I am lucky enough to have possession of most of the family pictures, and I enjoy looking through them from time to time. While rearranging the hall closet recently I came across the box of some of the very oldest pictures I have, my grandparents’ albums from the 1890s and beyond.
I’ve been thinking about my maternal grandmother more often since I wrote the recent post about clotheslines. As I mentioned, she lived with us until she passed away, just before I turned 15. She took care of us children, and the house, while my mother worked, and she and I were close, although I have to say when I became a teenager I wasn’t always respectful to her and did not appreciate her as much as I wish I had. From the stories she told me about her growing-up years and early adulthood, I wish I could have known her then. I look at these pictures and think about the girl and young woman she must have been, the fun she had with her brothers and sisters, the way she and my grandfather met, her lonely life in New York City as a young wife, and her favorite role, that of being a mother. Here are some of the pictures I ran across today:
My grandmother, Lucinda Fishback, was born on February 10, 1892, in Battle Hill, Georgia, in Fulton County just outside Atlanta, one of a family of eight children, six of whom survived to adulthood.
At age 2 she developed pneumonia and narrowly escaped death, and my great-grandmother, fearful she might lose her, after having lost two sons, was often overly careful of my grandmother’s health, though she was quite healthy all of her life until her death from a stroke at age 76.
In the above picture are, front row, my great-grandmother Emma, great-uncle Martin; in the back, left to right, my great-aunt Mary, my grandmother, and my great-aunt Jennie. My grandmother always said Mary was the cut-up of the family; when they did chores together, Mary often shirked and let my grandmother do more of the work, especially when they did the dishes, but she entertained my grandmother by dancing and singing and joking, so she said she really didn’t mind.
My grandmother is in her mid-20s in this photo. Her great regret in life was that she was unable to attend school once she’d finished the 9th grade. Because the family lived outside the Atlanta city limits, they would have had to pay for her to finish high school in Atlanta and with that many children, they couldn’t afford it. She took a secretarial course then and went to work doing office work for a music company in downtown Atlanta.
She enjoyed singing and began voice lessons around that time. My grandfather, Fred, who’d moved to Atlanta from New York City, was working at the music company tuning pianos, but on his lunch breaks often played the piano for his own enjoyment, and my grandmother would stop in to listen. Shy by nature, one day she got up the courage to speak to him and told him proudly she’d been taking singing lessons. “Oh, really? Let me hear you sing something for me,” he coaxed her. She sang a song of the day and he looked at her blankly. Ever blunt, he grabbed his hat and as he got up from the piano said to her, “You’re wasting your money.” She was indignant, but soon got over it and they began keeping company. They were married in Atlanta on March 11, 1918.
Pictures from their honeymoon in New Orleans:
They moved to the Bronx then and spent several months living with my grandfather’s family. My grandmother was miserable there; she missed Atlanta and felt out of place in New York, and unhappy that his family persisted in speaking German around her, though they could speak English perfectly well, and she felt excluded.
She begged my grandfather to find work in Atlanta, but there was none available. He found work in Newport News, Virginia, and my grandmother felt it was a good compromise. She’d be closer to Atlanta, and at least she’d be in the South again.
On February 17, 1919, my mother was born, and though my grandmother had developed toxemia and had a difficult delivery, she and my grandfather were ecstatic that they’d gotten started on what they hoped would be a large family.
But my grandmother was unable to have any more children due to emergency decisions made during my mother’s delivery, and both she and my grandfather were despondent over this. They adopted a little boy when my mother was 3, but he had learning disabilities they weren’t well-equipped to handle, and had trouble accepting him as their own son:
My grandfather started to drink too much then, though he remained a good provider, and my grandmother became ever more absorbed in raising her children and cooking elaborate meals, making some of my grandfather’s German favorites like sauerbraten and hasenpfeffer, and experimented with making her own doughnuts and potato chips. She was still a great cook in her later years and could do more with leftovers than anyone I’ve ever known.
My grandmother loved music, cooking, sewing, keeping house, and her family. She was a hard worker, still mowing the grass with a push mower in her 60s. She had a great head for business, having bought and sold several properties throughout her lifetime. In her later years, she resented anyone trying to take over her work of keeping house, though eventually she had to relinquish all but some cooking duties and doing the dishes.
When she had her stroke, I did not think for a minute that she would pass away. Surely she would get well and come home and things would be like they’d always been. When the call came during the night ten days later that she’d had another stroke and passed, I was shocked and refused to believe it at first. Then, after accepting it, I grieved for weeks, feeling horrible that in the days prior to her stroke I’d not been nicer to her, never told her how much she meant to me and would now never get the chance.
I’m glad to have these pictures now, and the memories, memories that will unfortunately be gone once my sister and I have passed away. I guess that’s part of the reason I write these posts about my family, to have them written somewhere, at least. I’ve been in the process of writing a book about my mother’s life, and even if it’s never published, these stories will be written down for someone to hopefully appreciate one day.
Every family has its stories, however; we hear every now and then to implore our elders to write their stories down or at least tell them to us to appreciate and pass on. I implore you to ask your relatives for their own stories and record them somehow now, before it’s too late. These are the stories of our lives, part of what make us who we are. Don’t let them slip away.