Towards a Rich(er) Inheritance: The Work of Receiving, Unearthing, and Gleaning Family Stories.
"When writing about family, where do writers draw the line?" (1)
Not being the recipient of very many family stories, I have had to seek them out through various means. In this paper, I investigate a range of family stories and the complexities of their acquisition. Some have been bestowed on me, like a gift. There are others for which I listen in stereo (2)--gleanings from casual conversations and discussions. I have learnt to pay close attention to informal chats and dialogues, noting connections and relationships, and also recognizing omissions. In order to fill gaps, I have actively sought stories by digging for them. Pulling fragments together has become an intrinsic methodology to an inheritance that has been sparse and riddled with gaps and silences. I explore stories and material artifacts as aspects of my inheritance; interrogate the significance of what I have acquired and what is left out; and consider my responsibility to the body of stories that I have collected while striving for an integrity that holds true to the original tellers.
While doing my doctoral research, I cited a dearth of stories about my family's history. (3) This was a major step in designing a research practice that sought to uncover stories of other Indo-Caribbean women. At the time, I did not know much about the lives of either of my grandmothers, in part because there were hardly any stories about them. In fact, there was just one story about each grandmother. These are the stories to which I now return, like a favorite bedtime story, finding the comfort of belonging and the possibilities of discovering more. For the past few years, I have been spending summers in Trinidad--the country where I was born. While I am there, I take advantage of being in the place where most of the women in my family have lived, and the place from which I hope to unearth more stories. I am both an insider and outsider. (4) My family's stories are encouraged or discouraged, open-ended or closed, primarily dictated by "patterns of orality and literacy, privilege and erasure, and the eccentricities and politics" (5) that shape family legacies. These stories are the episodic inheritances that I pursue.
In this paper, I examine the stories that I have been given without asking and explore the meanings and relationships therein. I pay attention to the gaps in the stories and explore how, through digging, I was able to learn more. Next, I explore the stories gleaned through conversations and casual discussions. These are the stories that demand attentiveness and persistence. Lastly, I explore stories prompted by material artifacts tied to my family history such as family photographs and jewelry. Questioning, listening, probing, recalling, retelling, and writing are important components of my methodology. There is the ever-present importance of deciding which stories I can make public through writing, and which should be kept safe in silence. Throughout this paper, I generate questions to accompany the stories--questions that are as important as the stories themselves. They raise ethical concerns even when they remain unanswered--creating an ongoing mindfulness necessary to such a sensitive journey--especially where there is the risk of hurting others by airing stories that concern them or their relations. The process of questioning uncovers thematic relationships tied to gender, class, and ethnicity.
Probing Inherited Stories
As stated above, I have had access to a single story about each of my grandmothers: my maternal grandmother, whom I call Naanee, and my paternal grandmother, whom I call Aajee. They constitute a segment of the sparse inheritance of family stories. I examine these stories within the social contexts of their telling, while attempting to tease out additional meanings within the relationships that they reveal. The following is a story that as a child, I had heard from my mother, written here as I recall it.
The story goes that when my naanee was a child of six, she was outside playing with leaves of guava trees. She was searching out the fullest fruit. My mom tells me that she was interrupted by her father's rough, Bhojpuri voice. She should have been helping with housework, so he was angry. Her hunger must have stung enough for her to talk back, so her father realized that while he was being fed, his daughter had not received any food. Being the only girl child in the household, she was required to do many chores. Her stepmother had sons to whom she gave food, but Naanee belonged to her father. The hurt was much for him, so he took his daughter and stormed out.
Originally, this was Naanee's story about her father, whom we called Old Naanaa, and her wicked stepmother. She had passed it on to her daughter, my mother. My mother then passed it on to me. It became my story. Although I had heard stories about Old Naanaa, I had never heard about his first wife (Naanee's biological mother). What was remembered was a male hero saving his daughter, and the little girl's triumph over her wicked stepmother. As a child, I never asked about Naanee's biological mother. When I inquired about her, my mother needed to ask her sisters about Old Naanee, who was left out of the family stories. My mother had never bothered to question that which had been forgotten by her family. She found out from her older sister that Old Naanee had had an affair with another man. She left her husband and had another family in Marabella, a town far away from where her husband was living. These stories were not freely given. I pried for information because of the missing relation, my maternal great grandmother. Forgetting Naanee's mother within the family's told stories could have been a means to forget her behavior that others thought was taboo. She was daring for her time. Family stories, although few, were obviously those that were chosen and sanctioned by authoritative discourses of social properness and acceptability.
Old Naanaa had lived with his daughter for many years before his death. It must have been out of respect for him, that stories about his first wife were not encouraged.
Naanee's story "wasn't delivered to entertain but rather to teach." (6) By requesting stories of my maternal great grandmother, what becomes clear is that there is silencing and there is forgetting. My mother's "not knowing" had confused me. I couldn't understand why she had never asked about her grandmother. My initial shock over why my family had not questioned this obvious gap subsided when I realized that I had never asked either. After Old Naanaa's death, my family blotted out her indiscretion and comfortably accepted this gap as part of their history. It seems to me now that my family's narrative inheritance includes the practice of editing out entire episodes and even family members.
Turning on a Tap of Stories
Following my questions about my missing great grandmother, there appears to have been an opening for my mother to tell more. She informed me that in spite of being saved from her wicked stepmother, Naanee, at the age of nine, was married to a much older man. The marriage was a failure because the child refused to sleep in her husband's bed. Instead, she sought safety in her mother-in-law's bed. Coaxing did not get the nine-year-old child to take her place as a wife. At last, she was returned to her father when she got sick from sucking too much cocoa. My aunt explained the reason for choosing Naanee's husband who was a much older man living in the remote, rural part of Trinidad: his family was Brahmin (7).
While Naanee lived there, she would go out in the cocoa fields to play. There, she would spend her time roaming and eating the fruit that surrounded her. Once, she saw a huge, strange man approaching her. She was so frightened that she ran as fast as she could to escape him. My heart aches for my grandmother. These fragments of Naanee's life have come in bits and pieces. I have only recently paid close attention. And now it feels like an unending search for my family's history, wherein the stories are rationed out in tiny, intentional morsels.
Upon questioning my mother about my grandmother, I learned that when she was married for the second time, to my grandfather, there was no legal certification for it. Her father searched out her husband because he knew his parents from their journey together from India to Trinidad. His main reason for the match was once again due to caste. I am never surprised that my family highlights caste and religion in recalling family history. These characteristics are obviously important to them. My grandfather was, by then, an orphan and he had been living with a Muslim family. My aunt describes my grandfather, her father, as wayward. He repeatedly ran away from my grandmother. Each time he left, Old Naanaa, my great-grandfather, went to him and made him return. When his first child was born, my grandfather left. He had returned to the Muslim family. The story continues that, my great grandfather did not want his daughter to be husband-less, so he relentlessly sought to have her husband return. Sometime after this, Naanee's husband settled down and stopped running away.
In telling me about her own life, my mother explains that she never had the option to return to her father's home without her husband. One time, when her father recognized the poverty of her surroundings, he invited her to move back to his home. She was not expected to go by herself or with only her children. Although my parents had a strained relationship at times, they were expected to be together at all costs. At that time, a woman could be placed in dangerous situations--physically and emotionally--as long as she had a man at her side.
My grandmother died when I was twelve. I wonder about reasons why she never told me about her life. Was the language difference between us responsible for this? Is this an explanation of why she never volunteered any stories? Are there other reasons? Were these stories too mundane for her to tell? Did the suffering that characterized some stories keep her from sharing them? If I could have spoken her language, would I have asked her questions? Was there a difference between the stories that adults told to other adults, from the ones told to children? As a young child, I heard Naanee speaking a language that I could not speak. Naanee did not speak much English and whatever she attempted sounded like another language altogether. She encouraged her daughter, my mother, when she was sad about her own life, by saying, "Betee (daughter), yuh so lucky. Yuh could read. Yuh cyan't get bored." She said this in her mixed tongue of Trinidadian dialect, Bhojpuri and Hindi. Naanee never did learn to read or write in any language. When she collected a pension from the government, she used her thumbprint in place of a signature on official documents.
For most of my life, even after my maternal grandmother's death, she seemed close to me because I had known her for twelve years of my life. In looking back at my mother's stories, I realize that they have always been saturated with the presence of her own mother. In contrast, I have mostly known my paternal grandmother, my aajee, only through her photograph. One welcome byproduct of an, at times, painful practice of probing family stories, is the liberatory opportunity it provides to recover relations. This has been the case of my paternal grandmother. The single story that I remember of my paternal grandmother had been repeated by my uncles (my father's brothers).
She was a devout devotee of the Goddess Durga--the deity who rides on a tiger. Aajee was performing pooja--religious rituals, to her. So strong was her devotion that clove pieces sprang to her forehead.
As a child, I heard this anecdote, but never asked questions. I had prejudged my uncles as tellers of tall tales, so I was a bit disbelieving of them. As an adult, I now view this story differently: I consider reasons for its telling; the emerging relationships, which lend an understanding to the social context at that time. I also recognize that it is the only story of my grandmother that I have. All of my father's brothers have died, so I am unable to find out more. My father is still alive, but he admits that he did not witness the events of the story.
My aajee's story makes her mythical. She resembles heroines from Hindu mythology--goddesses who possess supernatural powers. Before I began my research on my family's history, I had not repeated this story orally. In the absence of more stories, I cling to my aajee's single story. I don't have much else of her.
Many years later as an adult, I sat with my seventy-year-old uncle who was one of three brothers still living then. Many of Aajee's superhuman qualities seemed to have died with her four sons who had also passed by this time. My uncle told me that my grandmother, his mother, was an ordinary woman, who worked as a vendor in the San Fernando market. It was not an attractive job. In fact, it was considered a menial job for poor people. In Trinidad, if someone behaves like a "market woman," it is considered very undesirable and means that they are cantankerous and rude. The term is specific to women, since men are exempt from such criticisms. I think about my ajee. As usual, I am confronted by many questions. I have been struggling to articulate the pieces that are stored in my head. They are fragmented and scattered, with too many spaces. I want to know her. Why did she work in the market? What was it like? If Aajaa (paternal grandfather) were rich, why did she work in such a place? Why didn't her sons tell me more about her? What was her life like?
My uncle describes her as a dark-skinned woman who was the eldest in her family. Her husband, my aajaa, was a "drunkard", an alcoholic who left home every morning to drive his taxi. He was dressed neatly with ironed trousers, with his shirt tucked neatly inside. When he returned in the late evening, he was mostly drunk, disheveled and reeking of alcohol. My aajaa had inherited land from his father. When my aajee became sick, he sold much of the land to try and find a cure for her. In Trinidad, in the 1950's, not much was known about cancer. My family felt that Obeah (8) could save my grandmother from death. My uncle remembers her screams of pain as she suffered during her last days. She was not special in terms of possessing extra powers. She lived a life of poverty and died at the age of forty-seven.
My father often recalls the absence of his mother as a little boy. After her death, he often visited her gravesite. He told me that he would cry because he missed her. According to his recollection, he was about eight years old. But my father's recollection of his age at the time of his mother's death betrays the math. Luckily, my uncle knew her date of birth. Unlike my naanee, Aajee lived in the town. There was more documentation for Indians living in urban areas. Hansrajia Jerrybandan nee Harrypaul, was born on October 8th, 1908. She died on December 6th, 1955. My father would have been twelve years old.
When I was working on my dissertation research, and I discovered my aajee's death date, I was excited to tell my father that I had figured it out. He listened quietly. He never commented on the new information. At the time of her death, he must have felt so alone, young, vulnerable, and motherless. For him, her absence seems to be the thing about her that he remembers most--the details of her life and death do not change her absence.
While my uncle (my father's brother) was alive, I asked him questions when I could not get information from my father. I once sent him an email asking about his mother. I wanted to know more about my grandmother, and since he was older than my father, I expected that he would remember more about her. In e-mail, he responded:
My mother could neither read nor write, but she counted very well and sold in the market for many years. She was a whiz with figures, like your Dad. She spoke English in the vernacular. She never went to school but spoke English (not grammatically correct always) fluently. She spoke Hindi very well and was a singer. She had a beautiful voice and could sing the whole night without repeating a song. She sang at cooking nights before the wedding only for the women. (Dated 12th May 2014)
This was the first time that I learnt of my grandmother's everyday activities and experiences. She was independent enough to go out and work and did not stay at home to depend on a wayward husband. I experience a sense of comfort in believing that I may have inherited from her my ability in math. I have added this to my tiny, treasured memorial of her.
Listening in Stereo
My mother and her eldest sister, two of my main sources of family stories, continue to tell me stories whenever we spend time together. I listen to their stories, and I also hear much during our day-to-day conversations. I have come to regard this as listening "in stereo." (9) When I do so, I use one channel to listen to the story, and the other to make connections, noting gaps and omissions. The stories trigger connections to my own thinking, my experiences, and the relationships I hold to the characters and events in the stories. Listening this way has allowed me to witness and hear "subject led dialogue[s]" and to increase subjectivity of the stories and discussions that ensue. (10) There is a conscious selfishness in grabbing at family stories like a starved person. These episodes inspire my subsequent probing for details.
In the summer of 2017, my family and I travelled to the Cayman Islands, a British dependent territory. While in the Cayman Islands, we visited an antique shop where my mother was fascinated by old British coins. She bought some British pennies (11) to gift to relatives. Mummy told me that she wanted to give them to women in our family who have children of their own. During that summer when my mother bought those British pennies, Hurricane Brett had left severe flooding in the low-lying rural areas of Trinidad. In a casual conversation that took place on the porch of my family's home in Trinidad, my mother considered the plight of people who had been affected by flooding. While drinking an afternoon coffee, my mother reminisced on her childhood. The muddy expanses of flooding that she had seen on the television reminded her of the rice lagoons that neighbored her home in the country. Her story told of people who planted rice in the lagoons. They would come to rest in my grandparents' yard, which was the closest house to the lagoons. Since they had a fondness for my mother, they would often give her a penny.
The penny that my mother talked about, and that is representative of her childhood memories, is no longer in circulation. With her purchase and gifting of the British pennies, she wanted to share a historical piece that reminded her of her childhood. She expressed her desire to pass it on to her relatives, and the hope that they would pass it on to their children. What began on our visit to the Cayman Islands, as a simple purchase of old coins, took on new meaning once we got to Trinidad. A casual reminiscence on the part of my mother meant so much more to me. This has become a major part of my practice of family methodology. Gleanings over time come together as meaningful episodes of family stories. They have proven to be valuable in my ongoing collection.
Interrogating Material Artifacts
In addition to receiving the narratives of my grandmothers, I have sought out more information about them by interrogating family photographs and family jewelry. My parents have passed on jewelry linked to their parents more easily than they have been able to pass on their stories. Both of my grandmothers are dead, so I hold dear two photographs of them that I have. To fill out my "narrative inheritance," (12) I include photographs and jewelry as both "memory texts" (13) and "evocative objects." (14)
Family Photographs of Grandmothers
I stare into the eyes of my grandmothers, a miracle made possible through the magic of the camera. Naanee, my maternal grandmother, neither knew her date of birth nor had any official documentation that could later inform her family. My ajee, my paternal grandmother, had official documentation for both her birth and death. The two women worked outside of the home. My mother has told me that Naanee worked in the garden, sold vegetables, milk, homemade yogurt, and butter to people in her village. My father and uncles similarly have recalled that Aajee sold produce, but she did so in the San Fernando Market. Two different women, who never knew each other, lived in very different parts of the small island of Trinidad. Both were first generation Indo-Trinidadian women; both had challenging lives; and there have been few stories about them. I possess two photographs, one of each grandmother, both acquired in different ways.
During Naanee's later years, we had had a Kodak Instamatic 110 with which we took many blurred, out-of-focus group photos with various family members. Over the years, whenever we could afford to pay to develop the film, we would keep the prints in used cardboard boxes. We then stored the boxes at the top of a wardrobe in my parents' bedroom. Because there were many leaks in the roof of the old, wooden house in which we were living, we lost many of both the negatives and prints that were stored in the boxes. I don't remember seeing any photographs of my grandmother by herself. She always appeared with others. About four years ago, when I walked into my uncle's (my mother's brother's) home, my mouth dropped, and my eyes widened. There on the wall was a color photo of Naanee.
I looked at my naanee's photograph. It is. It is a full front, headshot, the only photograph like that I have seen of her. I questioned my uncle about it. Where was it taken? How did he have such a lovely photo, and I had never seen it before? He told me that his son had it framed and did not volunteer any more information. My mother, whose questioning and digging have helped with my collection of stories, eventually learned that his daughter-in-law had found it while cleaning. She had been recently married and was probably personalizing the space. Included in the stash of photos was my mother's wedding picture. My uncle may have transported these photos during his family's move from my grandmother's house to his own. Enlarged and framed, the photo of Naanee's smiling face looked down at me. I wanted to reach toward her and hold her closer. Instinctively, I asked my uncle for a print of it, but he did not have the means to do this. He is a simple man. I took a picture of the picture with my digital camera. Walking away with my treasure, I was eager to "find some truth about the past, mine and my family's--however mediated." (15)
Where was this picture taken? Was it for an official document? My grandmother did not possess any Trinidadian identification documents until she was due for a senior's pension. At that time, she got a national identification card, but I have never seen it. Her orhni or scarf is pulled down over her forehead, and she wears a nose ring, common for Indian women, and stares straight at the camera with a slight smile. Her hair is grey and blends into the white orhni. She wears absolutely no make-up.
I have made prints of Naanee's photograph, and I plan to give them to my cousins as a keepsake, an inheritance, perhaps. It is a representation of who she was--a visual image of what I remember her face to be. Her plain white orhni signifies the simplicity of her dress, and her humble life. Her smile reminds me that she could smile despite her hardships. The stories that I have excavated remind me of my privilege--to not be married off as a child, to receive an education, and to have the tools to forge a narrative, and a photograph that I can share with other family members. Aajee's Picture
I possess one picture, a black and white photograph, of my aajee. In it, she is with my grandfather. They lived in San Fernando where the photograph was taken at a studio run by a Chinese man. It was taken when she was sick, as a keepsake for her family when she passed on. I wonder why she did not get photographed alone? It is probably because her place as Hindu woman is at the side of her husband. She is perfectly positioned on the left side of her husband. As an ideal couple, they are married, and together. Her orhni is placed much differently from my other grandmother's. It is in a more decorative way. Her middle path parts her dark colored hair, and a bindi (16) is drawn on her forehead. Her smile is very subtle. I find her beautiful.
Continuing Questions About my Grandmothers
My naanee and aajee were two first-generation Indo-Caribbean women who would not have known nor used the term Indo-Caribbean. They were Indian. Although they were born on the island of Trinidad, their customs, language and education were not like that of the later generations--of their children and grandchildren. In this writing, and in my life, I have struggled to recreate their lives while taking into account the important cultural and social practices of their time. They are remembered in the present time, along with gaps, silences and questions that are as important as the stories told, and the snippets that I have managed to recover.
The search for traces of my family's history initiated during my doctoral research continues, and this quest is not close-ended. I have learnt to listen differently to family conversations. Importantly, I have begun to look at the existing stories and artifacts differently. Each review seems to bring new connections. (17) Starting with my doctoral work, there have been times when I have asked questions, especially of my mother, my father, my aunt and uncle. I have been nervous that they will not be around forever, to answer my ever-evolving questions, and to feed me with snippets of their memories. Why haven't they given me stories before? Why didn't my maternal uncle give copies of my grandmother's photo to other relatives? Why did I have to take a copy for myself?
I am careful not to lay blame on people who have not readily given me an inheritance of stories and artifacts. For my father's family, there must have been severe trauma involved in losing a mother at an early age. Instead of remembering the mundane or distressing details of her life, they have preserved a sacred image of her. My maternal uncle was happy that I took a picture of the photograph hanging on his wall. He does not know how to use a camera. Happy to receive the framed version from his daughter-in-law, he didn't think much else of it. His daughter-in-law is of another generation. Is there a chance that generations think differently?
As I grow older and reach significant birthdays, I have received "family jewelry" as presents from both my mother and father. Family jewelry has come easier to me than family stories. On my last birthday, my mother gave me the necklace that her father bought her on the occasion of her marriage. About eight years ago, my father passed on a necklace that he had inherited from his mother. He presented me with a golden necklace and an accompanying pendant, made in the fashion of a coin. The coin does not seem to be real currency. There is an eagle on one side, and The United States of America written around the circumference on the other. It was passed on to me since I am the eldest child. My father told me that it belonged to his mother. He explained that there were seven coins, soldered onto a necklace, and underneath there had been also seven butterflies attached. He did not know what had happened to the butterflies.
At the time, I had not examined my desire to be linked to my grandparents. I have since acknowledged that it gives me a sense of belonging. The pieces of jewelry are proof of actually having had grandparents, and a connection to them through having something with which they had relationships. The objects fill in for my not having many experiences with my grandparents. My father's desire to inherit a piece of his mother's history, and his insistence on passing it on suggest the importance of inheritances to some families. The act of "inheriting" promises to keep the memory of the original owner alive. There are times when this has been conferred on me--the privilege of keeping the memory alive. This is the case of my inheriting the coin pendant.
I mull over the assumptions behind the notion of inheritance What drives a person's desire to pass things down? For my mother, the women who have children hold the means to continue the material inheritance of the family. What responsibilities do we have or inherit when we have inheritances bestowed upon us? Since coins and necklaces are passed down more easily than stories, what do these items "stand in for?" Inheritances validate lives--they leave proof of having lived. Is the legacy of a story more malleable than those of material inheritances, and as a result, is there more reluctance to propagate stories? These are questions that now drive my search for family stories. They help me tease out a relational reasoning for the types of inheritances, and the implications of ownership and ethics.
I have been collecting family stories for reasons similar to those I have for collecting family jewelry. There are connections to the past and, more importantly, to my family from the past. There is a relationship to history, and a promise of leaving something behind. Neither my siblings nor I have children. Until my mother discussed not having any grandchildren to whom she could pass on her jewelry, I had not given it much thought. After all, I feel as if I have been denied an inheritance of stories. I have had to write my own stories, and the irony looms--I have no children on to whom I can pass them. For now, I take comfort in thinking that I at times utilize family stories in order to make sense of my own identity, my communal relationships, and finding a place where I can explain to others and myself where I have come from "in the continuing context of what it all means." (18)
In crafting my personal, family storytelling, I have incorporated a methodology of drawing on inherited pieces--stories, jewelry, photographs, and digging for more contextual stories and information. Importantly, I use gleanings over time to pull pieces together, to construct meaningful episodes of family stories. Through this, I have reclaimed relationships with both my grandmothers. In working with a sparse inheritance of stories and material artifacts, I have built on my scholarly practice rooted in my doctoral research, and now incorporated in my personal creative-writing practice. In acknowledging my sparse inheritance, and in actively researching their familial contexts, I have had to ask myself, "What do I do with these stories?" "How do I negotiate a responsibility to share, and determine exactly what I can share?" My stories become my own legacy--an inheritance for those who will have them--family members, readers, or practitioners of family methodologies.
I have never been married. I am grateful that my parents never forced me to marry or remain in a dangerous relationship. I have had more choices. I am cognizant that some women have not had that choice or privilege. Being educated outside of my original country brings with it even more privilege for me. (19) I have been encouraged to think about uncovering stories, and I have been given the opportunity to document them. With that comes another responsibility though. There are some stories that I just cannot tell. Even when main characters in a story pass on, certain episodes are potentially hurtful to reluctant inheritors.
I think about "inheritances" in general. What is the significance of my inheritance or lack of one, in the case of family stories? (20) What have I inherited? To whom do I pass on anything? What are the responsibilities of inheritances? What will I do with the jewelry that I have inherited? What about my own jewelry? What about the oral stories--the ones that I cannot write as non-fiction? These are questions that are not readily answered. The childless subject is ostracized from continuum of inheritance. (21) However, I continue to pull from the past, forging an imagined trajectory into the future, but mostly, I struggle to know myself in relation to the lives of those who have not been easy to know.
The ways in which I pull together fragments of family stories have become as important as the stories that I gather. There are family stories that are told and told again and they remain few. These stories are voiced to inform, educate, warn, and entertain. They have survived and they are the ones that tellers have chosen to repeat. Within the told stories are the untold ones--the gaps and silences that are sometimes louder than what is spoken. I interrogate those spaces to try to satisfy my yearning for more details in a sparse inheritance. A collateral acquisition of the excavation process is that, at times, I inherit some stories that are fraught with tensions. Some stories are reluctantly inherited: They are given to me for purposes that are unclear. They are difficult in both content and means of acquisition. Then, there are stories for which I listen. I pay particular attention to the conversations and tellings around me, specifically among my mother, her siblings and my older cousins. Within those discussions, I have found sources of information to which I have not given as much attention in the past. Within my continued search, I examine them much more closely.
I may never know for sure why stories about my maternal great-grandmother were silenced by my mother's generation, although they knew what had happened to her. I can speculate that my mother, who was close to her grandfather, did not hear about it from him, as he was the spurned one. The rest of his family probably did not talk about it openly as it would not be respectful to him. I also consider reasons why my aajee's beautiful singing voice has not been highlighted as a family story. It could be that singing for weddings took place among groups of women, and since her sons would not have been present at those gatherings, they did not perpetuate it as a story. I also wonder if my uncle, who told me about her singing voice, might have heard about it from someone else. Who could have told him? Is there a rationale for the tellers of my family stories to celebrate certain events and people? Are there gaps and silences for the protection of people, traditions, or memories?
There are ongoing questions of ownership, and they are much more complicated than those of a physical inheritance. When an object is given and taken, ownership is clearer. Do I take ownership of stories when I alter their means of telling? Does recreating oral stories into writing demand an integrity that holds true to the original teller? Do I claim ownership when I use them as "my" stories? When the original tellers pass on, are stories left to new gatekeepers? At times, alterations are made to fit the listenership or readership. There is a need to edit, especially when there is a responsibility to protect those who are not willingly represented within the stories. Do these stories then, have a quality of truth that is deniable? Does the ethical responsibility of telling change when it is written? At times, the ethical uncertainty surrounding the search summons the researcher's responsibility. It is hardly clear-cut and mostly ambiguous. These questions underscore the narratives that emerge and continuously oscillate around them after they are told. I believe that this is the thrust of my research--the questions must accompany the stories in an attempt to keep the ethical integrity of the search.
(1) Joy Castro, ed., Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 1.
(2) The suggestion that "to hear women's perspectives accurately, we have to learn to listen in stereo, receiving both the dominant and muted channels clearly and tuning into them carefully to understand the relationship between them," is credited to Kathryn Anderson & Dana C. Jack in "Learning to Listen: Interview Techniques and Analyses," The Oral History Reader (Edited by Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 157.
(3) In my research project, I invited five other Indo-Caribbean women to write about family stories. Based on thematic prompts, we revisited family stories through memory work. Prabha Jerrybandan, "Unsilencing Hi(Stories) of Indo-Caribbean Women: Re-Writing and Re-Presenting Self and Community," (Ph.D. diss., York University, 2015).
(4) Dawn Mannay, "Making the Familiar Strange: Can Visual Research Methods Render the Familiar Setting More Perceptible?" Qualitative Research 10, no. 1 (2010): 91-108.
(5) Lucy Bailey, "Epistolary Hauntings: Working 'With' and 'On' Family Letters." Education's Histories 3 (October 17, 2016). http://scholarworks.umt.cdu/cduhisl/vol3/issl/2.
(6) Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (London: Virago Press, 1996), 106.
(7) Brahmin is the highest caste of Hindu social status.
(8) Obeah is native magic practiced in the Caribbean.
(9) Anderson & Jack, "Learning to Listen," 157.
(10) Mannay, "Making the Familiar Strange,"100.
(11) The last "penny" of that British coinage was minted in 1970. Trinidad gained independence from Britain in 1962 and British currency was replaced then. In Britain, its circulation stopped with decimalization in 1971.
(12) H.L. Goodall, Jr., "Narrative Inheritance: A Nuclear Family with Toxic Secrets," Qualitative Inquiry 11, no. 4 (2005): 492-513. See note #20.
(13) Annette Kuhn, Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination (London: Verso, 1995), 1-20.
(14) Sherry Turkle, ed., "Introduction," in Evocative Objects: Things we Think With (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 5.
(15) Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory (London, Harvard University Press, 1997), 6.
(16) A round mark in the middle of a Hindu woman's forehead.
(17) Kuhn, 6; Hirsch, Family Frames, 23; Marianne Hirsch, "Introduction: Familial Looking", in The Familial Gaze, xvi. Edited by Marianne Hirsch. (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999).
(18) Goodall, 492-513.
(19) Jcannie Wright, "Living Places," in On (Writing) Families, eds. Jonathan Wyatt and Tony E. Adams (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2014), 79.
(20) The idea of a "narrative inheritance" is credited to H.L. Goodall, Jr. See note #12. Goodall explores his experience of receiving a narrative inheritance from his father. Unlike his experience, I search out my own.
(21) Andrew F. Hermann, "The Ghostwriter," in On (Writing) Families, eds. Jonathan Wyatt and Tony E. Adams (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2014), 95-99.
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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