Saturday, July 17, 2010

Time Passages

[Note: This is the first in a projected occasional series of posts about my family history.]

I've always thought one of the most formative aspects of my childhood as well as one of the more interesting things about me was my parents' age. You see, my parents were older than the parents of my peers. 

Today it's not unusual for a woman to have her first child at age 33. It's not even unusual for a man to have a child a couple months before his 50th birthday, especially a child by a second marriage. But in 1955 that was a little late for people to start a family. 

The story of how my parents met and fell in love and so forth is a story for another post. But mom and dad had independent lives before they met, and they got a rather late start in the business of raising a family.

Dad plowed fields with horses. He remembered when tractors and cars first appeared in rural Nebraska. He remembered the horrors of the influenza epidemic of 1918 And in settling down late he was following a family tradition. Both his father and grandfather had also married and had their families later than usual. Paul was born in 1870. And Dad's grandfather George was born in 1826. 

Think about it. You may know, or have known, one of your great grandparents. John Quincy Adams was president of the United States when George Hanson was born. 

Dad's mother Linna's brothers and father served in the Civil War. And her daughter Pauline's husband John served in World War I.

On my mother's side, I reach back into history due to her large, close extended family. We were close to her aunts and uncles. Her father Bob and several of her uncles served in WWI as well. And my mother's three oldest brothers served in WWII.

So the stories told around our family tale were of a different time. We heard stories of several generations of a family of immigrants living together. Of young married women with children of their own shocked to realize their mother was pregnant. Of young men going to travel in Turkey or fight in Europe when it took weeks to get to those places. Of the Great Depression. Of a mother newly arrived in the US, suddenly widowed, raising her children on her own. Of people moving and visiting and staying in touch. Of people falling out of touch and sometimes reconnecting years later. 

The stories I heard gave me an appreciation of family and taught me that -- sometimes shortly and sometimes over the course of decades -- things generally work out. Bitter feuds can be mended; sad estrangements can end. Decisions that seem foolish today turn out OK. And family endures.

Today, my family is greatly reduced. My only close relative is my sister Linna whom I don't see as often as I'd like. But she and I have shared memory and history that bind us more tightly than bands of steel. We are estranged from our brother Paul but maybe someday we'll see him again. 

I have extended family. They are scattered and I don't see them often. But the funny thing is this. Family still endures. In moving to South Carolina I'm now closer to a couple cousins here in the Eastern US, so maybe our paths will cross again.