A while back, I was asked to put together a bit of a family tree for my husband’s direct lineage, so the younger members of the family could see from whence they came.
Before we got married in 1971, I wanted to know about my husband’s family so I could recognize people at our wedding. My own family did a lot of genealogical research, so that line was secured…sort of. Of course, there are lots of holes, such as who was the father of that one ancestor? A secret taken to the woman’s grave. Well, that meant I didn’t have to dig around on that line! Sometimes we were sure we made a connection with another family, but then discovered the timing was a little off, or the name wasn’t recorded at the right place. Such is trying to trace family tree branches.
When I began on the Noe side, I was directed to the matriarch, Hattie, who would sure to be a font of information. I can still see her standing in her garden when I went to meet her. She had on her floral housedress, protected by a full apron. You know the kind, the ones that slip over the head, cover the skirt and chest, and tie in the back. She had on her big straw garden hat, its wide brim protecting neck and face from sunburn. When she stepped out of the garden to greet me, I was delighted to see old-fashioned white sandals coupled with white anklets, a sure sign of grandmas of that era. She strode…yes, strode…though in her 80s at the time, I think, or close to it, she radiated energy. As she came across the lawn, she stripped off her gardening gloves and set them on a bench by the garage. Propping her hoe alongside, she said, “Let’s go! The cemetery is where I can tell you everything you want to know.” And off we went. She took me to two cemeteries and pointed out the Who’s Who of the family, adding stories about all the people, most of whom she’d known. We had a great time. By the time the wedding came around, I knew where everyone was slotted into the tree. I shall ever be grateful for her taking me under her wing.
I was lucky to be absorbed wholeheartedly into that family. Most of my blood relatives on my mom’s side were either dead by the time I was born, or had children so much older than I was, that I had few close relatives. Because my father was from Germany, all of his family were still there, which meant I met my grandparents only once, when I was a child. A dear friend of my mom’s “adopted” us for holiday celebrations and such, and I was always considered one of the grandchildren. I loved the years with those cousins, some of whom I’ve written about before.
But when I married, I became a Noe, and the extended family treated me as one of their own. I would be in it for the duration, attached thoroughly and forever. Which every once in a while, leads to a flurry of “We should get together more often,” and “Why do we see each other only at weddings and funerals?” Then, someone puts themselves in gear and organizes a reunion. Recently, this led to a Gathering of Our People in Oshkosh. Bring lawn chairs, a dish to pass, and something to drink. One woman (thanks, Mary!) rented a park pavilion, emailed everyone, and designated a rough idea of what to bring. (Personally, all desserts might not have been a bad thing…)
I looked around and felt a deep satisfaction. Four generations. Some needing help settling, others zooming off to the wading pool or playground equipment. Some clustered, chairs pulled close, laughing over some past foible, or catching up with others’ lives since the last time they were together. Some off by themselves, immersed in sketching, writing, recharging. But all with the same ancestors.
Sharing food and stories is so much a part of who we are as a culture, no matter what our color, political leanings, religious views. We all yearn for a good today and a better tomorrow. Looking around, the support we have for each other was evident. From marveling over a recipe (“Make sure you email that to me!”) to the satisfaction of hearing stories of success (“They really turned out marvelous, didn’t they?”), the bonds of family are sticky enough to keep us coming back again and again.
Musing over the diversity of the many family types, family stories, or family rifts in the world, I can’t help but give thanks that the family I am a part of is tolerant, loving, understanding. The ebbs and flows of all our lives, individuals as well as family groups, pull and push us. Sometimes all we can do is wave at each other as we move along. But we’re all in this together. So, as long as someone is within reach, we’ll be okay.