I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Those who came before

Today's late summer roses

 On our walk yesterday, part of it across campus, I saw a rose garden that I rarely get to visit. I wandered among the beauty, admiring the perfection of these rose petals. They may or may not have had any scent; I couldn't smell any but then again, my smeller is fickle. We walked across campus to the Arboretum and climbed to the top of the tower, looking out at the views.

Lately I have been thinking about my extended family and looked for a picture I remembered posting long ago, showing four generations of my paternal ancestry. In the picture, the youngest is my Aunt Edith, whom I never met. (She was disowned by her mother, second from the left, before I was born.) Next comes her mother and finally, her grandmother, who would be my great-great-grandmother. 

Taken sometime around 1900, perhaps?

I really don't know much about any of them. My grandmother lived with us for a short time when I was a girl. She never let us call her anything but "Mommy," which is how her children referred to her as well. She was a strong-willed and rather stern woman, as I recollect her. There was some sort of scandal with Edith, and I remember hearing that when Mommy was in hospital dying, Edith tried to come to see her, but she refused to even acknowledge Edith as her daughter. But whatever the scandal might be, nobody still living knows anything. My brother did some digging around in our family history, but I don't know if he ever uncovered the mystery. It doesn't really matter, but it is a curious family event that I sometimes wonder about.

Steve, a friend of mine, recently flew to Hawaii to join many family members to celebrate his mother's ninetieth birthday. He sent me a set of pictures that were taken by a professional photographer, and that might be what got me started thinking about those who came before me in my own family. My parents were married for more than four decades and gave birth to seven children, six of whom survived into adulthood. We were split into two families, the first three being born within seven years of each other, me being the oldest, and then after a long period, the second batch came along. My parents didn't want to set aside child rearing, I guess. I was sixteen when my brother Buz was born, and then three more children followed. One, Tina Marie, died shortly after her premature birth, but the final two children, my sisters Markee and Fia, round out our family. It's hard for me to fathom, but Fia, the baby, is now in her sixties.

Daddy was only 62 himself when he died of heart disease. Mama lived another fourteen years without him, before succumbing to heart disease as well. No one in our immediate family has ever lived long enough to know whether or not dementia might develop in our old age, but now that I have turned eighty, it does make me consider whether misplacing my (fill in the blank), once again, might be a sign. One thing I know: if I live long enough, I'll figure it out.

Another thing I know about my family, on both sides, is that alcohol is implicated in our lives in many unfortunate ways. As we grew up, we kids always saw Mama and Daddy drinking martinis in the evening, sometimes with family friends, and on weekends there was plenty of beer around. Drinking started earlier on those days. It never seemed unusual to me to see my parents laughing and carrying on, as people do when they've become inebriated. I rarely saw either parent get to a "falling-down drunk" stage, partly because we were sent to bed before then, I suppose. Or maybe they stopped and went to bed themselves. As the years passed, the one constant was the presence of alcohol in our family activities.

I married and left home as a young woman and really only saw the whole family a couple of times a year, if that. It was so long ago, and just trying to recall how our lives played out back then is difficult. I lost my infant son in 1965 when my other son Chris was four, and that terrible time is shrouded in pain and sadness. My life was very chaotic during my twenties, but eventually I found myself a home in Boulder, Colorado, where I lived happily for three decades.

I began skydiving in middle age; I was 47 when I made my first jump. That began an enormous change in my life, and for more than two decades it dominated my every thought, and I amassed more than four thousand jumps over that period, became an instructor and taught more than a thousand students, and found the love of my life, my partner SG, through that activity. It has been almost a decade since I made my last skydive, but it still permeates my dreams. We also have almost a secret language together, SG and me, when we use terms that only we understand, which come from our shared love of skydiving.

Life is full of different phases, and I am now beginning the final journey of my own life, into old age. I am incredibly fortunate to live somewhere that has plenty of other old people, and the Senior Center in Bellingham offers so much for everybody. I remember when it was impossible to believe that (1) I would ever get to this age, and (2) that there would be so many wonderful people who would join me in navigating it. I am in training to become a wise old woman.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. —Confucius

When I went looking for a brainyquote to use for this post, I ran across a curious person who fascinates me with his outlook: Douglas Coupland, a Canadian who lives just across the border from me in Vancouver, British Columbia. I read his Wikipedia page (linked), and then ended up downloading one of his novels and got immediately immersed in it. What surprises me the most is that he is almost the same age as my son Chris would have been, had he lived, and he looks OLD, white-haired and wrinkled. Just another reminder that I too am old and (hopefully) going to slip easily into becoming ancient myself. In the meantime, I intend to enjoy every single minute.

Steve, new friend Don, and me

I asked a passerby to take a picture of us after we finished our five-mile walk and were busy enjoying some Shave Ice from a local vendor at the Farmers' Market. Myke, the owner, said he is done for the season, but the day was so nice that he decided to set up his truck and hope for some business. Steve treated us to these delights. The day couldn't have been more perfect, and I am sitting here in the dark on this fall Sunday, looking forward to my breakfast with my friend John, and then going back to my new novel and enjoying it as well. I've learned that friendship is one of the best ways to keep engaged in life, and I happily acknowledge all my family and friends, who give my life meaning.

That of course includes you, dear readers. I've been carrying on this activity of writing a blog every Sunday morning since 2009, and I love being able to go back and read those old posts, reminding me of times gone by. Just like today's will be fun to read again in another ten years. Maybe. In any event, I have finished another Sunday morning meditation and look forward to the rest of my day. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.


Linda Reeder said...

Since Tom is a genealogist, we know a lot about those who came before in our families. Most of it isn't very exciting, but there are a few scandals. "Not exciting" is only true in the big picture. In most lives day to day life has plenty of challenges and "adventures".
You made me realize once again that I need to try harder to make something good out of each day. It's very easy to get depressed by the burdens of aging.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope you have a wonderful week! So glad you have people to hike with! Ups and downs is what life is all about...as I age I am thankful for the little things...like rain and sunshine, flowers and sunsets:)

Elephant's Child said...

I know virtually nothing about those who have gone before me. I never knew any relatives other than immediate family. And yes, sometimes I wonder...
I love your zest for life, and yes, you are indeed a wise old woman. And one I look up to.

Rian said...

DJan, my maternal aunt had a book that apparently had a lot of info about my mother's side of the family... they were French and the info went all the way back to France and supposedly connected the family with Thomas Aquinas (mom's maiden name was D'Aquin which means 'from Aquinas'). But it was all lost with Hurricane Katrina. My dad's side originally came from Cork, Ireland... but dad was raised in London. That's about all I know. Would like to know more. The stories from the past are interesting, so it's understandable to wonder.

I want my kids and grandkids to know more than I did about our family. Maybe that's why I journal and blog... and do talk to them. Because by the time they think to ask (as I did), it will be too late.

Red said...

I talked to my neighbor yesterday and she said, "I don't feel old." She's 89 and uses a walker to get around. At that time she was just coming home from a walk. . We seem to have a younger person in our head rather than the one we are right now.

Rita said...

My paternal grandmother had a falling out with some member of her family and there was a total split so that no one ever knew about them or who they were to her even. (She could be very unforgiving.) My folks didn't even know exactly who it was...a brother maybe? It was probably even before my dad was born or when he was very young. Families are quite mysterious. Maybe that is why they are so fascinating! I love the old photo...and wondering what could have happened between that mother and daughter.

Another new hiking friend! Nice! Good picture, too.

I don't feel old, either--even if we did just have our 55th class reunion this year--lol! ;)

Anvilcloud said...

Unlike you, I pretty well come from tea-totallers. I am not against alcohol but have never cared for it much. I passed along my last box of red to Shauna because it was just sitting there. Sue drinks white, but her boxes last quite a long time too.

Marie Smith said...

Rarely was there ever alcohol in our house. I was aware that an uncle drank. I learned just a few years ago how violent he was when he drank and terrorized his family. My mother was not aware of this about her brother, otherwise she would have spoken about it. Alcohol can lead to such tragedy it takes a lifetime to deal with…

I love the photo of the four generations on your family. Your aunt was born too early. No doubt her “scandal” wouldn’t be a blip on the family radar now.so sad for all of them.

Glenda C. Beall said...

I loved your post and the old photo. I compiled a family history of my father's family in 1998. It is something I am very proud of and my family seems to appreciate it although I have had cousins ask me, "where was my mother born?" I tell them to look at their copy of the Tom Council book, but I often just look myself and send them the information.
I am the family historian and have many binders with genealogy and photos and stories about my ancestors and my immediate family. Like you I am in my last act and try to make the best of all my days.

William Kendall said...

Family estrangement is a difficult thing. I had to sever ties to both sisters in order to protect my own well being.

Alcohol wasn't an issue in the house. Y mother kept a bottle or two as needed for recipes, and Dad avoided it entirely because he was on medication most of his life.