Monday, April 05, 2010

It's my birthday

That's me, newborn, in my mother's arms. Four generations, starting with my great-grandmother, Cora, known to all as "Bam"; my grandmother, Clarice, who would rather be called "Teresa", and my mother Betty.

I've never been much interested in the study of geneology, but I have been thinking a lot lately about my family and where I came from and what they all mean to who I am. I remember Bam and Grandma. Bam lived into her '90s and we visited her many times when I was a child. We visited Grandma. She visited us. She taught me to sew doll clothes and passed on her love of color and fabric. Bam quilted weekly with the Methodist ladies. Mom was an artist. And here I am with bits from all of them—not to mention my other Grandma Hazle, my Dad's mother. They all walk around with me in some little way and I know them as my family and my blood. It occurs to me that my granddaughter will never know any of these women, except for me, but, in a more elusive way, they are walking with her as well. And, of course, my son and daughter too. And the family that came before. Bam's mother and grandmothers and great grandmothers—aren't they part of this too?

I have been watching the PBS series called Faces of America and it has been surprisingly moving, as the host, Henry Louis Gates, reveals to his guests information about their ancestors and finally the previously unknown connections even among those guests. Revelations about race and ethnicity discovered through DNA testing, told some of them they were not exactly "what" they thought they were. Each bit of information was met with such a sense of joy and delight—never dismay or disappointment. Knowing more about oneself, whatever is revealed,  it seems, is something so satisfying.

Looking at my grandchild, I realize how many people contribute to one person's makeup in only a few generations time. She has her American ancestors, both mine and Ray's as well her South American ancestors which include indigenous (Inca? Maybe.) blood and Spanish. A vast network when you think of it. A network that overlaps and intersects thousands of other networks.And each of these networks is a network of stories. Faces of America was all about family stories and it was the stories that the guests responded to with such emotion.

And so I think we are obligated to tell our stories, as well as the stories that were told to us. See those three women in that picture up there? I could tell you a lot of stories about them, but you have your own stories. My grandchildren will hear my stories.


  1. Happy Birthday, again!
    Years ago I read that some enormous percentage of women do not know the name of their great-grandmother, but did know the name of their great-grandfather. I found that very sad and always thought that I would be sure my children had that information available. Alas, no children! With the current interest in geneology perhaps that statistic will change. Write it down for Sophia and her siblings! Love, Del

  2. Great post! I love your phrasing of how your ancestors are 'walking around' with you. I see so much of my parents, grandparents and my mother-in-law in our daughter. It is a pure delight! And as you say, when she has children, there will be introduced her husband's gene pool.
    We are also enjoying Gates' series on PBS. I'm so glad that President Obama was able to rectify matters in that little kerfluffle between Gates and the police officer last summer!
    Happy Birthday Terry!


  3. Happy Birthday Terry!!

  4. Happy Birthday, Terry! What a great photo! Have you seen the new tv show called "Who Do You Think YOu Are" in which various celebrities' lineages are traced? It's quite fascinating.

  5. Happy birthday! You resemble your mom quite a bit.

  6. Happy Birthday. I do hope it was an enjoyable day.

  7. I find hanging clothes on the outdoor line to be a moment that I feel most connected to my grandmothers....I don't know what it is about that domestic chore. The lack of a clothesline is the downside of my current home. I think the need to put my great grandmother's poems into pictures is why I am doing the Prairie Series, I believe no one but family ever read/heard her poems.

  8. Happy birthday once more. We've been recording that Gates series, on your original recommendation if I remember correctly. It's time to start watching it.

  9. story is everything. happy birthday!

  10. Happy Birthday! Mine was on Saturday :-) I never really knew my grandparents. So it is wonderful that you remember yours.

  11. Another Happy Birthday wish from me. I love seeing these older pictures of your mother. She was beautiful and one of the special women I have known in my life. This one is wonderful not only for the four generations but to see the family similarities.

    I started a subscription to a couple of years ago. It is an interesting journey that I only wish I had more time to engage in. I did not know either of my grandfathers and that has been a focus. My father's side has been fairly easy (Mormon geneology) but my mother's side has been very challenging. With each Census publishing I am getting closer to being able to identify my great grandparents who were from Wales.

    The other thing that has been amazing is that I had thought I was probably sixth or seventh generation American. Not so, my paternal roots go back to the Massachusettes Bay Colony and early Pennsylvania (Lancaster area). I never knew. Bill's roots seem to be leading us right here to Virginia and Maryland's eastern shores. My task is to somehow pinpoint these places and we can take our searches there.

    There is so much to learn. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. You are right, the Gates' series is fascinating. We watched it, too.
    I like your concept of ancestors "walking around with (you)" us.
    My oldest son is finally expressing interest in seeing the old pictures and hearing old stories.
    Happy birthday to you.

  13. Happy Birthday! I love this post. Wishing you a year of creativity, joy, and fun.

  14. What a great birthday post! The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it? I hope you enjoy every minute of your birthday!

    I'll bet Sofia will be making doll clothes soon enough. I hope she can enjoy her artistic genes, which must surely be there!

  15. Happy Belated Birthday Terry. I really enjoyed reading about your ancestors and that show on PBS is great. I'm particularly interested in this since I have little history on either side to reference in any detail. How great that you can have this info to pass on to your family.

    Sofia looks so pretty. Can't believe how fast she's changing. that's kids for ya.

  16. I'm late with my birthday wishes, but don't you think a birthday should last a week, or as long as it takes to recover from one?
    Happy Birthday Week

  17. Terry - Thanks for posting this wonderful story about your family. Wishing you a happy year. Bonnie

  18. Happy Birthday! I love that picture of your four generations as I have a similar one. My photo was taken on the couch in my Great Grandmother's living room and shows my Great Grandma, my Grandma, my mom and me as an infant. We were all born in Los Angeles, and I was even born on my Great Grandmother's birthday.

    My Great Grandma lived to be 100 and I have many many fond memories of holidays at her home, and of flying standby on the plane tickets she received as part of her pension from American Airlines (back when it was a fun adventure to fly). My grandmother lived on a houseboat in the marina and though she admitted she wasn't very "grandmotherly," my sister and I wouldn't have traded all the cookies and milk in the world for beach combing with her or paddling about in her neighbors' little boats.

    My children are forming bonds with their grandparents on both sides of the family, but they don't have that so very special connection to a fourth generation.

    Several in my family have done genealogical research and my step father says we can track our lineage back to Charlemagne, but it's those closer generations of grandparents that are the ones that have shaped me as a person and really mean the most to me.

    Thank you for sharing your story.