Gathering stories at the modern hearth

In some traditions, winter is a time for families to gather round the hearth and sing and tell, and retell, their stories. It is winter here and, appropriately,  I am busy  recounting, recording and researching family history,  stories, myths and legends. It is fascinating ‘work’, but very exhausting for a scatterbrain, like myself, who has a disinclination for the orderliness and systemic approach needed for successful genealogical study. What that means is that I keep forgetting names and dates and things like which person is my great-aunt and which person is my great- aunt’s second husband’s brother.

Anyway, I do the best I can, and hope that great-aunt’s second husband’s brother, dead for ever so many years, will forgive me 🙂

As I find information, I tell it to my family. Some of my regular followers may remember that I am the only one of my family in Christchurch. The rest of my immediate family live across the ditch, better known as the Tasman Sea, in Australia. So, for story telling, we cannot gather round a true hearth. Instead, we gaze in to the glow of our individual computer screens, and the investigation and celebration of our common narrative begins. (We would do Skype video if our broadband were faster and cheaper! ) There is laughter and sadness  and a plethora of memories, and, sometimes, as we chat, we gain new insights and knowledge. Other times, we become confused and lost in trying to understand the whys and wherefores of  our family roots.

Here is a typical Skype conversation of an evening. This one concerns a death notice I found for our great great grandmother who was referred to as a relict.

“[31/07/2013 12:56:52 a.m.] Sister: i like in the papers past the death notice “a relict of”
 Me: yes
 Me: yes
 Sister: it sounds like a relic
Me: it is
Me: it means a left over
Me: a relic
Sister: like u r old and left over frm thr couple that was
Me: a remnanat

Sister: heheeheh

Me: remnant
Me: also widow, or dowager
Sister: omg it really truely means it
Sister: hilar
Me: Ye s\
Me: hilair

Sister: okgtb
[31/07/2013 12:58:29 a.m.] Sister : nite nite”

The conversation happens after midnight, my time, and has no regard for grammar, for punctuation or for spelling; it is free-form, as if we truly were side by side discussing our latest find in the family story.

Here is another story time from our modern-day hearth, the computer screen. This time, my mother and I are engaged in a tale of her meeting with royalty.

“[25/07/2013 9:41:54 p.m.]  My Mother:  you all know the story of how I was introduced to Lord  Louis ofcourse
Me: You can tell me again
Me: because I probably don’t remember it properly
My Mother: well Gwen was sick and Uncle Ernie decided to take me along to the Civic Reception for the Mountbattens ,I was introduced and Lord M gave my hand a shake   very Royal  it was all over very Quickly really I think they were on their way back to England
Me: What did you wear?
My Mother: probably my best dress it wasnt an evening affair
Me: what was your best dress? Do you remember? Did you need gloves and a hat?
Me: It must have been a quiet visit to Christchurch because nothing is coming up about it on the internet
My Mother: No Ithink it was rather informal really and very short Idont recall my dress  or having hat or gloves”

And thus the conversation went, and the strands of family history were considered and sorted and reworked, much as though we were by the fireside of old, working together on the spinning and weaving of sturdy, new cloth  to keep us warm in the days ahead . Through some further investigation on my part, I was able to tell my mother, later, that the Mountbattens made a fleeting  visit to Christchurch in 1946. And we, my mother and I, went on to recall the time she and my father  met Queen Elizabeth, on a walkabout,  in Christchurch in 2002.

Much of my mother’s Christchurch, the physical structure of it, was destroyed by the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.  The churches she knew, the schools she went to; all rubble.  However, I was very pleased to be able to tell her, from my recent family research,  that the home where she spent the first  years of her life is still standing. As is the adjacent building which was her father’s first shop in Christchurch. The building, which is currently home to a hairdressing business, is being repaired and strengthened to new earthquake standards. So not all is lost to time, and, just to be sure this piece of our history will be around for future story telling and reminiscing, I took some photos and uploaded them to the web, my flash drive and my external hard drive.

© silkannthreades


63 thoughts on “Gathering stories at the modern hearth

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      So true. I actually have a hearth rug from my grandmother’s house. It is placed near the piano and, do you know, this hearth rug moves all the time; no one walks on it, but every day it has wriggled its way in to a new position. I think it must be missing a truth hearth. 😀 Shall I offer it a position under the computer? See if that helps it to settle down!!!

  1. Heather in Arles

    Thank you for this. Remi and I have been doing quite a bit of sorting on the same subject this past week. Unfortunately, alone and not with the charming conversations that you are enjoying. It is important to remember and record…

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I wish you well and lots of those beautiful Bisous.Putting together the stories is tough work sometimes. Especially when one comes to the deaths. But there is fun too. I had another charming conversation with my aunt the other day; by phone. But we finished the discussion more confused that when we began it. 🙂

  2. teamgloria


    this. is. wonderful.

    the Mountbattens – and a Best Dress (hat and gloves)

    and a shop from the 20s where the hearth once stood.

    loving your tales.



    tg_ x

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      And did I mention there is a mystery too? In the shop floor; a safe that no one knows how to open (safely…oops, sorry). Where is Miss Fisher when one needs her?!

        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Speaking of mysteries……Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey……..any connection do you think with the other Miss Pym? I don’t think so…but???

        2. teamgloria

          it’s all swimming in the zeitgeist of inspiration……things merge and (true answer? we don’t know but we felt like being all whimsy-woozy)

  3. utesmile

    Skype and new technology are replacing the old sit together today, as the families are split in different countries. I usually phone my sister and my mum. I have a small family left. I used to love to listen to my grandma’s stories,and she used to tell me them 2 or 3 times on my demand. The time they stole apples from the communal garden, or when she came home late with her fiance, and got slapped on th eface by her mum in front of her fiance…..I loved those stories and wished I had written them down, as I don’t remember them all. My mum still has good stories form the war and how life was for them as young girls. History in that sense is so alive. I can understand how you ask your mum things you have heard many times before! ALso I am in a different country to my family which makes sitting together hard and only possible in holidays for example.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      You have some lovely memories of your family story times and maybe if you write down the parts you remember, other parts may come back as well. Oh, I am thinking, lovely snippets of your family story illustrated with your beautiful flower photos 😉
      I think you will be on holiday with your family soon. I am sure you will have lots of stories to tell and enjoy together. Have fun 🙂

      1. utesmile

        Thank you very much, I am seeing my sister first, and them my mum, I am sure it will be lovely and lots of chatting! Now that is a nice idea with the pictures and stories! 🙂

  4. Virginia Duran

    It’s true, winter is for telling stories. I enjoy reading about your personal ones, your sister, your town (It made me feel sad that your school doesn’t exist anymore) and I get the feeling, as you commented before, that wordpress may be the modern version of the “fireplace”.
    Do you get to see your sister in person from time to time?

  5. realruth

    How wonderful to have an old family home still standing when so much of Christchurch has been lost. Today I watched the final destruction of the building across the road from our office. So sad to think of all the memories being lost in the demolition.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      It’s almost a miracle to still have a piece of family history. So many memories have gone with the buildings. You will find it strange when you go to Norwich (and other places too I guess) to see so many old buildings again. But I imagine it will be restorative to your spirit to connect with traditions and ancient buildings once more .

  6. Clanmother

    Writing family history is not a task for the fainthearted because it is a story of time passing. Our time…

    We long for security that comes from gathering around the hearth where the stories can be told, remembered, savoured. Yet, there is a poignant knowledge that the present is ever moving forward, and that we are already relinquishing the past without fully understanding its significance. When we write our history, we emerge ourselves in creating our personal legends and mythologies. I am so glad that you are sharing this massive undertaking with our community – it will encourage us all to tell our stories…

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am encouraged by all the others in the community who are writing their stories but, you are right; it is a massive undertaking and I am often fainthearted about it. It is something that I can only do from time to time, for short periods of time. Perhaps our forbears understood the enormity of the task which is why the telling of stories was usually confined to the winter months.

  7. leapingtracks

    Thank you for giving us these wonderful windows into your family history. I can just picture/imagine the exchanges between you and your mother and sister – we’re all around that hearth with you! 🙂

        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Story telling is a basic human need ; or that is how I see it. It has been with us forever and I think it’s wonderful that we have the technology to do this on a global yet still intimate way.

        2. Gallivanta Post author

          Story telling is a basic human need ; or that is how I see it. It has been with us forever and I think it’s wonderful that we have the technology to do this on a global yet still intimate way.

  8. tiny lessons blog

    Loved the stories exchanged on the computer! That’s story telling in modern times when families often don’t live in close proximity to each other any more. I used to love to sit with my grandpa when I was a teen – he was telling me stories from the early 1900s…about the family on my dad’s side and the wars he’d been in. I am trying to pass on some of these stories to my son whose life is and will be far from his northern European roots.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      How lovely that you had that time by your grandpa’s side. We lived far from our grandparents and only saw them every few years, so we missed out on those intimate transfers of family stories. I think that Grandparents love telling their stories to little ones because children like repetition and rarely say,”Oh, I have heard that one before!” So glad you are trying to pass on the stories 🙂

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      The Skype conversations make me smile too. Some of them get very muddled, but they are precious. Do you Skype or do something like Facetime with Little Man?

  9. Katherine's Daughter

    This makes me want to video my mother telling her old stories. I feel like I’ve heard them so many times (I’m starting to repeat myself to my kids too!) but someday they will be priceless. Thank you! Joanne

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Excellent idea! The stories are repeated but, with every repetition ,there is something new to be discovered and enjoyed, if we listen closely. When we are children we learn to read and hear stories over and over again, and we love it. I think we can have the same approach to family stories and equal pleasure in the retelling.

        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Some of the records and stories that I am finding bring me to tears, but tears are part of our narrative too and need to be cherished.

  10. andrea

    Fabulous pictures, these all images speak for usually
    I wish you a nice day and feel safe.
    Andrea sends you many hugs
    Is this your House?

        1. andrea

          I had a good Tag.Danke of the demand?
          So today, what did you do?
          much was done and at home watching an old movie
          It is pleased at home than outside.
          Sincerely Andrea

        2. andrea

          Yes the old movies that were already classic.
          Was also shopping on Thursday Markt.Hab a long day.
          Sincerely Andrea

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