|My Grandmother Phoebe Lyons|
It began with a photo. The year was 2003 and I was planning my wedding. I cannot remember when exactly, it wasn’t a conscious decision, but my Grandmother’s wedding photo became my inspiration, my obsession and the all consuming driving force behind my plans. I incorporated the photo on our invitations; I showed it to the florist so she could replicate my Grandmother’s bouquet; I asked my photographer to take the same type of studio photos; and I chose suits for my husband and his best man, very similar to those worn by my Grandfather and his best man. What had begun as a normal modern wedding had become a full blown themed affair by also asking our guests to dress in 1920’s styled clothing. As a final gesture, I dedicated the wedding to the memory of my grandparents.
It became apparent to me that my grandmother was looking over me from heaven above to ensure that everything would go smoothly. Perhaps, because I was 44, she was happy that finally I was to be married and she was determined to be there for me, if not in body, then in spirit. When plans veered towards disaster, things fell into place, as if by divine intervention, at the 11th hour. Two months before the big day, it became apparent that the hall we had booked would not accommodate old time dancing. Coincidentally, I found the perfect venue, boasting a large timber floor, available for only $100 and it happened to be next door to the church where my grandparents were married! Then, two weeks before the wedding, I discovered that I hadn’t actually confirmed my booking with the photographers. Mysteriously their booking for that day had been crossed out, making them available for me. The most intriguing incident, however, occurred when we went to pay the caterers. I had booked them online and only dealt with them by phone. The church bells were ringing loudly on the day I discovered they operated out of an old house that had been a funeral home, formerly operated by the same funeral director who took care of my Grandmother’s funeral arrangements. By now I was comforted in the firm belief that Nanna Lyons, my Arch Angel, was indeed fluttering her protective wings around me.
Nanna was the common thread that held together the fabric of our expansive family tree. She was a person of connections. She connected with her 11 siblings, their children and theirs. She connected with so many lives that she always seemed to be attending weddings and funerals. I recall my uncle commenting once that “some Mothers collect spoons, others collect tea cosies, but my Mother collects funerals”. After attending such events, the storyteller in her would give us a running commentary of who attended and what they were wearing. Her attention to detail was incredible and it is a trait that I have inherited from her.
When I was a child, a shopping trip to town with Nanna and Pop Lyons would always end at the house of a friend or relative. For me, this was a time of learning. While the adults gossiped and told stories over a cuppa, I quietly listened and learned. I learnt how to fit all the names to faces and where those faces fit on our family tree. This was quite a feat as Nanna came from such a large family, but it was an education in the importance of keeping out family stories alive.
Young brides are fortunate that their Grandparents are usually still living and able to attend their weddings. However, I was 44 and my Grandparents, Great Aunts and Great Uncles, who held important places in my life, had all passed. In honour of their memory, I created a Memory Wall. Even in spirit, they were my VIP guests, and I set about purging my memory for stories to bring these family treasures to life. This was my way of introducing them to our living guests who hadn’t the privilege of knowing them.
I recaptured the youthful free-spirited Aunty Nelly Hourigan of the 1920s, riding across the sunlit plains on her favourite steed to meet her current beau. I recorded how Nanna Lyons would bribe me to drive her to church by giving me the keys to Pop’s brand new Triumph car. I remembered 80 year old Uncle Tom’s exclaiming “you can’t believe everything you see on TV”, while the eyes of the world watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the Moon. I reminisced about the time my cousin Susan and I sat for hours, following Grandad Hendy’s instructions to the letter, in order to see our future in his crystal ball. I recollected with amusement, the story of how Pop Lyons and Uncle Tom had mischievously worked all night in the cane fields, loading cane onto trucks allocated to other farmers, just so they could attend the Races the following day. These stories and more, struck a chord with cousins, Aunts and Uncles alike, as my memories were also theirs.
This was my moment of revelation. Planning my wedding turned out to be an educational journey. It taught me the importance of preserving our family stories for future generations. I truly believe that my Grandmother was the shining light, guiding me on this journey. So, to her, I give thanks. She lit the path with clues, none brighter than the caterers’ venue that was once a funeral home. Perhaps it was preordained that the life of my Grandmother, the “funeral collector”, would end on the way to a friend’s funeral. As for me, life as the family story teller began with my wedding. Ironically, weddings and funerals are the embodiment of our life stories. Whilst one celebrates beginnings, the other represents endings, and yet on both occasions our families gather, relive and reminisce what happens in between. Most importantly, this ensures that our stories are never forgotten.
|Family Historian Kim Chambers|
Meet Kim Chambers
Kim lives in Townsville, North Queensland, Australia, with her husband of 9 years.
She grew up on a sugar cane farm, near a small town called Giru, where her pioneering ancestors settled at the turn of the 20th century. During her childhood, she was surrounded by such interesting characters as her Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts, Great Uncles and so on up the trunk of the family tree, and she remembers feeling very proud that she possessed a Great Grandmother as old as 90, something not many other kids could boast.
Ten years ago, she discovered scrapbooking and Kim was immediately drawn to the idea of creating a heritage album. Initially Kim only intended to scrap the photos she had and not to delve too deeply into family history. However, her nagging need to write, led her to fill her scrapbook pages with reams of writing as she kept discovering the stories behind the faces.
Now Kim regularly meets with a network of cousins and Aunts who are equally interested preserving their family history. Kim has since begun to write stories of her childhood memories.
Kim considers herself an amateur family historian, she is not a blogger and this is her first online writing experience. I know the online genealogy community will give her a warm welcome.