Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Archaeology by Betsy Ashton

Normally, when I think about archaeology, it's in conjunction with digging through the detritus that is my desk. My husband has been known to refer to cleaning my desk as "dumpster diving." It's not THAT bad, but it can get messy with too many papers and Post-IT notes. Try as I do, I haven't made the switch to all electronic yet. Come to think about it, if I were all electronic, my laptop would be another place for cyber-debris.

This post is about something totally different. It's about "grandparent archaeology." As we grow older, so do our parents and grandparents. We can't stop it from happening. And when they pass on, or, worse, no longer remember, we realize what we lost. I'm advocating becoming a grandparent archaeologist.

Think about all the things an 80-year-old has seen in her lifetime. A world war. A police action in Korea. A war in Vietnam. Men coming home broken or not coming home at all. Flight, where getting on an airplane is as natural as getting into your car. Space shots, moon walks and living in space for an entire year. Women, blacks, LGBT and others marching for equality. Some achieving small steps forward, others still waiting for that promise of equality to become reality.

If your parents and grandparents are still living, they are repositories of history, theirs, the family's and the world's. We have the benefit of having world events archived for us online, in libraries, on social media. We don't lack for resources. Just turn to Google and ask a question. 

My grandparents and parents are all long dead. I wasn't able to "google" their memories to build my own library. I have found documents and photos my mother and mother-in-law saved. They help me shape part of the narrative of what made my husband and me who we are. We have tangible objects--dishware, hand-crocheted linens, silver--but no record of who bought these treasured objects or why. Why did my grandmother buy a heavy etched glass pitcher for iced tea? Did someone give it to her? All I know is it once belonged to my grandmother. 

We have a few toys from our childhoods. My husband's and my teddy bears, a small stuffed black dog named Inky (mine), a leather horse (mine). We have jewelry, of course, Most of it will be given to our children by and by. 

I don't have their voices. No one thought to record memories. No one wrote anything down. Now, so many people want to capture these memories for grands and great-grands. What a wonderful gift. See if you can help a parent write stories down. These don't have to be the grand sweep of a life, but the silly stories people tell around the dinner table. "Do you remember when so-and-so ate all the Christmas cookies and barfed on the tree?"

If they don't want or can't write down anything, small digital recorders are very inexpensive. If you can get someone talking, record the stories in her own voice. Think oral history or a personal story repository. You'll remember what that parent or grandparent smelled like the minute you turn on the recorder or pick up a journal. My husband and I have a few recipes out mothers loved. We use their handwritten cards when we cook these special dishes. We feel as if we could reach out and touch the missing loved one.

If you can, don't miss out on this incredible repository of family lore. I wish I could hear my mother's or grandmother's voice again. I do in my mind. And sometimes a lesson or phrase floats up from all the stuff crammed into my head and finds its way into a story. With that, I keep the person alive, even if no one but me knows where the phrase originated. It doesn't matter. I do.

What about you? Have you ever done any "grandparent archaeology"?


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and NobleI'm really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.


Andrea Downing said...

Oh my goodness, did you hit a chord with me. I have been encouraging my future son-in-law to record the memories of his grandmother before they are lost. She is 98 years old-a Colombian living in Bogota from a very upper class background. The things she and her late husband have done and seen in her lifetime are incredible as they traveled widely. Daniel, my future sil, has recorded her a bit but not enough for me. I do so hope youngsters will take note. To think, just in my own lifetime, how things have changed and evolved.

Jannine Gallant said...

I spent a lot of time asking my grandma for family information and writing it down, listening to stories from her younger days. I'm so glad I took that time, which was a pleasure for both of us. She lived to be 98 and had an amazing amount of life experience to talk about, including info about her parents and grandparents. I've done a lot of genealogy research, but those stories flesh out the people and make them more than just names on a chart.

Rolynn Anderson said...

All good points, Betsy. Funny how when we're younger, we are too busy to ask/hear the stories told by our elders; when we're ready to listen, they've forgotten some of the important details. I like your idea of making recordings, too. In this You-Tube world, we should have visual and audio recordings of people overtime, archived, of course.

Margo Hoornstra said...

My grandson is the genealogist in our family. The information he comes up with and portraits he's discovered on line are incredible. As Jannine says, really fleshes our forebears out for us.

Leah St. James said...

What a wonderful message, Betsy. We're the "elders" of our family too, and I also wish we had taken time to record our parents' and grandparents' stories. I remember some, of course, but never took the time to record in any way. Like you, I have treasured hand-written recipe cards. I copied them onto new cards, but I take the old ones out just to feel that connection through the writing, knowing my grandmother, or his, wrote out those ingredients and instructions.

Diane Burton said...

Great reminder, Betsy. We're the oldest in our generation. My grandmother died when I was 26. Wish I'd asked her more questions. My mom never asked her either. Hubs & I have worked on our genealogy on & off for many years. No videos or recordings from either of our parents. We have pictures of people we have no idea their who they are or their relationship. So sad that all that family history is gone.

Alicia Dean said...

Yes, very good advice. I regret not having more documented details of my parents and grandparents. My mom is still alive and I've been journaling with her and recording a few things, but her memory has slipped, so we've all lost some of those treasures forever.

Barbara Edwards said...

I tried with my father, but everything was 'family' and not to be talked about. Sigh.
Ne'slong dead and I want to shake him for not sharing.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Betsy, you've reminded me of what I have been telling myself to do for years now. My mom is 85 and has such wonderful stories to tell. Some I know by heart but I really need to get them in stone and stop saying I'll do it next week. Now is the time.