Monday, January 28, 2008

Family Histories

Boxes of photos. Scrapbooks full of memorabilia, some of it incomprehensible to the living, the importance of a piece known only to the dead. My mother's mother liked to collect into scrapbooks clippings that interested. In the old India trunks in the basement, I've found a scrapbook or two about Abraham Lincoln, one of her passions. Elsewhere in the house, I have her bronze Lincoln bookends, which I currently use on top of one of my shelves. Another recent find is a scrapbook of famous opera performers. Were these images and portraits clipped from magazines such as Opera News, the enthusiast's magazine that my father subscribed to until he died, and which still arrives on the doorstep? or were they clipped from newspapers of the time. many of the faces and names in the opera scrapbook are iconic, but unknown to anyone alive today who is not also an opera history buff. My father enjoyed reading history and biography. He listened to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast from New York City almost every Saturday of his life, after we returned from India. I have many memories of opera filling the house all Saturday afternoon, winter or summer. Was this scrapbook made by my grandmother for him, when we were away across the ocean? or does it predate out mission travels? It is in nearly mint condition. What causes us to make scrapbooks? I have another book of photos from Muskegon that was given to us by a cousin. There are a few photos of my mother and her sister on the beach at Muskegon, the summer waters of Lake Michigan in the background. There are many more people in this book that I do not know, nor did my father when we looked at it together. This scrapbook is disintegrating before my eyes. Turning the pages, fragments of black backing paper come loose, and fall away. I will photograph anew the pages of this scrapbook, even those pages that speak to me out of the mystery of unknown faces, unknown places, and relationships that are only imaginable, not reportable. I will continue to dig into our trunks in the basement, now that my parents have both passed away, and continue to uncover family histories, only some of which are labelled or described or named. There are always aspects of history that are lost with the stories and memories that made them, which we never had a chance to recover before they were gone. I tried to capture some. I recorded my father's voice, talking about the past. I have written down stories I remember being told around the dinner table. I will continue to record what I know. I am working out my own, new identity, as the past leaves us, and the future beckons me towards a new life, my own life, my life separate from my parents' lives, now that I have become a midlife orphan, now that the trunks are mine to sort through, now that nothing can be done but settle affairs and start over again.

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