I come from a family where people don’t talk too much about their past. My father, a World War II vet who arrived at D-Day on a troop landing craft, made a few funny stories about his war experiences, but even when his children asked, we never found out what happened.
My mother lost her father at the very beginning of the Great Depression. Two generations later, I asked her if some of my students could interview her about being a child in the 1930s. She said she didn’t remember anything about it. At the time, I was angry, but now I wonder just how insensitive I was. When she said, “I don’t remember the Depression, but I remember when we sold the boat,” there was a story there.
The boat was a cabin cruiser (whatever that is) named the MARZ (my grandmother’s initials), and my mother and her older brother went with their father to sail it around the Finger Lakes in New York State. Now I think of the dapper overcoated gentleman in the couple of old pictures; he has my Uncle Jack’s long nose and dark hair. My mother remembered that her father would take her for walks and rap her toes with his cane to make her toe out, not in. She remembers him skating in his Homburg and velvet-collared overcoat, the epitome of elegance.
Then he died: appendicitis, a heart condition. His widow had to put away the crystal-beaded flapper dresses she’d worn to 1920s country club dances. My Uncle Jack remembered her sobbing in the basement as the kids lay in their beds upstairs, pretending. She never married again.
Two of my cousins love genealogy and are busy researching these stories. I just wish I could understand them.