The other day my brother called with an invitation. He had recently converted our father’s home movies to a DVD and he wondered if I would like to partake, he said, in some real “living history.”
I expected an afternoon of watching ourselves literally grow up—staged vignettes circa 1940 to 1950, a la Father Knows Best. Surely my brother and I would be the leading characters in the family drama although I felt certain there would be plenty of supporting characters such as grandparents and our parents themselves.
Settling into an easy chair with a glass of wine in hand, I was ready to be awash in nostalgia. There would certainly be tears as I watched my now deceased parents produce Christmas year after year, along with birthday parties, and family holidays.
Talk about experiencing metamorphosis—watching myself change right before my very own eyes!
My father (who must have fancied himself to be part Cecil B. DeMille) had captured all manner of our growth and development from zero to 10, beginning with the hospital delivery room, my first bottle, messy highchair meals, being wheeled in my pram or pulled in a sleigh, crying to get out of the play pen, taking a first step, being an angel in the Christmas pageant, back yard antics, and more.
For awhile, it was amusing to look back on a young life that would never have been made so vivid if not for these movies. But in reality, my “sixty something” vision detected, not a life as it really was, but how our parents wanted our lives to be seen. The back-story was intriguing and enormously revealing. It was time to put down my wine and straighten up, to search the images for body language, expressions, real joy or staged, fabricated fun.
I began to see many physical characteristics as my own– the deeply creased brow of one grandmother, the grin of another, a large frame and head like my father, and the porcelain skin of his father.
As time went on, there were the similarities in personality as well. I hadn’t realized how particular my mother was, detail oriented and very much in control, like me, addicted to perfection for sure and a father dutifully following her lead trying hard not to make waves within the relationship– again, like me. All the women seemed to be in control, not following the rules of others. The matriarchy was alive and well in this family. No wonder I have since made it my cause!
My mother and her mother fought hard to be individuals and I feel that fight in me. What’s more, they strove to make my brother and me originals—no carbon copies here—being different and individual was a virtue.
My mentor Joan Erikson believed that we arrive with genetic traits formed in utero—we’re meant not to ignore them but to use them. “Some things you just can’t change,” she would say. “They are indelibly printed on your soul. You’ve no choice but to go with it—use these strengths—build on them.”
It is spring. The perennials are coming up all over the lawn—pushing up from the cold, dark soil and making themselves seen. So it is with me. The perennial aspects of my personality should not be hidden anymore.