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Friday, December 25, 2009

tell me a story

This post has been a long time coming, but busyness, laziness and other, pushier thoughts have continued to crowd it out until now. But how seems like a good time, it being Christmastime and a mere few weeks after my beloved grandfather's passing.

I guess it really started with a thin purple book, handed to me last Christmas Eve with apologies that it was not the customary check my grandparents had given over the past several Holidays. What it was turned out to be far more precious: a locally-published collection of my grandmother's poetry; a time capsule, a little piece of her story, and with that of my own history. Of course I've always known my grandmother wrote poetry, and I've read some of it over the years, but somehow it was as if that little volume opened up a whole new window for me, from the bio in which I learned new things about her life and career before my grandpa and my dad, to the pages of her poetry, words straight from the soul. It almost felt like a sort of trespassing or voyeurism, the intimacy of reading the thoughts and emotions of years past.

I don't know if this is just me or if it's a universal thing, but I seem to carry specific snapshots of my grandparents around in my head, as if I have a defining image of them frozen in a certain period of time. For instance, although in the end my maternal grandmother was very weak and unable to walk by herself, and though I saw her daily in her last years as she had come to live with us then, still when I think of her I see her in her mid-seventies, so opinionated in all her feisty French stubbornness, still riding her bicycle daily between her house and ours, in a skirt and sans helmet, of course. For my recently passed paternal Grandpa, the image is circa five to ten years ago, discount hearing aid squealing as he recounted an amusing anecdote just a little too loudly, twinkle in his eye, or hummed some old melody. Or wielded his trusty old pocket knife at the dinner table to cut his meat. He was a character, indeed.

So I guess but it's just kind of strange for me to think of my grandparents when they were young, to think that they were ever my age and what they must have been like and how the world must have looked like through their eyes. It's crazy the first time it really hits you that your grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles had this whole life before you were born, before you knew them, filled with triumphs and heartaches and adventures you know very little of. I think often we forget that, but the thing is that even though they came before us, these events are in a way a part of us as well, an extension of our history. And someday the people you took for granted to be there will be gone, and along with them the chance to hear their history from their own mouths.

It makes me sad to realize that, whether due to selfishness or simply not thinking about it, I've never bothered to find out a good part of these stories, to really learn about the lives led before I was a presence on this earth. I am grateful that a few years back I got to hear my Grandpa talk about his musical adventures in the navy in WWII, something I'd never really known about until then. And there was more to learn from reading his obituary, things I love to know now but wish I'd had made efforts to learn while he was alive. I guess that's how it goes, that you never think of some things until it's too late. But I guess I should also make a point to make that effort to know my elders and learn their history, learn from the hard and interesting and amazing lives they've led. And maybe even in the process understand myself better.

So I will say Merry Christmas everybody, hold your loved ones close and don't be afraid to ask for their stories. And for those who can no longer be with us, let us remember them fondly and celebrate their stories as well.


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  2. I can definitely relate to that. I used to hear stories when I was little and probably only half paid attention to them, but by the time I was older and realized the significance of those stories, many of the story tellers were gone. My Father died before I was old enough to know him, and there is so much I don't know about him that I wish I had asked about. I'm not sure why I didn't. Maybe I thought there would always be time later. For a while I carried around a small digital recorder that I would silently slip onto the table during time when my Mom and Aunts would tell some stories, so I have a few recorded, but I wish I had started much earlier. I very much lament that much of this family history is lost and second the opinion that you should encourage people in your family to tell stories, and to make sure you listen. You'll be glad you did.