THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
From My Window
Issue Date: June 14, 2017
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
Last week I was home in the "Motherland" for a few days and spent a some very interesting hours with my Mom, "saving the history."
There are some humble objects in her house - not worth much money, being purchased cheaply and some a bit worse for the wear and tear. But these objects carry stories, some of the last remaining history of our families, of both Mom's and my deceased father's ancestors.
Without someone taking the time to document the "story" behind each object, there is a very real risk of this history being lost. Yes, the oral history is still available for some things, but like the classroom exercise of passing a "fact" from person to person down a chain in whispers, what comes out at the end of the oral chain is unrecognizable from the fact that was shared at the start of the chain. So I asked my Mom to tell me the stories behind each humble piece, stories I have heard before, but do not trust my memory to preserve accurately.
I used my phone to photograph each piece, and wrote down in longhand each story. At my home, I am converting this to a document on my computer, illustrated with a photo of the item the story matches. Someday, my beautiful granddaughter Brixey Jane will know the story, because she will have a copy in writing. (You could do the same thing with no transcribing with a video " I am just more of a writer.)
There is the light-colored pitcher, with an age-crazed surface decorated with brown and tan flowers. It is not eye-catching; I'd walk right by it in a sale or store. But because my Mom shares the story, I know my maternal great-grandmother bought it at the "company store" in the sawmill village she lived in at Peshtigo Harbor. (Few visible signs of this village are left beyond some rotting pilings in the harbor at the mouth of the Peshtigo River.)
There is a plain wooden table " it was purchased by my Grandfather Thibodeau and my Grandmother Marion (Marion is my middle name, after her.) It was the very first piece of furniture they bought after their marriage, and it was ordered out of the mail-order Montgomery Ward catalog.
The book cabinet and well-worn mirror that hangs above it " wedding gifts received by my maternal Grandmother and Grandfather Schmid. And a bedroom set, bought from Lauerman's Store "on time" (payments made weekly or monthly) by my paternal step-grandmother Rosella when she got her first teaching job. (I believe she taught at the Hale Road one-room schoolhouse.)
All of these things are showing their age; none of them would likely catch your eye at a rummage sale. But the story behind the items is fascinating to me, and I know it will be appreciated by others in my family.
The time to capture the stories is now. None of us ever know what tomorrow brings, and oral history is fleeting. Take time soon to ask what your family stories are.
Rhubarb column follow up:
Thank you to reader "Pam" from Niagara, who informs me in a charming e-mail that no one has informed her local deer that deer do not eat rhubarb. She reports the deer ate her rhubarb to the ground, so she fenced it " but when she removed the fence in the fall, they again mowed the plant off.
Report back on the rhubarb salsa " it was very popular at a gathering I brought it to; however, for my taste there was not enough rhubarb flavor so next time I make it I will increase the amount of rhubarb in the recipe.
As I write this I have just pulled out a strawberry-rhubarb pie from the oven; while I was in Wisconsin both my Mom and my brother and sister-in-law supplied me with enough rhubarb for several desserts. Thank you!
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.