Thursday, November 1, 2012

Memory keepers; surviving Sandy

It's now been about three whole days since we lost power when Hurricane Sandy hit. I consider myself lucky. I live on Long Island and I have no lights, no hot water, no working stove or fridge, and no heat, but I have a roof over my head and a dry room/bed to sleep in. It's giving me a little taste of how people used to live before all these things became standard in the First World. I guess you can't miss what you never had, but when it's 8 p.m. and there's nothing to do except play shadow puppets with a flashlight and I'm not ready for bed yet and I haven't had a hot shower in two days, it definitely makes me appreciate the lives our ancestors led.

But many people in my vicinity didn't fare as well. My father and grandmother live in Freeport, on the South Shore of Long Island, the village my ancestors have lived in for 350 years. They're right on the water, and at the height of the storm, there was six feet of water in the street and more than two feet of water in my grandmother's apartment. She has been staying in a rehab facility following a hospitalization, so she was safe, but my grandmother is my family's genealogy matriarch - she is 97 years old and the keeper of our family's memories - our stories, our documents, our photos. My father is very family history minded as well, so as the water was rising, he and my siblings rescued my grandmother's hope chest and all her photo albums. My brother told me yesterday though that as they were tearing up her destroyed carpet, they found more photos, old photos, that had been submerged in the storm surge. I haven't seen them, but I assume they're probably destroyed. And while I'm grateful my grandmother is okay, and my father and siblings are okay, and most of my grandmother's photos *were* saved, while I know that these are the important things, I'm a little heartbroken over the loss of these other photos. All over Facebook there are similar stories, though, of people having to throw out all their precious memories - photo albums, furniture, other possessions that have been passed down or may have belonged to a dearly departed relative. People lost everything. Not just all their memories - but everything.

But that's the way the story goes. We can't save everything. Records are lost in flood or fire, things that are meaningful to one person are meaningless to another and are thrown away, things erode and fade with the passage of time - life happens. All we can do is hold on to our loved ones while we can. All we can do is pass on what we can, keep telling our family stories from one person to the next, one generation to the next, be memory keepers...all we can do is the best we can.

Thoughts and prayers with everyone else affected by Hurricane Sandy - hope your memories are safe, but more importantly, that your family and loved ones are safe!

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