|The immigrants on the beach in California. My brother Leigh and I, my mother, Auntie Pam and Uncle Colin in 1955.|
My father came from a large family; both his mother and his father came from families with ten children. My father had one sibling, my Uncle Colin. At Uncle Colin's memorial service last month my father reminisced about his childhood. He talked about growing up knowing with a certainty that he was loved. With so many aunts and uncles, "there was always someone to pick you up when you fell down." Now my father is having a difficult time coming to grips with the reality that there isn't anyone left who shares those childhood memories.
At the memorial service my brother, Leigh, introduced himself as "Uncle Colin's favorite nephew." Until our brother, Ross, was born Leigh was the only nephew. Ross now disputes Leigh's claim to being the favorite. I, however, have no challengers for the favorite niece title.
I grew up with a very small family. In 1955 my family immigrated to America from England. I could count my family in America on one hand: my mom and dad, my brother Leigh, and my Auntie Pam and Uncle Colin. I had extended family in England, but I grew up not really knowing them. My cousin Martin and my younger brother were born years after we arrived in America.
|On the ship coming to America, my brother Leigh, my mother and me.|
At Uncle Colin's memorial service I thought about the courage it took to give up family and all that is familiar to take a chance on a better life in a new country. Leigh talked about the last time he and my dad visited Uncle Colin and shared some of the stories that they remembered. My father and Uncle Colin left England ahead of my mother, brother, Auntie Pam and I. They stayed at the Hollywood YMCA when they arrived in California. Their first task was to find jobs. They took opposite sides of the street and walked up one block after another checking each business looking for work. Two months later we arrived and our family started our life in our new home.
It was a nice memorial service. Family and friends told funny stories, the slide show illustrated a life of passion for exotic cars and building a good life in southern California. There is no question that my family is an immigrant success story. The family has grown and flourished, but the loss of one member reminds us of our own mortality.
My father lives in California and I live in Oregon. I don't see him very often. He will be 86 in May. He is my link to my family history and the family in England. I realized during this last trip to California that I needed to make sure that we captured some of that history. My father has an excellent memory and a gift for story telling. Unfortunately, he doesn't write a blog. (He does, however, read mine and will email me corrections for any story I tell that isn't factual!)
So, on the Wednesday following Uncle Colin's service on Tuesday, my brother Leigh and I scheduled time with our Dad to review family photographs. Dad's photos were jumbled in a box and none were labeled. He enjoys going through them and telling us the stories, but doesn't write anything down. That Wednesday I found pencils for each of us and when he told us the stories, I had him write on the back of each picture.
I learned things about my family that I never knew. I didn't know that I had attended Uncle Colin and Auntie Pam's wedding, but there I am, a two year old toddler standing in front of the wedding party right next to my grandmother. I never knew that my paternal grandfather had died the day before my parent's wedding. (Another wedding I also attended, but was not yet visible to the inquisitive crowd. I made my "premature" arrival six months later.) While going through the picture box my dad recalled that his father had been bedridden. On the day before his wedding my father had to work. He talked to his father that morning and left for his job. An hour later he received a call to come home because his father had passed. The doctor had been there to see him. He had been in constant pain. "I'm sure the doctor put him down," he said "it was the most humane thing."
The little box of photos was a treasure trove of memories. I'm going back to visit again in May and will bring my own box of photos saved from my mother's estate, I know Dad will be able to identify many of the people and will have some stories to add to my knowledge of my family. It's a history that needs to be remembered/