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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Oral History

Something happens when family gathers together.  It is something that is magical and draws family closer together, uniting them in a shared bond.  It is the act of telling stories, of remembering events that have transpired and sharing them with each other.  These stories act both as a glue to re-enforce family bonds and as a reminder to how we all made it to where we are today.  The unique stories that happen to each individual are compounded by the other stories shared by other family members.  We all have a unique set of stories that are sacred to us and involve certain members of our extended family, but once the stories start to coalesce, they begin to create a deeper oral history that ties together all the tangential experiences that we have had separately.  To me, the most powerful time that I have experienced oral history being created is at the funeral of a loved one.  During that time, we begin by coming together to remember the life of a loved one that as passed.  The stories begin about that person, how they shaped our own individual lives, and we begin to realize what an integral part they played in a family reaching the point it is at today.  In almost every scenario, once a family members stories a taken separately and shared together, we begin to see the common thread that unites us all.  But it doesn't end there.  There is a natural progression that happens as those stories are told, we begin to move from the past to the present and we begin to share more in depth with each other the events that are currently shaping our own lives.  We begin to share the intimate details of our children, our loved ones, our careers, and our homes.  And when those stories come forth, they as well harken back to the threads that were cemented in the past by our deceased loved one.  

As those who are reading this are probably aware, I just went through a funeral and small family gathering this past weekend as we buried my Baba, my grandmother.  There was one story in particular that was shared over the weekend by my cousin that sort of struck all of us.  It is a story that you might hear in a novel or war movie, but it is one that happened to my family years ago during World War II.  My Baba and my aunt were living in Austria at the time, waiting in a long line to buy bread at a store.  While in that line, my aunt, a child of 3 or 4, saw a doll in the window across the street from where they were standing in line.  She began pestering my grandmother about that doll saying she really needed it.  Baba attempted to put the issue to rest, trying ever different angle to either make her forget about the doll or convince her that they couldn't by it because they really needed to get the bread instead.  Both my aunt and Baba being stubborn and bullheaded, neither relented about their separate issue; bread or doll, bread or doll.  After what I can imagine was probably about ten minutes, my aunt pestered Baba enough that she relented, got out of the line that they had been standing in for a long time, and took her across the street to get the doll.  This was no small admittance on my Baba's part.  It would mean getting in the back of the line and waiting even longer to get the bread they had been waiting for.  As they were in the store buying the doll, a bomb was dropped, it landed across the street from them where they had been standing in line, and left a crater in the ground.  If it hadn't been for that doll perched just right in a shop window, I would not be here today, my parents wouldn't be here, my cousin and his family wouldn't be here.  To put it simply, our family line would have ended back in the 1940's in war torn Austria.  It struck home for me as to how lucky I am that may aunt was as stubborn and unrelenting as she was.  

While not every family history has this type of story in it, every family has stories that illustrate how their own families got to where they are today.  Every family history is peppered with little idiosyncrasies, stories of a decision made at a fork in the road, of a loved one who survived an ordeal and persevered in the face of adversity.  The act of storytelling is an act of remembering and I feel it is vitally important to cement in our minds our own unique history so that we can share it with future generations.  As I was standing with my cousin on the sidewalk outside the church after funeral, we were talking about how lucky we are that Baba kept on getting up when life knocked her down and provided us with the opportunity to live such excellent lives in the United States.  She moved from the Ukraine to Austria to Chile to the States, each move fraught with unknowns.  Yet she did it.  Then we were joking about our lives and the impact we had on our future generations.  What "great" decisions did we make in our own lives that would shape our children and our grandchildren's lives.  The fact is, we will probably never know.  And our children and grandchildren will never know unless we share with them our own stories, the little nuances of our lives, the decisions we made.  It will be up to them to piece together their own narrative history of how they got to where they are.  But one thing is for sure, every decision we make now will have a lasting impact in one way or another on future generations.  We don't know what impact it will be, but we must remember and more importantly remember to share. 

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