The holidays are always a time to get together and tell stories about the past.
My oldest drove in from VT (bringing syrup for everyone) and that spurred stories about my mother making syrup from our trees – in our yard – in Illinois. She would collect the sap from a few of the trees and then let it sit in a big cast iron pot on the cast iron stove in the kitchen for days. I’m not positive if my brother tried it, but I never worked up the courage myself to give it a try.
Growing up my mother frequently was coming up with ideas to try to maker our own. I’ll never forget the chicks being raised in the kitchen in a big pen with a heat lamp. She’s done that one a few times, a few different ways. Then there was deer jerky that she would cut the strips and let them sit on the wood burning stove in the closed top portion. The strips also would lay across the bars for days. That same deer meat used for the jerky was what we used to eat for most meals, and my parents would go out and hunt it each season then hang the deer in the shed. My dad would go out and cut pieces off, bringing them in a little at a time, and the kitchen would become a production facility with my mother wrapping everything in freezer paper and wrapping what it was on the outside. All the scrap pieces would be thrown to the dogs and be scattered throughout the yard for the next couple months.
At one point my mother decided to even try tanning the hide of one of the deer pelts. She scraped as much as she could off the back of the hide and then set the hide in the basement covered in salt. I’m fairly certain it was right after we visited a festival and my brother and I each got sheepskin pelts (died in funny colors). They were so soft and warm, she wanted to try herself.
My aunt needed shells to use to help her control her snake problem, which led to the story of my grandfather and a mouse… Growing up we also had a lot of mice. It was so bad I got to recognize the smell of decaying mouse lost somewhere near my room and would try to burn a candle at night to mask the smell. We had stories about my mother cleaning and throwing toys into a toy box in the dark, feeling something odd only to find it was a dead mouse the next day. Picking up dresses to hang, shaking them and having the feel of little paws going up inside her pants leg – she came out of those pants really fast.
We also had stories about the time my brother put a mouse in an empty hamster cage in my room and just waited for me to find it. He also came into my room and nailed one to the wall with a dart from a dart gun at one point. Hitting a moving mouse was a tradition though! The story of my grandfather sitting with a 22 waiting at the dining room table for a mouse that he knew usually cut through the room is well known. He waited it out until the mouse came around the corner and he shot it. We just had the discussion about whether the hole is probably still in the floor or not.
While up at my mother’s I still like to sleep with television on, not for the television itself, but to drawn out any noise of gnawing. I really dislike seeing the evidence of where the mice have been all over.
While telling stories, the subject of the power going out for more than 2 weeks at a time had to come up. I remember best the year that Headless Horsemen was to be The Wonderful World of Disney – a special every weekend. My brother and I were so excited to see it, and there weren’t recorders, the internet, even DVDs back then (in the 70s). The power went out, and stayed out. In the country we had no water when we had no power. At that point our house didn’t have a wood burning stove yet either, so just a fireplace. After a few days, my dad worked out how to run a tractor and use it to power a couple things like the well. – Not in time to see the show though. I do remember us having a little orange record player that ran on batteries, so that was our amusement. We also always had lots of kerosene lamps, still do. So the kerosene lamps served as light..
The stories of the fireplace and all the times we used it, led to the story of smoldering the boards around the fireplace. My father had always used green wood, but this one year he had dried dead wood. It burned a LOT hotter. My mother had a huge fire going, and we ended up with the steel plate in front of the fireplace red hot. The steel plate charred the wood around the front of the fireplace and caused smoke to come out the cold air ducts. Not having a clue where the fire was, my dad was pouring water everywhere. They did figure out the cause of the smoke and get everything cooled off and put out before the fire department showed up, but the firemen had to all come in and traipse through to see it themselves. There had been a storm going on, so getting out to us, had also meant that fire trucks had all run off the road into the ditches, slid everywhere and the firemen were drenched. The fireplace wood is probably still charred under the front of the fireplace. My brother has now converted the fireplace itself to gas, so it isn’t likely to happen again.
Telling the stories is great, and getting together the whole family at the holidays allows up to tell a story that leads to another. I love the idea of getting family together and recording the stories. Besides having stories recorded I also like scanning all the pictures and trying to get my whole family to name everyone in the pictures. The hard part is finding a way to record the names to go with each picture so that you can identify who each person is.
I’m hoping to come up to see dad this week… As I’ve mentioned my dad has dementia and has had many strokes….
Holidays like father’s day are a little hard, wondering how much he is aware of what day it is? I feel bad for my friends that have lost their fathers, and I also envy the friends that can spend the day with their fathers, and I am so glad my boys have a good relationship with their dad…. but I have to say being in the in between time….seeing your dad suffer through, you are happy you still have your father, but you are sad that your father is in so much pain and confusion. And you (and no one else) can’t make it easier.
My father is actually really young, only going to be 76 next week! In my dad’s lifetime he has really done a lot and had a lot of funny stories, though he hasn’t been a huge number of places. My dad did join the reserves in the 60s during one of the wars (or was that a military action)? He was in California for 6 months for that, and I remember hearing about a trip to New Orleans, but other than that the only other trip I ever remember hearing about was my parents honeymoon – and that was the story of my father of my father talking his way out of a ticket in Georgia and inviting the police office up to their farm to go fishing!
While growing up, I remember the short trips when we were younger to places like Louisville (I got dropped off to stay with friends), Kentucky to pick up a dog named Waldo (we brought back Tobacco leaves to show for show and tell) and St Louis to visit cousins. My dad also took day trips a few times to pick up cars and animals.
Most of my dad’s stories though involved highjacks he and friends had been involved in at one time or another, or things that had happened while farming. My dad had an ability to tell a story that everyone loved to hear. He had stories about everything from building a rock dam across the stream that is now by our house and flooding out the road to driving a tractor with wagon and having a semi try to pass him on a curvy road and lose control.
Dad also was always willing to help anyone that showed up at the door. People would show up at all hours of the day and night stuck on the road and dad would grab the tractor and pull them out of the snow or mud. Presents would be dropped off, usually a bottle of alcohol – that my dad rarely drank, but sometimes we would end up with an odd thing like a Datsun once with the clutch ripped out.
Growing up dad would hear about or try something and think, oh I need to try that, and off he would go! With that he built a still once – I’ve heard stories about people lined up and even laying under the spicot! Dad also heard about a man selling off animals and ran off and bought a Fallow deer at one point. Several years later dad tried a Beefalo burger and decided to try to recreate them. He and a friend drove across the state and bought two bison! Each family got one.
My dad lost his mother, my grandmother, in his early teens. She suffered for a while at home from cancer, and I know it affected him a lot. My dad would avoid hospitals, saying people die there. The story he once today, and that’s one he didn’t tell normally was that my grandfather brought in preachers to pray over my grandmother to try to get her better, but nothing worked. Dad also wasn’t a church going person. “If you just believe enough”. All through the eyes of a child, it was hard on him losing my grandmother.
He went on to wreck a motorcycle in his teens and have massive head trauma. My Uncle Tom was working in a nearby field and noticed, rushing him to the hospital. My dad was lucky to have survived and had to go stay with my Aunt Dorothy for a while after to take care of him and recuperate. Yet my dad did still manage to finish school high school.
He then went on to farming, starting with farming others land and working up to buying his own land with my mother after being discharged from the military.
Growing up my dad used every chance he could to play at the same time. He was extremely inventive with farm machinery too…. I’ve always said we were lucky to survive childhood! At two my dad made a go cart for me using a drill that was plugged in for a motor. He would put us on sleds (as toddlers) and pull us behind lawn mowers through the snow, put us in the scoop of the tractor and turn it into a fair ride going up and down while spinning in a circle, and I’ll never forget the nails and things I ran through my foot running around the barn yard. (The barn had a huge supply of food in it, ie. collection of bunnies)
My dad now only answers questions asked of him sometimes, speaking is difficult for him, and it’s hard to tell what he is really aware of. He’s in an assisted living facility, which I’m sure to him is just like a hospital that he so hated. The last time he was in the hospital and fully aware, he removed his own iv and tried to call for a ‘breakout’ ending up in someone else’s room.
So what do you do when you are in the middle ground? The ground where no one understands except those that are there with you in the same journey? And like them, everyone’s journey is different – dementia takes every person at a different rate and if a different way. With some you still see glimpses of the person that they once were, and with others you see nothing. Do they know you? Some like my dad have a body that is fighting them also. My dad now won’t use one side of his body due to strokes. That side of his body is atrophying. Family may say, I want to remember him as he was, but they also would be the first to be upset if you voice an opinion that he might now want to live in the condition he’s in? And what to do with the guilt many have allowing the thoughts to creep in that your parent might be better if they give up? It not politically correct to ever voice those feelings…. and no one understands, those that have lost their parents to some quick illness or accident, especially don’t understand.
How do you explain that what you are really voicing is the fear that your parent is going through torture and your job has become trying to figure out the best way to increase quality of life and not increase quantity of life without them suffering?
Family stories are hard to find once your older relatives are gone. On my mother’s side, my grandmother was the best source – and she didn’t know her father since he passed away when she was little. I’ve heard rumors he was a small man compared to my great grandmother that was large. He worked in the mines and had a hard life. I’m sure that the mines contributed to his lack of ability to fight the flu in 1918. That flu killed off large amounts of middle aged people and was one of the worst epidemics in history.
Stories I’ve heard include how my great grandmother would work in the garden and stop long enough to come in, have a baby and go back out. My great grandfather had applied for citizenship and my great-grandmother would have gotten it through him if he hadn’t passed away before completing the process. Stories sound like she was always afraid they would send her back to Italy and not let her come back to the US if she tried to visit family back home.
The story I had heard was that they started in Clinton IN and then moved to Westville, IL. My great-grandmother came over to the US with three girls in tow and passed through Ellis Island. After coming to the US a daughter Theresa died in Clinton IN as a child. The story is that Theresa was the name of a sister to my g-grandmother so she named my grandmother Theresa since she wanted to use the name (after the first Theresa had passed away). The grave of the first Theresa in Clinton supposedly washed away many years ago.
Can you imagine coming to a foreign country on a LONG boat trip with three girls afraid that one would get sick and cause the new country to deny you entry? My great grandparents left everything they new behind to come to the US with very few possessions to start over with.
Stories of Italy that my grandmother remembered included that they lived above the barn in Italy. The heat from the animals kept the house warmer. My aunt Kate also told stories filled with superstition. One I remember involved a beggar coming to the door in Italy and a relative throwing hot coffee out that landed on the beggars face. A few days later a dog showed up at the door with a burnt face and they were sure it was the beggar. Of course these stories come to me not even second hand, but third hand in this case. My Aunt Kate was one of the youngest kids and she told me many years ago. If only I had used a tape recorder then to preserve the stories….