Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. (Deuteronomy 32:7)
Memories are pliable things. They are easily bent by life experiences and influenced by the shape of our faith. What happens to us and what we believe colors our memories. No two persons share identical memories, even should they grow up in the same family — perhaps especially if they do.
This weekend we are having a celebration of life for my grandparents. With their passing, we have lost a generation that may never be replaced. There has been a tear in the fabric of our family. No one to unite us in faith. No one to gather us for games or work projects. We miss them terribly and we don’t want them to just disappear as if they never existed. We want to imprint our minds with who they were and how much of who we are comes from them.
My Uncle Geoff is doing all he can to let their legacy live. He is hosting the family gathering. He has designated me family scribe, and asked if I could collect memories to share at the gathering, then compose a booklet we could provide for family and friends in each generation. I have done something similar to this for Uncle Geoff’s and Grandma’s birthdays. But I confess this time it was a challenge that has not come easily. I’ve had a very difficult time getting started. I’ve argued within myself and with others how to approach it. As essential as it is to remember our ancestors, there are certain things in our past we would just rather forget.
My Grandpa was a harsh man. This is how I remember him. As one family member put it, Grandma had to be a saint to put up with him. But my memory is not the sum total of who he was. Here’s a few other things I’ve learned about him:
His father took thought book learning got in the way of work, so he was taken out of school at age 8. He never learned to read or write. This made him vulnerable to those who used the written word at his expense.
He was a jack of all trades. While he couldn’t keep his temper to hold down a “regular job,” he was always working. He built the family home that has stood over 60 years. And, with help from Grandma and other family members he trained, he kept it up.
He loved God’s creation. He grew tremendous tomatoes, nurtured beautiful mums, and built bird houses that both revealed master craftsmanship and actually worked to attract birds.
He had a sense of play. In the summers, lawn croquet. In the winters, the card game Rook. He was known to bend the rules a bit. Okay, maybe a little more than a bit. But his generous smile and high-pitched laughter (“I swan.”) made the games that much more fun.
He softened with age and became an adorable companion for a new generation of great-grandchildren.
Yes, memories are fickle things. We may cling tightly to some that shape our sense of identify, our perspective on justice, our bias toward reality. But no one can be fully captured in another one’s mind. Only in the mind of God.