My grandparents' shocking first date.

December 8, 2017

 "Once upon a time there was a farm girl -- the youngest of six kids.  She was shy and thought she was ugly.  She had some very glamorous older sisters and some very rowdy older brothers. They all lived in Aroostook County, Maine.


Imagine rural Northern Maine farm country in the 1920s -- all hands on deck to harvest potatoes for 6 weeks in the fall -- schools closed, housewives left their homes.  Every man, woman, and child headed to the fields.


Long days spent bent over, digging potatoes out of the earth by hand.


Generation after generation.


Paid by the barrel.


The girl did, too. For those 4 to 8 weeks, she traded her smart dresses for a black-and-red wool plaid coat, heavy pants, work boots, and gloves. Up to fourteen hours a day.  Most workers ate hearty picnic lunches in the dirt fields.  Some farms fed their workers huge hot lunches at midday.

One day a tall dark stranger (okay, there were no strangers in the small farm town) -- a tall dark older boy noticed her and asked her on a date -- and she said yes! 


For their first date, Percy flew her over those potato fields in a post office airplane! According to the Smithsonian Institution web site, the US Postal Service took over air mail services from the Army in 1918. The promise of the mail drove decisions to light landing strips, push for electric beacons, and floodlight tall buildings. If the planes couldn't fly at night, the mail didn't actually move any faster than by land. The airmail pilots were considered a "suicide club" and we can only imagine what Sybil thought of all of this! 


Nobody remembers how soon after that first date it was that they married. They did not "live happily ever after" -- nobody does! Haha. But they had a family of their own and a farm of their own -- where Sybil fed the farmhands enormous meals at noon -- and they did good works in their community. " 


This is a bedtime story I told my kids, and on its first telling, they were shocked that the story was about their own family! Thirty years ago I gave Gram & Gramp "grandparent books." They filled them out and I thanked them. I looked it over and was delighted, then put it on a shelf. They were both gone by the time I read the four lines about their first date, and I have so many questions! 


Family history gives kids a foothold in history. Kids see their role within a larger context, and learn the value of their actions and contributions. It humanizes the players, too, to trace the path to the present. The gruff terse one, and the doting, perhaps nervous one. Our kids won't know about any of that, its importance to us, or what their elders were like as people -- unless we tell them.


Consider capturing your family history. I have a start-to-finish process all mapped out.  Check it out HERE.




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