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family

Nov 23 2012

Grandma’s Hands

by Veronica W

Bubbe. Nonny. Ona. Abuela. Grammy. Ya ya. Big Mama. Mee Maw. Grandmother. Bill Withers, on his album Live at Carnegie Hall,  says, as an introduction to one of my favorite tunes, “People walk up to me and say ‘I loved my grandmother too.’ ” On the album, when he says that, the audience claps and cheers, because they know what’s coming—one of his signature songs, Grandma’s Hands.

I didn’t know my grandmothers and I always listen enviously when my older sisters talk about Gramma Ella’s pies or something she said, did or believed. My own granddaughter is blessed with not only two grandmothers but also two great grandmothers. As a self absorbed teenager, she probably doesn’t appreciate all the advice, virtual cheek pinching and general minding of her business that she gets—except at Christmas and on birthdays, of course.

In his song, Withers chronicles some of the things his Grandma’s hands—as extensions of her heart—used to do: “clapped in church on Sunday morning, picked me up each time I fell, soothed a local unwed mother, though they ached sometimes and swelled.”

Looking in the library’s catalog, you’ll find there are about 980 hits when you search the word “grandmother.” In fiction and nonfiction, grandmas are something special; according to Withers, “great, big ole love machines.”  Because there are too many books to number, I will highlight only one exceptional book, Grand Mothers: Poems, Reminiscences, and Short Stories About the Keepers of Our Traditions. Edited by Nikki Giovanni, this book is filled with the memories, the traditions and the love of grandmothers, as recalled by many well known authors.

I love the part of the title which says grandmothers are “keepers of tradition.” In a world which often dismisses tradition as unnecessary or obsolete, our grandmothers draw us close, rub our backs and remind us of the relevance of the past. Perhaps you have some favorite books or memories you would like to share; perhaps, like Withers’  enthusiastic audience, you can say “I loved my grandmother too.” And how do we know that we were loved in return? As Toni Morrison says in this wonderful book, “What you talkin’ bout, did I love you? Girl, I stayed alive for you!” What an awesome gift.

 

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Her narrowed eyes and balled up fists were only two manifestations of the rage which poured off her in heat waves. At 15, my sister Antoinette was almost obsessively neat and organized, while I, three years younger, was none of the above. The blouses and skirts she had so carefully laundered and ironed on Saturday, in preparation for the coming week, were mine also by divine right—or so I thought. After all, I was the youngest.  “Spoiled rotten!” was what my six older sisters thought of me and “jealous cats” was what I frequently called them.  Most of the time my parents only intervened if it became physical.

Siblings are an interesting group of intimates; most of the time they fight ferociously among themselves but stand back-to-back against all outsiders.  This same sister comforted me when I ran to her classroom because first grade was such a horrible place to be and held my hand when I was taunted by some bullies. However sibling rivalry is a very real issue in homes where there are two or more children, no matter how much they love each other (deep, deep, deep, deep down). Blended families come with other challenges;  just ask Cinderella and her stepsisters.

Rivalry, by its very definition, indicates there is a struggle to gain an advantage and in families it’s often a competition for parental favor; grades, sports, looks and helpfulness are all grist for the mill. Numerous books have been written which help parents foster the idea that “Love is like a flame. No matter how many candles you light with it, the flame is never diminished.” This, of course, means that parents have no favorites. Uh huh. Loving Each One Best speaks to parents who find their world “an exhausting haze of competing demands and perpetual squabbling.”  A couple of other helpful books are Preventing Sibling Rivalry and Truce: Ending Sibling War.  My personal favorite, however, is “Mom, Jason’s Breathing on Me!” Anyone who has ridden with or driven siblings (including teens), knows that nothing short of a squirt gun will make them simmer down.

The all knowing “they” tell me that only children are lonely children. Perhaps that’s true. However I’ll wager their parents  enjoy a peaceful dinnertime.

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Nov 12 2010

Family Stories Month

by Amanda L

November is known as Family Stories month. What a great month to gather all of the family stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. We all get together for Thanksgiving and other events over the next few weeks and months.  I know for me, family events or meals always meant that the elders talked about the good ole days. How would I ever have heard the story about my grandfather being taken for a stroller ride by Geronimo? (Now whether that was true or not, I’m not sure but it makes for a good story.) I do regret not gathering all of the stories I heard as a child, and unfortunately everyone from the previous generation is gone. We do have many old pictures and movies dating back from the early 1900’s which has helped my generation jog our memories about some of the stories.

Do you have some old pictures, movies or stories of your family that you would like to hand off to the next generation. There are many ways to preserve the family social history. You can create books, blogs, websites or scrapbooks that could be passed on.  Not sure where to start? The Library has a few books that might help you.

Writing the Family Narrative by Lawrence P. Gouldrup

For all time: a complete guide to writing your family history by Charley Kempthrone

Producing a quality family history by Patrica Law Hatcher

If you have a interesting family story and would like to share, we would love to hear about it.

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Oct 11 2010

Shall We Gather at the Ramada

by Veronica W

There is a delightful, award-winning children’s book entitled The Relatives Came , by Cynthia Rylant.  It tells the story of  family members from Virginia, who came to visit in a station wagon that could “hold a crowd of folk and looked like a rainbow.”  An exact destination is not given but they “left at 4 in the morning, came up from Virginia, drove all day long and into the night.”  The illustrations show exuberant hugging, (“Those relatives just passed us all around their car, pulling us against their wrinkled Virginia clothes”) joyous feasting and at the end of the day, everyone bunking up wherever there was a free space. This book depicts the true spirit of family reunions, if not the reality, since reunion “war stories” abound.

Summer seems to be the favorite time of year for a gathering of the clans. Like Rylant’s group, my kith and kin came up from Virginia, although they arrived in a classic, flare- finned Cadillac. To my young Yankee way of thinking, they were  coca- cola drinking, grits-eating (They must have brought their own) full-of-life exotics. Their visit involved very little planning, except for a letter or phone call stating the day of arrival. My mother had remained true to some old southern traditions, so  it never occurred to her to look into hotels for them.  Instead, I had to bunk up with cousins I barely knew. Nevertheless, it was usually a wonderful, warm time of eating and reminiscing and our house always seemed emptier after they left.

Today reunions are big business and as soon as one is finished, plans start for the next one. They often require a finance committee, a search committee and an events planner. The number of attendees can range from a few dozen to a few hundred, depending on how near your dear ones are and how many of the family tree branches you want to include.

A project of this size requires lots of work and fortunately, there are plenty of resources available. An excellent help is The DeKalb Visitors Bureau. They provide extensive  reunion services, which include finding budget friendly accommodations, events planning assistance, lists of local attractions and dining recommendations. They also conduct planning workshops around the county and even provide volunteers to assist with your activities. To visit their website, go to  www.dcvb.orgReunions Magazine at www.reunionsmag.com offers assistance as well, as does www.family-reunion.com, “The web’s Most Popular Family Reunion Planning Site.” If you prefer a book to have on hand, check out a copy of Your Family Reunion: How to Plan it, Organize it and Enjoy It. It’s an exhaustive look at planning a successful reunion and covers event sizes, locations, cost, pursuing family genealogy, food, games and much, much more. Best of all, at the end of each chapter there is a page of internet resources dealing with that subject.

The word reunion means “to come together again.”  Whether it’s with a small, informal gathering or an extravaganza, tightening the family ties can be nourishing, fulfilling and rewarding—especially if you don’t have to give up your bed.

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