Tuesday, March 11, 2008

They'll Live Forever As Long As Someone Knows Their Names

Mom called last night and we chatted about - guess what! - dead people. She loves sharing her memories, and I love writing them down. Here’s a sampling:

~ Even with the hard life Grandma Keen led, she was always kind and sweet. She would tell my mom (her granddaughter), “Kindness is free. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind.” She was an excellent seamstress and sewed wedding dresses for the local girls. With the money she earned, Mom said, Grandma and Grandpa helped put Uncle Ralph, their son-in-law, through medical school. Here are Grandma and Mom with a doll Grandma made for Christmas. Mom looks politely excited - she was a tomboy and didn't play with dolls, but she loved her Grandma.

~ During summers, Mom used to visit Aunt Marguerite and Uncle Ralph in Portland. They were quite "comfortable," and Mom observed Marguerite's shopping habit of calling up local department stores like Nordstrom or Meier & Frank and having clothes delivered to her home. She’d pay for the ones she liked and send the rest back. If Aunt Marguerite found a blouse or dress she liked, she bought one in every color. She had huge drawers full of nylons, etc. She always wore sunglasses and beautiful jewelry and kept her eyebrows immaculately plucked. Mom said Uncle Ralph must have visited China during some part of his World War II service, because their home was decorated like a Chinese restaurant, down to the red-fringed lamps. Here's Aunt Marguerite in 1962.

~ Uncle Ralph could be really funny. My grandparents were fighting one day, and Uncle Ralph (Grandma’s brother-in-law) turned on a tape recorder and set it behind the couch and recorded their quite lengthy argument. Uncle Ralph played it back for them later. Grandma was ready to kill him, Mom said. He bought Mom a parakeet when she was six, whom she named “Trixie,” and Mom had the bird until she was about sixteen. Here we have Uncle Ralph with his daughters, Patricia and Chickie, and Grandma Dot.

~ Here are Grandma Dot and her sister Kathleen in the 1930s, outside the family home in Walla Walla, getting ready to go somewhere. Kathleen, it turns out, was something of a backseat driver. Mom remembers driving to Wallowa Lake with Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Mel one summer, and it was "Melvin! Melvin! Turn here! Melvin!" all the way there. To her credit, Kathleen did have a Ph.D. and an important job and was pretty darn smart, so I imagine she was someone worth listening to. You can read more about her here.

With these pictures and stories in mind, I hope we're all working on two things:

1) Take time to write down something about your life. Someone will be interested in hearing about you someday - wouldn't it be nice if they could hear it in your own words? (Instead of hearing, "She was a backseat driver" - or worse - from someone else?)

2) If you can, interview older family members who remember a generation or two farther back than you do, and write down what they say about these loved ones who have left us. Though they may be scanty or imperfect, these records are precious.


  1. I love this. Its wonderful that you will feel like you know your family when you meet them someday.

  2. Kind of keeps your mind on what's important in life.

  3. You are an inspiration. Truly. I am inspired to gather and share more of my family's memories because of you.

  4. Oh, Mills, those are great stories....and photos! I sometimes go through WW to visit bloggy friends. I'll have to let you know in case you need some markers photographed.

    PS. I found this database online through the National Archives. Holy molly, good stuff!


  5. pps. you can erase my stupid comment on findagrave. This is what happens when you stay up too late and somehow thinK you are funny cracking a joke you can't tell properly.

    We all know, I am not funny. (and can't spell, either)

    See what I mean? I'm going to stop while I'm behind.

  6. Kymburlee recommended your blog and I read the entire thing :)

    You are so lucky to have pictures and stories... Can you spare a few interesting family members? Ha ha ha.

    I swear my father had amnesia from birth to age 45. How else can I know more about his grandparents than he does?

    Keep up the great blog :)