Friday, December 18, 2009

History Lessons/Lessens

I’ve always loved hearing about family history and looking through old photos. I love to hear about other people’s families too. For me, it takes no effort to sit rapt at your Grandpa’s feet and listen to tales about the lives of people I don’t know. I wish that I knew so much more than I ever will about my own family. By the time I realized that the people who told the stories wouldn’t be around forever, they weren’t. It’s hard to get people under the age of seventy to tell you much because the memories are still so fresh for them. They haven’t taken on that myth-like haze. I think this is why our parents don’t want to share about their grandparents and great-grandparents now. They will though. I hope. I think our own parents don’t want to burden us with troubling stories or they think that some of the details are insignificant and uninteresting. They aren’t to me.

I’m a story teller and I think that I’ve prematurely entered into it. Hence, none of my stories are that good because, how much happens to a person at twenty-five? Still, the impetus is there. I’ve tried to remember everything about my life and the people that I know so that one day if there is kid like me with a wild imagination and solitary streak I can tell them everything they want to know. I think the reason that I hold on so tightly to my own history is that there aren’t many people that could tell it. I’m an only child of a single parent. My dad passed away almost ten years ago. I’ve never been very close with my aunts and uncles and haven’t seen most of them in years. Basically, “family” for me is something you can keep in your pocket, not spread around a great big holiday table, so my access to learning about my history is small. My dad’s parents are gone, so what I know about the Hendersons/Britts is all I ever will. Although, recently I found my dad’s baby book and learned that he was named after his grandfather, something I didn’t know. What I know about my mother’s family has been filtered by generations of tale-tellers. I don’t know what’s true and what’s legend, but it doesn’t matter to me.

I want to think that there is a thread that links people in families. That there are things that go recessive for generations and then pop up again in some unsuspecting child. I like the notion that the people staring back at you from old photos knew a little something about what it’s like to be you.

These are some of the things I do know about my family:

My dad’s father, Winard, is one of eleven children. Their father died when they were young. Several of them had flaming red hair. My grandfather was called Little Red. He had one brother named Jasper and another named Oberon, O.B. for short. Winard (Papaw) joined the Army at sixteen. He burned the corner off of his ID that gave his age so that he could enlist early. He had no middle name, so when he enlisted they made him Winard N. Britt for Winard “Noname” Britt.

He married my grandmother, Grace, who was also from Tallassee, AL. She lived with her sister and their mother. Their father, Thomas, died when she was young, but I don’t know what of. When she was a girl in the depression, they made slips out of flour sacks. She kept one of them and would show them to her grandchildren. Her sister ran off to Florida with a man on the back of motorcycle, or so the story goes.

My mother’s mother, Ruby Nell, was the oldest of six children and grew up fast after her father died when she was thirteen. They had owned a general store, but when he died they lost it. She helped raise her five younger brothers. Her mother had beautiful Auburn hair. Again with the motorcycle theme, she met my grandfather Bobby who had one and they married before he left for Korea. She and most of her brothers still live on the road where they grew up. Much of it was paved in my lifetime. Taylor Crossing still marks the place where the store was.

Bobby was the youngest by many years in his family. He grew up on the Alabama/Florida line in Escambia County. He was part Choctaw. He was a sheriff’s deputy and used to take me riding in Montgomery at five in the morning before everybody else got up. He liked to show me the capitol building and all of the old cemeteries. I don’t know much about his life, but I know that he told all of his grandchildren that they were his favorite and we all believed him.

I don’t know much at all about the family beyond my grandparents, although I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was littered with motorcycles and redheads. Every man in my life other than my husband has had one. I was actually driven to school on the back of one in middle school many times with our Pekinese/Poodle mix in the saddle bag. You know what, that particular memory doesn’t need to be kept. If I think about that enough I'm pretty sure I could still feel my face burn with emabarassment.

Winard "Noname"

This is him with my dad

                                                        These are my mom's parents, Ruby and Bobby

My grandmother Grace

Grace with my Mom at my parents' wedding. This isn't that old.  My mom just lucked out that I can't find the picture I have of her as a child, although it is very sweet.
My dad

My great grandmother Amie in 1950 and me posing in the yard at 14. 

How can you say that there isn't something more than genes passed through families?


1 comment:

  1. I just read this blog and LOVED it! I loved the pictures of Aunt Ruby/Uncle Bobby and Mudder also! I'd never seen those!