Slice of Life #19 Family Histories Hidden

I wish I had asked my parents more about what their lives were like before I was born.

I wish I had been less afraid of my very elderly paternal grandmother when I was growing up. She was kind to me but also bristly. She made excellent lemon merengue pies and tasty chocolate chip cookies, although the last batch I remember her making, they were kinda burnt but I ate them anyway.  She used to call me “Aunt Jemima.”

When I was 18 and planning a visit to a “boyfriend” in Wisconsin, she sat in her wheelchair and listened in silence. She was 95 and I thought maybe she had tuned out. She left me hanging for a good while before she responded: “Whatcha momma think?” I almost fell out of my chair I was so surprised.

She had worked in the household of a prominent white family’s household for years. I did not know this about her when I was growing up. It could be that I went to a posh private school with some of the grandchildren of this family. If so, no one ever acknowledged it.

I never knew my maternal grandparents. They had already passed long before I arrived.

My parents were older by the time I came along. I used to joke about it by referring to them as Sarah and Abraham. Thankfully they shared my sense of humor on this.

My father’s favorite TV series was Hogan’s Heroes, a comedy about crafty prisoners of war running an underground resistance operation in a German Stalag. The Germans were always the fools. My dad used to come home during his Special Delivery shift to eat dinner and watch this show. Growing up I did not really understand that he had been a soldier in that war. I do have a short letter he wrote to his mother in 1945 assuring her that he was fine and that she needn’t worry about him. Still, the reality of this never really sunk in. I only knew that he refused to fly anywhere.

My oldest son was around 18 when he connected the dots for me. My father had not only served, he had been an officer in the Air Force in the Pacific.

My mother worked in public education for over 30 years but was not in the classroom. She held different positions and most had a social worker kind of function to them. Her last role was in Job Development which meant working with high school students who were not planning to pursue post-secondary education. Her mantra for both home and school was “Exposure, exposure, exposure – you need to be exposed to many different things!”

She surrounded herself with print materials such that the basement of our house was a permanent fire hazard although we never looked at it that way. At one point she revealed that as a young woman she had visions of writing the great American novel. I wish I had asked her more about that.


6 thoughts on “Slice of Life #19 Family Histories Hidden

  1. Hello! Once again you have given me such a cool set of snapshots of your life and how you ponder it.
    Today’s slice got me thinking about my own family secrets and what we keep hidden all through our lives.
    I now have ideas of posts sparked from yours. Thank you


  2. Great slice; you managed to paint pretty clear images of your family in not very many words (I admire economy in writing). I had been thinking about mine as well today; perhaps they might appear in future…


  3. I had to reread the section in which you said your grandmother called you Aunt Jemima. It made me think of Ralph Ellison’s essay “Hidden Name and Complex Fate.”

    I love your mother’s philosophy: “Exposure, exposure, exposure – you need to be exposed to many different things!” I’m often surprised at how content people are w/ limited experiences. I want to go everywhere and see everything.

    I like the circularity of your writing, the beginning and ending w/ “I wish.” I do, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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