If you could tell your own story…

This post is in response to The Daily Post’s daily prompt: Generation.

My grandfather (left) with an unidentified friend. Date unknown, but most likely about 1915.

I look at your face in the photograph. You and a friend – young men with your lives ahead of you. I see my mother’s mouth. The eyes could be any of my nephews’ and the nose is definitely my brother’s (before it was altered by an unfortunate encounter with concrete when he was a teen.)

I have heard the stories. You were a drinker and a philanderer. Today you’d be called a deadbeat dad, leaving your wife with four children in an era when being a single mother was even harder than it is today.

Researching our family history, I reached a dead end with your father. He is there in the records, and then he is not. Did you learn how to be a father (or should I say how not to be a father) from him?

It doesn’t really matter. Your children managed to break the cycle by choosing partners who stayed. I, along with your other grandchildren, are beneficiaries of their stability and long marriages. You were long gone by the time we arrived, so there was no opportunity for you to revise your narrative in person.

I would be willing to bet that when the photographer’s flashbulb sealed this moment in time, you weren’t thinking of what future generations of your family would say about you. Maybe you wouldn’t have cared. Maybe you would think it better to have stories to tell, even if unpleasant, than to lead a life so boring that there was nothing of interest to say.

I know that the tales are distorted by time, fading memories, and the biases of the storytellers. Like the view of my feet through a foot of water at the beach – they are bent, wavering, and partially buried. Were they unfairly embellished by the holder of a grudge? Or perhaps they were glossed over and cleaned up for our innocent, impressionable ears?

Who were you, really? Yes, I’ve heard the stories, but all lives have more than one story to tell.