Nov 1, 2019 | Faith, People

[title subtitle=”WORDS and IMAGE Jessica Sowards”][/title]

For some reason, November’s articles are the hardest articles for me to write. Year after year, I find myself staring at the blinking cursor. It’s as if he mocks me with every blink, telling me that I sound like a broken record who has already played the same song on repeat.

I’ve told the story of the first year I hosted Thanksgiving, when my grandfather was hospitalized the day before. I found myself with four dollars-worth of food and no family to serve it to. We gathered a hodgepodge smattering of single parents and displaced soldiers and regular patrons of my cousin’s bar. I don’t remember anyone’s name that bellied up to my table that Thanksgiving, but their gratitude has stuck with me for years.

I’ve told the story of my mom accidentally cooking a turkey upside down, unlocking a secret to very moist light meat and a lifetime of teasing. I’ve mentioned before how I take Thanksgiving as a personal challenge to out-do every year before it, cooking from scratch for days and growing as much of the food as I possibly can.

I’ve talked about the family I gained in marrying my husband Miah and how we have traditions of late-night card games over leftover pie. I’ve talked about adjusting in grief and how much the holiday changed after his mom died.

I remember when I was a kid and my parents would talk about the way things were during their childhood. They’d tell the same stories, over and over, until we kids would mouth the punchline along with them we knew it so well. I imagined them ancient at the time, but of course, they were the average age of parents to young kids, in their thirties or so, just as I am now. They described the world of the 60’s and 70’s, becoming particularly reminiscent during holidays as we gathered with those they spent their childhoods with. The age they described might as well have been a million years ago for how irrelevant it felt to me. So naturally, I brushed it aside.

Recently, I was gifted a membership to an online ancestry tracking site. I thought it was a novel gift, but left the link unclicked for weeks in my email inbox. I’m busy, I thought, and this can wait.

I finally started the journey of tracking out ancestors’ stories late one night when it would have been more responsible to do something else. The sink was full of dishes, no doubt. The laundry was calling my name, I am sure. It always is. But on that particular night, curiosity got the best of me and I began typing in what little information I knew about my parents’ parents’ parents. Away we went, down the winding path of documents and public records.

I barely left the kitchen table for two days. I’d get up to make meals and do the necessary chores, but I was quickly pulled back to my post. There, I tracked my husband’s heritage sixteen generations back to English royalty. My own story was a humbler one, but I found photos of gravesites and church buildings, newspaper clippings and draft papers. I tracked my own forefathers right back to South Carolina where they first settled and their forefathers all the way back to Scotland.

It was amazing to read the skeletal bones of our history. Mostly I found simple birthdays and burial days. There were general dates of marriages and records of the births of children. Sometimes census records filled in the details of relocations and very rarely I came across a story or a scrap of extra information, usually compiled by some other family historian that had a public account on the website.

It was fantastic. Amazing. Possibly a little undoing. I found myself speaking the nearly forgotten names of my six-time great grandparents out loud. I’d let them hang in the atmosphere and then say them again and wonder how long ishas been since someone said their name and wondered about their life.

I wish I could know their stories. I wish I could hear these long-gone people tell me about their long-gone childhood, their hopes, their dreams, even their occupation. But alas, it is long gone, right along with them. My journey into the past made decades of single generations feel like a tiny blip on a very long line.

A few weeks ago, I took an evening stroll in my dad’s neighborhood. We moved into that neighborhood in 1994, when I was nine. Now, twenty-five years later, I occasionally find myself walking those same streets, and that dreamy tone of reminiscence comes over me. If my children are with me, I might point out a house along the street and say, “That’s where the lunch lady lived. Her name was Gracie and when I was much older she gifted me a set of paints she couldn’t use anymore with her arthritis.” What I don’t voice is the wondering if she’s still alive. I don’t do the math out loud. Gracie must have been nearly seventy back then and I don’t remember her being a picture of health.

Those walks stir a lot of that wistful and sad math to my mind. The landscape of the neighborhood has certainly changed in my lifetime. The homes that were once full of young children now house visiting grandchildren, and the homes that once housed visiting grandchildren, well now those homes hold new families altogether.

I try to tell these stories to my sons. As if, somehow, I could impress upon them the world I grew up in and it wouldn’t be lost forever. Of course, in their minds, I am ancient and thirty years ago is practically a million. Nonetheless, I still try just like my parents once tried to tell me of the world of their childhood.

And here we are again, facing another November, another holiday season. It’s easy to feel sometimes like we are playing the same record again and again. The cyclical manor of our lives can even be a little wearing if one doesn’t keep a firm grasp on gratitude.

So, this year, as I go into the season of giving thanks, I will be ever grateful for the real food I have the pleasure of growing and the family I have to share it with. But perhaps more than ever, I will be paying attention to the stories. Maybe I will write them down, collect them for someone to find later. Maybe I will tuck them in my pocket to share with you later. Definitely, I will tell some of the same old stories again. We will reminisce, and perhaps it’s better that way.

I suppose the best stories bear repeating, and with repeating maybe they will bear remembering. Maybe one day, a few hundred years from now, some descendent of mine will come across a stack of old magazines and read my repeated stories. Maybe she will say my name out loud and she won’t have to wonder who I was.

At the very least, she’ll know about that time my mother cooked the turkey upside down, because that, my friends, was a story worth repeating.

To watch Jessica’s garden tours, visit her YouTube channel, Roots and Refuge.

Do South Magazine

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