20 September 2011

Questions I Should Have Asked

I ran across a list of questions I've been meaning to ask my dad the next time we spoke. Nothing of world-shaking importance, no grand questions about life-lessons learned. Truth be told, my dad and I did not often agree on the message to be taken from those life lessons. I didn't expect him to impart great wisdom from the perspective of one who has lived  a long and eventful life. They were mostly just questions that came up when I was rustling around in the family shrub. Why did your dad never tell you what his name was before he came to the United States? What year did you buy the house you live in now? What was the first car you ever bought? I kept putting it off.

Dad died August 26.

It wasn't a tragic sendoff, as these things go. It was not unexpected. He was almost 91 years old. He finally accepted some drugs, so he wasn't in pain. He was home, with his family, the way he wanted. It was time. He was ready. Everybody should be so lucky.

Like most of us, I suppose, he didn't finish everything he meant to do. He was always going to write down what he remembered about his family, but he kept putting it off. He'd get distracted by trying to pin down exactly when the family moved from one house to another, when plus or minus 5 years would have been plenty close enough. He'd go chasing off after details, or get frustrated because he was such a crummy typist, and he never got around to telling the whole story.

Family history is all about the stories, isn't it? I'm not much interested in genealogy. My lineage is not so illustrious that proving it beyond all shadow of a doubt makes any difference to anybody. I don't need three original sources to confirm every detail. I don't agonize over getting every source citation exactly right. I don't really care all that much. I'm just in it for the stories. It's all about stories. It's history, the way it happened to one family. It's getting a sense of ordinary lives, the way ordinary people lived them.

Knowing that Louis Badaillac dit Laplante was born in Sorel, Québec in March of 1680 and died in Detroit in 1703 doesn't really say much about who this guy was, except that he was only 23 when he died. Finding that he accompanied Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, when he went off to found the city of Detroit, one might be tempted to imagine a rather heroic figure. Finding that between that convoy and his eventual demise he was busted a couple of times for "fait la traite de l'eau de vie avec les iroquois" and for "causé un bruit public", he starts to look a little grubbier. Not pretty, maybe, but more like a real person. (Did you know, by the way, that Cadillac had a really big nose? He was nicknamed the Falcon, and often compared — presumably behind his back – to Cyrano de Bergerac. Hey, I read it on the web, so it must be true.) See what I mean? It's all about the stories.

I need to write down what I remember about my dad. As best I can, I need to tell his story. I'm not religious. In the metaphysical sense, I have no idea where he went, or what he's doing now, besides a literal, obvious fact – he donated his body to science. He made arrangements for that years ago. Some med students at UCLA will get a skinny old white male cadaver. They will get to know my dad in considerable detail. In a different sense, he's here as long as someone remembers him. Those stories he told over and over? I should know them well enough by now to be able to inflict them on someone who never got a chance to hear them from the source.

I've been wondering whether this blog is the right place to do that. I initially set it up as a place to dump MS-related stuff. Going off on a family history tangent seems pretty seriously off-topic. I even got as far as setting up a template for a new blog, called "Out on a Limb" (get it? Am I witty, or what?). Then I decided it was a pretty stupid idea. If I had two blogs, I would post even less often on either of them than I do on this one now. Besides, the topic of this blog is whatever I want it to be. Whippets don't have anything to do with MS, as far as I know, and I write about them all the time. So I'll be stalking dead people, and I'll be doing it here. It's too bad, though. The new blog was looking pretty cool.

There's a barbecue/potluck/celebration of my dad's life/excuse to put away large amounts of tequila planned for this weekend at the old home place. I won't be able to make it down for the festivities, but here's the story I would tell if I were there:

So many times when I was a kid we'd ask, "Dad, do you have a ____ <fill in the blank with the most bizarre item you can possibly imagine>?" He'd think for a minute, disappear into his garage, rustle around for a while, and reappear holding said bizarre item.

I thought everybody's dad could do that.


  1. I love this entry.

    Caregivingly Yours, Patrick

  2. My mom has boxes of old photos and negatives from the grandparents. I sat down as a kid with grandparents, asked them questions, heard some stories and wrote things on the back of some photos. Others I have no idea who they are yet I've asked Mom to not get rid of them. It kind of haunts me to not know about them.

    So, the blog is morphing from SSDI application to life with MS and narrow dogs to stalking dead people. Sounds like a logical progression to me!

    I'm trying to remember to ask the various questions now. But am sure when I've moved up to the oldest generation, I'll be pondering lots of unknowns, or have forgotten them.

  3. I have many questions I would ask my G grandma on my fathers side that never occurred to me to ask. I did ask and listen so great stories they told I can pass along to my one niece as she is interested.

    You write on any dang topic you choose and I shall read!

    Right now I can not even come up with one.
    Especially curious as to what follows stalking dead people?

  4. Not sure if it's appropriate to send my sympathy in way of your blog, but it would be totally inappropriate for me not to acknowledge your loss. If I put it off, I might not get to say it for another few months. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Enjoy the blog, and love the feeling I get while I'm reading it. Nope, you're not allowed to correct my grammar. Keep it up!
    --a fan from Allentown, Pennsylvania!