Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas, 2010. On the way home from Vegas, Serena asked what the next holiday was. Mrs. Ditchman answered, “Life. The biggest holiday of all.” Because Lord knows we could all use a holiday from the holidays.

Hard Currency.

It was a bad Christmas. Actually, I’m just kidding. Because the thought of a bad Christmas is one of those things that’s rarely considered, if ever allowed. The whole family was there, including the cousins and their babies, but who knew this time last year that there would be two fewer people in the year next? And how can you help but wonder how many fewer -or how many more- will be there next year?

Who knew that the Torch of the Matriarch would be passed? It belongs to my aunt now, a cheerful woman with nary an ill-word about anyone. I spent some time with her. She has a passion (obsession, really) for genealogy, and has spent years tracking down distant relatives, going through tattered archives, and traipsing across cemeteries to find the old buried spots of unknown ancestors. She is like a sage, with her knowledge, and I appreciated having someone like that in the family. And, to her credit, she is only slightly less interested in the family of her in-laws as she is to the family of her blood.

I’ve never understood people who are not interested in their genealogy. Perhaps they are embarrassed by their family, or bored with the thought of their luckless, dead relatives, forgotten and dismissed to the past. After all, the Holy Bible is filled with genealogical lists, right there astride a prominent commandment from God himself to honor our parents. If it’s important to God, it’s important to me.

My aunt recently lost her husband, my uncle, and it saddens me to consider it. But there we were at my sister’s place, on the outskirts of Las Vegas, having a beer and talking about Ephraim Garrison, an officer in the American Revolution. His grave, incidentally, has yet to be located. And then there was John Garrison, a banker on the frontier, where there were no banks. She showed me a high-res jpeg of a 150 year-old three-dollar bank note, signed by him, the bank president.

It reminded me of a phone conversation that I had with my aunt years ago, when she was first telling me about her “hobby” of genealogy, and I heard my uncle chime in from the background, “It’s an obsession!” and she just laughed. But he had his own obsessions. Among them was coin-collecting, which was no doubt inspired by his father, my grandpa, who had me obsessed with it for a while too, when I was a kid.

So my uncle went on the internet and tracked down some old bank notes, signed by his great-great-great grandfather, and bought them flat out. It delighted my aunt, and it delights me now because I see in it this final coalescence of great interests. Two people who came together, loved each other for a lifetime, and found it in themselves to still meet somewhere recognizable, after all those years.

And now he’s gone. All those coins he collected after all those years are in boxes in his garage, and my cousin told of having to go through it all, trying to ascertain which of it was valuable and which of it was sentimental, though it all was. I commiserated in that I had the similar problem of my mother’s things, now in my garage, and I am going to have to go through them, painstakingly, in the coming year.

I’ll have to determine what will define her to our descendants. What small thing can be handed down over the next few hundred years, when all sentimental value has been lost to the ages, to make her real to our family of the future.

And I thought I better keep writing, while I’m at it.