My ancestors’ “memoirs” intertwine with my story in Big Topics at Midnight. I have a few photos and letters, but all of my parents and grandparents have long since died. I know nothing of séances, nor have I had previous experience communicating with ancestors. But as I dove into my own life and the story of my nation’s people, I wanted to know more about how my family was woven into history.
I had to suspend my skepticism in order to hear what they had to say. I returned to Mom’s genealogical research, brought family stories to mind, let my imagination go and listened with my heart.
Then I went to my computer and wrote down what I heard, using their voices. My female ancestors “spoke” first, one at a time, beginning with my grandmothers, Ann and Ruth, followed by my mother Sue. Seven generations of Tipps grandmothers spoke to me, from my mother back to Margaret who married Jacob, son of our family’s original immigrant, Lorenz.
Grace, the only one of thirteen slaves of Margaret and Jacob whose name made it through the generations, also had her say. Later, my father, Ed, and grandfathers,
O.R. and John, told me tidbits about their lives.
I was shocked at the power of the stories that emerged as each ancestor spoke in her or his unique voice. A number of them demanded to be included in this book.* I’d learned the futility of arguing with some of these people while they were alive, so I thought it best just to honor their requests. Their stories wove in and out of my own.
Are their stories true? All of them referenced documented moments of their lives, but each went beyond these details. Some might call their stories tall tales. Regardless, I heard their words as truth stronger than facts.
Listening to their stories helped me remember that the DNA that swirls through my body has roots that weave back through the generations and will continue to generations yet unborn. As I wove my ancestors’ and descendents’ memoirs with my own, I saw that the context of my life—and the implication of my choices and behavior—had grown from my one lifetime to include at least fourteen generations.
Sometimes we must immerse ourselves in the past to learn to be present.
*An audio recording with three ancestral memoir stories and a bit of my own memoir is on my website.
This is part four of five of my blog’s Memoir series. Much of this post is included in the introduction of Big Topics at Midnight.