Monday, November 05, 2012
This decaying picture comes from a photo album my mother made for me about 15 years ago. Some of the subjects are identified but many are not. On the right are my father's parents, Helen and Ed Yaryan, and her sister, I think, is on the left. It was taken in the early years of the 20th century. I was taught about my family by my mother, who died 10 years ago, and by my father's older sister, my Aunt Margaret, who's been gone even longer. That generation cared about lineage and were keepers of the flame of family, pasting photos in albums and noting names, making sure the past was kept in memory. My children seem to have little interest in their ancestors.
I'm sure there are many people with worse stories than mine about broken families and lost lineages. After all, I am a product of privilege, middle class and white. Here in Thailand, as a farang I am considered "Hi-So" and can wander the halls of the expensive supermalls without embarrassment (poor Thais are very shy about intruding into the shopping palaces of the upper classes). Much of my experience with family has been disappointing, and I accept my share of responsibility. Not that there weren't good years, the 1950s out west, the late 1960s in southern California, and the last years of the 21st century in northern California. But it mostly ended badly with bruised feelings and damaged egos. Certainly I shared the experiences of my parents whose relationship with their siblings was often rocky. They seemed to care more about the ties that bind, however, as my mother's loving construction of the photo album shows. She would be very pleased to know I've made contact with her brother's long lost family.
They say your family has to take you in when no one else will, but that's not particularly true in the west where children are encouraged to be independent of their parents, and old folks are shuffled off to a retirement or nursing home. Here in Asia, family is worshipped and elders are respected even when they don't deserve it. I've become "Papa" in Nan's family and I believe they will care for me lovingly whenever the time comes that I no longer can do it all myself. Of course there are benefits in having a foreign son-in-law, but these are calculations that take place on both sides. It's sad that the story I've told here about my family, sketchy as it is and no doubt full of errors, will have no audience in the future.