Ancestors

I looked into the bright blue eyes of my six-year-old grandson. My separation from his mother during her first eighteen years looms from a distance in my mind. The punch of the memory’s sad echo fades next to his beautiful pink cheeks. I follow his tracks as he looks for a piece of wood to whittle, his new obsession. He is as manly as he is beautiful in his nimble six year-old body and his mind is quick and curious. My husband is one of his heroes. They have bonded over dead snakes and dragonflies and they crow back at crows nagging them from wires overhead as they walk the neighborhood together.

I ponder my grandson’s gait – proud and self-assured. He is confident. He knows who he is underneath the monkey-covered pajamas he has put on after his bath with his little brother. He is who he has always been since the day he was born.

I love him and cherish his strength. His mother is strong, too. So am I. It’s in our blood. Fierce with life. The bloodline we share has been traced through the centuries to scholars, artists, poets, ship captains; blacksmiths from Cork and cops from Edinburgh – and women who sailed high seas, who knew their own minds and used them to navigate the unexpected lives they led. There wasn’t a shrinking violet in the lot.

The exploits of our ancestors describe a swath of experience over time so colorful and far-reaching that my fickle imagination holds fast to each winding thread that curls through the weft and weave in the tapestry of our family’s history. I can almost feel the grip of ghostly relatives as their risks and achievements set the stage to reveal an adventurous prequel to now and the lives we find ourselves in. We have come far and new acts play out from within each of us daily. There were many stories before ours began.

Immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Sweden, England, Austria, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland found their way to Boston and took root there, where I was born. I culled their stories in bits and pieces from my relatives and fantasized about who my ancestors were underneath their rogue memories. As a youngster, I dressed them up in their worldly roles and they grew into vivid characters in my mind.

The ancestors I imagined may or may not bear a true resemblance to the people they were but each one of them piqued my interest with flavors and traits I recognize in myself and members of my family. My daughter is thick with them.

My understanding of my ancestors helped me to form answers to the question of who I was, where I came from and what I was made of from an early age. I have tried to pass their stories on to my children and grandchildren to help them understand the rich heritage they come from.

It never occurred to me that I might be anything else, different or apart from my ancestors; they were mysterious predecessors to my life and I was a result of theirs. My complexion, my voice, my laugh, my wit, my constituion – all carry elements of these people in the past. We may not have crossed paths in real time but we are kin nevertheless. Traits that made my family, and made me, recognizable as one of the clan, grew into a unique code mixed with the experiences of many generations.

As different as we may be, my daughter and I understand each other in a way that can only be explained as genetic. I accept that. She does too.

Quinn rouses me from my reverie with a pirate yell as his imaginary sword switches back and forth over his little brother’s head and cousin Lucy looks for a cue to dive into play. The three children step into character letting go with shouts while they unleash their pirate selves and circle around the tent again and again.

Right now, the children are free from worry and time – they chase each other and make up games that children have been making up since the beginning of time. A day will come when they will need more to go on. They will learn to read and write and think things through. The truth of the past will complicate their innocence and unveiled trust. They will need honest answers to quell the questions that arise. It may not be simple to explain. I know they will be affected by the story of my past and the truth I share with their mother.

When I ask the ancestors to give me the answers I need, they echo silence like a muted song rising in my mind’s ear.

“We have turned to dust. It’s up to you to answer your Life.”

So I will respond to their questions in my own way and hope that the children will recognize my love for their mother in the answer.

Future generations who carry our resemblance may not know any more about us than we guessed about our ancestors. If something in their blood compels them to play out the stories we started here, Life will keep us in the mix and what we do now will matter. From here in the middle between what was and what will be, anything is possible.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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(Painting “Sirens” by Roderick Smith ©1999 for Harbour CD)

“Sirens” by kate power
performed & recorded by kate power & steve einhorn on “Harbour”, produced by craig carothers

Candlelight in the window
Burning brighter than a holy wick glow
Lead my boat into safe harbour
Take me through these rocky waters

Stormy weather winds blow
Toss me off far from my destination
Folding me in blinding weather
I’m in your hands, I’m barely bound together

I’m blowin’ in from deep water
I’m blowin’ in from sea
And I’m holding my eye on the beacon
Bring me in

Sirens sound in the wind
Or is it the bell in the buoy moaning?
There, I hear it again
I’m coming about, I’m rowing

Like a gusty gull in the air
Skimming top of the deepest ocean
Stirring fish in salty water
Chasing fin from seal to otter

I’m blowing in from deep water
Blowin’ in from sea
Won’t you hold me in your line of vision
Bring me in

Sirens sound in the wind
Or is it the bell in the buoy moaning?
There, I hear it again
I’m coming about, I’m rowing

Candlelight in the window
Burning brighter than a holy wick glow
Lead my boat into safe harbour
Take me through these rocky waters

I’m blowing in from deep water
Blowin’ in from sea
Won’t you hold me in your line of vision
Bring me in

Sirens sound in the wind
Or is it the bell in the buoy moaning?
There, I hear it again
I’m coming about, I’m rowing

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