My memory has a will of its own

Anne Thurston-Brandley talks about memories that stand the test of time

By: H. Anne Thurston-Brandley 

I finally am underway.  Boxes and scrap books are being emptied as I begin my long procrastinated project of sorting through jillions of not only family photos but news paper clippings, announcements and other memorabilia.  Even the contents of my small safe are on the agenda.  Within its fireproof walls are ancient coins, passports, watches, rings and other doodads.

Each item, no matter its shape or size represents a person, place or time wrapped in a memory which in turns generates laughter, wonder or tears.  Having parented two separate families I find twice as many memory triggers than most women clutch.  It is within these children the requests to get rolling on identifying and storytelling about the past in their lives have fallen upon me.  I understand, as once my memory leaves this world there will be many questions forever unanswered.  I know, as after my mother’s death back in the eighties I suddenly realized how much information she had taken with her that I no longer could research.

In the safe I discovered a beautiful old gold watch.  It was of the style which was carried in a vest or pants pocket and attached with a long gold chain.  It had been carried by Ed’s grandfather, George Muster, an engineer on the Baltimore and Ohio RR.  George lived in the small town of Murphysboro, Indiana and his wife told Ed’s mother when she was a small girl that their house was to be picked up and polished each day for an engineer’s wife never knew when her husband might be brought home dead, in a canvas bag.

The day came when Grandfather Muster found his train headed engine first straight into an oncoming one.  Someone had made a mistake on one of the track’s switches.  Unable to avoid the head-on crash George was not caught in the mutilated mess of iron but thrown clear at impact to die of a broken neck in an adjoining field.  Even so, his uninjured body was enclosed in the canvass bag the train crew had stowed aboard in case of such a need.  Ed’s grandmother was ready for the disaster; at least her house was.

More than one picture remains of my grandfather Cook and my grandmother.  They are shown together at various ages; in formal photos and everyday snapshots.  Happiness decorates their faces whether just the two of them or with their sons, my father and his brother.  Strangely enough Grandmother was a divorcee when they married.  Divorce was almost an unknown to their generation.  Married in the early 1890s in a very small town in the northwestern corner of Ohio I am certain an undercurrent of wild gossip quickly made its rounds despite the lack of telephones and emails.  Back then it was over back fences, across the grocery counter or whispered between church pews.

Lottie Triphinia (her mother discovered the name in a novel she was reading while expecting and named her child it) was a spirited young woman who enjoyed writing poetry and giving ‘readings’ at local social events.  Quite pretty, she married young and had a daughter before she caught my grandfather’s eye or he caught hers.  So it came to pass my father had an older half-sister.  And I had an Aunt Gladys.  Today such occurrences are no-longer so news worthy but back then it was quite a head-shaker.  My memory is of a wonderful grandmother who danced with me and told stories which set me off in another world.  Fortunately I have a copy of a very long poem she wrote of a WWl soldier.  The words she wrote are those of the 1800’s in their formality and eloquence.

A great grandmother on my mother’s side of the family was equally fascinating as she arrived in Ohio, at one of its riverside ports along the state’s southern border with her family by raft from the Appalachian Mountains via Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In the early 1800’s unfriendly Indians lurked, hidden in the trees at the river’s bends.  Their arrows were to be avoided.  Of Swiss ancestry the men of the family found work in the large furnaces found in southern Ohio.  Somewhere in the history of marriages great grandmother Steece’s mother carried as a treasure an invitation to the inaugural of President Adams, a cousin.

But of all the family memories my favorite is that of my father, Tracy as a high schooler in Sylvania, Ohio.  Preferring to fish and hunt Swan creek which flowed on out through Toledo and into Lake Erie to attending school he frequently skipped his classes.  To make the matter worse, two of the instructors were aunts.  One day ‘off’ he trapped a skunk.  Carefully removing its scent bags he broke into the high school that night and entering one of the aunts’ class room carefully emptied the bag’s contents into an ink bottle.  Each desk top featured a hole into which an ink bottle sat.  Its cork was carefully removed when the student needed to dip his pen into it to write.

Leaving the bottle uncorked Dad hastily beat his retreat.  There were no classes for two days as the building was aired.  Everyone suspected the culprit but could find no evidence.  Like students today who find high school non-challenging my father sought other interests.  Also, like way too many today he found the adult habit of addiction was for him.  He chewed tobacco.  As a result neither my brother nor I ever touched tobacco – we had both been splashed in the face when in the summer he forgot our windows were down in the back seat of the car as he spit out of his window.

H. Anne Thurston-Brandley is a Boyne City resident, and the author of “E-Males” and “The Book of Anne.” Her column, Beautiful Boyne, appears in The Boyne City Gazette each week.

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