Yesterday was Mom’s birthday and the two of us happily spent it looking through old family pictures, letters, and other mementos the forbears had saved. Mom was born in 1916 and the sister in this picture was born in 1914, so early 1920 is my best guess for a date on this old snapshot of the two girls. There were a few members on both sides of my family who were confirmed ‘packrats’, so we are the beneficiaries of a century-and-a-half of memories recorded and saved. For one who likes to look to the future and who hopes for better to come, it is odd that my home is the repository for the past.
In a way, I feel as though my own memory stretches back into Victorian times, Central Texas-style. My grandparents were all born in the 1880’s; their stories are vivid and their approaches to life are embedded in my thinking. Through my grandfather’s telling, I feel as though it is my own memory which has captured the trip with my dad, driving the mules into the metropolis of Austin for a sale. And visiting the still-new state capitol building and climbing up to the top of the dome. And camping out by the creeks in order to water the animals.
The old photographs tell me that some relatives were handsome, others homely, and the letters reveal even more. Most forbears were kind and generous of heart, while others were mean-spirited and just plain hard to live with. Out on the ranches, accidents were waiting to claim the unfortunate, but healthful long life was the habit of many. When we buried my grandfather, the small monument crumbling over the grave beside belonged to his brother who had died more than a century before.
On these trips into the past, I gather all I can carry back to the present, to sort and contemplate, in my effort to discern the path ahead; what is indispensable, what I must leave behind. And I listen to the thoughts of my mom the time-traveler, who still bears some remnants of antiquity and a life of places and people and events that now exist only in her mind.