Grandpa and Haggard

This past Thursday evening I made a quick trip to Brenham, TX to meet my family for Marty Haggard’s show, A Tribute to My Dad, Merle Haggard….and what a great show it was! He sang many of his Dad’s hits, a few lesser known classics, and told stories about his dad and the songs he wrote. He prefaced the show by noting he hoped the show was as much of a trip down memory lane for the crowd as it was for him. Judging by the joy on the audiences’ faces, the singing, clapping, and occasional one-off conversation between Marty and members of the crowd, I believe he accomplished his goal. For me personally, I know for a fact his show was the ultimate trip down memory lane for my grandmother, mother and even myself, regardless of the nearly six decade age difference.

Allow me to back up. Mom grew up in southern Michigan in the household of a guitar playing, Johnny and Merle singing, hardworking, car salesman. Mom and her brothers often talk about hearing their dad and his friends strumming guitars and singing tunes in the basement through the air ducts from upstairs. Bo, her brother was once asked “How do you know the words to all these old country songs?” His reply: “When you go to sleep hearing them every night you don’t have much choice.”

As they moved around Michigan and across the US Grandpa’s love for music traveled with him from place to place. He always had a guitar nearby and greeted any opportunity to play and sing with and for friends with open arms; entertaining and having fun were two of his greatest joys. One of Mom’s high school friends, Becky, once remarked, “The Schultz house was just a place you wanted to be, the love there was palpable; there was always a camera close by, music and Mr. Schultz playing the guitar.”

Fast-forward some years later and I entered the world. My memories of Grandpa aren’t much different from those above. His Martin D-35 was always nearby, whether at his car lot in Houston or at his home in Weimar. He would sing and play just about every classic country song produced, on three chords, and if he forgot the lyrics he’d carry right on with his own version.

His CD collection was larger than most record shops and he would shuffle through six discs at a time on his stereo in the barn…anything from Bob Wills, to Merle Haggard, to Johnny Cash. Just like Mom and her brothers it was inevitable that I would know all the lyrics to music produced 20 to 35 years before I entered the world while riding my bike or shooting guns near the barn.

In addition to his CD collection I often remember sorting through the hundreds of albums stored under their record player and contemplating which one to play next. Sometimes it was a game and Grandpa would rattle off a song and I’d see how fast I could locate the artist and album. Needless to say I got pretty speedy over the time…and thanks to this game I often associate album covers with songs when I listen to old country music today.  

Occasionally Grandpa would pick my brother and I up from school and the cassette player in his ‘97 Chevy was humming some flavor of what I would call classic country, but what he would say is good music. Either way, at ages 68, 10, and 8, we’d all sing along to light-hearted tunes such as Roly Poly or deeper songs like Sing Me Back Home as we headed down CR 222 to their house.

Music and guitars were so near and dear to Grandpa that about 10 or 12 years ago my mom surprised Grandpa one weekend by showing him that she could sing and play right along with him after taking guitar lessons for the past several months. At 45 she not only learned to play the guitar, but learned to play the songs she grew up on and the songs Grandpa sang.

It’s my belief that the reason Grandpa enjoyed music so much is because he was a creative. He constantly encouraged us grandchildren to find what sparks our creativity. While I didn’t take the music route as I have no musical ambition and can’t carry a tune in a bucket I do appreciate good music…and that is just the world Grandpa Jim introduced me to. My fondest memories of Grandpa will always be him playing the guitar and singing songs.

Today, most call me an old soul, and I’ll admit I LOVE classic country. There are certain songs and especially certain artists that will always remind of Grandpa, Merle Haggard being one of them.

So thanks Marty, for taking my family for a trip down memory lane. It’s amazing to me how one genre of music and a handful of artists can have such a lasting impact through the generations. Music for me provides wonderful memories of those who are no longer with us – I know two gentlemen that were smiling down extra big that night, Grandpa and Merle.

Here are a few pictures of Grandpa Jim over the years doing what he loved!

 

Myself, Marty, Grandma, and Mom after the show. Marty asked me “How old are you?” I replied “23”. He said, “….and you really like this music”. Absolutely Marty, absolutely.

A Special Gift for a Special Lady

Grandma Elli turns 80 tomorrow, but with the thought of the upcoming weekend being pretty busy celebrating her birthday, I made a quick trip to Columbus Tuesday evening and surprised her with an early birthday gift that has been in the works for quite sometime!

So here it goes….

Although we are 58 years apart, she is one of my best friends and I am incredibly lucky to have such a spunky/fun/caring, Grandma. She’s the coolest! So for her 80th birthday I wanted to do something special, after all a person only turns 80 once!

So what do you get a volunteerin’-lawn mowin’-fast walkin’- Solitaire playin’, Wheel of Fortune watchin’-crossword puzzle solvin’, Grandma for her 80th birthday?!?!? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but what I ended up doing for her was one of the most rewarding/overwhelming/humbling/fun projects I’ve ever done.

So what could this project possibly be?

Well, for the past several months I have worked on compiling 80 years of written memories from Grandma’s friends and family, with the intention of placing them in a book. I simply sent out out a letter (you can check out the letter here) to her nearest and dearest asking them to write down their favorite Elli memory, and let me tell ya I was thunderstruck at the response I got!

I received memories from Grandma’s old co-workers, several friends, present and past neighbors, childhood/high school/college friends of Grandma’s children and grandchildren, family friends, and of course numerous family members…each one so special and unique. In fact, I received so many letters and pictures that it all wouldn’t fit in one book! I guess Dad wasn’t lying in his letter when he said, “You could write a book about Ms. Elli and it would probably be a bestseller.” Shortly into this project it became apparent that was the case.

So after a couple books, nearly 100 pictures, many heartwarming stories, kind words, and funny memories later, Grandma has a collection of memories that stretch from Michigan to Texas (and every stop in between), the 1930s to present day, old friends to new friends, and from people she hasn’t seen in years, to people she saw yesterday. It is truly the neatest record of a special lady that has touched many lives, been on many adventures, shared a many of laughs, and is loved by many.

I couldn’t thank everyone enough that has been part of this project – for taking the time to write down a memory, send pictures, and just for the thought and time that went into each and every letter that I received. They all brought many laughs, smiles, and a few tears (happy tears!), that when placed together tell the story 80 years in the making of a truly wonderful, wonderful lady that I have the honor to call my Grandma.

To say I was touched by this project would be an understatement. Grandma Elli is so loved and we are incredibly blessed to have the best friends and family around. You guys made this gift so much more than I ever dreamed it could be! Thanks to you, it is a priceless treasure today, tomorrow, and in years to come and a timeless gift that spans eight decades of ever-changing times. You guys are AWESOME!!

On a side note, I would also like to say I thoroughly enjoyed all the “happy mail” that I received over the past 4 months due to this project. I couldn’t wait to open my mailbox or email each day and find another “Elli Memory”. I read each letter multiple times and smiled endlessly while putting it all together. So if you would like to keep up that happy vibe, my address is…ha just kidding!

Overall, my favorite part of the entire project was the the opportunity it gave me to connect with all the special people in Grandma’s life through letters, emails, and phone calls; some I knew and others I now know. No doubt, Grandma has an awesome tribe of people! Such a fun, fun project that I’ll cherish forever!

Happy 80th Birthday, Grandma!

 

Freeze Frame Time

Photo Album

Mom calls me the family historian, archivist and videographer. I’ll take that title because I love anything family. Over the years I’ve organized 8,800 photos, transferred 25 home videos to DVDs and traced back our family history among other things. In today’s fast paced, digital world it easy for such treasures to be overlooked. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed preserving family memories and learning something new in the process from a new skill to something about the family. Check it out below!

Photo Albums

I’m not too sure what other families are like, but we have a plethora of pictures….thanks Mom. I’m talking shoebox after shoebox documenting birthdays, vacations, accomplishments, family gatherings, milestones and everything in between. Mom documented every event in its entirety; not just in my brother’s and I’s lifetime, but years before that as well. She was always prompt in getting the pictures developed (what an ancient word), labeling the outside of the envelope and neatly placing them in photo boxes in chronological order. I would often sit on her office floor (while she worked..sorry Mom) and look through the thousands of pictures. I would laugh at the funny ones, ask about those who I didn’t have an opportunity to know and reminisce on great memories. Going through these pictures while Mom tried to work will always be one of my favorite memories growing up.

Once I was done looking at pictures for the day I followed Mom’s strict orders of:

  1. Making sure I didn’t get my fingerprints on the photos
  2. Putting them back in the correct envelope, in order
  3. Placing the envelopes back in chronological order in the photo box
  4. Neatly stacking the boxes back in the closet

Like most moms, those pictures are very special to her, so I didn’t mind being extra careful when looking through them. Even as I grew older I still enjoyed grabbing a box and taking a trip down memory lane. Well, winter break of my freshman year of college I was home for 3 weeks. I began looking through some pictures and suddenly an idea struck me. Why not put all of our pictures in albums and label them. That way they are protected, labeled, in chronological order and convenient to look through….and that’s just what I did!

I began by organizing every picture before placing them in albums because what a bummer it would be to be in 2007 and stumble across pictures from 1997….if that were the case my OCD would have had me start over until it was right, so it was worth it to approach it from this angle. Once I had all the pictures organized, I put them in albums and labeled every single picture (who’s in it, the event and the date). Well, 8,800 pictures, 42 photo albums, 10 black ball point pens and 3 weeks later and this project was complete! I had a lot of fun doing this project and the part I enjoyed most was hearing the story behind the different pictures. Whenever I stumbled across a photo that I was unsure of the people or date, I would ask my parents. They never gave me a simple answer because how could they? Pictures freeze frame time and bring back a flood of memories! After a minute long story of who the people were, how they met, what they do now and a comment of “I should call them”…I labeled the picture and moved on to the next one.

We ended up dedicating an entire bookshelf to these albums. Not only are they more convenient to look at, but family and friends who come over actually look at them too! They are no longer hidden away in a dark closet collecting dust.

Still today in this digital age Mom takes a million pictures, but I’m glad she does. I make a conscious effort to not get pictures developed (because who does that), but to print them from the digital camera, off our phones and even off of Facebook where friends and family have tagged us in pictures. I’ve continued to label each one and so far I haven’t gotten behind 🙂

Home Videos

A few years prior to organizing all the photos, I transferred our home videos from VHS to DVDs to preserve them. This project took me about 2 weeks and we ended up with around 25 DVDs….it’s like a series box set of “The Melvins”…ha! Just like the photos, it was a trip down memory lane with each home video. We have over 23 years of memories from Little League, ballet, deer hunting, backyard shenanigans, parties and everything in between. One thing I learned that’s really no surprise, just confirmation…my brother and I marched to the beat of our own drum. Despite the hours of embarrassing footage, I transferred them all.

I did this project about 7 years ago and just in that short time frame, the world and technology has changed once again. I’m sure in the near future I will need to transfer our memories to the next great technological invention.

DVD Slideshows

When I was about 12 years old I taught myself video editing software and kept learning until present day. Initially I would make DVD slideshows of family vacations complete with music to fit the theme. We would all gather in the family room and watch my work of art project on the screen. Upon watching that DVD I would begin another! As I got more advanced I began creating slideshows of my grandparent’s and parent’s life, from the time they were born to present day. Each one was about 30 minutes long and I was very intentional in the music I picked to go with the pictures based on of course their taste in music, but personality and the meaning of the song as well. It was inevitable that Mom would get teary eyed watching them, especially when I ended one with Alan Jackson’s “Remember When”. When my brother graduated high school I made him a DVD and it was definitely my most advanced one. In addition to pictures and effects, I included clips from home videos, graduation and well wishes from friends and family members that mom captured at his graduation party. It was about 45 minutes long….don’t say I’ve never done anything for you Travis! Of course I made my own, similar to his for my high school graduation 🙂

I really enjoy creating these DVDs and the possibilities are endless. In the process I have preserved quite a few pictures since I have digital copies of the pictures I used in each video.

Ancestry

To round out my obsession with…well family, I traced back our family history (on all sides) to when we arrived in the United States on boats! Most of my research was done through Ancestry.com, but I did use a variety of other resources as well. It was a very neat and rewarding experience.

I can’t tell you how many censuses, draft cards, city directories, marriage licenses, birth and death certificates I went through to trace everything back. What seemed like such a minor detail on each of these records uncovered so much. However, some of these neatest records I found were passenger lists, communication of relatives experiences while away at war, newspaper headlines talking about members of my family and photos that not one person in the family has ever seen. I have binders and binders filled with various documents that when put together, tell a great story!

I also communicated quite a bit with other members in the Ancestry.com community that would be considered distant cousins. We helped each other fill in the missing holes in our trees, swapped stories and shared valuable bits of information that helped move our research along. In addition, I participated in Ancestry DNA which of course takes your DNA and lets you know your ethnicity. I was confident I knew my ethnicity, but it was still neat to see just what percentage I was and it also helped me further connect with distant relatives.

Unfortunately, I haven’t done any more research since I traced everything back and there is still so much to uncover. I’m sure sometime in the future I’ll pick back up where I left off and discover more cool things.

Recap

It’s fair to say I love learning about my family. Through each project I’ve had the opportunity to gain new skills, but most importantly I’ve had the opportunity to connect with present and past relatives. There has been a lot of crossover among the projects that has allowed me to understand the various stories in full.

It is possible to freeze frame time because each time I look through an album, laugh at a home video, watch a DVD or sift through records I feel a connection to the people and places.

Generat(ing)ional Memories

I spend a lot of time on Pinterest (no not planning my wedding) but looking at inspiration for different projects that range from things I want to do one day, to your standard DIY project, to what to cook for dinner tomorrow night….It’s fair to say I get a lot of great ideas and I’m your typical women that every man has a fit at when you ask him to help you build this “simple project”. Those projects always seem to turn into hours worth of effort and frustration because the plans don’t make sense or better yet, there are no plans all together! It makes for grand day….ha!

But one of my fondest Pinterest projects is a generational photo. A common theme of many of my posts is how much my family means to me so when I stumbled across this idea I knew I had to pursue it. It took a little coordination and discipline on my part because both my brother and Grandma lived out of state and each had trip planned to Texas in the near future….not to mention coordinating outfits, location, camera angles, etc, etc.

In addition, it’s not a project you can knock out in one day because you take the first picture, print it (poster size), frame it, take a picture of the next generation, print it (poster size), frame it, etc, etc and I wanted the timing to be perfect so that I could finish up the project when my brother and Grandma were in Texas.

Now I’m no professional photographer, but it all worked out great and was such a fun project! My next goal is to do the same for my parents’ siblings and their families as a gift to both of my grandmothers.

Check it out below!

 

Generations
Grandma Elli (Mom’s Mom), Mom and Me
Generations
MawMaw Melvin (Dad’s Mom), Dad & Mom and Travis & Me
Generations
Grandma Elli, Dad & Mom and Travis & Me
Generations
Both the Grandmas, Dad & Mom and Travis and Me