Today, my 76 year old mother in law told me the poignant story of the passing of her beloved father. I listened in awe – not so much because it was a harrowing tale, but more because I was engaged in a process that people have been engaged in for millennia. I was listening the history, the oral history of our family. This was the story of where our family comes from and more specifically where my children come from. It is – in a sense – their story and they are one of the characters. They continue to write it as it unfolds through their lives.
I have always loved history and consider myself the family historian. I have an old worn out green box, that belonged to my grandfather (I think), where I keep photographs, birth, marriage or school certificates, funeral leaflets and letters, precious letters, of people that belong to me. I love the feel and smell of them. It is as if I am reaching back in time and touching a long gone era. My oldest photograph is dated 1914, some 103 years ago. I’m not sure of the identity of the people, and work on tracing them.
My great grandmother, Rowena Blanche Adams, came from St Helena island in her late teens to find work in South Africa. So many letters and postcards to her, from her family on the island, are now treasured in my tired box. It is their story – their joys and tragedies. Her own is one of bravery. I dont know if I would have the fortitude to leave home alone and carve out a new destiny in a new land, with the knowledge that I might never return or never have contact with my loved ones again. This was an age where whatsapp, email, instagram and facebook were not thought of. She went on to have more than 10 children without the comfort of her own family around her.We are told that some very sad things had befallen some of her children. In her later years she fell and hurt herself and chose not to walk again. This from a woman who had braved so much. I wish I could ask her questions.
One day I will share my box with my children so that they can learn their own story – what had happened before their part was written.