Sunday, September 23, 2012

If I Knew Then What I Want to Know Now

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?


  1. Hi Ann,
    What a touching blog post. Sure makes me want to reach out and ask my parents more about their past. All of my grandparents are gone now and I'm like you, wish I would have asked more questions.
    Have a blessed Monday!

    1. We always think we'll have more time later for finding out the things we want to know. We used to have family reunions for my mother's side of the family and I would want to have a time for the older ones to share some stories. That was too formal a thing for them and we never got it organized. But I would have enjoyed hearing them talk about when they were kids.

  2. Good morning Ann, enjoyed your post today of the past, That is about how I viewed my grandparents too...OLD. when I was a child you didnt interact with parents or grandparents the way children do today. They were busy in their lives and we had "kid stuff" to do, staying out of their way. Today children are noticed more and many pay more attention to them, which I think is good because they will remember more of their parents and grandparents I think.
    I was never taken to any activities like kids are now, we stayed home and played around the house mostly and only on occasions did we go as a family to a cousins house to visit and get to play with them.
    Paula O

    1. You're right, Paula. You must have had a childhood like mine. We went outside and played. It was best to stay out of sight and never act bored because if you did, your parents would find you a job. LOL. We did go visit our cousins a lot or they would come see us. That was great and fun. But I don't remember my grandmother ever making a special effort to play one on one with me. That just wasn't the way it was done in those days. She liked seeing me and my sisters, but she certainly didn't think she should entertain us.

  3. As a child I used to hate sitting still listening to my papaw's story. Now as an adult I am thankful that I had that time, because I was able to write those stories down so that they aren't lost.

    1. What a great gift to give your family, Carissa. I've written down some of Mom's stories as she told them to me. I should do more of them so that people will know what's based on her real stories in Angel Sister and what isn't. There's a lot of both.


Thanks for joining the conversation. I like hearing what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by.