Thursday, August 12, 2010

Telling Our Stories: Family Heritage

Six generations of women from my maternal line grace the pages of this photo album! My daughter, me, my mother, my grandmother, then her mother (my great grandmother), and then her mother (my great great grandmother) are all pictured in this red leather album.

Six! these generations span from my great great grandmother, who was born in 1861 Holland, to my daughter, born in 2009 Ohio.

The mother-daughter poses throughout the album are at times strikingly similar: the way my Great Grandma Mary held her baby - my Gramma Greta, is nearly identical to the way grownup and married new mommy Gramma Greta held my (infant) mother in the photos. There are photos of both my Gramma Greta as a girl on her bicycle in 1930s Illinois and my mother on her bicycle in 1950s California. There are Sunday best photos, mothers-with-new-baby photos, a few pool photos, working in the garden photos, and children wearing costume photos. Right now my one year old daughter is quite impressed with the ones of "Gramma Moie" (my mother) as a tiny girl proudly holding not one, but two well cared for dollies!

Every morning, bright and early and sometimes bleary eyed, my little Elena and I come into the living room and she motions to look at a few big books that are carefully kept out of her reach: she wants to see her baby book, our wedding photo book, and lately she's been especially keen to see the red 6 generation album. It is amazing the way she requests it so often, and the way she really pauses to study the photos. I point things out, I explain a little here and there -- I want to respect her interest and respect the ladies in our family line by passing along what I know about them. But I am careful not to be heavy handed with these little requested tutorials, after all, she is only 15 months old and I wouldn't want to overburden her.

This past January my Gramma died and went to be with Jesus in Heaven. She was prepared for crossing Jordan, as her own faith was strong. Her mother was a Christian too, and so was her mother. The fathers and husbands in this particular line of mine were, from what I know and from the sounds of histories I cringe to recall, very possibly not such godly men. Yet in spite of these troubles, I think with admiration of these Christian women who kept passing along their knowledge of Christ's love and salvation to the next generation. (Note: accepting or rejecting Christ is a personal decision; we don't "inherit" salvation from our family. However, I'm pointing out how each generation has a huge influence on the next.)

I feel like I really knew my Gramma well, and getting to know her is one of the big treats of my life. Being kind of a history nerd as well as an adoring granddaughter, I was sure to ask a lot of questions over the years, and jot down a lot of recipes that I wanted to preserve, and most importantly spend a lot of time with her when I could. My Gramma was somewhat reserved and didn't relish talking about the past ("It's over!" she'd announce, and busily tend to the task at hand). But we took lots of walks together, and played lots of games, and played music together on our instruments. Most especially, we kept up a rapid and faithful correspondence for years: about 15 years in earnest, right up until last November, when it seemed she didn't have the heart to write, or too much to write about, and I was swamped with baby care and a move. We had a good visit in December, though, and she was able to meet her great grand-daughter Elena for the first and only time.

For me, the 6 generation photo album is a wonderful way to introduce Elena to our family history. She gets a kick out the photos of herself at the end of it, and as she grows up I hope it will click for her: she is part of this line of women, and she can be proud of the ladies in her family line.

In our evening prayers, I have begun to pray each night that God will bless Elena and help her to teach the next generation to love Him. It is such a troubled world, I figure she and her children will need all the prayers they can get, so I should start now. Gosh, is that a negative thing to say?

Preserving family heritage and passing along the stories of our families, whether it be through photos, heirlooms, genealogies, saved correspondences or music, is another branch of homemaking that we really should embrace. A homemaker's work is never done - and our tasks are sometimes very sweet. I'm realizing all of this now, and feel like praying for the future generation is a way of preserving family heritage that I'd never thought about until recently.

What do you think, readers? What are some of your ideas for preserving family stories and teaching little ones about the past?

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