Before They’re Gone

Here’s an article I wrote last summer. Since then my husband and I have each lost a dear auntie and uncle. The auntie in the story below has turned 90, though, and is still chugging along! Time passes quickly. It’s hard to imagine that there might not be another tomorrow to spend with the people we love, but that might be the case. Spend your time now.

Take care, dear readers, and have a good, healthy week ahead. ~ Lori

My IMG_7016message here today is simple: visit your old folks while you still can. Time is tricky and days all run together so closely resembling one another and moving us ever forward. Before we know it, time has passed and so have the people we love.

 Why would I use a dating service? I’m 89!

Last Monday, we had the best visit with my husband’s auntie. She told us that a credit card company contacted her because some suspicious purchases had been made on her credit account.

“What kind of suspicious purchases?” she asked the company representative.

“Well, there are several charges for a dating service.”

My husband’s auntie shook her head and told us, “That was the best laugh I’d had in a long time! A dating service. I’m 89 years old. What do I want with a dating service?”

Her outrage at the idea of her needing a dating service was so fun! Auntie has been a widow now for decades and enjoys independence in her own home that she shares with a huge, orange cat. The credit card company refunded all her money, had her cut up her old card, and sent her a new one. All’s well that ends well.

IMG_7044
This is a random photo of me at the Bar U Ranch posing as a calf.

She knew we were coming to visit so she’d made ginger snap cookies, cheese biscuits, and fresh coffee for us. There were also fresh pickles from cucumbers right out of her garden to sample. They were crunchy and made my lips pucker. We brought a jar of them home. When we were done eating, we toured her garden and she talked about the strength she’d built up in her arms this seasoning by watering her garden pots using buckets of rain water.

She told us, “I use my mother’s wagon to haul those water buckets. She watered her garden the same way when she got old.” My husband’s auntie’s eyes filled with tears. It just goes to show that no matter how old we get, we all miss our mothers when they’re gone.

I have a passion for recording stories.

It’s one of my favourite things, visiting with the older people in my life. I’m a lover of stories and old folks often have great stories to tell. I do know some older folk who don’t care to talk about the past. They live in the now and prefer not to reminisce. That’s just fine, too, but I really like the old stories. That’s why I’m passionate about helping people to get those colourful memories recorded before the colourful storytellers are gone.

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to right than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.

~ Marcus Aurelius

If you’d like to record your family history in its entirety or to simply write down some of those good old stories, please get in touch. I can help with everything from writing to editing to publishing. It would be my pleasure.

 

Stories

 

Eino and Grandma (2)
Grandma & her brother Eino

Good evening! It’s been a busy week and it’s only Tuesday. That’s the Christmas season for you. I was looking over my previous posts and I really like this one. It ran in our local newspaper last year. It’s all about family history and the stories we tell to create our identity and to carve out a tiny place in this big old universe for ourselves. Thanks for dropping by.

When she was a child, my grandmother received a locket as a baptism gift. That was in Calumet, Michigan. The family later moved to Hughenden. Then in 1931, my great uncle Elmer died from a ruptured appendix when he was sixteen and my grandma was twenty.

By her younger brother’s graveside in the Hughenden cemetery, my grandma lost that precious locket that she’d owned most all her life. That’s how it goes sometimes. Years later, in 1944, her father, my great grandfather, died. He was buried near his son Elmer, and as that grave was being prepared, the locket bearing my grandma’s initials was dug up.

Listen to me read this post:

Life is comprised of stories. My life is stories and your life is stories. These are scenarios that happened, that might happen, and that are happening right now. I love stories, but hearing the tales of the old folks who came before me leaves me feeling two different ways.

The first feeling is warm and sentimental. The old stories make me feel connected to the people whose blood flows in my veins. I treasure that connection, like time as a railroad track joining our stations along the way.

The second feeling is the stark realization that someday all that will be left of me is stories. And then, after a while, even the most colourful Lori stories will fade into time and eventually disappear. It’s true.

Petersons (2)
Another photo and there’s that locket again.

I like the story of my Grandma Knutson and her newborn baby, Jeannette, on their way home from the hospital following a March snowstorm. When the cutter tipped over in the deep banks, both new mother and new baby were pitched into a snowdrift. Good thing they were bundled up and that babies are typically a bit bouncy.

If you know me, you know I love ghost stories! Sadly, I’ve lost some of the belief in their plausibility. It’s too bad because the possibility of truth made those old stories especially thrilling. In this case, the truth doesn’t matter. I like hearing ghost stories and I like telling ghost stories.

Back in the day Grandma would tell me about the house she and Grandpa lived in on the edge of Hughenden Lake when they were first married.

She’d tell it like this: “Often, late at night, the door at the top of the stairs would slam shut really hard. At first this was terrifying, but after a while, we got used to it. We were startled, but we weren’t scared.”

Even so, my grandparents didn’t live in that house for long.

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and  Grandpa looking snazzie!

All the people involved in those stories are gone. The house, long since moved from the lakeshore into the village, stands here in town today. I wonder if the door at the top of the stairs slams hard enough to shake the walls. Does that particular draft, uneven foundation, or angry spirit still haunt the place?

People come and go from houses. We bring stories, we make more, and then we move on.

I always tell the story of Erwin Knutson, my dad’s uncle who was found dead in an abandoned vehicle outside of Wetaskiwin. It was December, 1957. The body had no identification on it, no wallet, and no money. But there was a slip of paper in one of the jacket pockets that read: Erwin Knutson, Hughenden.

My dad told me about him being fourteen years old and traveling to the Hughenden cemetery with his dad, the deceased’s brother, to deliver the rough box used to shore up the interior of that wintry grave.

I held on to that story and it became my novel, Denby Jullsen, Hughenden.

I’m grateful for the stories that connect me to my past and to my ancestors. I’m also thankful for the stories I’m living now, and for the good ones I imagine might happen.

My wish for you is that you remember and share your stories. I hope you’ll make new ones to tell again and again down through the years because, in the end, the stories are all we’ve got.

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. See the right sidebar to follow me. It’s easy and it’s free. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

Before They’re Gone

My IMG_7016message here today is simple: visit your old folks while you still can. Time is tricky and days all run together so closely resembling one another and moving us ever forward. Before we know it, time has passed and so have the people we love.

 Why would I use a dating service? I’m 89!

Last Monday, we had the best visit with my husband’s auntie. She told us that a credit card company contacted her because some suspicious purchases had been made on her credit account.

“What kind of suspicious purchases?” she asked the company representative.

“Well, there are several charges for a dating service.”

My husband’s auntie shook her head and told us, “That was the best laugh I’d had in a long time! A dating service. I’m 89 years old. What do I want with a dating service?”

Her outrage at the idea of her needing a dating service was so fun! Auntie has been a widow now for decades and enjoys independence in her own home that she shares with a huge, orange cat. The credit card company refunded all her money, had her cut up her old card, and sent her a new one. All’s well that ends well.

IMG_7044
This is a random photo of me at the Bar U Ranch posing as a calf.

She knew we were coming to visit so she’d made ginger snap cookies, cheese biscuits, and fresh coffee for us. There were also fresh pickles from cucumbers right out of her garden to sample. They were crunchy and made my lips pucker. We brought a jar of them home. When we were done eating, we toured her garden and she talked about the strength she’d built up in her arms this seasoning by watering her garden pots using buckets of rain water.

She told us, “I use my mother’s wagon to haul those water buckets. She watered her garden the same way when she got old.” My husband’s auntie’s eyes filled with tears. It just goes to show that no matter how old we get, we all miss our mothers when they’re gone.

I have a passion for recording stories.

It’s one of my favourite things, visiting with the older people in my life. I’m a lover of stories and old folks often have great stories to tell. I do know some older folk who don’t care to talk about the past. They live in the now and prefer not to reminisce. That’s just fine, too, but I really like the old stories. That’s why I’m passionate about helping people to get those colourful memories recorded before the colourful storytellers are gone.

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to right than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.

~ Marcus Aurelius

If you’d like to record your family history in its entirety or to simply write down some of those good old stories, please get in touch. I can help with everything from writing to editing to publishing. It would be my pleasure.

Thanks for being here with me today. Take care and have a very happy week!

~ Lori

 

Why History is Important

 

 

Lantern Years
One of our region’s history books.

Before the cemetery tour I led the other day, someone commented, “What’s your tour about? My daughter doesn’t want to go if it’s about dates and who was married to whom.”

People have been turned off by history relayed through dry, dusty details. Too bad. History is rich and informative, and crammed with better stories than I could make up.

We could blame this dislike of history on the musty textbooks some of us remember or on the mandated memorization of dates and events.

In the Alberta schools’ curriculum (2005 by Alberta Education), the subject of history has been replaced with historical thinking. What’s that? According to Alberta Education, it’s this:

“Historical thinking is a process whereby students are challenged to rethink assumptions about the past and to reimagine both the present and the future.”

Hmm.

Listen to me read this post:

A history component is included in the Alberta curriculum’s elective Social Sciences courses:

“The social sciences 20-30 program is intended to complement the Alberta social studies program by encouraging increased understanding of ‘humans and their world.’”

Was this written for aliens studying the habits of humans?

This fact is not reflected in the 2005 Alberta school curriculum, but history is still important. Here’s why.

 

140843
Grandma, Dad, and my aunt.

History brings the present into perspective.

The past makes the present seem like not such a big deal. It’s easy to feel that our generation is the only one to have lived in turbulent times and to have seen so many changes. It’s easy to feel that no others have experienced what we’re experiencing.

History bridges that gap. When we hear or read the stories of those who came before, we recognize their pain and suffering, their successes and happiness. Sure, our ancestors lived in different times, but they experienced living through the same emotional lenses that we do.

No matter what we’re going through, someone’s been there before. Our lives are unique and our lives are similar. History teaches us that life is paradoxical. The road before us is well-trod, though others traveled it differently.

Icarus Cemetery
Tour time at the cemetery.

History makes us feel connected.

We are connected to history by our shared human experience. Throughout human history, people have experienced joys and sorrows. People have had religion, chores and dalliances. People have raised children, raised crops, and raised hell.

All those who came before are joined to us through our common life experiences. History shows us how to feel connected to those who lived before. In this way, history shows us how to feel a connection with those living now.

History can help us avoid repeating mistakes.

Learning about past human follies can steer us toward reform. For example, we know now that colonization doesn’t end well for everybody, that war causes death and destruction, and that the earth’s resources and resiliency are not finite.

Where was I going with this? Right. History gives us the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. It does not guarantee that we will learn. In fact, history tells us that, typically, we do not learn from history.

History can help us avoid repeating mistakes, if we choose to let it.

105639
Grandpa’s pony, Sputnik, waiting for him on the farmhouse’s back step.

History encourages us with stories of triumph.

When life gets tough, we can look to the struggles and successes of our ancestors to keep us going. In the 1930s, my very pregnant grandmother ended up in a December snowbank when the horse-drawn cutter taking her to the hospital to give birth, tipped over. I think about this when my photos are slowly uploading to Facebook.

Years ago, I worked as a costumed interpreter at Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, Alberta. This job placed me in the role of my ancestors for eight hours a day. It made me think about the strength of those pioneers and the hardships they went through.

They persevered, breaking land, succumbing to influenza, bearing children at home, and chopping wood and hauling water. They lived through howling prairie winters in sod houses and swept those dirt floors during the summers. That interpreter job still makes me grateful for my washer and dryer.

With its stories, history reassures us that no matter what mountain we face, it’s been climbed before.

History is alive.

Fortunately, history is alive and all around us. There’s plenty that we can do today to explore it. Visit a local museum. If you enjoy your visit, consider volunteering some time to share the past with others.

Read your region’s local history books. These are both informative and deliciously voyeuristic. Once you open it, your nose will be stuck for hours in that heavy book full of tantalizing details.

Did you like reading the history book? Visit your local library. You’ll find the unexpected there. I always do, and I’m always pleasantly surprised.

Do your own online research. Join one of those virtual genealogy groups or just Google topics of historical interest.

Lastly, talk to your older relatives. Ask them to show you photographs and to tell you their stories. Nothing makes history come alive better than hearing the tales straight from the source.

History is not dead. Let’s not bury it and forget about it. Instead, let’s get to know it and discover what we can still learn from it.

Thanks for spending some time with me! ~ Lori

 

How to Record Your Family Stories

Richard and dog photo
My dad on the farm at Czar, Alberta, with his dog Shep.

Years ago my mom mentioned that as a young woman still in school and during a heated argument, she’d taken off the ring that the boy she was fighting with had given her. Mom threw it across the hood of his car, and the ring landed in the trees and grass beyond. The ring was lost forever as is the background to this story.

Listen to me read this post:

I don’t know how this incident came to be and, believe me, I’ve asked around. Who was the guy? What was the disagreement about? Was the ring an engagement ring? I’d love to know, but I never will.

Mom at 17
My mom, probably around the time of the ring-throwing incident.

If your life stories are important to you or you think family stories will be meaningful to others, record them. It can be a daunting task, and it’s easier said than done. But with the help of word processors, scanners, and online book creators, writing your stories is more doable than it ever has been.

Start Small

Planning any large project can be overwhelming. If the planning stage becomes too long or too complicated, chances are all your best-laid plans will thwart the project and you won’t even begin.

Avoid Making the Long List

 In planning your creation, make a short list of ideas and anecdotes you’d like to write about. In my writing, I’ve used both shorter lists and longer lists to record my thoughts. Consistently I’ve had better success with compiling fewer ideas. I don’t brainstorm. At best, I brain drizzle. This keeps me focused on what’s important to write about. It’s not the boring stories that come to mind first. It’s the interesting ones, the stories that pose questions about lost rings and romantic disputes.

Narrow it Down

You just need a couple great stories chockfull of colourful details to create a memorable piece of writing. Begin with the history that interests you. If certain stories capture your attention, these same stories will probably light up others’ imaginations, as well.

You might want to write about the following:

  • How your parents met.
  • The skeletons in the closet.
  • Your parents’ honeymoon.
  • Your grandparents’ emigration journey.
  • The family tragedy no one talks about – until now.

Got a family ghost story? I know I’ve got a couple. This is the perfect time and place to tell ghost stories. They’re engaging and fun, and they can tell us a lot about history. You don’t need to believe in ghosts to tell a fantastic ghost story. In fact, the ghosts are just the hook. The meat of the story is in the superstitions of an era and in the tales made up to explain the inexplicable.

142710
My grandma and my Uncle Gerald.

Audio Record Your Stories

 Ideally, it’s best to have the person who lived the stories tell the stories. Audio recording these stories allows you to catch the storyteller’s voice and expressions, and then to transfer all that individual richness into print. The story itself is important, but the way the story is told is equally important.

Audio recordings let you use direct quotes straight from the horse’s mouth. When I write up a story for a client, I pepper quotes all the way through my writing. It’s the voice of the family member that the family wants to hear. You can make sure this voice comes through by quoting audio-recorded interviews in your own writing.

Current technology makes it quick and fun to share digital audio recordings with friends and family. This is another perk to audio recording family history.

Ask Questions

Prepare a short list of questions before your interview if you’re able to audio record. Also, if you can, share these questions with your subject prior to the interview. This will give the storyteller a chance to think about what to say. Stick to the questions you really want to know the answers to and to the stories you really want to hear. Interviews like this can easily get off track and become way too long.

083457
A Valentine card from my dad to his parents. You can include images of cards and letter excerpts if you create a book.

Don’t Stop There

You’ve got your stories recorded and typed up? Great! But please don’t stop there, I beg you!

A book is a fabulous gift that will endure. Stories in book form will be enjoyed by many and will be passed onto the next generation. A sheaf of paper folded in half and shoved in a drawer will not. It will be misplaced or thrown away with all the other loose papers that clutter a life.

You’ve put the stories in a file on your personal computer? Nice start! Are you going to invite folks into your office one by one to read from your computer screen after Thanksgiving dinner? You know you had a photo of your grandparents in their backyard somewhere, but you’ll just have to tell the lone screen reader to imagine what that photo might’ve looked like because you can’t find it.

During a family get-together, folks will sit side-by-side, pore over a book, and talk about the memories shared there. They’re less likely to look at that picture-free, coffee-stained paper or that glowing computer screen.

082739
My grandma and my brothers on what is now my front step.

Embrace Technology

We live in a wonderful time during which anyone can simply and affordably create a hardcover book bursting with precious memories and photographs. Use technology to beautifully design your book of stories and to add those photos that help to tell the story. Scanners, personal computers, and online book publishers can help you bring memories to life.

 

Get Started

Choose a story or two and get writing. Or choose a family member to interview. Audio record that interview if possible. Ask questions about the things you want to know. Dig out those old photographs and review them with your subject. This will get your mom or dad talking, and it will lead places you never dreamed you’d venture together.

If you’re writing on your own with no storyteller other than you, look at old photographs, too. These visual memories will bring up questions and will spark your creativity. Again, pictures will take you farther than you thought you might go.

Hobden Brothers Jack, Bill, Bert and Harold
Mom’s uncles, the Hobden brothers.

It’s a big job, writing your family stories. But if history and memories are important to you, this project is well worth your time. If you want to get it done but don’t think you have time to get the project off the ground, hire me. Get in touch when you’re ready to start and together we can get your stories into print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heartbreaking and Healing

Garage Wreck
The view of the backyard and garage from the deck of Grandma’s empty house. The birch trees that I’d loved were all dead.

I’ve been living in Grandma’s house for twelve years now. Where does the time go? It seems like moments ago that I was lying in bed in Calgary at 3:00 a.m. worrying about how I was going to afford the kingly sum of $32,000 I’d just paid for 900 square foot bungalow. I remember reassuring myself with this logic: People spend more on RVs than you’ve spent on this house. Still, it seemed like a lot of money at the time and like a big commitment.

Grandma’s house had been empty for nearly two years when I found out that it was for sale. It had been repossessed when the owner was arrested and therefore no longer able to pay the mortgage. I should back up and clarify. Grandma wasn’t arrested. By the time her house was up for sale (again), Grandma had already been dead for nine years. When first she passed away, I wanted to buy the house, but there was no way. I lived in northern Alberta then, and I had other obligations and a whole other life. It was impossible, but the idea of living here never completely left my mind.

DIGITAL CAMERA
Grandma loved this plant she called an “Elephant Ear.” I was thrilled when it bloomed during the first spring I owned the house.

After coming out to see the house, I put in a bid to GE Mortgage in Toronto, the house’s owner at that time. I’d given up hope of ever hearing from them when, a little over two months later, I received a phone call out of the blue. “Do you still want that house? If you’ve got a fax number, I’ll send you the agreement.”

When I initially toured Grandma’s house with the realtor, I asked about the missing carpet. “At first, just a rectangle had been cut out and removed by the RCMP so that they could run forensic tests on it. It looked bad, so we pulled the rest of the carpet out.”

Forensic testing? You read right. Apparently, someone accused the owner of attacking them there on Grandma’s living room floor and the carpet fibres were needed as evidence to support that claim in court. Someone was also shot in that house – not killed. When I was prepping the living room walls for painting, I discovered blood splatter down in the corner above the baseboards. It was a new homeowner’s wish come true!

Grandma's House 1
Grandma’s old kitchen hadn’t changed much except that more drugs had been allegedly manufactured in it than when she lived there.

There were shattered beer bottles on the basement’s concrete floor and a basement window had been kicked in. The drugs that someone had cooked up on the electric stove had boiled over, filling the open area beneath the burners with a sticky, gooey substance that I scraped off with a trowel. Whatever it was, it was not water-soluble. I had long hair then and as I worked, some of the stuff got stuck in my tresses. I had to cut the blob out.

I never did quite clean all of the chemical goo off Grandma’s stovetop, but it didn’t really matter as the appliance was beyond repair. The old carpets were covered in gross, unidentifiable stains, holes had been punched in a door or two, and the backyard was a heap of weeds and garbage.

Overgrown Back yard 1
Grandma’s overgrown backyard full of garbage and weeds.

Aren’t the messiest jobs often the most satisfying, especially when you’re working for someone you love?

Cleaning up this disaster was a dream come true, both heartbreaking and healing. Buying and saving Grandma’s house is one of the most meaningful things I’ve done with my life. Now when I get up in the morning, I walk where she walked, make coffee where she made coffee, and sit in the living room where others were attacked and shot, but where I watch the slow shadows of mountain ash leaves flicker on the wall, stenciling it with their graceful, grey pattern. I imagine her with me, as we were years ago, together, in this same place, enjoying each other’s company and the comfort of this cozy house.

You can listen to me read this, too:

Sorting Out Life

IMG_6135
Unforgivably unflattering school teacher photos. My glasses are askew on my face and I look a bit drunk. (The photos were free proving that you get what you pay for.)

Six wicker baskets fill the shelves of the bookcase downstairs. For the last ten years, I’ve stuffed into these baskets everything I don’t want to deal with: funeral cards, old photos, death certificates, and letters.

I’ve been avoiding it, but it’s time now to sort through all these old memories that make a life.

Photographs

I’ll start with the photos. I’ll throw away the ones that are unforgivably unflattering, those in which the subjects are unrecognizable, and those of mountains and skylines. I’ll keep the pictures that are significant, that capture a moment in the life of someone special to me and special to our extended family.

Now I have to decide how to organize these special photographs. Over the years, people have given me photo albums as gifts. I’ve got three empty albums conveniently at hand and, if I dug a bit deeper, I could probably exhume a couple more. That’s a start.

I won’t keep all these pictures for myself. As the only and eldest daughter in my family of origin, a lot of mementos end up with me. It’s my job to be a distributor now, and to make sure that the people who want these memories can have them.

Who will these photos hold meaning for? That’s the question I’ll ask myself while categorizing the pictures. Will they mean something to my dad, to my brothers, to my uncle, or to my cousins? Then I’ll start filling albums based on who will receive each one.

Death Certificate
A death certificate I’d stuffed into a wicker basket.

Of course, I’ll keep some old photos for myself. I like to scan pictures and fix them up a little so that I have good digital copies if ever I want them. By the time I’m done all this organizing and distributing, these photos will be accessible to the people who care about them.

 

Cards

There are scads of letters and documents and cards in those wicker baskets. I found a couple cute cards from me and my siblings as children to our mother and to our grandpa. These I’ll definitely keep. Maybe I’ll find an album with large pages or pockets that I can keep precious cards in.

IMG_6131

Letters

Handwritten letters are becoming rare as e-communication replaces paper and pen, and discovering a letter from the past is exciting. Sorting these old letters into an album with large pages would be best. I’d like to display the letters opened up, not folded, so that they could be read without removing them from the album. After all, that’s the point of preserving the letters. Their preservation allows others to read them. If the letters aren’t easy to access, they won’t enjoyed.

 

Documents

Piles and piles of old documents! Some are outdated and unimportant while others are crucial. And they’re all mixed up in a deep jumble of paper. It’s my job to make heads or tails of them all. I can handle it. This kind of job just takes time.

IMG_6136
My mom’s family in Worsley, AB, 1964. All pictured are deceased except my uncle on the far right.

Many of the documents are in the dreaded wicker baskets, and others are in folders in the filing cabinet located downstairs. In my new office upstairs, I’ve got a couple filing cabinets into which I’ll organize the documents I need. University transcripts, teacher evaluations, letters of recommendation, and publishing contracts all need to be filed in labeled folders.

Most other documents are clutter. I’ll throw them away and this will feel good.

 

Markers of time

All these papers and photos mark the passing of time. Many of the letters were written by deceased relatives, and many of the people in the photos are dead. Still, they speak to me, saying, “Don’t hang on too tightly. We’re gone, and someday you will be, too.”

Several predecessors of mine were way less philosophical than me. They were doers and not much into navel-gazing. They speak to me, as well, but differently. They order me, “Get your life organized! How can you find anything in that mess you call a filing system?” They were the unsentimental ones who spent their days getting things done and taking care of business. And they make a good point.

Harold at home
My great uncle Harold Hobden, in many ways like Henry David Thoreau. This picture was taken at his home in Clear Prairie, AB.

Some of the correspondence I’ve uncovered is vague, but there’s a river of meaning running fast right beneath its surface. I know it’s here somewhere, but I can’t find it right now. It was a note to my grandma from my grandpa before they were married:

I should have talked to you before I got on the train, Emma, but I didn’t have the nerve.

What was that all about? What happened between them? What made Grandpa lose his nerve? I’ll never know for sure, but that’s the nice thing about being a writer. My powers of speculation are strong, and I can easily weave just a few faded words into a story.

As in all of life, it’s beneficial to keep some things close and to completely let go of others. Sorting through all these photographs, letters, and documents has helped me remember this fact. This task hasn’t made me cheerful, but maybe it’s made me a bit wiser. It’s certainly made me a lot tidier.

Dear reader, if you have any sorting and organizing suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Please comment on this post and let me know how you’ve organized your life.

 

 

 

 

Stories

 

Eino and Grandma (2)
Grandma & her brother Eino

Good evening! It’s been a busy week and it’s only Tuesday. That’s the Christmas season for you. I was looking over my previous posts and I really like this one. It ran in our local newspaper last year. It’s all about family history and the stories we tell to create our identity and to carve out a tiny place in this big old universe for ourselves. Thanks for dropping by.

When she was a child, my grandmother received a locket as a baptism gift. That was in Calumet, Michigan. The family later moved to Hughenden. Then in 1931, my great uncle Elmer died from a ruptured appendix when he was sixteen and my grandma was twenty.

By her younger brother’s graveside in the Hughenden cemetery, my grandma lost that precious locket that she’d owned most all her life. That’s how it goes sometimes. Years later, in 1944, her father, my great grandfather, died. He was buried near his son Elmer, and as that grave was being prepared, the locket bearing my grandma’s initials was dug up.

Listen to me read this post:

Life is comprised of stories. My life is stories and your life is stories. These are scenarios that happened, that might happen, and that are happening right now. I love stories, but hearing the tales of the old folks who came before me leaves me feeling two different ways.

The first feeling is warm and sentimental. The old stories make me feel connected to the people whose blood flows in my veins. I treasure that connection, like time as a railroad track joining our stations along the way.

The second feeling is the stark realization that someday all that will be left of me is stories. And then, after a while, even the most colourful Lori stories will fade into time and eventually disappear. It’s true.

Petersons (2)
Another photo and there’s that locket again.

I like the story of my Grandma Knutson and her newborn baby, Jeannette, on their way home from the hospital following a March snowstorm. When the cutter tipped over in the deep banks, both new mother and new baby were pitched into a snowdrift. Good thing they were bundled up and that babies are typically a bit bouncy.

If you know me, you know I love ghost stories! Sadly, I’ve lost some of the belief in their plausibility. It’s too bad because the possibility of truth made those old stories especially thrilling. In this case, the truth doesn’t matter. I like hearing ghost stories and I like telling ghost stories.

Back in the day Grandma would tell me about the house she and Grandpa lived in on the edge of Hughenden Lake when they were first married.

She’d tell it like this: “Often, late at night, the door at the top of the stairs would slam shut really hard. At first this was terrifying, but after a while, we got used to it. We were startled, but we weren’t scared.”

Even so, my grandparents didn’t live in that house for long.

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and  Grandpa looking snazzie!

All the people involved in those stories are gone. The house, long since moved from the lakeshore into the village, stands here in town today. I wonder if the door at the top of the stairs slams hard enough to shake the walls. Does that particular draft, uneven foundation, or angry spirit still haunt the place?

People come and go from houses. We bring stories, we make more, and then we move on.

I always tell the story of Erwin Knutson, my dad’s uncle who was found dead in an abandoned vehicle outside of Wetaskiwin. It was December, 1957. The body had no identification on it, no wallet, and no money. But there was a slip of paper in one of the jacket pockets that read: Erwin Knutson, Hughenden.

My dad told me about him being fourteen years old and traveling to the Hughenden cemetery with his dad, the deceased’s brother, to deliver the rough box used to shore up the interior of that wintry grave.

I held on to that story and it became my novel, Denby Jullsen, Hughenden.

I’m grateful for the stories that connect me to my past and to my ancestors. I’m also thankful for the stories I’m living now, and for the good ones I imagine might happen.

My wish for you is that you remember and share your stories. I hope you’ll make new ones to tell again and again down through the years because, in the end, the stories are all we’ve got.

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