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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gray Matter: A holiday gift

Monday, January 15, 2007

Once again I am writing about a favorite author.  This time it is Mitch Albom. 

His first novel, Tuesdays with Morrie, was a great book.  His next, Five People You Meet In Heaven, was equally fine.  Now his latest, For One More Day, is on my must-read list.  But it's not his role as novelist I'm writing about, for Albom is also a newspaper columnist.  In a recent piece he made a suggestion for  the perfect holiday gift, and it echoes a theme you've heard me promote.  As the Christmas season is over I may sound a bit late, but there is always next year, as sports fans love to say.

Because of its relationship to the theme of his book,  Albom kept encouraging people he met on his book tour to sit down with their oldest living relatives and start asking questions -- "ask about those who came before them, where they were born, how they lived, what they looked like, their favorite expressions, the food they cooked, they jobs they held, the quarters they lived in."

Finally, one night, he realized how hypocritical he was being, for he had never done this himself.  As a result, he flew home, sat his mother down on a couch and said, "Let's start from the beginning.  As far back as you can remember."

He and both of his parents plunged into several hours of memories. Following this, he said, he'd "found out things I never knew… this uncle was the brother of that aunt …relatives I thought of as close kin were only related through marriage.  In short, I got a crash course in our family tree.  The branches made sense.  The leaves came alive."  When it was completed he realized he had the "2006 version of a dusty book in an attic library."

So he encourages his readers to get out the tape recorder or the yellow pad.  Clear aside a few empty hours.  Put out a pot of coffee -- maybe a few cookies to get the brain cells going.  In other words, collect the stories for the best possible Holiday gift.

Albom says, "There are few things sadder than a child asking questions about Grandpa or Aunt May and the parents wishing someone were still alive who could give the answer.  We should never let that happen."

I totally agree, although I am afraid it is not as  simple as he makes it sound.

In many cases, it may take patient searching beyond just one source.  It is often necessary to find other relatives who hold additional parts of the story.  It may take time and diligence to put all of the pieces together, for that  reason I urge you to start soon, aiming for Holidays 2007. 

As Mitch Albom concludes, "It's as classic as a red necktie.  As timeless as a diamond.  It's the best gift I can think of: Find out who you are."

Good Luck and Happy New Year !