Oct 24, 2012

Catch a memory: October 25, 2012

Recently a friend suggested "The Winthrop Woman" by Anya Seton. Usually it takes me awhile to read suggested titles, but this time I was moved to check out the book promptly. Beginning with the first page, the author drew me into the life of Ellizabeth Winthrop, who was the spunky niece and daughter-in-law of Puritan John Winthrop.
Meanwhile, in real life time of 400 years later, I was planning a trip to Cape Cod to visit an elderly relative. I pulled out folders of my Dimmock ancestors who had founded the town of Barnstable in 1639. Imagine my amazement when I realized my ancestors probably made the sea voyage on the same ships that had carried the Winthrops and all the early Puritans. 
I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm excited to find out if my ancestors play roles in the enveloping story. It is odd to glide between centuries like this.

Aug 8, 2012

120 years ago today: August 8,2012

Bessie Morey Vollmer, my grandmother, was born 120 years ago today in a farmhouse in West Monroe, New York.  As a young girl, Bessie accompanied her older brother on an Erie Canal boat, which was so slow that she walked ahead to the store, made her purchase, and waited for the boat to catch up. At the turn of the 20th Century, she and her parents traveled by train, boat, and wagon to the Michigan woods to visit relatives, a trip that took several days. (They could only take such a long trip because they had sold their farm!)  In the 1930's,she loved escaping her chores to go for Sunday drives in the family's new car. During the 1950's,she and my grandfather drove from New York to  Florida for the winter, and when one of her grandsons was born, she flew to New York. She gladly talked of the "old days," but I always had the impression she didn't want to return to the towpath.

Jun 22, 2012

Family Reunion: June 22, 2012

Do you remember family reunions? In the days before Facebook, they were the virtual space for connecting to your extended family. Ours get-togethers were potluck picnics. Eating began at noon sharp - the great uncles became visibly anxious if we dallied more than a minute or two. Big bowls and pans of hot and cold casseroles were placed down the center of the oilcloth-covered tables. Everyone brought Thermoses of coffee which dotted the long table like silos. Here and there, set on the table's edge, were a gallon jugs of lemonade and water. You helped yourself to whatever bowl was closest, and then passed it to the next person. Some latecomers might still be lugging their chairs and baskets from the parking lot, but they just had to hurriedly squeeze their plates and cups at the table's end, and hope they spooned up some of Grandma's chicken fricasee before it was all gone!
This collage, "Family Reunion", 8 x 16, was inspired by a family picnic in1957 at my Grandma and Grandpa Vollmer's backyard. Can you find me sitting on the bench?

Feb 25, 2012

Keeping Watch: February 25, 2012

Do you have a place that anchors you, a place that you cherish even if it exists only in your memory?
This four square brick house in Moyers Corners, New York is one of those landmarks for me. When I was growing up, it was the home of the Brand family, with Mrs. Brand living on the first floor, and her daughter Irene's family upstairs. Irene was a hairdresser, and I had my first perm from her, just in time for Easter 1962. It was an involved three hour process back then, with smelly chemicals that ran down your neck and curlers rolled so tight they  pulled the scalp away from your head.  You had to sit under a hair dryer that blasted hot air for an hour (so it seemed) until you felt like a prune. But Irene and I chatted and laughed all afternnoon, and when my mother picked me up, I was a girl transformed with curly hair.
Irene died this past week, and whenever I see the old brick house - which still stands on the corner -  I'll remember her chatting and working her hair magic on me, up on the second floor. 

Feb 8, 2012

Grandmothers: February 8, 2012

Grandmas today are encouraged to do their own thing, to be their own person. 60 is the new 40! It is easy for us baby boomers to join this trend of  "finding ourselves" in our senior years, but society told our black-shoed grandmothers that they should just continue their lifetime household duties as long as physicially able. In their declining years they should take up some crafts, childcare, or church work.
My Grandmother Arnold, however, defied  all of society's expectations. She embraced "New Thought" in the 1920's, explored healthy lifestyles in the 1930's, California living in the 1940's, marriage emancipation in the 1950's, and fragile independence in the 1960's. She was always on the move, physically and intellectually. Like Mary Poppins, she would suddenly appear in Central New York from California to disrupt the humdrum of our lives.Even before her many boxes had arrived from California, she was already planning her return West. Soon she would be off to one of her many houses in LA, attending spirituality lectures, caring for elderly women, and sending us copious, stream of consciousness letters on all manner of paper.
Although my grandmother remains a mystery to me - and I think to herself -  I often feel her restless nature on my own quest into the 21st century.
Happy Birthday, Mary Geneva Thompson Arnold, born 124 years ago today in 1888, in Harlem.

Jan 26, 2012

January 26, 2012

January 26, 1945 was a cold winter day. So far, my twenty-two year old father had been deferred from service in World War 2 because he was a farmer, but today he had to report to the Draft Board. Milking the cows took longer than usual - perhaps because he had worked all night putting new springs on his car -  and then he quickly changed from his barn clothes to street clothes, and drove in a bad snowstorm to the Armory Building in Downtown Syracuse.  He arrived late, and the line of men waiting for their physicals stretched to the doorway. As the hours ticked by, he only inched forward. He started to panic. He still had to drive home, change, milk the cows, change into his suit, and then drive back to the city. He confessed to the guys in front of him, "I'm getting married tonight!" Word was passed up through the line of men and they all pushed him to the head of the line, whistling and jostling and clapping him forward. The doctor examined him and pronounced, "I'll be seeing you soon!"  Dad dashed to his car and back to the farm. After milking the cows, he changed into his suit and headed back to the city. It was so cold the tires crunched on the snowy roads.
Meanwhile, downtown at the Onondaga Hotel, my mother the bride, the minister, and all the family and friends waited. And waited. My mother later confessed that she thought he wasn't coming, but the Unity minister from Rochester chuckled and said, "Knowing Bill, he'll be late, but he WILL be here." Sure enough, Dad finally arrived and the ceremony proceeded. In his haste he had forgotten his wallet and had to borrow $10 from his brother-in-law to pay the minister.
Later that night, for the second time in twenty-four hours, Dad was the subject of good-natured hooting and hollering while the neighhbors held a "Shivaree" outside the newlyweds' bedroom window. And all of this happened today on an ordinary cold winter day in January sixty-seven years ago.
By the way, luckily for my father, the war ended before he was drafted.