Sunday, August 11, 2013

From the past...

Off I went, last Wednesday, to Oregon City to a memorial service. Bertie was my Dad's cousin and perhaps the last of that generation of his family. She died at age 96 last month. Though I hadn't seen her in years the news brought back memories of family reunions at the beach where she lived with her second husband, George. Bertie was the organizer, the hostess, the greeter, the hugger of babies, the introducer of cousins—once, twice, thrice-removed; and the happy hostess presiding over each gathering like the mother of us all. Everyone adored her. But then, as cousins, especially the twice and thrice-removed do, we lost touch, had families, moved apart and focused on immediate family. Our parents grew old and one by one they passed on and family reunions were a thing of the past. So, no—I hadn't seen Bertie in years. And though I knew I wouldn't recognize anyone there, nor would they know me, I felt I needed to go to the service.

Why? I asked myself why I was going as I drove to Oregon City. And again, sitting quite alone in the chapel, I wondered why I had felt so compelled to be there. But I knew it was because of Dad. He would have done the same. He loved Bertie. They had been children together in Montana. And too, I remembered when he died there were people I didn't know who came to his funeral and found my siblings and me afterward to say that they came because my Dad had been kind to them at some time. Because he meant something and this would be their last chance to acknowledge that. And that was why I was there.

After the service I made my way through the crowd to introduce myself to Bertie's son and daughters, who I knew would only remember me after I told them who I was, and tell them how fondly I remembered their mother and how I knew what a good life she had led and how much she would be missed by them. A small thing, but I could see that I had been right to come. One daughter urged me to join them at the reception after and especially to take a look at Bertie's scrapbooks they had brought along. And that is where I found the second reason I had come. Old photos. Very old photos in a book that had actually been Bertie's mother's album. Bertie's mother was the sister of my grandfather. Their parents were my great-grandparents and it follows that their grandparents were my great-great grandparents and there they were in the album. Identified only as Grandpa and Grandmother Jones. The photo was taken in 1866 and I was seeing their faces for the first time.

It took me a moment to understand who these people were and then another to catch my breath. I nearly grabbed the sleeve of the man standing next to me to tell him "these are my GREAT-GREAT GRANDPARENTS!" Such was my excitement. Instead I coolly took out my phone and took the best photo of the old photo that I could get. I saw many old photos, some duplicates of those handed down to my brother, sister and me. Included was a photo of my grandfather that I had never seen before.

I knew my grandfather, but only as an old man who puttered in his garden and told funny stories. Here he is, pipe in mouth, gun on his hip, young and handsome and strong—look at those arms! How strange, in a way, to find my family here among virtual strangers, and to know that my family was their family.

And now there is more. Not the same, but somehow related.

Yesterday I got a message through Facebook from a woman I don't know. I suspect she found me through mutual friends. She wrote to say "As of late, I've been working at changing my focus from the problematic people I've the good, kind, and gentle folks who FAR outnumber the bad eggs." She went on to tell me a story about serving with my Dad on the Pocatello Airport Commission many years ago and discovering that her father was an employee of my Dad and that he and Dad had a great friendship, besides their working relationship. She told of Dad's kindness when her father died and spoke of his intelligence and kindness and gentlemanly demeanor. She closed by saying "Some people make a bigger mark in your life than others...and because of their personal integrity, and positive life force, it doesn't take a lot of exposure. Just felt like sharing with you...we all like to hear good things now and again."  

Yes, we do. Especially about the people we love. Her message was a gift that I couldn't have imagined. And I couldn't help but hope that I had given the same small gift from a stranger to Bertie's family that this woman gave me. A reminder that a kind word has force and power. We shouldn't be so stingy with those kind words. 

It has been an enlightening week.


  1. What a beautiful post, Terry. The messages that are brought from unexpected places touch us deeply. I dreaded Dad's wake, the people I hadn't seen since I was a toddler, too many memories too soon, etc. We expected 80 relatives and maybe some of the old farmers. 250+ people showed up. Talk about floored! Then I heard the stories about my Dad, Grandfather, and Uncle. How they had given people jobs on the farm during the depression. How they had helped people eat and keep their families together. I knew a little of this, but was overwhelmed. I cried a lot that day, but it was for having found out these stories before they too were gone. I came home and wrote letters. Not just to those who reached out, but to others who had stood by me all my life. I wanted them to know now, while they are still alive, how they helped shape my life and what a gift their friendship is to me. You are so right about spreading kind words. It only takes a few to make someones day and perhaps change their life. xoxo

  2. Anonymous6:19 AM

    Your entry today brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. It is so important to spread the good stories. I am reminded of a friend, Carol, who came up to me after church one January day and told me how much she liked and admired me. I knew we were friends, but I was a bit overwhelmed with her kind words. That next week we left for a two month winter vacation in the sun. The following week we were notified that Carol has suddenly died. My lasting memory of her are her kind, loving words to me. If only we could always spread words and stories of good deeds and kindness, what a better world it would be. Thanks for sharing your lovely story, Terry.

  3. I have struggled over the past few decades, trying to keep on-track and to be active and involved in life around me. I made a file "Things to read when the Black Beast comes around." When life gets dark I haul out the file and read the kind, gracious, thoughtful notes and e-mails that I have saved. Some are from people I hardly know and others from friends of long standing. They are treasures of the heart and keep me going into the unknowable future. In our busy lives we forget to take a few minutes to appreciate humankind; the caring words we give may be a treasure in someone's life. Thank you for this loving post about your family. Del

  4. Anonymous10:03 AM

    A wonderful, heartfelt post, Terry. It brought tears to my eyes, because my Dad is 89 and has Alzheimer's. The memories have all faded for him so now I'm the one who must remember. Thank you for your words and your kindness.

  5. Lovely post, Terry. Thank you.

  6. A lovely story, Terry -- and a reminder of how important it is to share those good moments. Telling someone about some little positive thing may be a BIG thing for them.

  7. Terry--your blog always fills me with warm and loving thoughts. This post and many, many others. I thought you should know you are carrying on the family tradition of kindness and love. I am thankful for having found you on the internet.

  8. Anonymous4:18 PM

    Terry, This is another lovely post. I can understand your excitement at finding the old family photos as I've been in your shoes. That is a terrific photo of your grandfather and it opens up a whole new way for you to think of him. You have added to the treasure you can pass down to your children and grandchildren. And thanks for reminding us all to take the time now to pass along our thanks and special thoughts to those who mean and have meant so much to us.

    Sincerely, Marken

  9. what a wonderful string of events! so important to let people know how much they mean to you....

  10. Wow Terry. I am having a chaotic week and your words touched my heart. Thank you

  11. What a lovely post...brought tears to my eyes.