I often feel like I’ve become interested in history — like, my own history, my family history — much too late in life.
This is contrasted sharply by all the people who remark that I’m weirdly young to take such an interest. Sheesh it’s not like I’m a kid — I’m 41! But, I’ll take it. Their remarks encourage me. They make me think I have a lot of time to ask people questions. And listen for the answers.
But I’ve been wrong to think these things. Recent events have taught me that.
All my life, I’ve lived here in Hanover (which was called the East Mennonite Reserve back in 1874)… and only recently has it occurred to me that I don’t even know where my grandfather grew up. Which farm? Which yard site? It was somewhere very close. But I have no idea where.
I can’t ask my mom, because she’s not from here. She’s from yantzied — the other side of the river. I’d long heard about Mennonites’ legendary proclivity toward cousin-marriage, and upon realizing both my parents were Mennonite, I had to ask, “Are you related to each other?” Nope! They knew they were safe because mom was from yantzied and dad was from ditsied. Therefore, totally different kinds of Mennonites; therefore, no relation. (I searched it just now. They’re only connected in one way: 6th cousins. Not too bad, for Mennonites.)
My dad would’ve been a valuable resource for all of my accumulating questions… but he passed away when I was 28. I was a newlywed, a new home owner, starting a new job, and when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, all I could think was that I wanted him to be alive. At the time, I just hadn’t been thinking about asking him about family history.
Plus, grandma and grandpa were still around. And my uncle — my dad’s sole brother.
I was confident that when I was ready to ask questions, there would be people around to ask.
First grandpa passed away, and then grandma.
The years slipped by, as they do.
And then, this past fall… I was ready. I contacted my uncle, prepared to make a plan to tour this region so I could hear the stories of when he and my dad were very small boys. I could find out what it was like when they visited their grandparents. About their school days. Their early days on the farm. And what they remember about moving from what they call the Bristol farm, to the farm where I grew up. And of course I’d ask if they were aware of any remnants of historical trails or villages or cemeteries.
We made a plan. This was going to be great.
I’m not sure who called it off… I almost feel like something came up for me and we had to postpone it. He said that it was just as well, we should wait for the weather to be just right.
Summer was fast approaching. We chose a day to finally do this historical drive.
The day before, he sent me an uncharacteristic cancelation. There was an important medical appointment.
Memories of my father’s diagnosis crept back into the edges of my awareness. No. It couldn’t be.
Two weeks later, my uncle was gone. I never saw him again.
I’m angry at myself — I wasted so much time.
If there’s someone you can ask questions of, if there’s someone you can learn something from, do it today, if they’re okay with it, if they’d enjoy talking about your family history… then you should ask, and listen.
It’s easy to think you have a lot of time. It’s hard to realize that you don’t.
I like looking at these photos of my dad and my uncle as little boys, exuberant, playing and exploring their world. I like to think that maybe they’re doing the same today.