Thank you for this wonderful question, Kiley. It made me reflect on this question, and I had written a response, but then I vaguely remembered that I had written this once before. I found it and liked it better than what I wrote, so I am going to repost (with a few modifications) what I had written on January 5, 2010.
When Paul and Tim were growing up, they knew about my background, but they didn’t often ask questions about it. When they did, I would answer their questions, but no more because I didn’t want to push anything on them they weren’t ready for. I used the advice I had read for when your child asks you a question about sex — to answer the questions they ask and not use it as an opportunity to give them "the sex talk."
When Paul was 14 and Tim was 12, David and I planned a family trip to Ohio to visit my parents. The boys dragged their feet, but I was pretty adamant that this trip was for their future –– that they were not going to go through their whole lives without knowing something about their maternal heritage and without memories of their Amish grandparents. They didn’t have too many questions then, and I don’t honestly know how much of the trip they remember.
In 2004, when David and I traveled back to the community for my father’s funeral, our younger son, Tim, went with us. He was eighteen at the time, so I didn’t have any idea he would react the way he did. He was absolutely fascinated. He was very perceptive and noticed things about the culture that I never had, even having lived it for 23 years. As soon as we left the wake, he started peppering me with questions: “Mom, are you some kind of celebrity with these people, even though you left?” “How many second cousins do I have?” Why do they dress that way?” “What? They can have LED lights on their buggies, but they can’t have electricity!”
Seeing my culture through Tim's eyes made me reflect on it differently than I had before.
A year later, when my mother died, our older son, Paul, traveled to Ohio from Johns Hopkins, where he was attending his last year of college. His reaction was exactly the opposite of Tim’s –– he completely drew inward and didn’t want to talk about what he was experiencing. I asked him if he had any questions, and he said, “I don’t even know what to ask.” I thought he may have a delayed reaction, and that later he would ask me questions, but to this day I don’t know what he was thinking and feeling during that weekend. This was very surprising to me, because Paul is a people-person and able to relate to nearly everyone.
I have a feeling that Paul and Tim will someday want to know more about their Amish heritage. I hope I am still around to tell them stories, or at least have enough journals, letters, blogs, and other writings left to tell the story. Right now I would consider that a gift more precious than gold, for there is so little I know about my parents before they got married. Dad was 34 and Mom 32 when they got married, so there are 66 collective years of memories I would love to have filled in. As it is, I have only snatches here and there and my imagination to fill in the rest.
I often wish I had a collection of photos of my parents when they were growing up. Still, if I had to choose between stories and photos, I'd choose stories. How about you?
8 thoughts on “Leaving a Legacy, Revisited”
Thank you for sharing with us about your life. My daughter and I both enjoy our time around the Amish so much. A quiet people seems to us and respectful. We travel to Shipshewanna, Indiana and Middlebury. Eat in the restraunt in Middlebury. A very simple place but feel we fit somehow. We both have trouble fitting in our culture. We are conservative but not extremely so except maybe in some ways. I wear a bit of lipstick and light colored pants most of the time. I wish we felt we fit in some place. As my aunt ages she will tell me that people are hateful and harsh with us because they are jealous of us. I don’t understand that. We are self confident, always polite and kind. We visited Berlin, Ohio for the first time this year and so enjoyed our time there. I wish I could explain why we are so drawn to the culture but I can only say we feel excepted there. Thank you for filling us in on the many things we would not know without you. I know I could not live Amish because like your son Tim we must make our own choices.
That is a great question, Saloma. And I think I have to agree with you that I would choose the stories.
Maybe that’s why having someone plunk their family album in my lap has always been a little boring to me because even though they had the photos to share unless I heard the stories attached to the photos they didn’t mean a whole lot.
I think that oral histories are infinitely more interesting than any photo could be. I have lots of photos of my daughter but she always seems more fascinated with stories of my childhood. I prefer to live in the moment. I don’t use video cameras for that reason. So often I have seen people engrossed in using the camera. I feel that some of the personal connections between parent and child are missed as a result.
I’d chose stories, but the photos are nice to have too. Now that many of my relatives are gone, I wish I had paid more attention to some of the stories. Thanks for sharing this, Saloma.
Have a great weekend,
If I HAD to choose, it would definitely be the stories, because that’s where the real meat is. As an elder, writing occasional memories, the stories I grew up hearing of my parents’ lives are of immeasureable value. Of course, it’s wonderful if one also has some pictures to go with the stories, but that’s not always possible. When one is younger, one feels there is plenty of time to record family stories, but then time flies & more often than not it never gets done. What older person does not wish they’d asked more questions, listened more closely, or written down more details of their family’s past? Whatever your age – do it NOW!
Rita, thanks for your thoughts and your compliments about my blog. There are many people who are drawn to the Amish and their lifestyle. I keep pondering what it is that Amish teach us by example. Many people want to point to the “simplicity.” That would not describe my childhood. Yet there IS something about the Amish lifestyle that people are drawn to…
Joyful, thanks for your perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to have more photos of my family members. Yet, I would still like to know more about my parents before they were married.
Anon, I like both. And I have to say, back when our boys were little, their grandfather took videos of them and it is SO much fun watching those. It’s like stepping into the past.
Karen, I agree that both are ideal. And don’t we all wish we had paid more attention to our “roots” when we were younger and had better memories? But I think it’s got to do with being human that we become more interested in our roots as we get older. Which brings us to what Ladybug said.
Ladybug, I can only say “Amen!”
Thanks, all for your comments.
I’m not sure which I’d want more – photos or stories. Inevitably, no matter which I got, without the other I’d be left wondering. I love looking at people’s pictures. I’m not the kind of person who would just flip through out of politeness. I will study the photos on your walls and furniture. But I also like hearing the stories of how people grew up, how they lived. My mother never knew her father and my father was adopted as a young infant. I’ve wondered about them from both perspectives of photos and what they were like. Through searching the internet and genealogy sites, my mother was contacted by a relative and we finally know what her father looked like – at least in the time that he was in the Navy which is when my grandmother met him. There was a group picture with other family members but we don’t know who was who – though we can guess two that may have been his parents. It was interesting to see the family resemblance.
Just finishing your earlier book Do you have speaking engagements yet to come in 2019