Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Four Generations

Four Generations circa 1953. Posted by Picasa
If you don't know [your family's] history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ~ Michael Crichton
Four generations, together posing for an unseen photographer. I don't remember them taking this picture, but then I was the squalling baby probably having an attack of the ever present colic. My Great-grandmother Charity is holding me. As I got older, I remember her little house sitting catty-cornered to the old farm house across the dirt and gravel drive that led east to the chicken house and on down the slight grade to the machine shop. I love her name, "Charity". One of my cousins is named after her...Charity Anne. Her frame looks small and frail in her old age, but she was a woman who was both strong in character and in body. She was an Illinois farmer's wife after all. She had a deep faith and roused all the faithful in the rural farming community for a round-the-clock prayer meeting when my dad was a baby, ill with meningitis, a raging high fever and before the era of antibiotics, very little hope of survival. He did survive and thrive although, at 5'11" he was stunted in his growth when compared to his 6'5" brothers.

I have few real memories of her, except that she had a cherry tree by her house. We would pick up buckets of cherries from those fallen on the ground while Grandpa and my dad were up on ladders in the tree picking. The women and the eight year old girl would sit on the wide front porch of the farm house with huge round metal pans. In one would be the freshly washed red cherries and another would be for those pitted and with the stem removed. Pitting cherries seemed very tedious to me as I was not very nimble fingered. We used hairpins, the old fashioned U-shaped kind, to dig into the center of the cherry and pluck out the seed. The goal was to leave the cherry as intact as possible. No tears. It seemed like we did this for hours and often I would sneak and pop a cherry in my mouth. These were the red, tart cherries meant to make the best cherry pie in five counties. They were not meant for eating raw; their tang produced an instant tingle and contraction of the parotids; one could not help the scrunching up of the face, the pursed lips and the watering eyes while eating these cherries. You definitely would not want to eat one of these cherries if ill with the mumps. But once Grandma and Great-grandmother Charity worked in the sugar and the home churned butter, some tapioca and placed them in the pie crust with the pretty woven lattice work on top, and popped them in the big black oven to bake, the aroma that came from that kitchen was heavenly. Cherry pie was my favorite and they knew how to turn those sour cherries into the sweetest dessert an eight year old could want.

I was lucky, I have this memory. Gayla was my next oldest cousin, five years younger than I. She was only four when Great-grandmother Charity died. She doesn't remember her.

After her death the little house catty-cornered to the old farm house became a garage and eventually with time had to be torn down. My grandpa found a pale pink depression glass vase, delicate and pretty, in her cupboard. It had been her favorite; a small fragile touch of beauty in the midst of a life of hard work. Grandpa kept it safe and gave it to me when Nyssa was born. He said that while she wasn't his first great-grandchild, Nyssa was the first child of both his first grandchild and Charity's first great-grandchild. He thought she would want her to have it. The vase held baby pink rosebuds at the reception following her dedication. It was perfect. It now waits for Nyssa's firstborn, the handwritten story of the vase and her family heritage tucked neatly inside.

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