Monday, January 2, 2012


Georgia & James in 1937
with his brother Worthington (left)
I have a panoramic black and white photograph of a small town in northeastern Kansas where my maternal grandmother lived. The photo curls into a tight tube of heavy, yellowed paper. Flatten it, and you'll see more than a hundred people not smiling, as was the custom, and squinting into the sun. The town no longer exists; the photo was taken before the town disappeared under a deluge of rerouted water. The state constructed a dam, flooding the small town and forcing the relocation of the residents. As I child I would hear this story and envision her father's grocery store and a schoolhouse under water with fish swimming through the broken windows.

Georgia, my grandmother, was visiting her uncle in Chicago in 1936. A 26-year-old second-grade teacher, she loved her students and turned down offers of marriage just to keep her job. She first met my grandfather, James, on a hot summer Saturday night while sitting on her uncle's front porch. He was tall and handsome, wore a black hat, and was thirteen years her senior. A mailman by day and previously a speakeasy buster at night, he sold the confiscated liquor on the side. They were married the following Wednesday after an eleven-day courtship and cherished each other for the rest of their days.

My mother's parents were 42 and 55 when she was born an only child in 1952. James was born the youngest of twelve in Virginia and was already losing brothers and sisters by the time my mother entered this world. His advanced age and poor health made travel difficult; most of his family never laid eyes on her. My mother cannot even recall the name of his parents.

Only a few scattered stories remain today of my family before my grandparents. A set of china, a Civil War-era quilt, and some portraits we can barely identify. No deeper roots, no stories of how they got here, no trace of their lives before America. What remains are only the questions and ponderings of how we came to be where we are, of how we came to be who we are.

As published in What You're Writing of Baltimore's Urbanite Magazine in January 2012. 


  1. This is beautiful and touched the part of me that makes me the family historian. No one else in my family is sentimental. :) Congrats on the publish!

  2. Congrats on the publication, Val! Welcome to the club! Wonderful piece. It's a shame that so much of our lineage gets lost or forgotten. I suppose the record keeping is now in our hands.

  3. Congratulations, Ms. Hartman! It The piece looks great on the Urbanite site. I look forward to picking up my hard copy. I much appreciate the other implication in your piece: maybe we'll have to be record keepers now, as Reggie suggests, but ultimately, we'll be forgotten, too, leaving only a quilt here, a photo there, a blog post ....