Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Memory Keeper's Cousin

The day after Christmas my mother found out that her mother’s cousin passed away right before the holiday.  That news came just days after my mom attended the funeral of her oldest cousin.  In just a matter of days, my mother’s large extended family lost two of its senior members – women who possessed knowledge about events and people in our family’s past about which the current generation knows little. 

They were the keepers of our family’s collective history. 
And no one kept that history quite like Frannie, my mother’s mothers’ cousin.  In a sense, she was a little like me – a much younger cousin who was actually the age of her cousins’ children.  I wonder now if she ever got lumped in with great-granchildren like my brother and I did.           

I’m not exactly sure when I first met Frannie but I do know that she was the first genie that I ever met.  And I don’t mean the Barbara Eden kind of genie.  I mean the genie who understands the difference between researching family history versus just searching for a name on the Internet – she was a genealogist.   It seemed as if she had tracked down practically every branch of our family tree and she kept all that information in massive binders of loose-leaf paper on which her lengthy notes were hand written.  She was a genealogist at a time when searching for family history wasn’t done with a click of a button but instead required hundreds of hours combing through dusty tomes or sitting at microfilm readers looking for that one name to buried on the page. 
Her work was all very admirable but that’s not the reason why I liked Frannie.  I liked her because she was the first person to make my family’s history come alive.  My mom and I went to visit her and her husband, Harry, and I remember being in her kitchen when she told me an amazing story about my grandmother being an air raid warden in World War II.  Her memories were a window to a past that has largely been forgotten. 

The sad part is that past has been forgotten because there aren’t many around to tell us about it.  My mother’s family is not a long-lived one.  Her father died at 49.  2 of her siblings died before they were 60.  Her oldest brother died at 62.  By the end of 1990, my mother had lost that brother, her mother, and one sister within three years of each other.  A lot of our family history was lost with them – some missing parts only filled in by a great-aunt here or a cousin-once-removed there. 
People like Frannie. 

The past continues to slip away. 
People like Frannie continue to slip away. 

Earlier this year, after conversations with some cousins, I decided to set up a website dedicated to our family history - to capture what we are slowly losing as the years go by.   It’s a place where we can share our family records – I am an archivist after all, our photographs, and our stories.  It’s where we can recall our shared history and keep our memories from fading too far into the past.  It’s a way to connect with our past and reconnect with one another.

I have been blown away by the response.  All the work paid off when one of my cousin’s daughters emailed me and said “Our family had a bar?!  I never knew that.”  That was a good night.  I’m also having tons of fun doing it – it’s all the things that I love – writing, history, records, making the past come alive.            
Even though the past will continue to slip away, I am hopeful that our stories and our memories will not.

I think Frannie would like that.   

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Life Lessons on Mighty Wing(men)

I have to keep today’s post short because I need to run out to buy my copy of Top Gun 3D Blu-ray – not to mention a blu-ray player so I can enjoy the awesomeness that is Top Gun in the comfort of my own home.  On February 7th, Top Gun returned to theaters for SIX DAYS ONLY.  And this time it was in 3D!  I may have seen it more than once. 

I have a long history with Top Gun – and no, it’s not because I had a huge pre-adolescent crush on Tom Cruise, although, I can admit now that there may have been a time in my life when I was convinced that I was going to be the next Mrs. Tom Cruise.  Katie Holmes scuttled all of those plans.  Sigh.   
This was the free reprint poster they
gave out at the movie.  I had the
original taped up on my bedroom
wall when I was a pre-teen!
Top Gun has it all – speed, danger, romance, tragedy (summed up in three words – “Goose is dead”), and ultimately, of course, there is triumph.  Even if the other side doesn’t admit it happened.  Oh, it also has a helluva soundtrack. 
When I heard Top Gun was going to be back in theaters after 23 YEARS, it was a no brainer that I’d go see it.  I mean – I’ve only ever seen it with commercials!  I ordered my ticket as early as possible and on opening night I got to the theater an hour before it started.

I was so excited.  And shocked.  At how few people there were to celebrate this epic film!  Seriously, opening night – it was me, my friend Lugnut, and seven other folks.  Sure, it was a Thursday night but it was Top Gun, people! 
In the end, it was actually better that there were just a handful of people there – it gave you freedom to bask in the movie.  To really feel it.  To experience it.   To sing along with the music.  As I watched though, something interesting happened – and it wasn’t the weird feelings I started to develop towards Tom Skerritt who by now is pushing his 70s, I think – no, it was realizing that Top Gun wasn’t just a cinematic blockbuster.  It’s actually a cinematic masterpiece filled with lessons that we can all use in life. 

Before I go on – I just want to say that I have the utmost respect for members of the U.S. military, especially naval aviators and amateur volleyball players.  I know there’s a lot in that film that probably doesn’t happen in the real U.S. Navy (starting with the horrible posture of the students in class!) but I still like it anyway. 
Many people are going to say that the most important life lesson from Top Gun is learning how to perform the perfect muscle flex while playing with the boys or where to find the plaque for the alternates – but they’re wrong.  The most important life lesson is this – you never leave your wingman. 

Let’s talk about the wingman.  I love this concept.  You don’t have to be besties with your wingman – I’m pretty sure Kazanski and Mitchell weren’t ever gonna kick it in the Gas Lamp District together but you knew at the end of the film that there was a respect and a trust that had developed between them.  You knew that they’d have each other’s back – or wing, as the case may be. 
It got me to thinking - in life, you need wingmen. 

You need a wingman who will talk you down – or through – the danger zone.  Sometimes you need a wingman to remind you that life isn’t all fun and games and you’d better buckle down, act responsibly, grow up, and stop buzzing the tower.  And then there are the times that you need a wingman who doesn’t blow sunshine up your ass and tells you flat-out that you have a confidence problem.  And sometimes you just need a wingman who will start singing songs from the Righteous Brothers because the Righteous Brothers are awesome. 
You need those wingmen.  They need you.

And you don’t leave them. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me

Would you believe me if I told you that at the beginning of the year, following the example set my Nebraskan friend, I was firmly recommitting to this blog?  Honestly – that was the plan.

But the fact is that I’ve been spending time with another.  That’s right – another blog’s been keeping me warm at night.  Like, literally.  Sometimes, my laptop gets so hot it starts burning my thighs.  Crazy.

While I’ve been focusing on that blog, I’ve neglected my first love – this blog.  So since I’m being a bit more methodical with the other blog – meaning, I actually have a schedule in place – I thought I’d try to implement that tactic here to see how I do.  And somewhere there is a noteverstill friend saying I told her so!
I have no expectation that I even still have any readership anymore.  I have no expectations about much of anything.  So, I will just write and see what happens.  The one good thing is the other blog has reinvigorated my creative juices so I feel like I’ve gotten the mojo back again and there’s something worth writing about.  Oh, and then there’s the whole Top Gun thing I have to fill you in on.
I do want to give a quick recap of January and how I’ve done with my 13 in ’13 goals –
The cooking thing is going really well!  I cooked over 13 times last month and have started a regular grocery shopping habit filling my cart with such things as whole wheat flour, Greek yogurt, and other exciting things! 
I kinda did a random act of kindness although it wasn’t really random.  On my way from work one night, I checked on a coworker who had a flat tire and was waiting for the auto club.  I know, I feel like it’s a stretch too.
I went to Ocean City, Maryland at the beginning of the month and crossed the Bay Bridge – and a couple of other minor bridges which my parents and I decided didn’t count towards the 13 bridge mark. 
I hung a gallery wall of photos and a cool mirror/floating frame wall in my den.  I’m just putting the finishing touches on that before I can call my den finished. 
I finished reading my first book of the year – Quiet.  It was very good and I think I’ll write a review of it in an upcoming post. 
All in all – the year has started off well.  Now, to keep on keepin’ on!