Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Say Uncle!

The Dinner Party
by Jules-Alexandre Grün

What if you could have dinner with a man who was a spy during World War II? Or a man who had lived in India as a young man? I did. Hundreds of times. They were my uncles. Unfortunately, I didn't find out the interesting stuff until I went to their funerals! They just seemed like old men to me.

I liked my Uncle Don because he did magic tricks with quarters. Who'd guess he'd been a world-class tennis champion? Uncle Allen made scenery for the Nativity play we put on every Christmas Eve. I never knew he had been a spy behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge. On D-Day his jeep sunk and he had to swim to shore. Movies are made from stories like these!

My Uncle Walt just died. One of his friends (an 80+ old gentleman) spoke at the funeral and said, "I always wondered how the ugly old coots got all the hot chicks." He was referring to my cute aunt. Then he said, "I just saw a picture of Walt as a 21-year-old sailor, and he was pretty good looking!" On the way out of the church I saw the picture, too. Wow! He was a doll! They married when he was on leave, and she immediately sent him off to war. I think I read a book like that once.

I saw my uncles every single Sunday for nineteen years, and then a few times a year for the next thirty. What a shame I never really talked to them! I knew them at the end of their stories, but didn't realize they had such fascinating beginnings. Those experiences were still part of them, and I missed out.

I'm going to listen a little more closely at the family reunion this year. They invite interesting people to those parties!

What are some stories you've heard from relatives? Are they written down anywhere??


i'm kelly said...

i love all the old family stories... that's always the best part of getting every one together. and i so remember uncle don and the quarter tricks.

Christie said...

I just found out that the old lady who lives next door to me lost her 12-year-old son to leukemia. In those days, there was not much they could do to treat it. It made me see her as a young mother, dealing with the death of her son, which is something I just don't know how I could ever cope with. Made me see her in a whole new light, and made me feel bad for being annoyed when she wants to come and chat. I think the elderly have so much to share, if only we take the time to listen.

Sheri said...

My husband and I have both tried to get family & neighbors who went to war to tell us stories, talk about their experiences. Our parents' generation just wanted to forget! So few will actually share what they went through.

kenju said...

I wish I had paid more attention to the old people in my family. They were boring to me when I was a teenager. My dad told wonderful tales of riding the rails during the depression, looking for work, but no one ever wrote them down or taped him. More's the pity!

Kenny and Linsey said...

This is such an important admonition. So many things are gone once our progenitors move on. We have spent the last few years draining elder relatives' memories of everything possible and lamenting we didn't start sooner and with those already passed on.

They call me Annie said...

One year at a family reunion we wrote out questions (the kinds that spark memories) on small slips of paper and put them in balloons. We then let the youngest generation take turns popping balloons and presenting the question to the oldest generation. The stories that followed were treasures. Luckily, we had an uncle at the video camera. Reminds me. We'd better get that video transferred to a DVD--and those stories transcribed.