Family History

I have a super genius idea for a post, today, and it involves tricking my mommy into doing my work for me. Mom! Read this! And then write some stuff!

SO. I was looking for something in my archives, and found this post from last year, about privilege and personal backgrounds. I was talking about family history, and my mom popped up in the comments and filled in a bunch of stuff I didn’t know or couldn’t remember, and I found it FASCINATING. You know how your parents can be some of the most important people in your life, people you talk to all the time, people you respect and love, but somehow you just don’t KNOW that much about them? No? Just me?

WELL. I want to know more about my parents. I suppose I can’t just leave it at that, and expect my mom to supply details. HMMM. Ok, here is what I know:

My mom is the middle of three kids, born in 1952, grew up in Sandy Hook, NJ. Her dad (Russel, born 1912) owned a real estate/insurance business. Pop served in WWII before he had kids – I have seen pictures of him, sailing with his buddies somewhere (Trinidad and Tobago come to mind?). I did a project on him when I was in middle school or so, but I can’t remember what I learned – I don’t know if he saw action in the war, or even what branch of the military he was in. He was the only grandparent I really knew – the others all passed away when I was little. He was wonderful and interesting. I’m sitting here smiling, remembering sitting on his lap while he did the crossword puzzles. He smelled like vanilla and pipe tobacco. Sigh. I wonder if he was the same kind of father as he was a grandfather – engaged, fun, twinkly eyed – or did he work all the time, or something else entirely?

My mom’s mom (Viola, born 1916) worked as a secretary for awhile, and then stayed home with the kids. She was also a portrait artist, though I’ve only seen the landscape paintings that are hanging in our house and my aunt’s house. I never knew her – she passed away when I was a baby – but I gather that she was sort of a difficult woman, stern, had a lot of rules. I know that she and my grandfather didn’t have kids until after the war – my aunt was born in 1949 – but I don’t know if they didn’t meet until afterwards. I guess I’m just assuming the war was why they didn’t have kids until the ’49, when my grandfather was 37 and my grandmother 34. Those ages don’t strike me as older for starting a family, anymore (I mean, OLDER, honestly, hah!), but I suppose they were then? I don’t know.

I’ve seen lots of pictures from when my mom was growing up – it seemed like a fun, idyllic sort of childhood. I remember a story about a toy car that ran on orange juice, but I might have made that up. I remember hearing that she was on a swim team that practiced in the Atlantic ocean. That her mom used to drive the kids to the storm wall when there were big storms coming in, to watch. I remember a picture of my mom dressed up for prom, where she wore long white gloves and she looked so pretty.
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I don’t know as much about my dad as a kid, or his parents. He was born in 1947, in Orange, NJ, and has two younger sisters. His dad was an accountant, and his mom was a secretary. The only detail I can think of from his childhood is a picture I saw once, of him and his sisters in a snow cave they constructed one winter as kids. I think part of the reason that’s all I can think of is because I didn’t really know his parents, my paternal grandparents, very well – they both passed away when I was in elementary school.

My mom and dad met working at a summer camp in the Poconos when she was in college. I don’t know how long they dated before they got engaged – not long I think? I remember vaguely that my dad went on a backpacking trip for a few weeks, which he cut short because he decided he missed my mom too much, and asked her to marry him. Or maybe that was a movie I saw once. Who knows! Anyways, they got married (in 1973 – 40 years!) when she was 21 and he was 26, I think – very small ceremony, just immediate family, in one of their living rooms. I remember a story about my grandfather offering my mom a car and a ladder instead of a big wedding, and she took him up on it – she got a little red volkswagon bug.

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I guess 1973 means they got married during Vietnam.. I know my dad was in Air Force ROTC in college, and I think he served during the war in some capacity, and I’m having vague recollections that he eventually left the service as a conscientious objector? This is very hazy, and I’m guessing it could be a touchy subject. I think he was in grad school (Stevens Institute of Technology, for Physics) when they got married, and my mom must have just finished her undergraduate degree (Goucher College, for… Religion or Music or something?). They lived in Hoboken, NJ and my mom worked at NJ Bell while my dad finished school. I think they lived in a rent controlled brownstone or something? I remember something about the landlord trying to stick it to The Man by keeping rent low. I might be making this up, seems awfully silly. They were close to Manhattan, though, I know that – I know they went to the city a lot, but I don’t know what they liked to do. They also did a lot of camping and hiking and such, which is easier for me to picture.

They moved down to Atlanta after my dad finished grad school and got a job with AT&T – I guess that must have been 1980 or so. My bro came along in 1982, so they were married for 9 years before they had a kid. I think that’s pretty neat, having all that time. It must have been totally insane to move that far from where you grew up, where your parents lived, and start a family. It’s not like it is now – I mean, we live across the country from our families, but our kid facetimes her grandparents multiple times a day.

I remember some other stories my parents have told me – a road trip when my mom was in college, where her friend refused to put the top up on her convertible, and they all got terrible sunburns. Pranks my dad pulled when he was in school (high school? college?), where they lined up empty soda cans behind a door to confuse a teacher, or put some kind of mildly explosive something or other on a stair case so it would pop loudly when you stepped on it (??? made up? seems like it!). Oh, and something about getting in trouble with his fraternity in college for kissing the president’s sister, or something salacious like that. Oh and my mom knew Anne Lamott in college – here she is, hiding in my mom’s old pictures (that’s my dad on the left).

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So, anyways, I could go on with half remembered stories, but let’s see if I have laid enough out for my mom to chime in. My only other option is to try to get her tanked at Christmas so she’ll start telling stories, but she doesn’t like to drink… hey, that reminds me, I think she decided she didn’t like alcohol after she over-indulged at her sister’s wedding, and maybe something happened to the cake? Mom? Tell me more!

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10 Responses to Family History

  1. Stephanie M says:

    Now I really want to meet your parents, and also I think they would have really gotten along with my parents. Maybe I’ll have to write something similar…

  2. april says:

    Oh I loved this, charming.

  3. Holly Ritger says:

    Well… I read it and applaud what you are doing. I only wish I had done it with my folks. There is a lot I don’t know about my mom but I attribute that to her dying so long ago. (I was hardly grown up enough to realize how important family history is and now it’s too late.). Pop didn’t know much about his dad at all so that is a dead end.

    How about we deal with family history when we see you? Surely we can find time to devote to this!

  4. Swistle says:

    My circuits got blown out by the candid of ANNE LAMMOTT.

    • snoozical says:

      Right? She’s all up in my mom’s old pictures. Maybe my mom can remember interesting stories and anecdotes. Mom! Read this too!

      • Holly Ritger says:

        Picture is from about 1972 at Goucher College, Robinson Dorm, Townson, MD. Annie lived down the hall a few rooms. I mostly remember her coming and going to play tennis… a lot! She was a lot of fun at get togethers. Her nose snood was from Dad… he was learning to crochet at the time I was crocheting afghans. She was a year behind me and I graduated a year early, so she may have been in the dorm two years while I was there.

  5. Lara says:

    I loved this post! Family stories are always so interesting.

    Your folks and mine are way closer in age than you and I are – mine were born in 1948 and 1949 and married in 1969 – I was born just a few month later. Which feels a bit weird – I was born in the 60s and you in the 80s, (a whole DECADE in between) yet our parents are just a few years apart.

    I don’t know why it’s weird. But we should just pretend we’re sisters or something.

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