My cousins and I play an ongoing game of Connect the Dots as we try to piece together a fuller picture of our forebears’ lives. What we are learning opens choices about how to shape stories we leave behind.
The most intriguing set of dots right now involves my great-grandmother, Matilda Evelyn Grammer, who married Robert Milo Roberts, son of Governor Roberts of Texas when she was not quite 16 and he was 37. When she was widowed at 26, she was responsible for two nearly-grown step-children and four of her own, ranging from one to ten years old. Two years later, she married Paul Arthur Preuit, the (great)grandfather my cousins and I share. We know quite a bit about the Preuit part of her life, but her life with Roberts Roberts is largely a blank. We’re working on that.
Last year a cousin wanted to know if I could tell her anything about the possibility her mother (my aunt) lived for a short time with my father’s family – before my parents were married. That opened a new package of dots about both our families and the enduring friendship between these aunts.
Why does this matter? Why do we play Connect the Dots?
Our brains are wired to crave story, drilling down to details and closure. What is closure? Understanding WHY things happened and WHAT they mean. To some extent, we look to the past to explain how things are now, and imagine how they might be as we move forward. We explore examples of ancestors to make sense of ourselves and how we can handle the curves life may throw.
As my cousins and I continue to dig, we’ll find more information about where people lived and maybe glimpses of what they did, but for the most part, we’ll have to make up story to connect those dots. We’ll know, for example, that in 1888, Texas women did not have air-conditioned houses and we’ll speculate about what life must have been like as they toiled in gardens and doing laundry in the blazing Texas summers in long sleeves and long skirts. We’ll have to wonder if mid-wives helped deliver Grandmother Tilly’s children, or perhaps a doctor drove up in his buggy just in time.
We’ll conclude that we come from a line of tough women who knew how to survive. We’ll never know how Grandmother Tilly felt about the ups and downs of her life. What were her regrets? Did she wonder what life would have been like “if only”?
Implications for Life Writers
We can document our lives on two levels, detail and meaning. Details give the dots. Our descendants will know what happened when, in general terms. That leaves them to wonder and connect dots themselves, the best they can.
We can do them a favor and connect the dots for them, writing stories rich in reflection and insight. We can show the lessons we learn and what the bumps we roll over mean to us. These rich stories will satisfy our descendants, helping them quickly and easily understand us and our times.
The key to writing these rich stories is to take the time with each story we write to ask ourselves
- Why did this happen?
- What does it mean?
- What did I learn?
Include the answers to these questions in your story and intrigue readers of any time and generation. They’ll thank you for making the effort.
If you don’t have time or inclination to dig so deeply, fret not. Keep writing anyway. Remember,
Anything you write is better than writing nothing.
At the very least, you’ll leave them dots to connect if they wish.