Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Family history

Over the years I've not only been the designated caretaker for mom, but also the designated family historian, documenting with photographs, tape recorded interviews, and written memories, our family's history. Mom has been the primary subject and willing to submit to interviews and to share her memories.

The past few years, however, I've been more reluctant to continue documenting her memories. Occasionally a new story pops up, but the chronology is sometimes off, and there are new twists that I'm unsure about. To be honest, I'm getting tired of it. I've been the keeper of her high school yearbook, and she reviews it periodically, reliving memories that meant so much to her, reciting poetry, reliving high school romances. Her memories are well documented. I've been glad to do it, for the most part. It's her only entertainment right now, reliving her past.

But rarely are there memories of my childhood, a funny event, a family story that includes me and Stanley unless it's when we were young, before our father died. Which  means 63 years of my life is often absent from her stories. It wasn't a happy time after our father died, and understandably she doesn't want to revisit those memories. I understand. But enough. I thought we were done.

So, yesterday I was taken aback when mom suggested another "sitting." I had gone to her apartment to pick up her hearing aides, which were giving her problems. I was in a hurry and she was in the bathroom, where she sometimes stays for a long time. I knocked and opened the door. She was standing with her pants down. I was sorry to interrupt her, but said, "Mom, I need your hearing aides to take to Tracy."

She handed them to me, and then looking very serious, she said, "I want to have some time to sit down with you to tell you about your father, what a remarkable young man he was. I want you to write it down for you and Stanley and for the boys."

I laughed and said, "Mom, why don't you pull your pants up." And then kindly, I said, "Of course, I'd like to hear more about my dad. You've told me a lot, but I don't know if I have it all written down, so that would be great."

Inwardly, I groaned. And when I left, I wanted to weep. I want to hear more about my dad, of course. But the other part of me, my evil twin, wants nothing more to do with it. I've grieved my lost father more times than I care to remember, always knowing he was never there to love and protect me as I grew to womanhood, as I made mistakes with no gentle father's hand or voice to guide or protect me. I've missed him terribly.

That's the case for many I know with fathers who are alive! There are no guarantees.

To have my mom glorify this man I knew only as a baby is heart-rending and exhausting. I have heard the  stories, about how he painted houses with his father for a year in the middle of his college years to help support the family. I've heard from my aunt how wonderful he was. I heard about his graduation from college and how he became a beloved children's dentist.  I've heard the stories about how he courted mom for seven years, and how she forsook her other love, Robert, to marry my dad because he was stable and already had a career. I've heard the story about his affair with my aunt, his sister-in-law, and how mom said it was really her fault because she wasn't available to him. And I've heard over and over about how their marriage was better than ever after I was born, and how much we were loved and then how he died "just when things were getting good." I've heard the story from my cousin about watching my grandmother sit at the kitchen table looking out the window when she heard her beautiful son had died.  I heard the tears and the grieving when I was 15 years old and came home to a mother sauced and crying on the sofa telling me how much she missed him being there for us.  I've heard it. I've heard it. I've HEARD it.

And now, ... apparently, I'm going to hear it again.

I will do it one more time.

For me, for Stanley, for the boys, and for their children. Someone has to do it.

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