Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Family Stories and the Wild, Wild West, Part I

Red McLaughlin on the left. He appears to
be 12-14 years old. 
My father never talked much about his growing up years. As a child I never thought about this. He was just my dad, and what was important was the world as I knew it and the relationships our family had. I feel very self-centered now, thinking about all the questions I wish I'd asked, all the stories I'll never hear him tell. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that I am not at all unusual in this. There is a show on TV called Who Do You Think You Are? in which celebrities are helped to trace parts of their family trees. None of them were any better at knowing their parents' and grandparents' stories that I have been. I think it is natural for children to live in the Now; the world began at their birth and they are interested in and occupied by learning about how the world they live in works. Then we grow old and have the time and curiosity to wonder about our forebears, but the ones who could tell us are gone!
Young Red on a horse. These two
photos are all we have of our father
as a boy. He must have gotten his fill
of horses in his youth. I never saw him on
a horse, although he certainly had 

(Note to parents and grandparents: Even if you think your children and grandchildren wouldn't be all that interested, share your stories with them. Even better, write them down. There will come a time when they will treasure those stories.)

Of course, there were occasional mentions of things from my Dad's past. I knew he was born in New Mexico in 1909, when it was still a Territory. I knew his mother died when he was about two years old and his father did not remarry. I knew things were pretty unsettled for his sister and him, as their father moved from place to place to work. Such little scraps of history.

After my father's death, I learned that he had carried on a correspondence during the 1970s with a cousin who was doing family genealogy research. A number of years after his death this cousin sent copies of those letters to my mother. What a gift! From those letters we learned more about Daddy's youth and family stories about his parents' and grandparents' generations. My sister Terry transcribed these letters and gave copies to her sisters, making them much easier to read.

The world my father, and before him his father, grew up in was so different from today's world that it is hard to believe I am separated from it by only one and two generations. It really was the wild, wild west.

In writing to his cousin, Daddy said, "Some one should have told you that this old family tree has some mistletoe in it." I must admit that, since I am far enough removed from some of the events he wrote about, I find the "mistletoe" in the family tree very interesting. From something else he mentioned in one of his letters, I think I know why we never heard these stories when we were growing up. He felt they were embarrassing or might make us ashamed of him or his family. He wanted to protect us from that.

I don't feel that way at all. I don't know how I would have felt as a child, but these very human stories from a very different time are fascinating to me. I only wish we had more!

1 comment:

  1. I love reading those letters! It was especially fun for me because Grandma gave them to me just about the time we moved to New Mexico.