Saturday, May 28, 2016

Visiting the Graves

We’ve been up at our cabin the past few Memorial Day weekends and so missed one of my favorite childhood traditions of visiting the graves with my parents. (Though we haven’t missed family grave visits all together – several of those years up at the cabin we managed to meet Mike’s family in Logan to see some of our ancestors on his side – extra significant to my kids as they carry many of their names.) But this year I made sure we didn’t miss my own childhood tradition. My dad wasn’t well enough to walk around the cemetery for an hour or two, but I asked my mom if she would come with us on the very first day of summer break (the Friday of Memorial Day weekend) to make the rounds.


The Ogden cemetery is old and big and full of ornate tombstones. We always have to hop in and out of the car several times to make our way to the different burial plots. The kids take turns getting to ride in grandma’s car. And at each stop she pulls out mums or plastic flowers or anything else that might have been in bloom from her yard.


We stand or sit on the grass – often gazing at the names of our ancestors carved into stone much how one might gaze into a campfire. (Though, inevitably, the littlest kids run about and must be reminded to be respectful of the grave markers and discouraged from pulling out the pinwheels, etc. left by other graves. Others take it upon themselves to stand up any flowers that may have fallen down near any stones.) My mom pulls out old black and white photos and tells us the stories that I know as well as any tales.

My granpda (second great) Edward Allison who came from England in his earliest teens to seek his fortune and was let off the boat in Missouri – sick with smallpox – to stay in one of the small “pest houses” (tiny shacks where a bowl of food would be left each day for the afflicted – and an uneaten meal signified it was time to bring out a body). The story of his survival and of being taken in as an apprentice by a tailor that had pity on the poor starving teen looking in his shop window. And, in later years, the story of him eventually becoming the sheriff of Summit County, UT and bringing in the murderer that he found hiding in a mine shaft.

His wife – Eliza Bruun Allison who came from Denmark as a small girl with her dad and two siblings (after losing their mom to cholera on the journey). I’ve always loved that my middle name came from the last name of these two grandparents. When my parents gave it to me my mom had no idea that I shared Eliza’s birthday, but seeing that date on her grave stone always makes me feel there was significance in connecting me with them in name. 

There’s the heart breaking story of my great grandpa Thomas Wallace whose Scottish sailor (and hard drinking) father once left the family and never returned. His mom, destitute, somehow managed to get back to Ireland with her children (walking much of the way) -- in hopes of finding the family who had disowned her when she’d married. The family was never found and Thomas’s mom and youngest sibling died before any solution was found. Thomas and his siblings were sent to an Irish orphanage, and then, when it was discovered they were part Scottish, they were shipped back there. Eventually Thomas joined the church and came to Utah. We always laugh when we tell the story of his daughter Lizzie coming home (after sneaking off to a youth hayride that Thomas felt was too dangerous) and climbing in her window from the same large tree next to it that she’d climbed down earlier in the evening to escape only to find Thomas sitting in her room when she returned. He didn’t say a word, just got up and left the room, but Lizzie woke the next morning to the sound of him swinging an axe at the base of that tree. As humorous as the story is, there was a fair amount of frustration in the life of Lizzie and her brother Joe (my great grandpa) due to Thomas’s strict nature. And yet . . . NINE of his children died. Nine of eleven just . . .  gone from one disease or another. Annie at 15, Samuel at nine, one set of twins as babies, another as toddlers, etc. etc. Who can blame him for being desperate to protect the two children he still had?


We visit the grave of my great great grandpa Franklin D. Richards, and my mom tells us a few small stories of friendship and connection between Franklin D. and Thomas. Thomas actually, through a strange set of circumstances, passed away in Franklin’s home. Lately, with eternal connections jumping out more and more to me, I marvel that these two men had no idea that several generations later I would be able to claim them both as grandpas – that they’d have grandchildren marry and share posterity from there on out. The same people eternally significant to them. I love that.

So many more stories and visits – one to my own grandma who didn’t pass away til I was in college. At her grave I don’t need to tell old re-told stories. I have my own. I can tell my kids about trick-or-treating to her house, spending summers at her Bear Lake trailer, Christmas Eve at her house, and being picked up from elementary on short days to come play Rummikub and Shanghai and eat treats.

And of course, ice cream. Always, ever since I was small, there must be ice cream cones after the cemetery.

IMG_9210_edited-1IMG_9201_edited-1IMG_9209_edited-1Photo May 27, 11 26 06 AM

Growing up we sometimes teased my mom about her passion for genealogy. And, while I knew these stories, it never occurred to me that they . . . mattered. But, in recent years, while I still know very little about actually doing genealogical research, all of that has changed. They matter. The stories matter. These people matter. And not just because they are in some vague way “ancestors”. I have come to feel more and more certainly that we connected with so much more ease; so much more vastly and powerfully before we came here and that the people on the other side of the veil – both our ancestors, AND, our progenitors (those who aren’t here yet but who are still waiting to come as our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren) -- are aware of us and involved with us. I feel certain that they matter to us and we matter to them. Several years ago I was writing in my journal and mentioned a small thing my dad had told me about an ancestor. I wrote it sort of off-handedly, but after writing it, I suddenly heard – simply and clearly (though not audibly) the words, “They are close, Nancy.” My pen paused, suspended in air, and I just sort of sat there – feeling shocked at the force with which those words had lit up in me (and wondering why). But since then I have grown more and more sure of it. We matter to them. They know us. We know them. Further, we love each other. Those of us on this side of the veil have just . . . forgotten a bit. I recently read this from President Joseph F. Smith – which confirmed what I have felt more and more aware and certain of ever since that experience:

“When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred [and] friends . . .”

How are we not going to praise God like crazy some day! Not just this plan. Not just this chance to grow and progress and be tried and learn things we could learn in no other way, but for the amazing mercy and love we will eventually see clearly in all the connections he forged for us!

(Here is a link to an old post I wrote about another little experience I once had connecting with an ancestor.)

School’s End and Growing Older

School ended Thursday. “Moving on” for a few of our kids. Abe leaving junior high for high school. Goldie shutting the doors on the elementary school she’s attended for the last seven years (which is the same thing as “forever” when you are 11).


Goldie followed in Abe’s footsteps by receiving the coveted Hope of America award (and its accompanying $25 cash). Daisy has since, in mock despair, sighed over being “the only one in our whole family” not to get the award, and each time Goldie absent mindedly assures her that, to us, she’ll always be the true hope of America.


It feels to me like we’ve lived in this home for such a small, drop-in-the-bucket period of time, that I can’t quite fathom how Goldie could possibly have lived out all of her elementary years here. Or how Jesse could have snuck so far past the newborn stage he was when we brought him to this home. (Or how we could have added not only Jesse, but three other entirely new people to our family since leaving WA.)


Mostly I can’t quite figure how Abe morphed from a nervous, little second grader to a savvy teen who drives and seems completely ready to start high school. Those three junior high years passed so quickly that I suppose that means these upcoming high school ones will too. And then? He’ll just be . . . expected to take on life fairly independently? Mission. College. Jobs. Marriage. It would seem impossible that we might expect those things from him in just three year’s time. Only . . . he handles things, and manages things, and figures things out in a manner that is so much more mature and self-confident than it was three years earlier that . . . who knows what he might be ready for in a bit more time!


Strangely I don’t feel panicked or “slow down time!” ish about it all. I feel more . . . surprised. Curious (I’m so interested in seeing what the future holds and how all these little people get from here . . . to there). And maybe even a little relieved. And grateful. I like that, despite my worries about how to raise all these people, life just keeps being lived and we just keep moving along.


Of course there are always things I will miss. Dear little stages and moments that are such perfection. Things I want to hold onto – just as they are – forever. I constantly hope, and actually have really come to believe, that all of our existence will just be utterly there and clear and present with us in some distant day beyond this life – and that, eventually, none of our experiences will really feel lost or beyond our reach.

But, in the mean time, it’s kind of like how I’ve come to feel about aging. I don’t long to go back or be younger again. I feel excitement and hope about moving along my life’s path. I feel more and more the same with raising these kids. It feels right, and I feel grateful that they do keep . . . learning and growing and morphing into something new again and again.


Of course maybe I’d feel a bit more anxious to stop time – stop these people from changing so quickly – if I didn’t always have several still at the stages that the older ones have left behind. It’s much easier to let Abe start taking on bits of adulthood when I still have a kid nervous to even think of Kindergarten. I’m OK letting Goldie head off from elementary, after all, her baby sisters will be there before too long.

But . . . I do feel happy to see where we are. I can’t explain this perfectly, but I sometimes get such anxiety over everything that needs done to raise a kid. I panic that I’ll teach something to the first three and forget to teach it to the last five. I stay awake at night fretting over EVERYTHING that will need to happen to get each of them independent and secure in living life and knowing who they are and not wavering in their convictions of truth. It’s comforting to see that . . . it just happens anyway. We just figure it out as we go and hope for room to fix the inevitable mistakes and for others to be placed in their paths to fill the holes I inadvertently neglected.


Friday, May 13, 2016

3 Things

1. Names.

I’m not one to be fussy over my kids names being pronounced correctly. After all, it’s nobody’s fault but my own if I give them names that give rise to confusion in the saying, and I don’t typically bother with the awkwardness of correcting the poor nurse who has to call them from the waiting room or the distant acquaintance who has only seen their name in writing.

But, as someone who was more than a little startled upon first hearing the correct pronunciation of Javert and Jean Valjean (after having read Les Miserables [an abridged version I’m sure] at an age when the possibility of an E and A together doing anything other than follow the old “when two vowels go walking” rule or J’s saying anything other than a hard J sound were unthinkable), I recognize that sometimes it is nice to actually know how to say the names you are reading. And, since I occasionally gather the new little reader or two to this blog, I’ve decided there can be no harm in clearing the confusion every year or so:

Jesse. It’s not Jess-ee. It’s just Jess. But it’s spelled like Jess-ee. Which is very confusing. I know. It’s a family name. Said one way and spelled another. So, he’s just “Jess”, but, with the extra good fortune of having a silent E on the end.

“. . . if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.”

“What difference does it make how it's spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

“Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can't you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you'll only call me Anne spelled with an E I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.”

I should hate for him to have to be called Cordelia, so we will stick with the silent E. Jesse.

Mette. It’s Scandinavian. Both Mike and I have family from Denmark (and Norway on my side). When we found the name in our family trees, we weren’t even sure how to say it! It just jumped out at us. After a little research we felt fairly confident in our pronunciation: “Meh-duh” (though some of our kids do stress the t’s and say it a bit more like Metta). Of course we still say it in our harshly Americanized way (just like we do with Anders), but I’ve since met another Mette (given that name by her father who served an LDS mission in Denmark) and she’s always used our same pronunciation.

2. Noses.

I try very hard not to let my nose know I’m awake. But the nose knows. (Oh good heavens, Nancy. That’s enough.) But seriously. Nearly every night this spring I am just fine unless I have to get up with a crying baby or some such. I’m even fine for the first few minutes of walking up stairs or tucking in little people, but then my nose realizes I am awake and leaps to drippy, runny attention. I can never get back to bed for a good 20 minutes after that because I must keep blowing my nose. I simply must learn to wake more stealthily.

3. Beavers.

Mike recently saw part of a documentary on beavers. The next day he said to me, “You know, Jesse and Anders are just like little beavers. Everyone thinks they’re so cute, but they cause a lot of damage.”

In Mike’s defense, it wasn’t too long ago that he discovered our lawn mower with both its gas and oil tanks filled with dirt. Jesse had been wondering, with all good intent I’m sure, if he might have found an alternative fuel source.


Monday, May 9, 2016

All is Well

Everyone’s sick around here.

Well. No. Not everyone. I’m not sure I’ve even counted. I just know there are a number of fevery little people moaning and whining, protesting and complaining; and, in my sleep-deprived state, I’m just as likely to try and administer Motrin to a well one as a sick one or absent-mindedly wipe a drip-free nose while, one couch cushion over, the child it was intended for is simply left to sit and sniffle.

And it must not quite be all of them because Daisy, who, I’m sure, in the truest part of her soul only feels the deepest of sorrows over her siblings languishing in misery, has been prancing about – all smiles and cheer -- exclaiming how glad she is that she isn’t sick and marveling over how she escaped it when she’s usually the first to fall ill. (I worry her celebrations are a wee bit premature as we aren’t even a full 24 hours into this.)

I’m not in despair mind you. I’m more in a state of . . . listless and unglamorous muddling. After all, no one is throwing up. And, while plans for family night gave away to . . . plans for survival, nearly anything is bearable so long as no one is throwing up! (Though I am at a grave loss for how to handle a baby who wakes in the night with no appetite and no interest in any sort of rocking or snuggling. And I have noted that toddlers [and army-crawlers alike] don’t seem to understand in the slightest degree that being sick means you are supposed to lie about listlessly waiting to get well. They seem only to want to wander about [increasing their misery with each passing moment] searching for some explanation for their unwellness or some non-existent cure; and, unable to discover such a thing, they find themselves becoming more and more angry [and more and more cry-ee . . . soooo much more cry-ee].)

On a happy note, my efforts to put all of these sick, little, dears to bed drastically early resulted in me getting them to bed . . . actually on time, and here I am typing at the computer before darkness has even fully fallen outside. (Though I suppose I should away with myself to the store before too long. For being in such a situation, we’re frighteningly low on Tylenol!)

Anyway . . . while this current predicament hasn’t done me in (and has only made me tired and mildly apt to lose a smidgen of my mind with each bout of whining that coincides with me trying to get something done) being awake for, well, most of last night did allow my night-time brain plenty of opportunity to tangle itself around and around other more serious worries – trials that I know are looming; difficulties I see on the horizon but don’t see my way through. In the moments between going up and down stairs to try and calm Mette, drifting fretfully to sleep, and being re-woken again by one child or another, my brain wriggled itself into quite an impressive and tangled knot of fear.

Yet, somehow, through that unreasonableness (well, not total unreasonableness, some of the trials are very real and the ways through them, as yet, completely unknown), words from a song came to my mind, and they came like scripture, telling my spirit, in a way more intimate than the words themselves could, things that it recognized as true. Generally, yes, but even more: specifically. In my tossing and turning little state of mental turmoil, I wasn’t alone, and the father of my eternal soul worked his way through my walls of “It can’t possibly be managed” and “I’ll never see it through” with . . . hope. And courage. And perspective.

“. . . no toil nor labor fear; . . . Though hard to you this journey may appear, Grace shall be as your day. . . . Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard? ‘Tis not so; all is right. Why should we think to earn a great reward If we now shun the fight? Gird up your loins; fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake; And soon we’ll have this tale to tell – All is well! All is well!”

Fresh courage take all my loved ones. As hard as this journey appears, it is as it should be, and your God, whether you know him or not, is your God. He has no plans to forsake you. On with the fight.

All is well. All is well.
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