Portland Rambles: Clinging to the Edge

Portland Rambles: Clinging to the Edge

In this week's edition of Portland Rambles, we take a trip to the edge of the Peninsula. The Eastern Prom hovers over Casco Bay and may just be the view that seals the deal for many who call Portland home. As a kid I remember looking up at the Prom from the Ferry and imagining what it might be like to live in one of those beautiful homes or even in the towering apartment complex that looked both out of place and enticing at the same time.

Back at it ...

Well - here we are, seven months after my last post in this space and there's honestly no excuse for the hiatus other than this. In the last few months my life has been full of changes and, I suppose, time spent figuring out the #thingsthatcount to me most. I've made a big move, struck out on my own, started a new job - and added a couple more new jobs... I'm finding my way in my new space and community and now it's time to get back to the page (or at least back to the keyboard!)

Since we're still in the month of January - a month of new beginnings, resolutions, and bitter temps so cold that your couch and a warm blanket from that overnight bus trip to Scotland are beaconing - here is my promise, or at least my goal. A few times each week there will be new posts to this page. Musings on life, lessons learning from new projects, sights and sounds from my neighborhood rambles, and most definitely thoughts on the stories found tucked away in the forgotten boxes of family photographs. 

To those of you who've been so supportive of this newest step along my journey, thanks for sticking with me and helping me learn that the only real risk in life is not to take any risks at all. I hope you'll join me on these new adventures in celebrating the big, small, ordinary, and extraordinary #thingsthatcount.

Thanks to these creative ladies

Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. For my great, great-grandmother Suzy - it was a love of painting which she passed on to my great-grandmother Betty. I cannot claim to have inherited the painterly eye that these two shared - but my love of photography and writing no doubt stems from their ability to find new ways of expressing themselves and their view of the world. 

Spending their summers first on Block Island and later in Sweden, Maine - these strong, intelligent  women shared their gifts in a way that our family still enjoys on a daily basis generations later. 

They were travelers, explorers, teachers, students, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends and I am so grateful that my story emanates from theirs. This Mother's Day - let's remember the women who came before and honor their stories.

These women ...

Searching for the stories of women in history always adds an element of difficulty – but it’s the kind of difficult we should embrace. Yes – their names change more regularly and there tends to be less documentation of their lives the further back we go – but in the end, where would we be without them?

As a holiday storm bears down on the East Coast I find myself snuggled under a blanket, scouring Ancestry.com for more links to my family history than any sane person might be willing to uncover. I never liked puzzles as a kid – something about all the patience involved with the hours upon hours of staring at seemingly unrelated pieces… just ask my cousin Danielle – she was always the puzzle pro! But there’s something about following the branches of my own family tree that never ceases to engage me in an ever-unfolding story. When I come across a ‘wall’ in the search as I did today when trying to find more details about my great-grandmother Helen – I’m reminded that this is just another opportunity to talk with my own grandmother over Thanksgiving about what she remembers of her mother-in-law and see where that might take us.

While Helen’s story is on-hold until my own grandmother can shine a light into the proverbial darkness, I was able to follow the line of my other great-grandmother, Frances, on my mother’s side of the family back a few more generations to a certain Ellen who in one fell swoop – changed the futures of her family. Born in Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland – Ellen took a chance on a ship bound for the other side of the ocean. Whether on purpose or by chance, she ended up in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada and eventually married a man who hailed from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. How these two met and decided to create a life together is a story I can only hope to uncover at a later date, but what I find equally compelling is that in one generation – Ellen changed the path of her family – a path that through her daughter Barbara, and her daughter Frances, led to my grandmother, mother, and on to me. I won’t romanticize the journey – perhaps it wasn’t a move made by choice at all. But the point here is that five generations of women are linked by Ellen’s journey – and there is something truly special in that – no matter where the story takes us next…
(Originally written on November 27, 2013)

A dose of imagination

As an assignment in grad school back in 2012 I was asked to consider how history might be told creatively. Not that we, as historians, should claim fiction to be truth, but rather that we might explore the silences in what is left behind. What does the document not tell us? Can we imagine how a person might have felt as they sat down to write a letter to a loved one or crafted a public speech? After learning all we can about a person – what more can we do to tell their story in creative ways… this was our task which I took to heart and truly enjoyed as a new and interesting challenge. The result was the following piece centered on my own family history and the imagined conversations left out of the record.

I hope you enjoy the read and that it might serve as a reminder that those who we read about as part of ‘HISTORY’ were individual human beings with all the joys, flaws, creativity, emotion, and yes – even fear – that we experience in our own lives today.

Stories from Home - R. Jeffers

The joy of riffling through albums

Every now and then I spend a morning or evening riffling through family photo albums. Aside from my long-standing love of history – there’s something truly special about feeling surrounded by a family of stories and memories. I feel very lucky to be the defacto ‘keeper’ of much of my family history and hope to share more of the stories and discoveries here in the coming months.