Stodgy Vs Story

I had a great aunt whose idea of entertainment was to bring out the family photographs and carefully repeat the names, “This is cousin So-and-So.” A man’s wife was always “Mrs. So-and-So,” never a first name, who was called something else before she was married and something else after she re-married. Of course, Mrs. So-and-So was related to someone else I was supposed to know . . .. I was worse than bored. I grumped and slumped until my great aunt finally excused my bad behavior saying “very likely I was just too young to remember.”


I also had an uncle who twisted nursery rhymes into ribald limericks. Since no one would explain why they were funny, I had to remember them until I was old enough to figure it out on my own.

Mary Had a Little Lamb imageMary had a little lamb

She tied him to a heater

Every time he turned around

He burned his little peter

will run through my head the rest of my life.

Names and dates don’t stick: never have, never will; but, once in awhile, my great aunt got distracted and told me something interesting, like the fact that one of my ancestors was a Viking pirate. Of course, when I asked to see a picture of him, she didn’t have one, which meant she was forced to fill-in. “Our family came from Denmark, not the regular part of Denmark, but a little island off the coast with a hidden cove—a favorite Viking hideout. There were pirates plundering nearby ports from that little island far longer than from the Barbary Coast,” she claimed.

Viking Ship Picture

Turns out that’s mostly true, but, even if she was still alive, I doubt she’d be impressed by the fact that I’ve been to that little island, checking out her pirate story, among other things. She was less about truth and more about application. When she told a story, she made sure it made a point.

“We are luckier than pirates,” she told me. “We have so many new things, such wonderful inventions, these days a pirate wouldn’t know what to steal.”

Turns out my great aunt also kept a journal. She names her first boyfriend, Alonzo Eckersley, and tells how they spent one summer together:

Every night we would take a ride on my horse and then dream dreams of what we were going to do in the future. One night his dog was poisoned. Both of us surely did cry.

She doesn’t say what happened to Alonzo. Instead, she shifts to how she went away to board for high school. She lived with a family named Stewart and took piano lessons but didn’t like making music. She names her best girlfriends: Mildred Rhule, Grace Ritchie, and Ruby Ward.

photo of young women and 1922 automobileThey had a car and so did I. We had a good time that summer with all the boyfriends! I guess there were too many boyfriends because I got so I hated them all. They were all alike, how disgusting, and they all acted and talked alike.

The year happens to be 1922, but the tale is timeless.

We take photographs, sometimes feverishly, trying to hold the moments that matter, but, nearly always, when I tell someone that I’m gathering the family stories, I get a puzzled response, as if that is not a task for the serious. Names and dates on genealogical charts, fine. Copying the family photographs, encouraged. Stories? Why stories?

Because two pages of her journal were enough to change my impression of a stodgy old aunt.


Filed under Family Photos, Family Stories, Life Story, Memories, Personal Narrative, stories, Uncategorized, Why Stories?

8 responses to “Stodgy Vs Story

  1. Jerrie: I loved learning about your (not-so-stodgy) great-aunt, especially through her journal. Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. Jerrie, your great-aunt sounds fun! I learned a lot about my aunt by going through her letters after she died. I took on the job of dividing up the correspondence she had with her mother and sister (to pass on to her sister’s daughter, my cousin), and unearthed so much about my father’s family. I’d always known my Aunt Mary as my godmother, who gave me my rosary and Missal, etc., but it turns out she loved to go out and whoop ‘n’ holler with her bad-girl friends too!

  3. Yeah, stodgy aunts have lives too.

  4. Jerrie,

    This is such a good reminder to ask for the stories and write them down! Or ask your family members to create audio recordings of some of their stories. A few years before my mother died, she asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told her that I wanted her to make some audio recordings about her life. I presented her with a tape player and some tapes. (That’s how long ago it was.) It took her a year, but she made three tapes that I cherish.

    Melanie Mulhall

  5. Bette Rehner

    Your Auntie’s pirate story reminded me that, in my family, we had “actors”–horror of horrors! I believe this was a euphemism for gypsies. I would very much like to make a trip to Transylvania where my roots lie. (on both sides of the family) Maybe I could shed some light on the truth! All of my aunties are gone now, and I regret not spending more time listening to their stories. You must have been very excited to discover your aunt’s journal.

  6. Gypsies and pirates, oh my! We used to hide from such colorful facts. Yes, you need to go to Transylvania.

  7. Jerrie, I love your not-so-stodgy stories about your aunt! I learned recently that “Viking” was a verb: “to go viking” meant going out to plunder and loot. Colorful stories in the family past, that’s for sure!

  8. Pingback: Family History: Why Every Girl Needs A Horse | Jerrie Hurd Takes Family History Seriously . . .

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