Next month, I’m taking the McDougal and Albrecht kids to Peoria to see their grandparents. I hope it will be an epic adventure of cousinly bonding and laughter, motoring across the heartland. In reality, it will probably be eighteen hours of unrestricted Snapchat, Youtube videos, and music in headphones. All punctuated by snarling and sleeping. At least I can forbid them to ask, “Are we there yet?” by threatening to confiscate their digital devices.
As I mentioned a few columns ago, my dad had a hemorrhagic stroke in February but had made significant improvements when I was home in May. Unfortunately, that progress seems to have not only halted but might be headed in the other direction. To say this is worrisome would be a vast understatement.
I come from two branches of small families. On my mom’s side, there are three cousins. On my dad’s side, another three cousins. Aunt Mary Sue is my mom’s only remaining sibling and my dad’s sister died in 1999. Links to ancestral history are thin on the ground and as far as I know, none of my cousins or aunts have done an exhaustive study of either side’s family trees.
This trip seems like the perfect opportunity to remedy some of the gaping holes in our history. Years ago, Dad collected all the pictures of the ancestors he could from my grandparents, scanned them into his computer, and then reprinted the photos.
I saw them briefly and am desperately hoping there is some identification of these grim relatives in formal poses with stoic faces. If not, I will be interrogating my dad about whom they might be. Perhaps then, we can have Great Aunt Ethel identified for posterity.
In addition to the photos, I would love to collect some oral history from my dad. What a treasure trove of knowledge and stories, just waiting for me to unearth it.
I remember driving down to Denver with my mom for her fiftieth high school reunion. I knew we’d be in the car for six straight hours and I also knew that her time on earth was nearing its end. I seized the moment and asked her nonstop questions about growing up in Denver, attending East High School, and the University of Colorado. Boyfriends, best friends, parties, parents, moves, motherhood. We covered so many years and she loved telling me the history of her life as much as I enjoyed hearing it.
My regret is that I didn’t record any of it. It’s less about the content than it is to be able to hear her voice again. I have even kept an ancient answering machine just because it has my mom’s voice on the message: “You have reached the number you dialed.” My mom was such a card.
I don’t want those regrets with my dad. I want him to download his life experiences into my waiting ears and microphone while I still can.
When you’re younger, you don’t see your parents as actual people with real lives. Ask my children. I’m sure they’re convinced we were created the day before they were born with no prior or current history, especially if it has nothing to do with them.
Then you become a parent yourself. If you’re lucky, your parents become friends and sages. You actually want to know what they think and ask their advice. It doesn’t occur to you that there might be an expiration date on the advice and accumulated knowledge.
However, when events conspire to suggest their stories might only be available as a limited time offer, you’d best hop to it. Vacuum up every story you can from your family while they’re here.
I hope my kids will recognize that I too am a wealth of useful experience and advice before it’s too late. The wonders of Snapchat have nothing on my vast knowledge of proper grammar and diagramming of sentences. Just ask me.