Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Trip Down Memory Lane.....

"We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies."

~Shirley Abbott~
(A page from my paternal grandmothers scrapbook featuring a lock of her hair. She is the second one from the left in the group of girls.)

On Saturday I had a conversation with my dad that sparked thoughts about my family roots. I know precious little about my dads side of the family with the exception of what has been stored in my memory banks. There are only two remaining people living that know the stories of this side of my family and neither of them are talking. I know the saga is sad but surely there must have been some good.

(My dad around the age of two.)

I think working on transcribing Katherine's diary has given me a deep longing to know my own family history better. It seems strange to me that I know more about a young woman and her family who lived in the early nineteen hundreds than I do my own.

(An unidentified family member.)

Sunday afternoon my husband and I drove over to the town where my grandmother, great-grand parents, and a few assorted relatives are buried. I did not know the exact location of the graves but the cemetery is small so I thought the search would not be too hard. We did indeed find the graves and I recorded the information from them. Sadly, I still know very little about my great-grandfather, his grave is marked with a stone that simply states his last name and nothing else.

(We think this is my grandmother on the horse.)

I wanted to try and find the area where the family farm used to be. I had a vivid recall of what it looked like from when I was young. I knew the street name and where to turn off but nothing looked as I remembered it. I wanted to turn off the main road onto the familiar dirt road of my childhood. A road so dry that clouds and billows of fine dust being churned up by the car tires made the rear view
landscape disappear. As the dust settled it would turn all the verdant green vegetation along the roadside to a dull gray.(An unidentified family member, possibly my grandmothers half-brother, Dewey. A train station ran through the middle of town and we think this little boy was posing on one of the trains at the stop.)

I wanted to see the old white framed two story farm house with its deep front porch and southern staple of a wooden porch swing at one end. I wanted to see Granny Sheeks step out of the cool of the house through the squeaky wood framed screen door wearing her silver and gray floor length hair in a bun. Her flower print dress would be covered in a white apron, her feet shod in black granny style lace up shoes with her stockings rolled just below the knee, waving us inside to the smell of a Sunday fried chicken dinner with all the trimmings.

(My great-grandmother, Della Sheeks.)

I could imagine all the cousins tumbling out of various vehicles like a pack of playful puppies as we greeted each other. Our minds immediately turned to the campground across the road but being denied the pleasure until after the noon meal. Until then, we would content ourselves with taking turns on the porch swing and daring each other to try and slip up the wide set of wooden stairs to the second floor, which we were never allowed to do. To my knowledge, none of us ever made it past the first landing where the stairs doubled back upon themselves to the second story, we were always caught at this point.
(My grandmother, father, and aunt.)

I wanted to step across the threshold of time while hearing the familiar metallic groan of the hinges and spring on the screen door followed by the distinct wooden clatter of the door slapping shut. I wanted to feel the warm rush of air from the tall wavy glassed windows as it sent the lace panels hung there whipping and snapping out into the room like laundry drying on the line. Old Penny, the pug faced dog, would be curled up on the braided hearth rug thumping her tail and following me with her eyes. Her old bones preferring to rest rather than romp. Family portraits in cheap tarnished gold toned frames would smile and stare from the old upright piano top in the corner amid the men congregated in the main room with a deep rumble of conversation punctuating the air while waiting for the final touches of the meal to be made.

("Pop" Sheeks and grandson, Charlie.)

Through the wide doorway I would see all the apron clad women gathered in kitchen back lit by the bank of windows overlooking the garden. They would be chattering and bustling about to set the table and "take up dinner " as we say here in South, which means to dish up piping hot food from the stove into bowls and platters to be placed on the table for serving. When all was ready we were called to wash up. No messy splattering in the bathroom, we all stood in line at the washbasin at the back door waiting our turn with bellies groaning for a taste of sweet tea, light as a feather biscuits smothered in homemade butter, and crispy fried chicken.

(Another unidentified family member, she sure knew how to strike a pose.)

I wanted to see us all assembled once more around the large farm table that dominated the center of the kitchen where Pop, my great-grandfather, would clear his throat and call us to silence, his shaky voice asking the blessing on the food. I wanted to hear the clatter of spoons connecting with plates as the bowls and platters were passed and servings were being placed there.

Back row: Calvin (my uncle) & Dorothy Sheeks, Charlotte(my grandmother) & Edward Russell(my step grandfather); front row: Della Sheeks(my great-grandmother), Susan Russell(my aunt), Charlie Sheeks, "Pop" Sheeks(my step-great-grandfather)

I could well imagine Granny clomping out to the deep freeze on the screened in side porch and pulling out the large goblets with the frosted ivy and grape pattern on them, setting one at each place. I loved to watch the cold glass immediately steam and frost over as the warm air brushed past them. A pitcher of ice cold sweet tea would be served and to this day I have never tasted any finer than that served in those frozen glasses.
(Sweet sisters: Lorine (Bob), Violet, and Charlotte (my grandmother holding the kitten) Sifford.)

The men would be seated and served first, then the plates for the children would be filled and passed out as we sat legs dangling off the front porch, lastly the women would settle in and a leisurely meal would take place. While everyone else would be enjoying mouth watering pies, cakes, and homemade ice cream I would snake off the end of the front porch behind the swing and slip alongside the house until I was hidden under lush canopy the fig tree. Squatting down with my bare feet resting on the cool dirt and back resting on the side of the house I would pluck and eat juicy ripe figs straight off the tree. I never bothered to wash them, accepting the fine layer of grit from the road as part of their distinct flavor.

(My aunt Susie as a little girl with an unidentified woman. I think she may be scared of that doll!)

I wanted to peer again at the cousins feet pounding across the road with little puffs of dirt rising as each foot connected with the dry bare surface. I wanted to hear the thunder of those same feet as they ran across the wooden bridge that spanned the ditches between the road and the old church campground. I wanted to feel the rusty dried pine needles prickly beneath my feet and the whisper of the wind in the branches high above. I wanted to sit in the dusty pews under the brush arbor, really more like a picnic pavilion, as the tallest cousin played preacher and the oldest girl tried lead us in hymn singing.

(My grandmother all decked out in her fur coat.)

I even wanted to hear the scolding we once got from Pop as we decided to play war on the church campground, lobbing pine cones at one another like hand grenades. We were playing Vietnam just as we had seen it played out on our TV screens each night on the evening news. Pop sat us all down on the front lawn and explained to us that the war was a terrible thing and young men were dying and families were grieving, we were not to make light of it, war was not game where you can play and everyone get up an go home again. Tears were in his eyes as he spoke to us in his soft voice. We never played war again.

(Me as a baby at my great grandparents house.)

I wanted to once again experience a simple Southern Sunday repeated many times over in my childhood. I wanted to flow back into time and once again slide into the sweet rhythm of childhood pleasures. Even though I knew the house had burned down in the 70's and the land had been sold, I still expected to find the campground as it used to be. We drove from one end of the road to other without one familiar sight. After speaking with one of the locals I learned that a church had been built on the campground. We were able to backtrack and find the old homestead place where a modern house now rests across the from the church on a two lane paved road where new family memories are being made.

Maybe I, like Katherine, will be the one to record my family roots from my memories and daily experiences. Perhaps I will never know the people of my past, but I can preserve my present for those in my future.

Miss Sandy


Vicki Page said...

Hi Miss Sandy thank you for taking me along on your journey down memory lane. Just had a journey myself with my Aunt visiting from California. Before my dad passed away him and I took a drive past his old family farm he really enjoyed it and I'm so glad we did that together. Vicki Page

LiLi M. said...

This is such a beautiful post Miss Sandy, I have enjoyed it from beginning to end. You were such a sweet baby. You are right: try to preserve your time for those who will follow you. Thanks for taking me on your trip down Memory Lane.

Anonymous said...

Sandy, What a way you have with words! Lovely photos and memories. The customs, language, dress etc. remind me so of my own upbringing. You were a precious baby - does your little grandson favor you? Like you, I hope that the stories/keepsakes I blog about will someday be treasured by another "little Sandy" or "little Mildred" with a desire to connect with the past. Thanks for such a beautiful, thought-provoking post.

Susie said...

Sweet, wonderful memories Sandy. Many reminded me of spending time at my grandparents. As a matter of fact, I think they had the same linoleum floor that was pictured in your family pic.

Laurie said...

How lovely to read your memories. I know how you feel about losing the past...it's that way in my family, too, on my father's side. I adore that photo of the three little girls and the cat! So lovely. At least you have those.

Jodie (everything vintage) said...

Miss Sandy! I was so mesmorized by this post...you totally had my full attention! I love the fact you have the most beautiful photos of your family. Even though you are not familiar with the stories or history, you have in your possession such a wonderful gift in itself. As for Pop Sheeks and little Charlie, their little monkey friend is too cute! I love how Pop told the young ones about the war...that was so touching! And as for Granny Sheeks, you described her so vividly, I could close my eyes and almost hear the screen door opening with her anxiously awaiting your arrival.
I loved this post Miss Sandy! It makes me cherish all of my cabinet cards (of those whom I do not know) even more now, knowing that maybe someone is thinking of them today in such a loving way that you do about your family.
I hope someday you find the information you are looking for...

everything vintage

kaniki's said...

What a wonderful recollection of your childhood memories... My goodness- I can see, feel, and smell everything!!

Thanks for sharing!! I loved this!!

Kaniki's Prims & Whims!!

BellaRosa said...

Miss Sandy...Thank you for sharing all those wonderful memories and pictures. You know I am sitting here looking at a doll in my studio and I think I have that doll (or one just like it)that made your young aunt Susie cry :) Rose

Becky K. said...

A very poignant post.

How impactful your Grandfather's concern and chiding over your "war games". That really spoke volumes to me about the pain war must have cost him.

Great photos.

Becky K.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

I love old photos! The one of the doll is neat! I love seeing old dolls that girls are playing with!

Vickie said...

Miss Sandy - take me back with you! I have seen and done and tasted and experienced all of those things myself! I long for them all over again!

Bonita said...

Thank you for taking us down your memory lane, Sandy. What sweet memories you have and lovely pictures too.

One of them really caught my eye- the one with a bunch of the family together. The door and the tile on the floor are so familiar. My aunt had those in her house when I was young.

You've inspired me to take a trip down memory lane too. I don't know a lot about my family either except that they were all poor and many were outlaw types. However, when I was a teenager my grandmother, in a rare close moment, shared a little of the family tree with me and also gave me a whole box of photos- the envy of all my other relatives. Since then a few others have shared their memories like my uncle who told me of waking up very early to go possum huntin' with his step-grandfather.

This post reminds of the Old Testament when the parents were to set up memorials and when the children asked about them they would tell of what God had done. Thank you for inspiring me to write the little that I know so it won't be lost when I'm gone, and also to share my own memories- except the painful ones- those can die with me.

KathyB. said...

I waited to read this post until I had time to read with care.I did not know of my paternal family until after I was 30 years old. I find it amazing that the biology and genes of my family play as important a part of who I am as the maternal and known. Family members I did not know until my middle age are more like me than the family I was raised with. How can this be? There are so many truths in scripture that point to this knowledge, but I was unaware of this. I was aware only of the fact that I was very different from the sisters and family I was raised in from birth.That when I met the biological family of mine after my third decade, I was more like them and yet had never known them until middle age.

So much of what you have written is sometimes painful for me to read because it does tell me of what I have missed out on, and at the same time been blessed by. God, in His wisdom decreed who you and I should be raised by.

Painful as the answers to our heritage and family history might be, God in His wisdom placed us where He wanted us.Praise Him.

Phyllis said...

You did a wonderful job putting in writing your sweet memories. It stirs similar memories in me and has inspired me to do some research of my own family roots. Nothing is recorded and will be lost with us.

Thanks for the stories and pictures. They sure bring back some of my own memories.

Cheptoek said...

You write so well! Thank you so much for sharing your family memories. Made me think of mine. I have been meaning to ask you what became of the project with Katherine's diary.

Decor To Adore said...

I truly adore old photo's and often come home from flea markets with them.

I did a bit of writing on my blog. I could use your insput on this one. :)

Vee said...

Your writing is lyrical and takes me along on this family journey such that I might think that I had been there eating figs with you and being with the aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. I hope that you are able to find more answers, but this piece is lovely and your family will love it.

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