Family Stories

When my mom and dad arrived yesterday, the first thing my dad wanted to do was grub around in his suitcase.

"I've got something for you," he said.

He couldn't find it right away, but finally my mom poked around and found a manila envelope. Inside was a bright red peachie-type folder, with my dad's memoirs from WWII. He had, at the urging of my uncle, finally written them down.

Later, at the dinner table, I said to my mom: "Now it's your turn."

She answered: "Oh, I haven't ever done anything exciting."

This from the woman who survived the dust bowl on a small farm in Kansas, who was the first woman in her family to attend college, who defended the school library from censorship in 1968.

I realize, though, that what she really meant was probably: "I've never been to a war."

There were all sorts of levels of sadness in her statement. I'm wondering how much it has to do with being a woman in a man's world, in the devaluing of herself simply as herself, or even the dismissal of midwestern rural life as unimportant and "less than".

I'm going to be working on her during the visit and letting her know that I want her stories.

As I said before, I'm working on having a "real" relationship with my parents, which I believe means that I must come to know them better -- as they are now, and as they perceive themselves to have been (not just as I have perceived them to have been).

Funny -- the longer I go on living, the more interested I seem to get in the details of nearly every person that I know. Life is so fascinating, and humans are so diverse.

Here's to all the lost stories.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:51 PM  


Anonymous said... September 11, 2007 at 7:42 PM  

Keep working on her. Reading stories of your parents grandparents great grand parents sisters brothers really does reinforce what family means.
My Great Grandmother came over (as she said" on the boat out of the balck forest in Germany to the US in the 1800's.
They made her sit down and write was life was like and I still read it once a year.

Hospice asked Ma to do interviews with her when she was going through her cancer that my cousin turned into a dvd to help people understand hospice.
I am a mommas boy and thought I knew her pretty well but I learned so much about her as she explained her experience with her disease.

Make your Ma write. Her stories are important! (as are your Dads)

PortlyDyke said... September 11, 2007 at 10:25 PM  

Thanks for the encouragement Pido -- My mom is actually a very good writer, and I will keep giving her the pointed elbow on this one.

So far, it's actually been a great visit. I took the entire week off from work, and I'm realizing that it seems important, for me, to set the time aside to "just relate" when I'm with ANYONE that I want to share deep connection with -- distraction is a killer for me.

Today, we shared two meals in a state of delight, played scrabble (I actually whupped my mom's ass for the first time ever, and she took it like a pro -- but maybe she let me win -- what do you think?), and found a book she'd been coveting at the local second-hand bookstore. It was a delight to watch her eyes light up (she's a retired librarian), and to watch my dad raz her for the rest of the day about how she clutched that book to her chest.

I feel grateful that my mom and dad are both healthy and active. I hope that they are enjoying themselves on this trip, and realize that they are wise old birds who are responsible for their own happiness.

Bradley said... September 12, 2007 at 6:31 AM  

I write and teach creative nonfiction, and I've encountered plenty of students who tend to say, "I'm not that interesting; I don't have anything to write about." My response is always that the one key ingredient to any narrative is conflict-- small or large, internal or external. I've yet to meet a single person who hasn't experienced some conflict in his or her life, which means I've never met anyone who didn't have the materials for a memoir or personal essay.

In fact, one summer Emily and I were teaching in a program for "gifted" middle school students, and I had a student write a funny, exciting, and ultimately gripping story about the feud she had with another girl when she was in the third grade... over monkey bars. Whichever one got to the bars first at recess would basically dominate them for the entire time they had before returning to class. It was tense and interesting, not because I care at all about second grade girls and monkey bars, but because she cared so much about this feud when she was in the second grade, and she was able to convey exactly how important this was to her.

None of us can inhabit another person's head or experience the world as someone else perceives it, but creative nonfiction essays and narrative give us an opportunity to get a sense of what it would be like to be someone else, albeit briefly. So, yeah, keep encouraging your mom to share her story-- anything that makes us see the world from someone else's point-of-view is inherently valuable, even if that person thinks her life is less than exciting.

Anonymous said... September 12, 2007 at 7:35 PM  

"but maybe she let me win -- what do you think?"
Dad always throws at least 2 games of pool and one game of cribbage to me so she may have let you win.
I'm glad you are having a great time with the folks.
Far to often in life we get so carried away in our own lives that we take so much for granted and don't really appreciate that game fo scrabble or the joy of finding that one book that brings joy to someone close to us.
You'll have to let me know if you win a second game!

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