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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Traveler and the Genealogist - Bridging Time

By Ellouise Schoettler of EllouiseStory

EllouiseA While I was with Mama this week I came to understand a few things about how things are for her now - and to be immensely grateful for my passion for genealogy and for storytelling.

In one of his workshops, storyteller Donald Davis told us to "take me some place I can't go if you don't take me." I understood that perfectly. I had been doing that with Mama as part of my genealogy sleuthing. Once I began collecting family information I started sitting with Mama or talking on the phone with her and asking her to take me places with her, some I knew and some I met through her memories.

These days my mother is traveling and because of all our genealogy journeys, I see some of the same things she does.

In the middle of a conversation Friday, I forget what we had been talking about, Mama said, "I went down to South Carolina but John Henry wasn't there."

Startled, I tried to grab a new gear. "You did,? How old were you?"

"My age. Ellouise, I went there a few days ago." Fortunately I was getting onto her track.

"You mean you went to Sandy Springs, to the Keasler home place?"

"That's right, I did. But Mama and Dad Jack and my daddy did not go."

I guess not. Her father, Gus Keasler died when Mama was 15 months old and her Mama and Dad Jack, her step father, have been resting at Elmwood Cemetery since the 1960s. But I have been to the Keasler homeplace. In fact I took Mama down there twenty years ago to see Gus's last living sister, Annie Laura.

"Was it like it used to be?"

"Oh, Ellouise, it was. I went all through the house. No one was home. I did not see my grandfather, John Henry."

No surprise. John Henry Keasler died in the 1940s when I was five years old. It was a hot summer day when I sat on an open window sill of the white clapboard Methodist Church with Granny and Mama during the funeral service. John Henry is buried in the church yard next to his second wife, the woman Mama called Grandma. HIs first wife, Narcissus Howard, Gus's mother, rests in the same church year near her mother.

"I don't know why Mama wasn't there. I looked all over for her."

"Mama, I think its great that you can take these trips."

"You do?"

"Oh, I really do. I do it all the time myself. I sometimes imagine myself right back at 2308 East 7th Street, and I can see Granny. I can be right there with her. Are you doing that?"


"Take me to 10th Street, Mama. Tell me about your grandmother. Didn't she make all your clothes."


Mama smiled back at me. "With matching panties." And for a few minutes we were back in her grandmother's house on 10th Street with the sweet smell of baked sweet potatoes in the warming oven waiting for Louie when she came home from school.

Yes, Mama is traveling - but mostly now she is looking for her mother.

She will say, "I want to go home," and some think she means she is "ready." Ready to be in heaven with her mother.

That's not it. That's too easy. If you really listen to her yearning you can hear the truth. A hurting we have no salve for.

Mama wants to go home. Home to her Mama where she was safe and loved. Home where she could climb up in Grandma's lap and snuggle close.

It hurts to touch that truth.

When I do I remember crying into my pillow when I was eight years old at boarding school, wanting to go home to my mother. Crying without a sound. Crying until my eyes were stinging. Crying until my throat felt it would close.

Heaven was on 10th Street, heaven was anywhere close to Granny.

"Ellouise, you take me home. We will go in your car."

Mama, I would if I could.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


There are many moments when we feel such helplessness like the one would described. The story you tell of your mother is truly touching. Whether it is the lonely cry of your mother's to "go home" or the crying young child desperate plea to her mother "I don't want you to die", we sit next to those we love near-and-dearest and just do not know what to say. Thank you so much for writing this story.


I enjoyed reading your story and it brings to mind advice that I often give to my children.

I tell them to speak to their elders as much as possible and ask them many questions about their childhood and early married years. Have them take you, as you said, to places you couldn't go without them. Who else knows what Aunt Minnie's maiden name was or why was Kenny adopted by Uncle Bob?

You see, I feel that when an old person dies it is like the library burnt down.

What a tender and wonderfully told story. In a way, going home is something we do all our lives. Where that "home" is and how we get there may change over the years, but the trip is a constant one.

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