In the late 1950’s my mom’s brother, Tom died. My sister and mom flew from LA to DC for the funeral. I stayed with the Burketts. I remember it clearly but at 11 I really had no experience with death or of someone I didn’t even remember. We had not seen that part of the family since we had migrated to southern California in 1948.
Almost fifty years later my mom’s brother, Bob died. We were all living on the east coast. My sister and mom drove to New Jersey from North Carolina. We drove down from Boston, the girls and me. We met with family we knew from a couple of visits and phone calls, but they were family!
Later, I could tell mom was having a tough time. I put my arms around her to comfort her but she would have none of it. According to mom, Bob had lived a good long life, seen his two kids, Bobby and Bettina grow up, have families. You see, by that time, both her sisters in law were gone, her brothers were gone, and although she had insisted for years on end, that she was the youngest, she was not.
What mom was upset about what that there was no one of her generation to tell the stories. The ones about she and her brothers growing up, about how they were when they were young, about what life was like in Blakely PA as the eldest daughter of a local grocer, about going to Marywood College. It was the potential lack of stories that upset mom.
It’s funny that I have taken so long to work at publishing; getting my stories out there. Storytelling has always been my refuge, my solace, my strength. Because if you can tell a story, if you can describe a setting, develop the central theme or conflict, and best if you can bring in humor, show a slice of life that is true but not terrible, then you have done a good job.
Mother Petronella would tell you it was my handwriting that held me back. Mother Bernadette would tell you it was my spelling. I think it was a weakness in the length of the story, thinking they had to be complete, involved, much like the books I devoured.
Today is my sister’s funeral. There are a lot of conflicting emotions. Connecting with the next generation who don’t have these memories, are not connected as I was to the history of the family, to the the stories of how my parents got together, why we moved to LA….all of that. These are not earth shattering stories but they are out.
We spent hours last night going through the pictures my sister had saved. We tossed and cleaned out, but as we were going through I would make my niece and nephew look and I will tell a brief story. They’d smile and nod, but not dwell.
But where we come from is important to me. I ask myself, who will tell the stories for the next in line who does want to hear? Who will connect our family, explain the loss and give us foundation. Heartbreakingly, if not me, who?
And so I will write!