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Or, “I Remember Granny.”

Okie-Dokie, here we go!

… but, oh where, oh where does one start?

The answer to that question turned out to be easier than it sounded. For, of course, one starts with what one knows (or, ahem, thinks they know!). The execution, however, is indeed as difficult as the original question first seemed to appear … even more so.

For myself, this all begins when I was very young and surrounding my maternal grandmother’s familial lineage, in large part, due to the constant refrain of: “You know you have a cousin who married a President!!,” stated quite proudly and often. Or, the constant reminder every winter that those “tree ornaments were made by Great Uncle Avery.”

An Uncle Avery OrnamentAn Uncle Avery OrnamentAn Uncle Avery Ornament

Add to that Granny was still around, born 1876, and also Great Aunt Lydia, born 1899, who authored one of Trumansburg's town histories, just to mention two who gave this history a tangible connection to an era long past. And, let’s not forget the lesson that Nana, born 1907, was named, Eunice, after her grandmother… Granny’s mother. And, certainly, I would be most remiss if I didn't mention that incredible family tree hanging in the front entrance hall!

Owen Family Tree

Couple all that with the large, old homestead, so far away in a quaint village surrounded by seemingly endless farmlands, so neatly filled with old, familial things full of wonder, some of which I now know go back to at least 1830, and! the fact that father never spoke of his family, much less his Polish ancestry, there were tons more clues to be found much more easily in Trumansburg, where photos of family who lived during the Civil War era on forward adorned the walls and what-nots of every corner. That was an awfully long sentence, eh?

The childhood visits there from New York’s west coast deep into Central New York’s Finger Lakes Region were met with justly due excitement and anticipation … well, at least for me, any way. More on that anon.

The “house at the top of the hill,” as it was said, was, and still is, a skillful mix of architectural styles popular at the time it was built. That time being circa 1820 - 1840. My suspicions suggest it was begun by Judge Henry Disbrow Barto, and perhaps his law partner, J. DeMotte Smith, about the time his son, H. D. Barto, Jr., was born, in 1824.

The house later passed to Junior, who followed in his father’s lawyerly and banking pursuits, then, passed quickly through a few families during the tumultuous financial crises of the late century, and finally to our family in 1906 for the next eight decades. All that before — at last — back full circle to its law residence beginings as the current home of the Trumansburg Village Offices and Police Station in 1983. More on that anon.

Standing in stark contrast to the dwelling built in 1959 by my parents in a newly minted western New York suburbia, the house atop the hill was quite literally a step back into a different century every time we would travel “back east.” There, everything was neat and tidy … very orderly, and never a mess … and always one’s best behavior was to be presented. The comparative chaos we had “out west” was, indeed, quite the contrast.

For me, the best part of that journey back east has always been the final stretch down route 96. The moment we’d pass cousin Richard Updike’s wildly popular Tri-County Bowling Alley was the first clue our destination was near. Then, the view of that old row of red brick businesses in “downtown T-burg” — a time capsule lining the way toward the bottom of the hill — even the dog knew we had arrived. Finally! The climb to the top of the hill.

Entering Downtown T-burg

And so, it is there, with Granny — Jennie Sue (Potter) Updike — I chose to start this project, as Granny was the oldest family member whom I personally had known, and knew (or, thought I knew, anyway) the most about family generation-wise … and it turns out … Granny kept a secret!!


The best part of this journey has been the development of my appreciation for historical context. The closer I come to actually becoming “history,” the more I am interested in it, it would seem. How I wish I had knowledge of all this familial history when in school, I might have actually paid more attention!

For myself, it isn’t enough to merely know the names and dates. I want to know the why … and what … and where … and art … and war … and fashion … and society “norms” … and who lived next to whom … who was a farmer … a lawyer … a ne’er-do-well.

I want to know what exactly were the folks at that time — in that place — doing, reading, eating, talking about, seeing at the show, life and labors in the home, on the farm, etc. Everyday opinions of the people regarding life, like, for instance, on voting, women, immigration, the Irish, education, Catholics, stereotyping, and so on. “The names have all changed since you’ve hung around …

The hardest part of all that is being biased by today’s influences and ideals. How did they get their news, their education, their opinions, their livings, etc. And, finally, how reliable are these sources and histories read while looking back to find out (c.f. Yellow Journalism, and not just the definition, but the players, the following wars, etc.). You should see the looks I get when I remind folks that Catholics were illegal up until the Civil War, just about … like I had just committed blasphemy! Hehehe. I have to remind them that high among the reasons we came to America and later fought the Revolution was to escape from that “wretched Church of England!!,” whom, as you might recall, broke from that “Wretched Roman Catholic Church!!”. What was his name … Luther, or something …. Who does this George Fox think he is, anyway!!??!! Blasphemer!! William Penn ring any bells? How about the more ephemeral "12 Apostles" of Trumansburg's history? (A History of Trumansburg, 1890, page 44)

It wasn’t enough to know Granny had a secret, but to try to understand why she had one. Which, alas, will now never be known, save our best speculations. And, those speculations rely totally on historical context, as in “walk like a(n Egyptian) Quaker.” And, of course, the historical context to most of those questions would most certainly be met with a “Gasp!” and a “One mustn’t speak of such things!” back in the day.

Also, there will be many vague references to other things you might not get at first, or I will forget to explain. Like the vague reference to the movie I Remember Mama, or, Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone …. My historical context … (Have you read The Vulgarians – a child’s novel by Edward Fawcett, or Za chlebem – nowela Henryka Sienkiewicza, or the Declaration of Independence?? — I trust you know who wrote that last one!! hehehe)

So, now that the obligatory introductory chapter has passed, let’s move on to …

… yup … Granny!! Yay! (Finally!! Dude, novel much??)

Last revision 8 Mar 2017
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