The holiday season is so chocked full of memories. We don’t realize as we celebrate these seasons, as children and young adults, that we’re making memories, but we are. They will come back to warm us as we age. In the end, the memories of those early years will be all we have – so cherish every shred of them.
A few years ago, after my mother passed away, I took all of the old family photos I could find and sorted them into categories. I have since written several “books,” but I don’t think of them as books because the idea of writing a book is too daunting.
So, what I did instead, is grouped the pictures into logical assemblages and then wrote the family stories about them. I then printed these and gave them as gifts.
What “books” do I have now?
The Family Christmas Book
I bought this book for Mom in 1987. It’s a “blank” book that you fill in every year. Mom did more than answer the questions, she included photos and clippings of interest for that year, mostly about her grandchildren. She kept this faithfully, in her own handwriting, until she couldn’t any more.
This book is incredibly valuable, an heirloom, and makes me cry every time I see it. I scanned this book and gave it as a Christmas gift to her grandchildren after her passing.
What a year this was. Two trips, awards, ribbons, a tornado, my Dad shot himself……and then a hilarious episode wherein my daughter, Mother and I rescued a baby bird. I won’t bore you with this, but I guarantee you, my daughter will burst out laughing at the mere mention.
I must admit, some of these are exceptionally difficult for me to read, still. I must be my mother’s daughter, because I cry more at Christmas time than any other time of the year. I don’t want to paint the Christmas memory book as negative though, because as I look through the book, I smile at the good memories she recorded from her perspective. And I am exceedingly, exceedingly grateful to have her stories in her words and in her own penmanship.
Mom included lots of things that happened during the years. For example, when her grandkids hit home runs, or even just managed to hit the t-ball, were on the honor roll, or won a ribbon at the local 4H fair. She even recorded which grandchild came over and helped her decorate her Christmas tree, the weather at Christmas, which made a huge difference in who visited when, and everyone who came by to visit.
In the photo below, Mom and I are at an awards banquet together. Someone must have taken this photo with her camera, because I never saw it until I opened this book after her passing.
Mom’s Recipe Box
Everyone’s all-time favorite book is Mom’s recipe box. I used it just this morning. There was only one “recipe box” and Mom had two children. Those recipes are so full of memories. I scanned each one and then wrote about my memories of that recipe. Of all the gifts I’ve ever given, I think this one, from me and Mom, is the most utilized.
One of our favorite recipes – gingerbread of course.
This recipe card may look dirty and messy to you – but to me, it’s the spice of my mother’s life as she made this recipe repeatedly over the years. It even reaches back to my grandmother’s generation with Mom’s note about what her mother did. Yes, there is a second copy on a newer, cleaner card – but I love this vintage one.
Later this weekend, we’re making new memories by having a holiday “taste-off” between Mom’s traditional gingerbread recipe and a newer one. Both, however, will be topped with home-made whipped cream – so everyone wins!
Family Christmas Ornaments
I photographed every single Christmas ornament and wrote what I know about its history. I also assembled the various heritage tree photos. This picture, from 1956 is only one of two photos in existence of my grandparents 4 grandchildren together.
This ornament was one of those on my grandmother’s tree, above.
I have photos of it on Mom’s trees and now of course, on my own as well. My new family tradition is that I let each of my grandchildren select an ornament from my tree each year and I tell them the story behind that ornament. They have a special ornament box to hold all of the “grandma ornaments.”
The Dancing Years
My mother was a professional tap and ballet dancer. Her early years were spent in Chicago and touring with a professional company.
My mother and grandmother both kept scrapbooks of this time, full of newspaper articles, reviews, ads, theater billboards and photos.
My Mom, especially in later years, was a bit embarrassed by all of the attention and few people really knew about her early dancing career. Not what one really expects from a Baptist church Deacon with Brethren grandparents. She was truly one of a kind.
Mom was a dance student for years, then taught, then was a professional dancer. This book isn’t just about her dancing, but intersperses the rest of her life during that time, like church camps and high school events. It was interesting to discover that one of her dance “reviews” was the same day she graduated – and she performed – probably going from her graduation directly to Fort Wayne to the Masonic Theater.
One of my favorite stories from this timeframe was when my uncle painted my mother’s face. He was supposed to be painting the screens on the front porch with black paint to keep them from rusting. Mom and her cat were in the way, so he dobbed the cat’s nose with paint. Mom was furious, cleaned up the cat and started yelling at him – which of course was the entire point of his actions – to upset his sister.
He finally slapped her across the face with the paint brush, full of black paint – and thought it was hilarious.
However, later that afternoon, Mom was supposed to perform on the courthouse lawn for some event in Wabash, Indiana.
Mom ran screaming to her mother, who got the turpentine and started scrubbing Mom’s face. Needless to say, her brother was in a heap of trouble and by the time my grandmother got done with him, no longer thought it was funny.
And yes, Mom did perform, but she said she had never worn more stage makeup for any event – ever.
I wish we had a picture of that.
My mother’s grandfather was Jacob Kirsch, a German immigrant and founder of the Kirsch House, a tavern and hotel in Aurora, Indiana on the Ohio River. This book documents that side of my mother’s family with history and photographs.
Mom went along for much of this research, although I published it after her departure.
Mom and I found the original building, and at the time we visited, the original bar was still there.
During that visit, we found a local man, Telford Walker, then in his 80s, who knew Jacob Kirsch when he was an old man, in the 19-teens. Jacob, it turns out, had a glass eye. He used to pop it out and show it to the local children, including Telford, making them all scream and run away. Of course, they all came back and he did it all over again.
Mom and I stared at each other dumbstruck. We had no idea. Amazing what you discover about your ancestors!!!!
The Lore of the Lore Family
My grandmother’s maiden name was Lore. Her father, Curtis Benjamin Lore, married Nora, the daughter of Jacob Kirsch. When I started researching genealogy, Curtis, known as CB, was a mysterious handsome man with no history. But we found his story, and what a story it is.
CB, shown above at the bottom beside Nora, was a bit of a scoundrel it seems, a rogue – two wives, at the same time, children showing up on his wife’s doorstep after he died, and a family history of Acadians and French voyageurs that would make a soap opera producer jealous. Ewww-la la. My daughter-in-law just loved this book for the story line. And I suspect my grandchildren won’t be allowed to read it until they are adults.
I brought this to the current generation, although perhaps I should have split this into two books. There didn’t seem to be a good stopping point.
My mother’s grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore, was an extraordinary quilter. My mother, my daughter and I are standing in front of her quilt that represented the State of Indiana in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
I included lots of family stories in these books, like the story about when the family visited this quilt at the World’s Fair. It was during the Great Depression, so they could not afford an overnight nor to buy food along the way. They packed picnics and ate in the car or at roadside tables, which were common then.
My grandparents, Mom, her brother and Nora left in the middle of the night, in an old Model T Ford, and drove from Silver Lake, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois, visited the fair, saw the quilt, and drove back home. In all, a 24 hour round trip. Exhausting, yes, but the experience of a lifetime and something none of them would ever forget. Mom talked about seeing her grandmother’s quilt in the Sears Pavilion for years.
Of course I wrote a Personalized DNA Report for my mother before she passed. I’ve updated this a couple of times since, with new discoveries as more people tested. I have given copies to all of her grandchildren.
Mom absolutely loved this report, written in an understandable story fashion and including our family photos. Her last Christmas letter was all about what her DNA told her about her ancestors. And yes, these reports are available as Personalized DNA Reports today either through my website or through Family Tree DNA, although I only accept a very limited number of orders, which is why I seldom mention them. One of Mom’s extremely prophetic comments after she read her report was, “You should do these for people.” Well, Mom, thanks, and I do.
No matter what faith you practice, and no matter when you celebrate – the gift of memories is the best gift you can ever give. Make good ones, memorable ones – and then document the ones your ancestors left behind. If you don’t, no one will ever know that your great-grandfather had two wives at the same time, that your German great-great grandfather tortured young children by removing his glass eye, or that your great-grandmother was a world class quilter.
And don’t forget those DNA tests either, because they can reach further back in time than stories ever can.
What family stories and legends are waiting for you to document and pass them on in your family?
Have a wonderful and joyous holiday!!!