Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sepia Saturday 6/19/10

It’s Sepia Saturday again, folks—tho it almost wasn’t! Eberle & I have purchased a new all-in-one machine—quite a fancy contraption—& as a result it took some time to get the scanning function figured out; then Adobe Photoshop seemed to get some strange ideas of its own yesterday evening….but no matter, here we are, & better late than never!

The photos this week are of my maternal grandfather, Joseph Atkinson. I don’t know too much of Joseph, & the facts as I know them are:

1. He was born in New Brunswick, Canada in 1868
2. At some point he lived in the Washington, D.C. area
3. He was considerably older than his wife Inez, who was born in 1881
4. He was a salesman (not a ship’s captain, as reported earlier—turns out his father was the ship’s captain)
5. He played the banjo
6. He thought oatmeal was one of life’s necessities
7. He died in 1946

Now, you will notice that two of these facts stand out from the rest, & I know about these from anecdotes, both of which give some clues about his personality. I think I told the banjo story in an earlier post, bu
t in case you missed it: my uncle Joe as a young boy knocked a music stand over into the banjo & ripped the head. My grandfather never had the banjo fixed. Now, I find this curious, since replacing a banjo head is not a major operation. He lived in the greater Boston area, which means he should have had access to a repair shop, & he was middle class, which means he should have been able to afford it. Why didn’t he get it fixed?

The second story is less enigmatic, & is somewhat dark. It also complicates the fact that to this day, my mother has nothing but the highest praise for her father (tho she is the one who told me this story, which also complicates things). My grandfather insisted that his children eat oatmeal as a sort of “rite of passage.” For a long time as a child my mother refused, saying she was too young & he was apparently forbearing; but he asked her at what age she would be old enough. I believe she told him “eight.” On her eighth birthday, my grandfather presented her with a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. She refused to eat it. The bowl was taken away, but was presented to her again at lunch, & when she refused still, taken away & presented again at supper. She finally ate the stone cold oatmeal the next morning for breakfast, having had no food for a day. Needless to say, rather than having the intended effect of making my mother a lifelong devotee of oatmeal, this incident insured that she never eat it again once she was no longer
under constraint to do so.

So it would appear that Joseph had a harsh, authoritarian side. I find this interesting in light of my mother’s devotion to him, because when she tells the oatmeal story, you can still hear the pain it caused; & there are a couple of other stories I’m not sharing that further illustrate this side of my grandfather. But it reminds me that the devotion of a child often is given in spite of a parent’s behavior. Parents play such a truly mythic role in our lives—they are as large as life itself when we’re children, & even after we’ve broken away from our parents, they still command a very large symbolic presence. Sometimes, the only way we can deal with this presence is to make it overwhelmingly positive in our minds & souls, despite evidence to the contrary—it’s difficult to see parents as quirky individuals with strengths & weaknesses—difficult to see, sometimes, that the latter may far outweigh the former.

I know this is a bit of a “down” Sepia Saturday note, but since so much of Sepia Saturday is about families, I think it’s important to acknowledge that not all family relationships are positive ones—some of these relationships can have an extraordinary negative impact that carries forward thru adult life. As an adult now well into middle age, I see this not only in my own life, but in the lives of many of my friends.

Thanks for stopping by, & please check out other Sepia Saturday participants here.

Atkinson family: young Elizabeth, Joseph, ?, Vera, Inez
Joe Sr. & Joe Jr.
Young Elizabeth with Joseph


  1. Wow, what stories. I wonder if your grandfather didn't have the banjo fixed because he wanted the memories of his son? I can empathize with your mother about the oatmeal. I really only like it in cookies. Natasha from:

  2. That's a great story and good to know about the banjo heritage. I find it interesting that I have two banjo-playing blogger/Facebook friends. It's pretty amazing to have a grand father born in 1868. That last photo was my favorite. I always have a weakness for photos of men in quirky hats.

  3. It's interesting the relationships that develop between parent and child. Generally (it seems to me) authoritarian parents don't endear themselves to their children (at least not in my case), and so maybe there were other aspects of your mom's and her father's relationship that cemented it into endearment on the part of your mother. Interesting post.

  4. I agree with Nancy, this is an interesting post. I remember an acquaintance of mine telling how she had held a top job as a features editor for a well known magazine. In her time, she had interviewed stars from stage and screen, not to mention former presidents. Yet, whenever she visited her mother, she was six years old again.

    I don't think this is a 'down' post. Far from it.

  5. Hmmmm... My day doesn't start without a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon, and milk. It's too bad your grandfather instilled a life-long hatred of it in your mother.

  6. I have to agree with Nancy, there may have been something he did in relation to your grandmother that endeared him to your mother. Particularly after death, a person becomes a different image in our minds I suppose, that was what happened in my case with my father. You forget the negatives and want to think good thoughts of those passed; but I too can tell stories about my father that are painful, but he is gone now so I have to let go of the pain. Wonderful history and family stories you shared this week, enjoyed the photos.

  7. There were some very draconian parenting methods back then. It sounds a lot like how my uncle parented. I loved my cousins but I hated going there to visit them and being under his rule.

    Thanks for visting my blog!

  8. while i like oatmeal, i can understand a child's disdain for its texture...
    this is not a down post, but a real post. we all have family histories that have shaped us. while mine is horrendous in many ways, my friends tell me i wouldn't have become the man i am today without this. they may be right, but i would have preferred to evolve in happier circumstances.

    "my roots of home" made a valid point: in death, our memories change. while i always had a difficult, loving but difficult, relationship with my mom, since her passing in 2007, i miss her terribly. just goes to show one learns to live with aggravations and misses it when it's gone. on the other hand, i doubt the day my fahter dies, that i'll miss him even an iota. i may be able to show him some kindness when need be, but not forgiveness.
    funny what old pics can do to people.

  9. Hi everyone!

    Natasha: I'm so-so on oatmeal--but you can assume correctly that I didn't eat it while growing up!

    Ladrón: I need to pick up the banjo--the guitar is taking all my time these days! But at least my banjo is intact. I also like that last photo, both for my grandfather's hat & also for my mom's amazing doll carriage.

    Nancy: I think it was a family with some very complex relationships &, for lack of a better word, "alliances." But whether his behavior justified my mother's loyalty or not, it's obviously important to her. She doesn't have computer access, or I probably wouldn't have posted this, as she would probably find it unduly critical (in spite of being the story's source, which wasn't told in confidence).

    Martin: Thanks! I remember for years thinking I was the only one who felt that way! (i.e., like your editor friend)

    Roy: My wife Eberle is also a big oatmeal fan, tho with her it's a seasonal thing--autumn & winter.

    My Roots of Home: I definitely agree with you about the image of a person changing with their death--that has happened to me with my father, who died going on 5 years ago. & since my grandfather died 10 years before I was born, I only have a handful of stories to go by. It's just amazing that all the actual stories are remarkably negative.

    Crazyasa: Yes, it's true that parenting has changed; I grew up with pretty old school parents myself. Thanks!

    Ticklebear: Thanks for sharing that--it's important to think about the terms we can & cannot come to with our parents as they age--absolutely. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Human beings are complex. Most are neither all saint or all sinner. We usually have an admixture of each within our make-up. Your post is not a downer at all because it illustrates the fact that even when we make terrible mistakes, we can be forgiven and loved, and perhaps, more importantly, we can still forgive and love others.

  11. Hi Nana Jo: Wise words, indeed! Thanks so much.

  12. I hear ya about the positive/negative family thing...!

    Just say "yes" to oatmeal...with some additional ingredients, of course :P But I still wouldn't force a kid to eat anything they dinna want to...

    I'm thinkin' abou' that broken banjo...I've some theories...

  13. Hi Subby: Yes, definitely need things like raisins & a little maple syrup! I have theories about that banjo, too....

  14. Now I really hope, that my English could better and I could write my own thoughts without being afraid about my silly mistakes, which can give quite different meanings to my words :)

    But I can say, that your post is interesting and make think.

    My grandfather was born 1869 and his wife, my grandmother 1882 in Oulu, Finland. They got 8 children including my mother :)

  15. And of course, at least one mistake !
    One " be " dropped during the journey there :)
    " My English could be better "

  16. Hi Leena: Thanks for stopping by, & I think your English is just fine. Interesting how our grandparents' birth dates are so close!

  17. Things forced upon you seem lose their charm. My daughter had canned green beans forced upon her by a babysitter and will not touch them to this day. I have a broken banjo in my house. I am not sure what happened to it. Maybe I should fix it.

  18. Hi Neetzy: Actually, my sister & I both experienced similar things with fish; I eat it occasionally, but she flat-out refuses to. Say, get that banjo fixed--it wants to make some music!

  19. I didn't find your post downer but just an injection of reality; I ponder how we do paint the positive over negatives, I don't know if that's healthy or not....but we do....looks like an upside down type of chair in the one photo...the banjo remains a mystery

  20. Hi Pat: Thanks--that is how I meant it. I think that's a baby carriage my mom is playing with--it does sort of look like an upside-down chair! & yes, the banjo will always be a mystery.


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