A little more than a year ago I declared that I was going to write my autobiography. Not many years from now when I may have actually accomplished something, but right now, when my greatest accomplishments involve things like high scores and rescuing toadstool princesses (which, by the way, I once did without losing a man). But, like so many outlandish declarations, this one has gone unheeded and nary has a page of autobiographical goodness been composed. Or even autobiographical badness for that matter. I’d like to blame it on the fact that I’ve been too busy accomplishing all of those things worthy of publication, but I cannot. The only thing I’ve really accomplished between then and now is that I’ve become a father, but we’ll have to wait for another 18 to 20 years to see if I am indeed accomplishing that, or merely doing it.
The idea of penning ones autobiography can certainly seem a narcissistic pursuit, even for the most accomplished of individuals. For a virtual nobody-that would be me-it would seem to border on self-absorbed delusion. But I’m no narcissist. My intentions were pure from the beginning; not to proclaim my wonderfulness to others, but as a mere reflection on my some 30 years and maybe for me to learn something from my own past. You know the old saying, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But, alas, whatever my intentions, nothing has become of them thus far.
However, I have a new reason for taking on this bizarre venture. In doing all this family research, I’ve really come to realize how frail our own connections to the past really are. We really don’t have a grasp on where it is we came from and how we got here. At best, most people only have significant contact with the preceding two generations of their family, their parents and grandparents. Many, only with their parents and some, tragically, not even that. A fortunate few may have known a great-grandparent or two, but then that’s it. For me, I knew (or at least remember) three of my four grandparents and three out of eight great-grandparents.
Even for those of us lucky enough to have those relationships with our older forebears we don’t often take advantage of them like we could. When you’re little, it’s not uncommon to have a special relationship with your grandparents. They take you to ice cream, bring you presents for no reason, tell silly jokes, and generally make you feel great. As you get older, and they get older, they suddenly become not as cool as you think they should be. You still love them and maybe put up with the silly jokes when none of your friends are around, but you don’t appreciate them like you used to. By the time you’ve finally grown out of that goofy stage, there are so many competing factions for your time that the days of being able to spend long hours just being with them are long gone. And before you know it so are they.
I have one remaining grandparent, and I can’t tell you how much I regret not sitting down and talking more often with those who have passed on. Just too really get to know them and to ask what life was like when they were growing up. Or what their parents were like. I’ve made an effort to do this with my grandma recently and it’s been so rewarding. She’s been able to tell me all sorts of interesting stories about when she was a little girl growing up in coal mining towns in New Mexico, or what it was like for her father to immigrate from France to the United States when he was 10 years old, or what life was like for her and grandpa when they were first married. I intend to sit her down in front of my video camera one of these days and have her retell me all these stories. This gets me back to my original point.
Family histories are usually oral. The stories are passed down by telling them to the kids and grandkids. But over time memories fade, details are forgotten, and the further removed a generation is from the original story teller, the less likely they are to remember the stories, if they heard them at all. And when the story tellers die, too often the stories die with them. That’s why I want to write my autobiography. Maybe my grandchildren or great-grandchildren won’t care what life was like back in 1985 or how grandpa and grandma (me and Jen) met, or what it was like to grow up in the pastor’s (my dad’s) house. But maybe they will. I want to at least provide them with the opportunity to know what their not-so-distant ancestors were like and how they lived. Maybe it won’t be as interesting as studying my ancestors is. I didn’t fight in any wars, I didn’t come from a far away land, and I didn’t rub shoulders with anybody famous. But maybe, unlikely as it may seem to us now, the time we’re living in now will be romanticized to our descendants like the time of our grandparents and great-grandparents is to us. To us, it just seems like life, but that’s what they thought back in 1890 too. It’s just life.
It’s true that, theoretically, I’m not exactly running out of time yet, but age 12 will be a lot fresher in my mind now than it will in 25 more years, so it would be nice to get at least those formative years out of the way. Whether I actually follow through on that is, of course, a matter of debate. Only time will tell.