Why your family story is so precious

I took my eldest daughter to see Santa’s Story in October.

I hadn’t seen the play before and was really looking forward to hearing the story of not only an exceptional Jewish woman but of the grandmother of a precious friend of mine.

Santa’s Story didn’t disappoint; with the ever-elegant Aviva Pelham providing a humorous and heart-wrenching narrative as well as beautiful singing, it was a truly charming production.
My daughter and I were absorbed into a world so removed from the one we know and yet, looking back just a few generations, perhaps not so removed.

Santa Pelham’s story is remarkable and shows a level of resilience that my generation has for the most part not needed to display. It is refreshing to hear the story of a life so affected by the Holocaust but not ended by it.
In fact, at the end of this play, when the generations of surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are mentioned, I felt quite proud and rebellious — just for being alive and thriving, in a theatre with my child by my side.

The one thought that I came away with was how fortunate Santa was to have a family who could recognise the magic in the story she had to tell, and could turn it into an accessible, entertaining and beautiful tribute to her life for us all.
The other thought that immediately followed was a sadness for the number of equally charming stories that will never be known because those children and grandchildren didn’t or couldn’t record them.

There are many of us children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who could stand as testimony to this fact. Instead of a beautiful play to celebrate my family’s history, if forced, I could probably provide a few informational snippets of my great-grandparents and grandparents (think Twitter-length; 140 characters or less); a recipe for Danish herring and a scrapbook of programmes for dance performances.

The fact that we have even these things is precious to me, and yet scratches only the surface of the rich and detailed lives of those who came before me. Like Santa, they also had depth and detail, but it is forever lost to history.
Imagine if your great, great-grandparents had written a diary or could communicate with you directly. What would they tell you? Life Stories, the brainchild of Lisa Chait, preserves memory through interviews with older relatives, to allow them to talk across time to those family members who they will never meet, who are too small now to remember, or who will one day just miss the sound of their voice. I ache to think of how much I would love a video of my late-grandmother just talking about her life. How precious that would be.

So my resolution this month is to increase the knowledge I have of my family. And to talk to my children more about what I remember from my childhood.
I remember my mom going on when I was young about ‘when I was young’ and I rolled my eyes a lot, but I took some of it in.
I’m sure my kids will be thrilled to hear me now harp on about ‘when I was young’ and yet, perhaps one day this will form part of the most precious of their memories.

So go out and talk about your family history, to your parents and grandparents if you have them, but also to your siblings and children. Perhaps if we talk and share and reminisce enough we can all elevate our stories to that of Santa’s.


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