I had a conversation with my Japanese history professor, George Hlawatsch, recently. He talked about how he and his siblings opened up a chest belonging to their parents shortly after their death, to find reams upon reams of letters from Berlin during WWII. The letters teased all sorts of stories out, talking about this person who helped them or that person who passed away. The problem was, there was no one left alive that Prof. Hlawatsch could ask about the letters. He and his siblings had always known that the chest was tucked away in their house, but had never really thought about opening it as long as their parents were still alive.
I know very little about my parents and grandparents’ lives. I only pick up bits and pieces of it – my grandfather came here from China as a schoolteacher, etc, etc. My maternal grandparents passed away before I was born, so only my mom and her side of the family can tell stories now. My paternal grandparents are still alive, but if the story of their lives filled a book, I would only have the first word of the first page. I happen to be a History major, and I forgot now why I initially went into History in the first place. But it strikes me now that the most important history is the history that can be told by those who lived it – such as my own family.
Yesterday my grandmother suffered a mild heart attack. Her condition is currently stable, but as my father puts it, “fragile and irreversible”. He’s planning to go down south to Surigao City in order to see her. I’m coming along. This may be my last chance.
I’m not the most sensitive person around. I dread the prospect of receiving gifts that I know I’m going to have to return somehow, and I let a birthday or two pass without a greeting. My mom in particular criticizes me all the time for not caring enough. That’s true, I guess. But as a (asa) historian the greatest service I can perform for my family would be to chronicle our story. Maybe more out of a feeling of professional accomplishment rather than love, but I’d like to think that love’s there, even if I have to dig deep to find it.