Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Memorial Day: Remembering Without Memories

When there is pain, there are no words.
Toni Morrison

This picture shows my grandmother, her brother Emmett, and his wife Fontelle, before Emmett was killed in pilot training for WWII.

Emmett was clearly adored.  I have many pictures and documents that his mother saved.  I have his baby pictures, his report cards, his high school yearbooks.  But no memories, and no one alive who would remember him directly. 

War has done and is still doing this to so many young people - stopping potential-laden lives before they've had the chance to start.

So what do I know about him?  He was an average student, a little on the heavy side according to whatever chart they were using at the time.   His weight and height were recorded on every report card.  This is a little health card I am amused/amazed by.  It was about 1930, and I can only find one of them, so I don't know if he had to do this every year.  I like that frequent baths and playing outside were priorities equal to eating vegetables besides potatoes!  And I like him - I like his pictures, his report cards, the quirky gentleness I get from his artifacts and the second-hand stories my mom tells.

Lauran Peters at the University of Oregon just sent me a copy of the obituary they published for him.  He was killed in a plane crash near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on April 2, 1943.

But here's the striking thing in this box of papers and photos that is all I have of Emmett:  no mention of his death is found anywhere in my great-grandmother's papers.  She wrote moving poems in memory of her uncles, her minister, a singer she liked, and others.  She wrote sweet notes to 'gold star mothers' with whom she must have sympathized.  She poured her heart into poems and songs about these losses and memories.

But either she didn't write anything or my grandmother didn't keep anything related to Emmett's death.  And that gap is a powerful memorial in itself.  It is a raw darkness, that void, pouring from a wound so deep it couldn't be discussed as openly and easily as more superficial heartaches.

So this week, when you head out to pay your respects, maybe bring an extra bouquet and leave it at a grave that looks like it's been forgotten.  It could be the grave of someone who doesn't have a family to remember them; the grave of someone whose descendants have moved too far away; or the grave of someone who was so deeply loved that the rememberers themselves can't bear to visit.


  1. I just found your blog thanks to GeneaBloggers. I like what you're doing with your observations and totally agree with your point of view about putting flesh on those old, dried bones (or the statistics thereof). Looking forward to reading more!

    1. Thanks so much! I'm looking forward to reading and learning from the Geneabloggers!

  2. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist: http://www.indepthgenealogist.com/

    1. Thank you for the warm welcome, I am glad to be part of the community. I appreciate your link set, you've clearly been doing this a while. I am just starting to transfer my skill set so I am ramping up

  3. What a great little health card. So cute. Children today could certainly still use it - if only to encourage outside play. Playstations/xboxes have parked the kids inside too much.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  4. Welcome to Geneabloggers. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who fought and died in the service of the United States. My ancestor, John D. Laurie fought with the 10th Connecticut Infantry. He died during the war of wounds he received.

    Regards, Jim
    Military Genealogy at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    1. Thank you for sharing the story of your ancestor.

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