“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
— Linda Hogan, born 1947,
Native American writer
Years ago, I met a man whose ancestry was often mentioned in general conversation. Each story, interesting and relevant, made me feel as though I understood him better than I otherwise would have. He was a loving family man who expressed it in a way that few seem capable of doing until the solid core that we so often take for granted is threatened in some way.
He once sent a card to my family, wishing my children good health, and though it was a simple thing, I recall the inscription to this day. It read, “Family, both present and past, paints the picture we become.”
In later conversation, he simply mentioned that his religion held in high regard the sanctity of family, and that our ancestors help place each one of us on a specific path and for that, we should be forever respectful.
Not long ago, our daughter asked about the great-grandmother she had once heard her father mention. It thrilled me that she has reached a point in which she is interested enough to inquire.
My husband’s paternal great-grandfather was an avid outdoorsman who often set out from Ohio for Arkansas on bobcat hunts, combining timber buying in to the trip. He returned home from one of these trips with a bride, a member of the Cherokee Nation, a woman named Minihaha, whose name we know from the cemetery monument we have visited. They established their home in the rural Ohio community he had long called home.
A woodworker, he made a cedar chest which sits at the foot of our bed, a tangible reminder of those before us. They had a daughter, my husband’s grandmother, a woman gifted in music and teaching. She lived with great empathy and insight, a champion for the disadvantaged and the poor, reminding her grandchildren to count their blessings in a number of ways.
It goes without saying that for each of us, our ancestry is made up of many chance meetings. I think of these two people and the grit it would have required to build a life together.
One has to wonder if the prospective groom had to meet certain criteria in order to be granted permission in this marriage or if they simply ran off together, heading north in the dark of night. I think about their marriage, which one would imagine came with its challenges of homesickness for the bride, as well as perceived class differences in their small rural home community at that time, and realize it would have required much more than love alone to have persevered.
It is the love of thousands — along with a large dose of serendipity, loyalty and determination — that brings each of us to where we stand today.
It is much to contemplate.