|Direct From the Family Radio Website (see below)|
Genealogists need to keep in mind – especially when talking with older relatives – that even the unlikeliest verbal references or the most casual of off-hand remarks can act as “memory triggers” for family stories. Here’s an example –
This afternoon, we picked up my mother (who will be 94 next Christmas) at her apartment for her weekly mid-day excursion to the grocery store, the pharmacy and to lunch. As we drove down the road toward the shopping center where the grocery store is located, we came upon one of those temporary electronic road signs that highway departments put up alerting motorists to “coming events.” The sign flashed three messages in rapid succession over and over again:
SAT MAY 21 6 AM – 6 PM.
In an off-hand joking fashion, I remarked, “Why bother? After all, everybody knows that the world’s coming to an end on Saturday!”
I then proceeded to tell her about the May 21 “End of the World” story that’s been making the rounds on the national news media and about which I blogged way back on March 28th. (In case you missed it, you can catch up at the official Family Radio site here. They’re a religious radio station and are promoting the” event” and have a countdown timetable on their website. Apparently, all those “Gay Pride” events are the telltale signs that this is all coming to pass…)
Anyway, back to the story:
“That reminds me,” she said, “about when your grandmother called me on the telephone to say that the End of the World was coming, so we all needed to come to her house to be together as a family when it happened.”
I nearly drove off the road.
It was a story I had never heard, no matter how many times we had talked about the small, quirky things that she remembered about the woman who was her mother-in-law and who she always called “Mrs. Wolfgang.”
That “end of the world” phone call from her mother-in-law. As we talked, it slowly came into place. She vaguely remembered that it was probably before my grandfather’s stroke and death in 1947. It was probably after she was married, so it was post-August 1943. It was probably a radio program of some sort that my grandmother had been listening to, but it was too late for Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” which aired in 1938.
She couldn’t remember the specific details, but remembers going with my father to her mother-in-law’s house because of that phone call. So they could be together as a family when the End came.
For me, it’s more than just a story. In a way, it’s more insight into my grandmother’s world view. My grandmother grew up as one of the youngest of the five surviving siblings of her mother’s 13 children. She was an Irish Catholic with minimal education, and with an Irish peasant’s deep and abiding faith in magical things. She faithfully put the statue of St. Anthony in the upstairs window every laundry day – you could be sure it wouldn’t rain, since St. Anthony wouldn’t let her down. She had “relics” that had been touched to the garments of St. Therese of Lisieux that she fervently believed would bring my grandfather back to health. She believed in curses and incantations and that if you did things in a certain way while saying certain things – just as night follows day, the thing you wanted to happen would happen.
Then something untoward happened. Apparently it was a radio program, but I can’t be sure until I research the story in the newspapers of the time. In any case, it generated a phone call from my grandmother to my mother with the message that the world was coming to an end and it happened sometime between 1943 and 1947.
A while later, after listening to my mother’s story, I asked another question. I wanted to know about my father’s sister and her family – my grandmother’s only daughter.
“What about Mildred?” I wanted to know. “Was she there?”
“I don’t think so,” my mother said. “I don’t think she invited her.”