In Julia Child Rules, Karen Karbo writes, “Rather than resolving to get your act together or your ducks in a row…do nothing. …find things that give you pleasure.” But what?
I scan over the list of activities I used to do when I was chillaxin’ and they included watching the clouds, climbing a tree to watch people from an unseen vantage point, driving aimlessly, skipping rocks, and hopping around the yard on a red rubber ball.
What these all have in common is that they give my head space to think about stuff that doesn’t need to be done or solved or completed, just thoughts ambling along, forming and reforming themselves like clouds in the sky. Daydreaming. Musing. Conjuring. Although, it’s more like having a million scraps of confetti in my head and I’m moving them around, making patterns, making scenarios or equations or images that amuse me. Like puzzles, but with no right answer.
About a decade ago, I was talking to a friend who mentioned that he didn’t know much about his past. In conversation, he said that one grandfather came from England and settled in Iowa as a miner, a grandmother had come over by ship as a teenager to be married in the Mormon Church, and something (the detail escapes me now) about Wales.
Imagine what a brain that likes to shuffle bits of imaginary paper could do with such a wide open landscape.
I learned to research genealogy.
I located not only the kind of information one finds on family trees, but photographs and family stories. When I shared the information with him, he brought out his family album of unlabeled dead white guys. Based on my research, I was able to help him attach names to many of those photos.
Another friend asked me to locate information about her birth father and his relatives because her mother refused to talk about it. I was able to find several generations of her family tree.
Entering the world of genealogy buffs is like traveling to a new country where you meet acquaintances you’ll never (virtually) see again, but who, for a moment, play a pivotal role in your moments together. They have a photograph of Great Uncle Syd that you didn’t know existed. They know the name of the ship that grandfather Burtle came from Germany on. It is like a vast carpet of threads knotted in places, and with loose ends in all directions. You wander along one thread until you get stuck or you meet someone who can tell you what you need. Or you pick a different thread and wander that way for a while.
My family was fractured when I was a child. My mom and dad divorced, my siblings were separated, and after a time, I moved with my father, one brother, and my new mom. I never saw a picture of myself as a baby or toddler until I was an adult. I first saw my birth announcement when I was pushing forty. Gaps in your memory create gaps in your personal narrative. I can’t bear to throw someone else’s photographs away.
I dated a man for only a couple months in 1980. He had two darling little boys, and I carried that snapshot with me through over fifteen moves.
Finally, in 2012, I located the man on online, and asked if he would like the two photographs. His life circumstances were such that he had very few photographs and was happy to get them.
It wasn’t the giving of the photo that was the part that kept me amused–although I was happy to get them to someone who would love them–but the niggling at the threads of a life to locate the man’s address thirty years later.
Since then, I’ve made a hobby of buying family photographs or memorabilia that are marked with identifying information (the thread I will tease) so that I can find some family member who may treasure it. I buy these at antique stores or thrift stores and rarely spend over three dollars for the item. Because there is little information to go on, it often takes me a year or more to locate a relative.
The photo was taken by Roye Studio and on the back, in ink from a fountain pen, it was labeled “Property of Mrs. Fred Guenther, Spokane, WA.”
The 1930 census for Portland, Oregon showed a Fred Guenther born in 1885, with a wife Orlia, and a daughter Betty, born in 1922. I surmised this might be Betty.
Through online genealogy communities, I located a woman in Colorado whose grandmother was a sister to Orlia Guenther. I mailed her the framed photograph and when she received it she was so excited. It was her great great aunt’s child.
This diversion is something to do in the evenings when my mind is tired and I just want to dink around on the computer before I go to bed. Some people do crossword puzzles or Suduko. Some grab virtual golden coins on video screens to earn extra lives. Some people knit; others crochet.
I finger the virtual threads of family tapestries to reconnect the place where they unraveled, so I can share some tangible token from their ancestor’s past.
I have a few things I’m currently noodling for sheer amusement:
- A letter from Dottie Noble from Elmore, Minn dated 12/28/1954.
- A leather German Bible inscribed (in German) from my mother, Katharina Ruder 6 February 1914
- A postcard to B H McSwiney in Dayton, Ohio dated 2/8/1906