Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happiness is...a familial connection.

My mom is pretty big into genealogy. It started years ago when my grandfather started to trace his ancestors back to England and everything ran aground after only one generation when he ran into his oh-so-creatively-named grandfather, Henry Brown. She (and others in her family) have worked with professional genealogists, spent countless hours in the local family history library and even traveled to England to hunt down clues about him and his family. We did finally find him, the details of which could be an entire book of its own, but suffice it to say, because of the constant activity and mom's natural inclination to be more talkative than dad, I've always had more of an interest in and known more about my mom's side of the family than my dad's. I had little pieces of the puzzle thanks to our obviously Scottish last name and passing comments made by my grandparents but nothing really concrete to build on.

Well, this past year for Christmas my dad gave all us kids folders filled with stories, journals, newspaper clippings, and charts detailing some of our family history and I've absolutely loved learning more about my paternal ancestors.  My proud heritage includes pioneers who crossed oceans and plains for their beliefs, members of the ill-fated Martin Handcart company, settlers and school teachers, missionaries and hard-workers in many fields. Reaching out and touching the distant past gives me a greater appreciation for the present, all that I am and all that I have. 

But the greatest joy has been in coming to know my grandfather a bit better.  Relations in my dad's family have always been a little strained and we've not had the chance to be as close as we'd like, so being able to read his own words and hear about his childhood has been fascinating.  I feel as if I've come to know him as a person instead of just as 'grandpa'. Born on the cusp of the Great Depression, he lived the life I've read about in so many of my books, at once both hard and idyllic; winter sleigh rides, summer baseball games in the pasture, and hours spent listening to programs in front of the radio. This got me reminiscing about my own adventures listening to the radio.

When I was young there was a radio station that would play these old radio shows at night.  From 9 until 10 when I was supposed to be in bed asleep I would turn on my alarm clock radio and get lost in the worlds of Fibber McGee and Molly, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, The Great Gildersleeve and the Twilight Zone.  (You ever want to be truly terrified? Forget books. Screw movies.  Turn off the lights and listen to chilling stories told by someone with a horribly creepy voice and strategically placed sound effects. It's amazing what your imagination can conjure up when it's not got anything else to do.  I spent months sleeping with my lights on or with my dolls locked in my closet after particularly scary episodes.  My mom finally but the kibosh on my listening habits...which of course inspired me to turn the volume down really low and put the radio right next to my pillow.  Readers aren't the only ones with clandestine nighttime activities!)

In his history my grandpa mentioned listening to Amos and Andy specifically and I decided to see if I could hunt down some version to see how it compared to the other shows I was familiar with. I checked out a comedy collection from my local library (aka my home away from home) and have spent the last several weeks in the company of some of the greatest comics in history. The Great Gildersleeve wasn't as funny as I remembered it being and I didn't love Amos and Andy (sorry grandpa!) but I can totally understand why George Burns had such a long and lustrous career.  Opting for listening first thing in the morning rather than late at night, I often had to stop applying my mascara or curling my hair for fear of jabbing myself in the eye or dreaded forehead burns from giggling too much at Red Skelton, Jack Benny and Abbott and Costello. Laughing out loud....what a fabulous way to start the day!  And what a simple, yet powerful way to feel just a little bit closer to my grandfather.

My challenge for you this week is to make some connections of your own.  Dig deep into your family history and learn something new.  Talk to your parents or grandparents and ask them their most cherished memories. Make a few memories of your own. Try a recipe from your native homeland.  Watch your grandfather's favorite movie. Plant your mother's favorite flower. Tell their stories, keep them alive, make them real. And I guarantee you'll find a bit of happiness along the way!

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