Lucia came home this weekend to collect photographs for a school project, specifically to go through the ancestral archives. Um. Right. OK, I know my mother sent them and my aunt sent some so I have them from both sides of the family at least to some extent so where the hell did I put them? Damn.
She had dinner with her father last night to scan what he has, which is quite a lot, divided between five siblings when his parents were old enough to move into assisted living and let go of nearly everything. He isn’t willing to let her remove any of it from his house. I think I get that. Sort of. Anyway, I realized we’d run out of time to collect mine and send them to his much better scanner and her response was that she knew I’d let her take them back to school. She’s absolutely correct. I didn’t even need to think about it.
Relationships are funny things. I can look at this as if it’s about Lucia, but I don’t think it really has anything to do with what Lucia has ever done or not done. I could look for evidence either way, I suppose. Has Lucia been respectful of other people’s belongings? Has she been disrespectful? Has she damaged or lost things in the past? Do I trust her? Is this even about Lucia? I don’t think so.
Is this about how I feel about the value of my family photographs? Are they meaningless to me? Or of little value? Can they be replaced? They cannot be replaced, clearly. Or there isn’t some secret stash I can go back to. And they aren’t in frames hanging on walls. They are in boxes, put away somewhere downstairs and I’m going to have to look for them. They are incredibly important. As my family gets older, on both sides, we drift apart, geographically and other things are lost. The family matriarch went years ago and then my grandmother just four years ago and all this on my father’s side and now, short of my father and aunt, there is no one else, not really.
We don’t or we have not written much of our history, therefore we have mostly only oral tradition and that is being lost fast. But there are photographs. So why do I believe that I would hand them off to Lucia without a knot in my stomach because *I* have an attachment to my family history that does leave a knot in my stomach, a knot in my stomach because that history, or the oral tradition is vanishing.
I want her to have them. I want her to have them and their stories in her hands. I want her to want to know what they mean and wonder who they are. This photograph I’m going to give you of my mother’s great aunt, call your grandmother and ask her to tell you the story or some of the stories. You‘re sleeping in her bed, by the way. Tell her you want to know about the husband. This will fill in some blanks for you and make part of the family jokes a little more real; the one that goes, where did we come from, Mom? We’ve been here an awful long time, we WASPS. Don’t get all uppity about that, anymore than any other long term WASP ought to, Sweetie; we were horse thieves and alcoholics.
REALLY? Tell me more. How exciting. Scandal in the family. And then there are/were the farmers. My mother swears she never told this story but I remember. I know I did. You had an uncle who had hiccoughs for a very long time. Years. Really, years. They just wouldn’t go away and one day he went behind the barn and shot himself. Did he? Probably. What metaphor did I miss?
And on my father’s side, the barber shop at the Waldorf and then all that money lost the same generation after the death of the man with the great idea. Still. What a great story. What tragedy.
Isn’t it funny that I just focused on family lunacy? Maybe that’s because it’s what we or any other family might keep hidden or forget about. There are plenty of ‘rewritten’ or retold stories of greatness, heroics and love. Things we say differently after time has passed and people have died. Oral tradition is like that, I think. I remember learning what Gospel Truth meant in college. I went to a Jesuit university so you’d expect (or I would) a priest to defend the bible to the letter, yes? No. Not so much. Gospel Truth, oral tradition told over and over again like the telephone game, so the message is bent many times to fit the circumstances or desired message of the teller or the times that perhaps the original story vanishes entirely. This made it very difficult to take a Fundamentalist Christian seriously ever again. Unfair, yes, but still. Probably for the same reason I can’t bring myself to buy a lottery ticket; a single statistics class. Although probably this had more to do with how I was raised than anything else.
So as I’m writing this I’m thinking about photographs I do want to find, and photographs I’ll pass over because they’re too fresh. I want to find a photograph of my mother on a horse with her brothers (they aren’t on the horse) and her parents in front of the farmhouse in the Ozarks. I want to tell her about that farm and my experience because that’s all I have. She can ask her grandmother to go back a little further, and she should although now that I think of it I do have a little but Mom should pass those on directly. Original source and all that, or as close as possible.
I want to tell my daughter about my grandfather in the context of that farm and I don’t have a photograph to describe what I saw and felt and how I knew him and then myself differently or in such a way that the family looked at me strangely when I related the story in a eulogy. I don’t have a photograph of those mountains from the ridge on the back of the tractor with my brother when I was 13 looking out and then down and my grandfather’s quiet that required the same and spoke a profound sense of who he was in the world. Or who he wished he could be again.
I remember after his memorial service my mother and her brothers talked about hiking up to that ridge with his ashes so, you know, I’m not buying that they didn’t understand. I’m just the only one to have said it directly in story format. Without baggage. And when I stop saying it, it will be gone, unless I say it again, enough times that it belongs to another generation.
So of course she can have the photographs. All the photographs she wants. And some stories. I’ll tell her about the ridge and I’ll try not to cry and she will walk away with however it lands.
I wrote that story down before she was born and then wrote it again when she was 18 months old for my grandfather’s eulogy and of course, those are gone and so I KNOW I should write it again before it morphs any further. Shouldn’t I?