A Family – A Life – A Republic

 

I started the New Year 2019, with goals — you know, the usual. Get in shape, eat better, exercise, and purge all the junk. By junk, I mean discarding old business info, tax returns, and loads of saved memorabilia. There is the dilemma. I have boxes and bags and volumes of family photos. I have the physical snapshots of a life. Mine. It will take time to sort through, and I am wondering how others deal with purging, organizing and passing on a lifetime of assorted collections?

I was looking at the photos I do have on display in my house. There’s my dad as an MP at a check post in occupied Japan. There’s two of my Uncle Al as a soldier before the ruins of a bombed out Germany. My aunt said my relatives went in later — they were young, when the war was wrapping up, as part of the rescue teams. My Uncle Bo was deployed to Italy during the reign of Mussolini – no pictures.

My much older cousin passed 19 months ago. My other cousin (her sister) and I speak regularly by phone now. Her voice has that melodic sound to me that is distinctive of a sweet memory — of a relative from childhood who when you hear it, reminds you of your heritage, your history. I love talking to her. Yet in our conversations, she tells me of things I did not know — disturbing things.

She tells me of a grandfather ( I never knew him) who was very abusive. He abused my grandmother and raised sons who were abusive. I don’t remember my dad as anything but loving, but I believe her. The grandfather emigrated from the Ukraine, where both Russia and the Nazis created hell on earth, and they had to escape while leaving everything. I cannot judge. My aunt, my dad’s only sister who became my guardian, was raised by this man. She had a philandering husband to boot but went on to marry a good man — an uncle who doted on me like a second father. He played ball for the Yankees and the Cubs, and she got to travel, and get away from the hellhole of her former life.

She chose to take me in and my dad, when he divorced, and eventually my sister, out of love. The Catholic Church refused to see her 12-month abusive first marriage as a reason for annulment and to recognize her second marriage. My uncle, a faithful Catholic went to Mass every week. But my aunt’s heart was broken toward the church and rejected Catholicism. Even so, she taught me to pray at three, and to tie my shoes, and kept a vigil at my bed when I had bronchitis. She held my hand as she led me to my first day at kindergarten, and I never knew the abuse she lived with from a harsh father. I had a wonderful dad who gave us everything, including love. She took care of four brothers when my grandmother could not function.

Our history is one of hardship and love. It’s also one of a better life in America. My birth mother’s family fled Poland, and she and her siblings were dropped off at an orphanage. She had a rough life and had no parenting skills. I think it was a brief marriage, but there was no abortion — my sister and I are here, we got to live, because family members took us in and cared for us.

It’s funny the things you remember – my aunt sang a lot, and she listened to the polka station in Pittsburgh. I would cringe and crank up Led Zeppelin. It was kin to her Polish and Ukrainian music, so when I hear it, I think of her, and her sacrifice for me. My husband will even find the Molly B – Polka Party channel and turn it for me and we watch it together, and he plays hard rock guitar!

She taught me to cook all the traditional foods, stuffed cabbage, pierogis, thumbprint cookies and rugelach at Christmas and Easter. She still honored all the Catholic holidays. I could not go outside and had to play indoors quietly on Good Friday until 3 PM. We had fish on Fridays. She taught my sister and me how to run a household on a shoestring — she was frugal. They lived through the Great Depression and WWII. She could make a delicious soup out of leftovers, a cake with no flour, and made recycling popular before there ever was the word. I never felt like we were deprived. Christmas was magical. I got fruit and nuts and small candies in my stocking like she did.

I also think about the history of my two families who fled communism, who fought against fascism and the Nazis, and lived to tell about it. Like many immigrants who started with nothing, they came by way of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and held their faith, family and the good parts of their lives together to pass on to their children, and nieces and nephews.

When I start to sort through the pictures that I want to send to my niece and nephew, and others, I know I will be flooded with emotions – of thanks from the sacrifice they made for me. America was never and will never be socialist, or worse. Those that come from countries where they promise equality for all and the government is everything know better, and they’re trying to tell America. The remains of the Greatest Generation are leaving this world. New generations will make their mark. But has good and evil really changed that much?

Are you passing along more than pictures? How about history, family stories, diaries and journals, faith and struggles that produced who we are today? It’s never been more important.

There are 11 comments.

  1. MarciN Member

    It would be a wonderful gift to your family, and perhaps to some local libraries in the towns in which they have lived, if you could put these stories together with photographs.

    I heard an ad for a company that is doing some of this work for people. I think it was called Scan My Photos. Looking for this site, I see there are a lot of services doing this work now. It would be well worth the investment.

    I agree with you, that it’s important not to lose our heritage, our American stories.

    • #1
    • January 26, 2019, at 7:44 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Thejokewasonme Inactive

    I had two families, as well. The only fleeing involved was that of my desire to get far, far away from both of the. Because of them, my world, at least as I knew it, ended when I was 8 1/2 years of age. The hurt and pain has never completely gone away.

    As such, any photos, etc. are only sad reminders, ones I can do without. The only persons who might derive some meaning from the memorabilia have long since been gone. Others, who were only on the periphery of my life, couldn’t appreciate it any more than strangers.

    Lately, the most pressing concern of all I have is what to do with an American flag from my step-grandfather’s funeral.

    • #2
    • January 26, 2019, at 7:46 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Locke On Member

    We had good luck with this outfit when we decided to get our own hardcopy photo archive digitized some years ago. Now we’re in a similar situation to yours, preserving the memories of the previous generation: After my father passed in 2015, we signed up to conserve the archive for the following generations. So far we’ve transcribed his WWII letters from the Pacific – he was also enlisted late, never caught up with fighting, and instead spent time in Korea helping with demobilization and repatriation. Just last night we finished going through a twenty year slide archive deciding what was worthwhile and still in good enough shape to digitize. Still forty years of photo albums and negatives to go – it’s turned into a long winters’ nights project that will take several years more.

    • #3
    • January 26, 2019, at 9:00 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Flicker Inactive

    When my father-in-law died, we and all her many siblings and nieces and nephews came from all over the world pretty much to get together for a week-long feast of sorts. Toward the end of the week, they pulled out her father’s chest which help his lifetime of photos, achievement awards, childen’s graduation and wedding invitations, and dating and vacation pictures, and they passed them all around, told stories and jokes about the pictures, and took the ones that were special to each. I think the rest were held onto by some siblings for posterity, but I don’t really know.

    • #4
    • January 27, 2019, at 12:20 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. She Thatcher
    She

    Front Seat Cat: Are you passing along more than pictures? How about history, family stories, diaries and journals, faith and struggles that produced who we are today? It’s never been more important.

    Thanks, FSC. I completely agree. As you know, we have the “3 Ps” in common (Polish, Pittsburgh, Polkas), and a few other things maybe, too.

    My mother-in-law squirreled away the family memories over decades–photos, school reports, valentines made by her two young sons, newspaper stories of one of the joining the Marines, the other the Army, and how they were performing academically, weddings, births, grandchildren, obituaries, the works. In later life, when she was mostly on her own, she sorted them into dozens of albums, with little notes (my favorite being a letter that her always-rather-angry, and a bit greedy for her “rights,” younger sister sent her after their mother’s death, which was noted simply, “nasty letter from [sister’s name].” Those things are treasures for this and future generations. I’ve started to organize “the next generation” of stuff myself, but it’s a challenge. I feel for you.

    I second the importance of passing along those stories, images and experiences. It sometimes seems to me that, at a time where the entire worlds of our parents and grandparents are laid out before us in explicit detail in both audio and video, we have never been less willing to learn from what has gone before. This (IMHO) has led to a feeling of disconnectedness among many young people, and a sense that no-one, in the history of the universe, has ever had harder lives, or tougher circumstances to face than they do today. That’s just bunk, as your post show so well. 

    • #5
    • January 27, 2019, at 2:24 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    Thejokewasonme (View Comment):

    I had two families, as well. The only fleeing involved was that of my desire to get far, far away from both of the. Because of them, my world, at least as I knew it, ended when I was 8 1/2 years of age. The hurt and pain has never completely gone away.

    As such, any photos, etc. are only sad reminders, ones I can do without. The only persons who might derive some meaning from the memorabilia have long since been gone. Others, who were only on the periphery of my life, couldn’t appreciate it any more than strangers.

    Lately, the most pressing concern of all I have is what to do with an American flag from my step-grandfather’s funeral.

    That is a sad story – but reality for many. You are here and you made it – God bless.

    • #6
    • January 27, 2019, at 5:30 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Thejokewasonme Inactive

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Thejokewasonme (View Comment):

    I had two families, as well. The only fleeing involved was that of my desire to get far, far away from both of the. Because of them, my world, at least as I knew it, ended when I was 8 1/2 years of age. The hurt and pain has never completely gone away.

    As such, any photos, etc. are only sad reminders, ones I can do without. The only persons who might derive some meaning from the memorabilia have long since been gone. Others, who were only on the periphery of my life, couldn’t appreciate it any more than strangers.

    Lately, the most pressing concern of all I have is what to do with an American flag from my step-grandfather’s funeral.

    That is a sad story – but reality for many. You are here and you made it – God bless.

    Very kind of you, Front Seat Cat. Yes, there are many sad ones. Some have had worse than mine and yet not only survived but thrived. Others have had it less so but only to succumb. Who knows why. May you be blessed in your current project to add to your family’s narrative and heritage.

    • #7
    • January 27, 2019, at 12:00 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    My dad used to say “film is cheap.” My parents would travel without us one or twice a year and treat us to a slide show when they got home. One of the most memorable photos for me was taken on a rainy day at a shrine in Japan. The beautiful architecture surrounded by a colorful, tighly-packed sea of umbrellas. I wish I had that picture and many others. My brother took every picture…hundreds, maybe thousands of slides. For a lot of reasons (he is a liar, as well as a thief) I have not spoken to him in many years. I am content to not speak to him. As a cousin who is a priest says, offer him up. Mom used to say that too, but not necessarily about my brother.

    The woman who sold us our house was an only child with no children of her own. She was going to have a big sale of all of the stuff accumulated by her mother as well as her own things. She was moving from the house to a retirement apartment/assisted living sort of thing. Sitting on the stairs one day before the sale were photos, enlargements, and so on. She had no one to give them to. She said she was going to burn them. So sad.

    • #8
    • February 7, 2019, at 5:44 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. GiveMeLiberty Member

    It takes considerable effort and also not cheap but we have quite a story archived on ancestry.com. What my husband has put there is an amazing resource of photos, stories, links to newspaper stories, links to Social Security records and even an audio recording of my great grandmother from 1957. The source of much hearty laughter is how cold hard facts like recorded marriage dates and first child birthdates reveal the reality of pregnancies already in progress, which in almost all cases was previously unknown. One of the most heartbreaking finds was a death certificate, signed with my beloved grandfather’s recognizable signature for his three year old first born that left my grandparents with empty arms for over a year until my aunt was born. Real life, real interesting.

    The big idea with this archiving solution though is that ancestry research really needs to be a hobby to be of any great value.

    • #9
    • February 8, 2019, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. The Reticulator Member

    I’ve been spending a lot of time on family history, especially since my parents died in 2015. I’ve inherited my parents’ photo collections, as well as those of one grandfather, and the journal kept by my mother. And there are family stories that go back to the War of 1812 in Europe. One great-aunt wrote up reminiscences of her childhood in a small town in Minnesota, and then of the move to homestead in North Dakota in 1902. My grandfather also wrote about that move on an emigrant train. One of my wife’s uncles wrote a little self-published book with the title, “Little Farm on the Iowa Prairie.” We consult these written reminiscences from time to time.

    I also have collections of letters, some of which I can’t read because they are in German. I have the letters a grandmother wrote to my grandfather when they were living separately for a while before they divorced. I’m not sure why my grandfather saved them. They are not all pleasant reading, but they do contain information about themselves and about my mother which I’m glad to have. 

    Last summer my wife and I did a family history trip in Germany and Poland. The places in Germany had been visited by some of my wife’s cousins, but nobody had visited the places in Poland before, possibly because before the fall of the Soviet Union it wasn’t very easy to go there. And our people were all German-speaking, so it would have been difficult in the days before so many people in Poland knew a little English. The Poles didn’t destroy all traces of the German people, but they didn’t preserve them, either. I was just glad to see the places my grandmother had talked about, and the places where German cemeteries had been, where some of my great-great and g-g-g-grandparents are probably buried.

    I’m sorry I didn’t get to this discussion sooner. Mrs R is home recovering from knee replacement surgery and these first few days at home have kept me pretty busy. 

    • #10
    • February 8, 2019, at 8:58 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I’ve been spending a lot of time on family history, especially since my parents died in 2015. I’ve inherited my parents’ photo collections, as well as those of one grandfather, and the journal kept by my mother. And there are family stories that go back to the War of 1812 in Europe. One great-aunt wrote up reminiscences of her childhood in a small town in Minnesota, and then of the move to homestead in North Dakota in 1902. My grandfather also wrote about that move on an emigrant train. One of my wife’s uncles wrote a little self-published book with the title, “Little Farm on the Iowa Prairie.” We consult these written reminiscences from time to time.

    I also have collections of letters, some of which I can’t read because they are in German. I have the letters a grandmother wrote to my grandfather when they were living separately for a while before they divorced. I’m not sure why my grandfather saved them. They are not all pleasant reading, but they do contain information about themselves and about my mother which I’m glad to have.

    Last summer my wife and I did a family history trip in Germany and Poland. The places in Germany had been visited by some of my wife’s cousins, but nobody had visited the places in Poland before, possibly because before the fall of the Soviet Union it wasn’t very easy to go there. And our people were all German-speaking, so it would have been difficult in the days before so many people in Poland knew a little English. The Poles didn’t destroy all traces of the German people, but they didn’t preserve them, either. I was just glad to see the places my grandmother had talked about, and the places where German cemeteries had been, where some of my great-great and g-g-g-grandparents are probably buried.

    I’m sorry I didn’t get to this discussion sooner. Mrs R is home recovering from knee replacement surgery and these first few days at home have kept me pretty busy.

    Very fascinating story and history! I’m glad you found what you could and the visit was the trip of a lifetime!

    • #11
    • February 10, 2019, at 6:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like