Week 52: #52 Ancestors – You
By Eilene Lyon
I am my ancestors’ future.
Their legacies to me were their hopes, aspirations, and privileges…as well as their fears, anger, and disappointments. These things, passed down to me, shape who I am today.
From my father, I learned the work ethic that came through generations of farmers. Many of his ancestors were German immigrants who arrived in this country in the mid-1800s, though he also has English roots tracing to New England in the early 1600s. They all eventually migrated to the harsh northern great plains. It was not easy to wrest a living from the South Dakota soil.
His parents took their sons to Oregon where the boys all worked for the local paper to pay their way through college, the first generation to attain higher education. Dad insisted I get at least a bachelor’s degree. He taught me life skills I needed to be independent: balancing a checkbook, car maintenance, getting a job and being a responsible employee.
My father also came from a line of people who seem to have had happy, strong marriages. But he did not find a way to that with my mother.
The roots of my mom’s unhappiness lie deep in past generations. On her maternal line, her great-grandparents suffered so many losses in life that Mom’s grandmother endured not only her father’s death when she was a small child, but her mother’s grief and hardening of heart.
Clara Ransom found solace in education, and this she passed down through five generations of female scholars. But happy, warm and loving, she was not.
My mother’s father also had rough times after losing his beloved mother at an early age and having an unwanted stepmother in her place. He was the only one in his family to attend college and, perversely, his siblings looked down on him for it. Though Laurence and Clare Smith had a very long marriage, it left a stain on future generations.
I keenly felt that having children was a bitter burden for my mother. I would not follow that journey in life. Even finding a way to a committed relationship became a difficult trial, after observing the weed-choked path of my parents’ marriage.
But my maternal legacy is not all negative, of course. From my mother I learned to love nature and travel, to love books and learning, to explore creative endeavors, and to handle the domestic duties that would also prepare me for independent life. I consider these to be sources of the greatest joys in my life.
In a few days’ time, I will be celebrating the passage of 58 years of life. I can honestly say that each year is happier than the preceding ones. Life is a grand gift and my heart is open to receiving it fully, and giving in kind. Every day is a new opportunity to learn and grow.
Thank you, dear readers, for sharing this journey with me through my blog. I look forward to exploring more lessons from history in the future and bringing them here for you.
Feature image: Me in 1964 on my first visit to a cemetery, Oak Lawn in Corvallis, Oregon, where my grandfather, Everett Halse, was laid to rest in 1961, the year I was born. Being a family historian, you can often find me in cemeteries everywhere these days.