A Relative History

I was never very good at math, and I might be a bit excitable, but my “fiftieth” blog post last week was actually my 49th, derelict I know. So today is my 50th post. I am always early to a party J

I decided to go back to posting about reconnecting with my mother’s American relatives, because it is so much fun to discover more about one’s roots. I posted a lot of videos on my blog in the spring from the “round robin” video I found dating back to 1985, which is now thirty years ago but somehow hairspray and balloon pants seem like yesterday!

I never found any of the round robin letters between my grandfather and his siblings, but evidently they started in the 1940s and lasted through the seventies until perhaps they all got too old or started to die off. I believe my grandfather although not the youngest was the longest lived when he died at 96 in 2004.

With the miracle of Facebook I was able to connect with my grandfather’s brother Harold’s family and meet my generation on that branch, and lovely ladies they are. One of them sent me their mother’s beautifully etched version of the family history, and what she knew of each sibling’s family.

She begins the history with an apt preface, which I will quote:

Nothing would have pleased me more than to have been able to include some famous writer, educator, or statesman in our family tree, but I’m afraid that like most families ours is unexceptional…. Except for the fact that I knew most of these people… and that I loved all of them.

Although none of us are famous, I am sure there are one or two or three Derelict Moms in the family tree, and most certainly, at least one.

The author also says she will tell you about the Youngblood family as much as she “will tell you what I think I remember from the adults’ conversations and from reading the Round Robin letters.” Inevitably oral history will get some parts right and some parts wrong and the difficulty is in looking back and trying to distinguish one from the other. When I read the section on our side of the family, and knowing the difference made me giggle many times over. Here is what it said about my grandfather Curt:

A book could easily be written about Uncle Curtis… he had the most extraordinary life of any of the Youngblood’s. He received his law degree from the University of Arkansas and there were two future governors of Arkansas in his class, Sid McMath and Gov. Cherry. He enlisted as an officer in the Navy and served in the legal department of the navy during World War II. He was legal advisor to the Secretary of the Navy and observed nuclear testing in the South Pacific. At the end of the war he was transferred to London, England where he tried court marshal cases and handled lawsuits that had been brought by private citizens against the U.S. Government. He, His wife Ruby, and daughter Jane lived in a huge home with formal English gardens and completely staffed; chauffeured in a black limo with American and Navy flags on the fenders. ( The U.S. Government felt appearances and protocol important.)

The parenthesis are the author’s. I am not sure if all those details are true, but I don’t think they had a staff- I must ask my mother. The early history is spot on, but as it gets farther and farther away from the common ancestor the story gets farther and farther from the truth and more and more entertaining of course.

Curtis held court in Ireland, Scotland, Italy and France where they collected furniture, art etc and many friends who visited them in the U.S. including the author of “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (this part is of course not true) . They continued to travel throughout their lives…

The parenthesis are mine this time… they were actually friends with the author and mastermind behind, The Man Who Never Was, Ewen Montagu, not John Le Carre the fiction author. Mere trivial details!

She continues:

Upon returning to the U.S. he was assigned to the Pentagon and placed in charge of the Navy’s offshore oil well and for the first time they were able to build their dream home… it is right on the Potomac River. The three story house which boasts a fireplace so large you can stand in it was built of brick made by slave labour (purchased when an old federal building was torn down.) When Uncle Stan viewed it he said it was so impressive it looked like the first National Bank of Texas.

I remember this fireplace and it was a pretty normal sized fireplace, which only a toddler could stand in, but that is from my perspective and I did grow up with electricity, parents, shoes, and multiple fireplaces. Of course I also grew up with the family trait of telling tales and never letting an even truth get in the way of a much better exaggeration.

Here is where the story gets funny:

When Curtis retired from the navy he went to work for a publishing company handling their legal affairs. His daughter Jane married a young English Barrister (lawyer) named Rob Spurling and they live in London with their son and two daughters. Rob’s father was Lord Spurling and Governor of the Bahamas, where Jane and Rob lived the first few years of marriage. ( A position the Duke of Windsor held during the Second World War… when the Royal family wanted to exile him for marrying Wallis Simpson.) Oddly enough Jane did not meet Rob in England but at Washington and Lee University. I have probably told you more about Curtis than you really wanted to know but he truly had an interesting life. And yes he did meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip though not in England.. but at a Garden Party at the White House.

I just love the asides, despite the fact that it is totally hilarious, it would have been nice to be the granddaughter of a Lord and grow up in London, with a sojourn in the Bahamas, but alas none of that happened! and my parents met—oddly enough— at William and Mary University. My dad’s name is Rick, we live in Bermuda, my grandfather was a Sir and was never Governor of Bermuda or the Bahamas for that matter.

Particularities what do they matter? I wonder if they got these details from my grandmother’s Christmas letters, which tended like my Mother’s Christmas cards to be a more glamorous telling of the year’s events than an even truth. We are working on the 2014 version as we speak so I will be posting about that soon.

What amuses me most about the family history is that although Curtis “had the most extraordinary life of any of the Youngblood’s,” his life story is told through all the people he met or didn’t for that matter: Sid McMath and Gov. Cherry, John Le Carre, The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, and the Queen of England …. Not to mention the fireplace.

It’s pretty funny just think if he or she had written a memoir.

Xx Derelict Mom.images-7

Great Gran 1909 – 2014

Eva family045 Eva Worsick fam010I woke up this morning to the sad news that Eva’s Great Grandmother, Dorothy Kinder, known lovingly to us as “Great Gran” passed away in her 106th year early this morning. This was not entirely a surprise, nor was it a tragedy, but I shed a tear for the wonderful woman I was so happy to have known in the last years of her life.

There were two stand out qualities of Great Gran that I admired and both had everything to do with her longevity: her optimism and her spirit. When we skyped Chris’s mom and dad this past weekend, they let us know that the end was near. Great Gran was asleep most of the time, and barely eating a spoonful; she had occasional moments of lucidity and was still managing to slap the nurse. “That’s the Great Gran I know and love!” I thought.

The last several months have been hard on her three children. As her great age began to take its toll, her spirit never dwindled but she became too great a liability for the home she was living in. When the staff were not looking she would run away like a rebel teenager bucking authority. Once she was discovered in the local pub and had to be taken home- which made all of her relatives around the globe giggle, but it was as funny as it was sad. During another thwarted escape attempt, she tried to hitch a ride on a street corner but luckily the car she flagged down was the owner of the old people’s home who promptly returned her to the premises. Eventually as her mind declined a victim of dementia, but her spirit remained she needed more care and was moved to another home, and was forced to give up her room with a view, which for an artist and a woman of the world was one of her last pleasures.

The family tried to make her comfortable but she became more and more paranoid and at one point asked Shelagh to light a candle for her, get a piece of the alter and something Jesus had touched. When we were away in New Hampshire, we got a phone call from Chris’s sister to let us know that Great Gran had had a stroke, but that she had only temporarily lost feeling on one side, but that she was all right. We marveled she survived. The following day the phone rang again and we all braced for the news we received today. But Uncle Ross informed us that actually they had done a CAT Scan and that Great Gran had not had a stroke, just a seizure, and she recovered just fine. As the nurse said a week or so ago, “Dorothy always surprises us.” Great Gran I think we thought would live forever.

Today her life ended and she is, we imagine finally at peace. Her legacy in our family, affirmed. I can see her qualities of spirit and optimism in both Chris and Eva, and here is ever hoping some of that rubs off on me. Like Bette Davis said, “Old Age is Not for Sissies.” Great Gran was brave, brash, funny and beautiful. Although Eva won’t grow up to remember her two visits, I will remind her of the Grand Old Dame and make sure she lives a life, which Great Gran would be proud of and I am sure she will as I do not think apples fall far from the tree. At home we have one of her paintings, and a needlepoint she completed in 2013 at the age of 104, small works of her hand which Eva will have to “remember” her by, which is what she said when she gave us the painting, giving us both time to get used to the idea that she would not in fact live forever. Something else will live forever though, the interview I filmed with her in the courtyard of the pub down the road from her home a few years ago, when we quizzed her on her life, and when Eva is old enough I will let her watch the interview and eventually she will appreciate it, when she is old enough to be interested in her family and our collective past.

Cheers to a life well lived, to Great Gran, Dorothy Pilling Gregory Kinder 1909 – 2014

To read more of Great Gran’s life read my post from her 105th birthday in January this year at the link below.


Xx Derelict Mom