"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, June 28, 2013


Paternal Grandparents

~ Recent Family History ~
a poem
by Ernest Sandeen (1908 - 1997)
Looking out at us from their photographs,
mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles,
now dead for forty - five years or more,
don't recognize us, can't even imagine us.
And we are helpless to penetrate the safety
of their innocence . . .

from Collected Poems (237)

Maternal Grandparents

" . . . we start [that which] we will not live to see,
just as our ancestors could not live to see us.
And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us,
as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood,
and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time."

by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926)
from Letters to a Young Poet (62)

I've never forgotten a dream that I had one night when I was in my early twenties. My mother's parents seemed to be right beside my bed, sitting in rocking chairs, sipping tea (or was it Sanka?) from china cups. In reality, my grandfather was still alive at the time, though my grandmother had died fifteen years earlier. It was not a dreamy or dreamlike dream; it was more of a visitation, consisting of a single scenario and one line of dialogue: my grandmother saying to me, "You are very American aren't you?" What could that mean? They were just as American as I, born in America, as were their parents, who had immigrated several generations before. We were not new to the Country, so my American - ness should come as no surprise to them.

Upon waking, I interpreted the dream as their way of granting me permission to forge ahead into a future which, as Rilke says, they would not live to see, reassuring me that my way of being in the world was going to be different than theirs had been . . . and that this was okay with them. Over the years, I have not remembered many dreams, but this one remains as vivid to me as the night my grandparents came to acknowledge that beyond a certain point, they could no longer imagine me, yet I would always have their blessing and their unconditional love.

"We have all rejected our beginnings
and become something our parents could not have foreseen."

by Robertson Davies (1913 - 1995)
from Fifth Business (248)

I love seeing my my maternal grandmother
in these outfits, obviously some of her favorites,
that she chose for having her photograph taken.
Such stylish footwear and that extravagant hat!

Her older brother, known for his photography, had promised her a photo session, and she was hoping to model something elegant, but he had a radical idea: if she wanted another picture taken, she could pose in his baseball uniform. Not her idea of finery, but she reluctantly agreed -- the first and last time in her life to don a pair of trousers. Perhaps he convinced her by insisting that "A hundred years from now, this photo will be a family treasure, cherished by your grand-daughter!" If so, how right he would have been!
On the back, my grandmother has written:
"Rovilla in ball suit"

In another treasured photo,
here is my paternal grandmother, also defying convention.
On the back, my Aunt Sue has written:
"Our Momma in slacks.
This is the only time I ever saw her in slacks."

Bristow Ancestors
Click to see slideshow & hear music by Gerry McCartney
~ Also On YouTube ~

Gerry's Paternal Great - Grandparents and Great - Aunts

We tried to recreate their unusual pose . . .

and thought it would be even more fun
to replace the newspaper . . .

with a 21st Century equivalent.
Something our parents could not have foreseen!


Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, July 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Peace Concluded 1856
by John Everett Millais
I love the uncanny similarity between the above photograph
of Gerry's great - grandparents and this painting,
depicting a wounded British officer reading the Times
newspaper report of the end of the Crimean War.

No comments:

Post a Comment