Thursday, August 25, 2011

Family stories

Last month, Andrew's Uncle Andy passed away. We did our grieving then, and waited for the family to schedule the funeral/memorial.

This last weekend was the memorial. It was up at Uncle Andy's house in Grass Valley, which is a 3 1/2 hour drive from where we live. Longer, if you happen to have a SharkBean pressing on your bladder. We loaded up my little car, and with Andrew at the helm, we fired up my iPod and made the trek up to Grass Valley.

(Side note: the bag of snacks he packed without my knowledge has me convinced he's ready to be someone's dad. Props!)

When we FINALLY got there, it was great. They had a slideshow of family photos featuring Uncle Andy, and nearly everyone managed to fly or drive in for the memorial. The family was all together for the first time in quite a few years, and the memorial was more jovial than I expected.

What I found very touching - but a little odd - was how incredibly excited the whole family was about SharkBean. I will also point out that I got the distinct impression that they were a little disappointed that I didn't appear *more* pregnant. I assured them that at Christmas I would be much more impressive. (Be proud I didn't say, "It's a lot more impressive when I'm naked." Because that, folks, is a fact.)

Over the last ten years, I have noticed that Andrew's family don't tell stories. There are three stories that they tell, and that's it. Sure, they talk about the weather, philosophy, and pop culture, but no stories. It's strange to me, because if *my* family didn't tell stories, we'd be practically mute at the dinner table. As it is, it's hard to get a word in edgewise, the meal takes three hours, and that's how we like it.

Last year, BigJ asked me about being a writer. He asked if I thought it was genetic or learned behavior, and I told him I thought it was more environmental. I explained that telling stories makes my family feels connected to each other, to our family history, and it's really how we communicate what is important to us. Especially if it's a story about something awkward; we cope with disappointment, discomfort, and a number of other things by being able to laugh at ourselves.

In short, you learn how to tell stories from hearing stories. That's my opinion, and I showed him that same night at the dinner table that his family just doesn't tell stories.

This weekend, I was corrected. There is a storyteller in the family, and that's Uncle Ted. Ted is the only person in the entire extended family who towers over Andrew, and he tells the stories. I was lucky enough to sit and chat with Ted, and it turns out that Andrew is a descendant of Meriwether Lewis. Truly, I wish they lived closer.

Ted was also *not pleased* that Saturday was the first time he was hearing about SharkBean- making him the last person in the whole world to find out (literally). I felt about six inches tall while I gracefully threw Andrew under the bus on that one. (I made sure all of *my* extended family had been informed.) I also may have cited a story from Andrew's childhood involving Ted and not relaying other Vital Information. (I'm pretty sure Andrew was surprised I remembered that one.)

Andrew's family history is really rich- his grandfather was an admiral in the Navy, and there was a ship (not a boat, as I have been corrected approximately one million times about) commissioned (and de-commissioned) named after him- the U.S.S. Lockwood. There are all sorts of tangible parts of their history; just a few include the flag from his grandfather's funeral, a sword (used to cut wedding cakes now), and a bell from one of the ships that The Admiral (how everyone refers to Andrew's grandfather) commanded.


Andrew's brother, Ed, suggested that we ring the bell at Andy's memorial - the way they had done for their mom. It was a great idea.

It was incredibly touching; nobody spoke, but the whole family took their turn ringing the bell, three times each, in memory of Andy. It was quiet and dignified; the sound of the bell echoed off of the trees into the distance as his loved ones wordlessly rang it for him.

What I learned is that family history doesn't always look like a carefully-tracked geneaology chart, or need funny stories. Just like how our families look different, family history and tradition defines how our families differ.

Thank goodness they've got new people adding to the family all the time. While the quiet symbols are important, somebody has to tell self-deprecating stories at the table.


  1. Those stories that start "Do you remember the time when..." are the best for understanding the people in your life. Especially when you can get your partner's family talking about "the old days" or "When X was little".

  2. Beautiful post and picture. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Lockwood was Andrew's grandfather??! Wow! The street I grew up on ended in the newer Lockwood development, because the builder wanted it to sound impressive by the association.

    My family's full of storytellers--and writers, too, on both sides. Maybe connected?

  4. Next time you are near the bell...take a look inside. There's a Navy tradition to have crew member's babies baptized on board and then engrave the baby's name inside the bell.

    Great story!


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