Friday, April 17, 2009

Looking back...

In words and pictures, some thoughts on family for the Memories blogparty....

One of the best things about spending time with my grandparents is hearing their 'stories'. Tales from their childhoods; what it was like when they got older and when they met and married. My Nanna grew up in the Lake District in England, in a village, where her mother baked bread with heat from the fire and she and her best friend would spend their days fell-climbing and exploring the woods and fields. My grandfather grew up 'in town' and he and his brothers would race to see who could get out of bed first, because the early riser got the only pair of 'football boots' (soccer shoes, for my North American readers). He went down to work in the coal mines at a very young age and only went to school for 'half-days' -which is why, he claims, he's not a very good speller.

Their stories are rich with life, a life so far removed from how I grew up and how my children are growing up. It was a simpler time - something I often crave - but it was a hard time too. I treasure these tales that they tell; they're a part of who I am and where I came from. I often think I should be writing them down. Perhaps I need to stop thinking about it, and start doing it.

My mom is our family historian - she's been assembling our family tree for years now. She knows the ins and outs of tracking down birth certificates and death certificates; of censuses and ships records. She pursues her leads like a dedicated detective and I'm often amazed with what she comes up with. Written records from all those many years ago are often illegible, not to mention inaccurate, but she's unearthed some absolute treasures. As all families, I'm sure, we have quite a few skeletons...lots of illegitimate children, someone with a wife and children living at a different address and a 'housekeeper' under his own roof, mental illness, the 'poor house' and many more. Its surreal to look at these entries in public records and realize that these are our ancestors, whose blood runs through our veins.

Growing up, and even now, looking through our family photo albums, faithfully assembled and then carted across the Atlantic when we left England, was a favourite pastime. All those photos - with the funny fashions and strange hairstyles; visions of my parents when they were my age and before - they were parents in their 20's and I can't imagine how that must have been.

I often wonder if, in this digital age, we haven't lost something of the magic of the photo album. Most of our pictures now are on a disk or a flash drive - we can pull them up and look at them any old time but its not quite the same as turning the pages on a slightly musty album. Its harder to gather around a computer screen, laughing and joking and remembering, than it is to gather around someones lap, or sit at their feet while they take that trip down memory lane.

And I often wonder if, 100 years from now, a descendent of ours, will look back on our photos and imagine what it would be like to live and grow in our version of the world. I can only hope they don't judge us too harshly.


  1. Mel, I too loved spending time with my grandparents and hearing their tales. Thanks for sharing.
    And yes, I guess our descendants will look at our pictures and wonder how we lived...

  2. I never found it so easy getting my grandparents to talk about their pasts. My one remaining grandmother is not a talkative lady, she is very comfortable with silence...


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