I thought I was Done with a capital D.
The family history was a mammoth task, a time drain, a major stressor, a sleep thief. But then one day after correcting one pesky out-of-place apostrophe, I thought thought Yes and hallelujah. Confident that the book was complete, I sent for proof copies…more than once. After more revisions, edits, and additions, I was fairly happy with the results. Fairly happy = fine in my world, or at least as good as it could be at the current time.
But then a few weeks after family members had the final copy in their hands, my sister sent me a few old photographs and wondered if I’d ever seen them. All the people and scenes were recognizable except one. One black and white image showed five adults lined up, arms around each other smiling at the photographer. Not cheesy smiles but contented, happy-to-be-sharing-this-moment ones.
My eyes were drawn to the face of the second man on the left, my mother’s father, Granddaddy Clyburn. He’s standing next to his father who outlived him by about forty years. I don’t know the identity of the two people on each end. Siblings perhaps? My sister also sent a photograph of my maternal grandmother as a young woman. I studied her profile and wished I had known her then.
I started thinking about grandmothers more deeply. Jane, standing next to Great Grandaddy, died in 1944, and he married her sister Daisy. I never knew Jane (also called Janie), but in her photographs, she always wore the same sweet smile. Her daughter-in-law, Mary Jon Hegler Clyburn, passed away in her mid-80’s and had lived with Alzheimer’s for years. My paternal grandmother’s primary issue was arthritis, but she too had a form of dementia in her later years.
I glance down at one of my fingers, kind of bumpy and weird and crooked from arthritis, and think about my grandmother’s legs, increasingly bowed from the disease. I had always thought of her as being a relatively short person, but now I realize that she had likely been taller when her legs were straight. Not one to brood over what couldn’t be helped, she would sometimes good-naturedly say she’d had a visit from “Arthur” when the discomfort was more evident.
Is my forgetfulness a gift from my grandmothers, or is it just a manifestation (pretty word to dress up the condition) of getting older. I’m not too concerned about it–yet. I’ve always been a little ditzy and forgetful. When younger, I blamed it on having a lot on my mind–things like raising children, having a career, trying to be a dutiful wife and mother. I could add daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, and other assorted roles to the list, all of which included responsibilities and to-do lists.
Quick example. When the children were small, I utterly failed in the matching socks department and finally came up with what I perceived to be the perfect solution: a sock suitcase. It was a large forest green suitcase that was stowed n the walk-in closet. When any of us, including the adults, needed socks, we’d unzip the suitcase and strike gold–usually. No one thought it unusual that Mom couldn’t keep up with all the colors, sizes, and type of socks. Nowadays, however, they might whisper words like “long it” or “can’t remember anything” behind my back. Back then, it was just one of those family things.
I don’t know much about my namesake, Jane, but as with my other grandmothers, clues to descendants’ temperament, proclivities, mental and physical health, and longevity lie in the DNA connection. Lifestyle, culture, and personal choice are important too, and I wonder if reading, working crossword puzzles, and traveling will stave off some of the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. Am I destined to become increasing forgetful and confused, helpless to combat the development of plague and tangles?
What mysteries lie behind the faces of your ancestors? What clues to your life and those of your children can you discover from a study of your genealogy?