Family and History
My parents left yesterday after staying with me here in Baltimore for four days, and I’m in that stage of post-visit emotions where the relief that I can now relax has faded into a sort of melancholy. You see, I haven’t lived at home for more than a month or two at a time in 14 years. If I’m lucky, I see my parents twice a year – once at Christmas, and hopefully once if they visit the east coast at some point during the year. Until a few years ago, this never really bothered me, but now that I’ve graduated college (which was 8 years ago in itself) and become adult-ish in my life, I find that I’m far more aware of the importance of family.
I’m an only child in a small family, and I wasn’t an overly social kid growing up. As a result, there’s this feeling of my parents being a sort of lifeline to my past, in that they were generally the only witnesses to it. As a reenactor, I’m keenly aware of how important those sort of “witnesses” are in a person’s life, especially when it comes to telling a person’s story. When I moved to the east coast at 19 to go to college, I was afforded the opportunity to reinvent myself, and I did so, in a number of ways. While the first decade or so of this process happened almost without thinking, I’ve found that in the last few years I’ve been keenly aware of this sense of detachment of my present from my past. It’s as if my childhood was another book – a prequel that none of my friends in the last 14 years have read. As a result, my parents have become in many ways the keepers of my past, of my truth, of this history that has become so separated from my present reality.
It’s not something that has happened intentionally, but it has happened, nonetheless. And every year that I see my parents, as I get older, as they get older, I’m more and more aware of how very tenuous a person’s history is when the telling of it hinges on two people. My parents themselves each came from smallish families that were widely spread, and as a result, there’s a whole lot of their history that I’ve never heard, that is so fragile as to be able to be blown away like dust. To me, unless a person is in front of you, talking, that person only exists in the memories of others, and when only one or two people share that memory, when they go…so goes the parts of others that they held. There’s an incalculable number of things that only I and my parents know the story to, and awareness of that fact has made me all the more cognizant and appreciative of the role that a close friend or family member can play in making sure that a person’s history, in all its richness, isn’t lost.
In short: write a damn memoir, everyone.