I am a big fan of TheStory.org with Dick Gordon. I was sad to learn that it will be going off the air this fall. But I have been perusing their archives lately and I found a story I hadn’t heard. The synopsis is as follows,
When she was 16, Anya Yurchyshyn’s father died in a car accident in Ukraine, and when she was 32, her mother died of heart failure stemming from chronic alcoholism. As Anya sorted through her mother’s house, she was overwhelmed by evidence that her parents were significantly more interesting, complex, and affectionate than she’d known them to be. She talks with Dick Gordon about getting to know her parents, after they’d died, through love letters, photographs, and her mother’s diary.
A complicated familial relationship? I’m in. The relationship Anya had with her family was extremely complicated; one I honestly could not relate to. But what I liked the most is that she was able to discover something unique about her parents as individuals — their lives before children — all through written documents and photos.
Unlike Anya’s mother, I’m not a pack rat. In fact, I think my own mother wishes I would be a little more sentimental about things because I tend to purge my home with consistency. However, I do tend to hang on to a small amount travel ephemera, movie stubs, (only profound!) sticky notes, and loads of old calendars that read more like diaries than schedules. And I’ve got an entire Rubbermaid bin full of those diaries too. I just can’t part with them (no matter how many times we move). I sometimes think that those little things give proof of my existence — my love, my life, etc. It might even be why I enjoy blogging. It’s just recording the ordinary. And the ordinary everyday seems to be what most of my life is made of. It’s not all grand gestures and forks in the road.
I’ve discovered that I tend to compartmentalize family members according to their role in my life; i.e. my grandmother was always a grandmother — not a young woman who flirted, danced all night, and drank beer. She had her own dreams and language, pain and love. And what a treat to be able to discover a note and or photo that expressed what she was thinking about at a certain time in her life.
Anya puts it this way in her interview:
…I was unwilling to let go of my ideas of who my parents were…. Going over their documents and really piecing together theirs lives through these photographs, and journals, and letters really, really allowed me to understand that these were people who were separate from me, who had incredible lives and incredibly complicated lives before I showed up in them; before I was even an idea… and very few people have the chance to ever know their parents separate from themselves…even as adults.
(You can here Anya’s full story (only 19 minutes) here.)
My Grandmothers, circa 1973.