My mother is to blame for this Personal Chapters business. I only wish she was alive so I could complain to her about sleepless nights, credit card charges, endless discussions with friends and colleagues, and the birthing pains I have endured. But then I would also be sharing my joys and hopes and the immense potential this company has for helping a lot of people record their personal histories before they’re lost forever.
My mother died of multiple myeloma in 2003. Like me, she was a writer, although she wrote for pleasure and emotional satisfaction, while I used my writing for many years as a newspaper publisher and editor. Late in her life, she developed a desire to investigate and write through to her roots. She wanted to know what were her ancestors like. Did she inherit some of their traits? I once wrote a newspaper column about her search for her personal history. It’s a search most of us will eventually feel a need for. Here is what I wrote then, with little knowledge that it would be the start of a new business years later.
Motorcycle Mama has reached a point in her life when she finds it important to record family history. Last week she mailed me several pages of a computer printout that represents her nascent efforts. It was fascinating reading, but perhaps only because it was about my great-grandparents. It contained some colorful details culled from Mother’s childhood visits with aunts and cousins, and the bountiful meals served. Like other Depression-era children, my mother came from a house where milk was rationed and running water was a luxury. thus, lots of food made a big impression on her. This first effort at recording our family’s place in the history of the country has left Mother frustrated at the gaps in her memory and in the lack of information she has to work with. She recalls that someone in the family may have my great-grandfather’s naturalization papers but can’t trace them. He and a brother, orphaned in Germany by cholera or some other epidemic, came to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Grandpa Otto Hoffmeister homesteaded near Topeka, KS while his brother remained in Philadelphia. No one knows what happened to that brother. Now it seems important to find out. What prompts this search to fill in the family tree? There must be a time in everyone’s life when they face the raw impermanence of things, resulting in a newfound drive to leave a record of the family legacy before it is lost forever.
My brothers suddenly want to know where they came from. That could have something to do with feelings of transience in their own lives these days. Youngest brother Tommy, who is fighting rejection of Mother’s donated kidney, wrecked his car and lost his home in a tornado in the past few weeks. Oldest brother Jim lost his home last week in a fire, while middle brother Rick is not good at taking care of himself in the aftermath of a massive heart attack at age 30.
I guess if we know where we come from and who we are before we leave the physical world, it might be easier to let go. The urgency to research our roots becomes even more urgent when we are reminded that memory and mental capacity diminish with advancing age. I know the problems of fading memory and dimming mental faculties. I felt it this morning when I took off my glasses to brush my teeth instead of removing my dental appliance.