When my great grandfather died a butterfly flew through the open window and alighted on his chest. His loved ones watched through their tears, sensing that the beautiful butterfly was transporting his soul to heaven.
My mother related that story to me, as she related so many other stories of the family. I have been fortunate in that I've always loved hearing the old stories of family. I grilled my Granny and my Aunt Icie, my Uncle Floyd and, most frequently, my mother.
I find it remarkable that most folks today are more captivated by the superficiality of daily life and have little interest in the stories of those who came before them. After all, we can argue all day about whether "environment or heredity" are dominant in our formation and development but even the 'behaviorists acknowledge that heredity is at least fifty percent of our makeup. It should follow then that folks would have a keen interest in family history. Alas, that does not seem to be the case for most.
I have been trying, through this blog, to leave something of the family stories for those who might become more interested in family long after I am gone. Despite my frequent postings I cannot begin to even cover the surface of all that I have learned. Even my children show little interest in this pursuit. Though I have voluntarily recounted some of the family stories that I find interesting I can't recall a time when I was prompted to do so by my children.
I'm sad for them. There will come a time when they will want to hear the family stories and I will no longer be here to relate them. Yes, of course, they can go to Ancestry.Com and retrieve the dates and places of birth, marriage and death. But who will tell them what a typical day was like for a share-cropping family in depression era Oklahoma? Who will tell them about the little brick schoolhouse that their grand or great grandmother attended? Who will explain to them what life was like under a "barter" economy when currency was an extremely rare commodity? Who will tell them that the 'infant croup' that their little child displays is an inherited weakness in the gene pool? Who will explain why part of the Friend family fought for the South in the Civil War, while others fought for the Union cause? Who will explain how their great grandfather came to be named John Archibald Marmaduke Friend?
It is remarkable that the last night I spent with my Uncle Floyd was spent in talking about the family of his youth. I delighted in hearing of the family dragging the mattresses from the house to the wagon for a weekend fishing and camping excursion down by the lake. I laughed with gusto as he told me stories of the youthful lust and love life of both he and my mother! When we finally retreated to our sleep on that last night of family talk my heart was lighter and full of love for my family.
Yet, even with my extreme curiosity about family tales there was so much more I would now like to ask. Were Uncle Floyd alive today I would ask how he felt when he left the farm to fight in a frightful world war. I would ask what he felt as this modest farm boy, having never travelled anywhere, as he boarded a troop transport to Europe. I would ask him why he would stop and listen when a popular song of the 50's ("Fraulein, Fraulein") began to play. I would ask him why he was so eager to name my sister Rena Marcella after a French girl.....and what that might have meant to him.
Now, when there are so many stories left untold, I am grateful that I had such intense curiosity for the "old stories". I can recall badgering my Granny for more and more stories until she became agitated. I can be thankful that I engineered long family re-tellings between my Aunt Icie and my mother. I can be thankful that my Uncle Floyd left me a wealth of stories on our last night together.
But I am sad that, now that they are all gone, I am left "wandering in the desert", thirsting for more more stories, more exhibitions of love, of sacrifice, of worries on an ancient day.
I feel grateful for the legacy of family stories that I do have...but sad for those who never stopped, put down the mouse, the I-Phone, the magazine or the TV remote, long enough to pause and ask about all and who that came before.