On Monday, November 2, 2015 my extended family had a birthday party for their daughter. This day is celebrated in Mexico as “The Day of the Dead.” For her birthday, my cousin wanted everyone who came to share a story of one of their ancestors. It didn’t matter if they were dead or alive, she just wanted us to all find a story from someone who came before us and share a story about them.
My family knows a lot of stories when it comes to family history, but I personally do not. I thought about my mom’s heritage and my dad’s heritage, and I realized that I need to do some more research and ask my family questions while they’re still around!
It was almost my turn to tell a story and my mind was still blank. I remembered that my mother had told me a cool story once, but I was a little fuzzy on the details. I ran into the other room and tried to call her, but she didn’t pick up. I did the next best thing and tried calling my aunt. I asked her about the story, and she told me that my grandmother was at her house, sitting right next to her, so she handed the phone to her.
Admittedly I’m not the best at calling my grandparents and finding out stories from them. I’ve heard a few from my family, but it was really cool to actually get to ask her about the experience. I ran back inside and told my family the story about “The Glass of Milk.” After I told it my great aunt made a few corrections to my story. I had confused some of the details.
Today at work I remembered that right before my mission, the same aunt I’d called a few nights ago, had compiled a little booklet of stories about my ancestors for me. I knew that the story about the milk was on the front page and it was sitting in my room. I came home and found it, and would like to share that story with you.
My grandmother is Charlotte Sheffield Miss USA 1958. This is an excerpt from a talk she gave many years ago:
“The handsome movie actor at my side had been teasing me all day. At one time he called me the ‘Queen of the Mormons’ but only because we had been talking about the church, and he knew that I realized he said it because he liked me as a friend. Now, we were having a group dinner in one of the finest hotels in America, and the chef had gone to much trouble to prepare his special dishes for us. As graciously as I could, I asked for Ginger Ale at the cocktail time, and quietly turned down the invitation for the famous wine at dinner. I had beat the waiter to my coffee cup and turned it over to show that I wasn’t drinking any. Then came the dessert and the rare delicacy of coffee made with liquor.
The actor said, ‘This is such a privilege that none of us are going to turn it down are we?’ I motioned to the chef and quietly said to him, ‘I really appreciate your preparing so wonderfully for us; but in accordance with my church beliefs, could I please have a glass of milk instead?’
He smiled at me in an understanding and almost admiring manner and said, ‘Of course!’ I received milk and when they took the photograph of our group [for the paper] making a toast, I toasted proudly…with milk. When the evening was completed and everyone else had taken many more cocktails, we left the dining room and gathered in the lounge. Everyone had commented on how inexpensive I was to entertain, and that I had as much, if not more, fun than anyone else without drinking.
I returned for a glass of water before going to my room and the head waiter said to me, ‘We were told that you are a Mormon from Utah, and we’ve been watching you all evening. Most of my serving boys are Mormons too and they are so glad that you are living up to their religion.’”
I’m really glad my grandmother shared this story with her grandchildren. I remember hearing about it when I was very young, and I’ve thought about it through the years. For those of you who don’t know, Mormons or members of The Church of Latter Day Saints don’t drink tea, coffee, or alcohol. I’ve always thought it was very brave of my grandmother to stand up for what she believes in, and her strength has given me the courage to stand up for what I believe in at times.
My grandmother loves telling stories from her life. I’m lucky to have so many relatives that are alive and within driving distance from me. It was fun to celebrate “The Day of the Dead” with my family, but it made me appreciate and want to learn more about “the life of the living.”
On a side note, I realize some people don’t have a great relationship with their family, or they live out of the country, or they don’t like to talk on the phone. I have some of those types of people in my family as well. Something that I’ve started to do is to facebook message/email/text that particular family member and asks them questions. It’s usually a little awkward at first, but if I ask them a question, and then let them ask me a question, I find it works out very well.
Here is an example email that I sent to a distant relative:
Today in church we talked about family history. They showed a cute video about learning about your grandparent’s life. I'd like to know more about yours.
I know our communication in the past has been hard. So I was thinking: maybe I'll ask you a question about your life, and you can answer it, and then you can ask me a question about my life and I will answer it. It's been a number of years since we've talked and I thought that maybe this could be a baby step in a better direction between a relationship between you and I. I'm trying to put everyone and everything else to the side.
I guess my first question is about your parents. I never got to meet them. Can you tell me a little bit about them?”
The good thing about sending Q&A back and forth is that you’ll already have your family history written down. All you’ll have to do is copy all of the answers into a Word document and you can print it all out. I know this might seem like a small thing, but it’s made a big difference in my life.