I have a strong recollection of my grandmother telling me that she was a fur coat model when she met my grandfather. She said my grandfather used to come into the shop and she wouldn’t give him the time of day.
I have no idea now if my memory is true. I don’t question whether my grandmother was confused or got the details wrong because she pretty much always had her faculties but I do wonder if I misremember our conversation because to everyone else, she was a shoe model!
Clearly, the moral here is to write everything down or get it on tape. My grandmother isn’t here to back me up and quite frankly, my word doesn’t count for much! I’m notorious in our family for either not remembering something at all, or for remembering it wrong. Throw in the inevitably of my not hearing something correctly and my credibility is shot when it comes to family stories. I pretty much never get the benefit of the doubt.
As infuriating and annoying as that is, I get it, I really do!
Whether or not this is you, it still pays to write the stories down and have a record. These stories, these little details are what makes each family special and give each family it’s place in history. Sometimes the stories are hard. The great-grandfather I was named after, he committed suicide. I wish I knew more about the circumstances but I never felt like I could ask my grandpa about it. I don’t even know how I know about it, and right now, I’m not even certain that someone won’t chime in to tell me that I’ve got all it wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 but when you’re a teenager, hindsight is not even a concept that exists. If I knew then what I know now and all that jazz!
My great uncle Al was a meticulous note taker. He was also a record keeper and a hoarder. Thanks to him, we know so much about my mother’s side of the family, enough to figure out a lot of the missing pieces through research. I was not as close to this side of the family growing up, so I love discovering fascinating details like my great grandmother being a caterer and the fact that my great grandfather left behind a whole other family (wife and kids!) in Lebanon when he came here. On the surface, these are details that are unique to our family but dig a little deeper and they become artifacts of history. My great grandmother’s catering business was key to surviving the Great Depression, and she was part of an era in which people did whatever they needed to do to make a living. It was also fortunate that the family lived in a factory town, with jobs available during wartime, and between wars as well. The family that my great grandfather left behind is a clue to the emigration patterns of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Emigration to the US, from certain regions, was also an escape from something–usually oppression or economic depression.
All our individual stories can be threaded together to form a “big picture” view of our collective American history in a way that complements and deepens our understanding what we learn in history class. Understand history to make sense of the present and create a vision for the future.
All this to say, become a record keeper and story writer. Your future selves will thank you.