This is one of the oldest photographs in my possession.
It is a picture of my great Grandmother Newell. She is the young lady standing in the back wearing the dark blouse. She is absolutely gorgeous and looks like something straight out of Downton Abbey.
I never met this relative of mine- she passed away before I was born. But my Grandmother told me many stories about her, so I feel as if we’ve been introduced.
My great Grandmother Newell was a big believer in family. Her own mother died when she was young and as one of the oldest she watched over her siblings. When she married, she took her two youngest brothers to live with her so she could continue raising them. Great Grandmother was the only mother they really knew. She then went on and had six children of her own.
My great Grandmother Newell raised them all while living in a small three bedroom house close to the train tracks. Hobos, hitching rides on the trains, would stop at her house and knock on her back door for food to eat. I don’t believe she ever turned any of them away.
Despite its small size, her house was the place for every family celebration. I have photo after photo of different relatives standing and posing on the front steps. Quite simply it felt like home to everyone who visited. My grandmother even returned there to give birth to each of her children, my father included. No hospital, no medical staff, could make her feel as safe as her own childhood home.
I’ve visited this home, my great Grandmother’s house. It was kept in the family after she was too old and alone to live there herself; my father’s cousin raised her family there. So I’ve stood on that same front porch and posed for the same family pictures as my relatives did.
All these things make connections between me and the past: the stories, the old photographs, the visits to the places my ancestors lived. I’m tied to the past and it comforts me, centers me. It reminds me of who I am and where I come from.
My grandchildren won’t be able to visit the homes I grew up in. These houses have either been destroyed or passed out of family hands. So they will never know the feeling of standing on a porch they’ve seen in family pictures or sleeping in a bed their father was born in.
In these modern times I am forced to create new connections to my future descendants, keeping our family web intact. I want them to feel as connected to me as I do to past relatives.
So I hand down stories and photos to my children as a kind of spiritual inheritance, telling them not only the tales of my childhood but the story of my father’s childhood, and the things I know of my Grandmother.
I think that is one reason why I blog- to keep a permanent record of my stories and the stories of my children- so that someday a great grand-daughter of mine will look at my pictures and read about my life and feel that connection to me.
At the end of the day, after the money has been spent and our possessions sit dusty on shelves and our health is gone, it will be the connections that matter most.
But the time to make those connections is now.