"The Boys of Sayre" is written on the back of this photograph.
My grandfather, Ralph Hausknecht, is in the front on the far right.
Our lives are made up of stories, like a tree is made up of rings. The oldest stories circle us, hold us, growing and shifting as we grow, they wrap around our very lives, holding us to the past, shaping the way we face the future.
* * *
My Grandfather was a veteran of the second World War. I was a thin scrap of a girl with long brown hair and bangs, when he sat at the kitchen table with me. His fingers held the worn black pages of photo albums, turning pages, touching and talking, but his stories ran past me like a stream in the woods, like the wind through leaves and I, being young and green, could not take them in.
What I do remember is his presence, sweaty from working in the garden, his thinning hair combed-over, the way he simply was. Watching an episode of Call the Midwives where Nurse Lee cares for an elderly veteran, I am swept through with a longing for that man who died some twenty years ago now.
In the bathroom of my grandparents' house is a wooden drawer that holds the scarves and a beautiful comb and mirror set he mailed home during the war. As a child, I would shut the door and stand behind it, fingering the silk and silver, those tokens of love that flew half-way across the world to the woman who refused to marry him before he left, to the woman who refrained for fear he would never return.
Grown now, I gather these stories like sticks fallen to the forest floor, I search the stories of his life, counting and adding them like rings of a tree, carving out an image of who he was, who he is, as he lives still in the shape of his stories.
Telling the stories of my ancestors, I imagine them growing as I speak, as I write, as though through my words I can conjure a mighty grove of trees; giant oaks and speckled sycamores, twisted and worn with age. I gather my children there in their shadows, turning like he did, the worn, black pages of photo alums. The stories run by my children's ears, like so many streams, but deep down, in a place I cannot see, they are drinking them in.
Talking of what was we grow together into what will be.
This post is linked with Playdates with God.