Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Place in History

Nine years ago at my Aunt Rita's wedding, my Aunt Chris, bestowed upon me, my grandfather's and grandmother's picture albums/scrapbooks. She said because I was the oldest grandchild in our family, it should be left to me. Their photos should be my responsibility. I was floored. I guarded that photo album with my life on the plane ride home. (I have since been told the photos are in good hands with me because I value them so much.)
My grandpa wrote, "My first vehicle."

I have been looking at these photos almost every other week ever since they came into my life. I realized I could do something amazing with these photos and be able to share them with everyone in my family! I could scan them and load them up on a DVD and make as many copies as I wanted. I could email them and I could make prints! Granted, there's a lot of photos, I have two kids, and this task is taking me way longer than I like.
My grandmother, on the right, with two friends.
Look at the fashion!
Just out for a bike ride.
My grandmother is on the left.

As I have been so honored to have these photos in my possession, I have come to realize I have a mission now. I have never felt a sense of purpose in my life that drives me everyday to finish what I have started. I know now that it is my job, my duty, (hee hee hee, duty) to be my family's biographer/historian/genealogist. It hit me like a ton of bricks about a month ago, I NEED to make a family tree. I need to give a family tree to my kids. I need to give them the information about their ancestors that I should have asked for when my grandparents were still alive. I was too young to know that I should have asked more questions of them. I should have asked them about their childhoods, there favorite teacher, their fondest Christmas memory, their first love, their first job, and what they felt when I was born. I was selfish and didn't know any better, how could I?
My grandmother, look at that fashion statement!
Part beach bum, part gypsy!

It occurred to me I have been documenting my life in such a way that I have been trying to leave all the information I can for my kids. When I am gone, I don't want them to have to wonder about where they came from for the rest of their lives. I don't want them to have questions about me that can never be answered. I have been saving pieces of my life for as long as I can remember. With the technology in photography these days, like digital cameras and smart phones, we have the capacity to document every single minute of everyday from here until the world ends. Sure, that has it's pluses and minuses, but I am going to attempt to snap all my pictures for fun and posterity.
Playing or trying to keep her balance.

I have also been fortunate to have in my care, John's family photos. I have helped go through my late mother-in-law's stuff and help my father-in-law and sister-in-law get rid of junk and in the process we have found treasures! Old photos in Jean's (my mother-in-law) wallet, birth announcements, and photos of my in-laws before they knew each other. Now I am also scanning photos from the other side of the tree!
Probably a bit of both!

Last night, I couldn't sleep, so I started scanning photos again. I was going through a few of my grandpa's pictures and a few of my grandmother's. (My grandpa developed his own photos for a long time, how cool is that?! He definitely had an artistic side to his photo taking.) Even if I were to inherit gobs of money, these old photos are worth more than gold to me. My grandmother, and I know technically that's who she is to me, but I frequently call her my mom's mom. I didn't know her. I knew my grandpa and I knew my grandma, my dad's mom, that was it. It seems strange to call my mom's mom, my grandmother. Last night, as I was looking at photos of my mom's mom, I kept getting tears in my eyes. She was gorgeous! (My Aunt Rita looks just like her!) She was always smiling, she looked so happy! She looked fun. There are pictures of her next to her friends, her sister, and then my grandpa. Oh how I wish I could have known her, not met her, known her. I have been told she was instantly loved by all those she met. (I know my mom is like that.) And then that's where I feel selfish. How can I long to know my mom's mom, when my mom didn't know her? She passed away when my mom was five or six. And that's when I get a lump in my throat because I can't imagine my life without my mom.
My grandfather, Robert John Wendell.
Everyone call him Bob, except us kids of course.
My mom's mom was obviously sophiticated and classy.
The only upside to never having met her is that she remains perfect in my mind.

My mom doesn't like to be in pictures. I get it, but I tell her she doesn't have a choice. The pictures aren't for her. The pictures are for me, for my sister, for my kids. My mom won't be around forever, I won't be around forever. Pictures help us keep our memories alive. I truly believe kids in the coming generations will have better memories, earlier memories, and hopefully more vivid memories of their childhoods because of all the pictures being taken. I hope to add something extra to those memories by giving my kids a family tree. Then I hope because I have taken the time to do that, my kids will ask questions of their grandparents and other family sooner than I thought to.
This could be my Aunt Rita!
It's my grandmother!

I know my purpose in life now. It's not a noble quest like being a doctor in an impoverished country, or an anonymous philanthropist, but dang it, I'm excited. I feel like I have a confidence and sense of self-worth because I know my parents. I have a great relationship with my parents. My parents are there for me and always have been. Both my parents had something severely lacking in their relationships with their parents. Because my mom never really got to know her mom, I think my mom missed out on something important that I know I have because I got to know my mom.
My grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Orr (Wendell)
Everyone called her Bess.

And my dad, well, we're on another quest together, we're trying to find out who his dad was. I'm saying this because I know it hurt my dad to learn the man he thought was his father, left a big question mark in my dad's life when he said he wasn't sure if he was the right guy, and that my grandma was the only one that would really know. That turned my world upside down when my dad told me that and my dad had that question in him almost my entire life. I didn't find out until several years ago. I know my dad. My dad has given me the support all girls need when they are little and then a whole new kind of support as I have become an adult with my own kids.
My grandparents on a boat. From the photos that were around it,
I think this is when they were dating.

My parents didn't have ideal parental situations. If I had a time machine, I wouldn't head back to see Abraham Lincoln give a speech or find out who killed Kennedy. No, I would take a trip and observe my grandpa in love with the grandmother I never knew and spy on my grandma and get some answers for my dad. I wouldn't change my parents' history. I exist because of that history.
This is one of the most beautiful photos I've found so far.
This is my Great Aunt Frances and the man that loved her, Al.
She was my grandmother's sister on my mom's side.

Now it's my turn to pass on this chaotic history to my kids. I'm just trying to give them a whole tree instead of a few branches.


  1. This task has been entrusted to the right (perfect) person. Jess, I don't remember seeing a lot of these pictures ever before. And the one you say could be me? That's the first time I looked at a pic of my mom and really saw myself! Love you!!

    1. Oh man Aunt Rita, I just saw your comment. You just made me cry. Love you.