Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Family History: You've Only Got One Chance

It's amazing how ignorant children can remain of their parents' heritage—until they finally have the gumption to ask questions. I spent 35 years talking with my folks about my job, their health and the weather, before I finally recognized the precious resource I had in simply talking to Evelyn & Dan and asking all the things that I wondered—didn't remember or never knew.

Poppy is 86, Mamer is 83 and they are in such fortunate health—as so many of their contemporaries succumb to Alzheimers or... inevitably drop dead. In either instance, a lifetime of knowledge is lost. Thank god I got it together before it's too late and started asking the parents how they met, about their courting, the details of their marriage and so on.

Each time I return to Lynchburg, I swipe more and more photos from their attic, and as I go through them, I ask a mountain of questions. Not only do I take delight in watching them bond again over the memories, but I listen—really listen—so that I may become the family memory bank if and when there's no one else to have the answers.

When I was home for my 30-year high school reunion last month, Poppy shared stories about his service in WWII... time in China, a long way from home for a country boy from Virginia. He gave me a half-dozen photos to bring back to New York to filter through my various photo editing programs, and the results are astounding. I share them with the universal knowledge that we all have family histories that are as universal. They enrich our roots, give us touchstones on how we all fit into American (or global) milestones. In a word: precious.Dad with his fellow servicemen at a club in China. He's on the bottom right.
Poppy in an authentic rickshaw in China. Note the entrance-way in the background.
Dad, middle, with two of his WWII buddies.
In training, with a buddy, in the barracks.
With the same dude, Dad on the left. He's all of 20-21 here.
Hilarious... Dad playing in the E.C. High Glass High School band—which I was a member of some 30+ years later. He's on drums, barely visible in the middle. I swear, that's Abe Lincoln standing on the left.