Home » Family History » Vienna Fingers and Ginger Ale

Vienna Fingers and Ginger Ale

Vienna Finger.  Courtesy Wikimedia.

Vienna Finger. Courtesy Wikimedia.

What in the world does this strange snack have to do with genealogy? To me, everything!

I was lucky to grow up knowing my great-grandfather, Thomas Francis Atwell I; in fact, I was 23 years old when he died (though sadly I did not see much of him after we moved away when I was 11). When we lived in Massachusetts, my family would often visit with Grampy Tom. Inevitably, my sister and I would ask him for a snack and he’d give us what were probably the only sweets in the house: Vienna fingers and ginger ale.

Grampy Tom’s house in Lynn was very small, only four rooms as I recall, but that was all he needed after the death of his wife, Eva (Lipsett) Atwell. Besides the kitchen (where the snacking occurred), we spent most of our time in the sparse living room. Grampy would always sit in a fanback Windsor chair (I don’t think it even had a cushion!) as he spoke with my parents. I don’t remember much of the decor, but I do know he had some pieces of the USS Constitution from when it was refurbished in the late 1920s.

Grampy Tom was partly deaf; whether it was from age or some other reason, I don’t know. We always had to shout to be heard, and even then, it was difficult for him to understand (he never did get my youngest sister’s name right, despite numerous corrections). Another thing that made Grampy unique was the tattoo on his arm. I don’t even remember exactly what it looked like (an eagle?), but I remember staring at it, wondering how old he was when he got it. If memory serves me correctly, he got it sometime during his navy years.

Me & Grampy Tom at my first Christmas.  Author's collection.

Me & Grampy Tom at my first Christmas. Author’s collection.

I remember on one of our visits, my mom told me I should really listen to the stories Grampy Tom told; after all, he was in two world wars and he’d seen a lot of history! That sounded like a good idea to me. I liked stories! So I tried – I really tried to sit and listen. But I didn’t understand, and the little girl in me would rather go outside and play. How I wish that I could go back now and absorb some of the things he said!

So now, nearly thirty years after his death, I have to satisfy my curiosity by searching for Grampy Tom’s stories as I’ve done for my other ancestors, as well as talking to the very few relatives left who knew him personally. From here, we will look into my great-grandfather’s life, family and ancestors, based on my findings.


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