You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Monday, November 10, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past

My parents came to visit last weekend, and this always guarantees the following:

1. My dad fixing something in/on my house. This time it meant hanging the last of the paneled interior doors I bought at Menards, and also drilling holes and attaching a drawer pull on my IKEA filing cabinet.

2. My mom bugging my dad about his mechanical processes enough so that he whispers to me, "Take your mother shopping or something. Get her out of here so I can work in peace."

3. Me making a normal dinner and eating it at the dining room table with cutlery, placemats, and napkins, instead of eating cereal in front of the television while watching Extra and The King of Queens. And then letting my cats sit on my lap and drink the remaining milk out of the bowl.

4. But mostly it means we will be telling stories. It is bizarre what people remember and how you can take one specific event that everyone remembers, and if three people are telling it you will get three different stories. Matt usually sits there with a glazed expression on his face because he's heard all these things before.

But I did learn one new thing last weekend. We were talking about my mother's parents and grandparents and I learned that my great-grandfather had been a cheese maker. I had no idea. I asked what kind of cheese, and she said, "All kinds." I found this fascinating because, well, who doesn't love cheese? Then he started a trucking business and grew it and it became really successful and that it is still in existence today. It is amazing what you learn about family history. So many times you assume things about people but you never ask the questions, and then people pass away and only then do you realize what little you knew of their lives as human beings. Until I asked my father five years ago, I had no idea that my grandfather fought in the Korean war, or that my mother's father had been in Germany after World War II.

Then we started talking about the farm we lived on for a year when we first moved to Onalaska. I was only ten years old and me and my brother and sister spent that summer running wild. We lived in a 150 year-old stone farmhouse, with a cornfield, pond, old chicken coop, an abandoned well, one barn filled with antiques and bats and the other barn filled with Arabian horses that were owned by a neighbor who lived down the road. We were warned not to go into the chicken coop (huge wasps nests) stay away from the well with rotted boards, stay out of the tall grass because of rattlesnakes, don't go near the quaking bog or into the pond, and don't go into the barn to wake up the rabid bats. In short, the place was appropriately dangerous for kids and horribly exciting.

We heard from my parents and the neighbors that the house had first been a stagecoach stop and later part of the Underground Railroad. I knew that the Underground Railroad helped runaway slaves get to Canada and freedom but because I was such a literal kid, I thought it was an actual railroad. Underground. Like a subway.

I also remember thinking that when my mom said things to my dad about, "making ends meet", I assumed she was talking about dinner. End's Meat. I assumed it was probably like Salisbury steak, and I thought Salisbury steak was gross. I was pretty sure I wouldn't like End's Meat. I didn't understand figures of speech. Some days I still have problems with that concept.

So as a kid I remember finding a crawl space in the basement that had a boarded up doorway. A little doorway, like for an elf. I was certain it led to the "railroad" and at one point I had borrowed my dad's hammer and was going to pull out the nailed boards because I was pretty certain that behind it was something resembling Grand Central Station. I would be famous and have my picture in the paper, some 10 year-old kid in Wisconsin finally found the mythical Underground Railroad.

Then my brother said that there might be zombies or dead bodies in there so I didn't. After he said that, I was ABSOLUTELY terrified that there were zombies under the house. Or ghosts at the very least. This was also the summer I started reading Stephen King novels.

So what is the point to this story? I have no idea. Call up your parents and grandparents and ask them about their lives. You'll be glad you did.

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