ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Preserving the Past
© Another Day in the Country
Every once in a while someone contacts us, here in Ramona, asking for information about a grandmother, an aunt or uncle, and sometimes even a parent. If it was a name we recognized at all, we used to go to our Uncle Hank and ask if he remembered them. Often, he’d come up with some recollection — a story to tell about the time they had the biggest winter snow and how they all went sledding, or the pigs that got loose and caused trouble. There was always a story and the stories are what I love best.
Often folks come to the Marion County Record and read through old copies of the newspaper to glean information about their ancestors who lived in this area. Those of us in families who’ve inherited what I call the “genealogy bug” search the internet. In those places, you’ll probably find facts, but the only place you’ll find stories is by word-of-mouth. Stories are an oral tradition that cannot be overlooked.
My sister and I carry on that story-telling tradition. In a way, this column, on this newspaper page, is a story — sometimes about my family, sometimes about the families in my town. I know folk who live a long ways away from Marion County and still subscribe to this local paper because they might read a story about someone they once knew, or even just see their name mentioned.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to “make a book,” such a wonderful phenomena of our modern computerized world that I can go on the internet and create a book of stories and pictures and within a few days, hold it in my hand and read it. This book that I began to create was to be about my mother. So, I started looking for pictures.
“Aren’t you going to include Dad?” my sister wanted to know, and I told her that for now, this was to be only about our mother.
“Everything, her whole life, was about someone else,” I said to Jess. “I want this to be about just Martha.” I did include her parents and grandparents in the line-up; but the focus was to be a girl named Martha Schubert, the great-grandmother of my grandson, someone he’d never see nor hear about except, probably, in the pages of this book.
So, we set to hunting for pictures. It’s absolutely incredible how quickly pictures can be lost, with phrases like, “I thought I saw it…” and “Didn’t it used to be on the wall in...” beginning our process of compiling something called “Something about Martha.”
To begin with, there are only half a dozen or so pictures of my mother taken through her early years. By the time she became a teenager her older sister, Anna, had gotten a Kodak camera, and there are a proliferation of photographs of sisters, sisters with cousins and sisters on excursions with friends. Thus armed, I began to write about what I knew of my mother’s life.
Luckily for us, we’d begged our Uncle Hank for stories while he still lived in Ramona and once my mother came back here to live out the last years of her life, we plied her with questions about what she remembered. It was our great delight to get the two of them remembering things that happened in their childhood, to hear them laugh.
And now, here I sat writing stories. If I had a question, whom could I ask? Who was this in a photograph, laughing with the Schubert girls? There is now no longer anyone in my mother’s generation to clarify, tell, explain, or remember.
I can still call my cousins for family information, but most of them are younger than I am. Somehow, I’ve become the older generation, the tenuous link to the past. “At this point, there’s no one to ask,” I grumble to my sister, as I’m looking for a story that I could have sworn I’d written down somewhere. “I could just make it up,” I laugh.
Then, in a haggard looking file in the back of a drawer, I found what I was looking for — a document written by my Aunt Anna 40 to 50 years ago, detailing the facts of her parents immigration to America. All the dates and names and stories of pregnancies and seasickness and courage, of escapes and artifacts brought over from there to here, and how it all happened, so long ago, on another day in the country.
Last modified March 12, 2015