Roots are not in landscape or a country, or a people, they are inside you. ~ Isabel Allende

You can’t run from your roots. ~ Stewart O’Nan

“Old Stairs” (photo to m.a.h. hinton)

Awhile ago I came to the understanding that I have tried in a thousand ways to ignore many parts of my family roots and background. Why I have done so is not particularly clear to me. And like most of what we do and why we do it is no doubt a combination of many different factors. Some that can be named, and some that will always remain mysterious to us.

At the same time my wife has tried to get me to write down some of the stories I have told to my daughters over the years. It is something I have not yet been able to do.

It is my hope that this new feature at  ClimbingSky will achieve both things. And secondarily that it may be of some interest to someone besides myself.

For now, I am calling these posts Groundwork.

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I begin with two random photos chosen from the many my mother took with her Kodak long before I was born.

“Horse & House” (photo by Jo Hinton)

“Horse in Pasture” (photo by Jo Hinton)

These photos, probably taken at my Uncle Rudy’s place outside Cheney, Washington, show an Eastern Washington landscape: semi-arid, with stands of pine, big exposed rocks covered with scabs, and a soil seeded with crumbling, volcanic rock.

Uncle Rudy, Rudolph Rosenzweig, was my mother’s uncle,  If this is his place, by the time I was young and we were living in Cheney (1966-1972) the house in this picture was still standing but long abandoned.

Memories and stories are passed to us like these photos:  often fuzzy and aged with limited or no real context. The stories we receive and the stories we tell are conceptualized, contextualized, and changed by those who tell them and those who hear them.

I look at these photos now and add my own context and stories. Uncle Rudy had horses and cattle and kept chickens that he, Uncle Jim, and my dad would butcher with a hatchet. When the heads came off the chickens, my brother Paul, my cousins, and I would run from the flapping bodies that always seemed to run toward us.

My mother died in 1982. She was 50 and I was 21. My brother Paul was 19. My brother Jon was 11. My father was 51.

I am now 57, already living 7 years longer than she did. My daughter Dylan is 24. My other daughter Morgan is 22. Sue, my wife, is 54.

I sit down and try my hand at remembering.


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Last night I went through the large plastic bin where I have been keeping old photo albums and began to sort them into piles:

  • one for my mother’s albums and keepsakes
  • one of my father’s albums and keepsakes
  • a smaller one of my own
  • two small ones for brothers, Paul and Jon
  • a large stack with pictures of people and places that I have no hope of ever identifying
  • a slightly smaller stack of people and places I know or think I recognize
  • and a couple of miscellaneous piles of old menus or postcards or souvenirs that were picked up over the years and now passed on to me

The piles are spread now across a card table and the floor of my second-story office.

There are out of focus pictures and faded and bent pictures. There are a envelopes filled with negatives and a box filled with slides.

There is a brochure with an agate attached to it that my Mom must have picked up on one of her stays in with my Aunt Chris and Uncle Leit at their bar in Belgrade, Montana.

There are souvenirs my dad kept from when he was in the Navy and stationed in Kodiak, Alaska: a program from the base’s performance of South Pacific and the menu for Thanksgiving and Independence Day meals. Significant enough events to my father at the time that he kept them.

Last night I quickly looked at everything. Today I look at the piles and wonder where to begin.

I choose a photo from the unknown pile that caught my eye. A young girl, important to my mother (but unknown now to me), standing in front of a car on a country road.

It is easier for me to begin with what I do no know, than what I do. Most of what I know or think I know, I have chosen over the years to forget or to ignore or to pretend I do not remember. It has been easier that way.

I look at the girl in this picture (perhaps my cousin Barb or Norah ?) squinting into the western sun and sky and know that the happy day driving was soon forgotten by her. But the picture and the memory of that day driving remained for awhile with my mother. But now that my mother is gone, only this picture remains. A black & white moment frozen in time.

Next week, I will begin remembering.

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