I sometimes joke that I’m paid to be a 24-hour expert. Learn a topic, sum it up, then move on to the next one.
This time, I’m not getting paid. And I’m hoping to hold on to this subject for a lot longer than a day.
Right, Grandma Elsie?
My grandma, for those of you who don’t know, is officially amazing. She’s been through wartime Britain and the Blitz. She started her life over in America when she was just two years younger than I am now. She even survived living with us when my sisters and I were little, full of the energy and innocently impudent questions of childhood. (“Grandma, do you remember the Revolution?”)
But I’d never heard all the stories. And the ones I knew, I wanted a better grip on. Memory can be like an old screen door in the wind sometimes; if you don’t reinforce it quickly, it can be gone before you know it.
It was Mom who had the idea. How about an interview?
“It would be nice for Ivy, Gil, and any other future great-grandkids to know a little about her life,” Mom wrote me in an email, referring to my niece and nephew. “I have some vague ideas – but it would be good to have it straight from her.”
I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years. I’ve chatted with a veteran of World War I, with an artist who works in cardboard, with teenage investigative reporters.
None of them were this much fun.
There’s nothing like rediscovering your own family. There’s always one more thing to learn, one more subject that brings a smile to both of you, or a sigh, or even a blink of recognition.
I knew that Grandma’s dad had served in Egypt in World War I. I didn’t know he’d been a voracious reader (like most of this family, to be honest) whose favorite novel was Adam Bede.
I had vaguely remembered that she’d worked in an airplane factory during World War II. I hadn’t known that she and one other lady had been the first two women on the fitting room floor. “The guys worked so hard to moderate their language,” she laughed.
I had known, in an academic way, about the evacuations at the start of the Blitz – but not that her family had been one of the ones to take off, with hastily packed bags and a canary named Bill.
Every piece led to another – childhood friends, old school subjects, jobs and fears long since gone. It was like discovering a patchwork quilt, one square at a time.
No, it was like meeting a friend all over again – a friend I’ve known as long as I’ve been alive.
And it made me wonder. How much do I really remember? How much would I be able to pass on someday?
Plenty of people remind you to capture the memories of others before they’re gone. We’ve all seen projects involving World War II veterans and Depression survivors and many others. It’s a good idea and a vital one.
But we sometimes forget that we’re a link in the chain, too – and a curiously ephemeral one, with so much of our past and present living a virtual existence. Pieces of us live here, there, everywhere in silicon and electricity, but how often do we think to consolidate it all for someone else?
How often do we even do that for ourselves?
Isn’t now a good time to start?
It’s worth thinking about. And as I pull together the “Grandma notes” – and add to them, count on it – I may just begin to jot down some Scott chronicles as well, a piece at a time.
After all, someday Ivy’s and Gil’s kids may want to become an expert on me.
And I hope they’ll want to know it for more than 24 hours.