Thursday, November 19, 2009

What I Wish I Knew

When I was born, I had four relatively young grandparents and three great-grandparents. Both of my parents grew up really only knowing the three great-grandparents who were alive when I was born. My Mama had only one living grandparent from the time she was eight years old, and my Daddy got a lot of raising from his Daddy's mother. I don't remember my Daddy's grandaddy very well - I must have been about four when he passed away - but my two great-grandmas lived until I was about ten.
So until I was ten, I had six grandparents. How could anyone be so lucky? The thing about being young, though, is that you think everyone will live forever. And no matter what you think you will remember, there's a good chance it will slip through by unless you capture it. I know that my grandparents told me stories about growing up and about their lives. My Daddy actually remembered a lot about what his grandma told me, and still felt like he didn't remember enough. He told me when I was very young to listen and remember when loved ones told me their stories.
I really did try to capture my family's stories. In high school, I tried out for the literary magazine by interviewing all four of my grandparents about their experiences during the Great Depression. When I was sixteen, I gave each of my grandmas a book to record their memories. I gave Grandma Bozeman (my Mama's Mama) a blank book that she gave back to me a few months later filled at least 2/3 of the way with her life story to that point. I gave Grandma Turner (my Daddy's Mama) one of those Grandma Remembers. . . style books so she only had to fill in sentences and had lots of prompts to help her out. I don't know where the book is now, and I doubt she ever filled out a single bit of it. I tried conducting a few interviews with tape recorders and video cameras over the year, too.

I lost my maternal grandparents when I was twenty years old. Even though I had tried to capture their stories, they were still telling these stories to a child and censoring them for a child's understanding. And even though my Grandaddy Turner didn't pass away until I was thirty-three and my Grandma Turner is still living, I found it very difficult to gather their stories. They were (and are) reluctant to tell anything personal. I still find myself hungering for stories of the past.

This week in Yesterday + Today with Ali Edwards, we are focusing on the present, but in gathering our own stories, we are considering what we wish we knew about our ancestors. In thinking about what I wish I knew, I can better understand what I want to document today. I can also focus on what I want to ask my parents, my aunts and uncles, and even my siblings about their stories.

  • Birth stories. I am fascinated by childbirth and how the perception of birth has changed over the years. I would also love to know about early newborn days and breastfeeding. I recently learned that my Grandma breastfed my Mama and my aunt (her fifth and sixth children) and I felt such a kinship with her.
  • Everyday details. What they ate. What their daily lives were like.
  • Friendships. Who were their friends and why were they friends?
  • How they named their children.
  • What were their hobbies? How did they spend any free time? Did they have free time?
  • What were their greatest challenges?
  • What were their greatest successes? Their greatest failures?
  • What were their relationships with their families like?
  • Did they go on vacations? Where?
  • How did they see themselves as mothers (or as fathers)? How did they parent?
I'm sure there is more, but I haven't come up with anything else yet.

What do you wish you knew about the generations who came before you?


Lois said...

What you write about is exactly why I scrapbook. I hunger for those stories about my grandparents' lives, what their lives were like during the Depression, what it was like to raise kids back then, what my Momma was like when she was a girl. I am like you in that I didn't truly appreciate the stories I was being told until it was too late and they were gone.
But, thank goodness we "get it" and can capture those stories now for our children and grandchildren of the future.

April said...

Definitely good things that we all wish we knew . . . here's to better memory-keeping than our ancestors! :-) Speaking of "what I wish I knew" . . . great thing to document on my blog too!

ComfyMom~Stacey said...

I have a bunch of photos of my grandparents & great grandparents from 1900-1940. I wish I knew more about the circumstances of the photos. What was going on that day? Why were the photos taken? Who took them? Where are they specifically? Unfortunately my parents don't know those details & I'm left wondering.