memories like a gaf viewfinder.

Family is often more of an abstract concept as opposed to the reality we thought it should be. Only these are people that I’ve never really known and who have never wanted to know me.

Every once in a while I think about this family I should know, but really don’t. It’s not that I miss them per se, it’s just something I wonder about occasionally.

My memories of my father’s immediate family as in his siblings is like looking at photos through a reel of an old GAF Viewfinder. Remember those? Click click on a round little cardboard thing with a finite amount of images. National parks, nature, monuments, and more.

Click, click. I remember when I was maybe 6 or so, spending a weekend at a white farmhouse with a barn off a long driveway or maybe a narrow road in Paoli. It was off of Lancaster Avenue. My father’s sister, my aunt, and her family lived there for a couple of years before my uncle got a job transfer to Ohio I think it was.

Click, click. Another memory of the same house. Thanksgiving. Being seated at the children’s table out in the hall next to the staircase. With my cousins, who really didn’t want to be at a table with me. I remember black-eyed peas as a side, and I remember my uncle’s tiny Cuban mother, who spoke very little English, seated at the grown up table dressed all in black.

Click, click. Walking with my father to his brother’s house, which was close to ours for a while in Philadelphia when we lived in Society Hill. Again I was fairly little, and I seem to remember where he lived was almost like inside a little courtyard street. I don’t remember why we were there, but I remember my father speaking to his brother outside. Eventually, my uncle and his wife at the time and family moved to Buffalo New York. We were never invited to visit, not that I cared – we just never were invited. My grandmother used to go visit them in the summer.

Click, click. My father sitting in a darkened living room shortly after his father died. Chain smoking, boxes from I guess his childhood bedroom or something scattered all around. I just remember him being really upset. I never knew what happened. But a memory, I can still recall clearly. A lamp on in the darkened living room, silence, a single stream of cigarette smoke, a crystal ashtray, my father contemplative and silent.

Click, click. Another early random memory. Being at my great aunts’ house on Ritner Street in Philadelphia Christmas Eve. Loud, crowded, fun.

Click, click. Memories here and there of my aunt and uncle’s home in Chestnut Hill. My father‘s mother, my paternal grandmother moved there after my grandfather died. I remember when we went to visit her there we were never allowed to visit her it seemed by ourselves. And I never felt like we were actually welcomed there.

I remember the house. It was a beautiful house and a lot of the furnishings were similar in style and taste to my parents. I loved the living room in that house. It had so much light. I didn’t like the dining room. It seemed dark and unfriendly. Cold. I remember a Thanksgiving when we had visitors from out of town who came with us to Thanksgiving dinner at my father’s sister’s house. It was cold and uncomfortable.

Click, click. The old Lakeside Inn located in Collegeville, PA. It was a surprise party for one of my great aunts. Or maybe it was an anniversary party for my great aunt and uncle. I don’t remember what the event was, I remember is it was a gathering of the clan and at one point my father’s brother made this big deal of taking all the kids downstairs at the Lakeside Inn where they had a gift shop. My uncle, my father’s brother bought all the kids, a toy or something out of the gift shop. Except for my sister and I. I don’t know why that was, but I remember how it felt. We didn’t cry or anything. We just kind of went back to where the grown-ups were at the party. Someone told my great uncle about this and he took my sister and I down later and got us each a special present. I remember what mine was and I had it for decades until it literally fell apart, it was a little calico owl stuffed animal.

Click, click. Memories of going to Maryland to see my father’s favorite cousin, and his wife and family here and there. My earliest memory was a little house and we were on the swingset in the back. I even have a photo of that. Then there were later memories of a cool Victorian house in Ellicott City. Those were always happy memories because I really like those cousins and we felt welcome as opposed to how we felt every time we were around my father’s sister and brother and their respective families. Also other memories of other cousins of my father. There we were always welcome, I did not feel like an outsider who was barely tolerated.

Click, click when my father’s mother was dying. My uncle, my father’s brother, telling my father that he was a terrible son over their mother’s deathbed with me in the room as well. I told my uncle off then and there. My grandmother said nothing but smiled.

Click, click. The luncheon at Philadelphia Cricket Club after my grandmother’s funeral. First of all, realizing that no one really wanted our part of the family there, and how breathtakingly rude one of my aunt’s daughters (my first cousin) was to me in the ladies room. I’ve never forgotten it. She loved my grandmother very much and I know that. She was very close to her. I didn’t begrudge that. That was her relationship. But I still remember being at the sink, putting on lipstick or something and my cousin coming out of the stall in the ladies room. I said hello to her and she literally cut me dead and I’ve never forgotten the look, and I never understood the look either because we didn’t have a relationship, so why would she be like that? It was literally hateful. It’s not like I got some huge inheritance over her, there was only one thing I asked my aunt for of my grandmother’s. I asked for some photos of my father growing up that my grandmother had. And when those arrived, which was months after the funeral, they arrived in a small box, and you could see they had been ripped out of old-fashioned photo albums.

I have lots of these random memories that are like they were from a GAF viewfinder. Finite, brief. But there.

Funny but not funny, whenever I see super happy, close TV families it doesn’t quite smack of reality. There is none of the messiness of real life. My father’s relationship with his siblings was definitely messy. I just will probably never know exactly why, because each sibling has their own story, of course and wherein lies the truth? His sister is the only sibling still alive at this point. But I’ve never really had a relationship with her and I’m not going to call an old woman and say, why didn’t you get along with your brother, my father?

I never have known exactly what the breakdown was between my father and his siblings. Or with his mother after his father died. I wasn’t there when they were growing up. I just remember even when I was little there was a vibe I got. They had whatever issue with my father, also didn’t like my mother, and I was one of their children.

Every once in a while, I wonder what life would have been like growing up if these relationships were different? I wonder what it would be like today if those relationships have been different? But when you’re related to people that really don’t care to know you, it kind of sets the stage. You wonder and then you release that feeling.

I have a really nice life. I have my family, but I still wonder occasionally what life would have been like if my father’s family had been different? Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t miss what I’ve never known. It’s just more of a curiosity. When I get occasional news of any of this part of my father’s family, it’s like hearing about strangers, because to me, they really are strangers. I’ve never really known them, and they’ve never wanted to know me.

Musings released back to the universe.

5 thoughts on “memories like a gaf viewfinder.

  1. I loved this post. It really hit home, both literally and figuratively with me!

    I remember the viewmaster! I think all of ours got tossed along the way…but wow your family story really touches me, those unspoken secrets that children sense but are never verbalized. I’m wondering if you could reach out to that surviving aunt to see if she would be willing to reconnect with you. I understand how hard that is to do, and I’ve avoided opportunities like that in my own family. Piecing the tidbits together can be revealing, but sometimes painful. Family rifts can be so difficult to discuss, and enduring for generations.

    By the way, we had family who lived on Ritner Street too. I found it on a census sheet in Ancestry.

    • My great aunts and uncle Pat (Pasquale) lived between 11th and 12th on Ritner Street. At the corner of 12th and Ritner was the pharmacy once owned by my great uncle, who moved to Collegeville and owned trooper pharmacy, where he was a pharmacist for decades. I think that store last time we were down around that area was like some kind of a pasta store or something.

      At this point in my life, right or wrong, I don’t need to reconnect with my father’s surviving sister. I tried at different times after I became an adult to reconnect and half of the time they couldn’t even send a Christmas card back. I would never be rude to her if I ran into her somewhere, but there’s literally nothing there. And there wasn’t when I was a child either. I don’t know the dynamics of the siblings of my father‘s generation, but they were pretty miserable to my father when I was growing up and into adulthood. There was a brief time when my sister and husband had first moved to New York years where they tried to connect with my sister because my one cousin and her husband live in New York.

      I mean every once in a while, I think all of us wonder what it would be like if we had one of those picture perfect Hallmark movie Christmas families, but that’s just not real life.

      And I honestly at this point don’t feel anything for these people, even a sense of loss. And again, I am not being mean, there’s simply no relationship there. I can’t actually miss what I never actually had.

      Now my father’s cousins who are my second cousins are amazing people and I am connected to them. And love them. Their mother was my one of my father‘s favorite aunts. She was amazing. She was actually the one who taught my father how to dance.

      Every once in a while, I try to write these memories down, because I think they are part of the fabric in history of a family, good or bad.

      I wish these people well, but it’s almost like looking at strangers. They share my genealogy, and you can see family resemblance sometimes especially with my aunt, but that’s it.

      • I completely understand, you have to do what you’re comfortable with.
        Our family address was 317 Ritner Street, I believe. I’d need to dig up the records to see which of my relatives lived there. I think it might have been my grandmother’s family, but I’m not sure.

      • How interesting would that be? We became friends in seventh grade, yetwe had family that lived very close to each other generations before.

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