I miss my grandparents. I miss my great-aunt and great-uncle, too. There are times, of course, when I miss them more than others: when a child is born; when a family event occurs; Christmas; birthdays.
The first time one of my columns appeared in the Gulf News, I missed my great-Aunt Evelyn Currie, who started the first newspaper for that region back in 1967. Ten years before I was born, she was typing up stories and sending them off to be printed on newsprint and sent back, via train, for the community to read.
I only know that because my mother told me. My aunt hardly mentioned those endeavours to me while she was alive. Nor did I know she attended Julliard Music School, until after she was gone. I knew her only as a piano teacher and golden-hearted soul.
Her husband, my Uncle Bill, was the man who taught me how to pull a finger and bluff at poker. Also some choice words that I didn’t dare repeat until many years after he passed.
Shortly before Christmas this year, I found myself in tears, standing at an author’s table, looking at a depiction of him in one of the Caribou’s lifeboats. I was taken completely by surprise when I took my son over to see the latest Gus and Isaac book and found, at the next author’s table, “Almost Home: The Sinking of the SS Caribou.”
At some point in my childhood I learned that my great-uncle William Currie was a survivor of that disaster and I remember one vivid story he told of a child being kept warm inside a man’s great coat, but I know so little, really.
My two grandfathers died having passed stories on to my father, glimpses of which I occasionally hear, but never to me. I was too young, I suppose, and perhaps, in a child’s way, disinterested or not retaining.
I was fortunate enough, before my grandmother died, to spend some time with her. She was at that golden age where her youth was rushing back to her in memory.
I heard stories I had never imagined possible — of dances and dates, and jilted boyfriends. Every time since when I’ve had “boy trouble,” I’ve wished she could’ve been there to talk to.
Sure she might not understand our modern ways of dating, but she’d understand the pain and passion at the heart of it.The few stories I have are tucked, dog eared, within my own memories and entangled with the experience of hearing and learning them.
At times, I feel adrift, cut off from my past, because although there are stories that I can hear secondhand, I don’t have the anchor of my ancestors’ voices relaying them, or the weight of their words on paper.
To have those things is a gift, one that crosses the boundaries of generations. To sit your child at their grandparent’s feet to listen to a story is an offering to both those who came before and those who will follow.
A friend of mine is doing just that, taking his young adult son along with him while he records his father’s stories and digs through the treasure of papers he possesses. At the cusp of adulthood, his son is old enough to appreciate the value of these stories and young enough to be highly impressed. His father is young enough, still, to be alert and appreciative of the attention, but old enough to feel that need to pass on his stories.
And in between those two generations stands a man who is a son and a father and, ultimately, a conductor, sizzling stories and histories up and down the line.
As a parent, and a son or daughter ourselves, to stand in that role, and to facilitate that sharing, is one of the greatest gifts we can give. To pass memories like dinner rolls over supper and let our parents hear the appreciative smack of the next generation’s lips as they chew on their history is the best sustenance we can give to our families, feeding them today and far into the future.
If you find yourself with the ability to stand in that role, please don’t let the living of the present day get in the way of passing the past to the future.
You can comment on this column or access previous editions of Readily A Parent using the following short link: http://bit.ly/DaraSquires.