Monday, November 10, 2014
"The leaves of memory seemed to make a mournful rustling in the dark." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
After my mother died in 2008, we searched her house for the family history book she was writing. Her last mission on earth, she told us. Her legacy to her family. We eagerly anticipated the family stories she would have written - stories that would hopefully fill in some of the gaps in our family history and solve a few mysteries.
We searched every nook and cranny, over and over again. All we found was a blank journal. Not a word had been written! We were stunned. She had been, after all, the last remaining family member of her generation.There was nobody else to ask questions of. Memories would be lost forever. Some family secrets had apparently gone to the grave with her.
Thankfully, she had at least compiled hundreds of old photos, labeling names and dates on the back. Some of these people were virtual strangers to me. And she'd left a notebook of genealogical data as well as a file of her favorite quotes, poems and words of wisdom that she wanted shared with her family.
It was a start - and a prompt from beyond the grave - for me to take over the task of writing our family history. I was, after all, the writer in our family. "Do it now!" her spirit whispered urgently in my ear.
I began my lengthy journey into the past, and what a trip it was! It included genealogical research with the help of Ancestry.com, interviewing family members, pouring over records in historical libraries, and several incredible journeys to Sweden and the Czech Republic, homes of my ancestors. I hired professional genealogists through http://www.genealogists.com to locate specific villages where my ancestors lived hundreds of years ago - even their homes (or remnants thereof) and their churches.
I also did extensive research to develop the historical context. What was life like in those days? Why did my ancestors make the decisions they did - particularly leaving their homelands for America? What was their culture like, their traditions, and their values? My goal was to bring these people to life.
It was a long journey full of challenges, surprises and rewards. I sometimes laughed - sometimes cried - as I learned valuable lessons about these faces from the past. Old photos that were once relatively meaningless came to life. I now feel like I know these people. This process has actually helped me to understand myself and my own family better.
My family history is complete and being published - my legacy to my children and grandchildren. No, it's not my mother's story or those of my children, although I've included a great deal of their information. It is my truth, based on my recollections and all that I've learned through my research. Truth is, after all, subjective, based upon one's personal experiences and the lens through which we each view our world.
I encourage you all to think about researching and writing your family history - before it's too late to ask questions of your elders. As my mother told me, "Do it now!"
Stay tuned and please stay in touch.
Friday, October 10, 2014
"Let life be as beautiful as summer flowers
and death as beautiful as autumn leaves."
The first anniversary of the death of a loved one can be a difficult time for anyone. Memories swell, crashing over you like angry waves or gentle ripples, sometimes a little of each. How do you cope with a day like this?
Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of Len, my best friend and partner for 35 years. I felt I needed to do something special to acknowledge the day, aside from putting a new autumn floral arrangement on his gravestone. I decided to get into my car and go for a ride to see the beautiful fall leaves, something we often did together. As my car meandered its way along winding country roads, his favorite Willie Nelson songs magically popped up on my radio.
After making a few stops to try to capture the beauty of the season with my camera, I found myself at the casino where Len and I had often enjoyed the buffet lunch and playing the slot machines. We typically lost about $25 each before we called it a day and began a leisurely drive back home. In fact, I frequently took him to the casino to celebrate his birthday. Now I was going alone - to mourn his death.
As I pondered the stark contrast between celebrating a birth and mourning a death, it suddenly struck me that birth and death are actually the same thing - if you look at it from a different angle, within a broader perspective. Len's death on earth was actually his birth in heaven. Perhaps I should be celebrating his first birthday on the other side of life instead of mourning the first anniversary of his death on earth...
It had been time for him to shed his deteriorating earthly body, his time to "go home" again. But his spirit lives on in many mysterious ways. That includes within our memories and in the hearts and souls of those he left behind.
Wiping back a few lingering tears, I looked up at the startling beauty of autumn leaves swirling overhead. And I whispered "Happy Birthday, Len."
Stay tuned and please stay in touch.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature." Gerard De Nerval
The enchanting island of Galveston, Texas is once again blooming with the mysterious Nerium Oleanders. Vibrant shades of yellow, red, white, pink and salmon consume these flowering evergreen shrubs that cover the island. In fact, Galveston is known to have the most extensive collection of oleanders in the world.
One of the things that fascinates me the most about the Oleander is the contradiction between its enticing beauty - and the fact that the plant is in fact poisonous. It contains a toxin that can be poisonous if ingested in large quantities. Fumes from burning the branches of the oleander can also be hazardous.
According to Greek mythology, oleanders represent romance and charm. There once was a beautiful Greek maiden who was loved by a man named Leander. He swam across the sea every night to see his beloved. One night, however, he braved a tempest to see her and drowned as the wild waves slammed his body against the sharp rocky cliffs.
The next day, his distraught lover found his body on the shore. "Oh Leander," she cried out, her voice echoing across the sea. In his hand, he clutched a flower, one he had intended to give to her. She gently pried the flower from his cold hand and saved it as a symbol of their everlasting love. That flower magically grew and spread throughout the world - evolving into today's beautiful oleanders.
A charming tale indeed - one that I plan to use in my next historical fantasy novel which will be set in Galveston. My mind is already spinning with ways I may integrate the lovely but deadly oleander into this novel. Lovely...but...deadly. Surely there is a story there?
Please stay tuned and stay in touch.