Life Stories: Family

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved listening to people tell life stories. Sometimes it’s just one-on-one and other times it’s gathered around the dinner table, living room, bonfire, whatever.

For many people, exposure to life stories first begins in their own families.

Growing up, I had two very different exposures to this.

On one side, my maternal grandmother told me stories of her tough childhood: when she was very young (approx. 6 yrs old), she and her older sister lived in a boarding house while their parents worked in the local “sanitarium” and could only visit on the weekends. I believe this was around the Depression era, so, as you can imagine, my grandma and great aunt worked hard doing chores as well as attending school.

Grandma eventually earned her teaching certificate, and taught in a one-room rural school house and kept farm boys taller than herself in order! She kept some of the books and other materials she used to teach and gave them to me.

My grandfather died before I was born, but the stories about him are fascinating. He and his brother started a trucking company and, back then, the Teamsters were very powerful. Apparently, my grandfather even met with Jimmy Hoffa, but he never told any of the family what went on in those meetings. Pity. I’m certain it would have made a good story.

On the other side of the family, the stories usually consisted of my father  tricking his siblings or someone stirring up mischief of some sort and usually ended with Granny chasing after someone with a wooden spoon.

At one time, my father and uncle were house contractors and our family came along when they enlarged a vacation home one summer in the Adirondack Mountains.

My siblings and I explored the whole area and listened to the stories and jokes the crew told as they worked. I had quite the education that summer! But my mother complained about the bad language and they had to tone it down, which, it turned out, was almost impossible.

At night the men gathered around a bonfire and I was furious my older brother was allowed to hang out with them and I wasn’t. I later learned the men told risque stories during those bonfires that would have singed my innocent ears.

Then, there are the stories in my own little family.

How I forgot to pick up my wedding dress and my soon-to-be husband saved my sanity by delivering it to me on our wedding day.

The time I was newly pregnant and we went on vacation only to wake up the next morning to find a freak tornado had passed through and we didn’t have running water or electricity.

And the piece de resistance: The day we caught our 3-year-old buck-naked and glistening with Vaseline from head to toe when she should have been napping. I still shudder remembering how long it took to get it out of her hair.

My husband’s family is an experience in self-deprecating humor and good-natured ribbing without the rapier wit that often hurts.

One family member in particular often finds herself in crazy situations and she’s the first one to tell the stories and laugh at herself.

In fact, the parties at her house are some of the best. You know how when you get the right combination of people together, conversation just seems to explode, in a good way? It’s the kind of gathering where exuberant and quick-witted guests tell stories that build on top of each other and feed the fun. That’s often what her parties are like.

* * *

 I often wish I had the writer’s instinct at a younger age as I’ve forgotten an awful lot of family history over the years, particularly stories from my grandparents. I’ve written down things as I remember them, but it’s been a long time and many of the details are lost.

Family life stories are part of who I am and a few bits and pieces have influenced my writing. How could they not?

How far back do you know some of your family history from life stories? Do you have any stories you would like to share? 

Photos from Wisconsin Historical Images and methyl_lives on Flikr.


6 comments on “Life Stories: Family

  1. dbalekseev says:

    My paternal grandmother died before my parents were even married. She and her half-sister worked at Willow Run during WWII — I knew my Aunt Dorothy (gma’s half-sister), she was SUCH a hoot. I wished I’d known she was a “Rosie the Riveter” (actually she & gma worked to build electrical panels for B-24s), I would’ve loved to hear her stories! She kept a wooden paddle for bad behavior, you had to sign it when you got paddled (!) She married another worker at Willow Run & he was from Stone Mnt, GA, so they lived down there. I still treasure the few visits we made when I was young (never did have to write my name on that paddle!)


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      What courage and tenacity it took for women to work on the assembly lines during WWII. Your grandma and aunt were part of a group of some amazing women.

      I *love* the paddle story!


  2. Tammy says:

    Our grandmother’s have very similar stories. She did the one room school house thing also teaching every single grade and boys who were twice her size.


  3. curiocat says:

    I love the story about forgetting your wedding dress. That is so funny and a little romantic that your husband brought it to you.

    One story I can tell is when I went into labor with my oldest daughter. I told my mother and husband I couldn’t go to the hospital because I needed to wash clothes. Of course I didn’t have a choice but I found out later my mother was so nervous she put the dirty clothes basket in the car with us when we left. She didn’t remember doing it. Lol.


  4. E.K. Carmel says:

    We laugh now, but I was freaking out about that dress at the time! But, isn’t it funny how we do the weirdest things durings times of stress?


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