I’ve been thinking about family a lot lately, as you’ll have noticed if you’ve been reading my recent posts. I love talking about family. Dredging up all the most embarrassing or funniest family stories, especially if they involve my sisters and brothers and my mum. I love telling those stories. To my friends, or former colleagues, or to you guys. I used to tell stories to my writing classes, to impress upon them that even the simplest event can make a good story.

Just last week I called my mum to ask her about Uncle Miles. Whether he was her uncle or her great-uncle. “Why in the world do you want to know that?” she asked. “Oh,” I responded airily, “I may need to know that kind of detail some day.” I was thinking about a story she used to tell me about Uncle Miles, and I couldn’t place him in the family. I knew he wasn’t a brother to my grandmother or my grandfather. Mum confirmed that when she said he was my grandmother’s uncle, Mum’s mother’s father’s brother.

So his name was Miles Everett. And Mum’s story goes that Uncle Miles Everett was staying at their house one time when she was about ten or eleven, I think. Grammy and Grampy always had a house full: their own kids, the two hired men who worked for my grandfather and boarded there, and often a relative from “up country.” Sometimes these relatives were cousins who came to Fredericton to go to school, one in particular stayed a full year while she attended “Normal School” which was the teacher’s college of the day. Often they were elderly relatives.

And so one day Grammy asked Mum to go wake up Uncle Miles for supper. Mum and her friend Betty went upstairs and found poor Uncle Miles dead in bed. Mum says that they stood very still at the foot of the bed and looked at each other. Betty said, “I pronounce him dead.” And Mum responded,” I pronounce him dead too.” Then they went downstairs to alert Grammy.

I love that story so much. I can’t imagine how my grandmother coped with eight kids, my grandfather who was almost as much of a handful as the eight kids, two hired men, and whatever sundry relatives were staying with them. Not to mention one that had died on her. But I’m sure she sent one son for the doctor, and another for the priest whose house was right next door, and still got supper on the table. It always seemed to me that Grammy was not afraid of man nor beast, as the saying goes.

I have always hoped that I inherited some of her gumption. I know my mum did. But I fear that that particular gene skipped a generation when it comes to me. I did inherit some of my grandmother’s quirks, though. Her tendency to toe out, as you can see below. I used to get sick of people asking me if I’d studied ballet. Nope. I just have my grandmother’s feet.

Grammy and Grampy Sullivan

And I also inherited my grandmother’s love of telling family stories. Over the years while she sat in her rocking chair, crocheting, I heard all about the famous “Everett girls.” How no dance held in Four Falls or environs was any fun until Grammy and her sisters arrived. And about their old horse which used to belong to the owner of a livery stable who hired him out. The owner eventually sold him because the horse would get cranky with unruly customers, and head for home when any shenanigans started. Grammy said they might be halfway to town and, if she and her brothers started acting the fool on the wagon, the horse would turn around and not stop until it was back home in the barn.

Of course I inherited all kinds of other things. Mum and Grammy’s love of reading. A tendency to resort to sarcasm. Long skinny legs. That photo below from 1969 was taken at my aunt and uncle’s house after my brother’s wedding. That’s my sister Carolyn, Mum, brother Terry, his new wife Carolyn, sister Connie, and me. Skinny legs and all. Ha.

Because I was part of the festivities, I went with my mum to get my hair done on the morning of the wedding. I never forgave the hairdresser who gave me that helmet head. She made me look like a cross between Tammy Wynette and Patty Duke. And all the while I longed for straight, silky locks like Susan Dey in The Partridge Family.

At my uncle’s house after my brother’s wedding. Skinny legs and all.

I adored and admired all my older siblings. I wanted to be able to get a tan like Connie, and have long straight hair like Carolyn. And I simply adored my brother Terry, full stop. As the youngest member of my family, I know that I was an annoying little sister at times. Especially for my sister Connie who as the next oldest sibling was most often the one who had to stay home to look after me. Terry, well, he was the boy and as such seemed to be out of the running. And my other sister Carolyn, well, she always somehow seemed to be very busy with very important things. Isn’t that right, Connie? Then because it was easier for my mum to ask Connie, she became the default baby-sitter. Sorry about that sister dear.

And then when Mum married Lloyd, I was no longer the youngest. David, my step-brother, now held that position. And as his next oldest sister I felt privileged to finally be able to lord it over someone younger. Sorry about that, David. One day I’ll tell you the whole story of David and me and the afternoon the pigs got out. He rounded them up. I supervised. Ha.

I hope you’ll forgive the flow of ruminations and family memories that seem to be bubbling out of me these past few weeks. I know I do tend to go on about family stories, but it’s worse than usual lately. That’s because Hubby and I have been watching pictures and video footage of families in Ukraine. And thinking of how war tears everyone’s family apart.

So I’ve been feeling grateful for my own family. And for all the memories. And all the embarrassing and funny family stories.

I know this post is not about the war in Ukraine, or the tragedy unfolding there. I didn’t feel capable or qualified to write about that. But I have included below a couple of links to articles from reputable sources which list ways in which we can help.

Canadians can find a good article in The Globe and Mail here. And from National Public Radio here for those readers in the USA. One from the Mayor of the City of London here.

Now, how about you my friends? Why don’t you tell us a family story today. We all need it. It doesn’t have to be funny, or embarrassing. Just give me a minute to refill my cup of tea.

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27 thoughts on “On Family and Stories”

  1. I can relate to your helmet-head experience. I got a do like that for my senior prom and I will never forgive the hair dresser. Straight flowing locks was the thing at the time and I looked like a came from a decade or two in the past.
    I can remember my younger sister insisting that she would be tagging along with me and my friends or she would tell my parents what I was up to. I wasn’t up to big trouble, but my parents were strict and I wasn’t allowed to do many things. Consequently, my sister, who was three years younger, was often brought along.
    As the oldest, I was constantly responsible for the younger kids. My brother, 7 years younger, would torment me while I tried to get dinner started or do other things. He would come into the room where I was, make some sort of annoying remark or do something bothersome, then run out of the house. He knew that I had chores to do and couldn’t chase after him. Every once in a while I would catch him and get my revenge.

  2. That just what we need at the moment Sue . Heartwarming stories to make us smile . Groups are already forming here in my neighbourhood , collecting items to fill lorries to send to Ukraine but we still feel powerless .
    Funny family stories ? any amount here . I come from a large funny family too . When I was about 11 or 12 mum got a Mynah bird which she called Charlie . I’m not happy about pets you need to keep caged but it was the middle of last century & he seemed happy enough . Mynahs are very good mimics & Charlie was a specialist but his favourite subject was dad , perhaps because of his resonant voice . The door into our sitting room developed a loud irritating squeak & after a few weeks of this mum told dad something had to be done so he rehung the door & ended the squeak . Except that Charlie missed it , so every time the door opened Charlie replicated the squeak . Dad was ok at first but then he’d snap at Charlie ‘ you pipe down ‘ & of course Charlie soon responded with ‘ you pipe down ‘ & so it went on . The arguments between dad & Charlie escalated day by day until dad was so exasperated he was shouting & swearing at Charlie most of the time . Charlie always won the arguments whilst we four girls & mum would be helpless with laughter, always on Charlie’s side . It couldn’t go on of course . Charlie went off to live with neighbours & dad eventually calmed down .

  3. I am not brave enough to show a photo of me taken in 1970 with, as you say, helmet head. Shampooed, set and bloody terrible. I look about 40, not 13. Hairdressing has improved greatly.
    Lovely stories.

  4. Thank you for addressing important matters.
    The best, most researched and learned summary of what’s going on is the historian Heather Cox Richardson’s blog–for those of us who don’t have time to peruse and compare all the world’s reputable media for what’s happening. I read the UK Guardian, the New York Times, and Al Jazeera and then look to Heather Cox Richardson: https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com

  5. Family stories are to remember and cherish…

    All of you girls (including your Mum) have beautiful legs 
    I went to hairdresser when I was a girl only to cut my hair (but she always did a hairdo,she was quite famous but a little bit old fashioned in early days of hippies,straight hair etc)and remember to literally run home to wash my hair and dry it myself.

    Dottoressa

  6. s an only child there were not many funny stories from my generation,only older relatives who always told old loong booring stories when they came to visit. There is no one left to ask about any of these people or stories any more. So I am looking at he next generation for stories-my children and here families.Our son’s wife, Sarah, had an African grey parrot which if a good mimic! durin a hurrican when they were first married,they came o stay with us and of course,brought the parrot The phone rang constantly which I would try to answer. And I could always hear the computor running. It was the parrot who had become adept at making those sounds. we have laughed so any times over me running to answer the phone ,only for it to be a hangup! and I never could figure out when they put the computer when I knew they did not bring one with them! Hope they can gently pass that one on to the grandkids. We have been so blessed in both countries to not have the war on our doorsteps. I hope we all can continue to be compassionate! and help where we can!

  7. Ah, family. We lived in Germany when I was in my early teens (after spending most of my childhood in the UK). In 1962, my UK relatives—Mom’s brother, his wife, Mom’s sister and a couple of my cousins—took the car ferry to Calais and met us in mid-France where we drove south together to spend several weeks at a campground on the beach in Barcelona, Spain. It was the first time my aunts had ever left the UK and to say they were gob-smacked would be an understatement. Was it the beauty of the countryside or glorious food that captured their attention? No, sadly, it was not. I had traded places with a cousin so I was in my uncle’s car with the aunts. As we merrily drove down the highway, my aunts were flabbergasted to see European men get out of their cars and proceed to relieved themselves on the side of the road. Not hiding behind bushes or being discrete—just letting it all hang out for the world to see. I thought my aunts would expire on the spot as they both exclaimed, loudly and repeatedly—and for miles—in their East End London accent, “The dirty buggers!! The dirty buggers!! How dare they?” Needless to say, my uncle and I just about expired laughing.

  8. They may be called skinny legs when we’re little, but when we grow up, they become long, slender legs. You all have wonderful legs. And you wear clothes so well because of them!
    I am the eldest of 5 girls, all tall (5’8″ – 5’11”) except for me, at just 5’4″.
    My sisters and I were often referred to like a pack, as in, here come “Those O’Klock Girls,” especially when we were advocating for sister #2 when she was very ill. We gave the nurses no mercy if they weren’t on top of things! The look in their eyes when we’d come walking toward the nurses station four abreast. Priceless!
    Our little pack has been a source of support, frustration, and an immeasurable amount of fun and crazy laughter. Sisters!

  9. My dad’s parents divorced when he was two (they’d married young, when Grandma was 6 months pregnant with Uncle Bob). This was during the Depression, and the family was poor, so Dad and Uncle Bob got shuffled between relatives quite a bit for a few years. Thanksgiving came around one year, and they were with Grandma and her new husband, my grandpa Bill. He’d been out hunting that morning, and dinner was a freshly acquired pheasant, along with a raft of vegetables from my great-grandparents’ farm. As the family gathered around the table, Grandpa Bill looked around him and asked, “I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight?”

    It’s a family saying now, to remind us to be grateful for what we have, no matter our circumstances.

    1. In New Brunswick they tell an old story about a family during the depression; the father brought home a hunk of meat and hung it over the kitchen table. At supper time they’d all eat their potatoes (NB is big potato country) and point at the meat. So when kids asked what was for supper the parents would say “potatoes and point.”

  10. Your story and pictures took me back. I remember permed hair as a child. Toni perms done by mom in the kitchen. All three of us lined up and afraid. The smell, oh it was horrendous,,,,we used to run around the back yard trying to blow the odor out of our hair. My hair was already curly so I was not sure why I needed a perm! One year my sister tried to help me overcome the kinks and poured a whole bottle of Suave conditioner on it. We couldn’t wash it out! I hid for hours in the basement shower stall while my parents frantically looked for me. They were so glad to find me that no one was punished and the perms stopped!

  11. I laughed when you mentioned Normal school…my great Aunt Kate had lost her hearing as a young girl and as a result was quite cosseted and spoiled by her parents into adulthood, she was also the youngest and had a well deserved reputation for her prickly personality. One day my younger brother ( he was seven and a bit of a brat;) was talking to our great Aunt about what she would have liked to do if she hadn’t inherited her father’s house, entertained and housed members the Group of Seven before they were famous or even a group and various other well known and lesser known guests, such as her great nieces and nephews, at her Georgian Bay home. ‘Oh I wanted to go to Normal school but they wouldn’t take me because of my hearing being so bad.’ My bratty brother looked at me and winked, turned to Auntie and said ‘ So did you go to ABNORMAL school’? We were told rather brusquely to go outside and play. Our great Aunt was not amused but her older sister, our grandmother, thought it was hilarious. I still remember the screen door slamming behind us in our haste to retreat and my grandmother laughing and saying ‘Oh, Kate he didn’t know what he was saying!’ ….but of course he did!!
    I had a dear friend whose Ukrainian parents escaped from the Nazis into France. They spent post war years in Paris dodging the KGB ‘green busses’ and eventually found a home in Canada. They worked hard to maintain their culture in their new homeland teaching the language and promoting cultural events. My friend always felt more connected to France and said he grew up with a Cartesian brain but would always have a Slavic heart. He has left the planet now but I know his dear Slavic heart would be breaking.

    1. Ha. That’s almost what we used to say about “Normal School.” How wonderful is it that your great aunt knew the Group of Seven artists!

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