We come home, eventually
“Our ancestors derived less from life than we do, but they also expected much less and were less intent on controlling the future. We are of the arrogant generations who believe a lasting happiness was promised to us at birth.” ― Amin Maalouf
“We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip, until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.” ― Colum McCann
I wrote recently about my mother’s family having far more males than females. It was just the opposite with my father’s family, whose mother is pictured above with her parents, sisters, niece and nephew. Though it’s a personal photo, it seems rather iconic to me, not least because of the fixed yet still oddly individualized expressions so common in photos of that era.
My great-grandfather fought on the losing side in the Civil War, and I’m sure he endured more than his share of difficulties. But life was no picnic for women in those days, either. I know little to nothing about my great-grandmother, except that her demeanor was described by Granny as being steadfast and respectful. I cannot imagine that her life was an easy one.
While my Granny (who is at far right in the back row, wearing the enormous bows in her hair) lived a relatively healthy life and died in her 90’s, her younger sister Georgia (pictured at far left of the back row) died while still in her teens, on a train en route to seek medical attention for what was reported to have been appendicitis. An unfinished, handwritten will she had begun to dictate on the train as she was dying has survived as a haunting reminder of her short life and the scant possessions of a middle-class young girl of that era.
The sister standing next to Georgia, Henrietta, went on to have a successful career with the post office, which was unusual for women in that era. I’ve often thought that this would not have been possible had she chosen to marry and have children. I wish I had known Henrietta; the small library of books she left behind hints of a kindred spirit. I have only vague memories of Mae, the eldest daughter, who is pictured in the front row along with her children.
Lena, standing between Henrietta and Granny in the back row, is the only one of Granny’s sisters that I remember well. She lived with Granny after they were both widows, and as kids we were entertained by her parakeet “Pretty Bird,” and by her conversations with Granny and us about the family’s past. She too lived a long and healthy life, and she was my special favorite, crocheting me the proverbial wrap of many colors, and spending long hours chatting with me.
Do you know or remember much about the family members who have gone on before you? Are there any with whom you feel a special bond, even if you never knew them? The lives of our ancestors have much to teach us, and whether or not we are aware of it, their influence lives on in us. What lessons have your ancestors left for you? What legacy from them do you continue to share with others today?
One year ago today: