“To Forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.” – Chinese proverb
I recently visited relatives I haven’t seen in a few years – it breaks my heart to admit that – how have I become so busy that my extended family was not a priority? I was able to return to my great-grandmother’s, a Sears Roebuck catalog home from the 1930’s. This home, with its red siding and white trim was a fixture of my childhood – holidays, family gatherings, so many wonderful memories. My great aunts and uncles lived across the driveway and up the hill, creating a wonderful little world in which I could go from house to house; enjoying laughter, storytelling, and country cooking. Walking in the door was like going back in time. For a moment, I imagined my great-grandmother greeting me with her big smile and a quick wink, reminding me that her freezer was stocked with ice cream. This home, once filled with the voices of my beloved family members, many now gone, seemed eerily quiet. Its façade has faded a bit, but the soul in that house seemed to whisper with a fierceness. A desperation not to be forgotten, not to lose the memories that have filled it over the years.
The past matters.
Allowing my children to experience these places and people of my past/ their past, matters.
The stories of my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my great aunts and uncles, all of these stories matter; because ultimately they contribute to my story and the story of my children – who we are and where we come from.
I spent my 20’s and most of my 30’s trying to discover myself and create my own life. I thought I had to separate myself in some ways from my past to become “me” – but now I realize the opposite is true. Now, as I enter my 40’s, I see that in order to know my true and authentic self, I need to know these stories, these people who came before me. By learning my family history, I am connecting to a deeper sense of self.
I am grateful for this trip to my family homestead. I am grateful that my great-grandmother’s house and that of my beloved Aunt Vivian across the driveway are still in my family, still there for me to enter – with open arms and a warm embrace. I am grateful that the paintings, photos and my favorite porch swing are still there, treasures of a rich family history – my history.
There is a sense of urgency in my search for these stories and collecting these treasured memories. Sadly, this generation of matriarchs and patriarchs has faded, there are still stories – in words and in the artifacts of a time now gone. I don’t want these memories, these pieces of my past, to disappear. I pray that I can honor those that came before me – discovering these deep roots and connections to the past.