For decades I’ve been plagued by the fear that when I’m gone, all the family stories that I know will be lost – all the little narratives that illuminate who people were and, more important, how they were.
I’ve ended up with all the material effects from five families, including my own, as I inherited the possessions of my mom and step dad, grandmother and grandfather, great aunt and uncle on my grandmother’s side, and great aunt and uncle on my grandmother’s side. These fill two to three dozen moving boxes, each with hundreds of papers, photos, collectables, souvenirs, mementos, awards, and memorabilia, and almost every one has a story behind it.
Here in my sixty ninth year, I have finally become so worried that these wonderful tales describing not just dates and places, but the nature of those who came before me, both those I’ve known and others even before that whom I have heard about from those that knew them, will cease to be. In a sense, I feel as if all these beloved and unique people will then cease to be as well, far more so then when they gave up the ghost.
And so, to assuage this nagging sadness, I have recently taken it upon myself to preserve those narratives – all the family stories I know from experience or had related to me.
To this end, I have begun opening each of the boxes, one by one, under the eye of a video camera pointed down into the memory treasures. In short sessions I pick up the first item, and share what I know about it and the people to whom it was connected, describing not only the object, but weaving in special memories I have of the people I have loved and lost, and even wonderful moments from those still with me when an item touches upon them as well.
I had tried before to put these stories in words, taking pictures of each material thing and speaking about it in essays and even collecting these in books. But who wants to read such material in a technological world such as this. And, it also lacks the immediacy of discovery, part way through my monologue, of some previously lost memory that puts passion in my voice as I rotate the object for the camera and reminisce.
I have done one session already, and I feel so relieved – that is the only appropriate word – that everything I shared on the video is now part of our family history, and those particular stories shall not be lost to time. I am eager to continue, knowing that each session brings those people alive again, as I knew them or heard about them, as if they were fictional characters that live on screen in a movie, for that is where the passion can be felt, and even those who never knew them nor even previously had heard of them can be enriched by their smiles, moved by their tears, thrilled by their triumphs, and saddened by their tragedies. But most of all, these magnificent spirits will live on in the hearts of those who live today, and of those not yet born who can say, “these are the people through whom I myself have come to be.”