Ask, and You Shall Receive

April 3, 2019

His piano.

That’s my father’s most treasured possession.

I would have guessed the answer, but now I know for sure, because my niece recently embarked on a project involving all of our family members submitting a single written question to Dad.

Conversation always flowed freely in my childhood home about matters ranging from small to large, pragmatic to hypothetical, mundane to profound. Mealtimes were liberally seasoned with musings about history, politics, social justice and the arts, not in a pretentious way, but because these were the matters that interested my parents, so my four siblings and I were brought along for the ride. Evening chatter on the front-porch swing or during walks around the block often turned philosophical. My family also valued the written word, so few notes or cards were ever sparse on substance or sentiment. And, to varying degrees, we’ve written songs, poems, essays and books over the years, accruing a veritable treasure trove of family archives.

In a nutshell, not much in my family has gone unsaid or unwritten.

Still, my niece’s idea was a masterstroke. When my mother died at 91, we all yearned for the chance to ask just one more question, to unlock just one more memory, to jostle free just one more precious pearl of wisdom from a life well lived. Dad is well into his 90s, so the clock was ticking on our ability to glean his insights. Sure, there are the stories he’s shared a thousand times, the anecdotes we know like the back of our hand, but what didn’t we know? Or what did we assume we knew without really being sure?

Beth’s project helped uncover these gems.

The premise was simple: Would every family member email a single question to her, which she would then share with her grandfather to ponder and answer at his leisure?

How fun and enlightening this turned out to be. As is true of our conversational meanderings, the questions ran the gamut from prosaic to poetic, but all the answers were priceless. How did dad feel when he held his firstborn in his arms for the first time? What was one of his earliest childhood memories? What childhood possession did he value the most? What era most shaped his political views? What parenting advice would he give his grandchildren as they begin raising their own families?

I read a blog recently from a man with glioblastoma who asked readers to share what questions they wish hadn’t gone unasked before a loved one passed away. He wants to know what answers to share with his young children before he’s no longer around to ask. It’s a heartbreaking question, and a daunting one because, well, there’s just so much to know.

But that’s all the more reason to keep the questions flowing, whether a loved one’s future on earth can be measured in days, weeks, months or years.

All I can say is that I’m really grateful I can picture Dad’s family gathering around a borrowed radio in 1923 and passing the earphones from one person to the next so they could hear their first broadcast on WSB, the Voice of the South.

Good stuff.

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© 2019 Christine Hurley Deriso