My future daughter-in-law has employed the services of a personal trainer, in an effort to get her body into better shape. It’s not something I would contemplate, however, her body image is the bane of her life, colouring her days with a wash of dissatisfaction. My own attempts to bend myself into shape are more ephemeral, to do with ageing and the knowledge that my days are increasingly limited.
After spending most of this past week in the kitchen, making Easter eggs for the grandchildren and preparing an Easter Sunday lunch feast for the family, I acknowledge, once again, that I’m an unconventional traditionalist at heart – an oxymoron, if ever there was one.
Perhaps it’s egotistical, but I want my children and grandchildren to remember me in a fond light, perhaps a pinkish-mauve, with just a hint of aqua, when I’m flying the skies of a different plane of existence.
My two children remember my mother for the fun times they shared with her, the walks to the local shopping centre, games played while housework took a backseat in favour of togetherness, helping her in the garden and the kitchen. After seventeen years, they are precious, if faded memories.
I still remember sleepovers at my grandparents’ home. The high, three-quarter bed in which my mother once slept as a girl, the fairy pictures on the wall that now hang in my lounge room, toast and marmalade for breakfast, eaten at the small table in the minute kitchen that was warmed by the wood stove. Memories of helping my grandfather in the vegetable garden, and watching him at work in the shed with chisel and saw, bring a smile. Even now, I can smell new potatoes and freshly turned soil and the tang of cedar sawdust.
In a tradition that comes more from my grandmother than my mother, who delighted in food, but not the preparation of it, I made the entire feast from scratch – bread, ice cream and everything in between. I suppose I should have picked a healthier breakfast menu, but sleepovers with the grand-kids have become synonymous with pancakes, though not always with strawberries and chocolate sauce.
In an age of fast food and pre-packaged everything, there were no packet mixes or commercially made anything, this year. There were some less than satisfying results, of course. The small tray of marshmallow, that resembled pale green rubber, was a treat just the same, as my grandson tried his best to squash it flat.
Over the past week, I bent myself out of shape to please my children and grandchildren. I did it willingly, eagerly. Not for any thanks, but because of my own gratitude for the privilege of having them in my life. The bunny masks and personalised colouring books will disintegrate and end up as compost, the chocolate eggs will dissolve in the mouth more rapidly. But, I hope the memories of fun, laughter, and shared times will endure for them, as the memories of similar experiences have lingered for me.
Sleuthing the past to construct my family tree, I’m not content with the bare bones in the form of names, dates and places of birth and death of my ancestors. I long to know who they were as people, what they felt, believed, cherished and did on a daily basis. What did they celebrate, and how? What were their family traditions? What memories did they make for their children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews?
Memories put flesh on the bones of date-and-place in family history. The family anecdotes – stories from memory – are what bring life to the names of people in a family tree. They call out to be recorded and preserved, for the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – mine and yours.
So many times, I’ve heard people say, “But, I’m not a writer.” When it comes to recording our family or personal histories, impeccable grammar and literary expertise are far outweighed by sincerity, honesty and a willingness to share ourselves as human beings with heart. If you and I don’t write things down – our impressions, hopes, fears, joys and trials – how will our future descendants know who we really were, apart from a name and dates, with maybe an epitaph, on a headstone or plaque?