I used to love sitting down with my grandmother, looking at old pictures, listening to her tell stories of the way things were when she was a girl and her mother -- my great-grandmother -- still young. She would also whisper stories of my mother's childhood, perhaps with a wink, helping me to see the girl -- the person -- underneath the parental veneer.
I still love those moments with Nana, although they are more rare now. I try to get her to write things down, and she does it in spurts -- a caption on a photograph here or there. A few years ago, when she was sick, and my littlest cousin was still a toddler, I bought her a book so she could write things down for him, just in case. I'm not sure if she ever used it, and lucky for my cousin, she's beaten the cancer, so far.
I think that Nana's boxes of photos and clippings are why, since childhood, I've always tended to keep my own pictures, mementos, scrapbooks. I also think that, on some level, it's why I keep journals -- so that the stories live on. I'm a collector, an amateur archivist.
A few weeks ago, while cleaning out some things, I stumbled across a small collection of camcorder videos that I had made in law school: some footage of my friend's band playing; one of my brother's plays; a video of my roommate and I dancing around our apartment. And then I found paydirt: several hours of family movies over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in 1997, where we were just sitting around, talking to each other, playing with the dog, eating pancakes. My mother at her best and happiest: surrounded by her college-age children and parents.
Watching the tape was like time travel. All of a sudden, I was sitting there, hearing my mother's voice, my mother's laugh, for the first time in years. And seeing the sights and sounds of a family, together, all under one roof, happy. I had not forgotten those sights and sounds: what I had forgotten was how much I loved being a part of a family, a collective.
I copied the video to my hard drive. I'm going to burn it to DVD and send it to my siblings and my father, so that they can remember too. And, in some way, the video will help my mother live on in some tangible way -- just a little -- for my nephew and, perhaps one day, my children.