Copy of a copy of the framed original image of Latu.

Sometimes Real Truth jumps out from the first line of a Vita Brevis post and slaps me with a “duh” moment, although I think “wander” might be a slight understatement suggesting a lack of speed or single tracks. My mind has been wandering through some of the family stories as I try to decide how best to preserve them, lacking any hope of documentation as proof. Such stories have a habit of becoming altered, embellished, or denied by those who weren’t present at the first instance as they are passed through multiple generations. Lacking any audio recordings of my family storytellers, I’ve decided to write down as many as I can as I’ve heard them or experienced them to create an “oral” history in print. I could record myself telling them, but I believe, even in this digital age, that paper will last longer than the current technology. (Carving in stone might last longer, but that’s far beyond my ambitions.) I began my wandering through stories and random titles:

The Color Purple: My maternal grandfather Lorne McLeod (1868-1943) was born in a log cabin in Canada as one of eleven children. His wife, grandmother Lula Atlant (Roberts) McLeod (1876-1958), looked down on the McLeods and their humble beginnings, and didn’t like her mother-in-law Frances as well. When Frances died in 1918, she was embalmed and dressed in a purple dress with an open casket. Doing her duty, Lula stood next to the casket until she noticed that the embalming fluid had leaked and soaked Frances’ purple dress. That revolted Lula so much that she refused to ever wear purple herself. (Talk about holding a grudge!)

Then I wandered into:

A Perfect Storm: My paternal uncle-by-marriage, Percy, was a true Maine character and storyteller, repeating his stories so often that his grandchildren could recite them verbatim! He admitted in one story that he had had a really good time at a party and stayed late even though there was a heavy snowstorm that night. Feeling “sleepy,” Percy just pointed his horse toward home and “slept.” He awoke when the horse stopped moving with his nose against his barn door. Percy never said who put who to bed that night, if indeed a bed was involved.

My wandering slid into:

Slippery When Wet, or Pride Comes Before a Fall: I have one sibling, a positively ancient older brother who grew up helping Father and Grandfather on the farm. One of his responsibilities was to feed the pigs Father had installed in a corner of our garage, so Brother picked up the big kettle full of slops, a yummy, rather liquid mixture of who-knows-what that day, by its handle. Full of confidence and knowing he was doing a job well, he failed to properly negotiate the slippery icy slope leading to the garage door. As he slipped, the arm holding the kettle began its beautiful arc toward the sky, emptying the kettle as it reached its peak. Brother wound up wearing more of the slops than the pigs got to eat. Sister (that would be me) still regrets not being ready with a camera.

My mind then wandered into the ether:

Blithe Spirit: My paternal great-grandmother, Ellen Frances (Cony) (Church) Hayward (1863-1934, a/k/a Nellie F. or F. Nellie, but never Ellen, just to make things interesting), was a psychic medium who used a spirit guide named Latu. Even though in her day all things psychic were a fad (but one carrying a stigma), she was always reluctant to use her gift, and would do so only for family. On one occasion, the family asked Latu if they might have an image of what he looked like. He replied that, provided with a blank surface, he would “send” an image of himself as he last appeared on Earth. An image of a Native American man soon appeared on the paper provided, notable for its lack of any kind of marking, brush strokes, palette knife, pen, or pencil; no one in my family has any kind of art talent or skill capable of producing such a portrait.

I have examined the original and can confirm only that it is a flat, unmarked, non-photographic image on paper. We have always believed that Latu (i.e., his portrait) will go where it wants to go, so it currently resides with another “acceptable” family member. Happily, my mind has wandered back to greater focus.

J.R.R. Tolkein said “Not all those who wander are lost,” so I hope that my mind’s wanderings will prevent the loss of some of the family oral history, which gives the family data some (ahem) “soul.”

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.

8 thoughts on “Wanderings

  1. I loved your ‘wanderings’ this morning. Such a good idea for snippets and not a monumental task at all. Fun! We share the propping up of a really old house, relatives and ancestors in Maine, and a Sociology degree, plus a first name, so I shall be looking for more of your posts. Thanks! Jan K

  2. Wonderful tales, told well. Thank you for sharing. Stories make ancestors “come alive.” Our family has a similar story of a horse and snowstorm. My grandfather was a Lutheran pastor in Canada in the 1920s. He rotated between three congregations. One Sunday a blinding snowstorm came up and he said to his horse, “Ruby, take me home.” and she did. Grandpa suffered frostbite on his toes, but he got home.

  3. Jan, your story about Latu is great! I am very envious that you have your very own spiritual guide. How cool!

  4. Thank you for wonderful stories and inspiration. Our remembered stories do need to be written, with or without proof, as we remember them being told. If we can capture the ambience, the place and time we listened to the story, along with the words, we have captured a little bit of the person who spoke.

  5. Thank you for the nudge to finally begin my own collection of “wanderings”, that they don’t have to be full-length short stories, and “just the highlights” is sufficient to preserve a moment in history for posterity.

  6. As my daughter put it, “Write down all the stuff that doesn’t fit in those little lines on the chart.”

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