Saturday, August 30, 2008

Show & Tell with Mel - Sunday, August 31, 2008

I shared the women from my father's side of the family in a previous Show & Tell; seems only fair I share the women from my mother's side also. Family is extremely important to me; knowing where/who one comes from - a genetic legacy and birthright. I have been blessed to know some remarkable women in my life and even more blessed to be related to many of them.


My Meme Tondreau and me around 2 years of age.

My mother's mother was barely out of her teens when she became pregnant with my mother. There has been some family debate whether or not she was married to my mother's father at the time - though, at some point, they were married. My mother was born on a stormy night at home in Rockland, Maine; premature and with my great-grandmother playing the role of doctor. When the actual doctor finally made it through the storm to their house, he pronounced my mother too weak and too early to survive saying "Don't waste any milk on her." My great-grandmother promptly kicked him out of the house, stoked up her wood stove and kept my mother warm in a wooden box and plied her frequently with small smounts of milk. They named my mother after the doctor - I am completely certain out of spite; it would be so like my great-grandmother to want him to have a living and long lasting memory of being so very mistaken! My grandmother struggled as a very young mother and as a consequence, my mother was raised by her grandparents. Even once she divorced my mother's father, remarried and began raising more children, my mother chose to remain with her grandparents and was raised as an only child.

My Meme

All my life we have called our grandmothers "Meme" (pronounced mem-mee). In many ways, Meme felt more like my grandmother than my actual grandmother, whom we called Meme Tondreau. My mother's mother continued to struggle through her adulthood - with alcoholism, depression. I have limited memories - our visits were often "surprises". We couldn't say ahead of time we were coming to visit - she would have reasons why it was a bad time, why we couldn't visit, etc. - we had to just show up and she would then visit with us. My step-grandfather I have many pleasant memories of. He was always genuinely happy to see us and I remember sitting in his lap and the smell of his pipe tobacco. My grandmother sometimes remembered our birthdays with cards and letters, though she died young, in her 50's - a sudden and traumatic event for her family. Her drinking and depression having caught up with her.

Of Meme though, I have so many wonderful memories. She had a large strawberry patch in her backyard. I was often dispatched with a container to fill and she would make all sorts of wonderful treats- sliced strawberries with milk or strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream, my favorites. Maine was a wonderful place to visit as a child - we enjoyed the beaches; my brother and I fascinated with the small tide pools. Shortly after boxing up all my belongings and leaving home for college, I opened up a small box of shells I had collected years ago. Being contained in a small space concentrated the smell of the sea that still clung to the shells and rocks I had collected. I drank in the scent and for a brief moment, I was back at the beach on a grey, windy day - wearing my windbreaker and poking at a small pool filled with all sorts of sea treasures. From my very young years I have just snatches, bits and pieces of memories - most of which are prompted back by smells, sounds, tastes or feelings. When my dh and I were looking at homes, we toured a very old farmhouse and I had such a flashback of memories I was overcome. The home had the same smells and textures (dh called it "eau de old people") I remembered from my Meme's house. The kitchen was in the back of the house and I wanted to see if there were the same white metal kitchen cabinets I remembered from my Great-grandmother's house - and there were! We didn't purchase the house - but walking through was such a treat of forgotten memories. Standing in that kitchen, thousands of miles and years after, I remembered sitting at a small table with formica top, eating a bowl of strawberries in milk. My tears when I sat on the same table after cutting my toe at the beach - her gentle and capable hands cleaning and dressing my wound. Asking her, "will it stop hurting?" and her voice saying "Ay-yah, it will." in her husky and thick New England accent. Standing on a stool with an apron tied up under my armpits next to the stove and being handed a wooden spoon and told "When those lobsters try to climb out of the pot - you smack them back down with that spoon now!" We had walked down to the docks and picked the lobsters ourselves, straight off the boat. Later they were the most amazing lobster rolls. She had told me I had the most important job. She also remembered birthdays with cards and letters. All through my childhood and while I was at college. She was extremely crafty - she and her daughter (my mother's aunt) made all sorts of crafts, even through her waning years. They often sold these crafts. I inherited this from her. For Christmas I often received yarn, pompoms, beads, chenille wire - all sorts of craft supplies and would be delighted. She was the type who would see something and say "I can make that!" and she would. I am the same way. I have the ability to see how something goes together in my head. There have been times I have been trying to figure out how to make something and will sleep on it. During the night, I will dream and "see" how to put it all together. I never got the chance to ask her if she figured out how to make things the same way - I have a feeling she likely did.

The summer my husband and I moved to Missouri, my mother called and said she was headed to Maine to visit Meme - her health was deteriorating. I wanted to believe she would live forever - she had already survived so much - breast cancer, diabetes, constant medical issues, the loss of her daughter, a grandson, her husband. We had just moved, still had a home we were trying to sell, I had just several months earlier given birth to a baby who was premature and spent time in the NICU and then again in the PICU with RSV. We had medical bills, moving bills - so many things that made a trip seem impossible. I made the practical and realistic decision not to go. I wanted to take my daughter back there - to get a picture of all of us, five generations. Just a few days after making this decision, I was standing in my kitchen cleaning and cutting up strawberries to make into jam. I was overcome with a sense of sadness, knowing that if I did not take the opportunity to go, there would not be another one. My mother went, I did not. Shortly afterward, my Meme passed away on August 26th, 1997.

My mother and I 2004

I never got my 5 generation photo. My premature daughter is now an amazing 11 year old who looks remarkably like my mother when she was younger. My daughter is also very crafty and very creative. She makes most of the gifts she bestows upon her friends and family - I have a choker she made me that when I wear it, people always ask about it. The other day she was looking through a magazine and saw something she liked - I overheard her say "I could make that!" I had to smile when I had a sudden craving for Strawberry Shortcake.

For more of this weekend's Circle Time Show & Tell with Mel - see here.


14 comments:

chicklet said...

I absolutely love the old photos, but the missed opportunity, man, we just never know do we?

Cassandra said...

The image of you sitting on the counter to whack the lobsters as they crawl out of the pot is priceless! Thanks so much for sharing all of your memories, good and not-so-good.

Kristin said...

I can just see you walking through that house with your husband and all the memories coming back to you. Thank you for sharing all these stories with us.

Wishing 4 One said...

What a beautiful post. Thanks so much for sharing....I too recently had 4 generations alive on my mothers side, my Oma, (my mothers mom) who died in 2005, while I was in the air from Egypt back to USA to see her....her mother my Uhr Oma (great grandmother) is still alive at 90+ years in Germany.

AnotherDreamer said...

I love the photos, and the memories. I lost my maternal grandmother about 4 years ago, and I don't have many photos of her. Even if we don't have that photo though, we have those memories. And those memories will always be there. Thank you for sharing them with us.

MrsSpock said...

I love the old photos...

Sam said...

Those old photos are just great aren't they - they have such a distinct quality!

All my grandparents have gone and they never saw my nephew so that's a bit sad but it would have been great to have had some five generational photos!

Kristin (kekis) said...

What wonderful photos and amazing memories. I agree that family is the one thing that links us to others in a way that we have with no one else. Thanks for a great S&T.

Malky B. said...

Thanks for sharing your memories of your great grandmother. I was very close to my grandmother on my fathers side. It's such a special bond.

Shelby said...

What a wonderful post. You are a great writer who can call up such vivid images, and what beautiful images they are-of the sea and the old house and of your Meme. Like you, I had an 'adopted' Grandmother (my Grandma's sister) and have memories of playing amongst her yard of lemon and orange trees and to this day, the smell of citrus calls up those memories for me. Great post!

Loalled said...

newbie to your post.

wanted to just comment i think old pictures are classic and tell of memories and stories to come.

thanks for sharing.

-Faith

Lori said...

A wonderfully woven post. I love the image of the strawberry patch.

Kim said...

I have never met your family, nor you but I so enjoy reading about them when you share with us. You come from a long line of talented women, I can feel the love that you have for Your Meme and mother in your writing. Your stories encourage me to work on Family History. Kim

Rachel said...

just getting to know you-- reading around your blog.