Sunday, February 9, 2014

Has the Internet Ruined Family Lore?

My Dad.  Looks like Connor, right?
My Aunt Mary (aka Aunt Mimi), the matriarch of my Dad's family, passed away last year.  Aunt Mary was my Dad's aunt and was a constant presence in my family's life and the lives of my cousins' families, too.  She was at every family event in one of her pastel pantsuits, from her seemingly endless inventory, sporting a Monet pin on her lapel, wearing her engagement ring, and toting her camera.

When we were kids, Aunt Mary gave me, all of my siblings, and all of my cousins $5 for our birthdays and for Christmas and wrote x's and o's after her signature on our cards.  On our Christmas cards she alternated her x's and o's with green and red pens.  You probably had an Aunt Mary in your life, if you were lucky.

A few weeks ago, my sister hosted a get together for all of the different families to look through Aunt Mary's photos and to take the ones that they wanted.  There were many great old black and white photos dating back to the early 1900's, and as we looked through the photos we were reminded of the many people and events in our lives that were now just memories.

I came across a photo of Aunt Alice, Aunt Mary's older sister who had died at a relatively young age.  Although my siblings and I did not know Aunt Alice we were well aware of what had happened to her as a young girl.  As our Mom told the story, Aunt Alice's back was injured when a neighborhood kid dropped her on her head, and as a result had lifelong health problems and died at a young age.  Whenever my siblings and I picked up someone, or were picked up by someone, my Mom would scream, "Do you want to turn out like Aunt Alice?"

As we sat around the dining room table at my sister's house, my siblings and I laughed about how our Mom had us so paralyzed with fear about dropping someone or being dropped that we used the same "Do you want to turn out like Aunt Alice?" line with our own children.  Upon hearing that story, my cousin Dave, who was also sorting through the photos said, "My mom told me that Aunt Alice had tuberculosis of the spine and that's what caused her health problems."  "What?" we all chimed in unison.  "First of all, is there even such a thing as tuberculosis of the spine?"

My cousin Meg, representing yet a third family, then revealed that although she could not recall what her mom told her about Aunt Alice's back, she knew it was not either of the stories my family or Dave's family had been telling and retelling for 50+ years.

So, three families, three "oral history" versions of what had happened to Aunt Alice.  What we concluded was that our respective mother's told us whatever story they felt would stop us from doing whatever it was they did not want us to do.  In my case, that would be lifting someone up or being lifted up.  I have no idea what cousin Dave's mom was going for with the TB story.

We also realized that we don't know the truth about what happened to Aunt Alice and never will because anyone who might have known the real story is no longer with us.  You realize the scenario I just described would not happen today because I could verify my Mom's story by simply Googling: "Girl dropped on head by neighbor sues family for damages." Or, "Girl dropped on head by neighbor succumbs to injuries."

Has the Internet Ruined Family Lore?  Do we really need to know all of the facts and details of everyone's lives?  I personally am grateful for the version my Mom shared with me, as I am certain it has kept my boys and me from being dropped on our heads.

I would, however, love to know the story behind the engagement ring my Aunt Mary wore her entire life, as she was never married.  Too bad I can't Google: "Woman left at altar?" Or, "Woman discovers fiancé has two wives?" Or maybe, "Catholic woman forced to break engagement after parents discover fiancé divorced?"  I guess I'll never know and will just have to create some romantic story to tell my boys about Aunt Mary's mysterious engagement ring.  I'm up for the challenge.

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