I’m not really sure where I came up with all my family stories. There was no one person who told them. But I was lucky to have four fairly voluble grandparents until pretty late in life, and they all were quick with reminiscences of various sorts. My parents also did a good job of telling family stories, and my uncles and aunts always seemed to have something to say about that thing that happened back that time, or better yet, that story that their grandma told them about her grandpa that time back then.
Or maybe I was just a good listener. Dog knows I loved hearing about life back then, when dead people did things that live ones can’t even imagine doing.
How about you? Is your head chock full of a skein of family tales and doings?
It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I realized a lot of people know nothing about where they’re from much past mom and dad, and they know less than nothing about anything before that. People who never knew their grandparents or who had no aunts or uncles or cousins. People who had all those things but remember nothing because no one ever told them anything or because they never asked. I always pestered my grandparents for stories.
Why is that people grew up without family stories? I’ve often chalked it up to the television I was raised without. No one tells a long yarn while watching “Gunsmoke.”
Or maybe it’s because people don’t eat dinner together anymore. Dinnertime was a famous place for conflict and family misery, but it was also a place for stories, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the alcohols started about ten a.m., you could be sure there would be stories. Most families now don’t eat together at all. Dinner isn’t even a time, much less a thing. Each person eats some pre-prepared thing at some time that suits that person’s appetite.
Remember when mom used to say, “Don’t eat that! You’ll spoil your appetite!”? The greatest sin was sitting down to dinner full. Mom had cooked that shit and you were going to eat it and pretend you liked it, two tasks always made easier when hungry. Fast food killed all that, and along with it, the dinnertime fables, myths, legends, parables, and recitations of what odd things happened that especial day.
As I said in an earlier musing, I’m going to re-live my life. Really, I am. And along with it, I’m going to live the stories that I once heard or, better yet, that I misremembered, or best of all, that I simply made up. Do you remember the first book you ever read that spoke to you? The first book where you realized, with no doubt whatsoever, that the author was writing about YOU?
I do. It was “To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss. That little kid was me. And I think that when Theodore Geisel wrote that book, there were a lot of little kids like that, kids with overactive imaginations who could turn a man and a cart into a full-blown parade with lions and monkeys. We have gained lots of tools to entertain us but I think most people have lost the ability to entertain themselves.
My ride to Texas will take me through Lordsburg, New Mexico. After being born on the ranch outside Alpine, Texas, my dad and his family moved to Kansas City, where Grandad Frank was a federal meat inspector. Then they moved to Lordsburg, where he was a border patrol officer.
I heard a lot of stories from my dad about his life in Lordsburg; one of them he wrote down for me and I published it here. It had to do with a bicycle, sort of, but mostly to do with his life.
One of the stories about Lordsburg I heard from my Grandad Frank. In the 1940’s his territory was the entire state of New Mexico. It was common for him to work in the most eastern portion of the state, which meant he often had a 200+ mile drive to get home to Lordsburg, which was in the far western portion of the state.
One night he had finished work and was driving home on U.S. 82. He was just east of Loco Hills and his car broke down. There was a filling station in the town, though it was hardly even a town, and it was about six miles away. He figured he’d get there by sunup unless a car picked him up sooner.
He walked and walked. He was already exhausted from his shift, and hungry, and his mind was full of many things. As he tromped westward along he shoulder of the narrow, two-lane highway, he saw the sun begin to rise.
But it was no gradual sunrise. The horizon lit up and then, as quickly as the sun had risen, it sank again. He stopped and rubbed his eyes as he looked at the mirage of light that had vanished as quickly as it had come. Then he realized that it couldn’t have been anything but an illusion … the run rises in the east.
He got to Loco Hills, waited until the garage opened, and they towed his car to the shop and fixed it.
My grandfather told me that story one day when I was visiting him and my grandma Sarah at their little retirement home in Marble Falls, Texas. We had just finished dinner when he pushed back from the table as was his wont, and told the story.
Everyone else had heard it, but not I or my brother Ian. I must have been about thirteen.
“So what do you think of that?” he asked, his blue eyes boring into me.
“I think that must have been a long way to walk, especially after work, and at night and stuff. And you were lucky they could fix your car, grandpa.”
“I was, indeed,” he said. “Do you know when that happened?”
“No,” I said.
“It was on July 16, 1945.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Yes,” he added, piling into the banana cream pie that my grandmother set in front of him. “I didn’t learn that until a few decades after the fact, though.”
I was lost and didn’t know what to say or why that mattered, so I just said, “Oh.”
“Yes,” he said. “I was walking in the direction of Alamagordo, you know. I witnessed the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb.”
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