Continuity

Several years ago I was invited to a fire circle led by Chief Beavertail. His goal was to bring people together through story and song. As we arrived he welcomed us and all our ancestors who came with us and stood behind us.

That image has stayed with me all these years. That image of connection to the millions of ancestors stretching out behind us.

In the 1970s I took a course on how to do bobbin lace because I’d heard it was a dying art. Bobbin lace has a fascinating history if you’re interested, and I feel connected to that long history as I weave the bobbins.

Growing up, we sisters helped mom can and put up food. We hated it. Now I can willingly, following the traditions of generations. Putting up, stocking up, preparing for winter.

Continuity, tradition, ties to the past. To family. I love that feeling of connection to land and people. But not all ties are so easy to talk about.

Last night I watched a movie called The Last Full Measure. Being honest here, I watched it because Sebastian Stan was in it and because I like a good action film. But this wasn’t an action film, as I quickly found out. I’m glad my husband, ex-Army, elected to not watch it because these kinds of movies deeply bother him.

The husband

If you haven’t heard of the movie, it’s about William H. Pitsenbarger, a US Air Force Pararescueman who, during the Vietnam War, chose to stay behind to help soldiers on the ground. Before dying in battle, he saved over sixty men. He chose to stay. He was twenty-two years old. Younger than my son. Thirty-two years after his death he was awarded the medal of honor.

Where is my continuity here? As a child, I was oblivious to the Vietnam War. The news didn’t come on the television until 11:00 pm, well past our bedtimes. But still, I’ve wondered before how such a huge thing, that impacted countless lives, wasn’t even a blip in my little-kid-world.

But I do have an uncle. And one of the things I see in his poetry is how the time spent fighting in Vietnam bored so deeply into his heart and soul.

My uncle. Before.

I have ancestors and relatives who have fought in wars, including my father who was in the Korean War. But dad didn’t see what my uncle did. And dad didn’t live long enough to tell us kids war stories or choose to keep silent. So I don’t know what impact that war had on him.

Dad on the right

This uncle, though, this man tied to me by DNA and family and generations of ancestors, walked through hell, and I only see the briefest, tiniest, glimpses of what that did to him through his words.

I cried during the movie last night, and I’m not one who cries during movies. But those tears were more for what my uncle went through than for the story itself.

Those tears were for the paths many still walk and the stories that can’t be told, but that still bind us.

6 thoughts on “Continuity

  1. Thought provoking post! As I’ve gotten older, I find myself wishing I knew more about my parent, grandparents, and down the line. I know there must be some interesting stories, but those and traditions aren’t something my family has been particularly focused on. One great-grandfather was very much a mystery man — he arrived into my great-grandmother’s life with almost no background, was married to her long enough to have my grandfather and then disappeared leaving no trace. Another branch of the family never knew they were half Swedish until two generations of them had been in the US! Really?! Apparently, the news was met with vigorous denial! My father wouldn’t talk about his experiences in WWII — for good reason, I think. He saw a lot that no one should ever have to see. Recently, I noticed that I haven’t passed along stories to my own children. I’m trying to correct that, but it’s not as easy as it seems to relate history. Thanks for the nudge about remembering who we are and where we came from.

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    • It’s an odd conundrum because I also feel strongly that family is more about who we choose than DNA. There are a lot of people I’m related to that I know nothing about or don’t care to know. And yet at the same time, we live on through our stories and when those stories are forgotten, the person is truly gone. I have a folder of family papers and a book on our family, and hopefully it’s enough information for my son to figure out what is important to him and what isn’t. But hey, we need to find out about that great-grandfather of yours!

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  2. I really enjoyed this post. I often wish I had asked more questions of my mother before she passed away. When I was growing up, she was always talking about the past, and I found it boring. Now I wish I had rectified that once I grew up. There’s so much I would like to know about decisions she made, people she knew, etc.

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    • I know what you mean. My grandmother told the same stories over and over. I wish I hadn’t been a bored little kid and had thought to write them down when I got older. Now I only remember a few.

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  3. Wow, this is something I have had on my mind since my mom died 13 years ago and since I came to Canada 10 years ago and Mike and I just talked about some of this the other night. I realized I have this deep pain of not having children because I fear that I won’t be able to pass on the stories of my mother and her parents. Though what I know about them is very little to what I wish I knew. The description of your uncle reminded me right away of my grandfather who became my mom’s stepfather just before I was born. We always knew that he was not blood related, but he was our grandpa and he was one of those that you always wished for!! He would go out to pick blackberries for us, coming back home on his bike with two huge full buckets on each side of the handle bars, scratched up all over from the thorns and smiling because he loved to spoil us all. He never had a problem watching us kids by himself, even when we were little. He put my hair in pig tails when I slept over and grandma was in the hospital and he learned how to cook and bake, quite well even, after my grandma lost her mind to Alzheimer. He was the kindest man in my life! We knew that he had been in the war, obviously! Every German teenager had to go in the end and we knew that he lost a finger and was POW in Russia. When we were older we found out that he had to walk all the way to Russia on foot in the middle of winter with no boots. He was only 22 at that time and he was there for 10 years!! I have no clue how he survived!!! But he did and I am glad he did and that he left his first wife who probably had to deal with his pain of coming home after all this. But he fell in love with my sweet grandma and they were so in love until the end!
    I wish I knew more about how both survived the war. I know in my heart that they were no Nazis, there was no mean bone in their bodies. I wish I had known about their childhood and my mother’s childhood. Growing older there are so many things that I keep thinking of to ask my mom. How did she fell about this or that, how did she deal with this and why she did what she did… But what I know about them makes me proud of them and being their offspring, the result of their love and dedication. I want to pass their stories on, I don’t want them to be forgotten…

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    • Whether you have children or not, you can still write down those stories that you remember, for those that love you. Like us. Then we’ll always hear your voice in your words.

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