Monday, November 2, 2009

Keeping it in the family

Or who do you think you are... I am lucky enough to have a written set of memoires for both my grandfathers, both of whom managed to pack a fair amount of living into their lives. It’s something I’m especially grateful for today as my mother’s father, the last remaining representative of his generation in my immediate family, finally succumbed to cancer this weekend so there will be no more opportunity to hear his stories first hand – and could he tell some crackers.

Both sets of memoires are highly edited and not always very accurate (mum’s dad especially was not the man to let the truth get in the way of a good story) but they both manage to capture something essential about both men and the times they lived in. I don’t know how common it is to write your own memoires these days, or to keep the kind of diary’s that give much insight into a life. I do know that letter writing seems to be a sadly dying art and somehow emails are not entirely the same thing. It seems likely in the future that we will leave enough of ourselves spread across the internet to give our descendents plenty to mull over, but there’s something about a set of thought out written down memoires that’s special.

I would particularly like – and keep buying them notebooks as a hint – for my parents to write their lives down. Mum learnt to fly as a girl and dad once saved a whale as well as managing to dodge being sent to Vietnam by the skin of his teeth. Dad’s dad was almost certainly a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales, and mum’s dad swore he robbed a bank. With a tank. He explains that it was the war, and that looking back its behaviour that could be seen as out of order, but at the time seemed normal. I have no idea at all if he really was involved in a bank robbery or not, but it’s entirely the sort of thing he might and would have done.

I can promise though that the opening anacdote of granddads book; “On a beautiful spring morning in 2002, at the age of seventy-nine, I found myself heading straight for a concrete wall at over 70mph in a Ferrari 500. The fifty year old grand prix car was completely out of control.” Is entirely true. He was always a bit of a handful.

It’s easy to look back on previous generations and see their lives as interesting, when its family the wider sweep of history is bought not only to life but into the home. My maternal grandmother was German, she arrived in the UK in 1948, young, unmarried and with a baby in tow, she never really told her story, although I can guess at bits of it, I do know she never spoke German again after she learnt English. How common where German war brides? I don’t even know that. All our families have these stories and they’re all worth recording, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more family memoires all stored up and waiting for the lucky historian to stumble across one day.

1 comment:

  1. That's wonderful that you have those memoires from your grandfathers! That's really a treasure for your family.