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The thing about death is that you can’t remember what a person sounded like. You forget all the little things that you once knew. The sound they made when they opened up the front door, the way they walked, the way they laughed.”

Anderson Cooper

 

The other day, I watched something online so hilarious my left eye closed as I laughed, and I thought of my mother. Her left eye would also close during deep laughter. She passed away over 30 years ago, and while I will obviously never forget her, sometimes these smaller aspects of her fade away. Fortunately, my family has old home movies, and every few years, we’ll get together for a home movie night and I can once again see my mother’s bright smile and gestures that belonged to her alone. Back then, sound wasn’t an option, but her personality shines through nevertheless.

If you were lucky enough to have someone in the family who filmed holidays and other events, those films can be converted onto DVD’s, so you can “revisit” those favorite (and not so favorite) relatives who have passed on or have aged a few decades. Consider sharing these DVD’s as holiday presents this year.

Don’t forget about the future! Videos taken of family events with your camera, smartphone, Pad, Notebook, etc., can be compiled and shared with the family globally.

You also have an opportunity to sit down with your favorite people, and film a one-on-one conversation about his or her life — how obstacles were tackled, funny anecdotes, lessons learned, his or her favorite people, etc.

If a family gathering approaches where a few “old timers” will be present, consider filming them as a group, asking them to share stories about when they were kids. The different personalities will be revealed, and their interaction will provide another layer of insight into your family dynamics.

As this popular vintage photograph montage demonstrates, personalities exist behind formal portraits, so even if you’re taking a formal or quasi-formal group photograph, be sure to take a couple of candid shots of the group being themselves.

Vintage

That’s a keeper.

Rene Manes was a female version of the neighborhood bully.  She was taller than most of us girls, had long blonde hair, pale skin, and was intimidating as hell.  A bit of a loner, she kept to herself, except to abuse any poor sap who unwittingly crossed her path.

One summer day, she approached a few of us who were playing marbles, and asked if she could join the game.  Stunned, we just looked at her.  Rene Manes not only wanted to play with us, but she actually asked permission.  Speechless, all we could manage were slow, short nods.

In our school, “steely boulders” were considered the most valuable marble, followed by agates, then purees.  Cat-eyes were at the bottom.  In this particular game, I won my first steely boulder.  I was simultaneously ecstatic and terrified, because the marble, naturally, belonged to Rene.  She immediately denied my victory.  A bit loony in my joy at having finally won the coveted steely boulder, I actually stood up to her.  This resulted in an intensely heated debate, and ended when she shoved me on the ground.  The skin of my knee scraped off, I limped home, crying, as blood dripped down my shin.

A couple of days later, my family and my aunt and uncle’s family took a trip to Disneyland.  After checking into the hotel room, my mother discovered my knee wound had become infected.  As she scraped the puss off, I cried and screamed.  My cousin (three years younger than I) watched the painful, grisly procedure through the hotel window, crying and screaming in harmony with me, until her mother carried her off to their room.  The scar on my knee remains to this day, a subtle reminder that standing up to a strong personality does not always have a happy ending.

That fall, I had one more encounter with Her.

In my front yard, stood a tall sycamore tree, with a long, fairly straight, horizontal branch.  It was about half-a-foot out of my reach, but I could jump up, grab it, pull myself up, drape a leg over it, and swing around it like I did on the monkey bars on the playground.

One afternoon, standing under said branch, I assumed the squatting position to segue into the jump.  Rene happened to be walking down the street.  I pretended I didn’t see her.  Midway through my vertical leap, with deliberation and malice aforethought, she yelled my name, knowing that, in a knee-jerk reaction, I would automatically turn my head in response, lose momentum, and plummet to the ground.  I landed on my arm, and watched her continue walking with a smile, as tears rolled down my face.

The doctor told my mother I had a sprained arm, and that I would need to wear a sling until it healed.  At school the next day, Manes called me a “faker,” saying there was nothing wrong with my arm.  Everyone believed her, so I took it off.  When I got home, my mother was not pleased to see me sling-less.  The following morning, she watched me walk down the street to ensure I kept it on.  Of course, I took it off as I was out of her sight.  The arm managed to heal, without physical scarring.  To this day, however, when someone doesn’t believe me, I can become somewhat defensive.

Manes’ family moved the following summer, and the streets became safe once again.  As I grew in height and age, my self-confidence grew as well.  I now stand up for those who are unable to do so, and support the underdogs.  However, whenever I find myself standing next to a tall woman, those cell memories shoot up to the surface, and I have to remind myself I am no longer eight years old.

Were you bullied, or were you the bully?  How have those experiences affected you?

You Are A Classic

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With genealogy, you learn about your family tree through names, dates, locations and, sometimes, occupations.  You usually do not learn about who they were as individuals; their personalities, obstacles they faced and overcame, travels, interests, education, etc.  It’s unfortunate, because those experiences influenced their choices and decisions, which flowed through that family tree to ultimately impact how you were raised and how you reached your current perspectives on life.

Imagine yourself listed on a family tree in the distant future, indicating only your name, birth and death dates.  How sad it would be for your descendants not to know who you were as a person; your life experiences, so they could better understand themselves.

Office

 

As a personal historian, I constantly and consistently witness families looking at one another with renewed appreciation after reading a relative’s life story.  They see their parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles as unique, interesting human beings, with whom they just happen to be related.

 

The holidays are fast approaching.  Do yourself and those you love a favor.  Take advantage of your time together by asking questions regarding their lives.  It can be lighthearted (e.g., What were your favorite toys or games when you were little?) or insightful (e.g., What was the best advice you ever received?).  Record them.  Transcribe them.  Save them for the future. 

Don’t forget to make notes of your answers as well.  You, too, are an important part of the family history.

What questions do you wish you could ask your ancestors?

You Are A Classic

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