Wise Tales

Dishes are scattered with leftovers and a relaxed aura fills the dining room. The Christmas tree glows behind me as we sit around the table in a food-coma. Never-ending stories and thoughts of dessert keep us from leaving. It’s my grandparents who speak most often, taking this rare opportunity to share their life experiences and wisdom. Some stories provoke a chorus of laughter while others create feelings of nostalgia.


This brief glimpse into my family’s history occurs after every holiday meal and was something I usually avoided when I was younger. As I’ve grown up, I have gained more of an understanding as to why this reminiscence is so valuable to my family. It’s not a conversation where the “adults” discuss the problems of the current generation and how much easier everything was in the past. It’s a moment free of judgment, dominated mainly by the elders in the room who wish only to preserve memories. These tales center not only on themselves, but on the lives of family members who have passed away or who I never had the opportunity to meet. Their stories depict hardships and historical moments, passing on our heritage, and giving us something to hold on to.


As a child, I saw these conversations as a delay to opening gifts or keeping me from spending time with my cousins. They never held any interest for me and I deemed it as an “adult thing”. I’m unsure as to when this concept changed, but while listening to my grandparents I began to imagine the stories in my head as if watching a movie. They were easy to comprehend because some of the events I knew about, thanks to my history class, and my grandparents would take time to explain what I may have misunderstood. Sometimes, the lives that were described didn’t seem as though they were real; they must have been fictional characters that my grandparents were creating in order to be entertaining. Now, I know that these stories are more than just stories, that they’re historical lives that have brought me and my family to where we are today. Listening around the table, I felt as though I should write a book or have a documentary written about my family’s past. I compared their stories to current events and people in my life, noticing the differences and laughing at the similarities.

This year, while gathered at the table, my grandpa brought up the life of his strong and loving mother who witnessed countless horrors in Japanese internment camps. He explained that she was an interpreter and when she was older and shared those stories, she would give a little bit of information before trying to change the topic. My mom explained that this tactic was to avoid reliving those tragic events. After WWII ended, the world quickly learned of Germany’s concentration camps, and America, once again, added a blight to their “prideful” history. The Holocaust is deemed an act of genocide, and although the Japanese Internment Camps are not, many irredeemable acts were committed. With each shared tale, it’s unsurprising that my grandparents intend to have us learn from society’s past mistakes. Today, they see society as having taken steps forward in making the world more accepting, and they’re proud of this progress. It’s hard to comprehend this growth when there is still so much wrong in the world. America may be slowly learning from past mistakes, but how can we move forward when some are focused on recreating the past?


As we go into the new year, let us reflect on the events and the people who have helped shape where we are now. There’s nothing we can do about the past except learn from it, meaning we cannot make America great again. The ideals that were maintained by those in power in the past have had faults, and aligning a current leader with these standards doesn't seem to make sense. Admitting that you have made a mistake makes no difference if you continue to repeat the mistake, it simply means that you now act with knowledge of the error in your ways. We must appreciate what the past teaches us and leave it only to be recollected by our elders.