Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 11, 2010

Mapping Our Memories

Frankfurt, Germany en route to Houston, Texas | 10 May 2010

There is a relationship between geography and memory — between places and the things that happen at those places. For the past ten days I have been on a journey to associate memories with a map – a sentimental journey to learn more about my father by revisiting some of the places where he walked almost sixty-years ago. And what an amazing experience it has been. I could never have imagined what this trip would mean to my Dad and I certainly underestimated what it would mean to me. I have learned about the power of returning to the places of our past. Something very good happened as Dad revisited the places of his past. At every place we visited, the memories that still live there recognized him. It’s as though they had been waiting and watching for Dad to return. And when they saw him, they rushed forward like old friends to embrace him and to welcome him back. Dad’s reunion with his memories brought smiles, laughter, sentimental tears, and pensive silence.

Over the past ten days, I have also learned about the value of unearthing memories buried deep beneath the strata of our years. I am referring to the simple and ordinary day-to-day kind of things that are easily covered up by the bigger and more important happenings of our lives. Ordinary things like, “That reminds me of a song your Mother liked,” or “Your Uncle Phil was there to meet me when I arrived in New York Harbor.” These are just simple little details that might be considered the insignificant minutia of memories. But, these are the kind of intimate little details I am interested in. To know that my Mother loved a song because it reminded her of her fiancé serving overseas tells me something important about my Mom. To know that my Uncle Phil traveled from Washington DC to meet his younger brother tells me something important about the relationship between my Dad and his brother.

Our 1793-kilometer Germany Road Trip

I stated in an earlier post that much of our family history never makes it from one generation to the next. For whatever reason, many of the stories and memories that are pregnant with our own history never give birth. Unless we act intentionally to unearth and preserve our own family history, we will lose it forever. I am glad that Paul and I took Dad to Germany. Our 1793-kilometer road trip was an amazing adventure into the past that has given us greater insight into the present. And because we accompanied Dad on this adventure, we have added our own memories and stories to his. Each of the places on the map is now a place where our own memories will live alongside Dad’s memories. Our journey started in Frankfurt and included visits to (1) Rothenburg, (2) the Dachau Concentration Camp, (3) Munich, (4) Füssen, (5) Oberammergau, (6) Sonthofen, (7) Triberg, (8) Heidelberg, (9) Bitburg and Spangdahlem, and (10) Mainz and Wiesbaden.

Dad with Crew Chiefs on flight home

We added one final memory on our flight home from Frankfurt to Houston. When I heard one of three young men seated behind us address a fourth man as Colonel, I turned and initiated a conversation. These men serve with the Air Force and were returning to their base in California. I told them about our trip to Germany and that Dad had served as the fist crew chief at Spangdahlem Air Force Base. One of the men said, “Sir, the three of us serve as crew chiefs.” And then, one of them took Dad’s hand and placed one of the special crew chief coins in his hand and thanked Dad for his service. It was a special moment for these men whose service in the Air Force is separated by sixty years. The military brotherhood is indeed strong. I appreciate the kindness and encouragement that these young men extended to my Dad on the flight home.

If you have not already done so, I hope that you will take some intentional steps to record your family’s history and to map your family’s memories. Here are a few suggestions for mapping your family memories:

Explore | Discover the association between your family’s history and places on the map. Mark those places on a map to see where God has led your family. If possible, visit those places with a family member who can introduce you to the memories that live there.

Inquire | Interview older family members. Ask them lots of questions and take lots of notes. Leave a written legacy for the next generation. My grandfather took time to journal much of our family history. In addition, he recorded snippets of every day family happenings in the fly leafs of books in his library. These are a treasure to our family.

Display | Display old family photos alongside current family photos throughout your home. Talk to your kids about the people in the photos. If you have a childhood photo of a grandparent, display it alongside a photo of your kids.

Read | Ask parents and grandparents about any family letters that are stored away. Ask permission to make photocopies of these letters and share copies with your family. Perhaps you can frame a letter alongside a photo. One cherished piece framed on the wall of my parents home is of telegrams they exchanged on a Valentine’s Day when Dad was overseas.

Celebrate | Use holidays as occasions for older family members to share memories with younger family members. Ask them to share about how they celebrated holidays and birthdays when they were young.


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