I had no plan to see anyone when I quietly placed an item at my daughter's door. But the door flew open. Claire ran to me. "I just want to give you a hug and say I love you." I was momentarily disoriented. I was seven-years-old and arriving at my grandparents' farm. It was my grandma rushing out the door to give me a hug and say, "I love you." My heart swelled at this blurring of generations. The circle of life.
That circle was obvious when I returned to my hometown of three hundred people to care for my parents. I visited the graves of my great-grandparents, grandparents, countless aunts, uncles and cousins. For the first time these relatives materialized around me. Their minds were full of plans, doubts and dreams just as my mind was. The town is essentially unchanged since it was settled in the mid-1800s. So I could see them standing in the same spot as I, sensing the same fragrance of spring, and the sight of the Maries River winding its way through the valley. I wanted these people to talk to me. An African friend told me to pour libations on their gravesites to show honor and to ask for their stories. I did (when no one was looking!) and the stories came.
I became the old woman in the La Loba tale who spends her days gathering bones that are in danger of being lost to the world and sings them back into life. I learned of my ancestors' inventiveness. The women had to clothe the family and figured how to make their own patterns and sew with what was available, which might only be a flour sack. In our historical museum I saw the results of men working with a blacksmith to invent tools to lessen the back-breaking work of farming. I learned that the first efforts on arriving in this new land went toward building a permanent church and school because they believed in a foundation of religion and education. I saw the importance of neighbor as I read about them building barns, harvesting wheat, quashing fires together and regularly giving up their nights to sit at the bedsides of sick or dead neighbors. Those same neighbors pushed aside living room furniture on Sunday afternoons to host dances with fiddlers and accordion accompaniment. I learned of how the women outsmarted marauding Confederate soldiers by burying treasures and food supplies. I could sense their deep sorrow when I walked the rows of graves for children. The families were large but few children made it to adulthood. And all of them lived close to nature, loving the land and their animals. I realized the voices that have long lived in my head were their voices.
"Waste not, want not." "Live simply everyday, but spare nothing to celebrate." "You can do hard things because you have God and neighbor." "Knowledge is something that can never be taken from you." "Go to nature when you are hurting."
I began to see my time on earth as serious and not too serious. Serious, as I saw the need to update those voices. Expand "neighbor" beyond only German and Catholic to all of God's children. Keep "Waste not" from a frugality that sucked the life out of events. Acknowledge and respect the equal inventiveness and leadership of women. And not too serious, as I saw myself as just one link in this circle of life.
When my grandchildren visit, I quickly run out to hug them and tell them I love them. I am welcoming them to this chain of continuance.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult CommunityCenter.
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