Not to be forgotten, Son of a Crystal


Perhaps dreams allow us to time travel and visit the worlds of our ancestors. Last night my father called me on the phone and told me to come because he was having some trouble with my Grandmother, his Mother, Francis Isabell MacCrystal. Does her name ring a bell? (haha) With a name like that, I am guessing she did not want to be forgotten.

In the dream, I was feeling a bit of her old-timer’s disease myself. I felt my dream father was calling me to help her remember. He told me telepathically to watch an old home movie of her. The movie that played showed my dad as a boy wearing cowboy boots and his hat. The silent picture sounded like an old chattering projector as it played a black and white short reel that was filmed in super 8 in the days before talkies. There was no picture of my grandmother, just her son as a young kid. I headed over to help him find her memories, but I got distracted along the way. Instead I woke up to remember the dream, and reflect on my father, his mother, and memory.

My Grandmother Fran was not the same as his Grandmother, “Ma MacCrystal.” Our Las Vegas cousins perhaps remember stories of these women, but I do not. Apparently she was born in Utah, and by the time we were born she was very, very old. Our dad was the youngest of 7 kids. He was born 20 years after his oldest sister, Fran, and 10 years after his youngest sister Ann, the one who he says raised him. Grandmother Fran was the first person I knew who died. Her husband died before I was born, so I did not know him. I guess that is how I will always remember her.

When the Scots and the Irish add a Mac or a Mc to the name, it means “son of” the name. MacCrystal was the son of a Crystal way back when, no doubt a sparkle in his mother’s eye before the day he was born. I have always felt proud to call myself Irish, as a lover of words, stories, and bardic traditions. Now the DNA tests available dispel my dear myth by telling me the Irish is only 8%. Ah, leave it to the Irish to exaggerate the facts for a good story.

The Irish part of my father’s family had the name McNamee, or son of MEE.  They came from county Monahan, leaving behind the lacemaking village of Carrickmacross in 1847. For these and other stories of our personal luck of the Irish, my father and I conspired to make a video of our family history, We showed this gem of genealogy at our centennial family re-union in 1999. In a half hour romp through the facts of our family history, we entertained the relatives with the tiny bits of family memory we could trace from five generations of grandfathers. That film is available for interested fans who ask me for “The Story of MEE.”

I have been noticing that the deeper I delve into the stories of my ancestors, the fewer the clues and the more there is uncertainty about the facts. As I imagine their stories to embellish thin memories, I am cultivating an insight about life. Over the course of a lifetime, a baby grows from one who has no language or memories, to one who learns stories from their parents and then from their own life. At some point, the personal story ends, except for those few stories that live in the memories of others.

As I age, I can feel an increasing number of gaps in time, as I live ever more in the constant NOW of new memories. My ability to play back my memories is expressed in a quote from a friend’s 99 year old mother, who recently passed away. She was asked by her doctor “How is your Memory?” She answered, “Great, as long as I don’t use it.”

As I swim through the universe of time, feeling the waves of form that constantly flow into new forms, I pause in wonder. Memory is that which is paused long enough to share, repeat, replay, and remember. Like hair, it gets longer as the memories pile up.