Friday, February 8, 2013

Writing prompts - Day 8 of the Family History Writing Challenge

As I wrote yesterday, we are going to spend today at the orthopedic office with my child who sprained his elbow. This cuts into my writing time so I picked up the writing prompts from The Armchair Genealogist that Lynn posted to us for writing today.

Write about someone you regret not asking more questions of when they were still living.

My mom was the genealogist in our family. She was the keeper of the family records and managed to save my great grandmother’s letters. She visited the graveyards in Tennessee and Missouri to document my father’s family. She took lots of pictures. I was younger and raising a family and although interested in her research, wasn’t passionate like she was. In hindsight, I missed so many opportunities.

My mother, Ruby Ellen (Yeakley) Rhea (1918-1998) was an interesting person on her own. She didn’t marry my father until she was 29-yrs-old. She was independent and college educated. When I was a senior in high school, she got her Master’s Degree in Library Science. She was the Children’s Librarian in Denver, Colorado. When we moved to California, she continued with the libraries in Covina and Monrovia. My childhood was spent in libraries. As a reader, it was a magical place. I remember the trees at the Monrovia Public Library. They had low-slung braches that paralleled the ground. They were an easy climb and she usually found me with my back against the trunk, book in hand. When I got to high school, she moved to high school libraries and was the librarian at La Puente High School. She was there when Kennedy was assassinated. She later moved to Rowland High School. It was a new school where she had the privilege of setting up the new library. That was also magical for me. We went to downtown Los Angeles to Barnes and Noble to buy books. The warehouse was enormous and filled to the ceiling with the most amazing books.

Before marrying my father, she traveled. She made a trip to New York City on her own and I have those pictures too. She loved adventure so unlike the women of her time, traveled where she wanted alone. She passed her love of traveling to me. Like her, if there is a side road off any Interstate Highway, I am on it.

Once she married, she devoted her time to my brother and I. The difference between our friends and us was that both of our parents worked. We were latchkey kids and learned very early how to take care of ourselves. While that may sound a little harsh, we lived in a neighborhood, 30 miles from Los Angeles, California where we knew all the families. We were never alone because there were 30 some sets of parents who were always around if we needed help. We never did because we were all playing on the streets and in and out of all the houses. Our neighborhood was the only tract of house for miles around and it was a very safe place to be.

If there was a school holiday, we were all home together. When our school was out for the day, we went to work with my mother, hence all the library time. My dad eventually started his own accounting business and worked from home. I am so grateful that I had wonderful parents. They were loving and kind. They shared their faith and love of God, which has carried me through so many things. I had the perfect childhood and I know that it was a gift.

What did you miss? Everything!

So many unanswered questions now rattle around in my brain. They would have been easy to ask had I been interested enough.

What would you like to know or discuss if they were alive today?

The Yeakley side of the family is well documented. That’s my mom’s family. It’s my dad’s family where I have issues.

Even if my dad did not know the answers, my mother would have.

What was my grandmother’s name? We only know her as Mellie Farris. Was that her full name? We know where she was born but there are no records. They fall into a period in Missouri history where the records were lost.

Where did she meet my grandfather? She lived in Missouri and he in Tennessee. Did he go to Missouri at some time? We don’t know.

Did my dad ever meet his grandmother? She wrote to my grandparents but my mom only managed to save five letters, written before he was born. What do my parents know about Martha Jane McCollum?

We know that my great grandfather, John Carter Rhea, was murdered. We know one story but I recently contacted a second cousin who had a slightly different version. I’m sure both versions are correct but the details differ slightly. With both stories, I could put it together. I would like to ask about that.

My grandmother was very strict. She ruled the roost and tolerated no nonsense from her boys. What was my grandfather’s role in the family? William Ogden Rhea was a very quiet man and I don’t remember him ever raising his voice.

My great grandmother’s father, James Northcross McColloam, left home to go to California. I suspect he went for the gold. He was gone for 30 years and ended up owning land in California. When he returned home 30 years later, his wife had divorced him. Still, they are buried together so what did my parents know about that?

I want to know when Mellie left home. I know she hated her stepmother. I want to know why she didn’t tell her kids that her mother was living.

If my grandfather were still living, he and I would have a very long discussion about his life. That may be my biggest regret. Delving into the family history, I am very curious about my great grandmother and my grandfather and they are the two I know the least about. I had a chance and didn’t take it.

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