We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Memory Keepers

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

Flag at half mast in honor of Joshua Townsend  - January 2009.
   Starting a blog is a leap of faith -something along the lines of - if we write it, they will come. Our posting last week about our Grandma Elsie yielded the most comments thus far, not recorded on our blog, but sent instead to our Facebook accounts and personal e-mail.
   I have spent the better part of a year reflecting on the past by patiently compiling personal and family correspondence – especially between my sisters and me – for a proposed book project. The project took on a life of its own after a quick succession of three family members passing: my nephew, Joshua, serving as a Green Beret in Afghanistan; my mother-in-law, Joan; and my dad’s brother, Chuck. The source material served as a way to try to reconcile our history with the present and how we want to live with purposeful intention now and in the future.
   It might also be helpful to know that our dear sister Maria died in 1992 from a brain aneurysm. Learning that my sister one early morning in late May had died felt like someone twice my size had delivered a sucker punch to my solar plexus. I cannot say with conviction that our family fully recovered from her death – or ever will. I think about her every day. As I do all our loved ones that have gone before us.

The day Josh won his green beret in Ft. Bragg, NC in 2005.
   At Christmas, our dear friends Clarke and Monica were over for a special dinner to celebrate the season. They brought some amazing wines to complement the meal and one particular bottle was Dark Star Cellars 2005 Ricordati from Paso Robles. On the back of the bottle it reads: “The "Ricordati", "always remember," is blended as a tribute to the Memory of our friends and family who are no longer with us. A celebration of their lives!" I love the sentiment and the wine.
   I thought it might be interesting to share our “behind the scenes” e-mails to hopefully serve as inspiration to learn more about your own family’s history. Following is the exchange between our Dad and us girls on how the post last week celebrating Grandma Elsie and her excellent pancakes became a springboard for additional written conversations (pour a glass of your favorite beverage and sneak a peek):
Michelle's mother-in law, Joan.
Date: Monday, June 28, 2010, 8:52 PM
From: Dad
To: "Michelle"
Cc: "Juliette", “Linda”
Subject: Re: Blog post on Grandma Elsie

   Hey, Michelle, I really enjoyed that. All three of you write beautifully! I think most of what is contained in the historical note is correct. However, I have to comment on the following:
   "Grandma Elsie worked her magic in the tiniest of kitchens in a house "built" during the depression by placing two railroad boxcars together, adding a roof and veneering the outside to resemble a typical residential house in Yucaipa, California.”
   If Grandpa Charley were to read this sentence, he would roll over in his grave. Why you ask? Dad was always offended that anyone would call those rail cars "box cars". He always made it perfectly clear that those two rail cars were refrigerator cars, not box cars. That seems like a rather trivial distinction, doesn't it? Well, in fact, there is a significant difference. That difference was 12 inches of horse hair insulation which made the house easy to heat in the winter and easy to cool in the summer.
   For many years there was an old Duotherm oil heater that sat proudly in the living room. To the north of the house was a wooden frame work that supported a 55 gallon oil drum about 6 or 7 feet off the ground. There was a copper pipe that ran from the oil drum to the Duotherm heater in the living room. Oil would flow by gravity from the drum to the heater. Simple setup and it worked very well and kept the house very cozy in the winter. They eventually replaced the oil heater with a natural gas floor furnace when natural gas was finally made available on Bryant Street. But, personally, I really hated to see the old oil heater go.
   Funny the things I remember. They had a wall-to-wall wool carpet in the living room. We got on to the fact that if you shuffled your feet on the wool carpeting and then closely approached the oil heater, one could draw an electric arc up to 1/2 inch or longer. If you held a key, the arc could be appreciated without the associated pain. Dad got the biggest kick out of doing that (no pun intended). It worked best at night and on very dry days.
   One incident I recall vividly when I was 9 or 10, was the "mouse flap". The living room had a flat ceiling that had been wallpapered but over time, the glue had failed and the wallpaper sagged a bit. On occasion, we could hear a mouse scurrying around on the sagging wallpaper. Well, as only Mom could do, she was giving Dad a hard time about not doing anything about the "mouse problem". Well, this went on for what must have been several weeks and Dad had finally reached his limit. One memorable evening, while the mouse was scurrying around, Mom said something like: "Charley! When in hell are you going to do something about that damn mouse?"
   Dad was standing just below where the sound was coming from that the mouse was making. In one unbelievably fast motion, Dad's right palm shot upward and he crushed the mouse between the wallpaper and the wooden ceiling behind it! Wham, problem solved. Mom was speechless (for once). I just stood there with my mouth agape not quite believing what I had just witnessed. So, end of story, right? Wrong!
Since there was no way to remove the dead mouse, it remained in the gap between the wallpaper and the ceiling boards. This was okay for about a week until we started getting this horrible stench in the living room. What to do, right? This problem was finally solved by Dad using a pocket knife to slice a small opening in the wallpaper whereby the remains of the mouse could be removed. But the odor remained for weeks and Mom continued to bitch the entire time... LOL. With love, Dad

Our paternal grandparents, Charley and Elsie Beaumont
----- Original Message -----
From: Linda
To: “Michelle”; “Paul”
Cc: “Juliette”
Sent: Monday, June 28, 2010 9:10 PM
Subject: Re: Blog post on Grandma Elsie

Hi Dad... Michelle, Maddie and I got the biggest kick out of the arcing heater and the mouse stories. Michelle then piped up that Grandpa had been a boxer. I remembered him being a gymnast. I was trying to tell the story of Grandpa tarring the roof (Michelle and I went round and round about the whole parapet roof thing... she was thinking that Grandpa had put a pitched roof on the place, and I insisted no, it was very flat.) Anyway, I was trying to tell the story of you seeing Grandpa slip on the tar and how he did a flip and tumbled. We were hoping you could do the retelling... Linda Lou

Our Grandma Elsie on the right with her brother, Bob and sister, Florence.
Date: Monday, June 28, 2010, 11:11 PM
From: “Paul”
To: "Linda", "Michelle”; "Juliette”
Subject: Re: Blog post on Grandma Elsie

   Hi Linda! I'm amazed at the stories that you girls remember that weren't your direct experiences, but I have a few like that too.
   I'm surprised that any of you are even aware of the fall from the roof that Dad suffered. I think I was maybe 12 or 13 when this incident happened, which would have made Dad about 48 or 49. The fall occurred from the shop roof and not from the house roof. Incidentally, the house roof was flat so score one for Linda. The fall occurred while he was using a broom to spread roofing tar on the shop roof which was a pitched roof. He had a 5 gallon bucket of hot tar and he was dipping the broom in the bucket and then spreading the tar with a sweeping motion while backing up.
   I was watching the operation from Grandpa and Grandma's front yard as was Grandpa. Occasionally, Dad would stop and inspect the area that he had just finished brushing to see if he had missed any areas. He spotted an area that he had missed a few feet in front of him. He stepped forward onto the hot tar with the bucket in his left hand and the broom in his right hand. He stepped onto the tar which was still in a highly fluid state and his feet shot out from under him and he bounced a couple of times on the roof and then off the roof altogether--he was airborne at this point.
   My heart shot into my throat, immediately thinking he would be seriously injured. However, like a cat he was able to turn and properly align himself such that when he hit the ground he was able to tuck and roll. Right behind him was the 5 gallon bucket of hot tar on its way down too! Realizing the bucket was right behind him, he continued to roll until he was clear. Other than having a lot of roofing tar stuck to his cloths, he suffered no ill effects.
   His gymnastic training obviously helped him escape serious injury. To be absolutely clear, he was involved in both gymnastics and boxing. I was always aware that he had extremely fast reflexes and I'm sure he was a great boxer. I hope this helps... Dad

Our sister, Maria photographed by our father, Paul.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Linda"
To: "Michelle"; "Paul"
Cc: "Juliette"
Sent: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 11:52 PM
Subject: Re: Blog post on Grandma Elsie

Dear Dad... I remember you telling me that story way back, and obviously it made quite an impression on me at the time...the fall, the hot tar, the spectacular gymnastics (and I loved gymnastics even though I was way too tall to ever be really good), and I think also, trying to reconcile these facts with someone that I remember as always being an old man. There is so much that we don't know about these ancestors who went before us in an age without electronic correspondence and multitudinous digital photos.
   This past year Michelle spent hours and hours recording letters and some poems that went back as far as WWII, in addition to organizing many years worth of our own written personal history. It has been so interesting relearning the facts about the history that we never knew, or thought that we knew, or have come to understand in a different way now that we are older. I wonder what our own children and descendants will think about all of our voluminous recorded blather and ponderous thoughts?
   It is quite possible that we have perhaps revealed way too much about ourselves and our daily doings. Not only is possible, but probable even, that they will know us so much better in some ways than our generation ever knew our own predecessors, but I think it is just as likely that in doing so, we may have dispelled the very mystique that would have made us these illusive, interesting and epic figures from their own personal history... imbued with imaginings instead of "facts". I really hope that isn't true...good night to all... L.

Our maternal grandparents, Maxine and Earl.
----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Juliette
To: "Linda"; "Michelle"; "Paul"
Sent: Wed, June 30, 2010 8:57:34 AM
Subject: Re: Blog post on Grandma Elsie

Dearest Linda... Sometimes I think you thinketh too much! It is safe to say that our own personal history shows that all that has passed before us with generations of ancestors’ dead and gone has infinite value by the simple fact that we are all in possession of pieces of it today: photographs, letters, trinkets, furniture, tools, house wares, recipes, etc, etc., etc.
   I think we are funny as hell, and it is evident that same sense of humor has been passed down to our own children, and there is no reason to believe that it will not also be shared by our children's children, and on and on and on and on. We ARE in fact interesting and epic, the same as those past whose bloodlines we share, even as their distant memories slowly fade away with the eventual passing of those who remembered and treasured their stories.
   Is a personal story less funny because it was recorded by your own hand? I think not, and because we all write well, probably more so.

   I think Maria is a perfect example of the need to write it all down in some sort of chronological and cohesive fashion. What do her daughters really know about their mother and her family? Based on the interactions we have had with them since her death, I shudder to think. I think Maria would be really disappointed by the way things have played out, and I deeply regret my part in it, and often think of ways to bridge the gap... to no avail.
   Maria has grandchildren, and they will know even less of Maria than their own mothers. Sad, sad, sad. Maria was remarkable in many ways, and I think her history should be recorded by those that knew and loved her, and made available to her decedents. They will want to know it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but twenty or thirty years down the road? I think so! I hope so! Worst case scenario is it is just another book gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, but who can know who might one day pick it up, dust it off, and begin reading? Fun to think about!

Maria's high school graduation portrait by George Ives.
      And what about Josh? Will his story prove more interesting in future years with the absence of small details, and distortion of actual events, than it is now? What wonderful stories will fall through the cracks of time? Josh was epic in life, and is still, even in death. His memory will survive and be honored as long as his stories continue to be told. We are the memory keepers.
   I remember one afternoon spent with Nana going through photo albums, and boxes of miscellaneous keepsakes when I was a teenager. She told so many wonderful stories, and we both laughed and cried ourselves into exhaustion. It is a treasured memory, but unfortunately I can't remember any of the details. The only thing I remember clearly was an old, faded picture of Nanny Bandy with her family (a lot of them!) as a young girl on the porch of their ramshackle house. Nana told me she had always wanted to burn the photo, but feared the retribution of Papa if he discovered it missing. I wish now that I had taken the time to write some of those stories down while they were fresh in my memory!!! Actually, I wish she had written it down in her own words, because she too was funny as hell!
   So don't despair dear sister! I think the fact that we all share the desire to record our own histories and what we know of our ancestors and loved ones lost is enough for now. The future is a blank page, and we can (and have) ensured that future generations will write upon it.... My love always, Juliette
P.S. Laughing my ass off at the moment thinking about what stories will be told about me in distant years!

From: Paul
To: “Linda”; “Juliette”; “Michelle”
Sent: Wed, June 30, 2010 10:37:41 PM
Subject: Re: Blog post on Grandma Elsie

   Hi All! So, it seems to me that Juliette makes an excellent point. I think documenting family history just might be of interest to descendants at some point. The problem is, we never seem to have the interest in asking the questions when the people that could answer the questions are still living... Dad

Juliette, Linda, Michelle and Maria at Surf Beach, California. 


  1. I really enjoyed the sentiment behind what you're written here. Being a video biographer myself, I get to meet with a lot of families who wish they had sat down with their elders and labeled old photographs, or dated old letters and correspondence or just taken the time to record memorable stories... so to see the effort you're making to document your history is remarkable. What's even more so is the medium of most of the correspondence you have listed here - emails! And photographs as attachments. Along with family history, you're capturing a slice of time that we live in... and the technology that we've grown up with. That may someday look so primitive to future generations!

    Aditi Worcester

  2. Dear Aunts, I would greatly appreciate a way to learn of my family's history. It would be amazing for Paige to know it too. My mother's own words are so faded in my memory. Karley and I would beg her to "tell us a story of when you were little". I remember her telling us of a white German Shepherd that would follow her up a ladder! Naturally, Karley and I most loved the stories of that dog and her pony, Shatan.
    I'm enjoying the stories of my great grandparents. I must have been so young, but I remember shucking corn with Nana and being so scared of her. I think she was yelling at my cousins most of that day!
    I have such an appreciation for history. I am really enjoying getting to know about my own. Much love, Aubrey


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...