This isn’t a Christmas story, but it does begin with a Christmas card. It is my peace story for the 2014 Blog Blast for Peace. To read more peace posts, go to Mimi’s Blog4Peace and see who else is posting from around the world. At the end of Mimi’s peace post, there is a list of peace bloggers who have added their links to Mimi’s page.
Grandma’s Calendar of Memory
I have been working on my family ancestry for 3 ½ years now: finding records, building the family tree, visiting cemeteries and county courthouses to read birth, marriage and death records. When I began, I think I wanted a deeper sense of rootedness. In the end, I got so much more.
Nearly one year ago, just after the 2013 Blog Blast for Peace, I sent a very early Christmas card to one of my first cousins. She and I are only months apart in age, but years and miles apart in our shared history. Her parents divorced when she was very, very young and in the aftermath, she and her mother left the last known state of residence any of us ever knew. We, my grandmother, my folks, my other uncle and his children never saw her again.
During the course of my genealogical research, a rather consistent address kept showing up for her and I decided to reach out to her. I sent her the early Christmas card I mentioned above. I established who I was by virtue of my connection to her birth father as my dad’s younger brother. I told her that I wanted to make on offer of sharing any family history she might be inclined to read, photos she might like to see, and some physical items that could give her a sense of our common grandmother.
In my Christmas card, I had written my mailing address as well as my email address. I ended my note with: “I remember you. I have always known about you and want you to know that our Grandmother never forgot about you.”
I put the stamp on the envelope and dropped my card at the Post Office. I did the math to estimate the day it could possibly arrive at her house and then I added some time for the early onset of holiday mail and then added some more time in case she chose to write back via the U.S. mail.
One day, not very long after my card went off in the mail, I opened my email only to see a message from my long-lost cousin. She never knew she had any paternal first cousins and yet she told me she was responding on the very afternoon that my card arrived!
She told me that she had no idea there were cousins from her birth dad’s side of the family and she was very much interested in what I had offered to share with her. When I ask her if she is ready to learn some more, she always says “Yes, please!” and then later, “Thank you!”
So . . . I began to tell her whatever I knew about our common family, but spread it out so she could take in a little at a time. The first photo I sent her was actually a photo of our grandmother’s little Calendar of Memory for her local drugstore, turned to the month of my cousin’s birthdate. All I could say in my message was “Grandma never forgot about you! She marked your birthday on this page and thought about you every year. She spoke of you to us and called you by name. You were never forgotten.”
When my grandmother passed away, my cousin’s birth dad died just a few months later, so my father spent a good deal of time trying to track down my cousin in order to follow my grandmother’s wishes. Dad was never able to find my cousin, so could never do what his mother had hoped. He tried.
I knew how much he had tried, so when I found my cousin and established our email relationship, I sent her some things that represented our grandmother: a crocheted lace tablecloth and a beautiful braided rug. Grandma had made both. I also sent her various photos of our grandmother at different ages.
When I had found my cousin, I told my mother, who was pleasantly surprised. Over the past year, Mom has been combing through her collection of old photographs to look for photos of my uncle, my aunt, and my cousin. What Mom had the most of, was photos of my aunt and uncle.
Then . . . not long ago, Mom ran across a photo of my long-lost cousin, age one and a half at the time, being held by one of our grandmother’s brothers-in-law and his son. That struck a chord with my cousin because it gave her solid evidence that she had actually traveled with her folks across the country to where Grandma lived and met other family members.
Very recently, my other paternal first cousin unearthed an old booklet of family history from my grandmother’s family. It had been prepared over thirty years ago by the grandson of my grandmother’s older brother. I had never seen it or known about it. My cousin generously sent it to me and I made copies for my siblings and for our long-lost cousin – all the while, telling that cousin how much help I was getting from family members in sharing our joint history. The old booklet included anecdotal information, which I found both fascinating and entertaining. It also included – on the very last page – the name of my long-lost cousin. That means that other entire branches of our tree knew about that long-lost cousin too.
I know there had been some difficult feelings about her birth dad, but there were some things I could do to give her another perspective about him and his strengths. I gave her the information and let her put the puzzle pieces together as she saw fit.
In the end, she learned where the influence of her stature came from, as well as her eye color and hair color. But more than that, she recently wrote me an email describing what of our grandmother’s character traits she had and to read that she was finding herself in our grandmother’s nature, gave me unquantifiable peace.
This post is not about what I have done for my long-lost cousin. It is really about what she has done for me. She trusted me when I sent that early Christmas card and her trust has been a gift I’ve cherished for these last many months. She may have trusted me anyway, but it really helped that I had our grandmother’s Calendar of Memory. Grandma used it to remember when to send birthday and anniversary cards, but she must have used it for so much more. There in that little book were names of her siblings, parents, in-laws, and her grandchildren – one of them my long-lost cousin.
When it came time for the anniversary of our grandmother’s birthday this year, I sent my cousin an email to tell her the date. I asked her to celebrate with me across the miles because “Grandma would love, love, love that I found you!”
If peace is family, as it is for so many of us, then how that peace has grown for me this past year with this still recent addition.
I hope your days and lives are filled with peace, wherever you find it, however you make it, or however it comes to you as a gift!
Some time ago, I worked on the following graphic. I have always liked it because it took some time to get it just right, but I have never shared it. My idea was that if we have peace in our world, then our world is made up of peace. In the graphic below, I also liked that each word alone was a complete message of two words: World Peace; either one can stand alone.
Finally, I started a tradition last year with my “Peace Treaties”. My granddaughter asked me to make them again. I did. The colors are different from last year and so are the peace scarves I used as the inspiration. I made enough for Goodnight and me to share: she at school and me at work.
Do something peaceful, please. We never know how many years down the road it might still make a huge difference as in the case of my grandmother’s calendar of memory from 58 years ago.