Growing up, we were a small, close-knit family, and I always wished we would get together more often with all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and do things. Sure, we visited with them, but we never had big family dinners or family parties like you see on TV.
I always hated history, but now that I’ve grown older, I’ve started to get interested in family history. Of course, the people who could tell me the most about it are long gone. Why is that? By the time you get old enough to be interested in history, you have to look for it. I did some research on ancestry.com, and while it was interesting to me, it wasn’t what I wanted to know, which is those family stories that have been passed down, that are more fragile than spun glass heirlooms.
A couple years ago, my husband found tons of black and white pictures of his family from back in Poland. Some of the people he could identify, and others, he had no idea. Taking black and white photos in the early 1900s wasn’t like snapping a photo today. I can take a 1000 pictures and have all of them be meaningless. (Not that they all are, but it’s just that easy). Back then, if there was a photo, it meant something, and I just wonder what story was lost to the family as the photo was passed down but the story wasn’t.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was quoted as saying that she wrote the Little House on the Prairie books because she saw how the pioneer way of life was dying, and she wanted to preserve it. I thank her for that, because I learned more about that time period from her than I did from the history books in whose pages I drifted off to sleep.
But in the end, what’s important about family? Is it all those stories I’ve forgotten? Or the ones I remember? I would like to know how my grandparents met (I should ask my mom or uncle about that), but I have a million images and stories in my head from my time with them. My grandmother was actually the one who “trained” me to be a therapist. When I was around 5, we played “psychiatrist.” She would tell me all her “problems” and have me solve them. Her “problems” were things like being picked on and called names. Clever, huh? I didn’t have a clue until years later.
As my grandfather got older, he had a cell phone. My parents didn’t know how to use their voicemail, so I assumed he didn’t either. I must have said something well-intentioned about it one day, because he responded, “I own it, don’t I? I know how to check my voicemail.” That sums up my grandfather. He loved his constant companion, Amie, a Beagle rejected by another family.
Maybe that’s what matters about family. Still, it wouldn’t kill me to write down a few stories about those that came before… before I don’t have a chance to decide if I want to or not.
We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. ~Shirley Abbott