Goodbyes are not forever.
Goodbyes are not the end.
They simply mean I miss you.
Until we meet again!
- author unknown
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Opening the Memory Bank

I recall a day in the beginning of 2007 when I just sat and watched my grandpa, Bill Hall while he napped in his recliner at the Lazy J cabin in Monticello, Florida. The deep purple bags under his eyes were the ones that were reflected to me that very morning in my own mirror. “Thanks a lot, Grandpa” silently swept through my mind as my face brightened into a smile. While examining the deep creases and sags on his face it occurred to me that, rather than a punishment of aging, those wrinkles and age spots on his skin were blessings of a long lived life. He was nearly 90 years old and I suddenly felt like I barely knew him. How many brothers and sisters did he have? What were his parents like? How did he meet Grandma? Why did he get into the nursery business?

That day was when my journey to learn about my family history began. I was frightened by the realization that my time was running short and I desperately wanted to learn how Grandpa earned his wrinkles of life. Nearly nine decades of stories and memories were stored in his mind that needed to be documented. Over the next four years, Grandpa and I worked together to unpack and dust off those treasures in an effort to organize and share them with future generations.

Our family history discussions usually took place in the cabin where Grandpa kicked back in his recliner. His lap was always covered in a garnet, plaid blanket and his gray, velcro sneakers peaked out of the end. At all times the table to his right held a large cup of sweet tea and some sort of treat, usually an apple pie from McDonald’s. My job was to ask the probing questions that required him to dig deep into his memory bank and share stories that were different from the ones we had all heard growing up.

Almost immediately I recognized a slight variation in some of his stories and learned quickly that relying solely on memories that had been packed away for 90 plus years was not going to be sufficient. Confirming the facts became a crucial part of our journey. Cemeteries were a great place to verify locations, dates and relationships, so short road trips across the southeastern states became an added dimension to our research project.

The day that I feared finally arrived on Friday, April 8, 2011 when Grandpa went to his heavenly home. Walking away from him at the hospital was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I will always wish I had more time to spend with him, but am so grateful for our many talks and road trips over the past four years.