Community Writing Project: Before They’re ForgottenBlog / Produced by The High Calling
On visits to my grandma’s house, I would curl up on the wooden bench under the carport and listen as my aunts, uncles and older cousins told stories—family stories about people like Uncle Al, who worked at the Wrigley Chewing Gum factory in Chicago and brought home giant rolls of gum to share; Aunt Lynn, who made apple butter in a big kettle over an open fire in the back yard; and rich Cousin Johnny, who owned a restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica where movie stars used to eat.
Family gatherings seemed populated by these characters from the past as their stories were told and retold. Over time, I absorbed them all. Though Uncle Al died long before I was born, and Cousin Johnny and Aunt Lynn passed away when I was a baby, I felt that I knew them—and I did, in a way. I met them under Grandma's carport, through story.
The recent Community Writing Project illustrated the power of honoring people by telling their stories. Thirty-two participants remembered people who shaped their childhood and composed rich word portraits that sought to honor the whole person, warts and all.
It felt like we stumbled into a big family reunion as we overheard descriptions of mothers and fathers and grandfathers; aunts with sharp tongues, aunts with habits, and aunts with Hollywood glamor magazines; uncles with big ears, uncles with tiples, and uncles with mimeograph machines.
And then there were the grandmothers.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton wrote, “My grandma never wore pants. Not a single day in her life. “
We have a photo of her on my parents’ property outside of Fresno, California, the summer she helped my parents plant dozens of sunburst locust and liquid amber trees. Grandma’s leaning on a shovel, her booted foot pushing the blade into the soil. And she’s wearing a skirt.
When I was old enough to notice the difference between her—she was always put together in a skirt with a collared blouse and a blazer to match the skirt—and my mother, who wore jeans and gypsie blouses, I asked her why she never wore pants. “Slacks,” she declared, “are mannish.”
…I was six years old when my grandma took me shopping for a new outfit to wear to her church the next day. She bought me a pantsuit.
Jennifer of More Than Just Adam’s Rib, wrote of her great-grandmother in “Faith, Love and a Third Grade Education”:
She was a rather severe-faced, big boned woman with thin strands of grey swirled around into a makeshift bun and loosely held in place by dozens of hair pins. Although there is a picture of her in a polyester navy church dress, white buttons straight up the front, I only remember her in thin checkered house dresses, two strong trunks sticking out beneath the hem.
Grandma's house was as wonderfully odd to me as she was, her front lawn hoed to dust inside the rough-cut cypress fence because she had no lawn mower. Outside the fence by the cast iron cattle troughs ever-brimming with water lived her yard chickens and roosters. Each visit, I collected and kept those iridescent feathers…
It was this Grandma who filled my head with stories of a world beyond this one, stories of sitting up nights when people were ill unto death, of seeing the light of angels around the person's head when he breathed his last...
Thinking back to my own childhood and those afternoons under the carport, I remember how my grandma often bustled around the kitchen making egg noodles from scratch. I'd leave the storytellers on the carport and slip inside to watch Grandma roll out the dough. Quick motions sent flour puffing in all directions to dust her cheeks, arms and apron. A thin layer of white settled on the thick oak table and drifted dreamily down to the linoleum floor.
I need to remember. The noodles, the flour, the floor—it's all part of the story.
To read all of the word portraits composed from this prompt, visit the original post at Getting Down With Jesus. Enjoy Contributing Editor Jennifer Dukes Lee’s reflection on the project, as well.
Editorial note: Today is the last day to submit photos to October’s PhotoPlay and poetry prompt.
Image by Zanthia. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Content Editor Ann Kroeker, author of Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families.