I only visited Aunt Pat in Marshfield, Wisconsin a few times. But one of those times she showed me The Scrapbooks. I remembered the large black construction paper pages and the captions in white pencil. (And the color photos of my dead great-great-aunt Odelia, lying in her coffin. Those were odd. And somewhat terrifying. But as I later learned, not terribly uncommon.)
Sometimes, when Aunt Pat visited Fremont, Grandma Ruth and the aunts would haul out the shoeboxes that housed very old family photographs. My ancestors stared out from the sepia-toned cartes de visite and wrinkled snapshots from a hundred years in the past. A handsome man dressed in a suit and fedora, a sly smirk on his face, his hands clasped behind his back. “That’s your Grandpa,” Grandma stated with a hint of pride. She never said very much, but the aunts made up for her silence, commenting on nearly every photo spread out all over the round table that filled up the middle of the kitchen.
I adore old photos. I feel sad when I come across boxes of abandoned ancestors at antique and junk shops. And I know how lucky I am to have these images of my past (as in my past before I was even a glimmer in my parents’ eyes).
After Aunt Pat died, I wondered about the scrapbooks. My Mom told me that the items that nobody wanted in Aunt Pat’s house wound up in big black garbage bags. And that probably included The Scrapbooks.
But a few Septembers ago, Aunt Pat’s granddaughter, my Cousin Sara, told me The Scrapbooks hadn’t been tossed out and she was mailing them to me so I could scan them. Aside from my wedding day and the births of my children, that was probably the happiest moment of my life! I scanned the heck out of those scrapbooks, and even found a small scrapbook kept by my Grandma Ruth. It started with pictures of her friends from Grand Island Business College and her Wendorff cousins in Arco, Minnesota and ended with a photo of her first two daughters, Marcia and Joan, as babies. The comments were precious and showed me a side of my Grandma that I never knew existed, much less persisted.
One of the photos in Grandma’s scrapbook is a panoramic view of Elder Grove Stock Farm, captioned in her beautiful penmanship, white ink on black paper, as “Home Sweet Home”.
I love to write, mainly because I hate to talk. And I’ve decided that I need to capture the stories I heard growing up around that kitchen table and that I’ve since discovered through my genealogy research. Some are mundane, some are extraordinary.
All begin at home.