stories past


It’s my mother’s birthday this week.

That means that 69 years ago my grandmother gave birth to my mother, and 95 years ago my great-grandmother gave birth to my grandmother. They are who I come from.

I come from a lineage of women, whom I am often curious about, though not always consciously. There is a photograph on my refrigerator of my great-grandmother holding up a huge salmon from a fishing derby. I pass by her beaming face every day. My grandmother is now passed, yet she will visit me in my dreams, appearing in the times when I need certain reminders. And though I no longer live with my mother, I see her more and more through me. There was a photo recently taken of me with my niece and when I look at it I don’t recognize myself, but I see my mother’s face. I reflect my mother when I am counting out exact change at the register, in the way I tell stories, and by how I clean our bathroom. I’d like to say I see her in the way I garden and make spaghetti, but there is still time for that to evolve.

Someone told me once they can hear my ancestors in my voice. It made me pause for quite some time. There is a mysterious truth to the way we carry the voices and the stories of those who came before us. I wonder about the sounds, flavors, sights, and experiences that I find disgust or take joy in - were these passed along generation to generation? What is passed along anyways? Untold stories? Some of us have heard the stories of our ancestors time and time again, and yet some of us hold untold stories from the past. They’re given to us, unresolved and hidden, but not unnoticed. They’re passed on in the form of generational trauma, where the ancestral memories of pain and hardship awaken in us to be processed and dealt with. What are these stories? Perhaps of loss, tragedy, survival, anxiety, addiction, broken relationships. Perhaps of perseverance, strength, resilience, doggedness, determination, creativity.

I had a set of Matryoshka dolls when I was a little girl. I think they even used to belong to my mother when she was young. When I think about the women in my lineage, the image of these dolls come to mind. I picture myself as the doll in the middle, embraced by those before me. The image brings a sense of comfort, knowing that these women, these mothers, all came before me and made their way through this world. They gathered wisdom and strength and passed it along to their daughters. The daughters are the next tellers of the stories.

What stories are you carrying that need to be told?

I am the product of all the ancestors getting together and deciding these stories need to be told.
— Rupi Kaur, The Sun and Her Flowers
Alissa Swank