“Aunt Jennie was my great aunt and your great-great aunt. Well, Aunt Jenny lost her only son to small pox when that little boy was only ten years old. That was when Aunt Jenny began practicing Spiritualism. She became a medium. She once conducted a séance I’ll never forget – don’t you ever go to one of those things, honey. Why I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“I remember it like it was yesterday. We went all the way to Oklahoma in that covered wagon. Yes, sir! I remember walking barefoot, looking back at my footprints in the dusty old road and then jumping onto the wagon.”
“Hey! Hey! Know what? My great-grandpa went on vacation in a real covered wagon!”
“Tell us the Army story, Dad! You know, the one where you were driving the jeep, and you turned the corner so fast that the dog flew out and you caught him by the tail….”
Most people long to keep their past alive. They pass on family legends and stories, as well as belongings of days gone by – grandma’s quilt, grandpa’s coffee cup, mom’s hope chest, dad’s favorite book. The sight or even the thought of this kind of sentimental keepsake can very quickly slide you into a gentle reverie. You touch people who are no more through memory, story, song and a myriad of other mediums.
Children are fascinated by the past. They especially love pictures and movies of themselves as babies, their parents as children, and grandma and grandpa as younger people, vigorous and dark-haired. They gaze in wonder at these familiar people as children, teenagers, and newlyweds. We look at our children’s past with wistfulness, poignancy, a smile, a tear. And so it goes.
Roots, traditions and memories are essential elements in our lives. They give us substance, a sense of belonging in a rapidly changing world. Whether the memories are bright and shining or dark and frightening, they contribute to who were are, the kind of person we become. Even the dark and frightening memories become stories in the chain of stories that make up our lives.
Families used to live in the same area, in the same town for their entire lives. Now families are often scattered far and wide. Even nuclear families are losing the intimacy they once cherished.
Often when families gather together these days, they need to rediscover those common threads that bond them as a family. Once the hellos and hugs are over, and the catching up has been completed, everyone begins the mental process of leave-taking. Then someone laughs softly and says, “You know, I haven’t thought of this in years, but do you remember the time when Amy was five and she…?”
The story is always an old one that has been repeated again and again. Yet, like children, we enjoy both the telling and the listening. One story leads to another, and before you know it the children are creeping in to listen. Some stories are very old, practically legends, while others will become the beloved legends of the future.
These stories are a bond. They give us a sense of continuity. They amuse us and give us a chance to laugh together, to sigh together, to weep together. They allow us to remember that there is a common thread running through all our lives. They help us recreate the family, the closeness, the caring.
If we extend this situation to the world at large, we realize there are no new stories for they have all been told endlessly, through the ages, in many tongues, by many peoples. We realize we are but a link in a never-ending chain and we wonder why we never realized that before.