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 Noble. I'm really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.