History is made of stories

My grandmother had a ticket for the Titanic.

There are two versions of the story explaining why she didn’t get on the boat. I grew up with my mother’s version: Mormor missed the boat. My aunt had a different explanation, which I first heard well into adulthood: A sister or cousin with whom Mormor was especially close was overdue for childbirth, and Mormor decided to stay in Sweden until after the baby had been born.

I don’t know which of these tales holds more truth. Both my mother and aunt are dead, so I’ve no path to gain additional details from them, and I’ve not yet pursued the question with the relatives I still have contact with in Sweden.

I’m thinking about digging into these stories and my family’s history after taking a journey last night through someone else’s family history. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see the one-woman show “The Accidental Curator,” in which actress Molly Regan chronicled her experiences and discoveries as unofficial historian for her family. As I wrote in my review for Escape Into Life, I had no idea that I was this interested in the family history of a complete stranger.

But I was, and the show has rekindled my interest in discovering the unknown stories of my own family, one branch of which traces back to Daniel Boone, the other to Sweden and a never-used ticket for the Titanic.

I’ve intended to delve into specific family experiences for some time, but been turned aside by other demands — parenthood, bread-winning, care-taking for two different generations. That kind of thing. It can become time-consuming, and the stories have gone uninvestigated. In addition to the episode of the Titanic, the stores I know something of include, in no particular order:

  • An alcoholic grandfather who sobered up with the help of The Salvation Army
  • A grandmother who left said alcoholic grandfather but returned regularly to clean his home
  • A father who missed the Battle of the Bulge because he was shot in the battle his unit engaged in just prior
  • Grandparents who worked as caretakers of an Arabian horse farm

Somewhere in my house I believe that I have both my father’s love letters to my mother and the letters he sent home to his parents during World War II. I have every sympathy card my mother received when my dad died, and I have one or two full albums of postcards and cards given to my Swedish grandmother over the years. I have this birthday card given to my mother by my father, and probably many more.

There are memories here, and there are stories.

Today happens to be the anniversary of my father’s death. He died when I was 10, and I don’t have a lot of memories of him. But I have clues that I can use to trace his stories, and my mother’s as well. I know that his death broke my mother’s heart and much of her spirit. Perhaps rediscovering the stories will become a path to honor them both.

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