Putting together the puzzle of who you are is a lifelong process, if you like that kind of puzzle.  The older you get, the more you wonder…   The more you wonder, the more pieces you want to find…  Don’t we all wish we’d asked more questions of our grandparents and parents?  The information comes to us piecemeal and we don’t begin to connect the stories until later…when we wonder…

My mother didn’t tell me too many stories of her childhood until she was in her last years.  I didn’t ask her mother anything, although I spent a lot of time with her.  I studied the photos and put things together through my life, but we didn’t talk about it.  I knew my grandfather died when my mother was 5 and that she spent a lot of time with his mother, her grandmother, in the house my aunt and uncle later lived in, across from Central Park in Ardmore, OK.  I knew my grandmother had siblings she loved very much who lived nearby, less than an hour away.  I saw some of them at times during my life.  That was pretty much all I knew about my grandmother’s family until very recently.  To think how much time I spent with my precious grandmother, who gave me such a sense of adventure and unconditional love always, and to not have a picture of who she was.

I knew she was widowed at age 27, left in the depression with three children.  Her husband had left her a small neighborhood grocery and she owned her home, which gave them dignity even when the gas was turned off, according to my mother.  The kids always worked and all three turned out to be successful members of society.  When times got better.

The hard times were long back then.  We’re talking about Oklahoma in the depression years now.  Late in my grandmother’s life, she told my mother the story of her wedding day.  My mother didn’t tell it to me until shortly before her own death, many years later. I’m glad she told me.  My grandmother said my grandfather showed up at her parents’ farm in his wagon with a brown horse and a buffalo blanket, brown on one side and black on the other, to pick her up to get married.  My grandfather’s best friend, his best man, was with him and commented, “Where’d you find this pretty little thing?” My great-grandparents handed her a bouquet of flowers and she left to get married.  She was 18 and he was about 41.  Their short years together were sweet, although my mother said he may have known he was sick when he married her.  He died at age 50 of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease that is treatable today.

So, that’s the picture I have in my mind, even though I’ve never seen a photo of my grandparents together.  Here’s a photo of my grandmother (on the right) in a youthful moment

Artie Holt West (right) & friendAnd here’s my grandfather, swinging two lovely young things in his single days.Ben West & friends - Version 2Through the miracles of emails and internet and social media, I’ve connected with relatives I didn’t know before over the years and we’ve shared photos and stories.  My cousin, actually my mother’s cousin, sent me photos of my grandmother’s parents, which gave me my first look at those unknown pieces of my life puzzle.

Here’s my great-grandmother, Ida Mae.  I knew they lived on a farm, but had no clue what it looked like.  Not the painted picture perfect home I had in my mind…Grandma Holt 1IMG_6970Here’s my great-grandfather, Benjamin, working hard in about 1931.

Benjamin Mathew Holt 6 Benjamin Holt cutting woodThese pictures help form the pictures in my story.  It suddenly dawns on me what it really meant for my grandmother to leave the house where she and her many siblings lived and worked so hard to move away to start a new life.  I had pictured all of them standing in the living room of their home while they handed her the flowers.  Now I see what that scene really must have looked like…much sweeter really.

I’d seen statistics on my great-grandparents on my Ancestry.com family tree, slightly wondering why they died in Vinita, a long way from home. My cousin filled in the details for me.  Not long after the photos were taken (and I’ve always wondered who had a camera and who took the pictures out there in the country), my grandparents were taken to the asylum in Vinita, Oklahoma.  They were admitted for exhaustion and dementia.  I don’t know what that meant back then, but can understand the exhaustion.  In 1932, my great-grandmother, the lovely woman in these photos, died and was buried in the asylum cemetery with no marker.  There was no money in those hard years.  My great-grandfather died in 1934.  I’ve seen his place of death listed as Vinita, but my cousin said her father went to get him and he’s buried near them, near home.  My cousin has visited the site in Vinita and seen the records, kept in a box on little cards, which she wasn’t allowed to take or photograph.

This news brought it all home and connected a lot of pieces for me.  I see the women I come from, strong in all that life threw at them.  I’ve written of my father’s family in Kentucky, where my great-grandmother was married to an alcoholic tobacco farmer, blacksmith and died when my grandmother was 12.  I looked for her grave and realized that she must be buried in an unmarked grave either in the Catholic cemetery or on the land where she lived.

I could go on about the lives of the women in my DNA, the stories I’m discovering about the lives they lived before I either knew or discovered them, but we probably all have this in our lives.  There were hard times for all of them, even the ones who had easier lives, just as we have our own brand of hard times in each generation.  I know that what I’ve learned gives me strength and fills in blanks about my parents, my grandparents and those before them.  I doubt they realized their stories would pass on to me and to my children and grandchildren.  While we’re living, we don’t think of ourselves as chapters…do we?  We are…

My ancestors, my family, me.  So many more pieces to find…