Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Meatpacking District, August 2007
Back again in New York, on a morning so chilly I need a jacket. A drastic change from blistering, sun-baked Florida!
The family visit went really well. I spent a couple of days with my Mom and a couple with my Dad and stepmother. The time with my Dad was especially educational.
My brother and I lived with my Mom while growing up, and though we saw my Dad every week, we didn’t have the same exposure to his family that we had to my Mom’s. So I really never knew much about my Dad’s people, who lived in California. I got cards from them on birthdays and at Christmas, but that was about it. This weekend I finally got a chance to collect some information about that side of the family.
Both my Dad’s parents were originally from Arkansas farm families. My great-grandfather, Enoch Reed, was born in 1866 and lived to be about 100 in their hometown of Imboden. I got a copy of an interesting newspaper article written by the local Social Security representative after he came to sign up Enoch and his wife, Mary, for Medicare. Apparently he was so impressed with their endurance and longevity that he wrote about their spartan farm lifestyle, with chickens in the yard and a patch of corn that Enoch hoed by hand.
Neither of my grandparents, Jesse Harvard Reed and Ella Augusta Ratliff, graduated from high school. That wasn’t unusual in that time and place; they both had farm work to do. In the 1930s, my grandfather made his way into a job as a mail carrier for the postal service -- a great job to have in the Depression -- and that took him and his family to California. He died there in 1963 before I was born. My grandmother lived until the early ‘90s; we did visit her once, when I was 16, in 1983.
We read letters from my grandparents to my father, and both of them were excellent writers. (Better than a lot of people who graduate from college now!) It was so amazing to hear their voices through their writing. My grandfather seemed to have the same dry sense of humor as my Dad.
It was cool to gather all this history and learn about this branch of my family -- different from my Mom’s branch, where people had the opportunity to go to college. (Some of them were Southern farmers, too, though, just a few generations back.)
I don’t know why I never had these conversations before. Why on earth did we wait until now?