Several years ago, my cousin’s youngest daughter got married in a fabulous setting deep in the heart of PA — it was a living Andrew Wyeth painting: a sparkling pond, rolling green hills, deep blue sky, old red barn silhouetted against the blaring hot sun, a rustic stable opened to provide a dance floor and seating where you could take the barbeque that was served on the adjacent side porch. A little stone house where the bride had the privacy to dress. A hundred friends and family, kids running around, playing ball, playing games. People rocking out on the lawn.
And there I was, sitting with my husband, thinking: this perfect day, when, maybe, someone is found dead in the pond; or maybe that little girl in the yellow dress disappears and someone doesn’t want the mother-in-law to write the family memoir.
Honestly, it was the best wedding ever.
And subsequently, a couple of years later, my cousin asked if I’d like to read those memoirs, with his mother-in-law’s permission. This was such a privilege. The author is in her 90‘s; she wrote about 28 single spaced pages. Her voice, dry, humorous, pragmatic, came through so clearly. And there was so much more under the surface that I wanted to know. And I wanted so much more of HER — her reactions, her responses, her true feelings.
What a gift to her family, that she’s able to translate her memories into words. I told her all this when I wrote back, and that I hoped she’d continue to add to the memoir, more of her, more of what she experienced, what she felt. I had particularly strong feelings about it because now that my parents, and aunts and uncles are gone, there’s no one left who knows all my family history. And no one who had the wont, the patience or the will to write it all down. They were children of immigrants who’d had unspeakable childhoods and just didn’t want to talk about it — ever. So a first wife we were never aware of, a brother whom no one knew was really the child of a first marriage, a runaway child, — all nebulous stories dredged up through cryptic statements over the years which told no more than that.
I was struck forcibly that I knew nothing, really, about our grandparents in either family. We do have my maternal grandfather’s immigration papers from which we make inferences and piece together some of the story, but dad’s history remains opaque: I know his mother came from Romania to join her sister in America. She was the second wife of a man with two children. Her husband died very early in the marriage after she bore him four children. She never wanted to talk about any of it.
My sons know everything about their dad and me, but I never thought, maybe never maybe could envision a time when my parents wouldn’t be there to answer questions. And for some reason, one never asked. Later, when I got curious, my mom didn’t much want to talk about it either. Or claimed she didn’t remember.
I now have a bound booklet of those memoirs, complete with pictures. How lucky my cousin is that his mother-in-law decided to talk about her life in a concrete and lasting way. It inspired him. He now wants to aggregate as much of our maternal family’s history as possible. I’m happy he wants to take on that pleasurable task and I‘m hoping he can fill in some of the blanks.
But better than that, it leaves me (selfishly) free to contemplate the fictional problem of who was killed at the wedding and the even greater pleasure of writing it..
As you can see, I’m obsessed by my family’s history now. What about your family? Is someone writing a history? Researching the family tree? Have you ever been at an event where you were plotting fictional murders while talking to your husband’s boss or a relative you hadn’t seen in years?
Thea Devine is the author whose books defined erotic historical romance for which she was honored as a Romance Pioneer by Romantic Times. The Darkest Heart, Pocket/Gallery, June 2011 is her 25th novel. Visit http://www.theadevine.com for excerpt and video.