All in the family

My schedule is increasingly busy lately. Since the National Holiday week, I’ve added a Monday evening business English class at Sichuan University. The students, who all work at a local pharmaceutical company, are loads of fun and incredibly lively. I continue to teach six classes a week at my regular university, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings. My other business English class, at a software company, meets for 3 hours on both Tuesday and Thursday evenings. This week I’m keeping them busy with telephone etiquette, deciphering answering machine messages, and performing role plays to build their confidence.

I wasn’t quite busy enough, so I’m adding a new gig teaching about 10 students at a school in Xindu, 30 minutes away, for a 6-hour stretch on Saturdays. Sheesh. On top of that, I just got another editing assignment for the translation service for which I free-lance. I’m lucky I have the time to sit down this evening and blog.

The theme for my regular post-graduate classes this week was families. I made use of some of my scanned images of ancient family photos, and gave what I thought was an entertaining spiel about my family history. I started the classes by having students free-write for 5 minutes about their favorite family member. Then, they interviewed a partner about their family history, asking such questions as “Do you know the names of your great-grandparents?” It was amazing how many of them knew nothing of their families further than one generation back. We then talked about such terms as migration, immigrate, emigrate, ancestry, “the old country,”, genealogy, paternal, maternal, nuclear or extended families, single-parent families, and surrogate families.

I then briefly introduced some of my own ancestors, by way of explaining that most Americans are of mixed ancestry, and that my own family had its roots in at least four different countries: Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. The stiff, slightly uncomfortable-looking portraits of the 19th century amused the students, as did my recounting of my grandmother’s family’s migration across the U.S. to homestead in Colorado.

One of my family’s oldest photos, a tintype of my grandmother’s relations from about 1880. They don’t look very happy.

My grandmother’s parents in 1903. Her father immigrated from Ireland, but left the family when she was 4, to return to his country to die. Strange.

Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show. They were a featured act for the Sells Flats Circus, for whom my grandmother’s stepbrother worked as an accountant.

Family group, 1920s. The woman in the center is my grandmother, Margaret Wilson Bush.

My grandmother wrote down her family history for me and my brother Kenton, in a notebook we gave her titled Everything I always wanted to write* – *but never had the time or the place. To encourage students to open up and tell their own family stories in small groups, I read part of her story to my classes:

My mother, Catherine Miller, her mother Elizabeth Miller and a brother Wilford migrated from Indiana to around Pleasant Hill, Mo. Thence to Kiowa, Colorado, where my grandfather, Herbert Lyman Miller, homesteaded 640 acres of land in the early 1890s. I found out just a few years ago that the reason they left Missouri was because of something illegal that Grandfather Miller had committed – like a forgery….

…When they went to Kiowa by wagon the grass was lush and ideal for the raising of cattle. There were many rattlesnakes and tramps. I recall mother telling of one of lazy tramp that ask for a drink of water and mother told him the water was out in the yard. The fellow was so lazy and indolent that he drank out of the horse trough instead of pumping a fresh dipper of water. She always had her hand on a rifle back of the door when there were callers like the tramps. She was an excellent shot with a rifle and told many tales of shooting rattlesnakes.

It seems the venture on the ranch wasn’t too successful due to grandfather’s thirst for liquor and the many trips down to Denver.

Another word about the ranch at Kiowa – they built their own house or it must have been a cabin. It’s difficult to imagine young people of the ages of my mother and uncle, living miles from civilization without radio, TV, record players or any of the things we have now to make a desolate place more endurable. They were made to arise at 2 a.m., get breakfast and then just sit it out until daybreak. There were always hot biscuits to be made for each meal, or cornbread. The only fruits they had were dried. Can one imagine what dried raspberries must have been like? One can live with dried apples peaches and apricots. Mother used to save rags and tin foil and send it to Denver with her father in order to have a few extra pennies. However, when grandfather would get back home there would be no money left. In those days they drove the cattle to the markets to sell them….

I like this photo, but don’t know the location. The family’s homestead in Colorado may have looked something like this.

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One response to “All in the family

  1. What a big family~~

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