I was standing at the kitchen sink the other day peeling peaches–late season peaches the size of apricots and not very juicy. But I convinced myself that if I blanched them and bottled them in syrup they would be delicious and much better than throwing them away. Because of their size and lack of juice, the peels did not slip off easily. But my granddaughter was playing on the rug near my feet, entertaining herself and me as I rinsed and peeled warm fruit with a paring knife. I thought about looking for my potato peeler so that I could peel the small peaches without taking any of the flesh, but I already had my hands in the water and it was easier to just continue. As I worked I collected the peels in a bowl to feed to my African Sulcata Tortoises. They appreciate things like peach peels. My granddaughter rolled peaches on the floor, ate a few, and talked to herself and to me. All in all a nice afternoon activity. Standing at the sink, I was reminded of a story my great great grandmother wrote in her journal. Hannah Moon was born in Denby, England in 1827. She married a young coal miner, Thomas Hunt, when she was just eighteen years old. Thomas was nineteen and had worked in the mines for seven years. Shortly after they were married Hannah’s mother-in-law came to visit. Nervous and anxious to make a good impression, Hannah stood at the sink peeling potatoes for dinner. When her mother-in-law came into the kitchen, Hannah pointed to the potatoes and noted how thin the peels were to which the older woman replied, “Aye, that they are, but I do feel sorry for your pigs.”
Standing at the sink, a distance of nearly two hundred years between us, time seems to collapse. We are not so different. In fact we are very much the same. I don’t have pigs, and my tortoises got generously thick peach skins, but the daily tasks of life, feeding our families, loving and teaching our children, struggling to do our best, to make a better life are still the same.
I know Hannah Moon Hunt because she kept a journal. Perhaps she wrote about her mother-in-law’s visit and her potato peels with chagrin. But, for me it makes her very real. As I have searched for family histories I have found family–very real, imperfect people who lived the best they knew how in difficult times.
Hannah and Thomas Hunt left England and the coal mines behind and came to the United States in 1858. They built a home, fought Indians, planted crops and raised sheep. Their life was infinitely better than it would have been had they stayed in Denby. They were willing to risk everything they knew for the possibility of a better future.
Family history informs us–it tells us who we are, and where we came from. Will my great great grandchildren know my name? It should be easier than ever to write our stories–mundane stories, like peeling potatoes that may someday connect us to the future. Life is easy, Today we write our stories on a computer, sitting in a comfortable room, with electric lights . . . .
Maybe I’ll start today.