It’s turning out to be a mammoth task, this family history that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. I’ll start and stop and then start again. I’m fascinated by the people and their lives, but well, I feel inadequate to tell their stories without more research.
I’m working on the research aspect, and in the meantime, I’ve have been jotting down thoughts and memories on a daily basis. Or at least every other day. Last week we saw a second cousin and his wife at a local restaurant and had an interesting and enlightening chat in the parking lot.
“What do you write about all the time?” his wife asked.
“Whatever I’m thinking about. Or sometimes I just jot down notes in a journal.”
“Like what?” she wanted to know.
“It depends. Sometimes it’s a list of things I’m thankful for, and other times, it might be a scene or conversation or memory I want to get down before I forget it.”
She looked disappointed. “Oh,” was all she said.
“Lately, though, I’ve been working on a family history, and it’s turning out to be harder than I thought.”
“How so?” she asked, her interest piqued.
“Well, for one thing, ignorance. Plain old ignorance about people. I know their names but very little about them.”
I looked at my cousin who’d been quietly standing by. “For instance, I have only one memory of our great grandmother, and she was old and frail and gray haired. Seems like her hair was in a bun.”
“Yep, that’d be her. She spent a lot of her last months in a wheelchair, but she wasn’t always sick and weak.”
“I wish I’d known her better. I understand she was a feisty little woman in her younger years.”
My cousin smiled. “I’ve been told she was quite handy with a pistol. Used to stand on her front porch and wait for a chicken to walk past and then she’d raise her pistol and shoot it for dinner.”
“No! Are you kidding?” I could visualize my great grandmother standing on the high front porch that overlooked a long road leading from the highway to the Hegler home. The yard was her focus on chicken-shooting days, though. Not the road.
“Nope. It’s true,” he said. Grinning, he added, “When she came to our house in Camden, Mother would always make her check two things at the door, her pistol and her snuff box.”
My knowledge of Great Grandmother Annie Jane was growing. The chicken shooting story gave credence to the daughter-in-law shooting tale I’d heard. Apparently, Annie Jane thought her son’s wife was an intruder when she came in from work one night, and thinking to teach the would-be trespasser a lesson, my great grandmother shot the younger woman in the stomach.
We parted company with my cousin and his wife with a promise to take a day trip to check out the stomping grounds of our shared relatives. Unless my math is off, one eighth of my DNA comes from a pistol-packing grandmother who shot chickens for dinner and “intruders” for protection.
Today I had lunch with a couple of old friends, and at some point our conversation turned to family and the need to preserve our memories of those who came before so that their posterity can know of their heritage. A few hours later, I’m sitting on our screened-in porch listening to birdsong and watching the tree branches dance and sway to the breeze.
Did my grandmothers ever have the leisure to sit and listen and think and write? It’s time for me to get to get back to work on their history and see if I can discover more about how they spent their days.