Why is it that we spend most of our lives with our parents and relatives without really knowing who they are and what they did? In ancient times, families lived together throughout their lives. The family was the basis of the tribe, and many tribes or clans were borne out of this family system. The day to day chores and experiences were shared and the knowledge gained was pooled for all to know. And in those days there would always be one member of the family or tribe who would be given the task of storyteller.
A storyteller wasn't just someone who could tell a good tale. A storyteller was often the person to whom others would tell their tale. What was important then wasn't just the passing of time listening to some exciting story of a hunt, it was the passing on from generation to generation of important events. Who did what, when. How did that happen and why. Where did we come from.
Today, we are surrounded with a multitude of recording processes. From the simple pen and ink to computers, videocameras, DVD's, CD's and photographs. Why is it then, that we now know least about ourselves than our ancesters did without any of these things?
Being something of a storyteller myself, or at least being interested enough in storytelling to make me wonder, I often spent time talking to my mum and dad (who is in actual fact my step-father, but I think of him as my dad) about their past. It can be quite surprising what you can find out if you only take time to ask and listen. People are like islands, they can appear to be isolated and lonely, but the waves that crash against their shores are raised by the winds that blow thousands of miles away. And the winds that blow across these islands raise waves that crash ashore elsewhere. Each has an effect on the rest, and each feels the effect of others.
The following stories were all told to me by either my mother or father. I cannot vouch for their authenticity, but I have always believed them.
My mother was born in Egypt in the 1930s (she never told me the true date, and she benefited in her secrecy by having a birth certificate in Arabic). She lived most of her early life in a suburb of Cairo. She worked in a bank and her family was realtively well off. The most distant relative my mother can remember was Alfred Attar.
Alfred Attar married Jacqueline, whose nickname was Jacobina. His brother, Edwardo, married Jacqueline's sister, Joanna. Two brothers marrying two sisters. My mother's middle name is Jacqueline, which is why my mother remembers her.
One of Alfred and Jacqueline's daughters, Adeline, married an Englishman named Herbert Clark. His story is of interest because his parents were musicians. When Herbert was a child, they often left him in the care of friends when they went away on tour or on far off engagements. They also went on several sea voyages providing entertainment on cruise ships. On one such occasion, Herbert was left with a friend called Madam Clark. Unfortunately, this was one cruise from which they would not return. As a result, Madam Clark adopted Herbert and gave him her name. Can you guess which ship his parents were musicians on?
One of Adeline and Herbert's sons, Tony, later died in a car crash after having a row with his wife. It just proves that you should never drive when you're angry, and that you should never part on bad terms. You never can tell. Another son, Bobbie, had two sons of his own, but never married their mother.
My grandmother, Antoinette Attar, married Jacque Solimon, a French Syrian. Jacque's youngest brother was bitten by a snake when he was twenty years old and died. His sister, Suzanne, married a Greek man called Labebe. My mother remembers Suzanne very fondly. She described her as being a very beautiful and kind woman.
Suzanne's husband, Labebe, was a very mean man who was never short of money but was always very tight and strict. When their daughter, Horria wanted to marry the son of Lilly, who was Suzanne's sister, Labebe didn't agree to the marriage. It wasn't just because they were cousins, although this in itself was a good reason, no it was because he didn't want to have to spend any money on the wedding and the dowry. Suzanne was very upset. She even sold her jewellery to get them the money. But when she gave it to Labebe to pay for the wedding and everything, he refused. Instead he put it in his account and refused to give in despite his wife's pleading. In despair, Suzanne killed herself.
In the end it all seemed to be for nothing. Horria eventually married someone else called Arriane, and her sons went to America. Labebe himself remarried.
At around about this time, the family of my step-father were setting up a family business in Bolton in England. Alfred, George, and Herbert Wareing started Wareing Brothers Paints in Bolton. Also known for putty, varnish, and other associated products. They exported a lot of their products to the Isle of Man.
Herbert Wareing was married to Nellie, but had a daughter with another woman. It was a big scandal at the time. When he died, he left half his money to his wife, and half to his daughter.
My dad is now 76, and his earliest memories are of his mother, Elizabeth. Her father was Frank Briddon. Frank married two sisters. The first sister died giving birth to Elizabeth. Frank later married the second sister who then brought up Elizabeth as her own. One man marrying two sisters.
My dad was named after his uncle Herbert. He spent the last years of the war on a small island in the Pacific. He was a radio operator in the Royal Navy who did most of his work in code. He is one of the few people I know who has travelled around the world and been through both the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal.
Of my true father's family, the story that comes to mind is of my grandparents. They fell in love before the beginning of the First World War, but before they could marry, my grandfather joined up and went to France. I don't know exactly which battles he fought in, or when the fateful day occurred. Simply this: A grenade came into the trench and my grandfather picked it up and threw it back. Unfortunately, it exploded almost as soon as he had thrown it. The blast left him lying at the bottom of the trench for several days. I remember him as a big man. Blind, his face and hand pock-marked with the impacts of shrapnel, and with no hair on his body. They said the hair-loss was due to the shock and his time in the trench before he was found. It was when he first came back in this broken state that he and my grandmother were married. They never parted.
These stories are only brushing the surface. They are a taste of the knowledge and information about life and history that lives in all of us. We are like sponges, soaking up the events going on around us just as we absorb the things that effect us directly. There are personal tragedies as well as global ones. Even now, there is a relative you know who is still bitter over some lost love, or one who once did enormous and heroic feats in times of war or disaster. The only thing is that these events don't always show on the outside. The very person with the most shocking tale to tell may be the one you least suspect. You see them at family occasions, at Christmas or Thanksgiving, at weddings, or at funerals. They remain a distant uncle or aunty you were always told to write to when you were younger. You dismiss them, but oh, what a life they have had, what scenes they have seen, what stories they could tell.
Today, life is fast, exciting and fun. We have no time to look at the past. Everything is now. But that is as it always has been. Each generation frowns on the one before it, each wants to live for now and believes that everything is new. To the individual it is new, but to everyone else it's just the same old thing in a new package.
But when a person dies, it's like history evaporating. All that knowledge, all that living and learning, just disappears. Our
ancestors would have never let that happen, to them life was more precious. So it should be with us. Don't let history slip away. Talk, listen and
learn about life by those who know, by those who have already lived.
There is a post script to this story. My father died at the end of September in 2002. He succumbed
to bowel cancer. Like a true English gentleman during his illness he never complained, never moaned and never became a burden.
In fact it was as if he denied he was actually ill. By the time they operated on him the tumour had burst. He was already
extremely thin and he died of heart failure two days later. He was 77.
My father grew up and was educated in the traditional English school made famous by such stories as "Tom Brown's Schooldays"
or "Goodbye Mr Chips". He travelled the world during the second World War and saw much. When he died all those memories and
experiences went with him.
Don't waste the time you have.
My father grew up and was educated in the traditional English school made famous by such stories as "Tom Brown's Schooldays" or "Goodbye Mr Chips". He travelled the world during the second World War and saw much. When he died all those memories and experiences went with him.
Don't waste the time you have.