May Laura entered the world and like most babies knew only enough to scream for some food, and maybe a bit of heat. What she didn’t know–wouldn’t realize for some time–was that she was swaddled immediately by family. Six older siblings would plant their first kisses; parents of her parents would come coo a lullaby. Aunts and uncles and cousins would bring gifts and greetings as the the muddy roads permitted. May Laura Stevenson, born April 29, 1874, would grow up along the Monongahela River, just outside the bustling town of Greensboro surrounded by her kin, and by the memories of those who had lived along those banks for decades. Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson came from settler stock, and among their ancestors were distillers and fullers, iron furnace operators and glass blowers, hotel owners and farmers. Phillips, Gregg, Stevenson, Eberhart, Jones, Rhodes–all families that had shaped the life along the Monongahela since 1800. Baby May would find great comfort in that sense of place, in that network of love. Life would hold some very hard lessons.
No Mud. No Lotus.
ON a cloudy September Sunday, I attended a Day of Mindfulness, led by the incredible teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. His dharma talk examined the nature of suffering, that most human experience that grounds us all. By focusing on the present moment, he said, we provide the space in which we can focus on our suffering, to cradle it as we would a small baby. By paying attention to what pains us, we can transform that suffering, into compassion – for ourselves. This compassion is the foundation of happiness, joy; a base for healthy communication and compassion for others. Without this mud – this suffering – there can be no flower – joy, happiness, and compassion.
This last year has been very, very muddy, and I am looking for flowers, for trees, in fact, with root systems to stop the erosion of this rainy life season….And I keep smacking into the words of Thich Nhat Hahn.
The suffering inside us contains the suffering of our ancestors, who may not have been able to transform their suffering…and transmitted their unresolved suffering to us. If we are able to understand that suffering and thereby transform it we are healing our parents, our ancestors, as well as, ourselves.
The Art of Communicating
I have found the mindfulness exercises to be moments of peace and comfort. I focus on my breathing and in that space acknowledge my sorrow. I don’t always feel better, or happy, right then. But I can tolerate the pain, and see a path forward, and with relief know that I will heal, and joy will come.
This Thanksgiving day I am grateful to have experienced human compassion, a listening ear, a tight squeeze of love. I am grateful, too, for the opportunity to offer that compassion to others, and to my ancestors, as well. Their suffering is the dirt of my family’s trees, and with mindful genealogy perhaps I can transform their suffering into understanding and compassion – for my grandparents, my parents, for me, for my present companions.
I love technology.
I love scanners, and computers, and on-line software, and blogs, and pack rat ancestors.
Oh, they are not technology. BUT I get to peek into their lives BECAUSE they were pack rats and I have technology.
Within a brown envelope of the Roanoke Photo Finishing Company, Roanoke, Virginia (just opposite the Post Office), saved by my father, were negative images of my dad, his brothers, his parents, and a little girl, just able to stand at her daddy’s knee. That dates the group portrait with my eldest cousin to 66 years ago. Now, IF all the other negatives belong to that same roll, the above image of Norman Scott Strickland was taken by a friend in 1947, presumably one of these folks:
Anyone have any clues about the photographers’ identity, please leave me a comment! And anyone knowing about 1940s cars, what make and model do I have here??
People may call me a hoarder, a sentimentalist, a pack rat. But I prefer to think of myself as a Keeper of the Lore, continuing the work of my brilliant ancestors who kept receipts, photographs, letters, cards, documents, books, and negatives.
YES, NEGATIVES ARE A POSITIVE
Today, I felt like fossicking through my
Like magic, an image has appeared without chemicals or dark room!! Save this jpeg file to your computer, and you can spiff it up with a bit of photo editing. I prefer to use the online service, PicMonkey.com. Ultimately, I end my morning with this great shot:
Anyone else have some negatives to share???
Her palms hovered just inches from her ears, fingers-spread. As if a metronome, my mother’s hands rocked back and forth as she spat, “You are JUST like your father!” I never needed a decoder to understand that this phrase conveyed a mother’s disappointment; her eldest child, and only daughter, carried on the mannerisms and point of view of a barely tolerated ex-husband. My parents’ divorce was amicable as formal separations go. Since all the children were fairly grown up, no custody duels were overtly fought. But the covert competition for our allegiance and love was ceaseless throughout my adult life.
You cope, when your parents are divorced. You just cope, raising your own children as best you can, fending off the birth family battles with as much panache and courage as you dare, navigating the second marriages and blended family get-togethers without losing your mind. And finally you start feeling a bit old, mortal, and you set out to reclaim your childhood, your birth family, your ancestors. Or that is what you do when you get bitten by the genealogy bug.
I wandered the shoals of family memory, curious about how and why !?! my parents ever got together. There was a college romance. At RPI in Richmond. Norman transferred to VPI (Virginia Tech) and they got married. In Greene County, Pennsylvania. Then they lived in Blacksburg. Norman got a job with General Electric, and they moved to Boston, where Lyn finished her degree at Tufts. GE transferred the couple to Roanoke.
I had to DIG for this stuff, people.
Finally, late in life, my father admitted that he would always love the girl he married. Which plants the question: was Norman ever Lyn’s beloved? I would never hear the profession from her lips.
What was once lost has now been found
My father mailed a letter from Virginia Tech Station, Blacksburg, Virginia, to my mother’s dorm at 819 Franklin, Richmond 20, Virginia, every day from January 28, 1953 until May 28, 1953.
And my mother saved. them. all. *
The love letters chronicle the spring of their engagement; the Barnes Junction rendevous, unreasonable professors, wedding dates, and rambling musings of twenty-somethings. Sometimes the story is not left in the ink of a letter. It is inferred by the mere presence of that artifact. The words speak of my parents’ love for each other, once upon a time. The preservation of this seven inch stack says my mother always loved the boy she married.
It matters to me that my parents married because they wanted to, because they were in love, and optimistic, and happy to be together. It matters to me that I was welcomed with delight. Perhaps, after all, my mother was a teeny bit glad that I turned out to be just like my father.
*Norman S. Strickland, Blacksburg, Virginia, 1953, Letters to Marilyn Minor; Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection, archived with the author.