Who was I?
During a recent conversation with my brother, who lives on the West Coast and whom I seldom see, the question arose about when and where our parents were married. We both drew a blank in our memories. Not only did we not know any details about this event but we realized we knew almost nothing about either of our parent’s history ... where were they born, where were their parents born, where did they go to school, where did they live while growing up. These were details which might have told us who they were and why their relationship was rather strange. We also realized we knew hardly anything about their parents, our grandparents.
It is strange that these questions were never asked while they were alive. It was only after many years have gone by and I was approaching the end of my journey that these questions arose and, for some reason, seemed important. I wondered if it was this way for everyone. In discussing this with SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed), my wife Kathy, admitted she knew very little about her parent’s history.
Is a family’s history important, I wondered? Some would say, what difference does it make? It can’t be changed, so why waste time even thinking about it? To me, it does make a difference. I want to know the events that may have had a part in shaping my early years. I vividly remember certain events that puzzled me when I was a child and to this day still make no sense to me.
I thought about my grandparents, each of whom were very kind and loving to me. What was their history? What impact did their history have to do with my parent’s history? Perhaps none or, perhaps ... a great deal. And then, I thought about my own family, our children and their children. Would they know who we were? Would they know the events that shaped us and in return shaped our family? We each have a history, but history is only important if we have access to it. Thus, the importance of journaling.
Twenty years ago, when I first realized the importance of family history, I decided to begin keeping a journal so our children, grandchildren, etc. would know who we were and the events that shaped us and our family. I now have eleven volumes ... thousands of pages of entries which will contain almost daily notes about current events that seemed important enough to record. No one, except SWMBO has permission to read my journals. They can only be read after I have ended my journey on this earth. Some entries will be shocking I am sure but, they were what they were at the time of my recording them. I had made a decision that I would be as truthful as I could be even when my entries cast a less than favorable light on me. I always refer to the journals as containing a phrase from a Clint Eastwood movie “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” After all, I thought what use is a journal if it is not truthful, at least as seen through the eyes and mind of the writer.
I have left instructions in my will that copies of the journals are to be made and given to each of my children, to do with as they wish. I suspect they will be interesting reading to each of them. The journals will frequently reveal the many joys we experienced while they were growing up and ... even as adults. Perhaps, in some way, the journals will help them realize the importance of family, something that seems to be under assault these days. My hope is they will again, though many years may have passed, feel their parents love and hopes for them.
Often, someone will ask how to begin journaling. They say they don’t know how to write. I always respond with a question, “Have you ever written your name?” If so, I tell them, you can write. The real question is how to begin. I suggest simply take a tablet and a pen, pencil or a word processing program and sit quietly and write the first thing that comes into their mind. Doing so will trigger other thoughts which should also be recorded. They have now begun journaling. It really is quite easy. No one else has to see what has been written so you have the freedom to write anything you want. Most importantly, it should always be truthful. If not, you have wasted your time.
Try it. One day at a time. You will be amazed at what happens
Ralph Thomas is a Locust Grove resident and the author of Doing Great, but Getting Better and Getting Old Can be Fun. firstname.lastname@example.org