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?