There isn’t much that I have that ties me to my roots and often it feels as though they’re nonexistent given that I’m so far from relatives. Extremely far. My closest relative who’s of my generation or older lies at the end of thousands of miles of lonely highway.
One tie that binds me, though, I always have in my possession: my name.
I therefore thought I’d post about my name, yet found my thoughts drifting as they often do in May. My birth month, for some unidentifiable reason that’s probably coincidence, has become the month for people to leave my life.
No, I’m not going to recount those lost.
Instead, I’ll mention only the first: my mother. I lost her on May 11th, 2003 and, yes, it was Mother’s Day that year, also. In addition, May 31st was her birthday. Each year it feels as though the loss bookends the month.
I’ve moved on from grieving over these eleven years, but May still possesses a melancholy that no other month holds. It’s that melancholy that brings me back to my original topic, for in the remembering I inevitably look at the few old photos I possess.
Thus, my name and my family become parallel roads running into the past and I can thank my mother for the connection. My mother (Joan…names are important from this point on) became extremely interested in the family genealogy over the years and had been working on it on-and-off before she passed away.
One storyline she liked to relate to me, and which I never tired of hearing, was about my name, which can be traced back to the 1800s along the maternal side of my family tree (some parts of my tree are traced back to the 1700s).
My great-grandmother’s name was Christina. I don’t know much about her other than she was born in London and came to this country in 1904 with her husband James (he, it turns out, was from Glasgow, but must have been living in England because that’s where the first three children were born).
James and Christina had many sons, but only two daughters: my grandmother, Louisa, and her elder sister, Christina, my great-aunt.
Always my mother would become sorrowful when she’d talk about her aunt, often telling me how there was no one she cared for more. As a mother, my grandmother was often strict, particular, and distant, sides to her I little noticed as a child, but traits my aunt has confirmed existed. Louisa had two children, my aunt (Louise) and my mother (Joan) and likely it was a surprise when my mother came along nearly 11 years after Louise was born.
On the other hand, Christina was a gentle, compassionate, and loving soul. My mother was close to her sister despite the age difference, but long before she was a teen Louise was married and gone. Thus, my mother became quite attached to Christina, but fate played an unkind hand. Christina’s only son died in an accident while serving in the military and she fell into the grip of sadness from which she never emerged. I don’t know her age when she died, but I know she was relatively young.
Thus, this last photograph means a lot to me. I don’t know who everyone is in this group shot taken on Long Island, but I do know who four of them are.
The elderly woman at the center is my Great-Grandmother Christina. On the far left is my Aunt Louise (age 23), who’s still alive at 91. The woman on the far right is my Great-Aunt Christina. Beside her is my mother, who was 12 when this picture was taken in 1946.
Thus, when I think about my name it’s all these details that come to mind. It’s my little road to the past leading to people I never knew, but people to whom I share a tie that’s more than just blood.