First of all, I want to get one thing straight. I don’t mean this as a woe is me entry. Besides a few chronic worries, life has been good.
All right, now that I’ve got the disclaimer out of the way… the last 24 hours have been interesting, but for reasons that no one but me is fully aware. You could read that sentence and conclude (or at least suspect) that I’ve taken my own psychotic break from reality. It would be a fair guess, but it’d be wrong. But come back and play again soon! In the mean time, we’ve got some lovely parting gifts for you.
O.K., lousy gift, I know.
I’ve been doing some thinking about family and what the word home means to different people. These are not topics that are unique to me; not by a long shot. Admittedly, I’m a culturally retarded American, but from my view it seems like moving from one place to another is The American Story. I feel like I play a bit part in the perpetual American diaspora. We settle, we have kids, we move on. We’re never satisfied with where we are, so we move on in search of those greener pastures, only they never seem to get greener – they just keep getting different.
My family isn’t a perfect example. After all, my kids live in a city with two sets of grandparents – not to mention and aunt, uncle and two cousins within an hour drive. At the same time, no one besides my kids were born here. My wife and my mother are only children, and my father had just one sister (with one nephew). So even if we did all live in one place we wouldn’t take up much space.
All of this explains why I’m so interested in genealogy. I want to belong to something. The only problem with genealogy is it can be too dry. Most often it involves names and dates, facts and figures. I can get all kinds of information from newspapers, census records, and vital statistics offices… but none of this tells me who these people were. It doesn’t tell me their story.
I love my family, but I want to know more. Due to my mother’s condition she remembers little of her family. Her mother, when she was alive, didn’t like to talk about herself. My maternal grandfather died when I was very young, so he was never around to ask. This means half of my heritage is missing. On top of our relative isolation, I feel like I’ve been cheated out of half a family history. I know lots of names and dates, but I know nothing of who they were.
I’ve been thinking about all this because I found something this weekend – Friday night to be exact. I saw a collection of my grandmother’s things at my parent’s house. With my father’s blessing, I did a little ransacking. I found a bunch of cards addressed to my grandmother, referring to her as “aunt.” The name signed on the card is one I’ve never heard before. The cards were all at least 15 years old and didn’t include a return address, but they had a postmark from a small town in Vermont. A quick search of the online phone directories produced a possible mailing address.
I’ve spent all evening wondering if I should write this person a letter. I know my grandmother had a brother, and her family came from Vermont. I know from my genealogy research that some of my ancestors had lived in this same town. Still, I’m hesitant to take the leap. I’m worried about writing a perfect stranger a letter and sounding like a kook (at best), or a deranged long-distance stalker (at worst). Yet the possible pay-off seems to good to pass up. I could find that missing half of my family.
I’ve got the letter all typed up. Now I just have to find the courage to mail it.