By Richard Ammon
June 25, 2010
A hundred years ago today my grandparents, Francis and Cora, were married and our immediate family began. I have no family memory beyond that–photos and stories yes but no memories. My paternal great-grandfather died in 1915. My maternal great-grandmother lived to 1938, before my birth. But starting a hundred years ago with the wedding I have living memory because I knew these two people for almost 30 years before they died. I knew them and I know four generations that came from them: Francis and Cora, my father, my siblings and my nephew and nieces.
A century of a family is a sizable chunk of heritage, with countless events and vivid memories of long ago and last week. As I reflect on this time and the people who brought me here I feel connected to 1910, moving back through through real personalities, specific historical events including my parents’ wedding in 1937, their subsequent four child births and countless daily images–collected, as if leafing backward through a photo album to that particular nuptial occasion during Teddy Roosevelt’s administration.
I have a couple of photos of Francis and Cora (photo right) on their wedding day, standing under a tree in rural Pennsylvania looking very posed in their Sunday best with Cora holding a modest bouquet of flowers, no doubt hand picked from her parents garden. (There’s another photo of the newlyweds standing with her parents who appear even more posed and rather disheveled.) I look at the young faces and I fast-forward them into their eighties having weathered the storms of personality differences, six children, two world wars (Francis’ only brother was killed at the end of WWI.), the 1918 flu epidemic, frugal living, chickens, vegetable gardens and painful secrets that no one talked about (until I inquired many years later).
When my generations passes in mid-twenty-first century, my particular line of ancestry name will end–no dynasty, no Ammon descendants. Two of the four of us are gay, one sister had one child and my brother has two girls neither of whom intend to have children. (There are Ammon cousins in Switzerland who are having Ammon babies.) But I expect, in my hoped-for healthy nineties, in 2030 to remember back across twelve decades to long passed people whose lives I think were mostly prescribed to conform to social standards in order to survive. Some of them, I know, longed to break out of those prescripted tracks and live closer to their hearts’ desires, but were caught in looking ‘normal’.
My grandfather wanted to sing opera, my father wanted to play the violin and make art. Both, I believe, wanted to love other men or at least other women and men. Such truths will never be known, and don’t need to be known now. (By the time I grew up, loving other men was acknowledged and in the public.) Cora liked kids, the ones she was schooled for and could teach, but she was fertile and her classroom became confined to home. My own mother achieved more adventure; she felt she was more than a maker of things beyond diapers and dinners. To cure her depression a wise doctor told her to get a job. She did, and did well. After my father died by his own hand, she traveled to Europe, married twice again, opened a real estate office and drove a Winnabago around the country and a volunteer ambulance at home.
My own life is exponentially different than any of theirs, partly because the social world has become more permissive, more open, more technical and more prosperous. My predecessors (some) would love to be with me flying in huge jets to different continents with money to spare for computers, real estate properties and books. Both Francis and Roger (my father) would have loved to help me build or renovate the houses Michael (my life partner of 21 years) l and I have lived in. And the jobs would have been done well since we were all perfectionists.
I reminisce across the span of my family’s years, a century, and I find much quiet satisfaction, some inner mystery, a love of Beethoven and Brahms, tool skills, a diligent work ethic, a desire to learn more than we know, kindness to others, a certain joy of sex, a mild curiosity about the Divine, and a loyalty to this odd vine called the family tree that began, for me a hundred years ago. It seems a good tree to hug.