As part of the Ancestor Remembrance Project, Jamie and I have decided to use writing as one of the ways we’ll connect with our beloved dead. Writing has long been part of both my mundane and my spiritual practice, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to go deeper this month as I honor the men and women of my family who have passed over.
Using both “I remember” and “I wish I remembered” to start our memories flowing, one of our goals is to write a little bit each week this month, and I thought I’d share some of my wishes and memories of Mary Elizabeth, my maternal great-grandmother, who I had the good fortune to know until I was in college.
I wish I remembered more about my great-grandmother’s racing days. I know she and Granddad raced sporty little Corvettes, maybe sometime right after the Second World War, and I know she drove alone and won trophies, but the stories of the races were not something I remember her sharing. Although I was lucky enough to know Nana until I was nineteen, the tales she told of herself that I remember were sharp, sometimes bitter memories of a child who was reminded on a daily basis that she was more or less a charity case, taken in by relatives after her mother died and her father sent her to an orphanage.
She never talked about coming of age during the Great Depression, or about meeting Granddad and the life they built together. Instead, I came to know by heart the story of the pet chicken a visiting relative made her catch and kill for supper one night; the story of how boys would write sonnets to her lovely blue eyes, which, she always informed me, were not the same blue as mine; and the story of the aunt who raised her, out of the goodness of her heart, although it always sounded more like Nana was Cinderella before the fairy godmother rather than after. I know she drove a bus during the war years, and I know she raced cars; I know she traveled widely and raised three children, but I don’t know these things because she told me.
Most of what I know of Nana’s life comes from the stories my still-living grandmother and mother have kept alive, and while it’s good to catch these glimpses, I can’t help wishing I had heard some of these tales from her own lips. Still, I remember that she was tall and stately, even as age stooped her shoulders; I remember that she had a cat who would only let her mistress near her; I remember her deep love for gardening and bringing bright life to birth each season; and I remember sitting with her at her kitchen table, watching the gold finches and hummers swarm her many bird feeders while she smiled a genuine smile and told me the different names for the different kinds of birds. I do not remember her whole life, but I remember her strong presence, her salty stories, and her rare, blinding smile.
I remember you, Mary Elizabeth, and I honor you today and all days. You are the steel backbone of the women in our family, and I still draw on your strength. We all do.
This post is part of the Patheos Pagan Ancestor Remembrance Project.