Age Changes Our Perspective on Family Myths

IMAG0607I visited my parents over Christmas, and one day I walked past a picture in their home of my maternal grandfather (the grandfather who took many of the pictures I’ve featured on this blog).

As a child, I thought of my grandfather as an old man.  I saw him as a dour businessman, always wearing a suit, and not given to playing with children. My mother, brother and I lived with my grandparents for a few months when I was very small, and I remember being told to stay out of his way when he came home from work – at least until he had had his cocktail and watched the news.

So I was surprised when I looked at his picture this time. My first reaction was “He looks so young!”

In fact, my grandfather died shortly before his 61st birthday – he was younger than my husband is now.  The picture of him that I saw was probably taken when he was in his mid-50s – about my age now. He was young. Or at least, I see him as young with the perspective I have today.

With my new-found perspective, I started thinking about the family stories about my grandfather and the impact these stories have had on my life.  For example:

  • He was said to have remarked that he didn’t care whether my grandmother was Catholic, as long as she voted Republican. This remark says volumes about his political and religious attitudes. Was his philosophy the genesis of my own conservatism?
  • He rarely went to church, but my mother always talked about how ethical he was. She told the story of how he received extra ration coupons for gasoline during World War II, because his business supplied the war effort, but he wouldn’t use them for family trips. As a result, I don’t associate ethical behavior  with any particular religion. Am I more accepting of people who do not follow the same religion I do or who don’t practice any religion at all because of what I was told about my grandfather?
  • I remember hearing that he retired in his mid-50s because he didn’t want to pay 2/3 of his income to the government. While I recognize that taxes are necessary, I try to pay as little as possible. Like my grandfather, I have more faith in me spending my money wisely (both for my own good and in my charitable contributions) than I have in the government spending it for me.
  • After he retired, my grandparents moved to Pacific Grove, California. They traveled extensively, and he played golf – his passion – for the few years he had remaining until his death at age 60. Did I retire early in part because of his desire to pursue his dreams? Did his early death cause me to plan my life so I could spend time doing what I want after raising a family?

Like my grandfather, I am intelligent, introverted, and focused. Yet he was an entrepreneur who built a small Main Street company, while I was employed in a large company. And I had educational opportunities he never had. My life has had parallels and differences with that of my grandfather, but the family myths about him have lasted into my generation. Maybe they will continue into generations that never knew him.

Family stories are powerful, and make us who we are, even as our perspectives change.

Which of the stories about your ancestors have affected your life? How has your interpretation of the stories changed over time?

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0 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your story about your Grandfather . It was a pleasure to see a legacy with ethics passed on to the next generation . Times sure have changed . Great post !

      • Teresa, what a lovely remembrance. Funny how time bends and changes our perceptions. As I age I find I’m not as certain about some things as I once was.I consider that a gift and hope to learn from it.

        I never knew my grandparents (perished in the Holocaust). I cherish tales my sister told of our grandfather who hid wild strawberries in the brim of his hat for her to discover and explained how they grew there through the magic of kindness. So–I suppose I did “know” him. All the more reason for us to keep writing our stories.

        May time bend in your favor this year, Theresa.

        Rita

        • Thank you, Rita! The strawberry story made me smile. So sad you never knew your grandfather, but you’re right — the story does give you a glimpse of his character.
          Theresa

  2. My father’s mother died at 45 of a heart attack. When I learned of this as a child, I determined to live each day to the fullest in case I had a shorter number of days assigned to me. As I look back over my life of 70 years, I’m amazed at the things I”ve learned and done.

  3. Age does change perspectives. This Christmas season I’m remembering what an ungrateful child I was. I dreaded the gifts I would receive from the aunts and uncles, extremely simple gifts, one year from one aunt a pair of pillow cases with yellow embroidery. Another time a necklace made of slices of black walnuts.

    My father’s siblings moved a lot in the years prior to WWII, looking for work. But every year there were humble gifts. I’ve finally realized that those inexpensive, often home-made gifts said, “Hey, kid, we love you, even though we’ve moved we haven’t forgotten you, and if you need us, we’ll come running because we’re here for each other.”

    • And yet, though we all go through the stage of being an ungrateful child, we can’t teach our kids to avoid this stage . . . until their perspective changes on its own. Thanks for your comment, Peg.
      Theresa

  4. Theresa, I really enjoyed how you connected your life and many of your perspectives to your grandfather. I guess sooner or later if you are a self aware person you start to look more closely at things.

    Your last question prompted me to think about my grandmother. Although, I didn’t meet her until I was 6 (due to geography) many of her beliefs and views must of somehow trickled down from her, to my mom and then to me. While my temperament and the way I go about things differs from my grandmother it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that many of my spiritual values echoed those of my grandmother. I believe she was more spiritual than religious. She believed in what they call today “spiritual guides” and received messages from them (hope that doesn’t sound too crazy!) And very much believed in the spirit world but also very much in God. She grew up in a Caribbean island so Catholicism was probably mixed in with spiritualism. Anyhow, I remember that when the whole John Edwards phenomenon and people like him started to come out I laughed aloud because to me this was normal.
    Do I believe every one who claims to communicate with spirits can do it. Absolutely not, but do I believe that we can feel loved ones vibrations, that there are certain dreams that are relaying a message to us and that like your grandfather you can be a very ethical person and not belong to any one particular religion. Maybe that is why I’m also accepting of many different religions. To me it’s the person and the content of his character that defines him.
    Again, a lovely post about your grandfather and I hope my commentary doesn’t make me sound too out there! : )

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