Dang Near Naked Tree...
...that handsome, white-haired gentleman on the left.
He acquired an interest in family history at the tender age of 80! Eighty for cryin' out loud! He was retired then, and living in Florida with our mother who was canonized prior to her death just for putting up with him for over 60 years.
During each visit to my home away from home, dad found an opportunity to haul out the family albums and order me chair-side. Together we'd study each photograph, noting the physical similarities from one generation to the next; remarking on what strikingly handsome folks these Tennessee Murrays produced (present company included). Taped beneath each photo was a name, sometimes a date. He'd tap on the picture, then turn to me and fight to recall bits and pieces of the life he'd captured between the pages of his book. What he didn't know, together we imagined. The process of speculation alone often produced the kind of gut-wrenching laughter that made one's stomach ache for hours. It was a ritual I came to cherish, more for the comraderie than the wealth of information my father was struggling to convey.
And then he died. Fathers do that, whether we want them to or not. And there were all these albums; all these pictures that never made it into the albums; all these obits and crumpled clippings, yellowed with age; these mounds of gnarled notes written in a kind of illegible scrawl that only God could decipher.
I brought these pieces of my father's life home with me after his death; not because I had the slightest interest in genealogy. I couldn't even spell the word! I brought them home because...well, because they were my father's; because I adored him and knew his affection was equally as blind. Everyone should have at least one someone about whom it can be said: I was the sunshine of his life, you know.
I became, in essence, the self-appointed keeper of my father's "kingdom". I stored the albums beneath my bed for almost three years, next to two others he'd laboriously put together for me. He'd constructed them at a time when his eyesight was so poor he often reached for the electric hand warmer to turn on the TV set, (and the TV remote to mute and/or turn off my mother!).
I'd drag out the albums once a week, and try to absorb all I'd lost while I was busy becoming a grown up and living my life, and he was busy becoming a kid again and reconstructing his. I'm not sure when I realized their significance, or at what point this collection of tattered papers and time-worn photographs became more than just an old man's memories. But what was once a casual curiosity about a father's history has blossomed into a magnificent obsession. My mother provided the wings; my father willed me the roots.
It is a gift he dearly yearned to give to his children. And though I may not present it as graciously or well, (dang dad!), at least they'll be able to read my writing!