Tag Archives: personal-history

Save Your Photos Day – September 27, 2014

12 Sep

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales

I recently learned about Save Your Photos Day – This concept resonated with me. Please share this link with friend, families, and colleagues.

As a Personal Historian I interview clients and help them write and share their personal histories and life stories. I often find/discover photos in drawers, in boxes, perhaps on a wall, in a trunk, in an album, maybe on a CD, or a computer file (with no back-up).

They are often singular records of a moment in time. As families grow and succeeding generations disperse these photos are often at risk.

  • They may be lost in transition, during a rushed move, a down-sizing, or during a disaster such as a flood or a house fire.
  • Will the photo and its context be lost after the client dies. Will it become just a great photo with no story, no history, and no memories connected?

Case 1: Two of my early personal history clients had a combined total of almost 200 years of memories when they died. The good news, I had already interviewed them. I had audio tapes and hundreds of pages of transcripts with their memories and stories. The even better news was that I had re-shot or scanned, edited and digitized over 300 of their photos. The words, from the audio tapes, provided personal and historical context to the photos. The photos animated my clients’ stories and reflections. The photos made my clients’ personal history and memories come alive.

  IMG_3146 Snow in July 2013-07-14 19.50.32 Dinner Bell - Ships Bell - from Mostom house, Jim has it now 7.14.13 IMG_1120 Lloyd as Viking Toddler

I converted these photos into a PowerPoint presentation for use at the couple’s memorial service after they both died last fall. Their daughter used some of the pictures for a photo display at the service. The others were featured as looped slide show next to the display.

As the family personal historian I stood and watched the photos cycle through. A grandson in his 20s watched and asked questions.  His uncle commented, “I have never seen a lot of these”. I could provide context from my interviews and from captions I included in the manuscript of the couple’s personal history.

A few lessons learned:

  • Before the couple died, while they were living in a senior community in nursing care, their family needed to quickly clear out one floor of their home so it could be rented to a friend. Framed photos came down, drawers were emptied, boxes and albums were removed from locations were they had resided for 30 to 50 years. Challenges: the photos could have been lost in transition and in context. The good news: I had already preserved many of them digitally, with their original context and stories.
  • The family had several albums with a year by year history in photos from their father’s 100th birthday celebration. Challenges: there is only one copy and the family is disbursed across the United States and in Australia. The good news: we have over 300 photos that have been digitized and can be shared in context with the extended family.

Case 2: Another client made over 300 quilts after she retired from teaching. Her stories and memories of quilt making came alive as we looked through her album of intricately designed and beautifully crafted quilts. Most of these have been given away to family and friends or donated for good causes. We also recorded her memories of travel and vacations with her now deceased husband. Again the photos animated the stories making these memories come alive.

IMG_4227 Quilt Example IMG_4241 Quilted Sunflowers IMG_4222 Quilt example

A few lessons:

  •  Artists should take photos of their portfolio, organize them, store and share them. Challenge: my client only owns a handful of the quilts she spent thousands of hours crafting, she had a portfolio of pictures but had not shared the stories and details about their creation. The good news: during my interview we digitized and reviewed her portfolio of pictures of many of these quilts. The interview transcripts combined with the pictures provided tremendous insights into this client’s passion and artistic gifts. Looking at the pictures, she was able to recall and share rich details about why and how she created a unique design tailored for each quilt recipient.

Case 3: Making your own personal history come alive. I have recorded over a hundred hours of personal history digital audio tape with my parents, and more recently as part of a Family Reunion Show and Tell. As I start to share these personal history stories I feel compelled to include photos. The good news is that I have started taking more photos when I am in my home town, while I walk around my parent’s home, and as I explore photos and relics in my parents’ basement. The bad news is that most of my parent’s photos are not digitized, many of the older family photo albums have not always been put into context. This photographs are at risk of becoming lost memories and forgotten stories. More good news though my cousins, aunts and uncles brought photo albums to the family reunion including albums collected by their parents, we heard dozens of new stories, collectively we could identify “lost relatives”.  We now know who great-great-uncle William was, the one who died during aunt Margaret’s childhood visit to her grandmother’s house 80 years ago. We also know the same aunt Margaret stole my aunt Joan’s boyfriend. This was all revealed as part of the Family Reunion Show and Tell sessions that I facilitated.

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1925

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1929

IMG_4015 Superfine Limagrands

 

A few lessons:

  •  Take lots of digital photos of friends, family, of trips, the seasons of the year, of sunrises, and sunsets, and of important objects that you or loved ones have collected. Re-shoot or scan, edit and file older family photos, connect them with context, stories and memories. Challenges: create a master list of photos that you want to preserve, or that illustrate and provide context or captions to personal history and life stories that you have recorded. Taking the time to do this is often a challenge. Digital photos are easy to take, one trip may yield 200 or more digital pictures and we often forget to go through them and organize or curate the ones we want to preserve and share. The good news is that professional photo organizers and personal historians can help.
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Show and Tell – At the Chichester Family Reunion

21 Jul

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

Many colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians have introduced versions of Adult Show and Tell. The concept is to invite adults or individuals of all ages to bring objects then to have them tell a story about why the objects are important to them.

I decided to adapt this concept for my recent family reunion. We were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first Chichester Family Reunion. We no longer have any of the original Chichesters, my grandmother was the last of her generation, but we still had four of the five surviving cousins from the second generation of Chichesters that were able to join us along with about 80 other family members and in-laws from generations 3, 4 and 5.

I asked each family member to consider bringing objects or photos, things that were important to them, and stories that they could share.

IMG_20140711_001132

On the eve of the reunion a few of the cousins gathered at my parents’ house to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday and started sharing stories. I learned from my namesake cousin Bruce that our great-grandfather had been mayor of Piermont, NY, he also showed me his police badge, and perhaps as mayor he also could deputize himself as a temporary police officer. I learned that Bruce’s grandfather met his future wife by wrapping a penny in a piece of paper and throwing it out a train window going through New York City on the way to shipping out to France for World War I.

The next morning I asked my mom whether she had pulled out her “Show and Tell” items. She said she would need at least five days notice to think of what she should “Show” but a five-minute walk around her house yielded a good half-dozen suitable objects. We selected a carved cane and a wooded cane carved by her Grandfather Chichester.

10559764_790400804324205_5621305879765786653_n Show and Tell

She also pulled out a quilt made by her Grandmother Chichester and located a number of family photos of her grandparents, her mother, her sister and other family members. This was just what I needed to set up a “Show and Tell” display as a teaser for the main “Show and Tell” event scheduled for the next day.

10556411_790399767657642_307878364499328536_n Jane Summers at Show and Tell - Karen

My mom and her cousins all grew up in the same small town in New York State and their grandparents lived nearby so they shared a lot of collective memories. I was afraid that we might not have enough “Show and Tell” time the next day so we did an early practice version, “Show and Tell” session 1 with my mom and her cousins. A few pulled out old photo albums and family history records and so I gathered mom and her first cousins and had her kick it off by telling a story about Grandma and Grandpa Chichester.

10447771_10204225974314767_3176056181691435408_n Show and Tell Chichester Reunion 2014

They looked at the quilt and confirmed that yes Grandma Chichester was a great quilter. She made a quilt for each of her nine grandchildren and put their names on the bottom, much like the one we used to cover the table. They looked closely at the wooden fan he made; they all remembered him carving and assembling these in his workshop in the garage. Did he start making these after he retired? No, he made these and he wood-burned carved canes his whole life. Many of the cousins still had a quilt, a cane, a fan or all three or had passed one or more of these down to the next generation.

10383847_790399814324304_6316559112438288882_o Richard Chichester made this Cane - Show and Tell - Karen

I then pulled out one of my most precious family heirloom, my grandmother’s “Shadow Box” filled with her special treasures that she kept displayed in her bed room.

10492556_790399844324301_4395276277289917532_n Show and Tell - Grandma Van Zandt's Shadow Box - Karen

This is the personal part of “Show and Tell”. My mom, aunts and uncles looked at each treasure in the box and told me what they knew or what they did not know about the object and shared a few fond stories about my grandmother. The Red Cross badges were from her time as the head of the Red Cross for the town of Pearl River, NY during World War II. She organized volunteers to knit or roll bandages and more. Later my grandmother became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), building on her Red Cross experience.

I shared my story of thinking I heard her calling to me when I worked in the American Red Cross – Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Department late one night. I had to get up and go check the “dead nurse files” to see if Grandma was in there. Later I learned they only included Registered Nurses so she wasn’t in the files.

There was a horseshoe, a bit of crocheted cloth, a few combs and hat pins, perhaps from her “Flapper” days. A small pin with L.B.C. initials painted on for her mother Lizzie Booth Chichester, and even a mysterious belt buckle with a small bag behind it, to Mimi from Stran that she may have gotten as a gift from my dad’s father, were in the box.

10390114_10204225959834405_357776202003740202_n Terri Bell-Nagle and Jane Summers

It was a great way to introduce the “Show and Tell” concept and to get the story sharing started. More photos came out, pictures of my family, my first cousins, our parents, grandparents, stories about vacations in Lake George, NY, meeting up at Grandma’s for Christmas, then going over to see my grandfather, then back to Grandma’s for dessert with my other cousins.

My Bell cousins’ parents died many years ago, so my cousins could ask my Mom directly what their mother was like growing up. “She was outgoing, always the first to find out the names of the new neighbors and the ages of their children. She was a baton twirler…” to which each and every one of her children expressed, “no way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” They also had a hard time believing that she went canoeing with my mom every summer. But the stories were corroborated by my mom’s cousins. Family history crowdsourcing is a great thing.

After “Show and Tell” session 1 I took time to record additional family stories with my digital voice recorder. This is a handy tool often carried by Personal Historians, well at least for me. I take one with me every time I go to visit my parents, especially for a family reunion weekend that is being held in my parents’ back yard. Several other surprising stories were revealed and gradually leaked or spread to other family members.

20140712_110143

The next morning my wife, my brother and I took an early morning walk along the New Freedom Rail Trail that spans the Mason Dixon Line crossing from Pennsylvania into Maryland.

20140712_110539 Rail Trail Walkers - NF Chichester Reunion 2014

US Presidents rode trains along these tracks. Abraham Lincoln rode along these tracks on his way to Hanover Junction during his trip to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

20140712_110659 Tom and Dwight Summers - NF Mural

Four generations of my family worked at the Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Plant located along the tracks, but that is another story and another side of the family.

The hike reminded me more about my family stories and my family roots and I was ready for the next full day of the Chichester Family Reunion. I recorded a few more stories in the morning and prepared for the main session of “Show and Tell” scheduled for 2 pm. Cousins, aunts and uncles had been telling me for a day and a half that they had secret treasures and “Show and Tell” objects back at their hotel rooms that they were saving up for “Show and Tell”. I looked forward to the event and asked one of my cousins to take photos. Thank you Karen, many of your photos are featured in the following. But first we had the family “Chinese Auction” however this also is another story.

As the Auction wrapped up I got cousins to help me set up for “Show and Tell”. I rang a bell to give everyone five minutes’ notice to get out their “Show and Tell objects and photos, and to give us time to set up. My mom and two cousins excitedly asked if they had time to run inside and “freshen-up” before we got started. I said yes, and then other aunts and cousins headed over to their cars and pulled treasures out of their trunks.

Finally we were ready. I explained the rules, each family member has up to five minutes to show their item and tell their story. I assigned a time-keeper and shared that the bell I had been ringing to get people’s attention during the Chinese Auction was a “Show and Tell” item from my son. He volunteered at a National Boy Scout Jamboree. I dropped him off and it was about 110 degrees outside and he looked at me wondering why in the world was I leaving him in this inferno… but he brought back this great bell from the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts and the National Jamboree.

10376745_790403704323915_5052273929439078467_n Peggy Bell Destefano shows a necklace from her grandmother with an M on it from her grandmother Margaret during Show and Tell

My cousin Peggy (Margaret) showed a necklace pendant with an M on it that she got from my grandmother since they shared the same first name.

 

10540635_790403784323907_5699149401697166566_n Margaret Bond shows and tells about keys from her Grandmother Lizzie's house in Piermont.

Another Margaret showed a display box of keys that she saved from a jar of keys her grandmother had collected from their old house in Piermont, NY.

10514734_790403827657236_7111211729005349988_n Margaret Bond shows off the quilted apron made for her by her grandmother Lizzy

Margaret also showed a hand quilted apron her grandmother had made for her.

10525808_790403734323912_8838662133221259672_n Sue O'Hare shows and tells about momentos from her grandmother Catherine Chichester Erickson

Her daughter Sue shared a display case with sewing scissors, needles, buttons, crocheting, and buckles that had also come down through the family from Sue’s great-grandmother.

10470171_790404754323810_1159196822803293323_o Jane Summers talks about her grandmother Lizzie, she made quilts for all nine grandchildren

My mom shared that her grandmother was a skilled seamstress and that she had made many of the clothes that her sister and her wore during their youth.

10470996_790404720990480_8366463479178371138_n Robert Cogliati shows preserved images from Aunt Viola's photo album during Show and Tell

Robert showed old family photos that my cousin Craig found in an album when he was helping to clear out his aunt’s basement. These were saved in Archival sleeves. We later compared these photos with others from Margaret’s album from her mother and with photos my mom got from her mother.

10500359_790403894323896_4910736098443802206_n Frank Bell talks about his father taking him and 3 brothers to meet Joe Namath

My cousin Frank showed a picture and shared a great story of going with his father Bennie, his brothers Greg and Bobby, his mother, and some of Bennie’s English students to visit Joe Namath in his penthouse. One of the ninth grade students that went along was Bob Costas who wrote up the story for their school newspaper. Frank told us, “I still have a copy of that story, his questions then sound just like the questions he asks now as famous sportscaster. This was during the spring of 1968, as we were getting ready to leave we wished Joe good luck in the Super Bowl.” He added that this was before the season started that lead to the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl over the then local team the Baltimore Colts. Frank and the other New Yorkers laughed knowing my family had been avid Colt fans. I remember this painful loss, Broadway Joe promised the Jets would win over the heavily favored Colts.

10551028_790404617657157_5385155620284148865_n Bruce Summers Mike Summers telling stories about Uncle Ralph

This started a round of stories by at least a dozen other family members. My brother Mike shared the story about how my grandmother would have the nine “Chichester” cousins over to their house at Thanksgiving and was meticulous about counting the silver afterward, everyone had to check the trash etc. to make sure none of the silverware had been thrown away.

10482010_790404650990487_4185524465545395222_o Uncle Ralph thinking about those silver spoons he hid from Aunt Margaret

Well one year they counted up the silver and went through all the trash but one silver spoon was still missing. Finally little Ralph, the youngest cousin confessed that he had hidden a spoon in his pocket just to see what would happen. At the current reunion he reached into his pocket and pulled out another silver spoon and said to my mom, you better count your silver.

Well the Family Reunion version of “Show and Tell” was a big hit. I came back with forty digital audio tapes. We posted hundreds of new and historic family photos on a special family Facebook site. We learned that my Aunt Margaret sort of “stole my Aunt Joan’s boyfriend.” We learned my great grandmother’s ironing board was always kept by the garden gate on weekends so it could be used to carry injured bathers to the hospital who did not know the Hudson River was tidal and hurt themselves jumping off the pier. We also solved the mystery of who Uncle William was, the uncle Aunt Margaret saw stretched out on her grandparent’s billiard table when she peeked in the room after he died. I wonder what we will show and tell at the next reunion?

Update June 28, 2017:

The next Chichester Family Reunion is in two weeks. This one will be a bit different as my Mom and one of her Chichester first cousins recently passed away. My Mom hosted most of the reunions at her home during the past 40 plus years. I likely will be thinking about Mom when we reprise “Show and Tell” as one of the reunion activities. I look forward to learning and sharing more family treasures – objects, photos, and especially stories, plus it will be great to see everyone again. Let me know, your thoughts if/when you try “Show and Tell” at your family reunion. – Bruce

 

Mother’s Day and Memories

9 May

My mom is devoted…to her four sons, her eight grandchildren, her husband (my dad), and to her many nieces and nephews.

20140420_164151 Cherub and flowers

But before this, she was devoted to her mother. I asked her recently to tell me about where and why she chose her first college. She chose a junior college at Edgewood Park, Briarcliff Manor, NY, not too far away, just up and across the Hudson River from Piermont, NY. She was still young, completing high school a year early and started college at not quite age 17.

I asked her why Edgewood Park? “I was only 16 and my parents had just divorced, I wanted to be near home, near my mother, I was concerned about her, I saw her about one weekend a month, she would pick me up in Nyack where the boat would bring us across the Hudson, I would often bring friends with me from college,” she shared.

Her mother was a lively soul; my mom’s college friends remember her well and enjoyed these weekend escapes from college. A seemingly good time was had by all and my mom knew her mom was ok.

At age 18, for her junior year, my mom transferred to a four-year college outside of Baltimore, MD, perhaps thinking enough time had passed, that her mom would be ok, she was working as a nurse, and seemed to have made the adjustment to living alone. I am sure she wrote to her often and of course spent the summer at home with her mom.

During her senior year Mom met my Dad who was also graduating and entering the Army. While he headed off to spend time in Korea, Mom went back home, started working and lived with her mom, and confirmed that she was ok.

After she married and started having kids we would make regular visits to Grandma’s house. My mom was still regularly checking in though it was too far to visit once a month, we would go up or her mom would come down a few times a year. We loved visiting Grandma in her big house with the mysterious rooms, old TV, and the forbidden overgrown “orchard” next door. As we were leaving one day Grandma told me at about age 65, that it was a bit lonely when we were not there, since her friends were getting older and dying.

Later, Grandma moved to our home town, it was great to have her nearby; she would stay with my brothers and me when my parents were away at a convention or at an overnight function. My mom could still keep an eye on her and visit, but a bit more regularly, to see if her mom was ok.

She seemingly was, but she was also getting older, various ailments were starting to slow her down. After a few years Grandma moved in with us. For a while she still was able to “look after us boys” but gradually my mom, my dad and “the boys” started looking after her.

It was hard on my mom, she was fixing special food for Grandma, but sometimes she had an appetite and sometimes not, nothing tasted like anything. This was hard on my mom; she remembered the lively soul who picked her up at the boat landing during college and entertained her friends.

Grandma got into a routine, she had her room, her things, her TV, the run of the house, and she had my mom when she wanted to talk or needed someone to drive her to on an errand or to the hairdresser or to play cards. This lasted for several years, “the boys” finished high school, then college; her health, her energy, and her appetite continued to slowly ebb but my mom’s devotion continued rock solid.

After college I headed off to the Peace Corps suspecting that I was saying goodbye to Grandma, two years seemed like it would be a long time for her, but I know my mom, supported by my dad, would make sure she would be ok. While I was away she entered a nursing home.  They could better take care of Grandma’s physical needs, nutrition, medicine and the hair dressing shop was just down the hall and around the corner. My mom visited her every day. Grandma’s health was somewhat precarious, so my mom hesitated about going away even on a short trip for a couple of days.

Some days Grandma struggled, she seemed to be fading. My mom continued to visit every day.  Then they would figure out a better dose of medicines and Grandma would rally.  I extended for a third year of Peace Corps service and was very pleasantly surprised that Grandma was still with us when I arrived back home.  My mom continued her daily visits, bringing comfort and conversation and being there for her mom.

About ten months after my return Grandma died while I was away at a three-week professional training course. I flew back directly to New York for Grandma’s funeral service and burial. At the funeral in my mom’s home town I sat next to my mom and held her hand.  It was a sad day, but Grandma was at peace after a long but well fought struggle, eased greatly by my mom’s love and devotion to her mother.

Mom and Bruce 2010

I ponder how I will measure up as my parents continue to age slowly but with relative good health. My mom set a pretty high standard.  Thanks Mom for the love, care, concern and devotion that you have modeled and for the values you demonstrated every day.

I hope you have an excellent Mother’s Day and many more.

20140511_091532 Mothers Day LRUCC

Footnote: As a Personal Historian I continue to collect stories from Mom and Dad whenever I see them.  It’s important to get this transfer of knowledge and values… how my mom helped Grandma, how my Grandma visited her mother every Sunday, how my father stopped by to see his mother on the way home for lunch. I will continue to collect and ponder these life lessons.

Bruce W. Summers

Summoose Tales

summbersbw@gmail.com

 

 

Senioritis Checklist – Parent Version – Updated 2.17.14

17 Feb

Yes, I think it is catching.  It’s just February and I think I am coming down with the parent version of high school senioritis. Below is a review of my checklist of symptoms.  I think I may have a mild case, but there is still a lot of senior year to go.

  • Yes – College Applications done, early action results back, ok she’s going to college
    • Yes – No longer checking the mail box each day for college promotional mail
    • But she is still waiting until late March or April to hear back from the other four.
    • Good news/bad news just six more weeks of waiting and pondering.
  • Yes – Trip to Barnes and Nobel to buy AP Study Guides
  • Financing the second child through college –
    • (In process – )Gathering and processing Tax records,
    • Yes – Completed CSS Profile X two,
    • Yes – Completed FAFSA X two,
    • What about scholarships, grants, and loans?
  • Band Concerts –
    • Yes – Last Marching Band Performance
    • Yes – Last District Band concert,
    • Yes – Last Winter Concerts
    • Run through for the State Assessment Concert.
    • Spring Band Trip
    • Last Spring Concerts
  • Who’s accepted offers from which colleges?
    • Yes – Great to get the news about her friends
    • Many are still waiting to hear
  • Getting up at 6 am every school day morning.
    • Yes – (? there are a few more weeks of winter) – Check if School is closed due to snow, extreme cold, is there a 2 hour delay…
    • Make sure my daughter is up, gets breakfast, pack lunch, then off to school.
    • Yes – Pondering what happens when I do not have to get up at 6 am to get a child off to school for the first time in 8 years, hmmm……….???
  • Graduation in June
    • Yes it is too early to send out announcement
    • Let’s get through AP tests first
    • Probably can wait a bit  to Put out the “Graduate” yard sign since no one will see it in the snow drifts
    • Sign up to volunteer for All-Night Grad Party
    • Yes – Reflect with spouse re: remember when she was little and…

 

Paul Gaeckler – Teacher, Principal, Mentor, Renaissance Man

9 Jan

A former classmate recently post a picture of Mr. Gaeckler who died a few years back.

Paul Gaeckler was my one true Renaissance teacher. For several years he taught 6th grade at New Freedom (PA)Elementary School and served as Principal he had a small office straight down the hall from his room on the second floor.

When they created Southern Middle School for all district – 6th and 7th graders he moved to teaching 5th grade and being the Principal at New Freedom Elementary. I had him as my teacher and mentor for 5th grade the last year he taught at the school.

We learned a lot that year academically, but also went fishing at Amy Leader’s pond, learned the positions and how to play football (inside the class room), he taught us great checker tricks – that summer I surprised and won my first game against a national checkers “referee”. (He was so shocked that he challenged me to a rematch of probably 20 more games – I did not win any of those, but still have bragging rights that I won the first one).

We learned how to oil paint – my landscape hung in my parents breakfast room for many years.

We had ping-pong tournaments, checker and chess tournaments, math competitions, learned to dance, and many more enriching experiences.

We had a race to see if he could do math on a chalk board faster than we could with a calculator, yes he won.

He played cassette tape recordings from his son who was serving in the Peace Corps, one time it capture the call to prayer shouted from a minaret. Just about 12 years later I also became a Peace Corps volunteer.

Mr. Gaeckler also explained to us how easy it was for Russia or China to spend say a $million to start another war in Southeastern Asia that would cost us $billions of dollars to fight.

At the end of our 5th grade year he decided to retire/leave Southern School District to take a teaching position in 6th or 7th District in Maryland because he thought they were better positioned to weather an economic recession. He was an amazing teacher and mentor.

Thankgiving Weekend update

2 Dec

 

It was great to have my son home a few days from college. We met up with him in my home town of New Freedom, PA. He was over visiting with his cousins, but came back to my parents’ house to throw the Frisbee with me, his cousin, and his sister in my parents’ back yard. Lots of room, but we did have to call out the occasional warning to look out for the volleyball poles. He had chatted the day before with his grandfather while catching a ride from the bus station in Harrisburg, PA. When he saw me he shared, “Pop Pop was telling me about his time at the McDonough School, you need to record that story?”

This reminded me of course to check and see if my trusty digital voice recorder was in my pocket. Recording Personal and Family Histories is now pretty well expected whenever I see my parents. Sure enough on Friday at lunch I did have a chance to capture a few stories from my Dad and got a copy of the small booklet that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Charles G. Summers, Jr. – family vegetable canning business going back five generations.

I recorded about 30 minutes of stories with my Mom. I found out about the older girl that lived with her family for a few years and who taught her to dance. Perhaps more important I recorded new material about my Mom and mice. There was much more to the history than I knew before with several new wrinkles, but that’s a different blog.

We gathered on Thanksgiving afternoon at my brother’s house, my Mom made a ham, my sister-in-law made a turkey, my kids learned they liked creamed corn casserole, this after my Mom worried much of the afternoon about whether she had messed up the recipe, since she was “distracted” by everyone chatting and sharing stories in the kitchen while she was trying to cook. I also thought it was delicious.

There were 14 of us for Thanksgiving Dinner; we prepared a cheese tray for nibbling while we chatting in the kitchen for the hour and half leading up to dinner. We also had to bring the Wurzelbrot Bread from the Swiss Bakery near our home and our special Cranberry Salsa.

There were mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, and a rice based stuffing. I was invited to help make the gravy, I am not sure how I earned the privilege, though I vague remember making gravy at an earlier multigenerational Thanksgiving gathering. It came out well, so I guess their trust was justified.

My Dad said a Thanksgiving blessing then we all took our plates and circle to buffet spread and sat down to eat. The six “kids” at their table in the kitchen and the older adults in the dining room. The flavors and textures were delicious, but each of us realized about a third of the way through our plate that we had selected just a bit too much. Perhaps it was the cheese, perhaps the plates were a bit large, or perhaps our eyes – as usual on Thanksgiving Day – were just a bit larger than our stomachs.

Conversation was great; after we were done we all chipped in to help clean up the mounds of dishes and pots and pans – many hands made light work. We had a brief pause for conversation – yes I admit my eyes might have closed a few times.

My brother’s family are rabid Baltimore Ravens fans – so much of the rest of evening was spent watching another epic Football battle between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, this made even more interesting since my son goes to college in Pittsburgh and now has divided loyalties between the Ravens and Pittsburgh. The game was still in contention until the last minute when Pittsburgh could not complete the pass for the two point conversion.

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Plant Mural

The next morning my wife and I went for our usual long walk through the farms, woods, and then crossed the Mason Dixon Line to stroll up through the town on the Rail Trail. We heard the train whistle in the distance for the new “Steam Into History” passenger train. I paused briefly to take a few pictures of the Murals on the former Charles G. Summers, Jr. Vegetable Canning Business (our family business for 119 years).

We returned home later in the day for a few more days filled with baking cookies, a quick visit for my son to “Bob’s Barber Shop” to see what they could do with 3 months of college grown hair, seeing a movie with cousins on the other side of the family, my daughter finished up a college application. My son had his 10 hours of board games with friends, and then it was a few hours of sleep. He and I got up at 5:30 so he could catch the bus back to college, another half dozen activities after my son left – an hour nap – helping set up for the Advent Fun Shop at our church, baking more cookies, and a bit of Personal History interviewing and Thanksgiving Weekend came to a close.  A busy, family and fun filled four days of Thanksgiving.


 

There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…

21 Nov

What’s in the basement? Inquiring Personal Historians want to know. Please share your best discovery, thanks.
See Association of Personal Historians Discussion

There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart… more on this later.

At the recent Association of Personal Historians (APH) Conference – Steve Roberts described asking his mother… do you have any else for me? Her response… (Something like) yes I do son, and then produced a box with hundreds of letters between her future husband and herself. This was great original source material for a personal/family history book.

Two other Personal Historians described finding a 1,000 letters mixed in with a few boxes of family photos. These have or will be converted into personal histories.

My best experience thus far was discovering my client had a file drawer with various “family materials” in the basement during my “pre-interview” first visit.

Good news: after we finishing talking I went down to look and discovered it was a treasure trove of background material for the next interview, included family genealogy, etc.

Bad news: my client who was then 102 and banned from ever walking down the basement steps again, followed me down the stairs as I was looking in the file. But maybe that’s why he lived to 104, hmmm…

Good news: I later discovered his high school journal, a family history project he did in college with first person descriptions of characteristics of his ancestors in great detail going back to the early 1800s, what they died of, how long they lived, a pedigree chart and so much more.

Sometimes though personal historians are surprised at what they find in their own extended family basements… (or attics…)

  • A colleague recently described discovering that not only had her mother kept a diary for many years, but also her grandmother had kept a diary, independently the colleague had started her own diary a few years ago so now she had three generations, a 100 years of diaries and diarists to write about in her own family.
  • So back to my story… There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart… (Did you guess this was about my Mom? You may not want to share this with her, thanks).

About 1959 my Mom and Dad were expecting their third child and moved into a newer (well at least it was newer to them) house on a hill in the geographic center of our town. My grandmother owned the farm that bordered the house on two sides. The third side bordered the stone house and in front our house was a paved road, though there was another farm field just on the other side.

Well, perhaps during the first, second, or third week after moving in, my Mom went down into the basement to do the laundry. It was exciting to have a newer home with a washing machine; I am not sure whether she had a clothes dryer. I know there was the requisite clothes line out back.
Anyway, my Mom soon discovered there was a mouse in the basement.

  • The good news is it gave her four sons something to talk about for well over fifty years since then.
  • The bad news is she was deathly afraid of mice.
  • The good news was that her oldest son was three years old – a big, strong husky boy who thought it was great fun helping Mom with the laundry. I was only one at the time, but I was also recruited at an early age to take on errands in the basement, “could you go down in the basement and bring up some cans of vegetables for dinner?”
  • More good news, she had a third and then a fourth son to share “could you go down in the basement” chores.
    That basement was a great place to play hide and seek, it had an exterior door to get to our backyard, and we had lots of toys and games, our friends and cousins enjoyed coming over and spending time in the basement. Not surprisingly, my Mom never felt she needed to supervise our play when we were in the basement.

So we learned how to be useful, doing chores for Mom. We learned how to be independent and self-entertaining and we (mostly) learned how to keep the family secret – Mom’s afraid of mice. Despite this small handicap, she was a pretty great Mom.

Now about the second mouse… that’s another story. Until then – What’s in (your) basement? Please collect and share your family stories.

Thanksgiving is a great time to explore and record family history, or to a bit of exploring in the basement, you never know…?

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Bruce Summers – SummooseTales

Member: Association of Personal Historians

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