Thursday, August 23, 2007

Family Myths and Stories

Growing up in San Diego with all of my father's family living in Massachusetts created a situation where my father was the fount of all family knowledge at home - at least until his brother and sisters started visiting us in San Diego during the 1960's. My father was a "kidder" - he would make up stories, or embellish actual stories, usually to make himself look good. Two of the stories he told us were:

1) Story: When he was a young man, he played baseball in high school, for prep schools, in college at Dartmouth, and for semi-pro teams in Fitchburg and Leominster. Fact: His academic career was not mentioned! He had a very checkered academic career - leaving high school before graduation, enrolling in several academies or prep schools (Cushman Academy, Kingsley Prep School, Worcester Academy), and finally getting a high school degree several years later. He said he received a baseball or football scholarship to play at Dartmouth, and enrolled there, but attended only one year. He may have injured his knee during this time that limited his baseball career. At the height of the Depression, the family could no longer support college for him. I have found newspaper articles in the Fitchburg newspaper that report his baseball exploits for the local teams - he was a Catcher.

2) Story: He drove to San Diego in December 1940 in three days from Leominster MA - didn't sleep, ate donuts and hot dogs, and drank coffee to stay awake. He said that he was escaping the cold winters and shoveling snow at his sister's house. Fact: I think most of that is true - he drove across country pretty quickly and ended up at his aunt's house in San Diego. I have the short letter he wrote from Columbus, Ohio - I doubt if the letter made it to San Diego before he did. The possibly true story is that he left quickly due to a failed love and potential fatherhood (as I've written about before).

I guess I should ask my brothers what else they remember - those are pretty tame, aren't they?

My Aunt Geraldine made four audio cassette tapes back in 1990, and I have transcribed them. However, I have them only in a paper copy, since the software I used is obsolete and the data disks are lost. One of the things she mentioned is that her mother always said that someone in the family took the inheritances that were rightfully hers or her family's. This was stated about:

1) Myth: When my father's great-grandfather Isaac Seaver died, his third wife took all of the money and gave it to her relatives. Fact: A family friend and perhaps lawyer, Hamilton Mayo, was the executor of the estate and while the wife got some of the estate, Isaac's four surviving children received $481.71 each.

2) Myth: When her father, Thomas Richmond, died in 1917, her brother Edwin Richmond, took all of the money. Fact: Thomas Richmond died intestate, and the estate totalled $509. There is no record of a distribution to the five living heirs, but it couldn't have been much.

3) Myth: When my father's grandparents, Frank and Hattie Seaver died, their son Harry Seaver squandered all of it. Fact: The family friend, and perhaps lawyer, J. Ward Healey, was the administrator of the estate, and Frederick Seaver received $2,700 as his share.

Frankly, I have absolutely no doubt that the executors and administrators did their duty and distributed the inheritances as required by law. What happened after that - loans, investments, shopping - I have no clue as to what happened.

The most fanciful of the family stories was that my grandmother, Alma Bessie (Richmond) Seaver was descended from Peregrine White, the first English child born in New England in 1620 on board the Mayflower. Everybody snickered and rolled their eyes whenever anyone said this. However, I did enough research to show that it was true - Bess's mother was Julia White, who was the 7th great-granddaughter of Peregrine White of the Mayflower. I really enjoyed presenting the proof of the line (at least to my satisfaction) to my aunts, uncle and cousins at a family get-together in September 1990 in Leominster MA.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, Randy. Separating fact from fiction can be a daunting task in a family of storytellers. On the other hand, wouldn't you rather have a colorful version of an otherwise bland story to pass on? Fortunately, the truth is almost always interesting enough on its own.

Janice said...

Great story Randy!! Most family stories have at least a minimal amount of truth hidden within the "story." Congrats on being able to separate the "wheat from the chaff."


Anonymous said...

What a striking theme runs through the stories about the inheritances. They certainly underscore the point that oral history needs to be borne out by additional context, whether other forms of research, additional oral histories, and the like. I see this kind of thing emphasized on the oral history listserve from time to time.

"Tell me the story about..." may amount, in the end, to "weave me a yarn about" or "Pass on the myth about..."

Oh, and how fun to conclude with the story (Obviouly it's a myth, they say, rolling the eyes) that turns out to be true.

Terry Thornton said...

Enjoyed reading about your family's myths and stories --- and your zinger proof/conclusion! That's always fun to be able to sit back and say, "See. It is true!"

Thanks for sharing this look into your family.

Terry Thornton
Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi

Miriam Robbins said...

I'm not certain, but it seems like the Seavers and the Robbinses have an identical "tall-tale telling" gene!