My daughter sent me this quote the other day. “Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to were you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story”.
I write for lots of reasons, but selfishly, for me, I write so that someday when I am old and my memory is fleeting I can look at these and know that this was me, this was my tribe. I also owe it to my Nene to continue to write, to continue what she started. She was an artist in the truest sense of the word. She wasn’t just my wife’s grandmother. Her art and stories live on in the many books of hers I have. When I want to remember what my wife was like as a kid I can open up a book and there are a million stories of little Amy growing up. I get to read stories of my kids and their adventures with their Nana and their Nene. I get a view into those times anytime I want one. She took all those pictures that were taken and brought them to life in her words.
When someone dies we search for pictures to display. We watch any old videos just to feel like whoever passed is still with us. The tears and the pain we feel is overpowering. The holidays become firsts without a certain member of your tribe. They aren’t things you look forward to, they are events you dread.
For example, this year on Thanksgiving would have been my cousin Chris’s 50th birthday. If you have ever read anything I write you might already know of him. He died 17 years ago by a drunk driver. But, it never really feels like he died to me. He’s a big part of my family. He’s kept alive in my house because that’s how I chose to deal with him being gone. I just never really let him leave. This year though, at the beginning of November I missed him for the first real time in a long time. I couldn’t close my eyes and picture him like I always had. He was no longer sitting shotgun in my car helping me not feel lonely on my car ride home. I had lost him for the first real time since he was killed.
He’s always been my spiritual leader. Always is able to find me when I am lost and light my way home. He’s who I pray to when I need to pray. When the voices in my head become too loud he’s the voice I follow to get me back to me. See, I’m lucky when it comes to all this, because I don’t need a church to KNOW there is something out there. His purpose was not just the 33 years he spent here. It was much bigger than that. He’s walked with me all these years he’s been gone.
But, I lost him and I started to feel that. I would tell stories, but my kids could finish all of them because I told them a million times before. I wasn’t in those stories anymore. It was like I was telling the stories of a stranger.
I reached out to his Mom telling her I was hoping to see some pictures of him I had never seen. I needed something to jog my memory. The pictures I had weren’t working. She sent me a bunch of pictures. I remember being nervous when I started to look. Would I not remember, was he gone forever? I was petrified how I would feel.
I opened the first picture and I was expecting tears. But, I got nothing, so I kept looking and I started smiling and laughing at the silly wallpaper in the background or the weird outfit he was wearing. I could see myself in his house growing up. I could feel the heat coming from their basement. It was always like 150 degrees in that basement. I could see the Nintendo sitting next to the tv at the bottom of the stairs. I could see him again talking to his best friend Wayne in their apartment as my brother and I waited to go to a hockey game with him. I was flooded with all these great memories, all from these pictures I had never seen. I could not wipe the smile off my face, Chris was back….
That’s the power of pictures and stories and why they are so important. It’s why he’s in lots of my stories. I have stories written just about him, and those are great, but it’s ones like this that will surprise me many years from now. My kids might be reading a book of my stories many years from now and it will remind them just how much their Dad loved that Chris guy they never got to meet. Maybe they will remember how their Dad spoke of Chris and how he always smiled when he talked about him.
Just as I do now with Nene’s book of stories. She’s never really gone because when I feel like I lost her I pick up one of her books of stories and I get lost in them. I’m so thankful for her art. Of course she left her footprint in our hearts, but she left us with a book, sort of a “Nene for dummies” that we can use whenever we need to feel her presence. When we want to laugh with her, we can.
So, selfishly, maybe I write so my kids won’t forget me. Maybe I write so that when my kids are a little lost they can find my words and remember what life was like when they were growing up. I write to remember. So, thank you Nene for this gift. I hope you are up there watching my girls grow and writing about all the things you have seen so when we join you someday, hopefully many years from now, we can read about all the beautiful things you have seen from your seat in the stars.