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, but 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