Clippings: Playing the role of elder statesman

Passing the half-century mark has been full of surprises. There was that first letter from the American Association of Retired Persons, then (to my shock) the availability of a some “senior” discounts. Then, on Sunday, came my first “elder statesman” talk with our daughter, Diane.
Diane interviewed me to get family information for a college report she is doing about her ancestry and how family has shaped her life and interests. She had a wealth of sources on her maternal (Heffernan) side of the family, such as her uncle Gerald, who is a mainstay of the Bristol Historical Society. Gerald and others were able to tell her volumes about that branch of her family, which included proud Irish immigrants, a strong history of military and civic service and succeeding in spite of limited means and some bumps along the way.
So she arrived at our interview with several notebook pages filled with Heffernan family details. I knew it would be a tough act to follow, for several reasons. First, there aren’t too many of us Flowers left in the family garden. My parents both died 20 years ago and my brother lives in the Midwest. My late grandfather Max and his sister Dorothy took a token stab at some genealogical research through the years but not much of it survives to this day; it was collected during the times of loose papers and no computer backup. If I’m lucky, I can look at the back of some of our old family portraits and find some names and dates of birth. The collection of playful, handsome, grizzled and stoic faces stare back at me through dusty, two-dimensional tintype, daguerreotype and Kodachrome prisons.
I tax my mind and tell Diane that our family arrived in the country from Ireland, England and Germany. No big celebrities in our midst, no tycoons or notable politicians. We did have one inventor on my mom’s side — Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper — and, very distantly, some outlaws: The Daltons. Our family fought in several of this nation’s wars, including World War II and the Civil War. I’ve shown her the Silver Star her Grandpa Fred Lambdin earned in the Battle of the Bulge.
Diane jotted down notes as I spoke, with me feeling frustrated I didn’t have more to share with her. I thought to myself, “Thank goodness for (my wife) Dottie’s side of the family.”
But as we finished up, I couldn’t help but think about how Diane would likely find herself on the other side of this interview someday. A son or daughter with a similar assignment will be asking her questions about her parents — were they good people and did they leave a good legacy? Maybe she’ll dust off a copy of this column and give it to her child to add to the record.
And let the record show by age 21, Diane already had a lot of personal history to share sometime down the road.
She’ll be able to tell her child that she was a great daughter with a lot of common sense who rarely got her parents worried, someone who studied hard, made good friends and knew the value of family. She’ll be able to say that she conquered her fears to travel afar, volunteering her time at an orphanage in Jamaica. She’ll also be able to say that she met her future husband there and returned to Vermont to take a full-time course load in college while working 30 hours a week to support a household. All of this by the age of 21.
And the exciting part is that she is just beginning to create fodder for that future interview with that child not yet born.
I hope to be around for a few more chapters.

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