Friday, August 13, 2010

Photos and Stories and Family. . . Oh, My!

I have not posted for over a week, but that is because I have been gone on a double family history trip and have been feeling "trip-lagged" for the two days since my return.  It didn't start out to be a double trip, it just ended up that way.
First, I am not the computer whiz that other bloggers are.  I read about their adventures posted in a timely way as they drive from one place to another or cheerily written at the end of the day.  Me?  My eyes go back and forth between the traffic and the GPS in my front windshield and, at the end of the day my feet go up, my pajamas go on and, if I have an ounce of energy left, I check my email.

You may remember my previous blog post about my "personal challenge" which was the result of the  52 Weeks to Better Genealogy - Challenge 23 - Create Your Own Challenge 
Well, true to my word, I contacted my cousin after my return from Ireland. At first, we thought about meeting at a restaurant for lunch, but the thought of parking in Chicago gives me hives. How about a nice casual place, that won't hurry us, I suggested.  She instantly offered her home and, of course, I should stay for the weekend.  She would contact her sister and see if she could come also.  Did I mention that I have two first cousins close to my age that I have no memory of ( I realize that is grammatically incorrect)?  It sounded lovely, and so I accepted even while my stomach churned and the little voice in my head said, "Are you really sure about this?"  In the days following, we talked about our family and ourselves through emails.  One day, we must have exchanged 50 emails, sometimes crossing paths as we responded to each other, and she shared family information.  My anticipation was growing, but, still, as the weekend got closer, I worried.  What if we don't get along?  What if it's awkward? What if they're perfect when I'm not?  What if. .  . .what if. . . . . what if?  What if I'm miserable? So I planned excuses that I could use if necessary.

As I left my house on Sat. Aug 7, I downloaded the map directions that she sent, programmed the GPS I received last Christmas with her address and packed a suitcase just in case I stayed.  My daughter, getting mixed signals from me, asked me when I was coming home.  I explained that I wasn't sure. She thought I was being foolish, but, as I know all too well, you can't always control your emotions whether they are foolish or not.

The drive was easy, and I was only slightly off schedule due to a couple of last minute errands I had to do on my way out of town.  I sailed down the toll road, up and over the Skyway, and then hit gridlock!  My GPS decided that I needed to take the next exit.  This was in conflict with the written directions, but since I was going no where, I took the advice of the nice gentleman in my GPS.  While the roads were busy, I was continually moving. I drove through Chinatown, down Halstead through a very artsy area with lots of galleries, and past the university.  It really was very interesting, and soon I was directed to drive back onto the I-94 that I had left earlier, but beyond the gridlock.  At this point I was very late, but as I was going through town, my cousin called to see if everything was okay and to tell me that her sister was going to be able to make it after all.  Now my decision was made, I was definitely staying.  After all, she was making a four hour trip to be there.  I realized what a wonderful opportunity this was for me.

Carroll Walker -1907 football uniform 
My cousin had lunch ready for my late arrival, and we started chatting immediately.  Soon cousin #2, Trudi, arrived.  Both had memories of my family, but I had none.  I heard about the wonderful doll clothes my mother made for their dolls when they were little.  My mother loved to sew, but sadly all of my doll clothes stayed in Kansas when my parents divorced.  I asked many, many questions, and my family started to take shape. It was the generation of their mother and my father that was a blank for me. What could they tell me about my grandparents, Carroll and Gertrude Walker?  I had some early family information that was new to them so they read the lengthy obituaries of our staunch abolitionist ancestors.  The time passed so quickly and the table was spread with piles of papers - my papers because I have a very loose grasp of organization.  Sarah, on the other hand, had made packets of her information clipped together with our names on sticky notes.  Why didn't I get the organization gene?

Now, I have to tell you that my cousin is amazing.  She makes entertaining look effortless, when I know it is not.  We had fresh flowers in our rooms and on the table (see above).  We had the best marinated steak I've ever had, fresh corn and salad on the patio with a candle lit table.  And I was treated to a favorite family recipe - Aunt Martha's cake.  Yumm!  Beyond all of this, my cousins are warm, outgoing, friendly, honest, and welcoming.  When Sarah learned that I was traveling only two hours away a day later, she insisted that I stay a second night.  So, although I originally wasn't sure I would spend even one night, I ended up spending two.   I felt like family, not to be confused with just being related.

The next day, she pulled up boxes from the basement full of family mementos packed in cardboard boxes when her mother passed away.  My aunt Annette was the rock of the family.  Her brothers went to college and some to law school, but despite the fact that she was beautiful and smart, she was just a girl and so did not.  As her brothers became alcoholics, she tried to keep in touch with them, but not always successfully, as the returned letters and cards in the boxes attested, but she kept trying.  She was listed as the contact for my father in his social security record.  The brothers knew they could count on her.  I will always be so grateful for the fact that she went to the effort to find and contact me when my father died. I wish I had known her better.

One gem we found was a photo of David Barrett Walker, civil war soldier and our gr. grandfather. Otherwise, while Trudi and Sarah found art projects and school assignments that had been saved by their mother from their childhood, she had nothing from her own early family life.  Sadly for me, there were no photos of my father with his family.  Together we tried to sort out the timetable of where the family lived after they left Kansas.  While their mother attended school in St. Louis, we determined that my father must have graduated from high school in Washington D.C., but where he went to college is completely up for grabs.  I know he passed the bar exam in St. Louis.  Another lead to follow on another day.

I left early the next morning.  While, I was full of apprehension about this trip, I am so glad that I went. We may not be able to control our emotions, but we don't have to give in to them.  I know that this won't be the last time we see each other. Now that I have them hooked on finding out more about our family's history, and I have their email addresses and phone numbers.  We are even planning for a future trip to Kansas and hope our cousin Steve will join us.

1 comment:

  1. Margel:

    I'm so glad the trip went well. What a wonderful family you found! I'm so happy for you.