Hey, it’s good to be back home again

I realize that I’m writing this at the back end of my vacation, but since I haven’t posted since March, I think you, dear reader will forgive the faux pas.

I’m back home in the Hudson Valley of NY where I grew up.  I’m a little further south than where I actually lived, but that’s due to the fact that my family lives more in the Newburgh to Westchester area than the upper Valley near Kingston.

Still and all, it’s been a good trip.  With the pandemic happening last year, any trips were canceled due to health concerns, and now with the Delta variant becoming more of a problem in places, our decision to use AirBNBs to stay in, rather than hotels, ended up being the right choice.  Interaction with the public at large has been mostly at arm’s length, as everyone for the most part is still social distancing, some are wearing masks again, and others have never stopped.

This trip has mainly been one of connecting and reconnecting with my ever-enlarging family.   On the way here, we stopped in Syracuse to visit with my maternal cousins, who I haven’t seen since 1999.  While there, I was able to meet my first cousin once removed (my cousin’s daughter) whom I’d never met.  The boggling thing about that is, they only live two hours away!  Between work, responsibilities, and just life, the years have gone merrily by and we just haven’t gotten together.  Every Christmas we’d exchange cards and write in them that in the next year we needed to get together.  But we never did.  That oversight has now been rectified.

Mom, myself and brother 1967While here in the Hudson Valley, I managed to reconnect with my estranged brother and his family.  He has lived in Westchester County for the past 20 years and has a 13 yr old daughter that I’d never met.  I knew she existed, and what her name was, but I was unable (for a variety of reasons) to get there to see them.  Too, there’s been bad blood over the years, (don’t ask) and reasons why I didn’t want to go.  There was one particular reason I did need to go, and that was to collect the family photo album he’d had in his possession since we cleaned out our parent’s house.  Up to now, the only photos I had were a couple of when we were children and one or two of our parents.  I’ve had NO baby pictures at all, and that’s been a sore point of contention for me.  As I get older, I want to be able to have that family history to rely on and share with my birth mother, with whom I’ve recently been connected.Mom, myself and brother, Easter

Finally, I was able to meet and interact with my half-sister and her family.  When I was reconnected with my birth mother, I managed to meet my half-brother and his family (well, most of them) and get to know them a wee bit.  My half-brother is a workaholic and is more than a little introverted, so both meeting and getting to know him have been problematic.  My wife and I had set up a get-together for the family at our second AirBNB, but for whatever reason, my half-brother decided at the last minute to decline.  His children are older than his sister’s (college-age versus toddlers) so getting together that side of the family might have proved a bit more difficult.  Even so, it was a good time.  I got to meet my brother-in-law and my nephews are both amazing and hilarious.   Watching them play caused me to remember how my brother and I played and interacted.

I would definitely say this trip has been a success.  I have a treasure trove of memories for the future and a box full of slides to digitize and share with my birth mother, and my other family so they can see what has been obscured these many decades.

Going home will be good (the beds in these AirBNBs are murder!), but I’ve had a really good time here too.  Vacations are both tiring and awesome.

Rediscovered Family History

My wife and I are in the process of cleaning the house.  Granted, it’s a 20 years process, starting when we moved into the house back in November of 2000, but it’s an ongoing thing.  Recently, I took it upon myself to work on clearing out the garage, going through the boxes that have been sitting there for the better part of those 20 years, intending to rearrange the space on the sides for better storage since it is just a one-car garage. There are multiple yard machines and other equipment that need to be stored there and the car.  During the summer, the car sits outside, and the inside of the garage clutters up.  Usually, come winter, everything is piled to the sides, and I squeeze the car in.  This year I wanted to do it differently.

In going through the various boxes, I found one that was chock full of black and white photos.  I didn’t recognize the ones on the top, so I figured the whole box was probably from my in-law’s house, so I brought it in and told my wife she needed to look through them, as she probably hadn’t seen them in better than the 20 years.  The box sat in the house for a couple of weeks untouched.  The day before yesterday, she brought me a smaller box with an even smaller photo album on top that said quite whimsically, “Grandma’s Brag Book.”  I opened it up, and the first photo was of a baby with dark hair.  Definitely not me!  I had blonde hair up until age 7.  It was a baby picture of my brother.

1967, 1 year 9 mos

Several pictures in was a shot of me when I was 21 months old.  I was a happy kid when this picture was taken!   Sadly, none of the other pictures are of me; they’re of my brother.  But even so, the box of pictures had a lot of memories in them, places my father had been during World War II when he served in the US Army in Okinawa.

My father, standing outside his quarters in Okinawa c. 1945

I had never seen pictures of him in his Army uniform, though I was aware through his discharge papers (which I still have) that he made sergeant before he returned to civilian life in 1946.  A good number of the pictures I don’t recognize anything in them and only some of them have captions on the back.  Seeing as hundreds of WWII veterans are dying on any given day, it’s remote that any of the people in the pictures are still alive, or they don’t have copies of the pictures that I now have in my possession.

My other issue is what to do with the family pictures going forward?  Seeing as my wife and I decided not to have children, I really don’t have anyone to pass them down to that they would mean anything.  My father’s siblings didn’t have children, so there aren’t any cousins I could bequeath my pictures to.  Sending them to a historical society was a thought. Again, none of my family was either famous or historically significant, so it would just be a pile of pictures of people that no one would recognize.

I wonder what others do with their family pictures when there’s no one left to inherit them?

Melancholy Holiday

Today, 31 years ago, my Mom died.  This is a picture of her at age 8, with her Uncle George in Ballston Spa, NY.  One of my cousins shared this picture with me about 5 years ago.  I don’t recall ever having seen it before at that time.  My cousin told me that George apparently always had these pants that were too big for him, so the family invariably called him George ‘Baggy Pants‘ Burton.  

Her passing (to me) was one of those things that you’ll remember as long as you live, and of course, the day just happens to be the same one as when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

I’m not going to relate the circumstances of her passing, that’s a story left untold.  I remember it vividly, that’s sufficient.  I don’t have a lot of pictures of her growing up and in her teens and twenties.  I do have a few pictures of her and my father, but the majority of the family pictures are with my brother, who, for whatever reason refuses to share them.  (Which admittedly is somewhat weird, since he is in denial about what sort of childhood he had with them and myself)  Consequently, I’m left with my own memories and a few pictures that I’ve had saved, as well as shared photos from my cousins who are still living.

Every year that goes by, I celebrate her birthday on July 14, recall my parents’ wedding anniversary on October 8, and of course mourn the date of her death, November 22.

I miss you every day Mom.