On Mother’’s Day we looked at pictures of all the mothers we know in our family. The oldest picture, one of those glass plates taken in 1882, was of Jennie Sweeting, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother. The girls noted that people in those days didn’t grin at the camera – Jennie’s features are lovely, and the corners of her mouth are way down. You wonder, what’s she thinking about?
With the picture of Jennie, we also found a record of the ten children she bore between 1884 and 1904. The ninth was the kids’ great-great grandma, Eva; the tenth was my beloved Aunt Alice, whose husband was hard on her, and her only daughter died young.
I only knew Alice when she was frail and bent from decades of secretarial work. Other than her great warm love for us nephews, I think her life alone in Fresno was meager.
And all we knew of Jennie, before this week, was my grandma’s memory of her as a tiny old woman who couldn’t get out of bed for the last 10 or 15 years of her life, after the family lost their farm in the Depression.
We had never seen or thought of her as a young woman. We never thought before about her plans and dreams. Now we do wonder about her life on the farm with our grandfather Frank; those 20 years of bearing children continually. And what would Jennie make of my girls, her great-great-great-granddaughters?
It made us feel grateful and gave us a lot to think about.