You'll never know how much all of your words of love and support here brought me much comfort in the past few weeks. I've tried several times to come here and post my thanks to you all, but the emotion of it all just buried me like a wave. For a while, I tried to avoid triggering the emotions again, but just like in the old saying, the initial pain really does lessen with time. I think I've now moved on in the healing process.
In the last several weeks, I've spent much time with my mother's last remaining sibling, my Aunt Katherine, whom we've always called "Aunt Kay". She is 2 years older than my mother, never had any children of her own, and will be 94 on Sept. 2nd, the last of the twelve children of my grandparents. Like many women of her day and area, my grandmother had many more pregnancies than 12, but several ended in stillbirths or infant deaths. Only 12 of her babies grew to adulthood and there are many tiny gravestones in the family's cementary plot. She lost infant twins in the great flu pandemic in 1918, several more who didn't survive long enough to be weaned.
Kay and her husband, Louis, whom called "Uncle Bam", wanted children desperately, but she could never conceive. So she was a special aunt to her many nieces and nephews, and me, in particular. I was my own mother's "miracle baby" - born 2 months prematurely, after 4 prior miscarriages, when my mother was thought to be long past her child-bearing years. Kay and Bam lived on a piece of my grandfather's farm, given to them at their wedding as was the custom, so I spent nearly as much time with them and my grandparents as I did with my own parents. I was my grandparents' youngest (and most spoiled!) grandchild. It had been a few years since the family had a baby in the house to spoil, so I became everyone's "pet" and was totally indulged. Kay and Bam loved all her nieces and nephews and loved nothing better than to have a house full of us around all the time, so they keep their kitchen full of goodies and their yard full of toys and games for us. They had an old refrigerator with a freezer in their cellar and they kept it full of popsicles and ice cream bars for us. We came and went from their house just as if it was our own. If we were playing outside in the summer and wanted a popsicle, we just went in and got one. Their house was our house and that's the way they liked it.
My Uncle Bam got his nickname from his days playing semi-pro baseball as a young man. His teammates called him "Bam" because he could hit a ball further than anyone else. Whne he'd hit a homerun, his teammates would mimic the sound of his pwoerful bat hitting the leather cover on the baseball - "BAM!" A family friend once told me that had Bam's family circumstances been different (his family was dirt poor and his mother was widowed with no support except for her sons), he would surely have left the valley and played in the big leagues. That's very sad, and yet also very noble, to me - that he gave up his dream to play professional baseball to take care of his mother. He was a huge Yankee fan and I spent many summer evenings sitting on his front porch with him, listening to Yankee games on a transistor radio over the static and fading voice of the announcer. My dad was a Cleveland Indians fan, who also has played in those local semi-pro leagues, so Bam spent a lot of time trying to "convert" me into a Yankees fan, much to my dad's dismay, since those two teams have been intense rivals forever. I learned a lot about baseball and a lot about life on those summer evenings, and I think of Bam wearing his Yankees hat whenever I catch a Yankee game on TV. (And yes, I'm still an Indians fan but I root for the much hated Yankees too.)
Unlike my mom in the last few years, Kay's mind is sharp as a tack and she's in relatively good health. She seems very sad to be the last of her generation left and seems to have a need to tell the stories of her brothers and sisters, and my grandparents, so that the new "elders" of the family (me, and my cousins) pass them down to those who come after us, as our parents and grandparents did for us. We've all heard these stories of the common family history over and over as children, but Kay seems to need to re-tell the stories with as much detail as she can remember. I think she knows that time is short for her and she is now the keeper of the family history. She's desperately trying to preserve the link between the generations already gone and the current and future generations.
I've been sitting with her and taping her words, as well as trying to take some notes on the details of the events and the 94 years of memories she has stored in her brain. The amount of detail she remembers is amazing. She'll be telling me some story from her childhood and she'll suddenly stop and point to my notebook, and say "her name was Emily Veverka...V-E-V-E-R-K-A.. Spell it correctly, dear It's important." Cracks me up every time! She wants me to get it right because she knows she won't be around to correct it later and she wants the children in the family to know the correct version of the family history.
All these stories and her need to get them recorded for the future generations, has given me some amazing material for some future writing. There's just SO much and knowing where to start is the hard part. Coming from an area like Appalachia, where small towns and closely knit large families are the norm, it really is true that "everyone knows everyone" else and many families are inter-related through marriages. My aunt tells me many stories about my father's family, the Clarks, because she knows their family history almost as well as she knows her own. My father's family were notorious bootleggers during the 20's,30's, and in the war years of the 40's. There are still some of them making "hooch" in the hollers down there as they always have. My dad used to tell me stories about the men of the family running moonshine in their cars and pick-up trucks, which were equipped with fake gas tanks for the purpose. My aunt was laughing so hard she almost couldn't talk the other day when she was telling me a story about my dad's oldest brother, Carl, and how he ruined a perfectly good load of "'shine" by putting in the wrong tank on the car. She it was days before anyone figured out why the car was sputtering and stalling so much. She said my grandfather, Carl's dad, was much more upset about wasting a perfectly good batch of moonshine than he was about ruining the car's engine!
So that's where I've been and what I've been doing. The gift my Aunt Kay has given me by telling me her stories is not only is she passing the torch as the family's historian on to me to keep safe, she's also helping me get past my mother's passing in letting me think about her in another time - as a young girl in a large farm family, a young wife, and as I remember her best, as my mother. Someday, when stories come out of this treasure chest of memories and family history that she's given me, you might read them as pure fiction, but you'll know where they really came from.
Much love and thanks to you, my other family,