Is who we were who we are today?
I ran across a scrap book I assembled several years ago showing my life ‘before’ today. I lived in a different town, had different friends, had a different career, looked different. But, am I different than I was?
I first asked this question two years ago when my sister and I cleaned out decades of ‘stuff’ from my stepmother’s closets, attic, drawers, and other crevices packed with mementoes that only she could recall their importance.
It has provided interesting insights to this woman who I knew for 50 years. She was 37 when I first met her, and her life before that time was unknown to me. It was not until I began to rummage through old scrapbooks buried under years of living that I learned more about her.
For instance, she toured with the USO during World War II as a singer. Newspaper articles described her voice as ‘intimate’ and ‘longing’ as she crooned the old time favorites that were popular to the service men and women of the day.
Following the war she sang in several musicals and operas in her hometown of Dallas, collecting autographed pictures of the musicians who starred in the shows.
I am unfamiliar with most of these actresses and actors, but the photographs seem to indicate they were ‘star’ quality, reflecting the glamour of the 1940’s.
By the time I met Jane, her voice had been altered by years of smoking, and her life had taken a different path away from the lights and sounds of acting. I do remember her telling me about how as a child she would go to the movies almost daily, soaking up the dramas played out on the big screen.
In fact, we can tell which major starlet she was enacting when she wanted to make a point. Perhaps it was Rita Hayworth, or Deborah Kerr, Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Astor, or Veronica Lake. Many of these movie stars are long forgotten, but not in Jane’s mind. She learned their poses, their gestures, their roles, and she portrayed them until the day she died.
It is amazing what we don’t know about people who we think we know. We all have pasts that are literally left behind as we move from one phase of our lives to another. I recall a friend of mine who had been very active in the political scene in Washington D.C. before marrying a small town boy from the Panhandle of Texas. They returned to his hometown, and she lamented that her family and friends didn’t want to hear about her exciting days in the nation’s capital. They were interested in only who she was right then.
But we fail to understand that who we are today depends on who we were yesterday. The past does mold us into our present form.
Who is still around to know what events, what loves, what losses created today’s version of ourselves? We each are a messy conglomerate of all those seconds and minutes of our past. No one person can know what actions and reactions caused us to have certain beliefs, or what led us down the paths we wandered.
I would love to be able to ask my granddad what Reconstruction in Georgia was like immediately following the Civil War. What his family endured, how they survived, how he ended up in the Oklahoma Indian Territory as a young man to forge a new life. When I knew him, I was only interested in who he was that day, not who he had been or how he reached his current status.
Guess that is the reason people write autobiographies…to tell the story of their lives as they recall it, putting their versions on the good, bad, beautiful and ugly of their past.