Tuesday, August 18, 2009

La familia

It's been a while since I've posted anything. It's not that I've lost interest, it's just that family time and pursuits have been taking the lion's share of my energy. What energy I've had left for writing-related pursuits has had to go into the second draft of my new book, which is nearing completion. I've had a goal to finish it (the second draft) by the end of August, so I've had to be fairly disciplined, and that discipline has included letting go of blogging for a while. I'll be back in full force, once my second draft has been completed and is in the hands of an editor friend who has promised to look it over.

We spent a full week in Memphis, Tennessee in August, with Göran's family again, and that was pure joy. Last year, our first visit, was momentous enough. This year felt like a kind of homecoming. We just enjoyed hanging out with family, eating, talking, telling stories, taking pictures... We did some sight-seeing -- with family. Usually, by the end of a vacation I am ready to go home, ready to pick up where I left off. But by the end of the week, it was actually painful to have to leave. Perhaps it is that we (and they) felt the desperate need to make up for forty years of lost time. There was just a sadness. But at the end of this visit, family there also seemed to realize that we had kept our promises from last year to return. They were more confident that we are coming back again next year. It felt good to have family there, yearning for our return; to yearn ourselves to stay longer; to genuinely look forward to when we'll be back again. The look in Göran's dad's face, the tears in Aunt Dottie's eyes said everything. It is wonderful to be so loved, and to love in return.

While there, I continued the never-ending quest for more genealogical information. We spent a morning at a small family cemetery in Eads, Tennessee. I scoured every corner of the grounds, taking pictures of every headstone with the "Harris" name. (Glen's patience was tried, as that Memphis morning was particularly hot and humid!) Göran's grandmother took us with her to the nursing home where his great-grandfather died, hoping for information, but alas they wouldn't release it to him without a power of attorney. But we met with his grandfather's cousin, and she told us stories, showed us pictures, and gave us some vital bits of information that filled in a gaping hole in the family tree that we'd been trying to fill through the nursing home visit. In between, I continued digging around on the Church's genealogy web site.

Glen and Göran have both caught genealogy fever from me. Glen and I spent some time searching records on line together, researching his roots (which we've gotten a good start on, thanks to some family books his grandmother showed us last year). Glen got an application for his iPod that let us download the family tree information I've gathered into a format that lets him browse through it on his iPod. Göran wants the same application! We're all planning to go to the Harris family reunion next year in St. Louis, MO.

I have also spent some time studying my own roots. Researching Göran's genealogy has seemed more exciting to me, since so much less of his is done. Being a fifth generation Mormon means that my genealogy has been researched already with a fine-toothed comb. So the thrill of the hunt for new relationships and new information isn't there on my side as much as it is on his. Still, I feel a sense of awe as I flip through the family group charts and follow back the lines that have already been traced for me by other family members. Even the bare "tombstone" facts tell a story about choices made, paths followed, and destinies forged.

I often take my LDS ancestry for granted, but when I look at the bare facts in black and white on a piece of paper, I realize how nothing can ever be taken for granted. I have a grand total of twenty LDS ancestors. Of those twenty, twelve were converts to the Church. Among the twelve converts, five were from England, three were from Wales, three were from Sweden, and one (my mother) was from Finland. All twelve eventually made their way to Utah. Three of the twelve joined the Church when Joseph Smith was still alive and made their way to Nauvoo. Eight joined after the Saints had left Nauvoo, but before the transatlantic railroad (and the Manifesto) had transformed what it meant to be a Mormon and to gather with the Saints.

Five out of twelve of my convert ancestors eventually entered into polygamous marriages. In fact, out of my twenty LDS ancestors, a total of nine -- or almost half -- were members of polygamous families. Polygamous marriages in my ancestry involved an average of 3.5 wives -- the smallest household involving two wives and the largest household involving five wives. Two of my female ancestors abandoned non-Mormon husbands in the old world and remarried Mormon husbands in America. Two of my female ancestors were not first wives, so I can truthfully say that if it were not for polygamy, I would not have been born. My dad's father, after whom I was named, was raised in a polygamous household.

I've heard some stories passed down, always told thick with memory and emotion. Stories about the sacrifices made by the Saints were passed on with pride. Some stories, about the challenges of living in polygamous families, were told with more mixed emotions. Sometimes shame (one of the marriages took place in the shadow years between the 1890 Manifesto and the 1904 so-called "Second Manifesto"). Sometimes bitterness (one great-grandmother and her children were apparently hated and treated with contempt by my great-grandfather's first wife).

My own relationship to that past, obviously, has evolved. I have complex feelings about it all. Over time, those feelings have evolved away from pride or judgment and grown more toward awe and gratitude. I had a great-great-aunt who wrote a book about her father, my great-great-grandfather, who served three missions in Sweden. He never knew who his father was. But he didn't let what he didn't know cause him bitterness. He lived his life with "no regrets," grateful for the blessings that came to him through his conversion to the Gospel. That's what my great-great-aunt titled the book: No Regrets. That's very much how I feel.

I owe these people everything I have and am. All the sacrifices they made were for me to be able to come into the world, to be blessed in ways they can't imagine. The least I can do is turn my heart to them from time to time, to think about what I might do to make all those sacrifices worth while.


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Anonymous said...

I am glad to see you back blogging! I have missed you, but it sounds like you have had a wonderful summer with family and traveling about.

May I ask what your new book is about? Do you have a title yet?

I VERY much enjoy your writing! Thank you. :)

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Beck said...

I have been preparing a lesson on D&C 132 and of course the subject of polygamy will undoubtedly come up.

I appreciate your insights and gratitude for what often has been a hushed up or glossed over chapter of family history. Thanks for this viewpoint. It is refreshing.

Bravone said...

Yay! a new post! I hate to admit that I'm starting to get interested in family history as well. Funny how only old people used to care and now all us young folk are getting into it. ;) Sounds like you've had a great summer with family.

We had family reunions in Utah 4 out of 6 weekends. All were good, but the last one was probably the best I've ever been to. We are such a diverse group, LDS, non LDS, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, tall, short, a tossed salad to be sure.

Everyone put aside differences and simply enjoyed two days together playing, reminiscing and just being together. It was wonderful to see us just love each other for who we are, where we are.

Thanks for another thoughtful post.