I have always been intrigued with the stories about the immigrants. Both Grandparent’s on my mother’s side came from Sweden, Grandma with her family and Grandpa (who I never got to meet, he died when my mom was 12) on his own as a young teen came in through Canada. My Grandma’s family homesteaded up in Aitkin, Minnesota and since it was on the way to our cabin up in Grand Rapids and we still had our Great Uncle Oscar (a very cool bachelor who lived to be 100), we’d stop on a frequent basis and he would tell us stories about his family and living up north.
Uncle Oscar always had a flannel shirt on, even in the summer, and suspenders to hold up his work pants. He liked to make my parents coffee while he still could and sat in the same chair next to the wood burning stove every time we came. When I was in the 7th grade, I sent him a postcard from Disney World and every time after that we would come and see him, he’d pull out that postcard and show us. Just a gentle reminder that at times, something seemingly small to us could mean the world to someone else.
Uncle Oscar’s house was white with red trim, very Swedish Stuga style with a ginormous wood pile stacked against his garage. I remember through the years that the wood pile would get smaller and smaller and we finally had to get wood delivered so he wouldn’t freeze. His lot on the edge of town was large, by lot standards, and had crab apple trees and a huge garage/work shed. Since my Grandma had died when I was around 4 or 5, Uncle Oscar was our last chance to hear about life from the Landgren side of the world. When he died, all the untold stories we never got to hear, died with him.
There were a few times I tried to ask my Mom about her history, those in Sweden, those here in America but she would say it’s too painful to talk about and she didn’t want to go there. As much as I can respect that and would back off, it was frustrating to me. See, at least she HAD roots. Up until about 10 years ago, I didn’t. I craved them, I’d make up stories (one of which included me being a Hawaiian princess and the first time I went back to Maui there were pictures of me up bemoaning the lost princess and I was a pretty big deal once people realized it was me and then I was princess of Maui. I was also reunited with my young mother who was sent away too and it was all very happy. That was a good one and a good reason why I completely lose it at the end of Tangled.) True story.
Knowing where you came from is a gift. It may not be a happy gift, not all family is happy. But at least you know. You know the grandparent’s, the great-grandparent’s if you’re lucky and maybe even a great-great if the timing is right. I watch Bigg’s family with his Buscia, the last remaining Grandparent alive. As much as I understand the strain of having an aged relative living with you (believe me, I know) I cringe every time one of Matt’s sibs make fun of Buscia repeating stories. So what?? It makes me want to scream. What I would GIVE for one more story from my Grandma or Grandpa Peterson or one more handful of candy corn from my Grandma Carlson up on the Iron Range. Learn everything you can! Write it down to tell your children because you have the gift of knowing where you came from!
There are so many unreasonable thoughts that cross the mind of an adoptee. Why didn’t my real parent’s want me, where do I come from, do they think of me? Having a black wall represent your heritage is a heavy thing. And I was a lucky one. My parent’s have always been open with me about being adopted and told everything they were told about our family and why we were taken away. So at least I had a flicker of a past. I also know at least a few people who’s children do NOT know they are adopted. As much as I love these friends, I categorically disagree with this. Giving false history isn’t fair, at least no history is truth.
I was also one of the lucky ones who had a chance to fill in holes when my biological family was found. Hearing that my mother had died in a car wreck only weeks after turning 21 was as devastating as if I had just watched it happen. No happy reunion, no hugs, no telling her ‘it’s okay Ma, I made it.’ Just a visit to a grave that had long settled. But I had answers, at least most of them and I had stories and a heritage. I’m lucky. Oh, and as you can probably guess, I’m not a princess either. FML.
But if you have roots, please be thankful. They may be painful and if so, you’re not alone. But they may be happy too, appreciate them. You’ve always had them and have no idea what it is to not, but if it helps, think of every family memory and pull a black curtain over them and make them non-existent even for a brief moment. Not fun. Appreciate. About five years ago we were up north and drove by Uncle Oscar’s home to see if it still stood. It did! It was a brighter white with newer red trim and the garage/work shed was standing taller and brighter. It STILL had stacks of wood next to it; a boat out in the driveway; beautiful flowers in the front (it’s right off the county highway so those flowers take a beating in the winter), and children running around outside. It made me SO happy to see that they had kept the structure and there was LIFE running around it. Uncle Oscar would like that. Oh, he wouldn’t say so, but he’d nod his head and make a “hmmm hmmmm” noise. That was his way of saying ‘good job.’ Heh.
We take too much of our heritage for granted. Harriman State Park is not Mt. Vernon. Nor is it Yosemite. But heritage cannot be measured on a scale…
Mary E. Reed