Remembering and Preserving a Family Heritage
- 2 September 2011 by Ross Greene 4 Comments
She told me she was tired. She didn’t have to, I knew. Her voice was soft, which it always was, but it was also weak, which it never was. Further, she wasn’t up scurrying around trying to make sure everyone had everything they needed. “More tea, how ’bout a hot roll, can I get you some more Swiss steak?” She was laying in her bed, the very one she shared with my Dad until he went to be with The Lord seven years, three months and ten days before. Everything about her said she was tired…except her eyes. They were bright and smiling as always. She loved life and life responded in kind. She also loved her friends, her three children, nine grand kids, her great-grand kids, ten at the time, and her Lord whom she came to know eight decades before in a Sunday School class taught by William Wallace, the great missionary to China who was tortured and then died on February 9, 1951 in a Communist prison. And all whom she loved also returned the favor.
In her weakened condition, all she could do was lie in the bed, smile and whisper, so that’s what we did for most of the afternoon. I told her repeatedly how much I loved her, how proud I was of her and what a mark she had made on me and all of her family. She would reply, “oh gosh”, her way of saying that she didn’t deserve my words, but she did and I told her so.
She got progressively weaker and pain came in waves as her heart began to finalize the process begun years earlier. I climbed in bed with her and held her in my arms. My sister Sally was in the bed, too. My brother David was at her side. His wife, my wife and my niece were also in attendance at that moment of divine appointment.
As Mom went from my arms into those of Jesus, the song playing on the CD player was “It Is Well With My Soul” and it was…and it is. Evelyn Mae Perrin Greene was 89 years, four months and four days young. She was buried two days later, on my birthday. My brother and I experienced the bittersweet honor of speaking at her funeral. I miss her every day.
In the fall of the year before, our family, realizing Mom’s declining health and it’s implications, got our entire group together for a time of reunion. Among the numerous photographs we took that weekend was one of Mom with her 10 great-grandchildren, who ranged in age from 2 months to 7 years. It was like herding cats getting the young ones to pose and say “cheese”. But they did and we got a fabulous picture that spanned four generations. It would become a pivotal moment for me. Since that day, I have been on a mission to preserve as much of our family heritage as possible. The mission has oft been interrupted by work, sickness and…just life. But the mission never departed my thoughts. Today, only 4 of those grandkids in that photo remember Mom. Time causes memories to fade. In a few years, only a faint remembrance will exist of a lady whose life work played such a large part in making them who they are. I purposed not to let that happen. I wanted them to know not only her, but also my Dad, their families and the conditions under which they lived, what they believed and how they paved the way for our families to walk a believing path.
Over the last few years, I have accumulated family photos, clippings, movies, audio tapes, video tapes and stories from every source possible. I started with boxes that Mom had given my brother, sister and me that contained a treasure trove of family history. I only wish I had asked Mom and Dad to tell me more stories about the people in the photos, but I didn’t…at least to the degree that would have satisfied the intense curiosity I now possessed…or that now possessed me. Undaunted by my limited resources for information, I have been resolute in my search. I collected and had digitized over 5,000 photos and thousands of feet of film. With this collection, I purposed to introduce my family past to my family present.
Thanksgiving of 2008 became the day when I purposed to produce the first document designed to chronicle my family heritage to as great a degree as I possibly could. With intensity and fury to meet my deadline, I designed and had printed a 54-page photo album of my maternal and paternal family, which included 350 photos and spanned 7 generations. I cannot explain the joy it gave me to give a copy of the book to my brother, sister and cousin/sister, Rosalind. “Roz” is my Mother’s brother’s daughter we consider our sister.
My happiness was exacerbated when I saw grandchildren crowding around to see pictures they had never seen of their parents and grandparents and not only pictures of people they had never seen, but also some of which they had never heard. “I can’t believe how primitive their house was.” “Why did they not smile?” “They look so old.” These questions and thoughts filled the air. It was, obviously, worthwhile to have done this, my beginning project….they all wanted a copy of the book. It would have been worthwhile to me even if they hadn’t. It helped me focus on the life investment my ancestors made in me. I want their investment to have produced a return worthy of their efforts. Likewise, I want to make sure that I maximize my investment in my family and that they generate a good return in the development of their families. The book will, hopefully, cause these and future generations to talk about and share stories about those shown in the album. We rarely, if ever, look through old albums, dusty boxes of photos or envelopes holding 4 x 5′s of single film rolls much less a box of “slides.” But we are likely to take an occasional journey through a pictorial coffee table book depicting our own heritage.
As she did throughout her life and in her loving way, Mom is still serving as a glue that binds the hearts and souls of her progeny to her, her ancestors, her worldview and her Lord. This book and our lives are filled with your smile and your love, Mom….always loved and never forgotten.
Editor’s Note: The germination of my insatiable desire to preserve family heritage began that day in 2004. It continued to grow and took on an added segment through the planning of my 1958 EHS class’ 50th reunion. One of the important milestones in this cathartic journey is the birth of www.KNOXVILLEHERITAGE.com. Thanks to all of you who have joined me in this wonderful trek through the past! Hopefully it will make an impact on future generations.