2.20.2011. Challenge photo this week. Theme, “WHAT YOU LOVE…” I love my family. I love photographs, taking them and looking at them, I love genealogy, and picture frames, and getting to know long ago family members through the magic of film (or digital, as the case may be…) All faces in this photo are family members, going back on both maternal and paternal sides, to my great great grandparents!
I think most people have “Aunts”. They don’t have to be related, and they don’t have to be single, or childless, and they don’t have to be of a certain age, or even, for that matter, female, but they do have to have a love for the children (current and past) in their lives. They are often that adult in a child’s life who says “Yes” to gooey treats an hour before dinner, or lets you wander around outside in the snow in the dusk, when a ‘real’ adult would be “tsk- tsk-ing” and worrying you to death. (And sometimes, they are the crotchety old woman next door that scolds everyone for walking on newly seeded grass!)
That isn’t to say this person is irresponsible—indeed this man or woman is usually a close friend and confidante of your parents—sometimes, it’s almost like having a bonus set of uber-cool adults who think you are just perfect.
Those aunts in my life were all nearby and I spent a good deal of time with them, and they were all ‘great’ aunts/cousins. Aunts Marse and Edith lived ‘Down Below’ and Aunts Gert and (cousin) Sis lived ‘Up Above’. Then there was of course Cousin Vivienne, in a class all by herself.
When we went to visit Davis Avenue (Up Above, the house my grandfather’s mother lived in –was born in?) it meant we could wander around a huge yard, tromp up and down the street, wave to Mr. Pine next door, and generally be loud and crazy. Or come inside (to this day I could walk you through this house with a scary amount of detail), pretend to play with the huge cabinet radio, crawl under the china cabinet and remove the toys left there for us, or sit in the kitchen with the adults and have “tea”… milky, watered-down tea in a china cup and saucer, with Grandma Elaine, Mary T, Boy McNally, Sis and Gert.
Going ‘Down Below’ (Victory Blvd, the house where my grandfather was born) often meant we had to stay inside, as the back ‘yard’ was really the parking lot for the funeral home. We couldn’t play ball or run about if there was a funeral going on, but if there wasn’t, we could go inside and visit and say “Hi” to Uncle George. But more often than not, it was a time to play with the statue in the living room–“Johnny Get Your Gun”– or play Bride in the huge mirror standing between two windows. Again, the amount of minute detail I could offer up 33 years after the last time I stepped inside boggles my mind. (and I wasn’t taking photos yet, sadly.)
The upstairs of these houses is sketchy in my memory (but not as vague as the upstairs of Aunt Gene’s, where NO ONE was allowed to go) but I do recall the upstairs of Victory Blvd. At the top of the stairs was a bathroom. Palatial in size, the room had to have once been a bedroom. The toilet was on the far end and the floor slanted and the claw foot tub was on the opposite wall…Then there was a bedroom door, and then, the Attic Door.
Gifts of LOVE: Many may recognize my “Bride and Groom” from my wedding cake…the little Dutch couple, a gift from Aunt Marse, as were the angels and bunny. The red mirror was Cousin Viv’s, the embroidery Evelyn’s, the sewing basket belonged to my husband’s grandmother. The table cloth is from Mrs. Hayes, and yes, that really IS a toaster from Aunt Gene.
The attic steps was where Aunt Marse would take us on birthdays, and she would open the door, and bring out some manner of little treasure for us to have as a gift. (Oh, to have had a crack at that attic when they moved out. The old photographic negatives of Uncle Henri’s alone make me cry to know they were lost.)
These gifts were given because these aunts were loving, and did not necessarily have the means to be handing out $5.00 bills to every great niece or nephew that came along with a birthday. (Indeed, I don’t know if they did this with all the others.)
Sis gave me a turquoise ring on my 12th birthday, not from the stairs, but something that my grandmother gave her in 1927. It was the last gift she gave me before she died. Grandma was upset, because she was SURE I would lose it. It is on my finger to this day.
Cousin Vivienne gave me a wonderful little mirror that hung in her apartment. Aunt Gene gave me crochet work, photographs, my credenza and a fantastic old toaster (grudgingly, but that is a whole different story)
And cranky Mrs. Hayes from next door once gave me a lovely crocheted tablecloth.
Now, Aunt Gael and my mother-in-law Evelyn have continued this tradition.
Gael often gifts me with some trinket or other that she owned, and loved and cared for. Evelyn, knowing I quilt, gave me her mothers little sewing basket, and one Christmas, gifted everyone with embroidered pieces that over the years the women in the family created with their hands.
These gifts, whether made or simply loved by the person giving them, are more precious and should be considered of more value than any $25 gift card to Old Navy, on any gift giving occasion. The connection to family, to place, to tradition, these are the things that make the holidays ‘family times’, that create memories that the next generation passes on.
Cracked, glued, broken, valued. Loved.
(Happy Birthday to Thomas and my SIL Matt!)
My first 9-11 quilt.
This was my response to driving to work on 9-11-02, in a new state, far away from New York, from the people I loved. the DJ was talking about the time, approaching 8:46, a moment of silence. My lips were quivering as I pulled off the interstate; my eyes were filling with tears, as they are this moment as I write this…unbidden and unstoppable.
The need–the push and pull of desire versus horror –to hear and see the reports on the radio of the first Ground Zero anniversary.
I stood in the employee break room, the television tuned to the news, finally forcing myself to shut the damned thing off; it would take too many hours standing frozen, to hear the names I felt compelled to hear. I found myself returning time and again, while fearing I would get caught goofing off with only 9 days employment under my belt…
I was miserably alone. My husband was at work. He would understand. My daughter; she was in Connecticut, in college, alone and confused and hurting. She would understand. My brother, he was in Philly-far away from my embrace; he would understand.
But these people here. They didn’t seem to understand. I think there were maybe a half dozen references to the date during the course of the day; I remembered spending the days after 9-11 cutting ribbons; and comforting people and hugging them, and here, no one was wearing ribbons; no one seemed to care.
I spent the first months of life in Virginia having people tell me how GLAD I must be that I was out of New York!
How DO you measure a year? Now, in 2009, even ‘Rent’ is no longer. (Rent was the show we went and bought tickets to on the very first chance we had to travel into Manhattan when the ferries started running…solidarity, desire to survive, the need for Arlie to see that Mike wasn’t coming home…)
Measuring years lately has taken on the feeling of trying to measure the rush of the wind. Time flies by; we are celebrating the start of another school year, waving goodbye to another summer; and with it, the melancholy of 9-11 descends as it does for the weeks running up to it; I notice how I cringe having to tell people their order will be done on September 11; how I brush it off to ‘two weeks’ from today,’ or “on the ‘11th’,” but saying 9-11…
I don’t watch much TV; I don’t know if tomorrow is being hyped; I do know Facebook is going to open my heart to more heartbreak this year. Having lost touch with so many—and not knowing their circumstances over the past 26 years– I know I am going to find that friends still in NYC are suffering in ways I don’t even want to imagine…
I was only peripherally involved in 9-11. A witness, not a victim. And yet.
This quilt was designed by me when I came home from work that day in 2002 after work; a frenzied desire to create something, to get all the feelings and thoughts out of my head.
And I while I would like to say there can be no more, I will be honored to add the initials of your loved one.
Here is a bit of the original essays that I wrote in 2001, and photographs of the day itself (in the form of a scrapbook, double click on the image) Its a tough read, and a tough view. And everyone should have to read it, have to remember it.
(Another quilt, part of a triptych, called Disc/Gard Guard Aquehonga, the sun setting on Fresh Kills.)
Hugs to you, Kerin, and Jessica, and Arlie and Pokey. Love you all.
There are very few people in the world who are truly one-of-a-kind.
My cousin Vivienne (Viv) was one of those special souls, and my heart is heavy as I think of her being gone from this life; yet I know that wherever it is she has found herself, she is busily making new friends.
Vivienne was always the person I and any of my friends who met her wanted to be when we grew up, despite the 50 year age gap. She was ageless and timeless. Her smile, or the sound of her voice could light up your heart.
Vivienne never met a stranger. Honestly. I recall one story she told me of being on a plane to somewhere (she was a traveler) and how she held a long term conversation with an oriental couple, who spoke no English, and they actually exchanged Christmas cards!
Vivienne had a unique and incredibly positive outlook on the world. She was not spared difficulty in her life, but she saw every glass as ¾ full. It was difficult to complain around Vivienne because complaints seemed to slide off of her; there was no room in her world for complaints. She saw only the beauty.
The last time I saw Vivienne was on my wedding day, 7 years ago. Vivienne was the adorable brunette in the baseball cap and red cowboy boots, maybe you remember her?
My friend Mike, who was our photographer, was hired because of the way he shoots photos, very similar to my style. Mike was lurking around, catching those wonderful moments. Mike came upon Vivienne, all 5 feet of her, giving my new husband a lecture. Not surprisingly, he took this wonderful photo. (look to the left, for the Flickr box)
Then Vivienne spied him, gently chastised him for taking a photo of her “bad side,” and promptly posed with me, her face turned to expose her “good side.”
What Vivienne failed to realize was that she only had a good side.
Vivienne Cecile Morgan Kuhrt, October 14, 1914-June 11, 2009
I suffer reoccurring bouts of organization at times. It’s not only a seasonal disorder, and I do get over it eventually. Retail therapy is one cure; deciding to get involved in a long-term art or quilt project can also ward off the bug. However, on occasion, I declare ‘enough is enough!’ (Definitely not in italics. Usually murmured quietly to myself; I wouldn’t want to be held to it or anything!)
I have vivid recollections of the kitchen of a great aunt, with the towering piles of rinsed-out cottage cheese containers circling the sink. Hey, they could be re-used! (I think people who survived the depression were the original ‘greenies’.) Of course, from the same household came the Skippy jar of broken crayons that my mother, her siblings, and their children (yep, me too) all used when coloring in the multi-generational coloring book stashed on the bottom shelf of the cabinet in the living room.
I don’t want the chaos that comes with that kind of random and indiscriminate hoarding. I want limits. (I have a limit. Quilting stays in the studio. I am very good with that, with the exception of the tub of batting in the attic. I can control myself!) From time to time I find myself drawn to simplify. I typically (read always) give up too soon.
Did you know I still have in my possession body lotions from before I was married? I need to declare unilaterally that anything with a Pathmark or Shoprite label be trashed on principle. I haven’t lived in New York in 6.5 years! This round of de-cluttering I am attempting the 27-Thing Fling. Every day, find 27 items to set free (be it Trash or Goodwill). Goodbye nail polish purchased in 1996. You finally made the grade this go round; into the trash you go.
But if I ever reach that elusive place, that minimalist Zen zone, will I still have a secret stash? Drawers and boxes of the past? What about the THINGS? I have the family things, and the things that bring me joy. The antiques. The ephemera. They explain who I am on some level. At what point do they become worthless? When are they declared only so much rubbish? I remember only some of the people in the pictures, or who wrote the letters; my daughter knows fewer and my nephews rarely would recognize their names, let alone have any emotional connections to the people, the places or the things.
Now, a bit where we will be obtuse, to protect the innocent and play with the heads of the paranoid. Not that they visit my Blog or anything….
When Grandmother Two died, her life was ultimately reduced to a ‘List of 67’ exhibits of her remaining possessions, after her last household was cleared out/picked over. By what reasoning were the souls who claimed the other hundreds of bits and pieces provided access to the majority of her life? What privilege did they invoke when pronouncing these last 67 items extraneous? Who acquired the many ‘good’ paintings, and who got to determine the pile of art that was ‘unimportant’? Who decided these 67 things were too important to add to the trash pile but not important enough to own themselves?
I was provided the opportunity to look through her virtual trash bag before it was kicked to the curb. And you know what? While I obtained very little in the way of ‘things’ from Nana, I received something infinitely more precious. Memories. History. I got letters. Photographs. Who Grandmother and Grandfather Two were to other people; what made them tick. I got to see a child’s painful cursive grow into a man’s confident scrawl; I saw the mother chastise her son, but continue to write; to sign ‘love, Mom’ at the end of every diatribe.
I was awash in the acknowledgement of how many people they touched in their lives. Mostly these letters were from my grandfather’s children to him; and I will be passing on the letters to his children, because despite their not asking for them, I think they should have them. They belong to me now, but it feels wrong to keep from them their past. I think they may find Memory Lane a tear-inducing, bumpy, and yet humorous path.
If my mother and her siblings wrote letters to Grandmother Two, if Grandmother Two saved letters written by her grandparents and many aunts and uncles, I’ll never know. If they existed, they were stored elsewhere and claimed, or not deemed worthy enough to even make it onto the ‘List of 67’ and pitched. I was disappointed that there were only three letters written by Great-Grandmother Two, because she was a wonderful letter writer. There would have been so much information on the family on the pages of her lovely script.
The boxes of photos that found their way onto the list were not the old photos Grandmother Two let me dig through the last time I visited, but rather more current snapshots. It hurts my heart to think these precious family images have found a new home in a landfill somewhere when I so wished to honor them. I have a color photocopy of one in particular, a small girl, (Grandmother Two around age three) sitting alone on a set of stairs. Oh, to have found that, so I could scan it, protect it, display it?
Things make people do odd things. Make poor decisions. Not think of the larger repercussions, the final rending of tenuous emotional attachments that may never be fully repaired. Pitting one against another. Resale value, bragging rights, prestige. Do those thoughts enter the mind at the time of acquisition, or do fond memories trump all? Should I feel slighted, less loved, or less important because someone else convinced an old lady that things should have to be done so? Did it make me less important in her eyes; do I think she loved me less? Do I think they were loved more because they managed to get the majority of the things? Of course not. Do I regret that this will do nothing toward ever mending the huge chasms in the family? Who wouldn’t?
Did I need more things? Of course not. I am an adult, have my own home that is full to overflowing already. With things. A lot of which have stories. Grandmother One’s Revere Ware cooking pots. Books that belonged to Great-Grandfather Three. Tchotckes of all kinds that once belonged to people on every side of the family octagon are sprinkled throughout my house. The story of my life, the history of my family, is laid out in every room of my home.
Can the sacred duty to keep become a weight after a time? At what point do the things need another resting place? How does one decide where they go? With the old letters from Grandmother One’s family, if there is no one who wants the responsibility for them, they will eventually be donated to the Historical Society, for they are historic documents. Those are the easy things. But what about the snap shots? Side One of the family was famous for the letters, sides Two and Three are more about the photos, side Four straddles the fence, with very rare bits of both. Sides five through eight are, well, there in spirit more than in tangibles.
A friend once told me that my apartment was like a museum. I laughed, considering the dusty corners of piled-up things, the layer upon layer of frames creeping toward the 9-foot ceilings. She hadn’t meant it in a ‘sterile, I’m afraid to breathe in here for risk of damaging something’ fashion. Far from it. While I own a lot of the past, there is nothing that has any real monetary value. It’s all emotional. Everything has a story behind it. I joked that I should have placards made, so one could take the self-guided tour of my family history.
My cousin lived with me (us) for a time. He once remarked that what he liked best about living with us was that if he asked for it, I would find it. The original Field of Dreams closet, where if you could think it, I could pull out the materials to create it.
So, stuff, whether it’s family heirloom or potential creative outlet, I have. Furthermore, I have to make peace with it all, and decide what stays this round and what goes. De-cluttering this month is not going to make it done, any more than I believed it would any other time. I will acquire still. Ultimately the goal should be, if its still here, it has some value. Then comes the question that’s begging to be asked. To whom does it have value?
Grandmother One, the story goes, when confronted with her portion of the contents of her mother’s estate, promptly donated it all to Bishop Sheen for the Propagation of the Faith. The silver was to be melted down for money for the missions. Probably not my particular choice, for I am shallow enough to admit I wouldn’t have minded having a piece of the silver settings that she grew up using. Did the fact it was there and easy and expected make it have less value? Does the disdain for things come from a sure knowledge of who you are, where you fit?
I will not discard things now simply so others won’t be bothered by them when I am gone–I’m not going any time soon. What’s more, when I go I want there to be things for those left behind. And to each person that pokes about, the things that mean something, the things they want to remember me by, won’t necessarily be the big things, the ‘great-so-and-so’s menorah’ types of things. Someone may want the silly stuffed platypus that sits on the shelf in the craft room. More power to them.
In the meantime, will I get rid of the couch? Heck no! I have its provenance. I have the sales receipt and the story and photos of it in its old upholstery, waiting to be hung in a frame by its side for the Nickel Tour. Besides, it’s a great napping location!
Copyright, Trish Casey-Green, 2008.