Share Those Stories
All of us have stories to tell; the actions and antics we committed in our lives, both good and bad, naughty and nice, that help explain who we are and define us as human beings. Too often these stories remain untold and a person takes a life full of interesting but unknown anecdotes with him or her to the grave. Children and grandchildren never have the opportunity to truly know and understand their parents or grandparents without the knowledge of these little stories from the past that help explain where people came from and what they have experienced.
Often after parents or grandparents die, we unearth pictures and we hear never-before-told stories from friends or other relatives about our ancestors that enthrall and captivate us and make us heartily regret that we didn’t have this information while the person was still alive. If we had known then what we sometimes learn now, it would have made great conversation starters and allowed us the opportunity to develop a more meaningful, intimate relationship with that particular family member.
Take my grandmother for instance. After my parents died, my siblings and I inherited boxes of pictures and information about our grandmother, information we didn’t know existed. These pictures and documents made this spunky little lady come alive for me in unexpected ways. My grandmother was an amazing woman, a fact I never realized as a child, and as I began to understand her life a little better, scrutinized the pictures, and looked through the lens of time, I gained enormous respect and admiration for this extraordinary woman. I’ve pieced together a brand new picture of my grandmother, who I used to think of as a straight-laced little old Victorian prude but in fact I now understand was an extremely intelligent woman, full of spirit, determination and grit. I would have spent a lot more time with my grandmother if I knew then what I know now, but now is too late, many years too late.
My grandmother grew up on a farm. Highly intelligent, she excelled at math and science and before she married, she worked at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She wrote three papers based on her observations of stars and their orbits, and people can still find those papers on the Internet today, even though she wrote them in 1912.
She married in 1913, in an era when marriage meant a woman ceased to exist as an individual but instead became an appendage of her husband. Miss Mary Smith would marry Mr. John Doe and forever after be known as Mrs. John Doe. She wasn’t even allowed to keep her first name. Even the obituaries of those unfortunate times would read ‘Mrs. John Doe’. I know, because I’ve seen these old papers and looking through old documents confirms the fact that the day after a woman married, she was forever after known by her husband’s name only. My grandmother’s obituary reads “Mrs. William. She was NOT Mrs. William, she was Stella, her own person with her own name.
How sad. What a waste. Of course, my grandmother quit her job at the Observatory after she married and abided by the outrageous rules of the day regarding women, but she did manage to retain her spunk and independence. One story that my mother did tell us after grandma died concerned a car. After the automobile became affordable for the ordinary citizen, but before women did much driving, my grandmother went to visit her sister and decided she wanted a car. Like the truly independent person she was, she preferred to ask forgiveness rather than ask for permission, so she bought herself a vehicle and drove it home, but a few blocks from her house she parked the car and walked the rest of the way home. She then proceeded to convince my grandfather that she needed an automobile. After considerable persuasion, my grandfather agreed that yes, a car would likely be a good idea for her to have. My grandmother smiled sweetly, walked out of the house, and a short while later proudly drove home her new automobile.
I love that story. I wish I had heard it while my grandmother was still alive. I would have looked at her with greater admiration and respect and I suspect I would have been inclined to share some of my own somewhat nefarious activities with her.
In the stack of boxes my mother had, my siblings and I have also found several correspondence course diplomas that my grandmother earned after her marriage. I knew my grandmother worked with wood, in fact I have a small wooden chest she built from scrap lumber, but I never knew she took a building contractors correspondence course that taught her how to build stairs, plaster walls, sheetrock, pour concrete, put on a roof, and do numerous other carpentry work. The diploma she earned, dated June of 1925, looks very impressive.
I’m grateful to have this information about my grandmother, but I regret that I got to know her better after her death than I knew her when she was alive. That’s why I encourage people to tell those stories, share those little remembrances, let your children and grandchildren know you were no angel, you got into scrapes, you sometimes did what you had to do to get your own way, you did things you regret, and you have great joys and feel great accomplishments. In short, you are a thinking, feeling human being deserving of love and respect. You are an interesting little older person who has experienced life and very often can now see the humor in much of daily living.
We like to hear stories about family members and we regret discovering the real person after he or she is no longer with us. Tell those stories, and open the door to improved family interaction and understanding.