Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Jim Webb listening to family stories vs having to discover family stories from the Internet

This is a wonderful passage from James Webb's BORN FIGHTING: HOW THE SCOTS-IRISH SHAPED AMERICA. I quote it because he owes me. The only time I sent money out of state to a politician was when I sent him the $100 that put him over the top and into the Senate. The difference between Webb and me is that he knew some family stories. We were so scattered and so impoverished that we had lost all memory of ancestors except two tiny anecdotes. What I have been doing for the last decade is reconstituting family memory, so that today I have 600 or so glimpses of ancestors from 1600s on, chronologically arranged, so that their actions and even their words are brought back to life. I have hundreds more to order before I begin selecting and polishing for ORNERY PEOPLE: WHO THE DEPRESSION OKIES WERE.

          James Webb: I thirsted to hear these kin-people talk. I could sit entranced through magic hours in the stark kitchens and quiet, dusky living rooms of those who were willing to reach back like those ancient tribal elders and help me understand that my life is in some sense a continuum that began before I was born, and will carry me with it long after I am gone. Their revelations came in dribbles, sometimes coaxed and at others dropped casually into a conversation like a sly but knowing confession. The tough, enduring men and women who went through this cauldron did not speak openly or even willingly with each other about the bad times when I was growing up. It seems an unspoken axiom that people who have really had it hard are the last ones to sit around and reminisce about how hard they really had it. In fact, I know there are some who will not be happy that I’ve touched on those days here, however lightly. And I have lightly trod, for they did indeed live hard. There’s much more, the untold stories that have faded into scattered graves on cold and silent lips, the ones that belong to those who are still alive, and the others that I’m not allowed to tell.

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