EXCAVATING MY CHILDHOOD

There, in handwriting that was so much more legible than my 70-year-old scrawl, were entries about how my maternal grandmother left her village in Poland at the start of WWI to immigrate to the USA. I read with fascination my mother’s WWII marriage to my dad. I read about the awful summer my folks remodeled our house, the summer we lived with a grandmother whose dislike of me, my brother, my mom and dad was palpable.

After creating a list of questions about northeast Minneapolis, I took advantage of my new membership in the Minnesota Historical Society today with a visit to their library.

As I stumbled through a half-baked explanation to a patient librarian of what I was after, she typed in a few key words on her computer, turned the screen to me, and gave me a few second to scan a list of possible sources.

“Holy cow!” I almost shouted in that very quiet room. “Birdella Ross! She was my tenth grade English teacher.”

A few minutes later found me trying hard to maintain the demeanor of what I thought a professional researcher should look like when inside I was hard put to contain my excitement as I came across a folder with my name on it. Inside were the essays we’d been assigned over the course of two semesters…essays in which we explored our personal histories.

There, in handwriting that was so much more legible than my 70-year-old scrawl, were entries about how my maternal grandmother left her village in Poland at the start of WWI to immigrate to the USA. I read with fascination my mother’s WWII marriage to my dad. I read about the awful summer my folks remodeled our house, the summer we lived with a grandmother whose dislike of me, my brother, my mom and dad was palpable.

I’m not much of a one for believing in karma; but I’ve been playing around with the notion of a memoir for about five years now…lots of notes, not much that’s notable. And here, out of the blue, within five minutes this treasure trove of gems inside a cardboard archival box.

And suddenly I have a direction. I have material–mine and that of classmates. My central theme has something to do with growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in the second half of the 20th century.

By golly, this is going to be fun.

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Author: Judy Westergard

Retired English teacher, self-taught painter, inveterate reader and still lovin' my Kindle!

6 thoughts on “EXCAVATING MY CHILDHOOD”

    1. Thanks, Diane. I’m excited, too; I’m fictionalizing it (“creative nonfiction” is more accurate) and it’s starting to gel. What I was lacking was a cohesive story arc –too many gaps in my memory. Hope your world is going well.

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    1. Good stuff, but I already have all the facts. What I’m really after is the culture, for lack of a better word. For example, was it possible to wash one’s hair when one traveled from Poland to New York on steerage? It’s these seemingly small things that flesh out a story, to my way of thinking. I could make them up, but lack of accuracy weakens veracity, no?

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      1. Yes, that is an interesting and very poignant detail–and since I live on a boat and know what it’s like to provision and conserve for long passages, it got me to wondering if there were any ship records (facts to embroider upon) of how much water might have been provided during the voyage you are writing about. My cousin is great about Googling topics I’ve mentioned to her, so I made a tentative stab at locating ship manifestos–which you’ve no doubt already done–and gave up quickly as it appears there is more interest in passenger lists than in the provisions for their survival. My guess is that fresh water was exclusive for drinking, seawater for bathing unless blessed by rain squalls…and let me tell you, there’s nothing so frustrating and uncomfortable as having just soaped up your hair (especially if LONG!) and have the squall suddenly pass on by…necessitating a saltwater rinse which goes gummy with soap and leaves your hair coarse…ugh, you are bringing up all sorts of memories of damp clothing and clammy sheets, slippery slick cabin soles…

        Enough! I send only my best wishes and encouragements for this wonderful project of yours. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I will not make a pest of myself by distracting you with further comments.

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      2. I’ve found a wealth of info on the Ellis Island Rangers site. Among other bits: the first encounter for fresh water for bathing and washing hair was a shower at Ellis. I’m having so much fun researching all this that I may never write!

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