Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Worlds I'll Never Know

One of the initiations into the world of adulthood is the realization that it's not what we had thought it would be.
Those long-dreamed of freedoms turn out not to be so magical after all. A car to carry you away from parental disapproval is hitched to the mundane realities of insurance and payments. And unless you're a Bedouin, satisfied with a few pillows and a rug, that first apartment is going to need furniture. 

You also gain the mixed blessing of a different perspective on those lives around you, lives you once thought you knew. As the years go by, you realize you'll never uncover the layers upon layers within each person's story. Now that there's no one left to ask, questions come unbidden to my mind: 

There are the simple questions: where did my parents meet? What was my father's childhood in Sapulpa, Oklahoma like? 

Then there is the other side to those people that as children we just accepted without much thought. 

My grandmother was born at the beginning of the twentieth century, and yet achieved a college degree, as did most of her 12 brothers and sisters. I remember her as a searingly bright woman who was an avid reader, skilled enough to design her own sewing patterns. I now also recall her as probably clinically depressed, not your standard warm, cheery grandmother. Was her moodiness born of frustration? What would her life have been like had she grown up in today's world?

And while we're on the subject, what about my grandfather, that twinkly man who always tried to convince me there were pixies living in the shade garden next to their house? What was he like in his twenties, when he was in his brown leather jacket on a horse, a geologist out riding the lines for the Sun oil company in the fields of Oklahoma? Did he ever regret that there had only been enough money for one member of his family, his brother Ed, to become a doctor?

When I was a little girl, he was my hero, the one person in the family
who made me feel like I hung the moon. How do I reconcile that man with the one who subjected his son, my uncle, to operation after operation in an effort to repair the ravages of polio? Was that to give his son a normal life or himself an undamaged son? 

There are so many that I'd like to time-travel back and interview.

People like my great-grandfather Ashley Wilson, who founded the town of Mangum, Oklahoma and who met Jesse James watering his horse at the family farm. Or find out what life was like for my other grandmother, Mamie Walker as the wife of a small-town Sapulpa lawyer in the twenties. 

I know nothing about the time my uncle spend in Colorado, or where my parents went for their honeymoon. There are so many things I'll never know, and stories that I've forgotten or dismissed. 

I think I'm even finally ready to listen one more time to my mother's stories of her glory days as the two-term president of the Tri Delta sorority at O.U.      But it's too late.


  1. I think the story mystery is another given of adulthood. All the fragments of overheard adult stories, swirling, aren't important enough to investigate, flesh out, hear out, until it's too late.

  2. This strikes home.
    I never knew any relatives other than my immediate family, and was led to believe that there WAS no other family. Untrue.
    So many questions to which I will never receive answers...

  3. You reminded me of a story I heard long ago about my only aunt on my father's side, who reputedly ran away to the Congo and learned to throw a knife with uncanny accuracy. Is it true? I'll never know, since they are all long gone.

  4. We have to capture the stories while we can! :)

  5. Why do we think of things we'd like to know after people have passed away. I was 68 when my Dad died. I was old enough to think of what I'd like to know.

  6. I'm in the same boat. Parents and grandparents all gone, no one left here now but my two siblings, who know about as much as I do, which is very little.

  7. I keep thinking I should ask my uncles before it's too late, but I never do. Not sure if you could time travel you even would... There's a big hurdle there.

  8. and this is why I write my blog. so future generations will have answers to those questions. assuming of course that I have future kids and grandkids, hope more will follow.

  9. It's inevitable that our stories slip into the past. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy them and share them with our descendants -- but we do so knowing that they'll probably only persist a generation or two in the potentially faulty memories of those who come after us. To me this isn't a negative thing -- it's comforting, actually, to realize that our stories, in the long run, mean very little beyond us.

    1. That is pretty much the reality, Steve. And how interested are my own children going to be in the inner workings of relatives they've never met?

  10. Oh, me, too! I have only discovered the mysteries since the main characters were gone or I like to think I would have asked the questions. It seems my great grandmother had a child before her marriage and no one was brave enough to get the details and now everyone is gone who would have known. In those days secrets were kept in shame, unlike today where nothing is hidden.

  11. All of this so true..I especially wish I'd asked my parents so much more about their lives and their parents and on back. I love the PBS show Finding Your Roots. It's amazing what they can find with the resources they have but more amazing is watching the reactions of the people they are researching. It's very poignant and gives you a feeling we are all truly connected way back in the past no matter race, religion or culture. The family of man so to speak. I think of people born 100 or more years ago and who really knows or cares anything about them. I find that very sad for some reason.


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