If I Knew Then What I Want to Know Now

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

My aunt, grandfather, mother, father, 
and sisters. I was taking the picture. 
Other things may
change us, but we start and end with the family.
~Anthony Brandt

Today is my
grandfather’s birth date.  If I’ve done
the math right, John Lewis Houchin was born in 1871 on September 23. Around
that year anyway. He was one of four sons. I was sixteen when he died at the
age of ninety-one. My memories of him are of an old man who sat on the porch in
the summer time with a flyswatter handy. In the winter, he sat in a tall-backed
rocking chair in front of a fireplace. He kept the fire going by feeding it
chunks of coal and jabbing it with his poker from time to time. Sometimes he’d
let me jab the coal with the poker. I still remember how that coal looked and
sounded when it broke up under my pokes.

I do have a
vague memory of once seeing him harness his work horses out in front of the
house. He never moved into the modern era of tractors. I don’t remember him
ever talking much even when I’d go and sit in the companion rocker beside his
in front of the fire or in the swing on the porch during the summer. Now I wonder if
that was his choice or if I simply didn’t know how to listen so that he would talk.
I think of all the great stories he could have surely told me. Simple things
like what his mother was like and the things he and his brothers got into when
they were kids. Did he go fishing? Pick up pretty rocks? I know he played
marbles because he had a jar full of stone ones that we weren’t allowed to play
with.  I might have found out how he met
his wife who died when I was a toddler, so I didn’t know her at all. He could
have told me whether he liked farming or just did it because that was what men
in his family did. So many things that now would be interesting to know.

The trouble with
being a kid is not knowing what you are going to want to know fifty years down
the road. I made the same mistake with my father. I didn’t listen to his
stories well enough to ask the right questions to find out more. Thank goodness, I did listen to my mother’s
stories before they were lost in the confusion of her dementia. That’s why I
was able to write Angel Sister with
the 1930s background. But if I hadn’t been such a kid, I might know a lot more
about the 1890s too. Or about my dad’s motorcycle trip out west in 1931 when he
was twenty-one. Or why my father’s sister never married or got a job even
though she learned shorthand and typing. I know some of what my mother said
were the reasons, but I never heard it from my aunt.

So many lost
stories. And now I see it from the other side of the memory mountain. Now there
are many things about my life that my grandchildren will never know. Things
they don’t even know to ask or would not want to sit still and listen to if I
told them. At least not right now. But someday, they may look back with some of
the same regret I have as I consider my grandfather’s birth date and think how
sad that I missed the opportunity to know these people, my family, better.  

Of course, I
have written a lot of books and some of my life has filtered into those stories.
So if my grandkids or great grandkids ever read those books, they will might get glimpses into my past. Trouble is, they won’t know which parts I remembered and which
parts I made up. Maybe they’ll think all the exciting and good scenes were the
remembered ones. A grandmother can hope, can’t she?

You don’t choose
your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.
~Desmond Tutu

 Do you remember your grandparents and their stories?