A few years ago my children were given an assignment in their History Class. Now I am not one to be intimidated by School assignments but this one caught me especially off guard. The assignment: Talk to a veteran of the Viet Nam War. Now I had never really considered myself old and definitely not ready to be considered History but here I was sitting beside my husband a Veteran of the Viet Nam War telling my children about a piece of World History from a the viewpoint of one who had been there. How did we feel about the War? What branch of Service had he served in? How did we feel about the separation caused by that war? How did we feel about those protesting the very war their father was serving in?
Now they could have looked through records and found that Dan had served in the Air Force during that time. But did the records explain how he had lost his school deferment, received a lottery number of 27 and decided to join the Air Force rather than be drafted into the army. Did the records explain the feelings of loss as a small family left Fresno for the first time to start on an adventure that would last 3 ½ years? Did they tell about the decision to leave a beloved racecar behind and opt to take his wife and daughter with him instead. Do the records tell the story of the letter received from Boot Camp explaining how we could quietly move to Canada and never be heard from again and join the ranks of many other young draft dodgers. Do the records show that instead of running to Canada we ended up at a small Radar Base 5 miles off the Canadian Border.
What would the records show? The records would show a story of two young people who married in Fresno, appearing on both the 1970 and 1980 census of Fresno County. The census would not show the birth and death of their first daughter born in 1969. In 1990 the census would show that the family had moved from Fresno to Oakhurst a mere 50 miles away. The records would show that Dan had served honorably in the Air force. The birth records of 10 children would show that they had lived in the Fresno area much of their marriage. However it will not show that the second child was born while Dan was away from home serving his country or that she was nearly 4 months old before he was able to meet her for the first time. Land Deeds would show a home purchased in Fresno and property bought in Bass Lake. Records would show years of public service on a school board. But do the records tell the whole story. Do the records tell of the 3 years away from home while in the military? Records don't always tell the reasons for a move only that the family moved.
Not being a writer, and having enough trouble just putting my family pictures in albums. the history assignment made me wonder what other pieces of history was I apart of? Would my posterity care? Obviously their history teacher did.
Recently my father in law died and once again I was faced with the question of what do the records show. I came to the conclusion that although the records give facts and place people in a time period and a place they do little to tell the real story of a person’s life. Did the records of his life tell of his experiences in the Navy during World War II? Did the records show why he left his family and his wife and later remarry? Did the records show why he closed a Business that he loved and retire at an early age?
The records show a man who moved to Fresno about 1957. The records will record the purchase of at least 3 homes in Fresno. The records recorded his divorce to his first wife and his subsequent remarriage. The records recorded his death in August of 2005. They will even record his cremation and the spreading of his ashes. The records will record his will and his direct beneficiaries. But do the records give his life meaning and purpose?
After doing research for over 35 years I have found the most important facts I have are the stories of my ancestors. The ancestor whose land was surveyed by George Washington. The ancestor who went to the same church George Washington went to. The ancestor who as a young boy was stolen by the Indians in Virginia. Whose name was changed by those same Indians to fit his height? The ancestor who kept that Indian Name as his last for the rest of his life; the named passed down through the rest of his generations. I especially appreciate the stories about the ancestors who left everything to move west with a group of pioneers to a new land because of religious persecution and how they felt about that move. I appreciate that they took the time to write down their feelings and thoughts. Their views of history and the world around them.
These reflections brought me to a new level of understanding. The records may tell about me but do they explain me as a person. Do they explain my feelings and thoughts as I experience the history that will someday belong to my descendants? So with those thoughts in mind I have decided that I must take the time to write down my own feelings and thoughts. I want my descendants to know what happened to us as a family while Dan was in the military. I want my descendants to know of my struggles, hopes, and dreams. I want my descendants to know me the Person and not just a name on the page.
What has happened in my life that is of historical value and more importantly what has happened in your life that is of historical value? Are you willing to take the time to reflect, and then record your history for your family?
What type of questions came to mind as I tried this remembering process?
Where was I the day John F Kennedy was shot? I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing.
Where was I the day Man walked on the Moon?
When did my family receive our first television?
What was it like to have a phonograph player and 8 track tapes?
Where was my favorite place to hang out with my friends when I was a teenager?
When was the first time my family had McDonalds and the hamburgers were only 19 cents.
What is the cheapest I remember Gas being?
How did I feel the day we bombed Baghdad and the war with Iraq began.
Where was I on 9/11 and better yet what year was that?
Where was I when Katrina hit New Orleans and what did I do to help the thousands of homeless victims.
The more I find myself remembering the more I find myself wanting my descendants to know about me. Maybe it will be no more than a short notebook. Maybe I will be inspired to start a journal or write my life’s history. Maybe I will decide to put it all on the computer or on a video. I don’t know. But I do know this. I want my life to be remembered not just as facts on a piece of paper but also as a contributing human being in the fabric of the human race.