Beyond Folklore — When a 13 Year Old Googles Family History

It never occurred to me that any of my kids would reach beyond family folklore to learn about their history, but I guess in this age of technology and immediacy it was inevitable.

This past weekend, Mitzi Googled her great-grandfather, Tony Mottola, and printed out about 2 dozen pages of condolences and comments from a Frank Sinatra forum after news of his death in 2004, written by folks who were huge fans of my grandpa.

I mean, I know how much he meant — to us, to music — but for the first time, I think my daughter understood that Papa Tony was actually and for real a legendary guitarist. Not just the person who made hand-lettered signs on posterboard for her arrival at the house on Lenape Island in New Jersey, and always had a balloon for her, and the living room always had a spinny chair to ride until it made you nauseated, and always, always there was some candy in a thick plastic container on the living room table.

She might have learned that he was not just the person who was married to Grandma Mitzi (yes! who my daughter was named for!) who had far fewer pages of condolences when she died in 2009, but impacted everyone she met. My daughter might have learned that he was not just the great-grandpa who had a set of chimes on the living room table and some thick-fabric mallets to play them with — though maybe now she knows that those oh-so-old chimes (now at her great aunt’s house) played the NBC (oh, let’s call it a ring) tone, and maybe now she knows that the house on Lenape Island had those chimes because her great-grandpa for years played in the Tonight Show Band on NBC with Johnny Carson, and was more than once a featured performer on that show. She might have also learned that weird fun fact that Lenape Island, where my grandparents lived, was shaped like a guitar. (FOR REAL.)

I don’t know what happened to those printouts, but I suspect they are tucked away in that special space in her room that 13 year olds are likely to have, to be looked at from time to time. Next week, next year, years from now? I like to think that some day, her son or daughter will find them and ask, what? And Mitzi will tell a story. Then another. Then they will be stories of his love for grandma, for the first Mitzi, and all she was, without the fame and the albums and the fan sites, the stories of family and home and love, with Tony and Mitzi and their kids, one of whom became my mother, Mitzi’s grandma, and the other three children, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, their children, and all of our stories, and then there will be more learning, more stories, more memories to be tapped, written into heartbeats, hugged into matter. And, yes, there will be that thing about Papa Tony being a famous guitarist and all of that, but by them my Mitzi will have learned what my siblings and cousin knew but didn’t realize until we were grown up — that for all the fame and recognition, what Tony and Mitzi cared about the most was family.

And eventually, what my daughter (what all my kids will tell), what my first-born will tells her children will be all the stories that she can think of, balloons, candy, love, family, and all the small details she is finally starting to hear and remember, the stories that are the foundation of our family, which no one but us cares to document on any site able to be Googled.

Are there more stories? You betcha. On beyond Google, this family’s history awaits my children, and those that follow.

Those tucked-away printouts? Just the beginning.

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