When I lived in Nevada, there was a flood that washed away entire lives. Whole houses and households were destroyed. Everyday life was drowned.
I spoke to a woman, an engineering professor at a university, who lost most of her possessions. All of her professorial files containing years of research, data, knowledge, were gone. So were her clothing, her dishes, her pictures–everything.
Her biggest heartbreak, however, was the loss of her family history. Her late mother had collected anecdotes over the years; she wrote some, while family members added others. The stories grew 250 pages, and this engineer, with her logical bent, kept her sentimental possession in a drawer in her nightstand so it would be beside her while she slept.
Her mother had died a few years before the flood; all the aunts and uncles had passed on also. Their stories were in the nightstand, though, still a family. Ancestry on paper, ever present like a light on in the hall.
The flood took the nightstand with the rest of the possessions. The rest of the possessions the engineer could live without. â€œThe river could have my clothes,â€ she said.
The loss of her motherâ€™s stories was too much to bear. She prayed.
She asked for her motherâ€™s handwriting back.
â€œAnd the river gave it back,â€ she said.
More than a month after the flood, a rancher found the nightstand drawer stuck in his barbwire fence six miles downstream. And in the drawer were the stories that her mother wrote. Her motherâ€™s handwriting, soaked and sodden, but still there.
At times we feel frustrated, trying to write family history. At times we wonder why weâ€™re even working on the project. At those times, remember this.
Our stories can survive us. Our stories can survive anything. Our families live forever in our stories. Write them down, write them down.
D.G. Fulford is the bestselling author of the classic To Our Childrenâ€™s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come, which she wrote with her brother, Bob Greene; Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years with Mom, written with her mother, Phyllis Greene, and Things Iâ€™d Love You to Know: A Journal for Mothers and Daughters will be published in April by Voice, an imprint of Hyperion. She is also cofounder of therememberingsite.org that helps people tell their life story.