A few weeks ago something rare and wonderful happened- my Uncle Charlie came to visit from his home in Florence, Oregon. Charlie is one of the coolest dudes I know- my mom's older brother, a lifelong bachelor who turned himself from an alcoholic cigarette addict into a health food junkie and all around happy guy at mid life.
He stayed with my 87-year-old grandma in Sacramento (that's them above, six decades ago), and Mycie and I drove down into the valley to spend some time with them, my mom, and my sister. If you've ever read the story of my unassisted home birth, you know how much my grandma means to me, how intrigued I am by the winding branches of matrilineal lines on the world's family tree. Whenever we're all together, we try to get a picture of the four generations of women in my family. Here's me, Mycie, my mom Janis, her mom- my grandma Claire, and my sis Lacey (two-and-a-half years younger than me):
But I can trace my matrilineal line even further back than this, thanks to a pile of old family photographs my grandma has. She was one of twelve children, but if you think that's crazy let me tell ya that my great-grandma Valida actually birthed seventeen children(!), but five died in infancy. My great-grandpa was named Joseph. They were a French-Canadian family living in Massachusetts. Here's my great-grandparents and the first 11 kids, back in the 1930s (my grandma is 3rd from left in the first shot):
Here she is on her dad's lap:
But I can go back one more generation still! My grandma Claire (Marie Claire Priscilla, actually)'s mother was named Valida, and Valida's mother was named Obeline. Here is Obeline, my great-great-grandma, my daughter's great-great-great-grandma, with her husband Napoleon (what a pair of names, eh?), and their five kids Rose, Henry, Valida, Dominique, and Eva. This was probably taken in the late 1800s:, before Valida was married and started popping out babies:
I've been really into names ever since I was a little girl, naming them was my favorite part of playing with Barbies and dolls and I was always thinking of new names to name my someday-children (I certainly never thought of Mycelia
, in fact we only joked about it during my pregnancy, but when she was two days old we were like, "I think that is her name!"). Anyway, so I love it that I can list six names in Mycie's direct matrilineal line: Obeline, Valida, Claire, Janis, Amber, Mycelia :-)
Back to Uncle Charlie. Here he is now (celebrating his 62nd birthday with us and a bunch of extended family at the Home Town Buffet in Elk Grove- America's fastest growing suburb- it was crazy) and here he is when he was in the service in the 60s compared to my great-grandpa Joseph, his grandfather, when he was in a barber shop quartet in the early 1900s:
Great-grandpa Joseph was in the service himself, a half century earlier during WWI:
I never met him or Valida. Neither did my mom. He died an alcoholic unemployed photographer, and she died the overworked wife of an unsupportive alcoholic unemployed photographer and mother of way too many. They were dirt poor. My grandma says she never felt loved by them. But somehow she went onto to be a very loving mother, which passed onto my mom, and now onto me, and I can already see by the way she tends to her dolls and to real life babies that Mycie will embody the same spirit of maternal love. I am so blessed.
Speaking of photography, here is a photo that Joseph somehow thought would make him a lot of money. I wish I knew more than that, but all my grandma remembers is that this was a "famous clock":
And speaking of Valida's burdensome life, check her out as she (and her oldest daughter and Joseph) age (from bottom to top), the more kids she has the more haggard and miserable she looks:
Here she is thinking "I hate this kid":
Here she is thinking "I hate this man and all these kids":
I don't mean to be so harsh. In reality I, as a mother, and as her great-granddaughter, have nothing but compassion and sympathy for this woman. I have one child and I often feel like she looks in these pictures. It must have been an insanely difficult and exhausting life for her.
Here are a few more images before I start bragging about how beautiful and stylish my grandma was back in the day. The first three are my grandma as a baby, the last is Joseph & Valida with an unknown woman in an *amazing* hat in the early 1900s:
Such a cool photograph.
Okay now. When I was little I remember hearing about how beautiful my grandma had been in her youth, but it wasn't until I perused these photos last week that I saw how true that was. Check her out here on the bottom right, next to her oldest sister:
Close up of their gorgeous clothing:
Close up of their spectacular shoes:
Here she is with her favorite sister and the only of her siblings I have ever met (even though one of her brothers actually lives here in Grass Valley!), my Great Aunt Marie:
Here she is a few years later, as a young mother of two boys living in the Bay Area in the 1940s:
I would kill for these dresses!
Hello swimsuit model grandma. Hello Uncle Jim and Uncle Charlie as babies:
This one's my fave:
But it wasn't all glamour for Claire Priscilla Marie. There were a few iffy moments in the 70s and 80s, which may or may not have been influenced by the poodles:
My mom was also a beauty, a free spirited hippie girl growing up in the Bay Area in the late 1960s. She has inspired my love of clothing- especially pretty dresses!- and continues to supply both me and Mycie with some of our cutest pieces (thanks in part to her senior discount at Ross, and in part to the fact that she always comes through with awesome birthday and xmas gifts). I will post more about her specifically some day in the future.
Here's the 5 of us again, when Mycie was a teeny tiny li'l creature:
For every girl that's alive on earth today there is an unbroken line of women reaching back, back, back...
Three of Nevada County's most gifted musician ladies have song lyrics that speak to these winding matrilineal branches. In Oh My Mama Alela Diane sings about her mother giving her melodies and how someday she'll have a daughter and do the same. In Two Tongues Mariee Sioux (whose house Sasha and I will be having dinner at tomorrow!) sings about her great great great great great great grandmother. And in Sawdust & Diamonds Joanna Newsom sings "I will recognize all the lines of your face in the face of the daughter of the daughter of my daughter."
As you might imagine, all of these lyrics have made me cry at one time or another (and don't even get me started on Joanna's song for Mycie's BFF Esme about the preciousness of babies and how amazing it is to watch them "form from nothing"- to quote another Mariee lyric)...