04 January, 2012

You never when it's going to be too late until it's too... late

The window of opportunity for understanding my origins is forever narrowing.

I started this blog entry well over a year ago. It was an idea I had, I guess. But I stopped. It was undoubtedly during a broad window of writer's block.

When I was in high school, or perhaps younger, I did a project for either school or some personal reason, where I interviewed my grandmother - my mother's mother. I don't remember what I asked her. But I do remember that she didn't remember as much as I would have hoped she'd remember about her past. And I probably didn't ask very well-formulated questions.

I never got a chance to ask any of my other grandparents those questions. With the exception of my father's father, they were all born in Europe around the turn of the century. That was a different time and place. There was no electricity. There was no internet. There were no refrigerators. There were no cars. It's weird to me to think that just that gap of two generations holds such immense changes in how life was lived.

I talked with my mother a lot, about a lot of things. But I wish, now, that I had conducted lengthy formal interviews, extracting every bit of knowledge I could, and taking good notes. I wish I knew about her childhood more than I do. I remember her relating tidbits such as when I asked her about what it was like growing up and she said "We all [her sisters] believed that we were our father's favorite, and that our mother hated us." I remember stories about my mother's father. I knew he'd lost his leg because he was hit by a fire engine. I knew that he had a temper and he was good at playing cards. I knew that people had only a vague sense about what he did for a living. As a child, I recall stories about how he either worked for the circus or was in the Jewish Mafia. I don't know what the truth was. And I don't know why it was so opaque.

I used to ask her questions about how she and my father met, and she would always tell me crazy stories about how my father supposedly wouldn't tell her what he did for work for the first few months they dated. I know that my father's mother didn't care very much for my mother. That she wasn't good enough. Just all these little snippets. But it's not a movie. It's like notes inside fortune cookies. I didn't get to ask her everything I wanted to ask her. And I have forgotten the details of many things I did ask. It seems ironic to me that I used to get so upset when my father would tell me he didn't remember things from the past, but I am now forgetting things from the past. Though, I think I remember my past better than that of the stories that have been related to me.

I want to know more about my father's time as a child. I want to know more about his father. Even though my mother's father died thirteen years before I was born, I know more about him, because of the few stories, than I ever have known about my father's father, who was alive when I was a small child. I only remember visiting him in a hospital bed. I know that he was part of a business with partners, something like a hat store, and that his partners "screwed him out of the business" (that's how someone related the story), and that they lost their home in the depression and never owned a home again for over forty years. But that's all. I don't know what they were like.

The only ones left in my family from whom the stories may be told of the past are my brother and my aunt. There is probably much they can share of their respective generations. And they both are great storytellers.

I learned much from my brother about how different my parents were when they were younger, with him being eighteen years older than me. But again, the stories don't feel like I'm really there. I don't know what it is. It's like I'm wanting something deeper than a story can provide. And nobody's memory is sufficient to quench my desire to feel what these people were like.

I would love to know more about my father's time in the Navy. Or in college. To know what he wished for when he was young. What did life look like?

I loved it when my mother would tell me little memories... she told me what it was like the day that JFK died, and I could feel the emotion. I want that reality, that intensity, for the entire movie of the entire history.

But she's gone.

And people are aging.

And I am aging.

And memories are fading.

And at some point, in the not too distant future, it's going to be too...

1 comment:

  1. Late?

    Just talk to your father already. and write your own story to capture his memories before they are gone.