Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff tells the story of why combat pilots of the Kennedy-era were willing, indeed anxious, to take on the risks of space flight. In interviewing the principals, Wolfe observes that by looking at their home furnishings, a visitor could tell where the aviators had been stationed.
Possibly because we moved sixteen times in my career as a U.S. Navy dentist, my wife seized on this factoid to explain why we did not have a Southwest living room or a dining room with a New England Antique motif. What we did have was a wall unit that we could configure to almost any space. Proudly displayed on it were our vinyl records (great covers), military memorabilia, and a continually increasing array of souvenirs from our tours.
These keepsakes were affordable, but they were not shabby. Early assignments to San Diego, the Philippine Islands, and New England allowed us to collect some unique but affordable items from the very beginning of our lives together. These were augmented by what we individually brought to our marriage. But they would have met Wolfe’s criteria as defining where we had been. More importantly, they defined who we were and who we were becoming – two very different individuals finding common ground, common experiences and common possessions to become a unique, definable, couple.
Since my retirement from the military, we have remained in the same house for an extended period, and the wall unit has developed a shelf-by-shelf identity. As I look at it, I find myself remembering where each piece came from and the stories that surround it. I wonder if my children and grandchildren will have similar memories and objects to reflect on when they are my age.
I wonder if I can help them gain that.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Looking at the Wall from Left to Right.....................1
Chapter 2: The Music............................................................15
We all have times in our lives when we want to reconstruct a life or a portion of a life by assembling photographs. It might be a reunion, or a wedding, retirement, or God forbid, a funeral. Having some order would not only make that task easier, but probably would make the collection more meaningful.
Why not get your children involved in the process from the start? Collecting and labeling photographs on a regular basis makes sense. It also helps children understand why pictures are taken in the first place in this age of hundreds of digital images chronicling nothing. Here are some suggestions:
Begin when children are able to understand intervals—for instance, when they look forward to “my next birthday” or “next Christmas.” For some children, this may be age five or so. For others, particularly second children and their younger siblings, it may be as early as age three.
*Suggest that on a specific annual date; (e.g. that birthday or New Year’s), that family members choose a picture that represents the most important thing(s) that happened that year. When everyone has chosen their pictures, label them with a subject and date, and place them in a special box. *You will quickly have a chronicle of friends and events that might otherwise escape memory. You will also probably revisit previous years’ photographs, renewing those occasions in the child’s mind. Serendipitous of this is that parents will tend to treat second and subsequent children like first-borns with photographs of their “firsts”. * As the tradition grows, you will find a natural curiosity for identifying what you did when you were that age, or what Grandpa and Grandma did. Without much effort, your children will develop a respect and curiosity for their ancestors. If you will, they will build a heritage which they can then harness.
Harnessing a Heritage by D. E. FitzGerald is essentially a memoir with two twists. First, it is not chronological but rather topical, using items on a wall unit as recollections of events in the life of a man who attended five colleges or universities, spent 25 years in the U.S. Navy and Marines, completed 20 years as a Dentist in the corporate world, had first-hand experiences in the Beat Generation and has avocations in theater and literature.
Second, each shelf or chapter is followed by a “How To” page with suggestions on how the reader may influence children or grandchildren in developing and having a greater appreciation for their heritage: harnessing their heritage to create a richer life.