I read a post, Nostalgia, by Cerebralintrovert yesterday (https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/134502934) and it happened to coincide with a short piece I recently wrote and presented at our library writers’ forum about my great-grandparents, Nellie Mae Hutchison and James Uriah Kasenberg. Children who have good memories of their grandparents are very lucky indeed in these days of scattered fractured families. I am very fortunate to have known all four grandparents well, plus three of my great-grandparents. Of course, I wish I had asked more questions of those wonderful people about their lives. All were born before the 20th century dawned, ordinary lives in extraordinary times including the aftermath of the civil war and reconstruction, two world wars, a worldwide depression, the 19th amendment, and consequential inventions such as the telephone, automobile, airplane, electricity in homes, typewriter, and camera. Things we take for granted impacted their lives in new ways. I’m sure they had inciteful words to offer beyond, “don’t get too close to the creek when it’s runnin’ hard” or, “the dust will still be there tomorrow, so go have fun today” or, “good manners don’t cost a thing and are a gift you can give everyone.”
I spent many Sundays, holidays, and celebrations at the Kasenberg home in Wichita Kansas. We were blessed with a close family that even included some ex-wives of my great-uncle Jim (a crowd in itself). When I became an adult and tried sorting out the relationship of the grownups in our “family”, I discovered some were not really related. They were neighbors or church friends of my grandparents. They all rated the name Aunt or Uncle because they were always around at family gatherings.
Two of my bonus cousins were the daughters of my dad’s best high school friend. My grandparents lived next door to their grandparents in the little town of Anson, Kansas. I called their grandmother, Grandma Meyers, but as a child was never clear how she was MY grandmother too. (She made the BEST egg salad sandwiches.) Later in life, those two “cousins” became step-cousins when my dad’s sister, Nina Maurine, married their father, Mervin. Nina Maurine and Mervin had been an item in their country high school. But Nina Maurine fell madly in love and married a handsome local farmer (a Clark Gable lookalike) and became a rural housewife with three sons. Mervin went on to college, married, had two daughters, and became a successful businessman. Decades passed. Mervin’s wife died. A few years later after Nina Maurine’s husband died, Mervin asked her out. The rest, as they say, is history. The old flame rekindled when they were in their 70s.
Oh, the stories I have about my family are priceless and were generously passed along to me. I’m very sure every family is endowed with stories and wisdom of generations, but we don’t seem obliged to pass them along. In other cultures, in distant times, before writing became universal, a designated person was told the family stories and given the assignment of orally passing them to the next generation. I mourn the loss of that cultural tradition. I applaud all biographers and memoir writers who strive to keep the links between generations alive. I’ve committed to telling my grandson our family stories as part of his birthright.