This past weekend I made the pilgrimage to the annual reunion for my mother’s family. The kids and I boarded a plane and met with many people whom I have not seen since I left Indiana almost a decade ago. In fact, there were many there that I had never met before.
Usually our reunions are held near where our family originated in Southern Indiana. Planners this year decided to mix it up a little bit. Michigan is home to a large number of my mother’s cousins whose parents left Southern Indiana right before or during World War II. My grandparents were among those in the family who left to find work in the factories and try to make something for themselves away from the corn fields of home.
It was three days of activities, and I am very glad I drug my kids to each and every one. For me, one of the more special gatherings of the trip was at my Great Aunt Teeney’s house. She will turn 95 this fall and her husband was my grandmother’s baby brother. Teeney is the last of that generation left.
I had never been to her home in Canton, Michigan but it was absolutely a stunning experience. Her son-in-law gave us the grand tour because her house is like no other near there. Built in 1936 it was a show house for what the unemployed skilled craftsman of the Detroit area could produce. The plasterers and craftsmen, according to our tour guide, were starving in the streets and the gentleman who built the house thought a model home could help them find work. Each room was different with unique elaborate plaster work and leaded glass windows. One room had spirals another diamonds. The most amazing one was contained a vine of flowers that at one time were vivid purples, reds, and golds.
However, the real reason I went to the house was to hear stories and look at pictures. Her three children, my boys, my dad and aunt Teeney sat in the living room going through album after album. Sharing stories and looking at people from our family tree. There were images I have here at my house which I can now identify thanks to this visit. I was also able to take away my own copies of images that I had never seen before.
In particular, a copy of a group of women from my family. Have you ever had a picture make you cry? I had never, ever, had this experience until that morning.
On the first page of the first album we opened an image of 6 women and a baby looked up at me. It was on the original cardboard backing and in extremely good shape. I asked if they knew who the women were because I could identify my great-grandmother Armstrong easily but didn’t know the rest. Aunt Teeney simply said “turn it over, the names are on the back.” Well, I was elated! I mean really, how many times can you think of where that actually happens with an older picture?
Flipping the card over my heart stopped at the first name, then skipped a beat at the second, then the tears started at the third. You see the woman in the center holding the baby was my grandmother’s older sister Hope and her first child Charlie (dating the image to about 1931). Hope and my grandmother married brothers making their children double cousins. This image was the grandmothers and great grandmothers of the baby, the same as my mother. My great grandmothers and 2nd great-grandmothers. My kids 2nd and 3rd great-grandmothers.
I tried to keep it together, I really did. The tears however, wouldn’t be held back and they silently streamed down my cheeks. I had only seen 3 of the people (great grandma Armstrong, Hope and Charlie) in pictures before. The others were all new faces to me.
Going left to right on the front row was the paternal grandmother of Charlie, Bertha Zeta Kelley Arvin. Then Hope Armstrong Arvin holding Charlie Arvin. Next to her was the maternal grandmother Ila Sanders Armstrong. Standing behind them were Rose Ann Brothers Arvin, mother of the paternal grandfather to Charlie. Next to her was Eliza Morris Kelley, mother to Bertha. Then last was Mary Ellen Wildman Sanders, mother to Ila.
There were even more fantastic pictures after that with great stories to tell, but nothing, I mean nothing, could even come close to that first experience. Now I completely understand why those people cry on genealogy television shows. I had not had an experience to date where I had such a visceral connection to an image.
Maybe it was because I knew them only through records and now I have faces to attach to them. Maybe it was because they are kin and I could see my family in them. Maybe I am just a sap, which, frankly, I am totally ok with too.