My grandmother was born a hundred years ago today. I know that because I vaguely remember her birthday, but really because I have her baby cup. It’s a very cool looking cup. The base of the cup has six point to it so it flares out at the bottom. The engraving says, “Evelyn March 11, 1911 From Uncle Charles”. From what I remember, Uncle Charles was the rich uncle from New York who send expensive gifts.
The tradition in our family was that when babies were born, a silver cup was given to them with their name engraved. I think in my generation, it was my grandparents who bought the cups. When I was about eleven or twelve, it dawned on me that my other siblings had baby cups, but I didn’t. When I brought it up, no one believed me. There was a lot of discussion for a while until they realized that somehow, the cup was forgotten when I was born.
That’s when my grandmother offered to give me hers. When she found it, it was dark and tarnished and there was a hole at the top where the handle had been broken. She polished it up and had it repaired. You can see the welding on the inside.
So I don’t have a baby cup with my name on it, but I have something better. We were very close to my grandparents as kids so it was tragic to see my grandmother slip into dementia in her old age. She loved her fancy holiday dinners and I was always paid fifty cents to polish the silver, sometimes I got a candy bar. Invariably, she would have me crack walnuts and stuff them in to dates and roll them in powdered sugar for special appetiser. And when I was a real pain while she was babysitting, I was sent outside to pick violets along the side of the house so she could have some peace and quite. I never felt like I could get away with anything at grandma’s house because I was convinced that her two Siamese cats, Ying and Yang, who always watched passively, would tattle on me.
It seems like such a long time ago. I’m happy and a little sad to remember my grandmother, born a hundred years ago today. Gone, but not forgotten.
One hundred and sixty-five years ago, 87 people took off in a wagon train to find milk and honey in California. Only 48 of those people survived to find it. The base of the monument in this photo is 20 feet high. That’s how high the snow piled up that year. The worst storm in a hundred years. Bad decisions. Bad timing. Bad luck. What a horrendous ordeal to live through. Aside from the monument and artifacts, there’s nothing left to show for it, only memories of people now long dead. It’s just a fact that people live and die everyday–millions, and we don’t know anything about who they were or what they did. If they are famous we hear about them. If not, only those close to them will remember. I’m so sorry that the people in the Donner party had to suffer what they did, but at least we know something about them. Their lives are remembered, however infamously.
Fifty year ago, I lived on Donner Summit in a tiny town called Norden. That’s why I feel for the history of the place. My father was railroad man and we lived in a row of houses close to the railroad tracks and the train station. All the front doors of the houses were connected to a long hallway that ran up the hill to a central parking area. In the winter time we would have been snowed in if not for that hallway that led up to where snow plows cleared an opening. The snow-covered the houses and we could climb over the roofs, but were forbidden to because the power lines were so close. I have fond memories of building snowmen and snow caves with my siblings and friends. We took skiing lessons at the nearby Sugar Bowl ski resort. I was so sad to move and leave my beautiful blue skis behind for the next family who would use them.
Today, nothing remains of those houses we lived in at Norden, they’ve all been torn down. There’s nothing left, only new concrete tunnels for the trains to travel through unhindered. I visited the Sugar Bowl resort a few years ago and found an oldtimer who remembered some of the people I could name. He said we were called the Mole People because we traveled through the tunnels to get in and out in the winter. (In the summer we could park directly in front of our house.) If not for his memories and ours, it would be as if our little community in Norden never existed. Interstate 80 rushes over the mountains carrying people into a present day far removed from the Donner Party or the Mole People.
I often think about posterity. Maybe that’s why I write. I don’t like to think about someone’s life ending and not being remembered. Everyone has a story. Everyone. I encourage memoir writers. Sometimes they’re the only ones who still remember, and when they are gone, some lives are lost forever. You should think about that. Your grandchildren will thank you.