It occurred to me recently that, as a grandmother, I stand in an amazing place in my family history. I know and remember my grandparents, born in the late 1800s, who were aging but still vital when I was a little girl. I know them, even though I can no longer call them on the phone or visit them or exchange letters with them. Grandma and Grandpa are people I know.
And now…I know my grandchildren, the children of my child. They are in my life, the fifth generation since my grandparents. They will never know my grandparents, but they carry their genes, their heritage, their history as part of their ancestral line. And someday I hope they will want to know what I know about them, about the way they lived, and how much they loved their family and would love them if they knew them.
I am standing in the middle, now, of five generations of people I have known, and I am the only generation who knows all of them: my grandparents, my parents, my own generation, my children, and my grandchildren. I think I have a unique perspective, at my particular point in life, in this line of loved people, being able to look back and forward, knowing both.
The line moves back further than my own memory of course, back to great-grandparents and beyond, in a widening arc of both sides of each family in each generation, the awesomeness of the complication of the family tree, and my grandfather, and my mother, and I, and my son, and my granddaughters carry both genetic material and heritage from the man who fled France and first came to America in the 1600s, and his wife who left Holland and came with him. And my granddaughters’ children, should they have children, will also carry all that, as do my brother’s children and grandchildren.
And they also carry the heritage of all the other families that joined to form our ancestral strain, including my grandmother’s forebears who came from England and then Massachusetts to New York state. Not to mention my father’s parents, whom I never knew, who came from England and Germany. My children also have the heritages of their father, the Sicilian couple who came here early in the twentieth century, as well as the Yankee and Portuguese heritages of his mother, and beyond to a point of unreckonable complexity.
And now my grandchildren also have the heritages of their four grandparents, including my daughter-in-law’s parents. It is a never-stopping mixing of genes and histories. But even more important, it is a mixing of stories. The story I know the most is from their ancestors I know the most, my own maternal grandparents, whom I knew and loved. I also have their diaries, so I can pass on their lives as they experienced them. And here I stand, in the middle, also knowing and loving the children of my child, the great-great grandchildren of my beloved Grandma and Grandpa.