Monday, August 7, 2017

Our Non-Genetic Heritage

I spent most of Sunday working on Goran's and my family trees. One thing that struck me is how incredibly important a role foster parents have played in both our families. There are numerous foster parents in both our family trees, but two salient examples illustrate.

During the Spanish influenza epidemic, first my great grandmother and her baby boy passed away, then my great grandfather towards the tail end of the epidemic.
"Uncle Henry" as a young man

During the Great Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919 (considered the most devastating epidemic in recorded history: 30-40 million people died), my grandmother lost both her parents and her baby brother Howard. The oldest of her seven surviving siblings were still in their teens and the youngest was 5 years old. The children were all taken in and raised by their life-long bachelor uncle Henry. I have always been in awe of the sacrifice of this man who went from single bachelor farmer to parent of seven over night.

An iconic photo from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to support the sanitation workers, and it was there he was assassinated.
Otis Elliott and Göran's grandma Eloise

On Goran's side, his father and father's sister Dorothy were raised by Otis Elliott. Aunt Dottie described Otis as a kind and good father who raised them as his own kids, and provided a stable, loving influence in their lives. Like my grandma's uncle Henry, Otis was a humble, hard working man. Otis was a sanitation worker in Memphis, Tennessee during the sanitation workers strike of 1968, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. He was always (justifiably) proud of his role in that historic movement for equality and justice that has shaped all of our worlds.

Certainly our genetic heritage is a huge part of making us who we are. But family is much more than just genes ("genealogy"). Individually and as families, we are who we are as well because of the things we inherited spiritually and emotionally and socially from foster parents, mentors or teachers.

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