I never got to meet my maternal grandmother. She had an awesome name – Cora Leona – but all I really know about her is that she was a pretty, round-faced woman with dark eyes (like most of my family has – we get them from her side of the family). She played the piano for her church, and she died when my mother was four. My mother was then raised mostly by her grandmother, Jennie Louisa.
We have a set of very cool old photographs with four generations in each. The boys have my mom’s older brother (my Uncle Merle) as a baby, then the three generations of men. The women have my mom’s older sister Dorothy as a baby, and then the mothers. I never knew any of these women–even Aunt Dorothy died before I was born. From what I can tell from that picture, Great-Grandma Jennie looked like a stern, no-nonsense, tall, very sturdy sort of woman. My mother has stories of how much she loved to stay with her, and how Great-Grandma taught her to crochet on tiny little needles and make lace.
So that was all I ever really knew of her. However, my sister has recently started getting into genealogy–she’s especially interested in the women because she saw a “Mother’s Tree” done in cross-stitch. (My sisters and mom are very into cross-stitch. Picture my obsession with knitting. That’s them with cross-stitch.) She decided it looked very cool and thought her daughter might like to have one.
Only nobody knows about the women.
The Stories We Tell
On my dad’s side, we can trace Schraders going all the way back to farms in Germany. Even so, not a lot of information on writing and heredity there. Just farming and heredity. On my mom’s side? We can’t follow the trail very well. It doesn’t help that these women kept changing their names. And not just their last names when they got married. I’ve been told my entire life that my Great-Grandma Jennie’s name was “just Jennie,” therefore when I was named for her, I wasn’t named Jennifer. I’m “just Jenny,” too. Only my sister has found evidence that Great-Grandma Jennie’s “real” name was Louisa Jane. So even my name is a myth.
Another myth? We’ve always enjoyed telling people that we’re related to President Abraham Lincoln. Although this still might be true (distantly, of course, with a cousin of a cousin being uncle to Lincoln or something like that), the family lore about Great-Grandma Jennie sitting on Abe’s lap when she was little and telling him he should grow a beard is clearly untrue. I think it’s fairly public record that Abraham Lincoln died in 1865, while Great-Grandma
Fibber Jennie wasn’t born until 1875. This story even made it into her obituary, where they mention her date of birth. “Honest Abe” indeed. Apparently, he kept that trait on his side of the family.
The Other Stories We Don’t Tell
But what they also mention in her obituary is the very interesting story that her parents (the mother being the grumpy older woman in the photo) homesteaded in Lane County in Kansas, and that her father was county attorney of Cloud County. It also talks briefly about the death of her husband (Lewis – a dapper man with a mustache in the photos we have of him) in 1950, and the poem “In Memoriam” that she wrote for him.
“There’s an empty chair on the porch
I shall sit by its side tonight,
And Ponder the loving memories
Which it alone holds tight.
Not long ago we sat there
In the evening’s golden glow,
Not a care, trouble, or sorrow
Seemed to cross his furrowed brow,
And neither one of us knew
Of the stroke that would strike tomorrow.
Now in the evening time of my life
When my trials on earth are o’r,
May an empty chair be waiting for me, up yonder
By the side of the loved one gone before.”
— Mrs. L. E. Comer
I think this is far cooler than any story about Abraham Lincoln.
Writing and Heredity–and Storytelling?
See, even though my mother and I never got the chance to know Grandma Cora, I always felt a connection with her because Mom told me how much she loved to play the piano. Mom and I love to play the piano, too – I even have Grandma Cora’s old piano. And now I have a connection to no-nonsense, sturdy Great-Grandma Jennie, too. She wrote.
It’s not the best (I mean, come on, Grandma – “the stroke that would strike?”), but the sentiment is awesome. My girl’s got rhythm and rhyme, too. Plus, she tells a story. (So perhaps her fibs weren’t exactly lies. Just stories she was considering writing.) It has everything. Love, suspense, death… And I’m beginning to realize how common these “In Memoriams” were back then, but still. She made an effort with that poem, and I’m related to her. It made me think that the connection between writing and heredity is real. I like thinking that my love of writing comes naturally to me, and that it might just be genetic. Now when I get discouraged or disappointed with it, I’m going to think of Great-Grandma Jennie “up yonder” in her porch chair, watching over me and egging me on.
Of course, I’ll probably be on the web tomorrow and find her poem copied from a collection written by Abraham Lincoln…