As I learn to cope with my mother’s dwindling memory, I find myself looking back through lots of old family photos. A part of me wishes I could remember for Mama. Certainly, she is the woman who has formed me most. There was a time when her mind was a steel-trap: when she could cite everyone’s full name, important dates, and all the locations of these photos. Now, she looks at them with a vague fog and only occasionally remembers a face. And I realize the torch has been passed to me. I have become that steel-trap of memories for my generations to come.
The above photo captures some of the women of the Martin family of Winterville, Georgia. Roberta, Dessie (my grandmother), Shonny, and Viola. They were Irish-Appalachia immigrants: seamstresses, factory workers, farmers/gardeners. Hard-working women. These are the women who gave me my work ethic, and sense of grounded-ness. No frills, get-it-done, hearty cooks (of the food they raised, grew, & preserved). This is a picture from a family outing at the Martin plot in the Winterville Cemetery. They would gather for a day or two to take care of their family’s resting place. And there would always be a fabulous picnic prepared for after the weed-pulling, gate-mending, grass-mowing, and flower-laying that would go on. These are my people.
And then there’s this lady, whom I’ve never met, as she was deceased before I was born. Ruth, my father’s mother, has had a huge influence on my life. She was a first generation American, born of Austrian/Czech parents who immigrated from pre-Holocaust Austria. The stories I’ve heard about her and the riches of old photos with which I’ve been entrusted, have made her a formative figure. Her beauty, style, intelligence, and the free spirit she was, have all been things I’d love to emulate. She’s my people, too.
So, I figure I’m somewhere in between. . . country and country-club. I am so very grateful for both.