When I was working on the family genealogy I quickly realized that the stories of the people in the family were much more interesting to me than all the family charts in the world. While it's wonderful to know my roots, and where I came from, the best thing was the many stories that have been handed down through the generations. Funny stories, tragedies, simple tales of quiet life in the mountains, adventurous moves to new horizons...all of the stories made my ancestors a part of my life and memory, even though I never met most of them.
There was a sad lack in stories about the women in the family, though. I grew up surrounded by strong women and I have no doubt they inherited their strength, talents and skills from the women who came before them. On both sides of the family women stepped into the traditional roles of their mothers and also broke the molds as the generations passed and they broadened their horizons by working outside the home. Some of them ventured out before it was acceptable, often due to necessity when a husband died or was too wayward for the responsibilities of hearth and home.
I grew up watching the women in my mother's family become more beautiful as they aged, despite hard times and sorrow, which come to every life. They were quiet mountain women, most working as mothers and housewives all their lives. Gardening, canning, making quilts and rugs, knitting and crocheting, cooking meals that nourished body and soul, church on Sunday morning and family made up the circle of their lives. As times changed and the next generation became working women, they were also my models and mentors, as I saw what women could accomplish in so many ways.
When we gather as family, which is usually on the sad occasion of a funeral, it's hard not to smile or even laugh. A family gathering is a time to celebrate memory and story, even as we mourn the losses both past and present. It's a time to meet a new generation and pass on the tradition of story and memory.
The names of my family's women were simply wonderful though the generations....Loucinda, Addie, Ocie, Clarice, Winnie, Ruby, Virginia, Opal, Jewel, Thelma, Arlene, Libby....each name calling up a face and personality so unique. So many of them have slipped away with time, reminding me that I'm almost fifty and the generation of my childhood has long been gone. I remember one of my great-grandmothers on my mother's side, and I learned to spin on her spinning wheel. One of my cousins remembers seeing Grandma Lou working away at her knitting at an advanced age. Some no longer grace Meadows of Dan, but the memories of their beauty and strength, and even of their faults, live strong in those of us descended from this family. These women are part of my heritage and my strength, and my memory.