I am happy to say that thus far in life I have very few regrets. Even though I’ve made a few poor decisions over the years, I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, and every decision – good and bad – that I’ve made has helped make me who I am today.
Yet we all have certain things we would do differently if we were ever given the chance to go back. Regrets and wishes for “do overs” don’t have to be massive looming issues, just little nagging bits. One such regret for me is that until fairly recently, I did not appropriately appreciate, and pay attention to, the past.
As is true for many of us, through my childhood and as a young lady, I was very self-focused and busy just living life. As I grew into adulthood, I was busy creating my own family, building careers — just trying to keep up with the pace of life. What I didn’t do was slow down and really listen to the past.
I regret now that when we had family gatherings with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins, I didn’t pay more attention to stories that were shared. I didn’t keep track of the tales and legends shared by my parents and older relatives. I wish now that I had really listened to my mother’s words of wisdom and information about her family and her youth. I’m sure at the time, I just assumed that she would always be around as a resource about being a Real Woman. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. She passed away while I was still in my 20’s, so I lost the chance to get any more of her input on the future or peeks into her past as I’ve continued through life.
I should have taken notes over the past many years every time an elder decided to share a story. But until recently, I didn’t. Well, it is never too late. And now I am completely fascinated by my family’s past. Every time we visit my Dad, I cling to any stories he begins to tell – no matter the time frame. He may share a memory about my mom, or about his siblings, about his childhood, or his Grandparents. He may open up a bit about his time in the Army or when he went back to college upon his return from the War. And now, finally, I’m paying attention.
My Dad not long ago visited a local school to talk to the students about his experiences on the front lines in the Korean War. I’m green with envy, wishing that we lived closer to each other so he could do that for my son’s school. That sort of personal living history has such a more profound effect than can ever be achieved by reading it in a text book. And that, in a nutshell, is what we all need to remember – we need to grab every bit of personal living history while it is available to us. Memories fade, and life is short – we shouldn’t pass up opportunities while we have them.
This weekend we had a visit, and Dad passed along to me a cocktail pitcher that had been given to him as a wedding gift when he married my mom, and it is engraved with the signatures of each of his Ushers. I love it. And even better, just that one gift got Dad going with stories. Although my eager ears were prepared, I realized I wasn’t writing anything down – and I knew that I’d forget vital bits on the three-hour drive home. So I ran to grab anything I could find, and soon was making notes on little-post-it’s. We all had a good laugh about it – but mentally I realized that I will never visit again without notebook in hand.
The best thing about stories of the past is that everything old tells me something new – I learn new things I never knew before. I didn’t know my Grandfather was claustrophobic. I didn’t know that my dad as a young man had worked in his Uncle’s apple orchard. I didn’t know as a kid one of his fondest memories was driving around Boston with his Grandmother’s chauffer, with Dad riding in the front seat. I didn’t even know that Dad’s beloved ship’s clock that he keeps on a shelf in his sitting room was a gift from my mom to him – to make up for all the birthdays and Christmases they missed out on together while he was at war.
But now I know. And every little bit of personal history is another piece to the puzzle of our family, of why we all are who we are. It is fascinating to hear how things used to be, the struggles, the triumphs, the challenges and the joys.
I’m finally taking notes that I can share with my siblings, and with the hope that my son will have these stories to pass along to his children some day. Luckily, there are a couple people in my family who have a knack for Geneology, and have kept some records of ancestor’s names and dates. What I want now are the stories behind those names and dates.
It never is too late – we can all take the time to really listen to the past. And better yet, we can all start writing down some of our own stories so future generations won’t miss out on “all the good stuff” either.