At the Top of the Tree

In a few weeks my family is going to Ireland. The “homeland”. The place of my ancestors.

Decades ago I was quietly nudged into the world of genealogy. My parents passed on and I became the keeper of the stories, pictures and documents that made up the branches of our family tree.

My tree is obviously unique because of the people in it. Except, as Robert Louis Stevenson points out,

Each has his own tree of ancestors,
but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal.”

As Sagan’s beings of star-dust, we all of us go back to the same place. In the beginning.

We share DNA that goes back a long, long ways. Our “pre- human” ancestors looked very similar. Relatively small groups of individuals on the edge of survival gave way to the massive population of the planet.

A few weeks ago we went to Pittsburgh to visit our son. While there we stopped by a very old, very beautiful cemetery, to see the graves of my husband’s ancestors who came over from Wales.

There is meaning for me in the grave stones of my ancestors. Some are simple, some ornate. Some have Revolutionary War markers, some are uncared for and unreadable. Many are simply missing and all that remains is green grass on the lawn of a fenced in area that was once full of grave stones and memorials. Many plots have generations of family side by side. Some say “Mother” or “Father”, others have the name carved into the granite. There are carved willow branches on some, hands clasped on others. A few inform the world that might stop by to look, that this person was “beloved”. This person mattered very much to others.

And, as in the case of John and Anna Moore Evans, they are at rest far from their parents and siblings. Far from the place on earth that welcomed them into the world and provided them a home and food and a place to grow.

hdr tree

Our Family Tree….crooked, but hey!!

 

The stories of my family’s ancestors are the stories of us all. The names and places are different, but the triumphs and struggles, the courage and weakness, the joys and sorrows are the same. Many choices led these people to board ships crossing the Atlantic, leaving nearly everything behind. Some carried Bibles, some carried pots and pans. Some paid for passage, some were indentured for ten years upon arrival. Some where running away, while some were running to something. Some fought in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, some did not. Some succeed and some failed. There are documented records and stories of some, and memories passed on only as stories for others.

Capture

My “Irish” ancestors were “sent” to Ireland from Scotland to shore up the Protestant cause. They fought in battles and grew and wove flax. Some had titles and estates, others owned nothing free and clear. A few had a formal education. All were educated by life.

Conflict, fear, possession and control seem to be things that are ageless. I know my ancestors, and my husband’s, faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived here. They were “outsiders.” Immigrants. Some were the wrong religion in a country founded on religious freedom.  Few had the financial means to live well upon arrival. Many had lost loved ones on the boat crossing the Atlantic. A few had sponsors, while others were “owned” as indentured servants for awhile.  Some where killed by Native Americans, others by disease or disaster. Some were ministers, one was believed to have been a witch in the small town called Salem. A couple were pirates.

There were those who led the way to the future. My ancestors built horse buggies that gave way to cars. Another worked with glass and those roots are now found in the Pittsburgh Glass Company. There are buildings with their names still on them, and banks that still safe guard the working person’s money. Paper bags and rolling garage doors were the innovative visions for some. Believers in the importance of higher education, colleges and universities list their names as Founders. Steam boats that ferried people and goods up and down the Ohio River came from the creative minds of others.

So, we are going to Ireland to walk on the ground our ancestors knew so well. We will look at the same views of the ocean and hills that they saw every day. Hopefully we will know gratitude in our hearts for those who came before us, allowing us to return and wonder at their decision to leave Ireland behind.

And I hope too, to remember our common ancestor,that binds us always together:

Probably Arboreal

If you’re interested in some of my family’s stories, here is the link to my other blog. (I haven’t added anything in a while.) It is a combination of stories from my family, my husband’s family and my brother in law’s family. Under the “categories” tab on the right you can read about my family, Beggs.  A Cup of Tea

There is a lot to read  This Week

 

 

 

 

Mom

At my mother’s memorial service my brother spoke from the heart about our mom: “She was a complicated person.” That she was. She had strengths. And she had flaws. She had triumphs and her share of mistakes and regrets. My relationship with my mom was shaky sometimes. We had some ups and some downs.  As she was, as I was, I loved her. I know she gave me the foundation to be a good mother and good person.

When I was little she bought me a cotton candy machine. She made me fairy wings out of aluminum foil. To go with the green fairy shoes she sewed for me. Complete with bells. On the pointy, curled up toes. She read to me from thick chapter books every night. I sipped a cup of hot chocolate as her words ignited my imagination. My eyes would begin to droop. And, then, I would drift into sleep with dreams.

We were mother and daughter. Sometimes she yelled at me and sometimes I yelled at her. There were times when I felt like she didn’t understand me. There were times when I just couldn’t see her point of view or understand her. There were times when she comforted me when I was sick or when I stumbled through various teenage dramas. She forgot things that were important to me and reminded me of things I didn’t remember. She gave my husband and I a kitten when we were married. She made slip covers and curtains. She sat on the floor and sanded wooden pegs covering the nails. It was a jumble of good times and, well, not so good times.

Sometimes she was the perfect mom and I was the perfect child. Sometimes we both let each other down.

She was, my mom.

mom and jo2

My mom, right, and her mom.

I didn’t get to have my mom by my side as I raised my children. I couldn’t ask her questions or seek advice from her. I couldn’t call her when my kids were sick to ask her to come help. I couldn’t call her at all.

Today is Mother’s Day.

A couple of years ago I got a FB message from someone asking me if I was Marjorie’s daughter. His name was Dave. He was a little older than me and went on to tell me how he remembered playing Barbies with me! And then he told how my mother had helped him and his mom when he was little. My mom paid for summer camp for him and gave his mom a job taking care of me. He remembered learning how to swim from my siblings. And feeling as if he was part of the family. He said he has never forgotten her kindness.

I still remember his mom vividly. Josephine. I loved her. I’ve never forgotten her kindness and patience. I still drive by her house and imagine her walking out of the door.

Our moms and other people’s moms. Mothers. “Moms” who aren’t actual moms, but nurturing women. Women who are role models and mentors. Adoptive moms, and foster moms. Moms who have miscarried or had stillbirths. Moms who have had abortions. Gay moms, queer moms. Single moms. Widowed moms. Teen moms. Incarcerated moms. Moms who are aunts and god parents. Moms who are perfect and moms who are imperfect.

Moms.

mom and me mother's day

My mom and me

Many of us don’t know the history behind Mother’s Day, we only know the Hallmark version. The idea of Mother’s Day in the US began in 1872 when Julia Ward Howe suggested it be a day to honor and work for peace. Read her famous “proclamation” here:

 Original Mother’s Day Proclamation

Mothers uniting in love to make a positive change in the world.

Here in the US, and around the world, mothers struggle. They struggle to provide for their children. They watch their children die of starvation, disease, war. They dream of having shoes for their child, or clean water, or a meal, or for them to have a chance to go to school. Mothers everywhere dream of seeing their children healthy and thriving, having a job, being safe. Knowing it is only a dream, they hope and pray that their child will have what they cannot give them.

Last year on Mother’s Day I challenged people to donate to causes that support mothers. I put it out there again this year. You can make a donation to Planned Parenthood, to your local woman’s shelter, to programs that educate about domestic violence. Or you can check out the links below and donate or just educate yourself. Lots of topics.

This year I donated to Brooklyn Bail Fund.

If you choose to donate, and care to share, I would love to know who you are helping.

10 Non-profit organizations that help mothers

Young Mothers Program

5 organizations that empower women

Behind every great woman is another one Heifer International, Empowering women

Non Profit organization that help girls

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome  Helping expectant mothers

Help send a child to school

Educate yourself on domestic violence

Rape of a girl or woman is never ok Women do not ask for it, deserve it. It is not ok for women to be shamed or shunned becasue they were raped. It is not ok to punish a woman for being raped.

women are equal to men yet the world often disagrees

**Don’t forget to check out This Week

and, Little works in progress

Without Hesitation

Years ago we went panning for gold in Alaska! We knew the chances of finding any was slim, but the prospect filled us up and we spent a lazy afternoon in along the edge of a creek wrapped in happiness and sharing laughter. The chant “gold, gold, Gold, GOLD!” over of each pan that swirled just at the edge of the creek held the same magical possibility every time. Hope never faded.

We knew, of course, even with hope springing eternal, that we would not find any gold. And because of that we never contemplated what it would be like if we did find one of those enormous chunks that make headline news.

And we most certainly never entertained the idea of what we would do if someone came walking along and  asked us for that chunk.

There is a “folk” story…variations found in countries and in languages around the world called

“The Wise Woman’s Stone”

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.
She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.

“Teach me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

walnut heart

Sure, this is a teaching story. So let’s think about it as such and learn. Instead of making a run for it, the man found he could not live with tricking and taking and returned to the woman. What he really wanted to know, and to have, was how “to give without hesitating.” To no longer cling and protect, to covet and take. Even with the potential of being secure for the rest of his life, he chose to return the stone and to try to attain something intangible.

There are people in the world today who do this every day and we rarely hear about them. Instead we are bombarded with words and actions that profess the opposite of this story.

What do we have within us that would allow us to just give…..? To give without thought of hesitation? Would we give only to someone we know or love? Would we give only with the understanding of an equal exchange or reward? Would we give only to people of like mind and beliefs? Would we hold tight and walk away?

How strong are our fears? How strong is the fear of uncertainty? The internal drive to protect and to keep?

It is difficult to do in this time in history in this country, but imagine yourself walking and finding a precious diamond or ruby, large enough to provide for you and your family for the rest of your life. No more wandering. No more want or hunger. Security and comfort are yours now. Forever. A fellow traveler comes and you generously share what little food you have. Then they see the precious stone and boldly ask for it.

Without hesitation you hold out your hand and give it to them.

IS that you? Could/would you do it? Why or why not?

Now, imagine you are the person receiving the stone. Inside you are giddy. You cannot believe your good fortune! But, by sunrise you are again in front of the woman. This time your hand is outstretched and you are handing her back the treasure of a lifetime. You no longer want that security. That wealth.

You seek instead to attain something intangible. You want what it is that allowed the woman to give away the precious jewel without hesitation.

What is it? Do you want it? DO you have it? Can you, we, attain it?

 

 

Flowers in the Garden

Here in central New York state, Memorial Day is when I can seriously get to work in the garden. In theory, it is a time that will be free from frost. But, I can never really be sure!! Hopeful, always.

I also have to come to terms, every spring, that I cannot have one of those House Beautiful gardens. My soil is poor. The wildlife seems to depend on my flowers and plants for general sustenance. Over the years I spend the early spring just watching my garden while reviewing notes from the previous year. What survived? What did the animals ignore? What seemed to be able to suck enough nutrients from the soil? Which plants tolerated whatever rainfall Nature provided? I go from there.

I have a beautiful swath of ferns. Graceful, lacy leaves are happily settled in front of a slightly unstable stone wall we built from the rocks we excavated from the foundation holes for our house. Many people who visit wonder why I have let them take hold in my garden. Because they grow….nothing eats them. They don’t get disease. The thrive on whatever Nature provides them.

The next patch is Comfrey. Large, floppy, invasive. I do have to keep it is check. The small purple flowers are tall and graceful, so the plant remains. Then comes Cranesbill, True Geranium. Low and delicate. Soft and romantic. They spread freely, but are easy to contain.

Intermittently there are patches of Tansy, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Yarrow, Day Lily, Four O’Clocks, Autumn Sedum, Coreopsis, Hosta, and….even Golden Rod. There’s a sad peony that offers one or two glorious blossoms, but no more. In the corner is a huge Wegelia that blooms in a riot of red that seems too risque for the rest of the garden. There’s a bit of Lavender and some soft Lamb’s Ears. In a smaller garden there is a patch of Bachelor Buttons, Solomon’s Seal, and Ajuga. Under a lilac tree there is a small patch of Hepatica that I never planted…I don’t know how it got there. That’s what grows in my garden.

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photo by me of my garden

I have learned through a stubbornly slow process that I can plant a few annuals, but not many. A few Geraniums and Petunias.

Yesterday was a picture book perfect day in May. Sunny, almost warm, cool enough to work pleasantly in the garden. A slight breeze tickled my skin. As I weeded, dug, divided, replanted, planted I began to think about people. People in my life are not unlike plants in my garden. Some people I am given, like my family. Some just show up and make themselves at home. Some people I choose. And some people come and go. They provide me with comfort, beauty, serenity. Also the occasional bout of frustration and confusion. I am there for both the people and the plants: when they need some weeding done, or some extra care during a drought or other extreme circumstances, or to marvel at their blossoming. But, sometimes I support and nurture both in waves rather than on a regular basis. Perhaps not the best way to be a gardener or friend….. Somehow, for some reason, they both mostly stick around. They do both bring gifts into my life that I am grateful for.

There are some flowers that just appeared out of no where in particular. Others have been around from the very beginning, hanging in there with me and always giving and never giving up. Some flowers I have to divide….I have to portion them out, move them. It is hard to admit, but I need them in doses here and there and not as an over zealous clump pushing others out of the way. Some I have to just remove altogether. Then there are the stalwart perennials…tenacious and dependable. Some are like my Solomon’s Seal…strong and vibrant one year, thinned and struggling other years. Others, like my Bachelor Buttons all but disappear one year, only to return the following year in vigorous glory. And, there are the tentative annuals, unsure and fleeting. It’s the same with my friends.

I sit and dig, and weed and plant. I think of friends and flowers. I think of flowers that offer up so much beauty and bring life to the senses. I dig some more and plant a new flower, wondering if it will grow. I can offer some encouragement and care, but I cannot control the weather or the animals. I think of friends. One far away that I don’t get to see often, but the love between us grows and grows. Those here, who I share laughter and hugs with. A few from long ago that I don’t tend to enough. Family that I always try to meet the needs of.

Here’s to spring. And, to the flowers, friends and family that brighten and bring joy to my life. Thanks for sticking with me.