I wrote a while back about my fascination with the whole genealogy craze, as evidenced by TV shows like NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and PBS’s Faces of America. What I know about my own so-called roots is pretty shallow, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?
My mom and dad grew up within 10 miles of each other in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, but they didn’t meet until they were in the eighth grade. They didn’t start dating until they had graduated from high school and were living in the same city: my mom was going to business school and living in downtown Pittsburgh, and my dad was going to the University of Pittsburgh on a football scholarship. They got married in June of 1964, at which point they moved to Kansas City, Missouri, because my dad had been drafted to play for the Kansas City Chiefs. (Had he chosen to continue playing for the NFL after one season instead of returning to Pitt to finish his engineering degree, Dad would have played in the first-ever Super Bowl. Kansas City lost that game to the Green Bay Packers, but still. How cool would that have been?)
My dad is the ninth of 12 children of a Ukrainian immigrant coal miner father and a first-generation Ukrainian superwoman housewife. My grandmother was 12 years younger than my grandfather, whom she met at a church picnic, so the story goes. My grandfather was 18 years old in 1913 when he arrived in on U.S. shores via Ellis Island; my grandmother, the first of her siblings to be born on U.S. soil, was 16 going on 17 when they married, and all but one of their 12 offspring lived into adulthood. There is a 26-year age difference between my dad’s oldest sister and youngest brother. See why I call Grandma a superwoman?
This photo was taken in 1973, on the occasion of Mama and Tata’s 50th wedding anniversary. Tata died a year later, of multiple causes, including black lung from his years in the coal mines. Mama passed away in 1982 of a stroke.
My mother’s father was a dairy farmer and a school bus driver and her mother was a middle school English teacher. They met when my grandfather attended a college basketball game in which my grandmother was playing, so the story goes. My mom is the oldest of two children, although my grandmother apparently experienced three unsuccessful pregnancies as well. My mom’s mom died in 1976, after a painful battle with breast cancer; she passed a few months before she would have turned 68. My mom’s dad died three years later, almost to the date (I seem to recall both of their funerals coinciding with Holy Week).
At some point, I need to scan the wedding photo I have of my mom’s parents, but for now, here’s my grandma and her little brother. I love these old photos, and I love seeing the child version of the gray-haired woman I knew, for much too short a time. (I think she would have been startled to realize that her daughter would also die of cancer, at an even younger age; my mom lost her battle with pancreatic cancer a week to the day before she would have turned 65. I comfort myself that I had my mom in my life five years longer than my own mother had hers. But as my aunt said to me just last night, it’s always too early to lose your mom. Amen.)
So, there’s one layer of the family story. So much more to explore, for both the eastern European and White Anglo Saxon Protestant branches. I wonder what surprises I’d find?
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It is always too early for death to take our loved ones. Finding photos is like finding treasures. We found some photos of my dad last year. My sons look very much like him. I still miss him.
How long has it been since he died, Carol? I agree about old photos being treasures. I imagine it must be a comfort to see your dad live on in your sons.
It has been a very long time, I was 6. He was 54. Smoked, worked a lot, didn’t get enough sleep, had 2 heart attacks. I have had every heart test, just in case, some of the DNA was not up to par. Yes, it was a magic moment to see the resemblance. He would have been so proud. They were just as delighted to see themselves in their grandfather.