Pieces of Family Stories

Tales of who you were will eventually be overtaken by a swirling fog.

All families have their stories. There’s the time Uncle Bob decided to throw his drink out the car window, only the window was closed. The time my father’s car overheated while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, and the only liquid he had to put in the radiator was laundry detergent, so not only was traffic backed up for miles, but when he got moving again, he left a trail of suds. The time my grandfather went outside, pitchfork in hand, to have a calm, quiet talk with my aunt’s abusive husband, and the guy left and never came back. No one knows what my grandfather said, but I sure wish he had lived to have my back like that.

I know tons of stories about my parents and grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and even a cousin or two. But it occurs to me that I don’t have any complete stories about great grandparents or any generations older than that. Little bits and pieces have come down to me, but they’re either incomplete, implausible, or disputed.

For example, I know there is a Prussian officer somewhere in the family tree. I’ve even seen a picture of him, sporting the spiked helmet and the monocle, but I’m not even sure where that picture went after my mother died. I don’t know his name or how he is related to me. And I vaguely remember my mother saying there was some Czechoslovakian in our bloodline way back in there, but I don’t know how or why, and it sure didn’t pop out when Ancestry.com analyzed my DNA. My mother once showed me the coat of arms of a distant relative, and there was a unicorn in it. Yet my cousin swears there are no coats of arms in that branch of the family tree. I have no idea how my great grandmother felt when my maternal grandmother left Denmark and went to America without speaking English or knowing anyone but the husband who awaited her. What did they say to each other when they parted ways?

Unless you come from a culture that makes a habit of reciting the family history from generation to generation, or carving it in stone, then all the family stories that don’t get written down have a finite shelf life. In my family, It seems to be two generations. Beyond that, everything is pieces and parts, surrounded by a swirling fog.

If you’re not famous or infamous, eventually, these tales of who you were and what you did will be overtaken by that fog. On some days, I actually find that comforting. On others, I find it a bit scary.

We are all temporal beings. We are all part of the eternal ether, even though we debate whether that ether takes on a spiritual, philosophical, or physical form. We are surrounded by those who came before us, whom we have never met, and we, too, will surround the generations that come long after we’re gone.

Will we know? Will they? I’m thinking probably not. But it’s impossible to say.

It was ever thus.

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Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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