My latest project? Writing a family history.
When I was a child my grandfather would tell wonderful stories about my ancestors. There was a wall of photos in the hallway, dozens and dozens of them. We would walk down the hall and he would talk about each one, breathing life into those old
photos. Relatives stiff and in formal arrangements, unsmiling, long skirts and high collars, hair pulled back tightly became Norwegian speaking Grandparents or push-cart brides. They became Sailors, Admirals or miners during the Gold Rush of ’98. He would talk until my grandmother grew tired of hearing them and would say, “No one wants to listen to those old stories Doug.”
Sad to say, at the time, she was right. I loved those stories and I loved those photos, but I had little perseverance for them. I was a child. I would politely listen with my mind beginning to wander. I mourn for those stories now. How I wish I had listened more carefully. Over the years I have I tried and tried and cannot trigger anything but fragments of those stories, I am afraid my own life clutters them too much.
So I decided to write a family history. I planned to interview my dad and my aunt, and what started out as awkward formal question and answer sessions soon became easy conversations. And while all this started as an offshoot, a side note of a memoir I wanted to write, I learned I was not part of their story.
Their story is about a different time and place. A different set of values and technologies. About a childhood that could be neatly divided by the war. Before, during and after. A story of the living during the Great Depression, and while they had just enough food, it was with sympathy that my dad told tales of others, “It was hard times.”
So I have learned a lot. A lot about where I came from. Who I came from and a lot about what makes me who I am. I learned things I will never be able to share. I now understand why I do or say certain things. It is a lovely process and I recommend it for any of my writing friends.