, I pulled out my cell phone and called Grandmommy.

“He married a Kelsey? Nope, no Kelseys listed.” When I snapped the phone shut, the kilted man in charge of the booth came forward. “Did I hear you say you’re descended from the Kelseys?”

Somehow I’d managed to come to the one Scottish festival in the world where someone had heard our story. Rory Sinclair not only knew of the disinherited Sinclair son, he’d actually tracked down a copy of Jeannette’s 1904 vanity-published account.

Thanks to that encounter, my Grandmommy and I both have photocopies of A Diverted Inheritance, an odd mix of fictionalized true-love story and supportive research, including letters between Jeannette and various members of Clan Sinclair.

After my grandfather died, I helped Grandmommy move to a much smaller apartment. Among the items that didn’t make the move was this bowl. It’s chipped, imperfect, not exactly beautiful. But inside it nestles a note, written on the back of one of Grandmommy’s business cards, in her own brisk hand:

The bowl is the only one of Jeannette’s ceramics to survive, as far as I know. I’ll keep it safe, and someday maybe I’ll give it – along with my photocopy of Jeannette’s book, and the story of James Sinclair – to another generation.

Cat now lives in Maryland and is a writer.

Wedding Dress

Wedding Dress. Satin, not white but “blush”. Seed pearls at the neck, inset of tulle.

This dress was made by my grandmother. It was slightly rosy because my grandmother said my mother was too pale and she needed color. It fit when it was made but by the wedding, Mother had lost weight — you can see it’s slightly baggy. She and my daddy were very happy; all my life I knew that!

When I married my hubby, Mother offered me the dress. I was thrilled; also thrilled that it fit. Although the tulle had disintigrated, Mother replaced it.

We had a simple wedding, with cheesecake made by our next door neighbor, my sister sang, Mother sewed the tablecloths and we found a sell-out of violets, so there were flowers everywhere. We’ve been married many years now. If happiness can be handed down through a dress, I’d recommend this one.

Funny thing, years later I was visiting Mother and saw her wedding picture. My first thought, “Why is she wearing my dress?” A small example of how we are always the star in our own lives, even if we try not to be…

Collapsible Cup

Collapsible Cup. In some kind of metal, 2 1/2 inches in diameter. 3.5 inches when extended, but only 3/4 inch collapsed.

I believe this belonged to my grandmother on my mother’s side. (The one who saved the picture from the trash was on my father’s side.) She wasn’t a bicyclist to my knowledge, but she was a Girl Scout. She loved camping and streams. In fact, her Girl Scout nickname was Rushy, because she liked to sit by the rushing water.

My family always camped and she often came along. One trip was to Yellowstone and we kids were excited to see bears. The first night, half-way to the park, we camped out on a hillside along the road. Something was always forgotten on these trips; this time it was matches. Mother and Daddy drove to the nearest town, while we kids stayed with our grandmother (to guard the unpacked camping equipment, I presume.) She kept scaring us, pointing into the dark and saying, “Do you hear something? Is that a bear?” We were relieved when our parents returned, bringing the car, a place of safety, and the bustle of fixing dinner.

The next morning, Daddy said he thought he’d heard something snuffling around the car in the night and sure enough, there were bear paw prints in the dust on the car. Wow, what a close call!

I was in my mid-twenties when Daddy heard me telling the story to a friend. He burst out laughing. “There was no bear. I thought you knew. I drew those paw prints on the car.”

At the request of a reader, I’m adding a picture of the cup, collapsed.