No, not the uncomfortable stuff, or the topics being ignored or carefully not responded to that are likely especially common in the US in December 2016. I mean using this as an opportunity to talk to older relatives (in this case my mother and father, since the generation older than that is mostly dead and if not lives elsewhere).
Photos of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, taken in Nebraska before my mother was born.
I have talked to my mother off and on about family history and was initially told she didn’t know much, but lately she’s been much more forthcoming about remembering trips back to Nebraska as a child and many cousins and stories about the older folks and so on. Like so many Americans she had a family story of an American Indian connection, but upon checking it out it appears to have been all in-laws, not actual ancestry. Lately she’s been going through old family photos, many from her mother who did work on family history some and provided some written information (and captions for many of the photos), and seems quite interested.
Based on the caption, the photo of my grandfather above was taken when he was around 18. He grew up on a farm or farms in Dawson County, Nebraska (as covered in the post about his parents Lily Westerlin and Delbert Guess), but at around 18 he went to Cherry County, Nebraska to work on a cattle ranch. In the 1940 Census he is in Evergreen, Nebraska working as a ranch hand on a ranch owned by Daniel H. Lovejoy, son of Chalmers Lovejoy. According to the 1909 Compendium of History, Reminiscence, & Biography of Western Nebraska (from what I’ve seen quite typical of many of these early 1900s biographical sketches):
Chalmers A. Lovejoy, one of the most widely known and successful stockmen of western Nebraska, resides on his large estate in sections 17, 18 and 20, township 32, range 28, Cherry township….
Mr. Lovejoy first came to Nebraska in April, 1886, and here took up a pre-emption and later a homestead in section 17, township 31, range 27, Cherry county, and to both these tracts he still holds title. By industry and economy he gradually added to his acreage until he is now proprietor of six thousand five hundred acres of land, most of which is in meadow and range. One tract extends for five miles along the south side of the Niobrara river near Valentine, and another tract in township 31, range 27, comprises twenty-two hundred and forty acres, while in the home place there are ten hundred and forty acres of good land. He is engaged principally in stock raising and mixed farming, having nearly three hundred and fifty acres under cultivation, raising fine crops, all of which he feeds to his extensive herds of cattle. He keeps at all times about a thousand head of cattle and a few hogs, together with a goodly number of horses, and is well satisfied with the reward of his labors since coming to this section. He never suffered much loss through the dry years, and, indeed, states that he made his best money during those times, as he was not engaged in farming to any great extent, and his stock having sufficient grazing were productive of profitable returns on the market….
All of Mr. Lovejoy’s time and attention are given to building tip and improving his home and ranch, and he is well informed on all topics pertaining to his business. He has never had any time to devote to active politics, and has never held office, but in political sentiment he is a Republican.
Sadly, I had little interest in my grandfather’s childhood or history, and only the most passing interest in his time as a ranch hand — we did have some photos of him, young, on a horse or with horses, and I liked horses — so rarely paid much attention to discussion of these things, let alone asked questions. Plus we saw my grandparents about twice a year, for about a week in the summer and maybe at Christmas, and both died around my college years, before I’d come around to seeing them as independently interesting people and not just relatives. Ugh, too bad, and embarrassing to remember.
My mother’s knowledge of her father’s family isn’t great either. Apparently the family trips back to Nebraska were to Cherry County, where my grandfather (Merle) had lived as a young man and met and married my grandmother, and her family lived there, not his. My mother doesn’t think they ever visited Dawson County, and that makes some sense. My grandparents married in March 1941 in Valentine, Cherry, Nebraska at the home of my grandmother’s parents. By then, Merle’s parents were already in Outlook, Yakima, Washington, and both of them died quite young, in 1947 and 1951. His grandfather (August Westerlin) had died already, in 1941, and his grandmother Hedda lived only a few more years, until 1954.
For these reasons, I suppose it’s not surprising that my mother knows almost nothing about her paternal grandmother’s side of the family or even much about her grandfather’s family, other than those who ended up in Washington. She says that she did not even know that they were Swedish at all — she recalls her father being called a “Swede” at times, but just thought that was a joke used to refer to the fact that he was “tight fisted with money” and, who knows, maybe it was. On the other hand, I didn’t even know that was supposed to be a stereotype growing up at all, but one memory I do have is of my grandfather telling me he liked lots of sugar in his tea, but not so much as his Swedish grandmother. (No, didn’t cross my mind to ask more.) But when that side turned out to be partially Swedish, I remembered the comment and wasn’t surprised.
A couple more photos of my grandfather as a young man: