Grandma Hoover's five children.

Grandma Hoover’s five children: (l to r) Wanda, Sam, Ruth, Mary, and Ira.

Years later, at a family wedding: (front row, l to r) Wanda, Mary Elizabeth, Ruth LaVonne; (back row) Sam, Grandma, Grandad Smith, Ira.

Years later, at a family wedding: (front row, l to r) Wanda, Mary Elizabeth, Ruth LaVonne; (back row) Sam, Grandma, Grandad Smith, Ira. (My mother, Mary, is wearing one of the hats she made…)

Dear Mom,

Your father was born in 1866, and in 1933 he died of a prolonged, painful illness. The country was still struggling to survive The Great Depression, and your mother had a farm to run and five children entrusted to her care. Before dementia blurred your memory and confused the details, you often told me stories about how Grandma fed, clothed, guided and faithfully cared for you and your siblings.  She earned the respect of her church and the community, and she sent you all to college and welcomed your spouses to the family. She sang to, cooked for, cuddled, gently instructed and treasured each of the thirteen grandchildren who graced her life.

You don’t remember the names of Grandma’s eight grandsons and five granddaughters, Mom, but your daughter and your four nieces remember you very well.  This past week the five of us met in Georgia for a reunion of the “girl cousins.” We flew in from Colorado, Arizona and Nebraska, and our mission was to divide and distribute years of accumulated family possessions and keepsakes.  We are, after all, now mature women and seriously talented, educated organizers who can be trusted to tackle such a chore.

What we learned, however, is that beneath our “slightly” aging grandmother faces, we are still girls at heart. We argued issues and solved problems, but we also laughed and played pranks, celebrated the sweetness of life, shared the sorrows, and swore to keep secret the details shared in confidence.

Our week at Beth’s wonderful home in the woods of Athens, Georgia reminded us that cousins are more than just holiday friends, playmates, and childhood irritants. We’re also the next generation, the mothers of Grandma’s great-grandchildren, and the keepers of the memories.  Together we filled in the missing precious pieces of the family’s Big Picture puzzle.

Mom, you have outlived almost all of your siblings and all of the spouses.  But you and Dad–and the parents of the Girl Cousins (and our brothers)—will live on in the stories we remember and share.  That is the magic, and the legacy, of family stories.

With love from Marylin and her “Girl Cousins”–Beth, Sandee, Glee and Karen

One friend Moon Pie, 5 spoons. (Cousins need energy to get back to work).

One fried Moon Pie, 5 spoons. (Cousins need energy to get back to work).

Girl Cousins having lunch out: (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

Girl Cousins having lunch out: (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Beth gives us a private flute performance. then we go to lunch and share a "Moon Pie" dessert finale--fried Moon Pie with caramel, chocolate, and rich vanilla ice cream.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Beth gives us a private flute performance. Compare that to a “Moon Pie” dessert finale–fried Moon Pie with caramel, chocolate, and rich vanilla ice cream.

Glee orders "Heart Attack" burger: big hamburger with egg, bacon, cheese, sweet potato tater tots.

Glee orders “Heart Attack” burger: big hamburger with egg, bacon, cheese, sweet potato tater tots. We had 9-1-1 waiting on our cell phones.



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren

75 responses to “KEEPERS OF THE MEMORIES

  1. juliabarrett

    I don’t know what to say… Sometimes I just want to be you because of your mom and her mom. Such a beautiful tribute. Your mother may not remember but those of you who know her, and share a history, do.

  2. You would have gotten a kick out of the hard, serious work we did…and then the “teenage” craziness we did for relief, Julia. It was a perfect reversion, complete with jokes and pranks. But then as we sorted through letters and pictures and jewelry, we each had memories that, when we shared them, they made a full story. It was a good time.

  3. How lovely to have a Girl Cousins reunion. We are the keepers of the memories and we are so lucky to have the internet to help us do so. Beautiful old photo of the children. Oh, and those girly, young girl cousins are a pretty fine lot too 🙂

    • And the REALLY amazing thing is that we can be in different countries and not pay long distance or have to send airmail letters. Internet marvels! And yes, the girly young cousins really are a pretty fine lot, too. If their parents were still alive, and if my mother (their sister) didn’t have dementia, they would laugh at this, too–my mom and aunts and uncles were good parents who knew when to laugh with their children.

  4. I like the title of your post and glad everyone is keeping the memories. Your reunion was held an hour away from where I call my home. Sounds like you had a great time and even though I consider myself Southern, I’ve never heard of fried moon pie (what will they think of next to fry)…

    • I know, Mary. Talk about a useless food. All fat and calories and goo, and no nutrition. But it was the perfect day for us to share this dessert, and now it’s something to laugh about (and vow to never order again).

  5. as usual interesting and very touching post, Marylin.
    groetjes, Francina

  6. Beautiful – so often the keepsakes and memories are lost because nobody treasures them or the stories aren’t passed on. Great to know that these are precious to you, and what a superb bunch f ladies! Your Grandma would be proud.

  7. As always Marylin a wonderful fun post but with a serious side. I really don’t envy you having to write all these memories to tell your Mom, knowing she can’t properly enjoy them with you. The cousins get together must have been a blast judging by the pictures and your food pics. Heart attack on a plate that should be called.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Oh, David, the picture didn’t do it justice. This “out to lunch” was our one Big Break from all the sorting work, and we made the most of it.
      How’s that new grandson?
      Massive Hugs back to you!

  8. Lovely post, Marylin. Our generation are indeed the keepers of the memories and it’s so important to hand them down in good order to the next. Wish I had girly cousins after seeing your pictures – although I do have different groups that get together, we can’t ever share family memories – just school ones, or work ones, and nice as these are, they will only ever be two dimensional.

    • Excellent point, Jenny. There was something unusually rich and full about sharing the memories that were, at least in part, also part of the cousins’ experiences. We were surprised–and pleased–by the general strong thread of our personal lives that rang true in all of our lives because our parents and grandmother had shared them, too. This trip was a gift of memories.

  9. Now you’ve got me twice – please delete one – it wasn’t working at first – sorry!

  10. Wow! That sure was a big burger! Was she able to eat all of it? It sounds like the girl cousins had a great time. Thanks for sharing the memories of your Grandma, Marylin.

    • She DID eat it all, Jill, and we’ll never let her deny it! We had kind of an unspoken agreement–What happens in Georgia, stays in Georgia–but I felt confident posting it on my blog, because I know it’s safe with you all…

  11. Don

    As you say Marilyn, it’s the stories, the family stories that we live and move in. I also always feel that these precious stories form part of a great story that we are all part of. Somehow we are all united in that one great story. Thank you for such a meaningful post.

  12. What a wonderful reunion and great idea to pool the memory resources to make sure they are passed along. And to have fun too, wonderful.

    • It was great fun, Rod, also exhausting but worth every hour.
      You and Sandee (see lunch picture above) could both write sermons about pooling memory resources to share the next time you fill in for a minister. She’s a retired minister for the Church of the Brethren.

  13. Jane Thorne

    Hello Marylin, I was only talking to my Dad this morning about the special bond still shared with one of my cousins. I have such happy memories and family gatherings are great fun. I love your outlook on life and how you make time for the very special things and people who create the moments. Then you take your writing gift and share it with us. Thank you. x

    • Thank you, Jane.
      There is a special blood bond formed in many families, and when cousins are in the same general age groups and spend time together when the families get together, it’s almost an “extension” of memories they can share when they’re older. Being with just my “girl cousins” for almost a week gave me the time to see them with fresh eyes, and also see bits of myself in them.

  14. Carol

    This is such a great testament to family. On one side of my family, I have two girl cousins and when we get together — albeit rarely-, it’s truly family sharing and “fitting the Big Puzzle” together.
    On the other side, I have two girl cousins I barely know and itc makes me sad that that puzzle will never be complete. Thanks for Sharon your wonderful day. And I love the name Glee.

    • Carol

      And that was supposed to say sharing your day

      • I’m so glad others do the same thing, too, when they’re typing quickly.
        The responses to this post remind me of the things we do have in common–in our families, in our communities, in our jobs–as well as the obvious differences. And what you wrote about the other side of the family you barely know, and so the puzzle will never be complete, really touched a chord with me, Carol. There are some family members, inlaws I see frequently but never truly connect with, now I realize how their piece of the puzzle will be missing in the Big Puzzle.

        p.s. You probably can tell from the pictures, but I assure you that Glee is the perfect name for my cousin. She was an elementary school teacher for more than 30 years, and those were lucky little students!

  15. Jim

    Though separated by many miles, it is known in the family that the five “girl cousins” have kept in touch over several decades by means of an occasional chain-letter as well as funerals and family reunions. How fitting they should come together one more time to gather, share, and pass on the family’s stories and artifacts. Beth deserves a big family hug for making it happen. The friendship of the Girl Cousins is a family treasure.

    • And the five husbands of the “girl cousins” deserve big hugs, too.
      You all were supportive of this cousins getaway; spread out across four states, you all picked up the slack for the work we left behind and got us all to and from airports. (And this is just between us, Jim, so don’t tell the other girl cousins, be we’re all pretty proud of you guys…)

      • Molly

        And….for the daughters who are used to talking to their Moms daily…..and only got to talk to them 2 times! 🙂

  16. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around your grandparents being born in the 1860s!! Holy cow!!!! what year was your mother born?

    • You know, all of the girl cousins didn’t have or adopt their children until they were in their late 20s to mid-30s. I was the youngest of the girl cousins, but I had the first baby, and I was almost 28.
      My mother was 31 when I was born, and her mother (my grandmother) had her 5 children in 7 years, but she married a man who was more than 20 years older than herself.
      Time flies when you’re having fun…and even when it’s not so much fun… ;=)

  17. Diana Stevan

    Marylin, love your title, the keepers of the memories, how the torch is passed on. I hope you’re planning to pull all your blog posts into a book. What a gift you are giving to your family! And lovely for you to remember how much your mother gave you. I just read a novel, Grand Parade, by Joy Fielding, a fabulous read, but one where one of her characters talks about how hard our culture is on mothers. That’s why, it’s especially heartwarming to read your blog. Without our mother’s love, how would any of us manage?

    • You are so right, Diana. Several of the mothers of the “girl cousins” gave up their careers or postponed their dreams and hopes because they supported their husbands’ efforts and stayed home to raise healthy children with hopes and dreams and the skills to go to college. Thanks for recommending GRAND PARADE. I’ll read it and tell the cousins about it.

  18. Nancy Parker Brummett

    What great fun…and how important to stay in touch and preserve the legacy.

  19. I could just hug you all. (I’m southern) How envious I am.I have no siblings and few cousins whom I never see. But I have wonderful children and grandchildren and to them I am forever grateful for their interest in preserving memories. You have a wonderful family and a fun loving way of swapping stories and keeping memories.

    • Thanks, Lynne. I do have plenty of cousins, but when I was growing up that didn’t mean nearly as much to me as it does now. I had to grow older to grow wiser, I think.
      Like you, I have wonderful grandchildren (their mom is my wonderful daughter) and that is more important than anything.

  20. Molly

    I am so glad that you had fun times with all of yor cousins….it sounds like it was a great for you all to catch up, and to share memories. I love the pictures……all of the cousins look just the way that I remember….

    • Ah, then you have very kind and generous memories, Molly. All of us have aged and it definitely shows on the outside. But inside we’re still young!
      Plus, you deserve a round of applause, too. You and the kiddos were the center of many of my stories, and when I didn’t get to talk to you every day and keep up on wonderful stories from Kansas, I kind of went through withdrawal.

  21. Marylin, such a warm and fuzzy post. You’re grandchildren are so blessed to have a record of their great grandmother and their family history. 🙂

    • This blog began as memories about my mother so that dementia didn’t totally destroy good stories for her great-grandchildren (my grandchildren). Now it’s become memories about my mother’s siblings’ children, too, as well as mom’s friends and my friends and all kinds of people…and they’re all stories I want to remember, too!

  22. Great post.
    United as one family, which I rarely see now adays

    • It is rarer than we’d like to admit, Jennifer. Families live far apart from each other and lead busy lives. Getting the five of us together for a week took some advance planning and juggling of schedules. But then, when we finally decided on the first week after Labor Day and committed to that, it all fell into place.

  23. I’d love to be at your family reunions, Marilyn. Not only do you have a great time and organize family history, but you also devour wonderful food.

    My cousin Ruby and my mother’s sister, Sue, sent family photos to me over the summer. They are a treasure. I haven’t seen Ruby since I was a kid, and that was a L-O-N-G time ago. But, like your family, we have bonded over this sharing of history and the photos.

    • When I was a kid, Judy (and yes, that was a L-O-N-G time ago), I’d look at old pictures, study the faces and clothes and setting, etc., and go on to the next one. Now I want to know the story behind the picture, to learn about my family’s family’s family and understand how I’m connected.

  24. dianabletter

    What fabulous photos and what fun you all must have had! Athens GA must have been bursting with all of your good energy. Yay, y’all!

    • And that’s a big THANKS back to y’all (in the South, it’s both singular and plural, I’ve learned). We were off in a big house the woods, but when we went to town and had a “try everything” lunch, our good times did garner some happy attention.

  25. Marylin, what a beautiful story! It is so good to connect with cousins and family and what you all did is just heartwarming. Blessings, Joanne

    • Thank you, Joanne. I enjoyed your post today about the yearly meeting of the friends and your trek to the campgrounds and the good times you all shared. Those special times with family and friends really are blessings in our lives.

  26. A lovely, touching post Marylin. My mother was really the keeper of the memories in our family – the person who knew all the stories, remembered all the birthdays and anniversaries, passed on the news and was the glue that held the family together. Since she has gone, the family has drifted apart and we rarely hear news of each other, which is sad.

    • That’s too bad, Andrea. Keeping up with each other’s lives is part of the memory-building connection. Also, though, you can always start writing down your personal memories of the family, and if your mother kept notebooks, address books or journals, you can use those to build on. Maybe some of the rest of the family will eventually participate???

      • Fortunately, when I did a degree in women’s studies and was learning about women’s history, I asked her a lot of questions about her past and she also wrote part of her life story down, so I do definitely have something to build on – and learned things about her I would never have known, so all isn’t lost.

      • My two favorite college classes were in women’s studies! Now you have a wonderful amount of personal histories to build on.

  27. claudia

    Picked your blog up on my phone while traveling. So good. I enjoyed it so much I want to reread it when I get home. How nice you have family to get together with for fun!

  28. Keepers of the memories–I like that a lot.

    I’ve written a number of family history episodes for my extended family, and they’re grateful. I’m hoping some day to make a novel out of one of them… but that project is least 5 years away. I dare not start it until after I finish my current novel.

    Your cousin’s name is Glee? I love that!

  29. I just loved to read this letter to your mom. I enjoyed reading the details and looking at the snaps of your gathering with your girl cousins. All of you had a lovely time. Best wishes for more of such precious moments of life. Take care Marylin and thanks for sharing another beautiful post.

  30. You’re very welcome, and yes, we did have a lovely time together, although it was a lot of work, too. The leisure, the work, the happy and sad times; these are all the precious moments of life, aren’t they? Thanks for your comments.

  31. What a great story, I am glad that you were able to have a reunion with the “girl cousins” and go over the memories and all. Every family member can be told the same story but remember bits and peices so it is nice to have those pieces together.

  32. This was a special and touching letter to your mother. It tells a lot about a family that gathers its “girl cousins” to stay in touch. I like that you all debate, listen, share, and have loads of fun along the way. I have met a few families that tell me that my family who likes to talk about issues and debate is “rare” and am happy to know you all do that, too!

    • Actually, though, I do think what your family and mine have shared is all too rare any more. It really is a special connection, the “getting together” of siblings and their children for picnics and meals, for debating issues and arguing in a friendly way that teach the children how to have differing opinions and still care about each other.

  33. Oh, Marylin. Your bond with your cousins is exactly what I want for my grandchildren. I don’t think my children and their cousins quite have it together on that but I have done all I can to create an indelible connection for their children.

    • Don’t give up if it isn’t happening yet. This was the first time in almost 24 years that all five of the girl cousins could get together. Many times it was 2 or 3 or 4 who could come to a wedding or funeral or family together, but it took almost 2 1/2 decades for all of us to get together!?!
      But when we did get together, we had the core memories and connections, and suddenly we were young again, together.

  34. Glee Kracl

    Marylin, I have just reread all the responses to your blog, “Keeping of the Memories. I needed a “spirit lift” and I just got it. The “girl cousin” reunion had more of an impact than I had anticipated or realized. Keeping alive the memories is so important. Thank you for your kind comments. And yes, I have always thought my name fit me.. Cousin Glee

    • We really are the Keepers of the Memories, Glee, and the week in Georgia gave us opportunities to collectively add to and round out the memories from our youth. These comments do contain some “spirit lifts,” and I’m glad you and I were “sent to the attic” so we could talk and laugh every night!

  35. I just browsed through some of your posts, Marylin. This post caught my attention because of the picture of your Mom with her four siblings. Maybe it was taken around 1930? I have seen pictures of my mum with exactly the same hairdo that your mom had.
    I also have a lot of cousins and some of them are still alive. I would very much like to see them all again. I also always felt close to all my cousins. It is great to have family connections like these, isn’t it? Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and family pictures.
    Aunty Uta 🙂

    • You’re very welcome, Uta. It was a special time, getting together and really reconnecting.
      The similarities in the old pictures is always so much fun. No matter where people live, it seems that certain things like hairdos and attire and activities have things in common.

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