Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Midlife Spices: Physical and genetic journeys

E-mail this article \ Print this article

One would not expect to have profound and moving memories in a laundry room. In my house, the room just off the garage, just big enough to hold the washer and dryer — and a thousand recollections.

As it contains the only barren walls in our home, it seemed the perfect place to tack up the huge United States map on which my husband had traced the route we followed on a cross-country camping odyssey in September. The trip challenged and changed us, and made us hungry for more adventures. The map is a concrete reminder of the places we visited, what we learned and new strengths we forged.

When I received an e-mail from my brother Denny, I had no way of knowing that the laundry room journal of our travels through life would expand exponentially. A moment of explanation is in order. Den and his wife Pat retired several years ago, and he immersed himself in the long-postponed joys of his life: books and photography. He had time to read the life-story our Dad had left in his legacy of slides and photos as well as a diary he had written at age 20. The family history Den held in his hands drew him into an exploration of extended family that became addictive. Staying up through hundreds of nights and Web sites, he began to trace and chronicle all the relatives he could account for. It was a labor of love.

He shared his passion, assembling an enormous family tree, complete with photographs of every ancestor and living relative he could find. Somehow he managed to get it all into his computer and on paper. Printed out, the diagram was pages and pages long. My husband took my brother’s gift and added his own. Meticulously, he taped the pages together to form a huge portrait of what it looks like to be a family.

The papers lay across our dining room table, covering it like a tablecloth. And I found the perfect place for it: in the laundry room alongside the U.S. map.

What I did not expect was the synchronicity. The wall now reflects a chronological arrangement of events and people that clearly paints a portrait of the passage of time. Cousins long separated by choice or chance can now view their heritage and begin to see themselves more clearly as part of a larger whole.

The power of those two wall hangings intrigues me. Like 30-second spot TV ads for painkillers or household cleansers, they hammer home their messages: Life is a journey through people and places — where we come from and where we’re going. Look around, take note, and appreciate and learn from what you see. Thanks, Den.

Judy Kramer can be reached by e-mail at Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.