Sunday, April 26, 2009

Summer Unschooling- Family History Part One

I have always been fascinated by my family history. I remember being a little girl, probably not much older than Cheyenne and sitting at my grandma's feet as she and her sisters, brother and cousin reminisced about their childhoods. I remember car trips with my parents to their hometowns, pointing out secret hiding places and decrepit old woodland cemeteries that held the bones of my ancestors.

I could picture them, great-grandpa Robert playing dead in the carriage while the horse led him on the familiar route home from the tavern and then popping up suddenly to frighten the children. Mountain Goat, the black cow who's mission in life was to eventually make the precarious climb up to the hayloft and who loved children so much she nearly purred when petted. My second cousin and my uncle suspending my mom head first through the wide heating grate of the old farmhouse so she could eavesdrop on the conversation in the kitchen. And, you know, because suspending your sister head first down a heating great is good solid fun, espionage not withstanding. My great uncle Eddie, the undertaker, who ran out of beds when the cousins came to visit and let them sleep in the leftover coffins.

This week my mom has been visiting from San Diego and, much to my delight, this has prompted all sorts of questions from my inquisitive little girls. "Grandma, who is your mommy?" "Grandma, tell me about your grandmothers," and the infamous, "Your Daddy is dead? When is he coming back from there?" Just as when I was a kid, my family has been happy to answer their questions and take them on a tour of the sites of our family's history.

Saturday was the 17th anniversary of the death of my grandfather, so we started the tour with a visit to his grave. We briefly discussed bringing flowers but decided that flowers had never been Grandpa's favourite and, lacking a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey and a backhoe, his favourite earthly possessions, it would be better to go empty handed. Mom introduced Grandpa, and her grandparents to Cheyenne and Isabella and told him how much he would have loved them. He loved spunky little girls. For their part the girls enjoyed the peacefulness of the country graveyard and Cheyenne remarked that she'd like to visit more often.

Next on the tour was the farm my grandma grew up on. The house has doubled in size now. When grandma lived there in the 20s and 30s the only part of the house that existed was the part with the picture window under the pointed part of the roof. Grandma lived there with her mother, her father, her schoolteacher and her 6 brothers and sisters. This is even more amazing if you knew my grandma and her siblings. Don't get me wrong, I love them to pieces, but they are all very strong personalities and the idea of living in a tiny two bedroom house with those particular 7 children in the harsh Wisconsin winter is....daunting to say the least. It suddenly comes as no surprise to me that her mother had a nervous breakdown one summer and went to sleep in the barn for a few months. We talked about the girl's Great-Great-Grandma Jennie and how my mom would go to their house after school and help her grandma make biscuits. Great-Great-Grandma would make big biscuits and mom would use a mini pie plate as a baking dish and make tiny little quarter-sized biscuits that just fit on the plates of the old porcelain children's tea set. I'm e-mailing some relatives to see if I can't track down great-great-grandma Jennie's biscuit recipe.

Next up on the tour was grandma's old school, which is directly next door to the house. The school has been shut up for half a century and is looking worse for the wear. Still it was interesting to see.

The front yard of the schoolhouse was covered in just-blooming mayflowers, my mom's favourite as a kid because they heralded the beginning of spring. She picked one for each of the girls. We have mayflowers growing near our house too and when they bloom a little more the girls and I are planning to pick some and try them in the flower press Cheyenne got for her birthday.

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