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Great-aunt Jessie was a character.  She had her own ideas about how life worked, and everyone was expected to conform to them.  For instance, if she invited you over for dinner, you knew that you had to bring the food, cook it and then clean up afterward.

Here are a few anecdotes from various relatives:

One time, she was here visiting and she told me to bring her to a friend’s house for dinner.  I asked, “When is she serving dinner?”  She said, “I don’t know.”  “Didn’t you ask?”  “Probably 6:00.”  We got there, and no one was at home.  They didn’t know she was coming.  So, then she said, “Bring me to so-and-so’s.”  “Well, they don’t know you’re coming, either.” She was quite the Jessie.

Her wig always seemed to change direction.  One time, it was so windy, her wig blew right off, and traveled down the street like a tumbleweed.  She was yelling at me to get it, and I was trying not to get hit by cars.

When she backed out of a driveway, she would count to three and go, whether there were any cars coming or not.  And, the turn signal in her 1949 Studebaker didn’t work.  Instead of putting her arm out the window to indicate she was turning, she would just put out a hand and wiggle her fingers. 

Jessie was complaining that her shoes were untied.  Well, her shoes were buckled, so they couldn’t possibly be untied, but Oscar said, “Come here and tie Aunt Jessie’s shoes.”  So, I pretended to tie her shoes.

I remember when she went for a long walk, and then realized she’d have to walk back.  So, she walked up to a stranger’s house, knocked on the door and asked them to drive her back, and they did!

Jessie could be irritating and frustrating, but we loved her.  As a personal historian, I have worked with families who were unwilling to talk about relatives who didn’t “fit in” with the rest of the family.  It’s a shame, really, because I see those relatives as rough cut, unpolished jewels; gems who can sparkle when regarded with the right light.

My cousin is considering writing a couple of children’s books based on Jessie.  I think it’s a fabulous idea. 

This Thanksgiving, I will be expressing my gratitude at having been born into a family with diverse viewpoints and perspectives; who are willing to spend time outside of the box to appreciate the complexities of life.  But, most of all, a family who loves one another unconditionally, regardless of the eccentricities that may reside in each of us.

What stories do you have to share about your eccentric relatives?

You Are A Classic

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Joe audrey pop virginia 1949For some people, spending time with family during the holidays does not warm the cockles of their hearts.  There are arguments, disputes, old resentments resurface, lives are judged and criticized, etc.  There is a way, however, to ease the emotional pain of the holiday season. 

Who, in your family, is sincerely cherished by all; someone who is truly respected and held in high regard?  Consider giving a tribute to him or her this holiday season.  A tribute is something the entire family can be involved in, both separately and together. 

When I am hired to put together a personal history, every single person in the family – even the ones who aren’t speaking to anyone – happily donate their time for an interview, because they want to preserve that relative’s memory.  They actually move beyond their issues with the family, and focus on the much loved relative.  When the book is complete, relatives read about the special memories others have – some unique, some shared – about the same individual, and the fondness they once had for each other rises up above the old grudges and disputes.  A healing begins to grow, working its way through each branch and leaf on the family tree.

You have the ability to create a powerful gifted family legacy for future generations.

It begins with one.

Whose life story could you preserve that would reconnect your family?

You Are A Classic

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With genealogy, you learn about your family tree through names, dates, locations and, sometimes, occupations.  You usually do not learn about who they were as individuals; their personalities, obstacles they faced and overcame, travels, interests, education, etc.  It’s unfortunate, because those experiences influenced their choices and decisions, which flowed through that family tree to ultimately impact how you were raised and how you reached your current perspectives on life.

Imagine yourself listed on a family tree in the distant future, indicating only your name, birth and death dates.  How sad it would be for your descendants not to know who you were as a person; your life experiences, so they could better understand themselves.



As a personal historian, I constantly and consistently witness families looking at one another with renewed appreciation after reading a relative’s life story.  They see their parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles as unique, interesting human beings, with whom they just happen to be related.


The holidays are fast approaching.  Do yourself and those you love a favor.  Take advantage of your time together by asking questions regarding their lives.  It can be lighthearted (e.g., What were your favorite toys or games when you were little?) or insightful (e.g., What was the best advice you ever received?).  Record them.  Transcribe them.  Save them for the future. 

Don’t forget to make notes of your answers as well.  You, too, are an important part of the family history.

What questions do you wish you could ask your ancestors?

You Are A Classic

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cabin frontEvery summer, my family would spend a couple of weeks in a cabin in an abandoned logging camp along the Ten Mile River in Mendocino County, just north of Fort Bragg. There were a couple of other cabins there as well, and there would be cousins of all ages to visit. For us kids, it was the best playground ever, because we could run all over the place, making trails, chasing chipmunks, searching for deer, and yell across the river to the log truck drivers to, “Blow your horn!”

In addition to the cabins, there were campers, tents and sleeping bags spread out everywhere.  One year, my great-aunt Mary passed around a guestbook and we counted over 300 names! 

I’ve been told that when I was two or three, I decided to just take off when no one was looking.  Dozens of relatives looked for me everywhere.  Couldn’t find me.  So, my great-aunt Rena took matters into her own hands.  She and her brother Cub (real name Alfred) were both trackers.  So, she literally tracked me down, following my intermittent prints in the dirt.  She found me a mile and a-half down an old logging road, rapidly approaching an old, broken-down train trestle that crossed the river.  I think it was fitting that Rena was the one who found me, because she loved to just take off, too, up into her 90’s.  (In the early 1910’s, she and a friend hitchhiked from Fort Bragg to Eureka, with just a bedroll to sleep by the side of the road.)

Behind each cabin was a fire pit, and behind our cabin was a self-standing bar (made from leftover wood from the mill) in a circle of redwood trees.  There was a record player, and to give you a sense of time and place, records included Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”   

SawhorseJust outside the entrance of the bar, were a couple of sawhorses with saddles on top for the kids to play on.  Until, of course, some kid fell off, then the horses rode away. 




bed swingAbutting the back of our cabin was a bed swing, behind which were a row of sword ferns.  We kids loved to lie back on the bed, grab and pull a fern to rock ourselves back and forth.  The gentle sway would quickly seque to wild abandon until the bed would slam against the cabin, causing my grandmother to slam out of the cabin yelling at us to stop.  So, we would.  Until we’d do it again.


A cousin created a tree swing with simply a rope tied around a sawed-off branch. He even built steps up a tree, leading to a platform. You’d carry the swing up with you, and either jump from the platform sitting on the swing, or jump onto the swing mid-air. It was fantastic.

Julie, Brenda inner tubeMy great-uncle worked at the lumber mill, and he’d borrow a CAT to create a swimming hole for the kids. Someone built a raft, and there was a rowboat and a few large inner tubes.

Camp at river

I’ve been thinking about how my life has come full circle. I find myself returning to similar simple pleasures. When I hike with friends, I am once again enjoying nature, laughter and conversation. A cousin tells me that when she meditates, she imagines herself back at Camp Ten Mile, re-visiting the redwoods, good food, hugs, comfort and joy.

Those childhood summers were gifts, for which I will forever be grateful.

What summer childhood memories do you embrace?

You Are A Classic



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“Who are those people and why do we have photographs of them?” Read the rest of this entry »

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