My grandfather is dying. His mother is turning 100 next month. Only in the last couple of years, her memory started to go and was put in a nursing home. I was thinking about all of this last night, and how when someone lives to be 100 and their mind slips away, it's not the same kind of mourning.
I was talking to my dad about how I've been watching that Prohibition documentary on PBS, and while I watch, I feel like I can see my great-grandmother in the old footage. She would have been a teenager during the 20s. It occurred to me that because of her, the 1920s feels like as far back in time as I can really get a hold of. The 30s, 40s, and 50s, too, I wasn't alive of course, but I can imagine what they must have been like because I can close my eyes and see myself as a little kid at a family clambake, with all the old people around, I can hear their Ohio accents, and the sound of my grandfather playing the organ. I can see the decor in their houses, the bowl of soft mints, the offered bowl of cheap pretzels. I can imagine the joking around. And the alcohol. It might have been the 1980s, it might have been Florida instead of Ohio, but I think those dim memories probably had the same atmosphere as what I see in old pictures.
I remember it, but it's gone now. Gatherings aren't the same. They don't happen as often, and when they do, the mood isn't the same. The old people of my childhood have gone, and now my grandparents, who were not really that old when I was born, are now the old people. I was never that close to my dad's parents or my great-grandmother, really, not enough to have a ton of personal memories of them, but I do feel really sad for the whole atmosphere of their lives passing on.
When you're a kid you take it for granted, you have no sense of history. You don't ask questions, so you only get family stories if someone volunteers them. I think I'll always wish I knew more about my relatives, as they go. But a part of me still knows a time and place I never lived through, because it swirled around me when I was just a little girl.
But, I miss it.