Family Memory and Identity

Reading Sebald and the emphasis he places on family history as being such a huge part of who a person is, made me think about my own relationship to my parents’ life stories. The narrator of “Max Ferber” is horrified one day when he reads a newspaper article about Ferber and realizes that he had never asked about Ferber’s family. “As I now thought back, it seemed unforgiveable that I should have omitted, or failed, in those Manchester times, to ask Ferber the questions he must surely have expected from me” (Sebald 178). Sebald establishes an essential connection between identity and memory, and there is a sense that Ferber’s identity is inextricably bound to the memories he has of his parents and their lives. This is a part of my identity that I feel I am missing out on, because I hardly know anything about my parents’ lives other than the parts that I have been in.

I know a little bit about my dad’s life growing up, but not from him. The above picture is my grandparents’ front yard, at their house that is only twenty minutes from mine. The almost heavenly light in the background, and the statue of Mary standing among one of the many flowerbeds my grandmother up-keeps, give a good sense of the very loving yet strictly devout Catholic upbringing that my father experienced with his eight siblings. With my dad’s parents as well as four of his brothers living within half an hour of me, I have learned things about my father’s upbringing that I would not have learned otherwise, because he has never told me anything. I remember one day I was driving around with two of my dad’s sisters and they were telling me stories from their childhood, and whenever my dad was in one of their stories they seemed surprised that he had not already told me the story himself.

I know even less about my mother’s family. She has three sisters, but none live close enough to see very often. I have heard a few things about her dad, who died when I was two, but I do not know anything about her mother who died years before I was ever born. I do not even know her name off the top of my head. I have a vague sense that she died of cancer, although I don’t actually remember anyone telling me that.

My parents simply do not talk about their pasts, and have never told me any details of how they met, what their college experiences were like, what they did for fun when they were teenagers. I have very few stories to tell about my parents. Reading Sebald, I wonder if I am missing a part of myself because I have none of my parents’ memories.


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