"Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. "Be still." they say. "Watch and listen, you are the result of the love of thousands." ~ Anonymous
When it comes to family I am a part of a diverse group of people. We have branches entwined into our family from all over this world...India, to Korea to Eastern Europe, Native Americans and beyond. Our family tree has strong roots, grafting, weaving and joining together our many, diverse and different moving fluid parts. Our roots are deep, solid and flourishing. Like our many branches, our family provides a canopy of protection and refuge, a culture of both remarkable and exceptional heritage. Our branches have long been shaped, pruned and joined together through the lives, the love and the legacy of those who came before me. As a woman I've grown to see the truth and the authenticity in acknowledging, "In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future." (Alex Haley)
Today I give you Life Lesson #113 ~ This is our story, the tale of who we are. A history merged from multiple branches grafted together giving birth to a vast strong, tall, sturdy and unbreakable tree. Psalm 1:3 says this, "They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up." This is the greatest example of family I can think of if you really think about it. It's been said to "remember and honor family who have come and gone before you, because they had a hand in shaping who you are." I know I am carved and shaped from the very same trunk, cultivated from strong roots planted long before I was a glimmer in my parents eyes. See I come from a long line of fighters and warriors. The blood running through my veins was born of struggle and oppression. Those from whom my own roots have grown faced challenges I can't imagine yet still had the courage to chase their dreams across an ocean. The voyage carrying their precious seedlings wasn't easy but today some 100 years later our family is firmly rooted. And now when I think of the woman I am today, I see can my granny's spitfire spirit, my grandmom's determination and stubbornness, my grandpop's humor, and my parents sense of adventure all grafted into my own story.
Who I am in the grand scheme of things? Well the truth is I'm just a small leaf on one branch of a much larger tree than any of my fore-bearers could have envisioned. What I can tell you is this: I am the great-granddaughter of Helena and Karl, John and Leolla, Nancy and Augusta, Nelly and Thomas and the granddaughter of Maria and Ray, Mary and Bob and the daughter of Bobby and Patty. From these individual branches my life was grafted, fused, yoked, joined together and made whole. I am the direct result of these very connections. The life I share today with my hubby Johnny, the love of my life and the lives of our children have not sprouted or budded by chance. No our branches, our story was planned, added and affixed by a divine hand long ago. And long after I am gone, my children and their children will continue adding leaves and branches to our family tree.
Turning through the pages of my history I can tell you it's a tale of two worlds colliding one afternoon on the Red Arrow bus line near the Franklin Institute in downtown Philadelphia. Now most of you know I'm a southern girl no doubt. I'm a grace under fire, independent, fiddle dee dee kind of girl. That said it might surprise you to know while I wasn't raised in the North I have deep roots with long strong branches from Philly. Both sides of my family came in through Ellis Island, one branch settled in Philly and the other passed through Ohio before settling into the steel mills of Alabama and later on into Louisiana. I am just as much a part of Philly as I am my beloved South. Both families were blue collar and hardworking. Our family's blood was split, in war for this country and in the architecture of downtown Philadelphia. My great-grandfather built the old buildings and bridges of Philadelphia with his hands, ultimately falling to his death shortly after my grandmother gave birth to my uncle, her first child. My grandpop, my mom's dad, was a strutter in the Mummers Parade, a rich and beloved holiday tradition in Philly. Today that same love of tradition has been passed down to my mom's cousin Bob who's a strummer in the Mummer's Parade on New Year's Day. My dad's grandmother was affectionately known as Big Mama. She was a kind woman who lost her husband early, going on to remarry and have my dad's Aunt Kay around the same time he was born. They grew up more as cousins in Mobile Alabama than as aunt and nephew. Big Mama endured hardship and yet still managed to find her true southern grace even through the grit. My mama's family they are my true North, with just as much of a rich and abundant history as my dad's. My grandpop's grandmother came from Scotland, an orphan. Her daughter, my grandpop's mother died of Tuberculosis when my grandpop was just a small boy. Looking back, seeing the hardships both branches of my family tree have suffered I'm aware how completely blessed I truly am. We've been grafted together, our roots not only deep but expansive and honestly knowing that is very liberating. The reality is as Quentin L. Cook says, "we need to be connected to both our roots and branches."
From these strong, rugged and spirituous people, I've been afforded the freedom and privileges I have today. If not for their dreams of a new world and the sacrifices made by their blood, sweat and tears I would have none of the advantages and liberties I've inherited. What inspires me the most looking back on my family tree is realizing how both sides have quite literally shaped me, enduring, surviving, sacrificing and giving of themselves. These same qualities have been passed down from one generation to the next. For me,"knowing who our family was, reveals part of who I am." Understanding service not only to country but community has been a part of our family's fabric from the start speaks to the character of those I am descended from. Both my great-grandmother's, set an example for the generations who came long after them by opening their homes and feeding those less fortunate during the great depression. Yes, some of my great-grandparents descendants have gone on to make their mark on the world of music and film, from my Great- Aunt Betty to my dad's cousins kids on the Dowling side. And while the rest of us may not be known by millions we are still making our mark, keeping our history and heritage alive. We are all part of the same tree, grafted and joined together. Our stories are all connected and our ancestors legacy is forever part of our history.
It is only by God's grace "I was born into a family of warriors, really strong people." (Shailene Woodley) So this is my story, a glimpse into the fabric of who I am. I am not strong, stubborn or even a fighter of my own right. I am all these things because of the women and the men who came before me. They laid the foundation and watered the roots of this very tree I am but one leaf on, of a branch they planted generations before I was born. I'm a survivor today because my ancestors showed me the way long before cancer stamped her mark upon me. And while we may not always walk in our great, great grandparents footsteps, our children and our children's children will continue their legacy as our tree grows generation after generation. So yes, this is our story, "Let us not only remember the past and it's required sacrifice, let us also remember that we are responsible to build a legacy for the generations which follow us." ~ Thomas S. Manson