How many times have you Googled yourself? I can’t count the times I’ve typed “Allison Lockwood” into the Google search box to investigate the lives of my numerous namesakes. Having spent my summer researching potential donors for EMILY’s List, a political action committee in Washington, D.C., I am impressed at the extent of the information I can learn about people I don’t know and may never meet.
My grandfather died last week. I never really knew him, and after his death I developed a belated curiosity about his life and his accomplishments. Today, for the very first time, I Googled my late grandfather’s name.
The last remarkable memory I have of my grandfather, my Sampapa, is of him excusing himself from the Thanksgiving table and shuffling to the kitchen, audibly farting with each step. Neither he nor the rest of the family acknowledged the flatulence, though the younger cousins—myself included—stifled giggles through our mashed yams. Perhaps his hearing aids didn’t pick up the fart frequency, or, equally likely, he was maintaining decorum when faced with
the endless indignities of old age.
This is the memory I retain of my grandpapa, a distinguished lawyer, priest and humanitarian. I can count among the vestiges of our relationship multiple birthday gifts including: 10 annual subscriptions to National Geographic, one patch of rainforest protected in my name, one star adopted in my name and one donation of an unspecified amount to Save the Whales. My meager stock of memories and keepsakes exposes our underdeveloped bond as grandfather
and granddaughter, especially compared with the wealth of information available about him online.
The rudiments of our family mythology—an unconfirmed connection with the invention of Dixie Cups, my great-grandmother’s absurdly opulent home modeled on Mount Vernon and my uncles’ mischievous misuse of the dumbwaiter—were all I inherited through our malfunctioning oral tradition. Despite our comparatively unlimited access to information, my generation lacks the historical grounding and context that comes with knowing the who, what,
when, where and why of our heritage.
I didn’t really know my grandfather. We were relatives, not friends. By simply Googling his biography, memoirs and interviews I now recognize the tremendous affinity of our personalities, interests and weaknesses. The 3,000-odd miles separating Oregon, where I grew up, and New England, where my grandfather spent his final years, had nullified these commonalities.
Even our annual reunions provided little remedy to the barrier of distance. Given that I knew my pet hermit crabs better than I knew my grandfather, I suppose my inability to feel loss or remorse over his death is understandable. That said, I now question whether I want to follow in my parents’ footsteps, moving plane rides away from their families.