Family stories are often treasured memories and unforgettable heartbreak woven together. The tapestry often turns out to be beautiful, in the end, and for that I am grateful. This past week my daughters and I had the privilege of spending hours in front of the wood stove with my parents, who were visiting from Delaware. We asked questions about their childhood memories and were enthralled with their recollections until the fire dwindled each evening. At times, the walls resonated with our tear-filled laughter. Other moments, we somberly, quietly listened to past heartaches that seemed so distant yet compelling, because they were literally a part of us.
We were appreciative to hear family stories about a few back-to-basic things that we’re now doing on our own homestead the way my grandparents did on theirs.
But we were also so content as we realized how blessed we are to be self-sustaining in little ways while enjoying modern conveniences and luxuries.
Rosa, my Dad’s mom, had an arduous labor, at only 17, with her first child. The baby girl, Pauline, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Having no modern resources to help her manage the joint disease, she was crippled with pain until old age.
The captivating little girl in the photograph is my Aunt Pauline. I study her downward-turned eyes and the low corners of her mouth and I truly see my aunt, minus the wrinkles, chin rolls, orthopedic shoes, and awkward wheeled walker of my memories. Mostly, I recognize her melancholy that never left her. Back in the days of bell bottoms and banana bike seats, my parents and I would visit the doleful Pauline. We would sit in her small, stifling apartment whenever we traveled to the hilly poorly blacktopped streets of Cumberland, Maryland.
The picture gives me somber joy.
Rosa’s third child, Catherine Grace (who, for a reason unknown to me, was called “Betty”), caught a cold her thirteenth winter that turned to strep throat and led to her death. Something that today requires a simple trip to the doctor’s and a stop off at the pharmacy led to a young teen’s funeral and a mother’s heartache. My dad, the next-to-last baby of the family of 12, doesn’t remember Betty, only a picture of her holding him, as an infant, in her lap. My heart sagged to hear he had no idea what became of that photograph. I’m praying that some day it surfaces and I can be its caregiver.
When I began typing this, I was watching the coal blackness of night turn to midnight blue morning hours in the glow of the fire and Christmas lights I’d turned on in the living room, listening to an icy snowy mix hit the windows, and waiting for a confirming call that my parents had arrived safely at the airport, where they boarded a pre-dawn plane and went back to their home. Now the telephone is the only gateway to our family stories. (Country folks forever, my parents refuse the modern technology of computers and Skype. They would surely refuse the modern convenience of flight if it didn’t offer such a smooth connection to their granddaughters.)
About the time they were exiting the Baltimore Washington International with luggage in tow, my daughter and I were trudging through winter’s first snowfall carrying steaming hot water for the animals, dishing out pellets of nutrition for the hens, and tossing hay to the cow.
Snow scrunched under my boots, with the accompaniment of Scout’s soothing moos, ducks’ bantering, and the rooster’s morning song, and I was thankful. Thankful to live life on a rural farm, and yet even more thankful to do so in a world full of comfort and advantages.
Deeply mindful of the treasures and heartbreak that have been woven into my personal tapestry of gratitude, I watched Bixby beckon me to his morning routine of fetch…
His exuberant tail and face full of freshly fallen snow, in which he’d already buried his nose, reminded me that in any season, in any century, we should look back with appreciation and run forward with joy.
“Walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6