No Place Like Home

She can remember everything as if it was yesterday. And yet, nearly 70 years have passed.

My mom grew up in Canaan, a small town in upstate New York, living with her parents and three siblings in a home my grandfather built. There were farm animals to feed, events at the grange hall, baseball on the radio and life during wartime.

Now nearing 90, my mom’s short term memory is going, but her long term is clear as a bell. It’s interesting how that happens, isn’t it? She’ll forget what we talked about on our last call, or what she bought at the grocery store that day, but her childhood stories live on, almost as sweet for the smile they put on her face as they are for us as we listen to her.

Learning to ski on the back hills, wipeouts and all. My grandfather’s hunting cabin in Vermont, and the time my grandmother put a full bear skin over her head to scare my mom’s friends (and boy did she!). The times she and her siblings got in trouble for climbing inside the water wheel that powered the house.

Singing in the church choir was something my mom truly cherished growing up. I loved hearing those stories when I was a kid; I was in awe to hear that my mother was the one chosen to sing Ave Maria at Christmas Eve services. My mother, soloist!

Mom lives down south now, but I’m only a couple of hours from Canaan. After talking about it for far too long, we finally planned a day trip during one of her visits to Connecticut. It was a fall day in 2016, and the drive was beautiful as always. We drove down the street she grew up on, past the house where she babysat and around the grounds of the school where her parents first met. We drove along the lake she skated on with friends, and of course, made a stop at the Canaan Congregational Church.

We walked around the quintessential New England brick structure, peered inside, and took plenty of photos. Later, we wrapped up the day with a late lunch, choosing a restaurant on the shore of Quechee Lake where mom remembered shooting darts with friends back in the day. She shared stories of 1940’s Canaan with our waitress, who smiled listening to her fond memories. It was a truly special day.

One year later, in November 2017, a fire destroyed the Canaan Congregational Church. An anchor of the community since 1829, it was devastatingly beyond repair. In early 2018, the congregation voted to demolish and rebuild; in 2019 they approved designs for the new church. Renderings look lovely; it will be a modern structure with plenty of space for worship, meetings and even a wi-fi café.

But it will never be the simple brick church it was. Gone is the gathering spot that held such a special place in my mother’s heart. I’m so glad we made that trip, and that she got to see it one more time.

We never know when we see something for the last time. If it’s something that’s special to you, make that trip. Take the time, and those special places will stay with you forever.

~ Karen

The Sound of the Train…

I was visiting with my father recently, sitting outside on his patio, when we both heard a train whistle in the distance. A slight smile came across his face.

“Whenever I hear the train, I say, ‘Hi, Pop!’” he said, going on to tell me why.

My grandfather worked for the railroad. As the story goes, when he’d almost reached the end of his shift, he would blow the train whistle when he knew he was close enough to home for his kids to hear it. They would then run to the train depot to meet him as he got off of work, and they’d all walk home together. My big, strong grandfather and his gaggle of kids. 

My dad is 89 years old. His father died in 1957. But this wonderful story lives on daily, in the simple sound of a train whistle.

This is why I started Your Stories Ink. Because stories like these are what weave through the fabric of our lives, our histories, our wonderful occasions and inevitable heartbreak. Whenever I hear someone say they don’t have much of a story to tell, I immediately disagree. Everybody does. The ordinary is made extraordinary by the simple fact that it is your version of life and no one else’s. I rejoice in the opportunity to help people see that, and to help capture the stories we all want told and cherished for years to come.

I’ll be heading back up to see Dad soon, and I’ll be sitting down with biography clients as well. Whenever possible I’ll give a glimpse of my projects here in the Your Stories Ink blog. I welcome your feedback along the way!

~ Karen