My mother has recently been going through her things and deciding on what she really wants to keep around or not. In the past week, I’ve gotten a few odd and interesting things passed on to me, one of which is this very old and rather busted up family photo album. One would think to cherish such a thing; a tome filled with ancestors, yet, I’m not even related to these people. My mom didn’t pick this up at a flea market or estate sale, it was passed down from her mother, because these are her mothers’ ancestors and family; some of which she, my grandmother, knew.
How does that work out you might ask? My mom’s parents couldn’t have children, so adopted two girls; my mother and my aunt. There’s no blood line there at all, and all memory, for me at least, stops with my grandmother, though my mom and aunt did know my grandmothers mother. These are probably people, if I could meet them now for some reason, wouldn’t accept me as family. So, it’s an odd thing to have a family photo album of people you’ve heard stories about while growing up, but who are not your family.
I’m even, myself, currently deciding what to do with this book. I don’t really want it, but it seems weird to sell people or to throw them away, especially if you didn’t know them. It’s always awkward to see family photos for sale at antique stores or estate sales. I find it sad, though I do understand that some people go all out for that and like old photos of people they don’t know, for kitsch or for art or whatever. While I do like kitsch sometimes and while I do create art, dead people aren’t really my thing. (I ended up sending this to my aunt, who was very pleased to receive it, so yay!)
However, this book has led me down a path of remembering and sorting within my heart and within my brain. People always talk about family in two very black and white ways; ‘Family is Blood’ or ‘Family is what you make it’; as in the people you’re related to only, or the people whom you are not related to, but who you have such a bond with that you are, in essence, family. There’s never really any grey areas on this. But, I think to an extent that there really is.
My grandmother and aunt are not blood related, but they are my family; even more so than my mom’s real blood family. However, real family members through my aunt or my grandmothers line, whom I have never met, well… they aren’t family. There’s the grey area for me. It feels weird to claim them as family. The sisters that my aunt has met after finding her adoption papers, or the family members of my grandmothers contained within this album. I never met them. It feels intrusive, voyeristic, like some weird made up fantasy. There is no link or connection, so to me, it would be like finding this album randomly at an estate sale and then saying that these people are my family because I want to imagine having a better or a more interesting family?
My mother feels differently. She didn’t care for her mother and doesn’t hold so tightly to that side of the family, but with her father and his side of family that’s a different matter all together. My mom is a Summers through and through, though we have no lick of German flowing through our veins. Wilhelm was her great great great grandfather or something and Hannah and Stephen were her great grandparents and it’s blood family to her, though she’s not related and had never even met these people. I can understand counting her dad, his brother, whom she did know, and all of the brothers children which she also met; however she connected with real Summers’ over the internet and will now boast about how she found some cousins and found out what happened to her long lost great uncle or something. Except all of those people on the internet weren’t adopted and are really the blood progeny of the Summers’ line.
Or how through that non-blood Summers line we are related to some family friends. Somehow the Stones come into play in both families. These family friends are well aware that my mother was adopted and that there really is no blood link, but it doesn’t matter. My mom and this woman are such close friends that they are as good as family, and yet they find joy in striving to find a possible connection through a defunct line. It baffles my mind, honestly. I’m good with the simplicity in their connection without having to find a fantasy blood-line, which their story goes something like this…
My mom would take trips to Ohio in her childhood. They would pass through Kentucky and stop at that monastery up there either on the way up or on the way back home. They’d pass a general store and there would be kids out front playing, and one girl would always wave to my mom and my mom would wave back. Every single year. Fast forward to 1976 when my parents buy a house in Hattiesburg and right down the street is that little girl who would wave to my mom every year, of course all grown up with three kids of her own. What are the odds that Kentuckians would make their way down to Hattiesburg and settle on this street and two Laurel, Mississippians who had lived there and on the Gulf Coast would decide to settle in Hattiesburg and in that same small neighbourhood? See? That’s super awesome all on its own, so I don’t see the need to try and make the connection more real.
Just with my mom’s dad, I feel weird calling him grandpa, because I never met him. He died two years before I was born. Everyone else knew or had met him though; my dad, his family, my sister, and my brother. They can’t wrap their heads around the fact that I never met him. “Oh, but you would have LOVED him!” “He was a really great person!” “He would have LOVED you!” I was forever being dragged to a cemetery to say hi to a grandpa I didn’t have a connection with. It always felt strange and forced and just odd. He probably was a really swell guy, but then I’m sure that other old guy buried near him was really swell too, but I don’t want to call him grandpa either. So, I always followed my dads lead, which felt more comfortable. While everyone else was calling him <i>Daddy</i> or <i>Grandpa</i> (or Russ as was the case with my grandma), my dad called him Mr. Summers. That felt good, I liked that, so secretly in my head that’s who I’d refer to him as.
While none of them had a problem standing on top of his grave, I never did. But after my grandmother and brother died and were buried next to him I’d lay all over their graves. But then I’d known them in life. I knew they wouldn’t mind, and it felt safe and OK for me to do so. Kneeling, sitting, conversing with the two of them. My family thinks that by my calling him Mr. Summers or not showing some sort of familiarity that I somehow hate the man. I don’t hate him, but you try being familiar with a random dead person you stumble upon in a graveyard with people telling you that you should like them. It’s strange and you would probably feel the same way that I do about the entire matter.
I’m not heartless though. I do make sure his grave is clean and pay my respects to him just like I always have when we visit the cemetery, I just silently say, “Hi Mr. Summers. It is a shame I never met you, everyone says we would have gotten on well.” or some such thing and give him coffee and leave a rock on his headstone just like I do for my grandma and my brother. I treat him like any dead, blood-related ancestor whom I’ve never met on my dads side of the family. With respect, but with no familiarity. I think that’s fine.
But let’s look at some of these “relatives” I have here in this book, shall we?
First up, we have the men. Pretty much standard white guys of the nineteenth century. Apparently as the stories go, my grandmothers family came over from Switzerland starting with her grandmother when she was a child. Her grandfather was apparently Swiss as well and that’s him in the top left photo; Jacob L. Bolinger. The guy beside him is his brother Frank Bolinger, who apparently died young and later when Jacob died they were buried together? Awkward. But his clothing looks very 1840s, so I’m assuming this is a Romantique era photograph.
Some of these photos have the names written on the backside in a hand older than my grandmothers, so I’m going to say that the information is correct, however some of them have nothing written on the back and are instead written underneath, in the actual album, and have weird, random, and odd notes and scratch outs of names and revisions… So… That’s a bit more difficult to pin down.
The next guy, lower left, looks like guys I see walking around Mississippi today, which is where I live (which I state because all of these photos were taken in Ohio because that’s where these people were living); but sans the crazy 1800s beard. His photo card wasn’t written on the backside, but his note reads, “Uncle Jake Howald – one of 5 girls husband.” What the hell does that mean? Which five girls, as there don’t appear to be five sisters in this book. And why wasn’t it important enough to say which girl, name her, or write his name on the back of the card? Poor Uncle Jake.
The last guy doesn’t have information on the back of his card either, but his note reads, “Uncle Raul/Rolo/Rolf (I can’t decipher it, honestly) – husband of Emma Oswald.” This guy’s crazy looking. Look at his weird eyes!
Now let’s take a quick jaunt to the back of the book. It’s not the last photo, but it’s all alone next to a cemetery photo (which you’ll see in a minute). After passing weird white guy after weird white guy, this guy jumps out at you. He’s mad hot, I don’t mind saying. He may have been dead for the past 100+ years, but at least I’m not related to him, so it’s not too awkward, right? Lol
The back of his card has no writing, but his note reads, “Uncle Frank Bolinger – Jacob’s brother.” Also, “died young buried with Jacob Bolinger Delaware, Ohio” in definitely my mom’s hand. I’m sure my grandmother was recounting told family histories while my mom wrote things down in this, but it gets confusing. Is it really that Uncle Frank? Because they don’t necessarily look the same, though I must say the older Uncle Frank is better looking than the rest of the guys that are all pasty white in this book.
It just reminds me of the time that The Sister and I were watching this British show, I think it was called Cash in the Attic? And everyone’s very British and pasty and white, and well… just British. It’s not bad, but they all look the same. And then in one scene there’s this new guy and he stands out like nobodies business and we’re like, “He’s not British! He’s beautiful!” And we were right. He was American and thus had mixed ancestry. It’s not that same ancestry people aren’t beautiful. I mean, I think that Stellan Skarsgård is really gorgeous and he’s nothing but Swedish. But he looks Scandinavian and he doesn’t look mixed with anything else either.
So, long story short, I feel like I’m playing a family history version of Sesame Street’s “which one of these does not belong.” It’s this kid right here! I’m sure he’s European and he does kind of have a Ben Wishaw look about him, but he’s definitely not ‘pasty white-I look like everyone else in this book’ European.
Now the women, right? These are not all of the women/females, but I didn’t want to show everyone in the book because it’s not that interesting.
The top woman is Aunt Emma Oswald as an adult and as a child. She’s the one who was apparently married to Uncle Raul up there (or whatever his name was). When my sister first saw her photo she said, “Woah! She’s intense…” Hahaha, yes, she is, but her and Uncle Rolo look fitting together, yeah? I will say that she’s got a really fierce hairdo going on there. I love it.
The bottom photos are of Aunt Joe, who was apparently the sister-in-law of Uncle Jacob up there. He married Rose Oswald (who would be Joe’s sister), but we’ll get to her in a minute. She looks fabulous in the left photo… But not so much in the second one. I can’t verify it, but it’s haunting to look through a photo album and see written “Murdered in Calif. Money.”
In this collage, we have a spooky cemetery photo and it’s the last one in the book. It reads, “Rose Oswald’s father is buried here in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.”
Then there’s these crazy looking children; Mary Minerva, Nellie, & Howard Oswald. Mary Minerva, or Mayme as she was called, was my grandmothers mother. It’s probably good that I’m not related to this family by blood, because they have a history of insanity. My grandmothers grandmother, Rose, went crazy, and then so did Mayme, and so did my grandmother. I don’t know why the grandmother and mother went crazy, but my grandmother was diagnosed (late in life) as a paranoid schizophrenic. I do know that one or more of the ladies related to my grandmother spent time in either hospital or institution, strapped to a bed, because it scarred my grandmother for life seeing that. Also, she was scarred for life over dead people because when Rose, her grandmother, died she was laid out in the house and my grandmother hid under that table to be close to her, but something deathly happened (escaping air or rigamortus or the like) and it petrified the little girl that was my grandmother. But, we’ll move on shall we?
The bottom left photo is of my grandmothers grandmother, Rose Oswald (who’s full name is apparently Mary Rose Oswald). Ya know she was married to that Jacob Bolinger up there. Apparently some of the hand on these pages belonged to Mayme, because this note states “Mother” in one hand, and then “Rose Oswald Bolinger” in my mothers hand. While my grandmother and her grandmother certainly couldn’t be called twins, I can definitely see a resemblance between the two.
Also, I now own this woman’s china and crystal. It was passed down from Rose to Mayme and from Mayme to Mary Katherine (my grandmother). Then from my grandmother to my mother for safekeeping until I would need it. So, it didn’t really pass to my mom, just she was in charge of it for, what? My dowry? But, so I have mid nineteenth century Austrian china with roses on it and a set of crystal with two types of stemware, a vase, a sugar and creamer set, and a pitcher because I was named after my grandmother; Sarah Katherine. It’s also not the only thing I inherited directly because she was my namesake. But we’ll get to that bit in a minute too.
So, my grandmother, Mary Katherine Case (because her mom Mayme married Owen Burr Case). Top left we have a photo of her as a toddler. Isn’t she adorable! Her little mouth is all crooked-wonky and I just want to pinch those cheeks! Ah, but I digress. So, she was born 30. June 1909 and had an older sister, whose name escapes me, but she was born in 1902.
Then we have photo’s of her as a teenager and in high school. I love the top right because she’s wearing boy clothes. Never thought I’d see a photo of my grandmother like that and it’s really cool. Then her in her very 1920s clothes and hair and then with a cat. Also her nickname in high school (and I believe through college was Kappie. Isn’t that adorable?!)
She went to Ohio Weslyn University and became a school teacher and there’s Miss Case’s 3rd grade class in 1934. She’s still in Ohio and wouldn’t move to Mississippi until 1941. Then there’s another photo from around the same time period in the early – mid 1930s and then in the late forties at the beach; after she was married.
My grandmother in her wedding dress. She married Russell Albert Summers of Lily Chapel/West Jefferson, Ohio on 15. July 1936. The next photo is while on her honeymoon at Niagara Falls. While there, they purchased a painting of the sea which we now own and is hanging in our upstairs hallway. The third photo is of my hand. There’s a baby ring on my pinky finger and that is an Edwardian Baby Bracelette with a K on it, which my grandmother gave both items specifically to me once I was born because they were her personal baby items and I shared her name.
And this is how I remember my grandmother. I’ve seen pictures of her from when my mom was a kid and she had short hair with a fifties curl and wave. But, since the late 60’s she started putting her very long hair into a French Twist and never looked back and would wear the style until her death in January 2005.
I remember being a kid and seeing her hair down for the first time. I just didn’t think one would need lots of hair for a short hair style. It was silver grey and mostly white by that time and it was all long and flowy to her waist. She was brushing it with a soft brush and I just knew that she was a witch! Not an evil witch though, but a witch none-the-less and I also had enough sense to not look shocked and to smile and never utter that I thought she was a witch. Later The Sister would tell that she’d had the exact same experience when she was about the same age. We were about seven (she’s six years older than I), only her experience happened in grandma’s bedroom at my mom’s childhood home, Kingston. My grandmother was sitting on the bed brushing her hair. My experience happened at the house she moved to in the mid 1980s, Northgate. She was sitting at her built-in vanity in her ensuite bathroom.
No one ever told us that our grandmother was crazy. No one ever said to be especially careful around her or to specifically up the P’s and Q’s while around her. I don’t think she was dangerous, but my brother, sister and I just knew that grandma must remain calm; don’t do anything to get her anxious or nervous. Perhaps most kids just have a sense about these things. We’d probably felt her nervous energy and felt her get off-kilter when something made her nervous and we’d seen and felt her in a calmed state, and just knew to keep her calm.
But again, I digress. So, my grandmother always wore the big, round granny glasses, and impeccable style in dress. And of course I’m the baby that she’s holding. She was always holding me. Hell, most pictures from this time, everyone wanted to hold me apparently.
And here we have grandma with The Sister and I (top photo & bottom right photo). I was a loud kid, my grandmother did not like loud, she also didn’t wear a hearing aid until I was a teenager, but apparently I could get away with it. This is not the only photo, or memory, I have of me being rather loud in her presence. And the final photo in this collage is of my Aunt Jan (& my Uncle Terry, her now ex-husband), my mom’s sister.
And we’ll move right into the next set of photo’s. My grandmother holding a framed version of the photograph to the right in the collage. It is her, my Aunt Jan, Rusty and his son at the Grand Canyon. And the bottom photo is Mr. Summers, my grandmother, my aunt, and then my mom; which this was taken in December of 1968 on my aunts wedding day to my Uncle Terry.
Here’s where things get even more crazy in the family line of non relation. So, Jan and my mom are adopted by Russ and Katherine. Jan marries Terry and has one son; Rusty in 1969, and by 1993/1994 Rusty had had a son of his own; K.B. (which are obviously the guy and then the baby in that top right photo. And I’ll just refer to the initials of K.B. as The Kid, from here on out.). So, this technically makes Rusty my cousin, though still not really because we’re not blood related. And to boot, my Aunt Jan is Armenian, so Rusty was half Armenian (I mention it not because it is weird, but because it’s cool, and also because that’s very far removed from anything in my own blood line.)
Wait for it. So, my parents absolutely adored Rusty when he was born. They were still six or so months away from getting married themselves. They always felt that he should be theirs. They fell in love with him the first time they saw him, as the stories and emotions go. Long story short and Rusty ended up having to live with us in the late 1980s. It wasn’t perfect, but we all became the family my parents had always wanted. Rusty considered The Sister and I his sisters and we considered him our brother.
Even when she went to visit him on the naval base, she said she was his sister. He found that strange because technically he doesn’t have a sister, but he didn’t really get visitors so wasn’t going to turn one away. When he saw it was The Sister, he was like, “My Sister! Of course! Well, it is true.”
So, a cousin we’re not related to by blood became our brother. A nephew not related to my parents by blood became their child. And in a weird, round about way, The Sister and I have a nephew and my parents have a grandson… also not related by blood.
We did meet him a few times. I think once in his infancy, but for certain when he was about three or four. He even once insisted that I come with him, and my aunt said, “No, really you’ll have to come home with us. That’s what he wants.” And by home it was meant back up to Laurel to grandma’s house since that’s where they were staying. And yeah, I had to troop back up to Laurel with them and have a pallet party with this kid that I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, because he wanted me to be there with him. Of course I would accept, it was Rusty’s son. But it is a bit strange.
The next time we’d see that kid was at his own fathers funeral which is a sad place to meet again. He was about thirteen or fourteen and he looked just like Rusty. Just like him. I doubt he remembers his toddler times meeting us those two or three times, but I had the impression that he kind of knew who we were. I won’t get into it all but basically Rusty wasn’t allowed to see his son. No court order, and I don’t know what happened, but he did want his son, but the baby mama said no. Even didn’t have him listed as the father, though it was painfully clear from the kids looks that Rusty was his dad.
However, the kid would sneak and call his dad all the time. He might have been able to see him at my aunts house once or twice, but I’m not so certain about that part. It might just be wishful thinking, because how horrible would it be that the last time he saw his dad, he was 3 or 4 and then not again until his death? Just terrible! And since we can’t remember what was said years ago, we’ll just say that possibly they saw each other again before the end.
But at Rusty’s funeral we couldn’t help ourselves. We went up to the kid, said we were his aunts and held him in a deep embrace. Then said, “Well… cousins, but your dad thought of us as sisters and we thought of him as our brother.” He didn’t act like a kid who had absolutely no idea who these two “strange” women were. There was a sense about him, like he knew; like he’d heard about us. Good things. And I can only imagine that it was Rusty talking about us in the first place, much less really great things.
But so, we have a nephew, in a round about way, out there somewhere in the wide world. The Sister and I hope that someday he’ll find us and we’ll give him things and stories of his fathers… if he wishes. Or we’ll just be there for him, obviously not as a replacement for his father, but an extension of family through his dad; whom he was really close to even if he didn’t see him often… or ever.
This next set of photos are Rusty’s baby picture, then Aunt Jan’s high school graduation photo, and then one of just Rusty and The Kid at the Grand Canyon. And that really concludes my mothers side of the family. All people I fiercely love and miss; all people who are every bit as family to me as if we were actually related by blood. So, now we’ll move onto my dad’s family for a quick jaunt just so you can see how well we mesh, or possibly don’t mesh, as in looks.
So, my paternal grandparents Betty and Merrell in the 1940s and then again in their late 60s/early 70s (in the early 1990s.) Sadly, they have both passed now. He died in October of 1993 and she two days after Christmas in 2012. She was Betty Jo Abernathy, (but you didn’t dare ever use the Jo as she hated it) & he was Merrell Herbert Roberts, but pronounced Merr-uhl and not Meir-ihl. They were both from Arkansas.
And a quick side step here, but the men’s names were always so confusing to me. So you have Russell ALBERT Summers, then my brother Russell ALLEN HERBERT, which he did try to fancy up as a teen by pronouncing it as Ay-behr, but it was just herr-bert. Later in life, he’d legally change his surname to Summers, just like our aunt did. So, Russell Albert/Allen Summers! Then you have Rusty’s surname of Herbert and my paternal grandfathers middle name of Herbert. Honestly, it made my eyes cross as a small child.
But getting back to my dad’s family… The next picture is my grandmother as a teenager, and really my sister as a teenager was THE spitting image of her. Then there’s a family photo in the fifties with my grandparents (and my grandmother looking very much like Kitty Foreman from That 70’s Show), and my Aunt Vicki and my dad. The next I’ve grouped those same pictures of my grandparents with teenage photos of my aunt and two of my dad. When my dad was 11, his parents had my Uncle Mark. Not to knock uncle Mark, but while he does favour his family sometimes, he is the odd one out of looks. Plus, I didn’t have a photo of him where he looks related, so I just didn’t use one.
Next up, we have my parents. Teenage photo’s of them, high school graduation photo’s, and then when they renewed their vows in the early 2000s. They were high school sweat hearts and as the story goes, my dad thought he was too geeky to get the girls (he kind of was, since he would rather watch that new show Star Trek than to take my mom out on a date. I do love that about him though. She’d watch it with him, hating the show, just to be with him though, so it worked out). But, she stalked him through the halls and went out of her way just to pass him and say hello, hoping he’d ask her out, which he did in 1964. They got married in May of 1970 and are still married to this day. They celebrate their first date anniversary in January, their wedding anniversary and then their vow renewal anniversary. While they’ve only been married for 47 years, they’ve been together for 53.
So, same pictures with their daughters added in. I’m sixteen in my photo (the brunette) and The Sister is 17 (in the hat). Then there’s side by side comparisons. I constantly find it strange that these two people had these two kids, or that The Sister and I are related. The Sister does favour dad and our grandmother. I favour our aunt Vicki and sometimes our grandpa.
I think people have too much emotion when comparing familial looks. I, however, like to see the bigger picture and the finer details and go at it from a logical stand point. I’ll admit all day long that I favour my moms family with the side profile of high cheekbones and a flat face. I really do. She favours more her biological grandmother, but my profile looks like her biological mother, our cousin and other people from that side of the family. I might also have my hands from her side of the family. But, I don’t favour my mother at all really.
She’s got pasty white china doll skin, blue eyes, and straight black hair. Also a long ski-slope nose with a prominent columella (that’s the external bit that divides the nostrils). We both have meaty arms and big boobs (The Sister and other women in my dad’s family do not), but beyond that we don’t look alike. But I suppose since we are both overweight and have dark hair, EVERYONE says that I look just like my mother… But it really isn’t true.
My hair is dark brown, thick and wavy and curls something fierce at my neck line… Just like my paternal grandfather. If I just look at the sun, my skin tans dark, dark brown… Like my paternal grandfather (though his was also tinted with red, and my aunt’s son who is just brown like me). I have a stubby faerie nose… Like my aunt Vicki, which does seem to resemble the nose of my dad and grandpa, just more feminine. My eyes are either green and blue separately. Some people say, “Oh that’s hazel.” It’s not. There’s no brown or gold. And they’re not the same shade of blue as my mom’s and more predominantly green. I have a hitchhiker’s thumb just like dad and grandpa.
My dad and sister both have a cleft chin, but my sister and mom both do NOT have a hitchhiker’s thumb. My dad tans like both of his parents; reddish brown in places like his dad, and golden like his mom. My sister tans golden like grandma (she’s the only one who voluntarily lays out in the sun to get tan – the rest of us just walk around & get dark). We all have thick wavy hair like grandpa. Dad was born with dark hair that turned so blond it was white and then it turned dark brown in his 30s. I was born with dark hair that turned so blonde that it was almost white and then was dark brown by the time I was 8. My sister was born with dark hair that lightened to strawberry blonde which is from my mom’s side of the family. My mom was born with red hair that turned black. Dad and I have the same wide duck feet. Oh yeah! And The Sister and I inherited dad’s Bunny Teeth. He always had big front teeth (not garishly so, or Gary Busy-ish teeth, but nice sturdy, strong front teeth. The Sister and I have those. We also have really prominent canines, but we’re not sure who we got those from. Mom has tiny chiclet teeth, as does the rest of her family.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to realize all of this from a few photo’s. It took me years of being with these people and examining photo’s of their past to find all the similarities amongst us; how we fit together… Or don’t. Family is a weird thing, no matter which way you define it or in which lens you see it through. I’m reminded by the Yorkshire phrase that I’ve just encountered; Nowt so queer as folk, which means Humans are a funny bunch, but I think it could apply to families as well.