Your parents’ first date. Your grandfather’s tile business. Your dad’s story of the Egyptian man who offered to buy your stepmother for 10,000 camels. The weekends your aunts and uncles spent down the Shore as kids at the Latin Casino. Your great-aunt’s stories of slumming it at prohibition-era speakeasies in New York. Your mother’s clothing label and her first big order from Neiman-Marcus. Your great-grandmother’s journey from Kiev to Ellis Island–which turned out years later to be Philly, but Ellis Island sounds way better in the story.
What number of your family stories are lost relative to the ones that are not? How many of those details are somewhere you can access them at a later date, open them up, and create new memories and understanding about where you and your children have come from?
One of my most treasured keepsakes: A weathered, nearly crumbling, paper scrapbook from my Great Aunt, bursting with photo-corners and snapshots from the 1920’s and 1930’s. If I had to save a single item in a fire, this is the one that always springs to mind first. Even before the baby pictures. My children are well photographed–we live in a digital age in which it would be almost difficult not to find photos of your children on any given day, at any recital or graduation or bathtime. But those photos of my ancestors only exist in that one place: on those delicate pages.
Recently, there have been a series of events, changes, wake-up calls in my life that compel me to contemplate the nature of our family histories and how ephemeral, how fragile and easily lost they are
When we are gone, will our stories die with us?
Will anyone know about your pathetic Christmas trees? How you felt when your daughter first read a book to herself? How you survived 9/11? What you cooked–or didn’t cook? The unbearably hot summer vacation in Maine?
How about the girl who started as a headstrong baby, then, universe willing, will grow to be her own mother and grandmother, with her own stories that someone cares about?
I’ve seen written (lord, have I seen it written) that the idea of parent blogging is indulgent. Narcissistic. That it’s nothing more than documenting every stupid aspect of every insignificant moment with detail that “no one cares about.”
They’re wrong. Someone will care about your stories very much one day: Your children. Their children.
Does anyone else matter nearly as much?
Don’t listen to those who would tell you that the stories you write down are frivolous or self-centered. Don’t listen to those who spit out the word mommy blogging with disdain or use it to belittle the importance of what you are doing.
What we do as mothers–and yes, fathers–is more than just create children. We create families. We create legacies. In some way, we have an obligation to preserve what we can.
The tools are new, but the intent isn’t; not nearly.
Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with a friend about the importance of family. Those who are with us, and those who are not. That’s why I so treasure those photographs from 1931–it’s as if they were the actual people themselves and not just their fading images.
One of my great joys in recent years was spending hours with Momsie before she died, painstakingly filling out a memory book filled with prompts about her childhood, her upbringing. One of my great regrets is that we didn’t finish it. But the more I think about it, perhaps a memory book, like a blog, can never truly be finished. Even if every page, every margin, is packed to overflowing.
There’s always one more page.
And so here we put our pages to use–one more, one day at a time–to tell those stories, to save the memories, to create a tapestry of love, fear, laughter, great moments, and scary near-misses. The good, the bad, the exquisitely honest, the painfully beautiful.
Two years ago, I gave my mother her own family memory book. This past Mother’s Day, she returned it to me, completed.
I haven’t spent much time with it yet. But I don’t need to today. It’s not just for me.