Vacationing in SE Asia at present I received, along with seven of my siblings, a message from an eighth, the brother just after me, who asked some specific questions about our paternal grandparents. With the sketchy internet access and time difference I was kind of late in receiving this email, to which there'd already been a few replies. My brothers and sisters were saying, "I don't know", "Mia might know", "ask Aunt Mons" or in one case, their answer was incorrect.
Turns out of her nine grandchildren in this part of the family, I was the only one who'd sat down with my grandmother (lovingly called "Dearma"), and recorded her story, her memories of her parents, 2 grandparents, and even 2 of her great-grandparents - an Ashanti princess and the French plantation owner who'd bought her as a presentable house slave for his wife. This was a story she'd repeated to me in its entirety over the years, changing none of her facts, names, places. After several pages of scribbled notes, I finally videotaped it because I'd just finished my degree in video production and I'd always been particularly close to this fascinating woman clearly on the decline - by then, 95 - who'd lived with us my entire childhood.
My grandmother died at age 97 suffering from psychosis relating to dementia, or very late-onset schizophrenia… either way, medicated and not telling many credible stories the last couple years of her long and passionate life.
I was able to remember specific details of Dearma's story 30+ years later because it was so fascinating, it's part of MY story, and because when we started I was 22 and at that time, still able to retain new information. I knew it was important that somebody have a record and I was the best bet.
And so today from halfway around the world I answered my brother's questions. But it got me wondering - how long will I be able to do this? I can't even remember where I put my packing list much less what's on it! And where are those unedited 8 mm tapes? Do I have a machine to play them on? Are they still viable? Will my children or theirs ever want to know how I was born in Jamaica of Jamaican parents and grandparents but have blue-green eyes and easily-burnt skin?
Clearly I've got some work to do when I get home. It's high time I have my own family's history made more permanent and accessible.
Hoi An, Vietnam