The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours. – Alan Bennett
I sat next to an 86 year old woman at our local genealogy group last night and learnt that she had emigrated from the UK in 1949 as a young woman in her twenties. She had travelled light thinking she would only stay two years and return to her homeland. Instead she married, had a family and settled here. She has only managed two trips back to the UK since 1949.
With utter delight she showed me two photos that she had just received via the internet of her as a baby with her parents and sisters and another of her extended family. She explained that she had not thought to bring any photos with her when she left the UK and after her Mum died, her Dad burnt most of the photos and papers because he did not want other people digging through their private matters. She had long given up hope of ever having any photos of those earlier times.
A small subscription to a genealogical website resulted in a connection being made from UK to New Zealand from a distantly related family. My new friend proudly stood before our group and told of her wonderful “find” . She glowed with happiness.
Since I became a grandmother recently I have been thinking a lot about why all members of the baby’s extended family have spent a lot of time gazing at old and new photos.
The new photos are of the baby and we all admire him and comment on how much he has grown and changed already. We also search for physical similarities, such as “does he have his mother’s eyes?”, “does he have my nose?”, “will he be tall like his maternal grandfather?”
The old photos are of adults in his life. His father, aunty and uncle, his grandparents and great grandparents. We seem to need to connect with all of these people when they were babies or young children but for reasons not readily explained.
To be healthy human beings we need someone to hold our story for us as we grow up. It is essential to us developing a sense of belonging. At first it is to the immediate family, to the history of the family and over time to the cultural group and the community. All this helps to provide us with a sense of security and an increased ability to face the world and its challenges.
And there has been plenty of story telling as well as photo gazing.
So maybe we have all been adjusting to a shift in the history of our extended family with the arrival of this wee chap and to our new roles in the family. Maybe we have been stopped by his arrival and need to contemplate our time as babies that we can only grasp from photos. I don’t know.
I also wonder how it would be if we had no photos to refer to.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on it all.
A vast community of people, many of them strangers to each other and to the expectant parents, joined together in a moment of joy and delight as my new grandchild was born on 9th April 2009.