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Getting the family story from my surly grandmother

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by three_bags_full, Jun 9, 2015.

  1. three_bags_full

    three_bags_full Well-Known Member

    So, my 80-year old grandmother -- the one I caught on the roof cleaning the gutters about five years ago -- is quite surly in her old age. She's never been afraid to tell you what she thinks about any topic, including the opinions of others, etc. Basically, she's an asshole, and she knows it.

    But she's never shared with me the family history. Grandpa is gone, my father is dead and my aunt and I are not close enough to discuss it. And it's a pretty deep history.

    Her parents, uncles and all but one of her aunts (five in total, I think) were all murdered at some point. I don't think it was all at the same time, but the deaths weren't very far apart. Her father's murder was particularly gruesome, from what I understand. From the bits of conversation I've overheard over the years, he was dismembered and his remains were found by a fisherman in a nearby river. He was identified by buttons and hooks on his overalls, apparently.

    But I have no idea why. I don't know if they were in the mafia (which is highly unlikely for Depression-era farmers from central Alabama, I think), or they were into drugs or liquor or what. Because she's never said more than two sentences to me about it. She was raised by her surviving aunt, who was an abused drunk who died 20 years ago.

    I've always wanted to get her away from everyone else and talk about it, but the opportunity hasn't presented itself. She's said before, "I'll have to tell you about old times, sometime."

    Since I haven't spent enough time with her in recent years, and I'm about to move much father away (central Kansas), I wanted to spend a bit of time with her this weekend before we get knee-deep in summer travel, etc. She loves to gamble, so I decided I'd take her to Biloxi or Tunica for the weekend to spend a little time with her. She didn't want to do that, but she agreed to go to dinner with us Saturday night.

    After putting it together, I thought about asking her about it, but I have absolutely no idea how to bring up the subject. I can't just say, "Granny, how's your lobster? By the way, why was your entire family murdered?"

    Any suggestions?
  2. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    You may try to get her to write down family history or have her tell the tales and you write it so your kids and their kids will have a sense of place.

    Depression era people aren't naturally talkative in my experience but you might get lucky.
  3. Vombatus

    Vombatus Well-Known Member

    Maybe tell her you are thinking about getting in to genealogy. Ask her if she has a family bible that lists a lot of her relatives. And then go from there and see if you can learn some of the stories of some of them, maybe starting with her parents.
  4. three_bags_full

    three_bags_full Well-Known Member

    That might work. My "real" grandfather just up and left when my dad was 10 or 12 (she later married the man I knew as grandpa). I could ask a few questions about him, too.
  5. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    Good luck. That sounds like it could be a fascinating story. My grandmother is about the same age and an intense teetotaler. I know it has something to do with her father, but have no idea what the real reason is.

    Off topic, where are you moving? I grew up in Central Kansas.
  6. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    If all else fails, level with her: "C'mon, Grandma. I gotta know this stuff."
  7. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    Also, you could hold her out a window. By her ankles.
    spikechiquet likes this.
  8. three_bags_full

    three_bags_full Well-Known Member

    We're moving to Manhattan. I'm being stationed at Ft. Riley.
  9. three_bags_full

    three_bags_full Well-Known Member

    Manhattan. I'm being stationed at Ft. Riley.
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    If she is a surly old coot, I wouldn't tiptoe around it.

    Ideally get her talking about old times. What was it like growing up on the farm? What kinds of animals? Etc. Then bring up what you want to ask.
  11. Twirling Time

    Twirling Time Well-Known Member

    I hope "How's your lobster" isn't a euphemism.
    Vombatus likes this.
  12. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    Nice. It's not Lawrence, but still a cool college town. Much nicer place to live than most towns that size.
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