We come home, eventually

George Washington Bond with the original Bond girls, sometime in the early 1900's.

George Washington Bond with the original “Bond girls,” sometime in the early 1900’s.

“Our ancestors derived less from life than we do, but they also expected much less and were less intent on controlling the future. We are of the arrogant generations who believe a lasting happiness was promised to us at birth.”Amin Maalouf

“We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip, until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.”Colum McCann

I wrote recently about my mother’s family having far more males than females.  It was just the opposite with my father’s family, whose mother is pictured above with her parents, sisters, niece and nephew.  Though it’s a personal photo, it seems rather iconic to me, not least because of the fixed yet still oddly individualized expressions so common in photos of that era.

My great-grandfather fought on the losing side in the Civil War, and I’m sure he endured more than his share of difficulties.  But life was no picnic for women in those days, either.  I know little to nothing about my great-grandmother, except that her demeanor was described by Granny as being steadfast and respectful.  I cannot imagine that her life was an easy one.

While my Granny (who is at far right in the back row, wearing the enormous bows in her hair) lived a relatively healthy life and died in her 90’s, her younger sister Georgia (pictured at far left of the back row) died while still in her teens, on a train en route to seek medical attention for what was reported to have been appendicitis.  An unfinished, handwritten will she had begun to dictate on the train as she was dying has survived as a haunting reminder of her short life and the scant possessions of a middle-class young girl of that era.

The sister standing next to Georgia, Henrietta, went on to have a successful career with the post office, which was unusual for women in that era.  I’ve often thought that this would not have been possible had she chosen to marry and have children.  I wish I had known Henrietta; the small library of books she left behind hints of a kindred spirit.  I have only vague memories of Mae, the eldest daughter, who is pictured in the front row along with her children.

Lena, standing between Henrietta and Granny in the back row, is the only one of Granny’s sisters that I remember well.  She lived with Granny after they were both widows, and as kids we were entertained by her parakeet “Pretty Bird,” and by her conversations with Granny and us about the family’s past. She too lived a long and healthy life, and she was my special favorite, crocheting me the proverbial wrap of many colors, and spending long hours chatting with me.

Do you know or remember much about the family members who have gone on before you?  Are there any with whom you feel a special bond, even if you never knew them?  The lives of our ancestors have much to teach us, and whether or not we are aware of it, their influence lives on in us.  What lessons have your ancestors left for you?  What legacy from them do you continue to share with others today?

One year ago today:

I am glad

 

34 Comments

  1. Georgia’s last will and testament was not dictated. It is immortalized in an historical novel published this year.
    “Great-grandfather” — are you sure? If you are not yet 60 years of age, and using 20 years per generation, puts your”Granny” born some fifty years after the Civil War. Or was she, herself, born in the nineteenth century? The reason I bring this up is that I recently met a woman your age who was proudly telling me of her great, great, great grandfather who fought on the winning side of that same conflict. Indeed most “babyboomers” are the great, great grandchildren of adults of the mid-nineteenth century. Something to think about?

    • I read my photocopy of Georgia’s will before I wrote that post, and just assumed she had dictated it. Probably because when I had appendicitis myself, I was totally unable to even THINK about writing anything, it was so miserable. I thought of Georgia so many times during those agonizing hours when I suspected that’s what it was, but as you know mine was misdiagnosed at first. If Georgia wrote that will herself, that explains the sad trailing off at the end when she mentions Mae and her family and then we are left to wonder what she planned to write. As for the LONG span of years between G. W. Bond and us, the numbers are even more amazing on Daddy’s side, considering that his father was well and truly old enough to have been his grandfather when he was born. I do know that Granny was born before the turn of the century, because I think I have seen a photocopy of her birth certificate, and also I found the early census records from the Bond family online.

  2. Mae’s real name was Mary Lou.

    • I had heard that, but had forgotten. I have no memory of any of her children except Jeanette, who reminded me of Lauren Bacall when I met long, long years ago. Probably because of how she was wearing her hair. Most of the women I knew in those days wore bouffants.

  3. Ann

    Julia,
    I’m fascinated with the lives of my ancestors and always try to find out more about their lives-not just dates. I have a Bible my great grandfather was given while in a Northern POW camp. He had drawn a picture of his home in Georgia in the Bible and underlined certain passages. I wonder who gave him the Bible and how did he get home when the war was over. I feel a real connection to him when I look through his Bible.

    There is a strong facial resemblance between you and your great grandmother!

    Ann

    • Ann, what a fascinating bit of history in that Bible! I wonder if there is any way to find out more about it? If not, maybe a novel would be in order. 😀 So much great fiction undoubtedly began with the words “I wonder…” or “What if…” Thanks for saying that I look like my great-grandmother, Mrs. Bond (I think her name was Marilda). I think she looks remarkably good for having so many grown daughters. I also like that her expression is open and engaging.

      • Ann

        I’ve thought about contacting ‘History Detectives ‘ to see if they would research it..

        • Until I got your comment and looked it up, I had never heard of that show, which is strange, considering how much Matt watches PBS. I wonder if our local station carries it? Wow, what a great idea for a show! I think you should contact them. It might make for a very, very interesting story. Let me know if you ever find out more details!

          • We used to get that show too. I really enjoyed it. I wonder if it’s just re-runs now? BTW, I agree with Ann on your resemblance to your Great Grandmother. It’s interesting it was an all girl family. They look like they were financially comfortable by looking at their attire. Wouldn’t it be fun to find a photograph when they all are wearing their hair down? l

            • I don’t think they were well off, but judging from what I knew of Granny and Lena, they were brought up to take good care of things, including their appearance. I wish there were photos of them with their hair down, but apparently people took very few photos in those days and I don’t think there are any like that. There are some photos of Granny when she and Granddaddy were in show business, but by then I think she wore her hair in the bob that was stylish in those days. I’m happy to know you think I look like Marilda! (Granny’s mom). She looks like an interesting lady. She has a sort of Mona Lisa smile in that photo, I think.

              • Show business !! How fun. Do you have any emphemera like tickets or posters advertising their shows?

                You’re right, Marilda does have that ‘Mona Lisa’ smile 😀 Also, her hair looks lighter while all the girls are brunette, that’s kind of interesting. Look how small Mae’s waist is ! I wish!

                • I don’t know whether my cousins have any of that memorabilia — they have most of Granny’s original photos from the show, I believe — but I did remember (I think) that the name of their theater company was the Milt Tolbert show, so I did a quick online search and found this article (top left column) which would have been almost a decade after Granny left the company when my father was born. I think Grandaddy was still acting for awhile after Daddy was born. Even in those days, theater groups traveled around a region, if not the entire country. So he would have been on the road a lot. Here is another ad I found from a 1925 publication in Rogersville, Alabama. It’s amazing to read (in the article) that those tents held 3000 people!! One source I found referred to their seating 3500! That’s what people did before movie theaters were common.

                  I can barely remember Mae, but I do seem to remember that she was indeed tiny. I don’t know whether I just heard that or actually saw for myself. I have a very dim memory of seeing her standing in Granny’s kitchen, but I may be imagining that. All grownups are big to a very young child, but I know Mae seemed shorter than most. I also seem to remember a stool that was in Granny’s kitchen for many years after Mae died, and Granny telling me how Mae had to use it to reach the upper cabinets.

                  • Very neat, thanks for the links Julia. I read a number of articles in that paper. I find old newpaper really fascinating. At the JFK Museum in Dallas in the old book depository building, you can buy a replica of the newspaper from the next day. I wish I’d kept it, but gave it to my neighbour at the lake who also loves history.

                    • Isn’t it thought-provoking to read these old newspapers? It really brings home, in an everyday way, how much things have changed in a relatively short time. Even the language is used so differently. I’m happy so many of these treasures are freely available online now. Probably including the newspaper from the JFK Museum that you mentioned – you might try looking for it if you’d like to see it again. I think my brother still has a lot of the originals of papers and magazines from that week in history.

                    • Hey! Good idea. Don’t know if you’ve been to the Museum in Dallas? It’s really interesting. xo

                    • No, I haven’t, but I must put that on my list. I think Eric has been there. I would really like to go.

  4. Jack

    As a young man, I didn’t too carefully consider my heritage, who had come before, what they had done, what it meant. My dad, whose mother passed away when he was still an infant, sent at an early age by his Baptist father preacher a town or two away to live with an aunt, spoke fondly of family, his very rural upbringing. I wish now that I had paid more attention, for those memories are mostly lost of his kinfolk, his Uncle Tom, going out to shoot birds (“birds” mean quail and quail alone), childhood mischief, close cousin friends that we’ve completely lost touch with. I’m a proponent that we’re more a product of nature than nurture, for in my older age, I’ve become my dad to both my dismay and my delight!

    • Jack, I tend to agree with you there. It’s amazing to me how many things seem buried deep in our individual DNA. Our son Drew has no memory of his maternal great-grandfathers, but there are times when it is uncanny how much he speaks and even gestures in the same way my PaPa did. I always ask “How did he end up so much like PaPa when he never knew him?” I hope you can find ways of learning (perhaps from relatives or friends, or yet-undiscovered artifacts) a bit more about your father and mother, and their lives. I am determined to get Mama and Daddy on video talking about some of their memories. (Daddy, if you read this, you should be warned that I plan to come armed with a script of sorts on my next visit! 😀 ) I’m glad you have at least a few bits and pieces; perhaps they will help you fill in some of the gaps eventually. Buried wealth, worth discovery.

  5. Julia, I envy you all that remembered history. Among my cherished possessions are a few photo albums belonging to my dad. I only know bits and pieces of his story since he died so young. I never met his mother (she died when I was young). His father sent us cards a few times a year from England where he lived and from Spain where he often holidayed with my name sake Aunt Alys. I learned a bit about him from my Aunt on a visit in 1989.

    Life must have been very hard for men and women. It makes me think about all the comforts and conveniences of our day: a washing machine, a dishwasher, transportation and access to health care. Even our clothes are more comfortable. Most importantly, as women gained a voice, a vote and birth control, the playing field finally started to level off.

    • Alys, I somehow missed the offer you made about the stamps you sent out from your Dad’s letters, so I didn’t know about it until I read of Pauline’s FABULOUS painting she made for you (it was SO fun to read about!) and how totally wonderful that she found a way to incorporate those stamps! Also I thought you had a great idea about offering to send them out to whomever would like to have one or two or three of them. I am thinking of doing something of that sort with my Christmas ornaments. There are so many of them, I can’t imagine anyone ever taking the week or so it always takes me to get them on our enormous Christmas tree. So sending out a few here and there seems to be the thing to do. In fact, I’ve already begun doing that (any takers, just let me know!) 😀 Isn’t it astonishing to think that when this photo of my grandmother’s family was made, women were at least a decade away from being able to vote? And that Georgia never lived to see that day? We take so much for granted. A few years back I was so happy we were able to go to Seneca Falls NY and take in the history. There is so much to it that has already been forgotten by most people.

  6. Judy

    For the past month I’ve been rewriting a long story that tells how 5 generations of women in my family have each influenced the next one, starting with my great-great grandmother. I first wrote it all down 14 years ago in an attempt to provide a written record of the old family stories that I had heard from my grandmother and that she in turn had heard from her grandmother. The more I put the pieces together, the more I came to understand how the mothers and daughters tied into one another’s struggles and patterns. Then I realized how it all had influenced my own life. It’s been quite an enlightening journey.

    A year ago I got involved with one of those online sites where you can trace your family tree. I was able to dig into public records and find all sorts of details about their lives that I wasn’t aware of. Some were important, like where they lived in each census year. Others were little windows into their day to day lives as told through newspaper columns that listed where they went to birthday parties, or who came to visit, or who was sick. It’s fascinating to read those old newspapers from the early 1900’s; they told everything that was going on in small towns. It’s where I discovered that two of my great-great grandmother’s young adult sons died within a month of each other — one due to a work accident and the other due to the flu. That must have been such a sad time for her.

    Now I’m rewriting everything and adding all the new information, plus trying to clean up my writing. I’m at over 50 pages and wondering if I’ll ever be really done with it. I keep thinking of more things that could be said, insights that are just waiting to be formulated and written into the stories.

    It was fun seeing your family and what you had to say in your post today. I’ve copied down the quotes you gave and will put them into my pages somewhere. Now I need to digitalize a lot of photos to go with the writing. This could take years!

    • Judy, it does indeed take years, but I am so glad you are doing it. Ancestry, family history, diaries and journals fascinate me, and I wish I had more time to devote to it. Not just my own, but everyone’s. Here’s a great blog by a woman who is lucky enough to have her grandmother’s diary to share with us. Based on the dates she gives in her sidebar, it seems that her grandmother was about the same age as mine. Perhaps you can think about publishing your work online so that future generations (and present ones too) can enjoy it – I couldn’t tell from what you wrote whether the online site you are using does that automatically, or whether you would need to start a separate blog to record everything. In any case, thanks for sharing a summary of your work with us. It just makes me that much more determined to make time for it myself.

  7. Such a treasure you have in this photo J. It’s in fantastic condition and really terrific to know everyone’s name too. Kind of fun their last name was Bond. I’ve done some family history searches but wasn’t able to find too much. Not much more than I personally already knew anyways. I do love watching any ancestor search program, hoping to gleam some good tips. I wonder why so few smiled in their photo’s back then.

    Just think, someday your great grandchildren and read all about their great great great grandma right here. Mr B’s mom Franny, is a great great grandma in her own life time. Her great granddaughter had a baby boy last year. They all have babies really young in that family. xoxK

    • WOW, that is fabulous, to be a great great grandparent and be alive to enjoy it! Since my father’s family tended to have children late in life, I never even knew my grandfather on his side, let alone my great-grandfather. I did know one of my my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side, and he was a real character. I think people tended not to smile in old photos because they had to sit still for long periods of time while the film was exposed, and it was hard to keep still for that long, especially if smiling.

      • Oh, that makes sense. Maybe they all cracked up right after HA. What good children to sit so still for so long.

        • It does look to me like some are blurrier than others. It must have been even worse in Civil War days, because some of those photos are REALLY frozen-looking.

  8. Thank you for sharing some precious memories and the lovely photo. My father has passed on stories to me of family members I never met, all colored with his humorous perspective (so it’s anybody’s bet how true they are). Still, I feel a cherished bond and have a sense of rootedness I don’t believe I would otherwise know.

    • Hi Tony, it’s nice to hear from you! Hope you are doing well. Don’t you just love those colorful stories that make us think “I wonder if that really happened as he tells it?” Sounds as if your father had the gift of storytelling, something I fear may be vanishing in the age of abbreviated communication via text on smart phones. Those stories are more than fun – as you mention, they create bonds and stability that go with us through life. Thanks for making time to be here today!

  9. raynard

    Julia I remember growning up my grandmother was a live in maid for a Jewish Family in Brooklyn NY. W e use to visit her often and returned home with lots of pears from the pear tree.She also helped my mom her only daughter get a house for us to live when our apartment building was being condemed back in ” surprise 1969.( also the year when 2 NY teams, The Mets( Won the World Series The Knicks NBA Championship ,The Jets The Super Bowl). Sorry to rub it in I know you follow Atlanta teams.. Be blesse

    • Hey I remember the Amazin’ Mets and Tom Terrific. Mostly all the confetti in the photos. I liked the Mets because I never liked the Yanks. I didn’t realize 1969 was a triple crown year for NY. I never paid much attention to the Knicks or Jets though. I was never a Joe Namath fan, even if he did come from Alabama. In those days being a Braves fan meant never expecting to go to any playoffs and getting really excited when they would win a game. I couldn’t understand how they could win games and nobody would get excited about it. To a little kid every win is like a playoff game.

  10. Family history is very intriguing to me. It helps me fill in the gaps of “why” and this has helped me have closure to some of the very difficult things in my childhood.

    • Denise, it is so very interesting, isn’t it? For almost all of us there will always be those gaps and unknowns, but filling them in gradually, as much as we are able, does help bring things into focus. Even things we knew intellectually at a younger age become clearer with age, at least for me. I applaud you for seeking to understand and work through those areas of your childhood that need closure. I know some people who prefer just to ignore the past and say they’ve moved on, but I can’t help but think that things we don’t process fully come out eventually, one way or another, and it’s healthier to deal with them.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more Julia! Hope you have a great weekend!

        • Thanks, Denise, you too!

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