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Another post in support of memoirs

April 26, 2012

I barely remember either of my grandfathers. My dad’s dad was, if memory serves, born in 1900 and emigrated through Ellis Island. At the age of 15, he was working 15 hours a day, mostly because he had to so he could eat. When my son turns fifteen, if he works, it’ll be to satisfy his urge for electronics. Things change a lot in 97 years.

I remember when he bought a new white Chevy Nova, and we drove up route 5S to Amsterdam and back route 5. If you opened his glove box, there was something you could set your McDonald’s milkshake on. We must have stopped to eat. They weren’t cup holders, the way we think of them now. And mostly, you didn’t eat and drive back then.

My mom’s dad was one of those special people and he and I connected, perhaps in a way that I’ve never connected with someone since. One time her parents came to babysit and they made steak and mushrooms. Even as a kid, I loved mushrooms. My grandfather asked if he could have some and I said no. My grandmother, on the other hand, got one.

I don’t know much about his childhood, but I know more about him as a person. I kid with people, needle them in a way that’s annoying, but not really. And it’s great fun. I think I got that from him. I don’t remember the details any more, but he was once involved in a practical joke that involved boots being nailed to the floor at his place of work. He could have been the giver or the receiver.

Both of my grandfathers have been dead more than 40 years by now. The stories of them are the stories teenagers typically roll their eyes at when you sit down to tell them. What’s going on now holds a lot more interest to those whose past doesn’t extend very far back. When two years seems like a long time ago, forty years seems irrelevant.

For the most part, the stories of my grandfathers will fade the way most stories of grandfathers fade. After three or four generations, their presence will only be felt indirectly through inherited traits and habits.

Ninety-seven years from now, whatever comes after me probably won’t know who I am. And they may have only second-hand stories of what my son was like.

Except unlike my grandfathers, we, as writers, have the skill and ability to change that. Not everyone can write a memoir, but everyone of us can put something together telling future generations what it’s like. Even the mundane things. After all, my son can’t comprehend a world where you have to wait for the television to warm up, and it takes half an hour to reheat dinner, any more than I can comprehend a world where you hunted so you got to eat meat in the winter.

I wonder what my great-grandchildren won’t comprehend. Yours, too.

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3 Comments
  1. Mom permalink
    April 26, 2012 10:11 am

    Your grandfather got one mushroom out of a double batch. Grammy got none. I guess I better write down stuff while I still can.

  2. April 26, 2012 1:36 pm

    I can relate to the “eye-rolling”. When an uncle talked about greeting Louis Bleriot when the Frenchman land the first plane to cross the English Channel, onto grass covering the white cliffs of Dover. And my mother describing Zeppelins droning overhead during The Great War – ancient history 20 years before I made an appearance – my eyes rolled.
    Todays kids (those under 50) stitch a patient (here we go again) look of attention on their faces when I recall routinely replacing liquid-acid glass-batteries in order to hear Winston Churchill – or Herr Hitler’s – speeches crackling from the cloth-covered speaker of the wood-cabinat wireless/radio, via BBC.
    Drive-in movies, 30-cent pack of cigarettes, 25-cent a gallon gas, nickle coffee – and a endless refills and – in UK – mail-delivery THREE TIMES A DAY!
    You’re right.
    Who’d beleive it, if it isn’t written down ;^D

  3. April 26, 2012 4:42 pm

    When My dad died, I wrote him into a couple of my books. Did it add to the plot? I think so, but it doesn’t matter. Doing it felt great, and people recognized the mannerisms and speech as spot on.

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