Monday, February 27, 2012

Maria Lee Palmer Smith 1931 Obituary - Amanuensis Monday

Thanks to John at Transylvanian Dutch who originated the Amanuensis Monday meme, providing a framework (and nudge) for transcribing family records, news clippings and other treasures.

This is another transcription of a document from the papers of Maria Lee Palmer Smith (1844-1931), my husband's great-grandmother. It is her obituary, a newspaper clipping with no date or newspaper title, though a date is handwritten on the clipping. 

               ______     [handwritten note: Feb 6th 1931]

Was Member of Prominent Virginia Family; Ill For Short Time

Mrs. Maria Lee Palmer Smith, wife of the late Dr. Francis Fenwick Smith, for many years an eminent physician of Western Maryland, died Sunday morning at 3 o'clock at the Frederick City hospital, where she was removed Friday evening, after suffering a stroke of paralysis. Of distinguished colonial ancestry, Mrs. Smith was born at the family seat, "Clifton," in Northumberland county, Virginia, on March 9, 1844. Her father was Col. James Armstead Palmer, a descendant of Nagethereza Palmer, Esq., a large Virginia landowner of colonial days. Her mother was Margaret Meredith from whose colonial ancestor the family had a grant of land in Virginia dating from 1655. Mrs. Smith's father, Col. Palmer, died while she and her brother were still children, and the family came to this city, and Mrs. Palmer entered her daughter in the Convent of the Visitation from which she was graduated in July 1861. From this time until her death, she was closely associated with and a devoted alumna of the convent and was emeritus for life of the Alumnae Association. While at school in Frederick the Palmer family always returned to their Virginia estate for the summer vacation and many were Mrs. Smith's experiences during the Civil War when her home place was one day in the hands of the Confederates and the next day occupied by Union soldiers. She had many thrilling adventures, one of the most interesting of which was when she ran the blockade.
Mrs. Smith married Dr. Francis Fenwick Smith and from this union five sons were born. They were Charles Leonard, Charles Francis, John Francis, William Meredith and Edward Joseph, of whom four grew to manhood. Dr. Smith, together with his brother, the late Dr. Charles Francis Smith, were exponents of the practice of medicine of a generation ago when the family physician was felt to be a true member of the family.
Her husband, Dr. F. F. Smith, died August 26, 1900, and after the marriage of her sons, Mrs. Smith sold the family home on East Second street and made her home with her son Dr. William M. Smith, College Park. Later she removed to No. 9, East Second street where she was stricken Friday night. She was a devoted member of St. John's Catholic church and an ardent member of Fitzhugh Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy and one of the founders of the Frederick County Historical Society. She was historian for life of Fitzhugh Lee Chapter, U.D.C.
The funeral will take place from St. Johns' Catholic church Tuesday morning at 9:30 o'clock with interment in St. John's Catholic church cemetery. M. R. Etchison and Son, funeral directors.

The handwritten date may be in error. Maria Lee Palmer Smith died Sunday, February 1, 1931. Assuming she was buried the following Tuesday, the notice would have appeared in one of the Sunday afternoon or Monday (Feb. 2 or 3, 1931) newspapers in Frederick, MD.

She was indeed descended from Nargaltherezer Palmer, though I'm not certain I would describe him has a large landowner by Virginia plantation standards. While I have yet to identify which ancestor received the 1655 land grant referenced, several of her mother's family lines were established in Virginia at that point.

Source: Newspaper Obituary of Mrs. F.F. Smith, Feb 1931; privately held by [withheld for privacy] Frederick, MD. Transcribed with permission. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Begging co-operation

This 1892 invitation, addressed to my husband's great-grandparents and great-great aunts, was found in the papers of Maria Lee Palmer Smith, his great-grandmother. Their home on East Second Street had belonged to their elder brother, Dr. Charles Smith. Following Charles' death in 1888, Francis, Maria Lee lived there with his sisters Kate and Mary. Sometime after the last Smith sibling died in 1908, Maria Lee sold the house.

I found the wording quaint and unusual - "begs your co-operation in the celebration..." The scale is difficult to gauge in the photographs, but the card and envelope are very small, only slightly larger than a standard business card.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Porter and Ella Holt Conway - Wordless Wednesday

My great great-grandparents, Charles Turner Porter Conway (1828-1886) and his wife Ella (Eleanor) Holt Conway (1827-1895). They were born in Cocke County, TN and believed to have died and been buried there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Anastazia Perekstová and Vasil Čokina - Tombstone Tuesday

These are the gravestones of my great-aunt Anastazia Perekstová, known as Nacia, and her husband Vasil Čokina. Nacia's stone gives dates of 1901-1974. Vasil's stone gives dates of 1891-1966.

The picture was taken when we visited Slovakia after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the life of me I cannot remember which village they are buried in, nor was I smart enough to write it down. It is either Príslop or Uličské Krivé.

View 06767 Uličské Krivé in a larger map

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sweating the Details

I've been reading blogs when I ought to be doing some other real world things. And now I'm writing when I ought to be doing real world things. One of the greatest attractions of genealogy/family history is its endless ability to distract me from the real world.

That said, my point here is a bit of heresy. Michael Hait started the wheel's turning with his post What is a conclusion?. Russ Worthington chimed in with When to enter data into your genealogy software?. Then Randy Seaver posted Events, Assertions, Evidence, Fact, Sources, Analysis, Conclusions, Software, Oh My! Read them all.

After reading Randy's post I revisited Michael's and read the comments. When I got to Martin's I cheered.
"Most ages do not agree visa-vis the census. Do we really need to GPS [Genealogical Proof Standard] every single person, or can we just conclude that ages in censuses vary? Genealogy is proving relationships. I can understand that proving a relationship might incur the GPS, but every fact or event?"
Amen. Maybe it's because much of my research involves 18th and early 19th c. frontier areas where few records were kept. Maybe it's because I am not a genealogist, but a family historian and an historian by training. Maybe it's because I'm comfortable with chaos and confusion. But I do not have the need to prove every "fact" as Hait defines them. I am content to know my research subjects were born, to learn as much as I can about their lives and relationships, and that they died. I can live with conflicting information as to specific dates and places.

And frankly (hold on to your hats here), I don't need death certificates or birth certificates for the people I've known in my life. Someone else further down the line can hunt for those if they wish. I'm perfectly comfortable stating a birth or death date based on my personal knowledge.

I'm a big picture gal. Give me the overview, the route, the story. I want every detail I can find, but I'm not going to sweat it if a death certificate and marriage license differ on birth dates. If those differences suggest the documents are not for the same person, we can talk. If not, I'm moving on. It doesn't change the relationships.

I'm not going to obsess over each fact or event or assertion. Just as long as you don't tell me the Mulkey marker proves Jonathan's wives. Them's fighting words.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seeking William Turner

My recent Turner cousin connection prompted me to start reading the Edward Turner probate documents carefully. You may have heard my groans when I saw the "crying sale" results.

I've been able to figure out where all the children ended up and who they married except for one - William. I've no idea what happened to him other than he was in Natchez in 1807 when the family sold Edward's land. Guess who bought the family Bible at the sale?

Sigh. Maybe I'll find him someday.

Fauquier, Virginia, Will Books: 4, 80, Edward Turner Estate Sale, 23 Apr 1805; Library of Virginia, Fauquier Reel 32.

Friday, February 17, 2012

An Embarrassment of Edwards ~ Reviewing Edward Turner

I've had enormous fun this week connecting with a distant, distant Turner cousin. My 5th great-grandfather Edward Turner has been a stumbling block, brick wall, mystery ancestor for decades. My new cousin connection was the motivation I needed to review my research and the Fauquier County records I copied at the Library of Virginia last summer. While there I was able to pull copies of the estate records, but not the relevant deeds. Alas, I shall have to return to Richmond.

Edward Turner (d. 1805, Fauquier County, VA) was one of at least three Edward Turners appearing in Fauquier County records in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This has made sorting out records and family members a challenge. He died leaving no will, but a considerable estate. His probate records provide most of the support for the family framework. He was married twice – first to Mary/Molley (who died after 1782 and before 1790) and second to Elizabeth, who survived him.

Another Edward Turner died in 1786 as an elderly man (above 60 years of age since he no longer paid taxes) and was buried by the county[i]. I believe this is the Edward Turner who was married to Jane Gibson, daughter of Jacob Gibson[ii]. This Edward is believed to have been part of a Turner family that signed three leases in Prince William County in 1747. This Edward is NOT a DNA match to my Edward.

A third Edward Turner is the son of our Edward. He appears with Edward on the 1799 Tax list, and marries Lucinda Rust in 1800.

Based on the marriage of his eldest son John in 1782, my Edward was born before 1742 - somewhere. The first record that is clearly this Edward is a lease signed in Loudoun County, VA on 23 Oct 1764 for 100 acres of land for the lives of Edward Turner, Mary his wife and John Turner his son.[iii] It is witnessed by George Turner, William Rust, and Stanley Singleton. In 1769 Edward purchase 180 acres of land in Fauquier County from Henry Lee and Lucy, his wife.[iv] After this Edward appears regularly in Fauquier County records until his death in January, 1805.

Edward & Molley Turner had children John (who married Jane Bailey), James (who married Anna DeBell), William, Sarah (who married Joseph Conway and Charles T. Porter), Lewis (who married Sarah Martin), Mary (who married Richard Mather), and Edward (who married Lucinda Rust). A Conway family record handed down to me gives Sarah’s birthdate as 10 June 1774. I have no other documented proof of birthdates. The birth order is taken from their father's estate settlement dated 22 July 1816. 

From Fauquier County Will Book 6, p. 252

Edward and his second wife, Elizabeth, had one daughter, Ann. She is clearly referred to as the half-sister of Lewis Turner in an 1825 court case.[v] 

There is strong evidence that Edward & Molley had another daughter, Elizabeth Turner Shipp Kay. Edward Turner was bondsman for the 8 Mar 1778 marriage bond of Elizabeth & Richard Wiatt Shipp. He, his wife and Elizabeth all sign a deed in November that year as witnesses.[vi] Most convincingly, Elizabeth and her second husband James Kay were named in an 1810 Fauquier County Chancery Court summons and also in the probate records as disputing the property settlement.

From Fauquier County Chancery Records

From Fauquier County Will Book 5, p. 201

I especially enjoyed reading the Administrators Account. "James Kay and Elizabeth his wife by their agent Joseph Carr refused to make a hotch pot with Estate advanced them  by the Intestate were excluded from a division of the personal Estate." I almost fired off an email begging for help from The Legal Genealogist but Wikipedia gave me enough of a definition to understand the document. In order to achieve equal distribution, the heirs were required to add monies already received from the estate into a common "pot" which was then divided. Since the Kays refused, they received no further inheritance. 

As far as his own ancestry, there is circumstantial evidence linking Edward Turner to a George Turner, believed to have been born in Northumberland County, VA abt 1731 and who died 1804 in Spartanburg, SC. The men witnessed each other’s deeds in Loudoun County, both had ties to the Shipp family in Northumberland County and DNA tests have linked descendents of both men. They may be the sons of  John Turner and his wife Febie. John Turner wrote a will dated 6 Dec 1741 (St. Stephens Parish, Northumberland, VA) and proved 12 Apr 1742 that named sons John, Henry, George, Edward and daughters Bridget, Monica, Priscilla and Ann. [vii]

Or he may, as I've theorized, have fallen from another planet. 

[i] John Alcock, Fauquier Families, 1759-1799, p. 353.
[ii] Will dated 2 Oct 1734, Prince William County WB:C
[iii] Loudon County, VA Deed Book D, pp. 388-392.
[iv] Gott, John K, Fauquier County, Virginia Deeds 1759-1778 (Heritage Books, Bowie, MD 1999. Electronic Edition.) Citing deed dated 1-2 July 1769 and recorded 28 Aug 1769.
[v] Barry L. McGhee, “Court Records,” database, Historic Court Records ( 2002-2012), Record 39-9; citing Byrne vs. Handy, 1825.
[vi] Gott, John K, Fauquier County, Virginia Deeds 1759-1778. Citing deed of Opie and Pinksone dated 18 Nov 1778 and recorded 24 May 1779.
[vii] Northumberland  Co. Wills and Administrations 1713-1749.  Compiled and published by James F. Lewis and J. Motley Boooker, M.D., 1967, p 120-130.

Image Sources
Fauquier, Virginia, Will Books: 6, 252, Edward Turner Estate Account and Settlement, 22 Jul 1816; Library of Virginia, Fauquier Reel 33.
Fauquier, Virginia, Chancery Court Records: Fauquier Index 1810-010, Mather vs. Adms of Edw. Turner, dec'd; Summons dated 1 Nov 1810; digital image, Virginia Memory: Chancery Records Index ( accessed 23 Oct 2008).
Fauquier, Virginia, Will Books: 5, 201, Edward Turner Estate Division, 23 Apr 1811; Library of Virginia, Fauquier Reel 33.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Soldier Cousin - Wordless Wednesday

This photograph is labeled Juraj Pereksta and was mailed to my family in the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1959. My grandmother had two nephews named Juraj Pereksta. I believe this is the son of her brother, Pytor, rather than the son of her brother Vasil.

The photo is undated.  Should anyone have any input regarding the military uniform that might date this I'd be most grateful!

Juraj Pereksta Photograph; digital image, privately held by Susan Clark. 2006

Monday, February 13, 2012

1854 Medical School Graduation - Amanuensis Monday

Thanks to John at Transylvanian Dutch who originated the Amanuensis Monday meme, providing a framework (and nudge) for transcribing family records, news clippings and other treasures.

This is another transcription of a document from the papers of Maria Lee Palmer Smith (1844-1931), my husband's great-grandmother. It is a brief letter certifying the year of her late husband's graduation from medical school. Punctuation, format and spelling are retained from the original, though line breaks have been altered.

Jefferson Medical College
Office of the Dean                                 Aug 5 1909

Mrs. F F Smith

       Dr. Francis F. Smith graduated in the year 1854

Yours etc

Ross V Patterson
Sub Dean

Notes: Jefferson Medical College was founded in 1824. It is now part of Thomas Jefferson University. According to the University's website "(a)n infirmary to treat the poor was opened in 1824, and by 1844, Jefferson was providing patient beds over a shop at 10th and Sansom Streets." In the years before Smith attended medical advances included the use of anesthesia (1846) and the hypodermic syringe (1851). Smith's class of 270 men was the largest graduated to that date. Speaking at their graduation was the great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Franklin Bache. 

While many of the men who graduated with Smith served in the Civil War, I have not found evidence that Smith was a military surgeon. However, he lived and practiced in Frederick, Maryland throughout the war and surely attended to soldiers wounded at the nearby battles - including Antietam. My mother-in-law speaks of her father (also a doctor) using his father's Civil War surgical tools to carve meat at their dining room table. 

Patterson, (Philadelphia, PA) to Maria L. Smith. Letter. 9 Aug 1909. Privately held. Frederick, MD. Published with permission. 

Frederick B. Wagner, Jr., MD and J. Woodrow Savacool, MD, editors, Thomas Jefferson University - A chronological history and alumni directory, 1824-1990 PDF, Jefferson Digital Commons (http:/ accessed 13 Feb 2012), Part I: Jefferson Medical College 1846-1854 (pages 55-88).

Friday, February 10, 2012

Slaves Named in 1815 Will of John Turner - A Friend of Friends Friday

This is the part of a series of transcriptions and abstracts of records involving slaves that I copied at the Library of Virginia during the summer of 2011.  Nine slaves are bequeathed by name to the children of John Turner, who died in Fauquier County, VA between the 15th of May and the 26th of June, 1815. 

In the name of God Amen, the 16th day of May 1815. I John Turner of Fauquier County, being in perfect memory, praise be to Almighty God for the same, yet recalling to mind the uncertainty of this life and the certainty of death. I do make and appoint this my last will and testament in form following. I therefore commit my soul to Almighty God, which gave me it, and my body to the earth to be buried after a decent and christian like manner according to the discrition of my executors hereafter named and as touching my worldy estate which it hath pleased Almighty God to bless me with in this life. I give devise and dispose of them in manner and form following, Viz. I therefore order that all my just debts and burial charges be fully paid and Satisfied before any part thereof is taken out of the hands and possessions of my executors hereafter named. First I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Elizabeth Turner all my real and personal Estate (after all) my just debts are paid during her natural life then to be divided in the manner and form following. I also give to my son Daniel Turner one negroe woman named Ruth. I also give to my Daughter Elizabeth Oliver, one negroe man named Jerry during her natural life then to belong to my grandson John Brown. I also give to my son John M. Turner one negroe named Lewis, one feather bed and one cow & Calf I also give to my Daughter Mary H. Turner one negroe woman named Mariah and ___ two children named Richard & Wilson and all the said Mariah's future increase and one feather bed one horse one Cow & Calf. I also give to my Daughter Hannah Smith, one negroe woman named Nancy & one named Susannah and there future increase to her during her natural life then to be equally divided among all her children. I also give to my Daughter Sally Brown one negroe Boy named Tom but to remain with my Daughter Mary H. Freeman until demanded and lastly all the residue of my real and personal Estate to be sold and the money equally divided among all my Children after all of my just debts are paid. I hereby appoint my friends Robert Green, Lewis Suddoth & Joseph Morgan my executors of this my last will and testament hereby revoking all other wills made by me. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the day and year above written in the thirty fifth line the words the residue was interlined before signed.

Signed, sealed, published }
and declared by the above }                 his
named John Turner to be }       John  X  Turner {seal}
his last will and testament }               mark
in the presence of us who have }
hereunto subscribed our names }
As witnesses in the presence of }
the testator.
 Joseph Boteler (sp?)
 John Suddoth
 Cosson B. May (sp?)

     At a Court held for Fauquier County the 26th day of June 1815 This will was proven by the oaths of Joseph Boteler, John Suddoth and Cosson B. Day witnesses thereto and ordered to be recorded and on the motion of Robt. Green Lewis Suddoth and Joseph Morgan the Executors therein named who together with John Suddoth, Geo Eastham Jr & Inman Horner their securities who entered into and acknowledged bond in the penalaty of four thousand dollars conditioned as the law directs a certificate is granted them for obtaining a probate thereof in due form.
              Teste Danl Withers CC
Notes: DNA tests suggest this Turner family is not related to the family of Edward Turner (d. 1805, Fauquier County), my 5th great-grandfather. This John Turner was also known as John Meridy Turner. For further information about this family see Gwen Boyer Bjorkman's The Descendants of John Meridy Turner (1747-1815) of Fauquier County, Virginia, (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1995).

Source: Fauquier, Virginia, Will Books, 6: 123-4, John Turner; Library of Virginia, Fauquier Reel 33. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pining for a Pedigree Chart, Part 3 or What I Did

Using the strategy of "translating" the HTML code that I wrote about in my last post I was able to achieve my goal of a pedigree chart interface on my yet to be born website. This is what I did.

In Legacy I created pedigree style web pages for a family group.

I chose to view the pages in my browser and selected a page to transfer to my website, making note of the file title.

I found the file in the Legacy file on my hard drive and chose to "Open With" a text file editor (in this case Notebook).

The opened text file contained the HTML code for the web page. I copied all of the text.

I opened my web site in Google Sites and chose to create a new page. I used the same name as the file for the page name (later on I'll go back and change names if I wish) and selected the basic Web Page template.

I selected the "Edit HTML Source" option and pasted the copied HTML code from the Legacy generated file. After closing the HTML Editor I was able to edit the page using the WYSIWYG editor.

I edited the page - heavily - and customized the pedigree chart, tailoring it to reflect my use of family group pages rather than individual pages.

Then I saved the page as a template, allowing me to use the design on any new page I choose.

I was so pleased with the result that I designed a template for a modified family group page and saved it as well.

The templates based on the Legacy pages can now be used to create new pages. 

The process of creating the pages is still cumbersome. I can only do a page at a time and have to enter all the links myself, but I can do so on the pedigree chart or in the "Family" box giving me the graphic interface I wanted. It is surely not worth the effort if the goal is a site with a complete (though I know there's no such animal) family tree. In that case I would have to move to a different type of web site that allowed uploading of files or integration with a program like TNG. But for my purposes this works. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pining for a Pedigree Chart, Part 2 or I don't speak HTML

One of the benefits of using the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) sites like Blogger or Weebly is not needing to know HTML, the language used to format and create links on web pages. (Language is a key word here. We'll get back to it shortly.)

Conversely, these sites also limit what you can do. Generally each page must be created separately, links added individually. There are constraints regarding fonts and graphics. You cannot upload groups of linked pages created by a software program like Legacy. This hasn't created a problem for me as a blogger. I write an entry or two at a time. They're usually pretty free form and content driven.

The website I want to create, however, has many pages and a clear structure. There are pages with specific formats for individual biographies, for families, for locations, for events like the Civil War. Most of the information is coming from my genealogy software. The entire point of the site is the ability to easily move from page to page.

That's one of the reason's I got so fixated on the graphic pedigree chart at the top of the page. There are other reasons having to do with genetics and personality but that's another post.

Anyway, one of the key elements to my web design problem was that I don't "speak" HTML. It's a language, remember? But these sites do. And each of them has a built in translator. On Blogger there are two views when writing a post. "Compose" is the WYSIWYG editor. But if you select "HTML" you will see your post translated into HTML. On Google's Sites, which I'm using to build the website, the translator looks like this.
What this means for we non-speakers is that we have the ability to take something written in a language we don't understand (HTML) and translate it into something we can work with. I discovered this when I was entering data on, the genealogy Wiki. I had trouble entering information (such a massive understatement) until I realized I could write what I wanted in Blogger and then copy and paste the HTML code from Blogger into WeRelate. HUGE timesaver. 

This time I did the reverse. I copied the HTML code from the web page created by Legacy into Google Sites and edited using their WYSIWYG editor. For those who are interested I'll lay out each step in the next post. 

There are many programs you can download that do the same thing and far more. If you Google "wysiwyg html editor" you'll get pages of links. This is a very low-tech, and pretty dumbed down approach. Just my speed. 

Photo credit Some rights reserved by Nikita Kashner

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pining for a Pedigree Chart

I'm "back" home after three days as a virtual RootsTech attendee. While not as tired as those who traveled to Salt Lake City and are now traveling home, my head is still spinning. My thanks to the hundreds of people (at least) who produced such an engaging and enlightening conference and allowed us to attend from afar.

After watching Laura Prescott's Publish Your Genealogy Online on Friday I spent much of the next day rethinking my approach to my nascent website (started in 2010 and still not live - surely the longest gestation period ever). My website focuses on several different family groups of 3 or 4 generations. I use a free site (great price) but have been so frustrated in my efforts include graphic layouts or reports generated by my software program, Legacy.

I hadn't considered Legacy's web design capabilities. But after Prescott's presentation, I looked again at one of my favorite sites, Linda McCauley's Linda's Family TreeMuch of her material was generated by Legacy. Linda has been generous with advice and information and I knew that her choice of self-hosted site, and the option of uploading Legacy's web pages, was not going to work for me.

But I really liked the way her pages link through the small pedigree charts. I went back to Legacy and began experimenting with it's web page styles. I produced examples of each, examined them on my browser, and found the format I'd admired on Linda's site - the Pedigree style.

I realized I could produce pages for only the small groups I was working with. The pages generated were not exactly what I wanted, but they were far closer than anything I'd come up with before.

But there I stalled. The free sites I've been working with do not, as in DO NOT, accept ftp uploads, the only way I could transfer the linked pages as a unit to a web site. And while there are some sites that do (RootsWeb), I need the WYSIWYG "webpages for dummies" interface that Google or Weebly have.
I know almost nothing about HTML, the language used in web page design.

I stewed on this for quite a while before accepting the easy route of using pages produced by my software was a no go. But I was still fixated on that little pedigree chart at the top of the page. Had to have it.

In the end, I got it. It's not the easiest solution - I still have to generate each page and all the links - but I have a template that works well. In my next post I'll share how I did it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Meditation on Grandmothers

Even before my new grandson joined us - from the moment I learned of his existence - I pondered who I would be to this newest member of our family. Grandmother or Baba, as I called my grandmothers? Granny, as my children called my mother? Nannan, as they called my mother-in-law?

Grandmother, wishing once again that we'd fly right.
Grandmother was a force to be reckoned with. She was an elegant, articulate, Southern with a capital S woman. Adored by her children and adoring them, but with very strict notions of religion, propriety and society. Notions as silly as chiding her young granddaughters for waving at the soldiers in a convoy lumbering down East First North Street in Morristown, TN. Or as chilling as refusing to share a taxi home from the market with a black woman in the late 1960s. Or as saddening as her deep sigh upon learning I was engaged to marry a Roman Catholic.

Yet so much that I am comes directly from her - my love of books and reading, my penchant for men who are awful, awful punsters, my loves of history, genealogy, and opera. She was a devoted mother, as was her daughter, my mother. Visiting down home was a thrill when I was young, perhaps because Mother was so full of joy, or perhaps because of the wide open arms and smiles that greeted us when we pulled into her driveway after the long drive from Connecticut. She had wonderful things awaiting us - old sunbonnets and clothes to play dress ups, the complete Five Little Peppers series of books, perfumes and bath beads, and two drawers full of treats (toys in the dining room and candy in the kitchen). Even in college, when my friends and I pulled in for dinner on our way to New Orleans for spring break, she came flying out the back door with arms spread wide and plied us with food, coffee and sandwiches for the road. And yes, there was a gelatin salad.

Baba and two of her
I always thought I'd be a Baba. I've identified with my Carpatho-Rusyn heritage my entire life, saw much more of Baba growing up than Grandmother, and had a much less complicated relationship with her. She exemplified the unconditional love I associate with grandmothering. I cherish the memories of dinner at her house, of shelling peas from her garden or teasing her about ironing the aluminum foil to reuse, of kneeling in the church yard with the Easter baskets to be blessed, of watching her brush her waist-length hair and feeling her brush mine.

I share her quick temper, her fierce devotion to her family. It is my constant prayer to share her faith and work ethic.

When Mother chose Granny as her moniker I was startled. I don't remember her using the word when talking about her own grandmothers, but she told us then it was what she called her paternal grandmother.

Granny and the rest of us on tour. Children's clothes by Granny.
Granny, like my own grandparents, was a long-distance grandmother. We laughed at and loved the clothes that rained down on the grandchildren. (I am already imitating this trait.) She adored being with the babies, rocked them for hours and loved to hear of each new accomplishment as they grew. We travelled together, toured and sat for hours on various beaches as sand castles were built and washed away. She made sure the grandchildren had their New York City adventures, times with their cousins and had a special room set aside for them at home in Connecticut.

She was a character, as well, slipping off when we visited to her very unfinished basement for a cigarette and glass of wine. Should one of the grandchildren go missing odds are he or she would be found perched on a lawn chair in the basement, next to the cobweb ladened bomb shelter their grandfather built at the height of the Cold War, working with Granny on a New York Times crossword puzzle, ringed in smoke and nibbling on the tic-tacs she'd share. It drove me mad.

She thought of each grandchild often, and in her last days spent time sharing her hopes for them with her husband and daughters. One of her final conversations with my young son involved her funeral, my funeral and a hawaiian shirt. Apparently there will be a pig roast when I die. She was irreverent, witty and lived life on her own terms. My children adored and adore her.

Nannan with her lap full.
Their Nannan almost defines grandmother. She rocked, listened, laughed, hugged or scolded as needed. Fussed over their meals, played countless card games (graduating from Go Fish to Bull___), toured aquariums and battlefields, saved bread for them to feed the ducks, proudly introduced them after mass, remembered every story about their childhoods (not to mention their father's and her own) and is still at it. She's now a very proud long-distance great-grandmother.

So which will I be? Probably a little of all of the above (the best parts, I pray). But I'm going by Granny these days. I'm still not sure why, except it felt the most comfortable.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Welcome Addition

My parents lived most of my life in the same house in Connecticut, and most of those years with the same next door neighbor, Mike. Mike and my father were friends with a twist. For years they played practical jokes on one another. Mother was more than startled to discover Mike's addition to her wreath one Christmas - the license plate begging to Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren.

As to why this is germane in February - it isn't. I'm just late. In December our first grandchild was born. He is glorious, a complete masterpiece. All things a grandson should be, and more.

We have gazed at every toe (I get credit for those), lingered over every passing expression, oohed and aahhed over the slightest wave a hand. So far he seems to most resemble his maternal grandfather (no bad thing), arches his back and gazes like his father and my son (from under those same long lashes), has a voracious appetite (not sure who gets credit for that beyond his mom - there are plenty of candidates), and is according to his aunt, "Taking after his Mom.... a wiggle worm who always picked everything up quickly!" This last comment came after he learned to roll over at 7+ weeks.

In short we've spent hours discussing just how he fits into the family. I suspect he will carve his own place - as we all have. And I know we will be the richer for his presence.