A lifetime of events attends every one of us. A seven year old has forgotten more than he already knows. And the details will keep flooding in. Especially as modern people. (And by ‘modern’ we perceive anyone who grew up with a television, let alone the phone or the electric engine.) Once TV became a regularity, a norm, most humans within its influence were treated to more imagery in a year than their great elders had seen in a lifetime. Especially if such ancestors were predominantly sedentary. Yes, we speak not of the Great Trek, nor of Westward Ho, nor of The Diaspora, nor or the Australian Immigrant. We speak of the fact that the human brain generally receives more nowadays in a short space of time than it ever did before in history. The sheer volume of information, availability of information, and bombardment of media is... inescapable.
Yet we call ourselves silly when we forget things.
M’Lady Nancy must have a collection that comprises several thousand items pertaining to her family. She is The Great Record Keeper. She is the Maven. Malcolm Gladwell, in ‘The Tipping Point’ describes mavens as intense gatherers of information. Doon Wilkins, in ‘Stumbling Toward Enlightenment’ describes a ‘maven’ synonymously with ‘a connector’, as in one who shares information. Sally tells the maven she needs a plumber. The maven meets a Dennis, who knows a plumber, and therefore both Dennis, the plumber, and Sally end up... well, connected!
The finer points of being ‘a Maven’ are not necessary here. Suffice to say it is intended as a great compliment. And the immediacy of the sheer volume of information that might have otherwise needed cogency, coherence, chronology, and co-ordination is not a problem either. M’Lady has neatly labeled bundles, stacks of letters, scores and scores of photo albums, and folder upon folder of the two families that have become one through the advents of history. And the span is just over 100 years. It is not hoarding; it is appreciation. She has no ‘kitsch’. Nor is the stuff so much sentimentality; it is archival. Everything tells a story. The photo of the dead dog, the places one has lived, the people one has met, the events one attended, and the certificates and awards received. By 60 or even less most of us have lost track, thrown the stuff out! M’Lady, with over 90 years of being The Family Record Keeper, has almost every single letter written by or to anyone with whom she has been in contact, even the correspondence of family members to each other. But there is now no longer the sense of continuity. All those awards of others. All those accolades. The joys. The Great War. All the pain and the heartache too. Fifteen major persons in her family life. Thirteen dead. Only two daughters remain, each at 60+. And M’Lady has stored all of the significant history, made several attempts to find someone to make something tangible of it, but then began to despair. The rest of her extended family, her grandchildren, and great grandchildren too, have lives of their own. Some connections faded. It all was destined for the...
There is something magical in the handling of a document signed by William Churchill. There is something privileged in holding an invitation to George the Sixth’s Coronation. And there is something deeply honored in reading the most personal letters of a family steeped in the wrestle with the extraordinary exigencies on their most unusual lives. But their history might have gone unpublished after the next ‘dropping off the perch’. Except that you too now read about it. Yes?