I’ve been stealing moments here and there to work on a family history, a project that I embraced wholeheartedly about a year and a half ago. Hmmm. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I embraced the idea of putting such a document together, complete with correct birth, marriage, and death dates and interesting stories about my ancestors.
But then the going got rough. Life interfered, and I veered off the path a bit. As I neared the end of what I considered the major part of the narrative, chapters chronicling my parents’ lives, I was seized with the certainty that my siblings needed to get involved. I could handle the past, but I needed their assistance in sharing their memories of parents and grandparents and of their own post-college goings-on.
That’s going well. Almost too well. We keep thinking of things we want to add about our parents, stories that hint of their personalities, character, and devotion. I’m loving the recollections of bygone days that my siblings are contributing. My brother Mike wrote of one day when Daddy accompanied him to his third grade classroom—and spent the entire day. Although Mike claims not to know the reason for Daddy’s visit, we both suspect it had to do with my brother’s behavior.
As I pondered this story, I recalled a day when I was summoned to the principal’s office. As the door closed behind me, I was surprised to see my father sitting there with the principal and my Spanish teacher. The teacher had reported me for cheating on a test the rest of the class had taken the day before. She had “seen” me cheating, but how could that be? I didn’t even take the test! It gets worse.
Knowing I had been absent because of tonsillitis, Senora Keaton had given me permission to take the test a day or two later. “Just sit in the lab while everyone else takes the test,” she had said. But she forgot. When asked to go through the test papers, naturally there wasn’t one with Juana’s name on it. Throughout the “interview,” Daddy sat quietly observing and listening, ready to defend me if necessary but willing to allow some sort of discipline if I were guilty.
And Ann. I must add a story of my sister’s. When we were talking about my grandparents’ house on Haile Street, she told me the real truth and nothing but the truth about an incident that happened there around sixty years ago. I remember that she “fell” off the front porch and hit her head on the concrete. Blood was everywhere. Daddy took her to the ER a few blocks away, and Ann got a couple of stitches in her noggin.
When she and I discussed the incident, she said there was more to the story than that. Daddy had noticed her jumping off the porch and sensing the danger for such a young child, told her not to do it again. But surprisingly (to me), Ann did it anyway. She misjudged the edge of the concrete porch and BAM, her sweet little head slammed against the edge. She remembers being scared and comforted at the same time—scared because of all the blood and comforted because Daddy swooped her up in his arms and took her to the hospital.
Yesterday Ann told me she had thought of a couple of sweet stories about Mama. “Send them to me,” I said. “I’ll find a way to insert them.” Mike is going through photographs of ancestors. Will I add them? Yes, at least some of them.
So……I’m in the proofing, editing, and revising stage of the history, and at some point soon—very soon—we’ll have to stop adding memories and photographs. Tonight I’m rereading certain sections and asking if they’re good enough…or even necessary.
One if Neil Gaiman’s rules for writing comes to mind. “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.”