I was at the funeral of my great aunt and, like most farewells of this form I guess, there was a melancholy air about us. As a contrast to that feeling it was heartwarming to hear the many stories about my great aunt from my dad and his brothers and sisters.
Over breakfast on the morning of the funeral my stepmother threw out the question,
“What is your earliest memory of your aunt?”
|Photo Credit: Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski|
Mine was of her wedding day. I was a young child. I remembered a far happier day than the one we were gathering for that day. My dad’s earliest memory was sitting with his aunt and some of his brothers in front of the ‘wireless’, an old radio. He recalled that she was their regular babysitter. A wonderful storytelling babysitter, enchanting and reeling them in with fantasy tales, captivating her nephews with stories of rich relatives in far off lands.
During the funeral service the priest shared his recollections of his first meeting with my great aunt, and how she ensured he was whipped into shape for his role as her parish priest. She played a huge role in the parish, despite being less than healthy for as long as I can remember.
After the service, in a local hotel, there was a board full of photos. Photos taken of her happy life. A life I realised I knew very little about. Smiling faces, people wrapped in loving arms in various locations, undertaking various activities. Happy days, happy years filled with family, fun and adventures.
In a few short hours I learned more about my great aunt than I’d heard in the forty years before. Funerals do that to people – bring back memories of happier times gone by, memories of the essence of a person. I also got to hear the story of how my grandparents met. A wonderful, simple meeting that was to lead to a marriage that has lasted 63 years and which is still going strong.
These stories, none of them earth moving or spectacular in the face of mankind’s achievements, not world changing by any means except to those playing the starring roles, made me smile. I’m going to write them down and share them in years to come with my sons, so they know where they have come from. These beautiful little tales are the stories of how we came to be; how one generation turned into another. These stories give us our roots, give us a sense of our family history. They pass our culture and traditions on from generation to generation. They need to be cherished, to be shared with the next generation, to be remembered.
Our memories, the memories of our parents and our grandparents, are tied together. Bound together they make up a picture for our children of the family they belong to. And I feel that having children born in a country different to the one I was born in, living away from their extended family, makes these stories all the more important. These stories connect our cultures. They connect family history to our family now.
These stories connect us, even when we live our life away from the rest of our family, even when we are expats.
So ask to hear these wonderful tales now; don’t wait to hear them in a somber moment when everyone is reflecting on what was. Ask to hear those stories in happy times, direct from the horse’s mouth. And capture them for your children, and the generations beyond.