Family Legends

Posted in Family Legends at 10:21 am

I went to a beautiful engagement party recently where the father of the groom stood up and made a lovely tribute to the couple and their extended families.  He included many touching details including the thought that he appreciated that as his wife had moved from the protection of her father’s house to his house in the seventies, his soon-to-be-daughter-in-law would move from the protection of her father’s house to his son’s. (Aside from the modest catcall that the groom might need protection from his red-headed wife, everyone smiled happily and bought in.)

No one thought too hard about the five years after high school graduation when the bride went to college in New York City  (where she met her finance).  All the youngsters no doubt left with the vague impression that their aunt or uncle were virtuously observing their religious upbringing and everyone was happy.

 Our family legends were somewhat different.  On my father’s side we had my father as chief legend spinner.  He had rather an aggressive sense of humor and had no trouble telling his children things like his grandfather had been the son in a wealthy family and had run off with the maid.  I remembered hazy details about the family going to Italy to have my grandfather and readopting hiim back into the family.  All these stories of life in the old world made perfect sense to his American-born children. After my father’s death I talked about the story to my aunt – the oldest sibling, with presumably the best grasp of family history. She was horrified.  The family came from a long line of solidly middleclass shopkeepers and she had the pictures to prove it.  So a legend bit the dust.

A few legends were social fictions – I learned when young that my grandfather had died of his war wounds – only when I was well into my forties did I learn that he had died in the ’50s after having served in WWI.  The injury to his leg was a much more palatable explanation than the prostate cancer that was the more proximate cause of death. Fortuantely my aunt chose to debunk this legend and broach the taboo after her husband also succumbed to prostate cancer. Despite the mortification she felt (& she did) she was more concerned that my brothers and son know their family medical history and therefore survive the family ‘curse.’

I treasure these legends – real and created. Now all I have to do is remember to pass them down.

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