Monday, July 18, 2011
Family, Known and Unknown
Above is a picture of my Grand-mère Lucille at the age of 17, having just flown over Long Beach dropping Liberty Bond leaflets from the open cockpit of an airplane. The year was 1917.
I had no inkling she'd done this until last year, when my sister and I were sifting though boxes upon boxes of our dad's papers and personal belongings. We unearthed some dusty gems of family history, most of which unfortunately are now missing context, and there is no one left who can fill us in. My grandmother was never one to talk much about herself or her life. The last few years she was alive and still able to engage in extended and focused conversation, I tried to get her to open up about her life and family history but our visits were short and infrequent (I lived a few hundred miles away) and I never was able to amass much information, as she remained fairly buttoned up despite my inquiries. Mostly, I'm sorry I never got to know about the kind of young woman she'd been, what she'd seen and done and dreamed.
By the time my sister and I were old enough to be aware of her, she was in her early 60's and seemed to have mostly settled into a solid propriety. She always was in a dress and hose, her lipstick always applied (but never nail polish). She chided my mother when she felt that my sister and I weren't demonstrating properly ladylike behavior. So it was interesting to learn years after her death that she'd been rather a bit of a "wild child" for the time. She'd been kicked out of the first college she attended (U of Colorado, Boulder) allegedly for partying too much, though no one ever knew the full story. (She later went on to graduate from U.C. Berkeley.) And now, I find that she took her first flight as a teenager, when flying itself had only been possible for a decade.
I wish she'd shared more of this side of her. We saw glimpses at times, sometimes a snippet of sly humor or even silliness. A bit of it resurfaced during her 60's after the death of my grandfather, when within the space of a few years she took several trips to the far corners of the world (in tour groups, and I'm certain, in no small degree of comfort), after which she never traveled again. She seemed content to putter around her apartment and small patio garden, have lunch with friends, and read the newspaper. I wonder about the influences and pressures that perhaps molded her into the more constrained, conventional woman we knew. I wonder if she felt repressed, or if she was comfortable in that persona, looking back on her youthful adventures as a phase she was relieved to have survived with no lasting consequences. Did that intrepid young woman remain a part of her identity?
Are there ancestors you wish you knew more about? Have you discovered any surprising information about those in your family tree?