Saturday, October 11, 2008

Family Connections

Last night we went to my brother Rick's house so that I could work on a project with his wife Diane. We are putting the finishing touches on the second edition of my grandparents' autobiography.

We printed the first edition in 2005. I transcribed my grandparents' life stories, and Diane scanned and inserted pictures from their 70 years of marriage. When we printed those first coil-bound copies at an office supply store, we never dreamed how popular the book would be. Grandma has since printed dozens of copies for people in their retirement center, people she meets at the doctor's office, old family friends, etc. So we recently decided to publish the book online to make it easier for people to get copies.

We've been working on this second edition for several weeks, and I've really enjoyed it--most of the time. Last night I stayed until almost midnight because we were having trouble with section breaks and page breaks and floating text boxes. It was maddening. Still, we were enjoying ourselves on some level. We sat at the kitchen table for hours, our heads bent together over the laptop screen as we contemplated different fonts and header styles.

I decided it must be time to go home when I had perhaps the dumbest thought of my entire life. We were choosing a new picture of Grandma and Grandpa for the back cover. Grandpa passed away just after Christmas last year, so I started to say, "Make sure we pick a picture that was taken while Grandpa was still alive." Here we were, looking at pictures of them as a couple! I closed my mouth before I said such a ridiculous thing, but Rick and Diane wanted to know why I was laughing all of a sudden. I repeated my silly thought, and Rick said, "What, did you think we would put in a picture of Grandma next to Grandpa in his coffin?" We had a good laugh over it.

It reminded me of the many hours we spent working on a scrapbook for my Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary. All of my siblings gathered periodically at Rick and Diane's long dining room table to work on it--sometimes one at a time, sometimes in groups. Chronicling our life like that was so rewarding, and we did some of our best bonding while we:
  • Marveled over what a beautiful young woman Mom was (not that she isn't beautiful now!).
  • Discovered family resemblances that go back several generations.
  • Laughed at our crazy 80s hair.
  • Made fun of Rick's crazy 70s clothes and hippy hair.
  • Argued over what color schemes to use for each decade.
  • Reminisced about family vacations, holiday traditions, and long-dead pets.
  • Cried as we worked on the layouts for our two sisters, Monica and Michele, who passed away before we youngest three were born.
Christmas layout in Mom and Dad's scrapbook

We presented the book as a surprise gift at the open house for the anniversary. Mom was relieved to finally learn why we'd all been spending so much time at Rick's without inviting them. It was so fun to see groups of relatives and friends gathering around the book and sharing memories.

Diane and I share a passion for documenting family history. She loves the genealogy, and I just love the stories. I've greatly enjoyed working on family histories for my grandparents, parents, and even for strangers that I met through a nursing home visitation program. I can't get enough of their stories, and I love the way my little microcassette recorder breaks down the barriers and allows us to communicate so comfortably. (Before this project, I could scarcely converse with a stranger.)

As for scrapbooking, I have to admit that my hobby is actually buying scrapbook supplies; I rarely get around to actually using them. I love looking at Diane's vast library of scrapbooks, all beautifully coordinated. On the rare occasions that I go over to their house to work on Ethan's scrapbook, I labor over one two-page layout for an entire evening while Diane completes four or five. I agonize over the paper color, the shapes, the stickers--as if these decisions will be crucial to future generations. And I never have enough room for all my journaling. I carefully trace pencil lines to keep my writing neat, but my handwriting inevitably shrinks with each successive line of the stories that I really must capture.

I am always so proud when I complete a layout; I don't know why I can't seem to do this at home on my own on an idle Friday night. I guess it's just as well that I have to work at Diane's table. I love having our families around me even though we aren't really talking to them. I love the way we stand around talking on the way out the door, and sometimes even halfway to the car.

Typical family gathering at Rick and Diane's
Diane, Sammy, Ethan, Hillary

I love the sense of connection I feel when I spend time with family, and I'm glad we're working to preserve our heritage for the future.


Melissa Irwin said...

Wow, this is amazing. My family has been broken a hundred ways, and there would be no occasion for me to present such a beautiful, historical package. AND, I have no siblings. My grandparents have all been gone since I was very young. I love seeing this beautiful connection through other is truly something to treasure! I love to witness the dedication of yourself and the others that work so hard and lovingly to preserve lifes stories. It is beautiful!

Sarah said...

Well, Melissa, then you can create this kind of heritage for YOUR children. You are already doing that on your blog.

No matter how you do it, I believe that everyone should take the time to leave a legacy for their children, a record of the amazing things that makes your family who you are.

Sorry, I can't help preaching about this. It really is my passion.

Mindy said...

I love when I'm home and y'all come over to work on the book. It's nice being able to hang out with you and Bill without the rest of the family so we can talk more! Not that I don't love hanging out with the rest of the family, it's just hard to talk to everyone sometimes. I can't seem to figure out how to put you on that email list to my blog, can you please lead me in that direction? Thanks Sarah! I've been trying to find time to read great-grandma and grandpa's book but school is killing me this semester (I promise I'll stop complaining about it!).



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