“Let’s pretend I was abducted by aliens. What would you tell your kids about their grandma? What would you remember about me no matter how much time went by?”
Four sets of eyes looked at me.
“There are no aliens,” my second oldest replied.
“Hello? We’re pretending here! Just answer the question.”
“Um, you wipe your boogers on your pants. I would tell them you wipe your boogers on your pants.”
“You wipe your boogers on your pants.”
“No I don’t!” I protested.
“Yes you do. It’s disgusting.”
“You yell,” my third child offers sweetly as though this should make me feel better about the boogers.
Silence. Dead silence.
Two weeks prior…
We were together for five hours – my dad and I. We weren’t alone. There were other people with us and my dad told stories. Good stories. Actually they were great. They were stories about his youth and of people that influenced and shaped him. Some of us laughed. Some of us cried. Some of us did a little (or a lot) of both. I did both. I felt sentimental as we drove home.
“I didn’t know those stories,” I began. “Why haven’t you told me those stories before?”
My dad shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I don’t know,” he repeated. “I don’t talk about that part of my life that much.”
I felt a sadness begin to creep into me. “But dad, if you don’t tell me, I can’t tell my kids and then they can’t tell theirs. If you don’t tell me your stories, they’ll die with you – like they never happened.”
I went home filled with a sense of panic. What do I really know about my dad? I’m 42, he’s turning 72. That’s 30 years of his life I know nothing about without guidance. No doubt I know some of my dad’s stories – my kids have heard some of them firsthand and others I’ve relayed. A family favorite is one about my dad in his youth. He was being bullied by a brute named Jimmy McBride. He was doomed to a lifetime of taunting and punches until he got schooled by a friend in the art of the headlock. They practiced the moves every day after school. Then one day, my dad had his chance! Jimmy McBride found himself trapped in a headlock and my dad refused to let go no matter how Jimmy thrashed. Crying the entire time, my dad held on for dear life. He won the fight because Jimmy said, “Uncle!” and never bothered my dad again. Now that’s a story every kid wants to hear. It’s a story every kid needs to hear! And to me it’s the coolest story ever, because my dad was the hero.
So then the questions turned inward. What do my kids know about me? What stories have I relayed? Do they have a sense of who I am? Have I told them enough? Have I told them too much? But most importantly, what will they remember?
It seems as if I were to disappear in that moment as I proposed, abducted by aliens and flown to a galaxy far, far away, my legacy would be of that I wipe boogers on my pants (I wholeheartedly deny this) and that I yell (denial denied). My grandchildren would conjure me with accuracy from these generous, kind and detailed descriptors: grandma was gross and insane. I would then fade with little fanfare to just a name on a leaf of a massive family tree.
Ok, ok. Totally pessimistic attitude, I know, but I’m jerking your chain just a little bit to encourage action. Share yourself with the people you love. Tell your stories. Don’t save them for a rainy day or “the right time” because that time may never come. No life can be truly summarized in 10 or 100 stories, but we can certainly make a most valiant effort to hit the highlights, boogers and all.