My Mother-in-Law recently attended a memoir writing workshop and it reminded me of the importance of documenting one’s life. I look forward to reading her memoir. The pursuit of genealogy is so much more than documenting names & dates. It is greatly enriched with personal stories that give us a glimpse of the person’s life, their struggles and joys and the historical time period in which they lived.

I recently came across my grandmother’s (Glenna Sunderman Carley) brief memoir of childhood, written in 1981.   I wish she had written much more.Glenna Sunderman_1916She begins the memoir as follows:

“This will be a story about my parents and grandparents. Perhaps it will not be of great interest to you now, but in future years you, or your children, may want to know something about them, and there will be no one to ask. In the genealogy records there are dates and places, but not many intimate facts. I wish my Mother and Father had told us more of their families.”

As the family genealogist, my grandmother must have understood the importance of documenting the family stories, yet perhaps she did not believe that her own life was interesting enough to warrant documenting beyond a mere 5 pages.

My grandmother goes on to write:

“I really have no vivid recollections of my early childhood, except that we were a happy family. Dad (William Arthur Sunderman) worked 6 days a week at Meekins, Packard & Wheat department store in the drapery and rug department and Sunday was his only free day. So he generally attended only the Sunday evening church service.   Sunday afternoons we generally went for long walks, had picnics and knew every inch of Forest Park – the zoo, the rose garden and we knew just where the biggest violets and lady slippers were to be found and when they were in bloom.”

My grandmother lost her own mother (Alice May Lowden Sunderman) when she was 10 and writes:

“My mother was a slight person, very sensitive in nature; her top weight was probably 100 pounds.   In 1914 Mother had a nervous breakdown and spent the summer at a farm on a hill overlooking Huntington, Mass.”

She writes of her Grandfather (Orin Lowden):

“He was an easy going man, a gardener by trade and was known for his skill in raising flowers, especially sweet peas. He liked to play the harmonica and his favorite piece was “Sweet Hour of Prayer”, and he annoyed my grandmother a great deal with his playing.”

She writes of her Grandmother (Kate Raab Sunderman):

“Grandma was a mild mannered person, long suffering and very understanding.   She did not have an easy life by any means, but all their children (8) were very responsible and made something of their lives.   Her cooking was great; there was always plenty of food and such a variety.   She always made lemon pie for me knowing it was my favorite – and I can still taste it.   She and I used to go to the Farmer’s Market early in the morning to buy any foods not in their garden. And on days when she was not too busy we would go to the Palace Theatre for a movie and vaudeville show.”

She concludes with:

“Our pleasures were simple ones – we had all the necessities of life – not many luxuries. But we were satisfied and happy. We had lots of friends and made our own recreation. There were no playgrounds, no one to entertain us. We enjoyed life as we found it.”

 I wish that my grandmother had written more about her life. These few pages are a glimpse into the early events that made my grandmother who she became; a devout Christian, an accomplished cook, a tender of a beautiful flower garden, a gentle soul and mostly a loving grandmother.

Despite my frequent urgings, my mother and father never wrote their memoirs; they always thought there would be more time.   I will be taking my own advice to begin documenting my story for future generations.

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