What Old Family Photos Can Reveal About You

This is my great-grandmother on my paternal side. I saw this photograph for the first time about five or six years ago and it led to a discovery I had not anticipated. She and I share more than just DNA although what I discovered in this photograph is due to our genes. Can you guess what it might be? The baby she is holding is my grandmother and I can see that she has it too. (See update regarding this photo at the end of the post)

Need another clue?  This is my dad as a boy. The quality is not as nice, but you can still spot what I discovered if you look.

Here’s one more photo of my dad taken when he was about twelve. I think what I’m referring to is pretty obvious, but I’d like to hear from you.

What do you think the three of us might have in common?

UPDATES: John thinks the photo above it is more likely my great-great-grandmother, Clarenda who was born in 1869 and would be about 42 in this picture, but I still think it’s my great grandmother Eunice at age 20 holding her daughter Clara (Hmm … I wonder if my grandmother was named Clara to honor her grandmother, my great-great grandmother) Maybe John is right, but I think a 42 year-old woman would look older in 1911 than the woman above.

Now I’ve got to go hunt for the photo to see if it has anything written on the back. Free free to share your opinion.

An Update From The Edge

Where do I begin …

Let me first say how moved I have been by the messages of support and encouragement I have received since my last post. I have had weepy moments reading and rereading your kind words and your suggestions as to how I might find some peace have been a great help to me. As I’ve managed to move through panic and a mix of other palpitation inducing emotions, I find I am learning some unexpected lessons in letting go.

I spent time yesterday with two close friends who have been helping me enormously with some of the logistical issues I’m dealing with now. Their kindness, and generosity of time and resources have been such a gift to me and their support has made it possible me to move away from a temporary ‘ Chicken Little ‘ mentality that made me feel a bit crazy last week.

As important as their physical support has been, I also had two separate conversations with them that were illuminating and likely to be life changing. You know how people can say something over and over and you think you’ve heard it, well bless them both for their tenacity and willingness to keep repeating themselves because it finally got through my filter. By filter, I mean the voice in my head that wants to qualify, justify, or explain, instead of considering a different possibility.

This time, I think got it and I’m not sure that would have been possible with being so wide open emotionally from the unrelated issue I alluded to in my previous post.

Despite being in such a scary place of uncertainty last week I am managing well now day by day and doing what I need to wrap things up so I can go home to Cornwall and John. I have had so many offers of help and support so many that I am deliberately not naming names here for fear I might accidentally leave someone out.

To all of you who’ve left me such kind messages, I thank you. You helped me leap to the next place which turned out to be a better one. Not all the issues are resolved here, but I do feel better about what comes next.

xo

A Grateful Heart

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~Thornton Wilder

On this day of American Thanksgiving I want to take a minute to say a few words. In a few hours I will sit down with some of my family and friends to share a meal. Sadly they won’t all be here, but rest assured I will be thinking of them as my step-mother Cullene offers a Thanksgiving blessing that while it varies slightly from year to year has a familiarity that is as constant as seeing her at the door to welcome me whenever I come home.

I try to live in a state of awareness and gratitude for the everyday gifts of love and friendship that I am fortunate to be able to claim as mine. These are infinitely more dear to me than anything in shiny paper and string and just as important as awareness is for me, so too is acknowledgement.

Most of the time I think I do a pretty good job of letting people know how grateful I am for the connections we share, but just in case….

I’m grateful for every minute I get to spend with my now grown up girl

… and for the love and respect of this man I adore.

I’m grateful for Cullene who mothers me like a child of her own.

I’m grateful for my sister Margaret who lives almost as far from our home state as I do …

… and my sister Jennie who prefers to stay a bit closer to her southern roots.

I’m grateful for a chance to say hello to family I had not seen for years and goodbye to a place that has a special history.

I am so fortunate to have the friends I do and I wish I had time to post a photograph of each and every one of you, but the turkey is almost ready and people will be coming through the door in a minute so I need to say ….

I’m so very grateful for those of you who take time to stop by GOTJ and especially those who leave a comment or two because that’s how the circle grows … increasing my good fortune and my group of friends.

Saying Goodbye – A Death In The Family

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MICHAEL JOHN BENCH 1926-2009

This is a difficult post to write. Michael Bench, John’s cousin died yesterday morning about 5:00 am. We had received word late in the afternoon on Wednesday that he was suddenly responding verbally to questions when asked by the medical staff. This was in direct conflict to what anyone had expected. We were quite excited to hear about this positive shift as he’d been totally unresponsive the morning before and had planned to be at the hospital at 10:00 the next morning to see him. Before we could get there, the hospital phoned at 5:20 am to tell us that he had died.

All of this has been terribly shocking to everyone. Last Saturday we’d shared a lovely meal with Michael and his sister Mary. John’s eldest daughter came down from London and his brother David was there too along his daughter and her boyfriend who came down from the north of England for the reunion. Michael and Mary had traveled to Polzeath for a holiday and were scheduled to go sailing with us all on Monday. The picture below shows us at a local pub in Cornwall on Saturday evening. The black and white photo above was taken at the same dinner.  Michael and Mary had been out for a small bit of coast path walking earlier that day and both seemed fine with no health complaints.

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I had the good fortune of being seated next to Michael during dinner and we talked about many things throughout evening. There were still many questions I wanted to ask him about and I said goodnight that evening thinking that we’d have plenty of time for that over the next few days.

After a late lunch on Sunday, Mary and Michael went to beach in front of their hotel and before long Michael decided he wanted to go down to the water and changed into his swim trunks. Leaving Mary high up on the hill watching his belongings, he walked down in the direction of the water  and was gone so long that Mary began to wonder where he was …it was about the same time she noticed a commotion on the beach and a crowd gathering.  As she approached, she realized that it was her brother Michael on the ground with someone administering CPR. It turned out to be a physician who happened to be at the beach with his wife. I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for her to find Michael in such a state.

An air ambulance was called and Michael was airlifted to the hospital where his heart was restarted. At the time and for several days after, no one had any real hope of his survival much less recovery so it was a shock when he began to say a few words on Wednesday evening.

If I’d known Michael for more than the evening I spent with him last Saturday I might tell you more of the regular things you expect to hear when someone dies and people speak of who they were or what they did during their lifetime. I might tell you how he was a Senior Architect who spent his career with the National Health Service designing hospitals and other medical facilities.  I might tell you how in 2003,  his life partner Leo Breach had died on Christmas day after many years together and how at 83 he still lived on his own in London. Or I could tell you about all the ways he was important to his sister Mary, how at one point they’d shared living space for 18 years of their adult lives or about how they’d travel all over with Mary at the wheel of the car even though she was the elder of the two.

If I’d had more time with him I might have been able to share the stories he had from a childhood spent traveling with his family to various parts of Cornwall and how much he still loved to holiday in the southwest of England as an adult. I don’t know all the details of his life, but I do know that walking along the water’s edge that day was something he loved.  John helped me to see it from that perspective as I wondered aloud to him …asking  no one in particular…what in the world was Michael thinking when he put on his swimsuit and headed for the water.

I’d like to imagine him walking across the sand carried along by the excitement of a beach holiday and not think about how it would be the last time he would ever dip his toes into the coolness of the Cornish sea. I’d also like to think that he might have been looking back along the shoreline in the direction of where he’d left Mary when he felt the first pains in his chest and how perhaps in the moments just before he lost consciousness he might have seen his family sitting on the shore whether a fragmented memory remembered from a picture of his family like the one below or perhaps a gathering of those gone before waiting to lead him to the other side…I just hope he saw more than the sand of the beach as he slipped into it before closing his eyes.

The Winchurch & Bench Families On The Beach

“We are the boat, we are the sea, I sail in you, you sail in me”

-Lorre Wyatt

Many thanks to all of you who’ve reached out to us during this time..we are very grateful for your good thoughts and prayers.


June 6, 1944 – Surviving To Die Another Day

 

HUGH LEE STEPHENS

HUGH LEE STEPHENS

While June 6, 1944 is a day that many will gather to remember the 65th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion and the wartime sacrifice of human life, in my family there is another date that we remember someone lost to us on French soil in 1944. Like many other families it’s more personal than just another breaking news story where they bring out the oldest surviving vets and listen as they recount the horrors of that horrible time.

Stories are powerful, they shape opinion and leave a lasting impression on how we view the world around us. I grew up hearing stories about my great-uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens. He was one of only two children born to my father’s maternal grandparents in a time when families were usually larger, when more children in families like ours meant more hands to work the farm and fields. On the day my family learned of Uncle Hugh’s death, his mother, my great-grandmother, had what I believe was first of several heart attacks she would have throughout her life. She was 53. She forever mourned her dead son acting in some ways as if her life ended with his. By the time I was born she almost seemed like a frail reflection of the sturdy woman I saw in family photographs before 1944.

My father was only a few days away from his 10th birthday when he heard the news and spoke often of how he’d looked up to his uncle who at 18 years his senior, was in many ways like a second father to him. My grandmother Clara Mae, his only sibling, told the kind of stories one might expect from a someone still clinging to the unfinished business of sibling rivalry … choosing to hold onto old hurts instead of feeling the pain and finality that comes with death. Each one had a different story … each one the truth for them. As for his father, my great-grandfather, I cannot ever remember him sharing any stories of his lost son … almost as if it was too much to remember what must have been to painful for him to recall.

Hugh Lee, as he was called by his mother and father also left behind a wife who loved him. When he died at 27, he was just a simple Georgia boy in a foreign country. He found himself in a country he never imagined he’d be growing up as he did on a rural farm in the south. A place across the ocean where he’d struggle to find his footing and fall dying as he did beside his fellow soldiers, the sons and fathers and husbands we still remember 65 years later.

Because I had served as a soldier in the U.S. Army, when it came time to pass Uncle Hugh’s flag to the next generation for safe keeping my father offered it to me, the eldest of his three daughters. I took this photograph in Georgia just before I passed it on to my daughter Miranda who while only 21, was appreciative and eager to accept it into her care. While packing up the small amount of things that I value most to send over to England, I made the decision to leave behind the flag that draped the casket at his military funeral not because I did not value its meaning or because there was no room, but because I believed my great-uncle Hugh’s American flag should stay in the country he called home.

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The reflection of the empty chairs in this photograph of his flag reminds me of the family and life experiences he never got to have. Leaving no children of his own, his story exists now only in a few genealogy notes, this flag and the memories we share.  I honor his service and sacrifice in the best way I know how by sharing his story with a group larger than the boundaries of our little family and hope that he like so many others who gave their lives on the battlefield, will never be forgotten.

Eleven

 

11

Today my nephew Nik is eleven.

 There are many things I’d like to say about him, but at eleven, he’d like a bit of censoring.

 Say too much and I’ll embarrass him, say too little and I’m afraid I won’t properly convey how much I like the person

he’s growing into.

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 He’s interesting to talk with and teaches me something whenever we speak.

Like a typical eleven year old, he has a dog he loves.

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She’s a sweet little beagle named Ingrid. 

Unlike a typical boy his age, he likes to makes movies rather than just watch them.

 Sometimes, Ingrid has a leading role.

Nik taught himself how to make movies using a small Nikon and a Mac. 

His movies vary.

Sometimes, they’re black and white with special effects like slow motion.

His sense of humor is easily apparent in the images and story line.

He made a movie for my birthday last year when he was ten.

He read here about an experience I had in England

and made this movie to mirror my story.

Home schooled in Alaska, I think he’s exceptional.

When I visited last December, I was able to see his skill with his electric guitar, a Fender.

It’s a great guitar for a young musician partial to Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, my personal favorite Bruce Springsteen, and okay…KISS. (not my favorite)

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He’s a builder and a doer, creative and kind with a scientific mind and an enthusiastic spirit.

Nik - First Place On Trans Fats Science Project

Nik - First Place On Trans Fats Science Project

Last week he won first place with his science fair project on Trans Fats. He’s been trans fat focused since last summer

when he talked his mom (my sister, Margaret) into buying him the book, Eat This, Not That. After the science

competition, he went book shopping again, for volume 3 of Eat This, Not That so my sister figures he’s not done yet.

 

Today he’s eleven.

Happy Birthday

Nik.

 

Nik's Art Project

Nik's Art Project