Yesterday, Steve and I sat down with our newly washed collection of dish towels, deciding it was time to cull those that are too thin to be effective after decades of use. We don’t use a dishwasher, so our dish towels are crucial kitchen equipment, as they were for generations before us. The aspect for which I’m grateful is that so many women chose to display their embroidery talents by telling stories with these towels, thereby turning them into art. We have towels stitched by my mother, my grandmother, and two aunts. Each time we use them, we feel that connection. Quite often, the stories they tell are funny: vegetable musicians, naughty kittens, and Mother Goose, as well as a set that depicts dishes in the colors of the pottery Steve and I collected when we were first married. Those that we set aside because they no longer have a practical use will become part of a fabric art project I have in mind … their stories will stay with us.
I am grateful for having a deep connection to history … it’s a family tradition.
My grandmother subscribed to hometown newspapers in two states. She cut out tidbits about family and friends and pasted them with rubber cement into used ledger books and scrapbooks.
When conversation ensued on Sundays after dinner, with the day’s visitors, it was often about family history. I grew up observing the oral tradition of storytelling to keep history alive.
My mother picked up the responsibility for family history by updating a thick book with the births and deaths of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s families (they were related). My mother had 36 aunts and uncles.
Then she began to dig farther back. She subscribed to genealogy magazines, visited the Minnesota Historical Society, joined a German research group, and wrote many letters. She published a family newsletter in her own mission to keep history alive.
Imagine how pleased she was to learn that her great-grandfather’s house had been moved from its site to Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Wisconsin. He constructed houses for a living and reportedly left Germany when the Navy conscripted all the available wood in his area. In America, he built Fachwerk houses and his own home was constructed as a model. He marked all the housing materials with Roman numerals to show how the home went together, a boon to those reconstructing the house.
We held a family reunion at Old World Wisconsin nineteen years ago. Family young and old were able to tour the house and realize they were part of a long line of interesting people, people who had hopes and dreams, who laughed and cried, who maintained lives that made our own existence possible.
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” — Rudyard Kipling