Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Family History Writing Challenge

As is intuitively obvious to most there are two things I value greatly, the first is my mother; the second is her hometown of Lubec, Maine. For a number of years I have been working on a pet project of writing about her childhood, growing up on the coast. Since I was an infant, my parent's took me yearly (sometimes twice or three times a year) to South Lubec, where we would stay with my grandmother's good friend, a woman known to me as "Aunt Hazel." Her house stood next to the land where my mother grew up (mom's house was lost in a fire after she moved.)  Now as an adult I continue to make a yearly pilgrimage "home." It is my childhood memories blended with my mother's and flavored with imagination that have been the basis for this "embellished work of fact."

I say all of this as an invitation and a warning.... I am announcing my goal of writing 250 words a day on this project for the entire month of February; starting on the 1st, ending on the 28th. This evening I signed up for the "Family History Writing Challenge" through the Armchair Genealogist.  The challenge encourages writers to announce their intentions as a way of accountability. I tried this challenge a number of years ago and made it half way, but did not post any of my writing. My plan for this year is to post what I've produced either the same night or the next day. Over the next two weeks in preparation I will be starting a list of what I'm going to write about. Fair warning to my mother and uncle... I'll be looking for fuel for the fire.

No offense will be taken if you choose not to read my posts, for this is a personal challenge. If you do read, I would love comments,thoughts and criticisms if you have any. This is a new adventure on an old project, I don't know where or how this will go. But it goes nowhere unless I try.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


This past Christmas 2014, my mother received a Kindle Fire from my sister. I learned of this gift on Black Friday when my sister called me and told me what she had done; I was concerned from the start. Mom didn't have internet in her house and had made it clear to me that she did not want the added expense, what proceeded for the next month was my attempting to pave the way for this change by making little comments like "if you had internet..."  I arrived at mom's house a few days before Christmas and shared my Facebook account with her through my cell phone connection. Oh I had her scrolling and swiping, watching videos and looking at photos. This whole time knowing what present she was going to receive, and still questioning if this was such a good idea.

Christmas day arrived and I had been able to arrange a "Skype" date with my uncle (my mother's brother) in Michigan. It was a wonderful time in which my entire family basked in the face to face communication we had and marveled at technology. As we opened presents, the Kindle was left until the end."  It was truly a tech infused Christmas.  The following day mom & I called the phone company and made arrangements to hook up the WiFi, only it was going to be two weeks from then; long after I had returned to Maine. Move ahead in time with me to the last week, Mom got her internet hooked up and fired up the Kindle. After some time of frustration, she was able to access her email account. The next day I signed her up for Facebook (FB) and that night we began to explore.

For the past week we have been spending up to 2 hours each night, moving back and forth in FB, and then checking email. Each day has been an adventure, but progress is being made. Mom's first post was something about loving and hating technology, with the next post being something about "going through the pucker brush" but making progress. She named her Kindle "Kindie" and says her little girl is unruly and likes to take off and fly in the cloud when mom least expects it.  This past week has been challenging to assist mom in learning how to navigate the Kindle, when I am 236 miles away and working blind on a device I know nothing about. But we have muddled through and today, just one week after starting lessons, mom is navigating with less support.

Why do I share this? First to say, my sister was right and I was wrong to be concerned. Our mother is so much more resilient and curious than I gave her credit for. I should have known she was ready to venture on her own when she would call and ask me to "Google" something for her, but her protests about having a FB page and internet sounded so real.  Secondly, and most important I want to say how inspired I am by my mother's curiosity, motivation, perseverance and intelligence. At a time when most older adults would shy away from technology my mother is heartily embracing the challenge. Her enthusiasm for learning puts me to shame. I have also had to learn how to teach a new way, and this experience has been a benefit to me. As always my mother continues to teach me, while I am teaching her.

During a time when Facebook and email are vilified for being so impersonal and "surface," I see a brighter side. A side where someone can explore and connect; learning to harness new technology. Before we totally shut down our Facebook pages and turn off our smart phones, maybe we can take a moment and see how we can use this technology to a better use than whining. Social media and email are powerful tools, but as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity (paraphrased) evil never creates it only borrows from good. Let's reclaim the internet and make it a place of exploration and curiosity. Thanks mom for reminding me the fun of connecting on social media and flying in the cloud.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


Today is the 112 anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s birth. The fifth child of Marie (Vlasak) and Frank Mason, she was born in West Springfield, Mass. in 1903. Her mother was an Austrian immigrant, having been born in Vienna, Austria to parents (as oral history goes) who were teachers in the court of the Emperor Franz Josef and had an uncle who was lead violinist in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Grammie's father was a native of North Adams, Mass, and per oral history was a childhood prodigy on double deck organ, giving lessons at the tender age of 9.  My grandmother trained as a Contralto Opera singer at the Boston Conservatory of Music, and was considering a professional career when she met my grandfather. They married in Nashua, NH, took the steamship, Governor Dingley to Eastport, Maine (where my grandfather was from), ultimately settling in Lubec and had a family. My mother was the first born, with my uncle following 3 years later.

To me she was known as “Gram” or “Grammie.”  To her great-grandchildren “G.G.” which tells something of what type of woman my grandmother was. She was a woman of elegant grace, who conducted herself well in any type of situation whether it be a formal occasion or camping, she was known for her graceful, polite manner. To others she was known as “Bug,” and collected lady bugs as a result.

One of the things I remember most about my grandmother was her love of the state of Maine. As we traveled downeast together she would remark on the beauty of the “skyline of spruce” so prominent in Washington County.  She loved to mow her lawn in Connecticut with a gas powered push lawn mower; then sit in the shade of a beloved ancient oak tree by the pond when the job was done. She loved to sing, and boy, could she sing. She loved camping, crossword puzzles and a good book, usually a mystery or western. I remember Grammie’s penuche, fudge, hard dumplings and hoska, an Austrian bread made for Christmas. And lastly, she loved her family… deeply.

There is so much more I could write about this woman but time and self-imposed space restrictions compel me to summarize my thoughts. Although physically not present with me any longer, my grandmother continues to influence me. Her legacy in my life shows up at the strangest of times. I baked beans today in her honor, for that was what she was doing the day I was born. Her love of Maine was passed onto my mother and then onto me; when I take the stage to sing she is there with me and is especially close when I sing “The Holy City” or some other classic style of solo. I can’t help but think of my grandmother while sitting at a campfire, for the fire was also something she loved dearly. I’ve included photos;  some of my favorites that hang on the wall of my house. This post has no moral, no witty ending, for this post is just a brief celebration of a life well lived, which endures through her descendants. Happy Birthday Grammie, I am grateful you were born; Love, your granddaughter, JJ.