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Write what should not be forgotten - Isabel Allande

Month: May 2016

A Change in Focus

 

ireland-business

 

My sister and I had the opportunity to visit Germany last spring.  It was a life altering trip for me.  I learned a lot about myself, mostly that I am braver than I thought.  We stayed with a relative for several days but were on a own quite a bit too, we went from Germany to France and then to Great Britain on our own.  You know what? We did it, we navigated through foreign countries on our own and it was an amazing experience.  We stood in Medieval towns and were staggered by unbelievable age of things, built so long ago and yet still standing in front of us.

We had the good fortune to be in contact with a German relative who also had been doing genealogy for years.  She also is a tour guide – a pretty great combo!  We had met several times before our trip, she had even stayed with my mom for a few days. I am so thankful they had the opportunity to meet.

Going to Europe had been a lifelong dream for me.  When the chance came around, I grabbed it.  Sure it cost money I could have saved, and it was more difficult to plan for the kid’s schedules that it was to plan for 10 days in Europe… but it was also the trip of a lifetime and the fulfillment of a dream.  Simply put, I am so glad I did it.

We met some wonderful people while there. In Germany we were lucky enough to be introduced to several family members, most didn’t’ speak English and we only knew a tiny amount of German but somehow it worked and we really didn’t have any trouble communicating.  We were welcomed in many homes as strangers and left as family.  We even made a local newspaper, with an article and pictures!

While I fully expected to love our journey, I hadn’t fully understood  how strongly it would feel. When our cousin took us to the town that my  great grandfather came from, I was completely blown away. My great grandfather was born in the 1850’s and 1881 left for the United States by himself.  The house he was born in stood right next door to the church. Names of several young men from our family were carved into a WWI memorial at the church. The church stood nearly exactly as it had then.  As I stood in the church it all hit me, he existed, he stood in this place, he looked at the very things I was seeing.  It hit me so hard, I almost needed to sit down.  It was right in front of me, I could see my great-grandfather and his family walking next door to worship, being a part of this community in this tiny Bavarian town.  I couldn’t help but wonder what made him leave this beautiful place and how it must have felt to go from this place to New York City alone and make a completely new life for himself.  Bravery, perseverance, a bit of stubbornness? I will never know but I do know that I felt so strongly connected to him at that moment.  It was one of the most incredible, unforgettable experiences of my life.  When we went to the church and home of my great grandmother I was a little more prepared but still blown away.  Her family also lived next door to her church. The current owners of the house came out and spoke with us, amazingly they remembered the family!

So, all that being said, I am going to shift my focus to my Irish side of the family. I am by no means done with my German research but have to give some love to my Irish.  My Dad’s side of the family is Irish – McGee and McVay.  I only ever met 1 relative of my Dad’s, his uncle, my great uncle Wayne. He was ancient when I was little but very knowledgeable about our family history.  I was never very interested as a kid but man, what I would give to be able to talk to him today.  From what I have been able to find out so far the family history is rich and deep and sometimes very sad.  They took pictures and played, wrote poems, worked hard and lived with dignity sometimes in the face of tragedy.  Recently I had the great luck of finding McGee cousins.  Actual living relatives from my Dad’s side!!  They recently sent me pages and pages of handwritten family history – it was better than Christmas!!!

I am really looking forward to sharing the stories of this side of the family.  This is all leading up fulfilling another dream – to visit Ireland.  This trip is still a year off but the planning is fully underway.  My sister and I along with 2 funny, amazing women are planning, plotting and saving our pennies to make it happen.  There will be a lot of laughing on this trip!!!I don’t know that I will be able to match the personal connection of Germany but I do know that I can’t wait to see what we discover.

Please Don't Wait

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Marshall Cousins 2015

 

We all think there is time and most of the time we are lucky enough to be right.  However sometimes we are wrong.  We lost a dear member of our family this week very unexpectedly. When I got the call I was stunned, like had the breath knocked out of me stunned, like even though I understood the words I couldn’t make sense of what they meant.  The thing is when he went to bed the night before he had plans for the next day.  Just like all of us, work, family, stuff.  He had been lucky enough to have just spent the weekend celebrating a family birthday and had all his children home.  I still just can’t believe it. Gone too soon.  It hits me hard that this is what happens now to my generation.  The last of my parent’s generation passed away a year ago.  My cousins and I are all orphans now, we are too young to be the oldest ones – the grownups. (I know this is ridiculous because we range in age from 60’s to 40’s.

The picture above is from the last time we saw him.  We were at a family picnic and had a great day. My sister and I had just come back from Germany and had pictures and stories about our trip and the new-found relatives we met.  As usual he had a bunch of wise cracks and you could hear him laughing where ever you were that day. The last time – that has to be impossible. As the picture was being taken I am positive that I was thinking about how much I hate having my picture taken. Now I am thankful.

Last week I was so excited to get a package with pages of handwritten family stories.  As I have been reading through them, I am struck by the writer’s comments.  Many times throughout he says that he isn’t the best one to tell the stories, that other people in the family knew more history or he hoped the reader wasn’t bored with the stories.  If only he knew what a treasure he had left.  They are all I have of a whole branch of my tree that I never knew.  We are all guilty of thinking what we do isn’t good enough – but it is.  It is better than good enough. The fact that this relative of mine took the time to write down stories and that they were preserved for all these years is amazing.  I have a book that my Grandmother used to write down the people that sent her Christmas cards.  If she had any idea how many times I have pored over those lists looking for clues to relatives. A Christmas card list for goodness sake!

When my darling niece was in high school she would never hang up the phone or let any say goodbye without first saying “I Love You”  At first I thought it was kind of silly but as the years go by, I think it is pretty great.  She taught me the importance of just telling people  – so they know you love them. She has been out of high school for a little while now but we still always end our conversations with “I Love You”.  
So just don’t wait… tell people you love them and don’t apologize for it, write down any stories you have of the earlier generations and don’t apologize for it. Someone will hang on every word someday – trust me!

Kevin Kelly 1961-2016

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