Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Oklahoma Fortune Teller

Two weeks ago my uncle and aunt from Oklahoma dropped off a box that belonged to my grandma. It's filled with photos, funeral announcements, farm records, and even more photos. Grandma took a picture of every car she ever owned, from a 1940-something pickup to combines balanced precariously on small truck beds to her last 1990-something Cadillac sedan. There's a picture of my 20 year old parents in front of a GTO in about 1972. There are pictures of houses going up in divisions my grandpa and his sons built. There's an image of Grandma and her sisters in front of the 1894 homestead, the paint on the house still white, the windows intact--unlike the image I was in years later when I was about 9.

Back: "May 18, 1969--Dad would have been 80 on this Sunday.  We went to pick up a few last things in the house."

What was the ultimate treasure were some pieces of paper stapled together in my grandma's handwriting. Here she told of her courtship, marriage, and the immediate move to a Texas shack 100 feet from a railroad track. Someone on the passing train would toss them old magazines since they couldn't afford subscriptions and had no radio, let alone electricity. She had brought the top of their wedding cake with them, but the rats--who had chewed through the roof and were often on their bed--had eaten it.

1940 Chevy or Ford? First of nearly two dozen cars.

Though there's still a lot to go through, still much to fit together in an old ceiling fan box, one thing is clear--Grandma wrote this down for me. At the beginning of her story she asked how my cat was. If I went to church. That being a missionary would be a rewarding life. Somehow, she knew I'd become a quasi custodian of the remnants of her life, and would dine feverishly on the ashes of my ancestors. Maybe it was because I was the only male grandchild--I'd often get perks because of this. But is this memoir genetic or grandmotherly? Nature or nurture?

It is so overwhelming to me, this inevitable book, being the caretaker of fading echoes, piecing together scraps to form some half translucent image that is only 1/1,000th of the truth. But this is becoming my truth, a sort of gift evolving through a distance of time and place I'm always loathe to travel. Grandma knew, or she willed her knowing. And now I have another box of images and handwriting that seem like a second skin. Without me, I feel, nothing of this will last. Yet with me, the truth of these objects will change. Which makes our lives more unrecognizable? Which makes them more worth living?

If you'd like, read more about my book project via my trip to Oklahoma last spring.


ProfessorRoush said...

That, Benjamin, is really deep stuff. What a great legacy though. It should give us all some ideas.

Gaia Gardener: said...

What a treasure trove you received! And what a gift your grandmother's story of her courtship and early marriage is. Even if the stories get slightly changed through your personal filter, by preserving them and sharing them I strongly believe that you are keeping a vital thread of our nation's history alive, as well as an important strand in your own family's history.

Donna@Gardens Eye Vierw said...

What a special gift she has given you. I have become the family keeper of our history. I hope to do more research when i retire. I have missed so many stories and my family has not kept nearly anything of their stories. I need to write more of them down now as my mom who wiill be 80 and my aunt who is 90 are all that is left.

Benjamin Vogt said...

PF--Yeah, get working on you own book there in KS! My family first arrived in Inman in 1874.
GG--Nation's history is key for me. I feel like this book is part Americana, esp of OK's story of accelerated prairie destruction, oil grab, racism, scheming....
D--Yes, get writing! I am lucky it was my grandma who did this, esp among her siblings.