Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Recording the Past

As I contemplate my role as a mother, I can’t help but see the role of “mother” as a basically, thankless role. While I sit home moaning and groaning because my “big” girls don’t visit as often as I like, I realize my kids learned by my example. My kids don’t visit because I don’t visit. This realization hit me like a lightning bolt on a clear, blue day. Do my mother and my mother-in-law sit at home wondering about the same things I do? As the lightning bolt sliced through my heart, I understood that, yeah, most mothers have the same complaint when it comes to their grown children … why don’t they visit more often?

I look back and the majority of what I remember about my childhood are the happy times. With three children of my own, I know there were many, many bad times growing up, but for some reason, we seem to suppress the bad in favor of the good. Maybe it has something to do with the way our pasts are recorded for prosperity. Have you ever taken a really close look at an old photograph and ever wondered, “What’s going on in that person’s life right now?” Try it some time; you’ll have a new appreciation for the people of your past.

Like me, my mother keeps her photographs, newspaper clippings, and other mementos of her past in a wide array of places. Boxes, dresser drawers, you name it and there is probably a little stash of memorabilia carefully tucked away. As I look through these treasures, I suddenly see a pattern to all this information. Every picture, every newspaper clipping, every little scrap of paper or ribbon, everything had to do with a happy memory from the past. To a stranger, all these happy recordings of our past would show my family as the perfect little family. But these recordings don’t show the whole truth. Where are the bad times? Where are the bad memories? Because of some unknown force, the only things my mother saved were things that correlated with the happy times of our childhood.

At home, alone with all my own boxes and drawers of keepsakes, I realized all my children’s scrapbooks contain happy memories. There are no bad times recorded, only the good remembrances. But that wasn’t the only thing I noticed, I also realized that photographs belonging to my grandparents showed a different kind of life. As I continued to stare at these faded reflections of the past, I realized my ancestors were just like me, in that they recorded many good memories. But what struck me as odd, were these pictures also recorded the bad times. Floods, tornados, fires; all types of destruction, even death, were recorded along with the birthdays and weddings. Looking at these pictorial scenes, you can see people who have suffered bad right along with the good.

When did our generation stop acknowledging the bad stuff in our lives? When did we decide it was okay for our children to grow up remembering all the good things? Right now there are probably hundreds to thousands of news stories and photographs flooding every type of communication media, and they all concern one thing: the crises in the Middle East. But as we sit at home, watching the war unfold, how many of us are saving pictures or clipping newspaper stories of the terror overseas? How many of us are writing down thoughts and ideas we have concerning the war, so that our children will have some idea of how we are feeling during with worldwide conflict? I know there is not enough, and that has to change so our children don’t grow up with a warped sense of their history.

Where would our society be without The Diary of Anne Frank, or all the hundreds of other books about Holocaust survivors? Where would our national pride be without all the immerging news coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Korean War? And where would our democratic arrogance be without the traumatic coverage of the Vietnam War? Our national pride has slowly been on the rise since the first Gulf War, and with the events of September 11, 2001, Americans have really stepped up to the plate.

I have always kept scrapbooks and journals for all three of my children, as well as myself. I noticed that for the past few years my keepsake skills have decreased dramatically as my life has become busier. With renewed energy I told myself I would do better; that was Mother’s Day 2001. As an avid reader of TIME and Newsweek, as well as the entertainment section of the USA Today, last year I began cutting an occasional article about whatever was happening in the world, good as well as bad. I tried to make a concentrated effort to record my feelings on the Middle East Crisis, and of course, the horrors of September 11. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job, although it has been hard to actually write down my feelings about the bad things in the world. Hopefully, my grandchildren will have a better understanding of the aftermath of September 11.

If you don’t already keep a personal journal or some type of scrapbook, it’s never too late to start. Mother’s Day is coming up; make sure you visit your Mom. But not just because it’s a holiday; we all just need to visit more often, period. We need to talk with our relatives and record it for our future generations. Whenever my mother or mother-in-law make some little comment about something that happened in the past, I try to remember and write it down in my journal. Hopefully, my future generations will be able to piece together a historically accurate account of their past, the good along with the bad.

Happy Mother’s Day to my Moms: Brenda Devine Sallee and Christine Holtzclaw Rightmyer.

© Bobbi Rightmyer, May 2002