Project 52, Week 34 — My Grandmother, Back in the Day

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.

101 thoughts on “Project 52, Week 34 — My Grandmother, Back in the Day

  1. What a wonderful post! You are so lucky to know so many of the details of your grandmother’s life. I am currently going through two old photo albums that my mother (who recently passed away at 94) put together on her family history and my father’s, and I’ve been trying to add snippets of stories told over the years to them. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that I know less than I thought I did about my parents and their parents (even though both my grandmothers lived with us until I was 10 years old). I’m going to keep digging!

    Margo

    • Even though I know many stories, there are a lot of gaps in my information, so I’m constantly trying to piece things together as well. Good luck with your digging, and thanks!

  2. What a wonderful story, and beautiful pictures! You’re lucky to have them.

    This made me realise how little I know about my grandmother’s life. I know some things but there are major gaps in the story.

  3. What touching photos and memories. I recently had the pleasure of collecting old photos of my grandparents when they were dating, and they were so filled with life and experiences that it almost brought me to tears.
    It’s so important to cherish your family’s past!

    • It is indeed; I enjoyed hearing my grandmother’s stories when I was little, but I had no way of knowing how important they’d be to me later on.

  4. What a treasure to have so many photos, and the stories as well! Great reminder to everyone to record them while they can. I’m tweeting about this at @VicGenealogy

  5. What a lovely post… I really enjoy delving into family history and pictures… There’s something really exciting in learning more about where you came from and the people who shaped your family. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Thanks so much! Yes, and I still have lots to learn about branches of the family with which I’m not as familiar, so looking forward to doing more of that.

  6. I like listening to stories. I could sit 4 hours, listening and imaging the life of an elder, thinking about the fact that moments in history we young people consider distant were their everyday life. The importance of narration is well explicated in this passage I really love.
    “The Baal Shem Tov, we are told, would go into the forest whenever faced with a difficult task. He would light a fire, say a prayer, “and what he had set out to perform was done.” In the next generation, his disciple, the Maggid of Meseritz, could no longer light the fire, but he did know the place to go and the prayer to utter. The third generation could neither light the fire nor say the prayer, but it could still find the sacred place in the forest. All generations since cannot even do that. What then can they, can we, do? “We can tell the story of how it was done” and hope that, as the teller of this story (Scholem himself) assures us, our telling will have “the same effect as the actions of the other three.” “

  7. Beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing the story behind them as well. I have a Grandma who will be 95 in about ten days. Some of her stories make me grateful to live in an era where we have vaccines and antibiotics, but others just make me laugh.

  8. I live in England and wot u wrote could have been me . I have done exactly the same as you. I have written stories about my family, Great granddads etc .Relatives who emigrated. etc hope you check mine out I am going to follow u

  9. Lovely post!

    Several years ago, the newspaper I work for decided to do a series on local WWII vets. One of those happened to be my grandfather. I’d heard bits and pieces of his story over the years, but that was the first time I sat down and talked to him for three hours about his experience serving in the military, start to finish. And then I got to write it and see it published in the paper. It’s still my favorite experience as a reporter, especially now that’s he passed away. It’s so important to record that family history!

  10. Wow. That made me think about my own grandmother.
    You’re lucky. I didn’t like mine very much. She was rather mean.

    I remember when I accidentally sneezed in my cream of mushroom soup and she made me eat it even when there was snot in there. The thought of that still makes me gag. And she suffered from clinical depression. She said a lot of cruel things.

    I still miss her though. She died of lung cancer when I was a teenager. I still remember sitting by her bedside, trying to have a conversation with her, trying to come up with a topic that she’d be interested in discussing, just to take her mind off the pain. Then she’d say, “what the hell do you want to talk about that for. Can’t you see I’m dying here? You want my last moments to be about that crap?” That was the last time I saw her. She was a miserable person.

    I’m not exactly sure what my kids would have made of her, but I doubt they would have liked her much either. It’s weird that I sometimes miss her, even though she was mean. Funny how that works. It’s not like I’d want to talk with her, but I do still wish she were around. And I wish I had a few good memories. Just a few.

    • I’m sorry your memories of your grandmother aren’t good ones; yes, if she had clinical depression, being that disagreeable is certainly understandable, though it doesn’t really ease the hurt. Sometimes we wish someone was still around so we could have the chance to try to change some of the outcomes. I’m sure you’ll create better memories for your own grandchildren. Thanks for taking the time to share that today.

    • Thanks so much! I did go over and read the post with your grandmother’s transcript; what a wonderful story, and good of you to share it.

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed your story!

    About a dozen years ago I had the idea that I had a very small family. I ended up becoming close to my aunt, who never married. It turns out that I have lots of relatives, some still alive (which I have met) and she had 5 0r 6 huge boxes of photographs going back from 1880s to the present. Everyone had sent her their collection when they passed, including a few family heirlooms.

    I have learned so much about my family and am now the family historian. I even got to visit one of the farms from 1880s that is still standing. Last year I organized the oldest pictures and made a family picture book, one for each member of my family. Although they are not as excited as I am in doing the research, they are very excited about seeing photos or hearing stories of their relatives.

    have I had so much pleasure working on my family history and it has changed the way I view my own life after gaining an understanding of theirs.

    • Oh, that’s wonderful, and neat hearing about your own family history endeavors! And yes, I do agree that understanding one’s relatives and ancestors does change one’s view of one’s own life.

  12. I love your photos. You’re lucky you still had your grandparents to your teens… my grandparents from both sides passed away when I was still very young. Will take your advice on preserving their stories to heart… maybe I’ll ask my mom ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you. I’m sorry you lost your grandparents early on. My maternal grandmother is the only one I really knew; I saw my paternal grandmother only rarely and she was not close to any of us children, my maternal grandfather died when I was two, and my paternal grandfather died 20 years before I was born. Yes, do ask your mom!

  13. I love old pictures. I have zero of my mother’s family (There was a fire in her childhood, and all were lost). My father is big on his pictures. It’s so weird, seeing pictures of his grand-aunt. I swear it is a picture of me…

    • That’s terrible that your mother’s family pictures were lost, good that you have your father’s. Interesting to recognize your features on another family member!

  14. How lovely! I hope your story inspires others to get stories from their elders before they pass. I regret not asking many more questions to find out about lives, and feelings and experiences. Facts & dates are a lot easier to come by than anecdotal information. What great pictures, too!

  15. Your grandma sounds like a great woman and you were lucky to have her with your for some time. Mine was amazing and I miss her every day.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed and on having this wonderful collection of family pictures ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • I enjoyed your post also, thank you! Yes, I still feel her influence, especially when it comes to food. It was a terrible sin in our home to waste food, and I am still careful to avoid doing that.

  16. Such a good snapshot of your Grandparents life and so many details. It’s a shame we wait so long before we start to appreciate the individuals they were. A nice post. Also, I’m sorry for ‘writerdood’. That soup would never be forgotten. Bruce

    • Thank you! Yes, when he mentioned the soup, I could imagine how that would be a lifelong bad memory, and was sorry for him, too.

  17. I am new to this site and have never had a bog before…I am not sure how to do this so I will just jump in. Geneology is a great interest of mine andI have done extensive work on my and my husbands lineage…It is so interesting and I have to tell you that I can feel them around me like a cloak…I was especially close to my Mom’s mother, my Ma Mac. She is ever present in my life as I go about my days touching and using things that were hers. Glad to have your post be the first I have read and commented on….hope you don’t mind a follow…I am going to post some of the pics and memories/stories passed on to me…Thanks for a wonderful start to my day…Linda…

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I do thank you for the follow! Although I had been interested in my family’s stories, I didn’t really become interested in genealogy until the early 1990’s, when it became possible to search for information online. I actually have a lot to learn about my mother’s side; I know very little about my maternal great-grandparents, although I know about my father’s side back to the 1700s, due to the work done by others in the extensive family clan.

  18. What a wonderful way to remember and celebrate your grandmother. I wish more of my ancestor’s stories had been written down before they died. Of course, much of life doesn’t seem worthy of recording at the time, but wouldn’t us later generations be thrilled to read every word. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks so much! I’m not sure what you mean about flat, however; do you mean the finish on the photos or the fact that people in old photos don’t seem to be smiling much, or something else altogether?

  19. I just lost my own grand-mother, a sweet German farm girl. And she definitely had the same knack for leftovers, something I’m thankful to have inherited! ๐Ÿ™‚ I loved your story. I’ve been taking a stroll down memory lane myself, and wish so much that I had asked more about my grandmother’s past…

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for the kind words; are there other family members you can ask about your grandmother’s past?

  20. How wonderful that you have those memories and photos. Thanks for sharing. I wish I had asked both of my grandmothers more about their lives while they were living. I still have GREAT MEMORIES, but they were all made with me and my Grandmothers! Your article should prompt us to ask more questions to our living relatives. Thanks, again. Bette

  21. I enjoyed your story so much as I do all stories that take us back in time to another era and we hear how our Grandmothers and Grandfathers lived and felt about their lives. My maternal Grandmother was so sweet and declared that her German grandmother was mean and when she visited she would slap her grandchildren if she felt they were too loud and boisterous. She said she never would be that kind of a grandmother and she raised me until I was about 10 and she never did. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My Paternal Grandmother came from a rowdy family of Irish girls. The stories they would tell on each other would have us laughing until we cried. I always loved the one where my Grandmother, being the youngest of 4 sisters, always wanted to walk to school with the older ones or go to the store with them or to one of their friend’s houses. She would beg my great grandmother and she would order the elder ones to take her along. Every single time when they reached a spot out of sight of the house, they would stop and beat on her and order her to never do it again. However she always would and would smile ornerly at them because the beating was worth it to see her mother make them take her along. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Kathie

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