I not only indulge in the amazing feast spread out over Thanksgiving but I relish in the family stories shared over a long weekend with the family. Stories shared over Thanksgiving have more time to soak, marinating over multiple nights so that the next day’s conversation is richer (…almost as rich as the soft warm cinnamon rolls my aunt made for breakfast :). StoryCorps has dubbed the day after Thanksgiving a “National Day of Listening.” I’m glad StoryCorps has given a name to this unspoken holiday tradition in my family. This year’s Turkey Day shed light on my great aunt Jan, my grandmother’s sister. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine anyone bossier than my grandmother, but her younger sister just might qualify.
Stories of a pushy feisty Auntie Jan are legendary in my family. Just mention her name and there is a collective eye-rolling as we each instantly remember a moment when she steamrolled over us. But looking at a younger Auntie Jan, posing in yearbooks and in photos stored on the shelves of her daughter’s home, showed me a gentler version of this aunt…before life chiseled away her softer sides.
I thumbed through her old Burbank High School and Pomona College yearbooks, fascinated at the beautifully embossed covers, Art Deco designs and frisky young future and present coeds. They just don’t make yearbooks like they used to.
I loved the page that predicted the futures of Burbank High School seniors. Theadora Buckles was to be a Mack Sennet star. Virginia Campbell was to be a WAMPAS Baby star. Sandwiched between the two was my aunt Jan (formally called Jeanette) — voted most likely to become a gym teacher.
This was a logical choice since she was President of Burbank High School’s Girls Athletic Association and played on the high school’s basketball and baseball teams. At Pomona, she majored in physical education and she ultimately became a teacher in the Burbank school system.
When it comes to Los Angeles history, many focus on its glamorous past or its dark past…falling into the cliched dichotomy of utopian vs dystopian Los Angeles. Frankly, this frame has never adequately encapsulated my family’s 120-year history in LA. Instead, my family’s story aligns better with the “sacred ordinariness” of which D. J. Waldie speaks. It’s in this spirit I enjoy documenting my family’s history within Los Angeles.
As for my Aunt Jan, not sure I would call her life in Los Angeles ordinary. Over Thanksgiving, her daughter spoke tantalizing about her diary of her younger years and…well, guess I’ll save that for next time. 🙂