Back in March, the NY Times published an article entitled "The Family Stories That Bind Us," about research suggesting that the more you know about your family story, the more resilient your family--and you--will be.
My family story, from my perspective, starts in my mother's house in NJ. I don't know anything about my mother's parents, aside from the things my mother said about her mother when I was growing up, primarily about her cooking, and the fact that my mother's parents were of German ancestry. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was still in her early days of teaching, and my mother lives, to this day, in the same house where she has lived since she was two years old (she and my father purchased it from her brothers, who had moved out to start their own lives elsewhere). I've seen pictures of my mother's parents, and they look just like my round-faced uncle. In my maternal grandfather's case: bald as a ping-pong ball.
I know even less about my father's parents, though I am named after one of them. My father had eight brothers and sisters, one of whom died early in childhood, and lived on a farm in northern Spain. When it became too much to support them all, when they were consuming more than they could contribute, my father was among the children sent to a Jesuit boarding school in France where, presumably, he was prepared to enter the ministry. (I have two other uncles who also became Jesuit brothers, one of whom ended up in Guatemala and the other in Puerto Rico; I'm guessing, though I don't know, that they went to the same school.)
When he finished his Jesuit education abroad, my father was sent to teach in Cuba, and after some unrecorded amount of time there, escaped to the U.S. one day after he had stood in front of a firing squad who decided, randomly, to stop shooting students and teachers for the day. The story is that he brought diamonds with him in the handle of a suitcase. I don't know about that; I never saw the diamonds. But it does seem to make my father a heroic, daring person.
via wikimedia Commons
Writes Bruce Feiler, author of the NY Times piece, "if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come."
I can't draw a family tree. I feel jealous of people who take pictures of four generations together, who know the names of all of their aunts and uncles, who have deep roots. I don't have lots of family stories that go back generations on a family tree. Mine is more like a single, thick taproot, like the ones that you find when you pull up surprisingly hardy dandelions. I am the beginning of my own plant, which came, perhaps, from some strong seed stock. I haven't planted myself in one spot; many years, I've had to scatter my seeds to the wind and take root again somewhere else. Maybe I'm not as resilient as people who have big trees, and stories of bouncing back. But it's what I have.
What about you? What are the oldest ancestors you know about? Do you feel like those family stories have influenced you?