I was so excited when my cousin Cliff found our Hinckley Family Crest. Over the past ten years or so, my interest in my mother’s family history has grown. I am so proud of where my ancestors have been, what they accomplished, and what it means for my potential. Don’t get me wrong, I get that it wasn’t me who came over in the 1600s and paved the way for future generations of privilege, but I can still take pride in it right?
So imagine my excitement when he called and said he’d emailed me the crest.
“That’s so cool! Why don’t you sound excited? You have been searching for it forever. Great job!”
“Well, there is one little problem.”
I stopped short. I became wary. My family is plagued by little problems.
“What’s the problem?”
“Well, it’s the motto,” he said. That’s the problem.”
“What the hell is the motto?”
“Well it’s in French, which we know isn’t my first language, but best I can tell it means, ‘I can change only when I die.’”
Well, there is a show stopper.
“I’m on it,” I said. “Will get back to you.”
I was married to a Frenchman, and the one thing I know for sure about the French language is that it’s always got some underlying meaning or double entendre. My mother-in-law, who was a great mentor to me, once told me when she was trying to teach me the language and the confusion over what is feminine versus masculine, said to me, “Think of it this way, Christine. If it’s something you would want or need, like a fork, it’s masculine. If it’s something that is of little worth, like a spoon, it’s feminine.” She never sugar-coated the truth.
So, I emailed my ex the motto in French, confident that there would be some other interpretation we could use.
His reply was swift and brief. It means, “I change only on my deathbed.” Looks like he was a man of firm convictions. Or a short lifespan.”
My ex always did have a great sense of humor; that was never our problem. I called my cousin confident in my solution.
“Look, it took you years to find it. We can change it. We can have my graphic designer re-work it. Honor, Courage. Duty. Or how about Strength. Grace. Truth?” I have always wanted to add Grace to my life, but it has eluded me. Perfect chance to slip it in.
He yelled at me. I mean yelled at me. “We can’t change a motto that is hundreds of years old,” he yelled. “You are an idiot!”
I was not deterred in the least. “We can change it, and by changing it, we can show that he was wrong. We Hinckley people can change before our deathbeds. Now listen up, Cliff. We owe it to future generations. We owe it to past generations. We owe it to the hours you put in finding it.”
“We are not changing it,” he said. And then he hung up.
Did I mention that in addition to being inundated with small problems, my family members don’t understand about conversational transitions? “Talk to you later,” is a good one he might have considered. Or, perhaps, “I really appreciate you trying to make this right, but I think we need to leave it. Love you. Talk to you tomorrow.” And, he surely is Hinckley through and through; unable to budge on the family crest for future generation’s well being. I don’t have time to wait until he is on his deathbed to get him to change his mind.
So here I sit in the winter of my life, passing down a family crest to my beloved Sarah, with a motto that is blotto. A second cousin whom I saw over the holidays suggested that perhaps it is out of context in our time, that it sounded better in the time in which it was written. She said that perhaps it means that we are steadfast in our loyalty and commitment to things. While she may be right, I would have preferred in that case that he had made it “Steadfast. Loyal. True.”
The lesson is still the same. You can’t change certain things about your family, including its motto, but you can decide which family traits will become your personal traits. As for me, I will embrace the crest, and I will continue to work toward “Grace. Honor. Intelligence.” I will worry about my deathbed changes when I get there.