What Weddings, Funerals and Reunions Have In Common

Photo Credit: qcveterans.com

Photo Credit: qcveterans.com

A reader posted yesterday about how she discovered more about her family’s history at her uncle’s recent funeral than she ever had before. It’s sad in a way to think we don’t talk about such things until there’s a death. In fact, this is the opening scene of my book, Through The Eyes Of Grace. At my grandmother’s funeral I am given a beautifully wrapped gift. I want to put off opening it until later, but my Mom insists on me opening it now. Here’s a portion of it:

As I plopped into the black leather seat I felt something crunch underneath me.  It was the gift I had seen on the table!  This was all I needed to deal with now.  I tossed it aside no longer interested in the who or the why questions that had incensed me before the service.

Mama picked up the gift, “Gracelyn, this is for you.  Don’t you want to open it?”

“Um, no! Not now.”

“Why on earth not?”

“Oh, Mama! It’s just not right.”

“Gracelyn, I insist.  It may be the giver will be at the dinner.  You’ll want to be sure to thank them.  I really think it best to open it now.”

Mama usually had the last word, and this time was no exception.  I have learned it’s best to do what she says.  Picking up the gift I slowly rip the paper away revealing a stained wooden box that smelled much like the old church we had just left.  Lifting the lid I discovered the source of the scent – a worn out leather journal.

“What’s this?”  I asked casually hoping my excitement didn’t show.

“I’ve seen this before; why, it belonged to Mama.  See the engraving – Grace Stella Oswalt?”

As I opened the cover a note fell on the floor.  I picked it up only to discover it was in Big Mama’s handwriting.  The brief excitement drained from my fingertips as if the dead were calling my name.

“M-Mama, you read it.”

Dear Gracelyn,

I am an old woman now, and time is running out for me to share with you my story.  I’ve waited for you to ask, but now the waiting ends.  You are my youngest granddaughter, and one who reminds me so much of myself.  It is my prayer as you read this journal you will grow in your understanding of who you are and to whom you belong.  Your life is not your own to live as you want.  I learned this the hard way, and I pray this journal will help you after I am long gone.  Read it well and remember, although life is brief – love is forever.

Affectionately,

Big Mama

I sat there in disbelief as the limo came to a stop.  I wasn’t sure if I was happy to have this gift or angry she singled me out as needing special help.  Maybe it was a little of both, but as hard as it was to admit, I was comforted.

Older family members tend to talk more at reunions and weddings as well. So it’s not just during the saddest of times, it’s more at the pivotal times when family is elevated and given the prominence it deserves. Many young people roll their eyes when they think of going to a family gathering, especially if there’s going to be old people there who only remember them when they were knee high.
We had our first family reunion of distant cousins a few years ago here in Orlando. People traveled from all over the country, but the majority flew in from Oklahoma. My Mom had the time of her life. At 87 she was the oldest living family member there, and everyone had questions to ask her. We made a huge family tree on the wall of our meeting room and asked those attending to bring pictures in order to tape it next to their name. This helped us realize how far reaching our roots have spread in the past century. I also happened upon a conversation starter called Table Topics for Family Gatherings. This ended up being my favorite part of the entire weekend, because people told stories we had never heard before–and we laughed. We laughed until we thought our sides would split.
May I encourage you, if you have the privilege of being invited to a family reunion this year, instead of being the one to roll the eyes, why not look at it as a great adventure where you’re setting out to discover things you don’t know about your family. And then, come back  here and let us know what you’ve learned. A story become more permanently fixed in your mind when you’ve repeated it to someone else.
We all have a story, we just might not know it yet!

Questions #11 – Have you ever been to a family reunion? What was it like, who was there, and what stories did you learn?

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This is post #11 in the challenge to post everyday in April.

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The Eyes Have It

hobbies

Question #9 – What is your hobby and how did you learn to do it?

Hobbies are a great way to spend free time doing something you really love. Some people are even able to make a living with their hobby full-time. I know I would love to! Alas, the pay for me has always been more about the reward I get doing it than from any money I might receive. But hey, I’d never refuse the offer!
I love to write so I spend the majority of my day doing so. And when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about what I’ll write next. 🙂 Even now I’m at the hair salon and instead of reading the latest magazine, I’m writing this post because I can! 🙂

You can learn a lot about someone just by discovering their hobbies.

My grandmother loved to sew, and she was good at it. She taught herself when she was a young girl. Amazingly, she never needed a pattern which proves it was truly a gift. But she didn’t think it was such a big deal because it came so easily to her. Hobbies are like that. We tend to excel at those things we love doing. Or maybe it’s because we love doing it, so we practice and develop a skill for it quicker. At any rate, hobbies are a great question to ask your older relatives. And I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll see a sparkle come to their eyes as they answer you!

“Golf isn’t just my business, it’s my hobby.” – Lee Trevino 

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This is post #9 in the challenge to post everyday in April.

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A Slice Of [Mom’s] Life

Photo Credit: www.bbc.co.uk

Photo Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk

Today I want to share with you an article I wrote for our neighborhood newsletter in August of 2004 about a very special day. 

My Mom and I love going out to lunch together. We have done this almost every week since I got married over 25 years ago. One particular week she picked where we were to go, but first she wanted us to stop by an old friend’s house. Her name was Mary. She explained that Mary was a writer and knowing my desire to one day write a book about the life of my grandmother, she wanted us to meet. I was happy to go, but not sure about meeting her friend. Sometimes arranged meetings such as this don’t go over the way intended. I had no idea what was about to happen.

My Mom grew up in Clermont, a bedroom community to the west of Orlando, where everyone knows everyone else. Even though this town is changing rapidly, somehow Mary’s house had avoided any change. As we pulled into her dirt driveway, I felt as though I was leaving the year 2004 behind. Suddenly, I found myself entering a strange new, but old world–my mother’s childhood. Mary met us at her squeaky screen door, which led us from her clapboard porch to a dimly lit paneled living room. There her husband stood, cane in hand, with a smile large enough to make any stranger feel like family. His handshake indicated confidence. I liked them both immediately.

Mary quickly led us up the wooden stairs to her office. As we sat among her treasures, books from every subject, age and size, I felt as if I was sitting inside her personal journal. In this room was Mary’s life, and she had gladly opened up her volumes to share with me her love for writing. I was deeply affected.

As I listened to two old friends reminisce, I realized that I was privileged to see my mom from a completely different perspective. Here sat, not my mom, but a little girl and her best friend talking of how they used to play in this very room. Mom mentioned how she would always run to this room first, because she loved the packed toy chest that used to sit below the window where Mary’s computer was now located. Her face revealed the joy this moment was bringing to her. Hearing them talk, I could actually see them in their childhood finding pleasure in the simple things of life. I was reminded of how quickly time passes. As they spoke of their lives 75 years ago, it was as if only days had passed, not decades.

I’m so glad I had this moment to glimpse into the past, for this is the stuff of which books are made. Mary helped me in my quest for capturing my grandmother’s story more than she’ll ever know; she introduced me to her youngest daughter, my mom.

Moments like these are rarely planned. They usually happen upon us when we least expect them, and we fail to remember all we heard because we weren’t giving the moment our full attention. I can remember this day with my mom as if it were yesterday. I never saw Mary and her husband again, so I am all the more grateful to God for giving me this time for Mom to show me a very special slice of her life.

This leads to our next question to ask an older member of your family:

Question #8 – Who was your closest childhood friend and what did you enjoy doing together?

Note: My mom’s friend is a famous writer of children’s books. Her name is Mary Rose Pearson, and you can check out her books HERE.

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This is post #8 in the challenge to post everyday in April.

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Children Are A Gift From God

Photo Credit: Denise Janz Photography

Do you believe this truth from the Bible?

I certainly do. And I know my family has had a rich heritage of welcoming babies into this world. Some babies left this world way too soon dying from infant illnesses back in the early 1900’s. But many more lived long and fruitful lives.

This brings us to today’s Question #7:

How many brothers and sisters did your grandparents and/or parents have?

I have wonderful news! Our family is growing…we found out on Friday that our son and his wife, who are expecting in September, are having a son! Our son is having a son, and the Walter name will live on! We are doing the happy dance around here, and thank God for this unexpected gift. You see they have two beautiful daughters, and we expected a third for some reason. But after a sonogram where the little guy was showing off his stuff, there is no doubt that Bristol and Willow will soon have a baby brother to love and hold. 🙂

When was the last time you received an unexpected blessing?

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This is post #7 in the challenge to post everyday in April.

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Discovering The Good

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Today we are going to the wedding of one of our best friends’ daughter. It has been a busy week decorating, cooking, hugging, laughing and remembering. This wedding will make our friends empty nesters and a new season of life will begin for them. Change is hard, but it is also good. Oftentimes we don’t discover the good until we’ve learned to accept the changes with thankfulness.

When we have life changing moments like these we learn valuable lessons from which those who are coming behind us can glean. This brings us to today’s question:

Question #5

What was a life-changing moment you experienced and how did you handle the changes?

Won’t you take time this weekend to ask someone in your family the answer to this question. Or, you can answer the question yourself.

 

“To our children, we give two things, one is roots, the other is wings.”

 

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I am taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.
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Tell It To Your Children and Your Children’s Children

Photo Credit: Pam, The Nomad blog

Photo Credit: Pam, The Nomad blog

A hundred years ago, before radio or television was invented, families sat around after dinner telling stories from their experiences. My Mom knew much of her family history simply by listening to the stories over and over again as told by her parents and grandparents. What a great way to tell their children and grand-children about life and what they had learned along the way.

But families don’t do this so much anymore. Of course, there are those who are intentional and do this on a regular basis (click the picture above to hear about one family who is intentional). But to those who are more comfortable clicking the “on” button on the remote than you are waiting in the silence while someone thinks how to answer a question, please give this month’s challenge a try. You never know what treasures of history are waiting to be discovered and how it might affect you. And most likely you will laugh when you hear the stories told in a way that makes it unforgettable.

Why is it that when we look back to when we were younger the days seemed better and life seemed easier? But was it really? Or are we simply choosing to remember the parts we liked or the parts we can make sense of? One thing is certain, we can learn from our past as well as the past of those who have gone before us. Most are willing to talk about it because the time and distance has made the story easier to discuss. This brings us to our next question that I would like to hear how you would answer this question, as well as encourage you to ask someone in your family whom you don’t already know the answer they would give.

Question #5

What did you love most about where you grew up? 

 

“Generations pass like leaves fall from our family tree. Each season new life blossoms and grows benefiting from the strength and experience of those who went before.”

Author: Heidi Swapp

 

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I am taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.
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Vintage Vows

wagon

Our next question should be asked to the couple in your family who have been or was (if they aren’t both alive) married the longest. 

Question #3

When were you married and where? What is your fondest memory of the day?

My Mom told me that her grandparent’s were married on the back of a wagon on a dirt road in Kansas. How intriguing. When I was writing my book I had no way of knowing why they were married thus, so I had to imagine the reason. Below is an excerpt from my novel, Through The Eyes Of Grace, as Frank Kirwin (Grace’s Father) explains to Grace about their wedding day:

“So, you didn’t get married in a church?”

“No, like I said, Pa and Ma weren’t church-going people; they had their reasons.  As far as we were told they never saw the need for it.  When the time came for me to consider settling down and marrying your Mama, it was the middle of summer. That year our crops were late; normally the wheat was planted in the fall the previous year before the first frost of winter.  However, a swarm of grasshoppers kept us from planting the wheat on time; it was the worst outbreak Kansas had seen in years.  We ended up planting in early spring.  This delayed our harvest, which normally took place the 3rd week of June to the first part of July.  I knew I couldn’t be spared from helping the family with the harvest, but your Mama had just found out that the Smithton family was moving without much notice.  This caused her great anxiety, as her only alternative was to move back to Cherryvale.  She was not only losing her means, but her place to live as well. I knew she was the one I wanted to take care of and provide for, but the timing wasn’t the best as you can see.”

“What did you do?”

“I did what any normal man in love would do – I made a way!”

This thought startled me; Papa was passionately in love with Mama!  I adored romantic stories and had spent most of my early years dreaming of the day my own husband would sweep me off my feet and carry me away with him to live happily ever after.  But never had I looked at my parents as being in love.  They always seemed to tolerate each other.  I realized that Papa was still talking and I was missing it!

“…he would soon be passing by on his way to his next town…”

“Who would be passing by?” I interrupted.

“The circuit preacher of southern Kansas, haven’t you heard a word I’ve been saying?”

“I’m sorry, Papa, I guess I was daydreaming for a minute there.  Please, go on.  I really want to hear.”

“I had heard the Circuit Preacher who had spent the week in town would be leaving for his next stop early Saturday morning.  His route was to take Dr. Long’s Lane on his way to Independence in order to preach Sunday services there the next day.  It was the perfect solution to my dilemma, since our farm ran alongside Dr. Long’s Lane!  We could get married quickly without having to leave the farm.  I made all the arrangements for Sarah, family and friends to be at our house early on Saturday, July 7th.

“It was already a scorcher that day, even at 8 a.m.  We all gathered ‘round under the shade of our walnut trees waiting for the good preacher to pass by.  Not even an hour had passed when we saw his wagon appear on the horizon, and it was a sight to behold, indeed!  Sarah couldn’t believe that this was to be our wedding day; it was really happening, and her face shone like the morning sun.  She would finally have a home and a family of her own.  I was prouder than a peacock to provide for her.”

“So you were married right there on the road?”

“Well, I wish you could have seen the preacher’s face as his wagon approached our family gathering.  In those days a lone traveler, even a preacher, was wary of strangers waiting on the road.  We quickly made our request known, and he was obviously relieved and much obliged.  It was decided that the back of his wagon would make the perfect stage allowing our marriage to be witnessed by all present.  I pledged my vows to your Mama that day from the back of a humble wagon.  We saw it as a symbol of our journey beginning as man and wife.”

I want to encourage those who don’t have relatives to ask these questions, to use these as a springboard to record your own answers for those who will be following after you. What a rich treasure to leave our grandchildren and beyond. And please won’t you share what you discover in the comments below?

“Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your children’s children.”

Deuteronomy 4:9
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We are taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.
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What Makes A Family Heirloom Special?

Photo Credit: Star Shine Chic blog

Photo Credit: Star Shine Chic blog

I believe the answer to this question is simple–What makes a family heirloom special is the story that goes with it. Now some may say it’s the value of the piece, and that’s true, I suppose. But I’ve found that the items I’ve been given are much more meaningful to me if I know the story behind them.

Question #2

What is the oldest family heirloom you own, and what is the story behind it?

My Mom passed away in December, and we have spent most of this year cleaning out her home and sorting through her stuff. We found things we didn’t know she had, special things, beautiful things, but without a story behind them–they are just things. However, a few of her older items had little notes attached to them letting us know a bit of where it came from and to whom it belonged.

The oldest item also happens to be my favorite.

Cup 2

It’s a little  porcelain tea cup that has a red stamp on the bottom stating it was made in Germany. I know it went through the fire at my grandparents home back in the early sixties because the outside is speckled as if the smoke was glazed into the cup. But what makes this cup so special is the information written on the label my Mom placed on the inside.

It says, ” Sarah Kirwin gave to daughter, Grace Oswalt, when 12 years old.”

Cup 1

That means this cup was made around 1900, which means it is the oldest thing I own. Grace Stella turned twelve in March of 1901. I found one like it on an Antique Appraisers website. They’re selling one without the smoke marks for only $7.50, but this tea cup is priceless to me!

“The measure of a woman’s character is not what she gets from her ancestors,

but what she leaves her descendants.”

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We are taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.
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Now That’s A Great Question

Photo Credit: Neodesha Chamber of Commerce

Photo Credit: Neodesha Chamber of Commerce

I am privileged to be taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post everyday during the month of April. I must admit I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with the thought, but I’m compelled to do it. I pray you will find my posts helpful as you take the time to discover your family’s story and hear a bit more about mine.

My goal is to provide a great question each day that you can use to ask your older family members, be it a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle. You can choose who to ask, hopefully it will be someone who has an interesting answer. Then, come back and share what you’ve discovered with us. It should be a fun and rewarding month as we purpose to uncover stories that may have never before been told.

Question #1

Where were you born, and what is your earliest memory?

oklahoma-landrush-1893My grandmother, Grace Stella Kirwin, was born in Neodesha, Kansas (pronounced Nee-oh’-deh-shay), located in the southeastern corner of the state, on March 2, 1889. Unfortunately, I can’t ask her what her earliest memory was, but I do know that when she was only 4 years old, her Uncle Charley took part in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893. He had a race horse named, Pigeon. I wish I knew why in the world he named his horse that–but one can only speculate. Not only was Pigeon a good horse, he was fast. Uncle Charley staked two claims of land for the family.

At precisely twelve noon on September 16, 1893 a cannon’s boom unleashed the largest land rush America ever saw. Carried by all kinds of transportation – horses, wagons, trains, bicycles or on foot – an estimated 100,000 raced to claim plots of land in an area of land in northern Oklahoma Territory known as the Cherokee Strip. There had been a number of previous land rushes in the Territory – but this was the big one. (Source: eyewitness to history website)

The claims ended up being in what is now called Noble County, Oklahoma. My Mom and I had the chance to visit the little town of Ceres, where we think the homestead was located.  It looks like their land is now owned by the power company and is underwater of a man-made lake.

So, what have you discovered about your relatives earliest memories? Won’t you join the conversation? 

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we came from.”

                                                                                                                   – Alex Haley
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We are taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.
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