My difficulty with writing is that I have so many stories and unbelievable things that have happened to me, it’s been hard to sort them all out. Here I hope to write about tidbits in a targeted way so I can bring all these stories to life in new ways. I’m now in the middle of my life’s biggest treasure hunt. It’s not about money, or fame or being a material girl; it’s about life. Family. Roots. My family was shattered early in my life and I’ve spend all the ensuing years identifying, repairing and ultimately putting some of the pieces back together. It’s not a flip thing to do, or an easy thing, or a quick thing. It takes years full of taking peeks here and there to avoid being scared off by the whole process. So I would find a little insight here, a little distraction there, some pain over there and fun over here and then find it was time again for more insight. And on goes the cycle. Eventually I started filling in those missing pieces of my foundation, understanding more about who I am and why, getting over the blame and hurt and anger and all the psychodependency of it all. I’m here. I’m alive. I’m happy. I’m having adventures I never thought I’d have and I’m still waiting for some I haven’t even thought of yet. I feel like Walter Mitty, or George Plimpton, or Alice in Wonderland at times — living out adventures and fantasies — unfortunately sometimes not in a good way.
My childhood was slightly milder than Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events, yet it left me unable to navigate the world quite the way I wanted to. Yet along the way I discovered many other people with the same or similar issues, the same fears, the same insecurities. So I found guideposts here and there, people who are rocks in my life, and some who were just flakes and had to be jettisoned, and ways to sort out my damaged parts for repair and nourishment and enhance the great parts waiting to shine. All a balance game, a fierce determination to grow and stretch and understand all things lacking or just missed as life whizzed by.
So that brings us to now. My uncle Vern is dying of cancer. And we’re in a race to put together the family history. There’s not much time. Vern, his oldest son Wayne, the family Lutheran minister (we’re Swedes, what other religion is there even if you’re not in Lake Wobegon?), and I seem to be the most interested in all this. He’s been here visiting and helping my aunt with the arrangements and we’re tackling boxes of photos and memorbilia as fast and thoroughly as we can. Wayne has two children and Vern has already started writing them installments of what he knows about the family. He has written sweet notes to them with each chapter. We’ll try to get a few more done. I’ve written two family histories and edited a book on Abbot Kinney among all my writing projects, but this one is the real pot of gold for me.
Yesterday we tackled the first box. Thankfully Vern’s memory is astounding. He’s the last link to our Swedish past. My Dad was Vern’s brother, and he and my mother both died when I was still a teenager. Luckily we have dozens of photos going back to Sweden as long as 100 years ago. Photos of my great great grandparents on my grandmother’s side. Rather stern pioneer looking folk sitting in rough bent birch chairs in Hamneda Sweden. It was a family of workers and farmers…Great Grandpa was a fine looking businessman. There are pictures of him at a table with business partners or lodge brothers, in fine suits and combed hair, all looking proud as possible.
I learned lodges of one sort or another are a strong part of my family, from Sweden, to Moline, Illinois where my grandparents met and married, to my generation. My grandparents were members of the Vasa ? Lodge , a Swedish American lodge. Grandpa was the last remaining founding member when he died. He was also member of the Nobel Lodge…There are ribbons and pins to prove his membership — and lots of newspaper clippings. Those Swedes loved to talk about what was going on with everyone!
My Dad didn’t take much interest in lodges, being a WWII pilot and then a commercial pilot, but mom was in a woman’s club, and my sister and I are both in the Elks — her by marriage, me by my own recent membership (much to some friends’ chagrin). My cousins, Verns sons, are involved more in the church and church groups and science, rather than lodges. Let’s face it, we all have the benefit of a wider variety of choices and lodges aren’t at the top of the list for most of us.
What I’m enjoying about all this is seeing Vern’s face light up as we find discover something. He’s confied to his hospital bed in the middle of his Scandinavian style furnished living room, so we set up a card table to spread out all the treasure. As we find something that needs identifying, one of us stands and takes it to him to read or view. Being a meticulous man, having worked at Rocketdyne/Rockwell for many years, he takes every task seriously. Upon rediscovering a very large photo of my young grandfather at work in an office, Vern asked Wayne to scan it and enlarge it so we could make out the date on the calendar and see if there were any company names hidden so we could determine if it was the John Deere office. My grandfather apparently worked there a short time. The date appeared — April 19, 1913. but no company name, so that mystery remains. I’m intrigued by some of grandpa’s other work. He arrived in the US in 1910 when he was 14. He had some schooling here but went to work as a teenager to help support the family — he had three sisters and a brother. One of his jobs was building levees — in Minnesota and we also think in New Orleans. We have more than a dozen photos showing levee projects and grandpa with various people at these sites. We just need to do some more detective work to identify the locations. A couple of photos have two or three black men — is that more likely New Orleans than Minnesota?