My mother always said that the quickest way to lose five pounds was to stand up straight. And then she’d bark the familiar directive…“Chin up! Shoulders back! Tummy in! Fanny under!”
Go ahead, try it. It pretty much works. Until you have to breathe, anyway.
The summer has been filled with lots of good times, most involving food and there have been more than a few missed Weight Watchers meetings, so these last days of August have become my ‘salad days’. Not the way Willy Shakespeare meant them, though this time of year often has me reflecting on my younger self.
Twenty-nine years ago today, I graduated from college. Fine, they were probably not my salad days, either. I was older and wiser - having taken thirteen years to accomplish the feat. I really enjoyed my time at the University of Texas. I worked harder and appreciated more than my fresh-out-of-high-school-self had and I was exhilarated to graduate at the tender age of thirty.
There was no Pomp & Circumstance, no grand ceremony for a summer graduation, and just as well, since I spent the day in Labor & Delivery, giving birth to our fourth child.
That’s a long way of saying that my baby is twenty-nine today. My baby.
Coincidentally, I’ve recently been sucked back into the rabbit hole (rabbits like salad) of ancestry.com. My older daughter has been digging around the family tree and discovered that my great grandfather Louis, my Grommie’s dad, was married to two people. At the same time.
The revelation comes at a time when I’ve been wondering how to preserve my mother’s bon mots and witticisms (subjective, I know) for future generations. Catch phrases. Familial expressions and inside jokes. Crap she made up. Her renditions of novelty songs from the ‘40s.
Who will sing ‘Mairzy Doats’ to future generations? I mean, besides me.
More than just preserving, I want to understand the life experiences, the highs and the lows and the history of my mother and my grandmother and those who came before them. I wish they had shared all of it with us before they left. Did my grandmother know about her dad’s first wife and her half-brother? Did the half-brother know about the half-siblings that came after him? None of them could have had a clue that the momentous occasions of their lives - marriages, divorces, births and deaths – would now be readily available on this thing called the Internet.
In the moment, Louis probably felt secure that his family in New Hampshire was under wraps to the family he produced in New York.
Moving back to where we were born and raised has fueled a lot of my current interest in genealogy. Earlier this year, I found myself in a diner next to a table of my father’s relatives – a moment of serendipity that opened the door to wonderful reconnection. Now as I sift through census records and city directories, it’s fascinating to think that my husband’s forebears and mine could have crossed paths on an almost daily basis.
My fascination extends to wondering how those ancestors lived and worked and thought about everything. What were their stories of love, found and lost? Of their heartaches and happiness shared?
If they knew we would have access to the salient points, would they have wanted to expound upon the forces that brought them to those points? Do we want to know from a voyeuristic perspective? Or is it the eternal search for connection, for reassurance and meaning in all of life’s occurrences, epic and mundane?
I’m driven by the need for connection, as well as a desire to be a good steward of our family stories. I don’t want to plaster the world with them Kardashian style, what I’m sure my mother and grandmother would refer to as airing the family laundry, but I do want to preserve and pass on the history because it has value and meaning.
A friend recently asked me what I want my legacy to be. I’d never thought about a legacy before and my initial thought was that if I left the world tomorrow, I’d be pretty okay with how things have gone. I’ve never had a burning desire to hit the record books, but the more I contemplated the question, the more I recognized that I want my children to know me, to know where they came from. Not just the physical DNA, but the cultural DNA, the people, the places, the events that defined the lives of those who came before us, giving direction to our own, and those who come after us, as well.
Until I reconnected with my father’s surviving sister and brother, I didn’t even know how my parents had met. They married young and divorced early, and how they navigated life as divorced people had a profound influence on my sister’s and my experience of the world. Growing up, it fostered a special bond between my sister and I, but the topic of our parents’ experience, and ours by extension, was studiously avoided.
But the stories of our parents and grandparents, spoken and unspoken, guide us as we navigate our own lives. When we share our life experience with our kids, there’s comfort and support in the knowledge that we struggled, as our parents struggled, as their parents struggled, to meet the challenges presented by life – marriage, divorce, family, career, death. We are reassured knowing our parents counted pennies as they grocery shopped together as newlyweds. That they had each other’s back shepherding their kids through adolescence and into adulthood. That they weathered windfalls and shortfalls and got to the other side. That they had high points and low points and somehow got through 100% of their worst days, helps us to know that we can, too.
I can use the Internet to look up things like the origin of salad days and figure out what course I’m on, metaphorically speaking, in the seven course meal of life (it isn’t salad). I’m not swirling the drain, but I’m not getting any younger. So I’ll keep up my search, using social media and historical records to identify and deepen our understanding of our story. When I go, I don’t want to take the family secrets and my mother’s one-liners with me.
That’s what blogs are for.