Narratives

The local newspaper carried four obituaries this week, 2 of them were Axel’s cousins, one from his father’s side and the other from his mother’s side. Other people around us are departing (obiting). We, and may be Axel more than me, have entered that phase of life where the US average life expectancy (78.4) is within view, within his decade. In Holland it is in the next decade (81.7).  Yet I have lost several (male) friends in Holland who died in their mid-60s. all of one cancer or another. Axel’s cousins died because their bodies were used up. Both had surpassed the average life expectancy, one by 4 years and the other by 14 years.

When family members die you realize you didn’t collect all the stories. At funeral receptions, like the one we had today, there are still a few members left of the old guard and Axel took advantage of that. He filled his pockets with stories. This included some stories that had been pushed under the rug decades ago, out of wedlock children, abandonment and possibly the existence of a parallel family on the other coast.

Now some of those stories are coming to the surface thanks to DNA companies that, for a fee, tell you were your ancestors came from. During the reception I sat at a table with a Greek woman. She grew up in Greece, daughter of Greek parents. She had light skin, reddish hair and freckles. She was the only one in her school of 400 kids that looked a bit different. She wanted to fit in, as most kids do, and tried to rub her freckles off her face when summer arrived and the freckles became more prominent. No one in her family could quite explain them.

Decades later, in the US, her daughter gave her a National Geographic DNA test kit. It provided the long sought answer: 75% of her DNA comes from northern Europe. A Viking? An errant Scotsman? Her parents and grandparents are all gone and there is no way to find out the story. Oh the things our forefathers and mothers did and never disclosed, those things that were too shameful.

Axel spoke at the service and alluded to those hidden or lost stories, not just the ones that would have made our ancestors blush, but also the funny and poignant ones. He appealed to everyone to collect them before they are taken into the grave. There was much collecting during the reception.

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