What is a treasure that’s been lost?

Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.

As I thought about this question, a variety of quick-take responses came to my mind, ranging from “my youth,” or “my relationship with (a childhood friend),” to “my first synthesizer, a Casio CZ-1000,” or “my old Apple //e computer.” (Stories for another time, perhaps.) But as I have spent much of my writing energy over the past four years documenting various aspects of my life for one or more books in the memoir genre, one particular lost treasure stands out: the stories of my family that I neglected to preserve while my elders were alive.

I was blessed to know all of my grandparents personally, something that I realize not everyone can say. When I was young, we lived within a few hours of my paternal grandparents in Ohio, and saw them often before my grandmother Florine died, when I was about eight or nine years old. During that same part of my life we only saw my maternal grandparents in Kansas about once a year, but it was always for two weeks in the summer, so I felt like I knew them well, even so. When I was twelve years old we moved to Kansas and I only rarely saw my paternal grandfather Alvie after that, while I saw my maternal grandparents, Blanche and Harold, much more often.

When I was in high school, on one of our visits to see my maternal grandparents at their dairy farm, we sat around the kitchen table after breakfast one morning, and my grandmother began to tell a story about one of her relatives that could easily have been a movie. And blast it all, I can’t remember anything about it now except for the vaguest impression that it had to do with a secret (and forbidden) love affair, the resulting scandal, and possibly a double suicide. (She may have even produced a clipping from a very old newspaper about it.) I distinctly do remember telling myself that I really should write this stuff down, which I apparently couldn’t be bothered to do at the time.

My grandmother was alive for at least two more decades after that, and though I occasionally reminded myself that I needed to take a tape recorder with me on my next visit and get as much of her life as possible on tape, I never did–and then she was gone. I did learn a few more things about my grandmother in later conversations with my mother, but I similarly neglected to record my mom’s life stories before she succumbed to the cruelty of dementia, which ultimately took away both her memories and her life.

All of my grandparents are gone now, of course, and except for whatever memories I might yet be able to piece together from the recollections of my aunts and uncles, who are also getting along in years, much has already been lost. My father, who just turned 90, is beginning to struggle with short-term memory issues, but his long-term memory seems to still be mostly intact, and I have resolved that each time I see him, I must engage in conversations about his memories of the past. Given that my smart phone is always with me, I have no excuse for not recording the surprisingly detailed, rambling stories of his childhood that are still as clear in his mind as ever.

I’m also grateful that about fifteen years ago, not long before my mother died, he wrote a brief autobiography and made copies of it to share with me and my siblings and our children. In the last couple of years he has been working on a revised and updated edition, as well. So I have hope that as I piece together the stories of my own life, my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have something to read, should they become curious about their ancestors.

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