Building a scrapbook is one way of collecting personal memories. Family photographs and other memorabilia serve as great reminders of times and places that are sometimes lost in the busyness of everyday life.
Gathering genealogy is another way of retaining family history. I know people who spend endless hours reading old newspapers, census data and military records, in an attempt to track down an elusive ancestor. Often these histories are published and given to family members as gifts.
I will always be grateful to my family for maintaining an oral tradition. Family stories have not only kept our history alive, but they have also been the basis for valuable lessons handed down through the generations.
None of my siblings became teenagers without hearing all the old stories. We knew about the great-grandfather who served with the Union Army and was on guard duty at Ford’s Theatre the night John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln. We knew about the grandmother who enjoyed a reputation as a water-finder who was called out to farms when somebody wanted to dig a new well. Her ability to locate water with a ‘divining rod’ was said to be uncanny.
It seemed to us, as children, that everyone in the family had his or her own story. Our Aunt Jewel was a quilter and was known for embellishing her quilts with the tiniest stitches of any of the local seamstresses. Tales were told of the dirty deeds of a female neighbor who was said to be jealous of Aunt Jewel’s quilting ability. Over the years, the Aunt Jewel stories would have filled a book as big as the dictionary.
And then there was Uncle Ed, a Methodist preacher, who was obviously the world’s worst driver. As a circuit rider, it was not unusual for him to drive off early Sunday morning in a new car and return home that night, having secured a ride from a stranger, with only the steering wheel from the new car in his hand. Family members reported that he had wrecked more cars than his churches had parishioners. Nevertheless, he drove until his last day on earth.
Other relatives were known primarily for their misdeeds. Children were often asked if they wanted to grow up to be a liar like Uncle George or lazy like Aunt Edna or a glutton like Cousin Stella. Stories about the nefarious activities for which these individuals were guilty were immediately forthcoming.
I find it unusual when I encounter people who don’t have family stories. It is almost as if they grew up in a house full of strangers. One of the saddest occasions is when some older people pass away and their friends and relatives are unable to come up with enough details about their lives to put together an obituary.
I suppose people who spend a lot of time watching television or on the Internet and who do not sit down at the table to share meals, talk to each other less than my family did. I think that has a lot to do with individuals lacking a sense of connectedness. I’ve noticed in the last few years that a lot of people don’t build close friendships the way they once did.
My favorite couple is two elderly widows who were married to brothers. They shop together, go to church together and go fishing with each other. These two women have been friends for as long as I can remember and they seem to find an enormous amount of joy in each other’s company. Even though they both have children, one is seldom ever seen away from home without the other. I think it is wonderful that their friendship has withstood the tests of time. When I think of all the lonely people in the world, I think how happy many of them would be if they could find just one good friend.
As I think back on it I realize now that telling stories was one the ways my family found to share bits and pieces of themselves with each other. The people who lived in all those stories still live in our memories today. We can always drag them out, dust them off and enjoy a smile as we remember occasions when we spent time together.
In a world as troubled as ours, I feel gratified to have inherited the kind of family life that was fused with the spiritual values that make it possible to maintain a balanced perspective. There’s so much ammunition in events occurring around us to build a storehouse of anger, frustration and pain, that one has to maintain a firewall to resist it. Those without friends or family, who cannot find a religious institution or a support group to help them out, have to work twice as hard as the rest of us to stay on an even keel. There is no wonder in these times, that so many have to be medicated just to function.
I always try to remember that most people have all the problems they need when they wake up in the morning, so if I can avoid adding to their burden, it is a good thing. My past informs my future and helps me get where I need to go. All I can do is try.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.