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NOT FALLING FAR FROM THE TREE
You've all heard those stories a dozen times. You roll your eyes when your uncles slap their knees and explode into laughter before regaling their audience with yet another rendition of "remember when." You can recite the anecdotes word for word, the ones they tell over and over, your parents, your grandparents, your cousins; that shared history which is rubbed into your skin and twined about your neck.

At least you think you can. When you stop and think, how much is left? How much will you remember? How much gets passed on to enrich the understanding your children and their children and THEIR children have of what made you whole, what happened, the story behind that calligraphied name on the inked-in tree. Born. Married. Died. A series of numbers, names, descending lines. Branches out and out into oblivion, a tangle of once removed, twice removed, second, third relationships that spiral out so far from the core that considering them family is more a courtesy than anything else. If you don't write them down, pretty soon they are but airy nothings, a misty breath upon the wind.

You've seen the photographs, those stiff and faded folk in their black and formal clothing. They say nothing of the lives behind those formal faces, the strength in those farmer arms, the warmth in that mother's embrace. Turn one over: you're lucky to find a name, a date. Will you wind up in that anonymous bin? Antique ancestors with no connection, no home.

You've got your father's eyes. And he had his father's, who had his mother's, who had hers. Did you know you have the eyes of a woman who lived a century ago? Would you recognize yourself in her if she walked by today?

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.* If we don't know where we started, how can we say where we will end? We careen off into a void without connections, without family, without history. Do you save their letters? Do you even get letters anymore? History flushed by the delete button. All those stories are fading whispers.

Memory is such a fragile thing and history unravels faster than you can blink. Grab hold with both hands and hold fast. Take your stories and your parent's stories and their parents', and make them yours. Put your lips to them and breathe, blow gently until they fill with life. Hand them like balloons to your children, but tie them down with words.

***

I miss ozswede and therealshedork and bluepoppy.

Ja, Må De Leva! Warm and Wonderful Birthday Wishes to Chuck and to alcesalces!

*Anthony Brandt
 nostalgic
mood: nostalgic
music: Hayley Westenra—River of Dreams


Comments
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)

my biggest fan! :D

Really great post, Liz. I often think about the family members that I know nothing about and wonder what they must have been like and how they lived. I know almost nothing of their history or personalities. That's one reason I am getting my journals bound up. I want to pass along something of myself. I can't stand the thought of being an unknown ancestor. I think I must be vain.

In that case, you're surely not the only one. :) What service are you using to get your journals bound? I've found 3 (CafePress, Lulu and Blogbinders) and have no idea which one is the best, if there is any difference.

perfectly said. thank you.

thanks, you :)

Oh, so beautifully said, Liz, as always.

I especially love what you said about the eyes of another woman - how we look like great-grandmother so and so and yet we are very much ourselves. And we must remember those who went before us -

For anyone who's close enough to their families, I do recommend taping some of their stories. We did it not long ago with my grandparents. Ask them questions - how did you get to school? Who were you friends? What happened if you were sick? The stories just pour out. It's amazing.

It's why I keep bugging my mom to start a journal.

I miss ozswede and therealshedork as well. I hope Marie comes off that boat sometime and back to here.

me, too! It sucks when she's gone all damn summer. I emailed with shedork yesterday and she is doing well, which is nice to hear.

Wonderfully worded. This post expresses something I feel from time to time but forget for long moments in between. I'll be adding this to my Memories, now, to try to remind myself in words better than I could have come up with.

aw, thanks, that was kind :)

Lovely. I have tears in my eyes.

*hands you a tissue*

Well thank you very much for the b-day greeting!

What a great reminder of how important it is to preserve our oral history! I did a genealogical research for a number of years and forever felt as if I wanted to know each and every person's personal story. The few bits and pieces that get told from old newspaper clippings and official documents only tell a small part of what makes up that person. I always end up feeling as if I'd like to make up a personal story to fill in the gaps.

Me, too. My mom's family has been really good about documenting and saving stories. They've put together books of stories and anecdotes of the "original" family, which we all got copies of at the last huge family reunion, and I've helped with the family tree and keep it updated on the internet, which is fun...but I too wish I knew more personal stories about so many of my ancestors. :)

How true. I approached my parents with the idea of taking their oral autobiography but my mom wasn't interested and we live so far away, it seemed impossible. When I talked to my husband about doing it with his mom, he didn't want me to. :( Fortunately, I've heard enough stories over the years to get a small glimpse of what life was like for them when they were younger. One of these days, maybe I should write them down.

At least our kids will have our blogs. :)

You should definitely write them down! I nag my mom about it all the time, because I REALLY want her to do it. She has such great stories, and an AMAZING memory.

wow, another incredible entry. you are so right. one of the benefits of coming from an insanely religious family is that they are really into their genealogy. i find it so fascinating reading all my mom has collected on our past family. she even has some old papers and journals from norway thomas and i helped her translate. our history helps shape who we are, i treasure knowing who and what i come from.

thanks. It's something I feel strongly about. Fun to translate old family papers and journals, how cool!

Thanks for that. Lovely thoughts. What action I wonder? Listen and write down? My father's yearly family reunion is coming up...

Definitely! Or bring a tape recorder!

Why are you not a journalist?

I can just picture you rubbing your and your family's stories into your children's skin.

because I'm a marketing and layout queen? :P I couldn't write about current events and local news and politics, that's why :)

(no subject) - (Anonymous)   Expand  

Speechless. That was stunning.

oh stop :)

(Anonymous)

Really great, Liz. I am now overcome with the urge to email my mom and catch up--even though I talked to her for two hours on Sunday.

Thanks.

-Amylou

thanks! give in to the urge!

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