05 January 2017

Remembering Grandpa and Waxing Lyrical about the Past

Recently a cousin’s daughter posted a somewhat stunning profile photo of herself on Facebook.  As I briefly puzzled over what it was about that particular photo which drew and kept my attention, I realized she looked like a little imp turned into a fairy-tale princess at her wedding . . . a simple circlet of tiny twinkling pink and blue lights on her head  - the entire photo a lavender hue.  It was definitely a Fairy-tale Princess photo, but more than that.  Had she been playing with their children when the photo was taken?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  I have not asked.

Many of us  remember the stories of fairy tale Princes and Princesses from childhood.  These days the children may be more likely to remember fairy tale movies instead. But they are the stories we all really, really, really wanted to believe were real, even though we knew the fantasy in them was not.  Even so, we learned the good lessons they were intended to teach.  “They sunk beneath our wisdom like a stone” so that what we remember seems only to be the fantasy of the fairy-tale which we knew to be just that - fantasy.  The young woman, and little girl who I simultaneously saw in the photo might be living her fairy tale.  She could easily fit into her favorite fairy tale as a heroine of her story.   Perhaps it was the Lavender hue together with the circlet of tiny pink and blue lights?   Lavender is clearly her color.  However, because it is not simply any photo, because she is family, looking at the photo, again, for whatever reason there is something about the photo that leads me to recognize her great-grandpa Lloyd in her countenance - which has been captured in the photograph as an improved upon  Mona Lisa look and moment.  I find myself looking at her photo as her great grand father’s, great-grand daughter thus one of  the little princesses in his life, along with his daughters and  granddaughters - and all the little princes too, one of which being from whom she descends

That is how we in the preceding generation felt with our Grandparents - like little princes and princesses . . . at least most of the time.  They seemed to know, understand, respect, and be able to skillfully guide us into our growing individuality much easier than our parents were able to do.  They were Grandchild Whispers!  Thus is the nature of Grandparents who do not have a more limited perspective of being unable to see the forest for the trees at times, as most parents experience to some extent (more so with the oldest child, or with the new territory of a special needs child).  

Looking at my cousin’s fairy-tale princess photo (to be precise, first cousin once removed) was like seeing the faces of those who we love in children . . .  something we observe, frequently, in young children as they are growing so quickly their first few years.   But Grandpa was gone before any of the Greats, of which she is one, came along.   I wish they all could have known him.  The spouses of cousins and siblings didn’t know him either.   He was gone before they became part of the family, before some of the grandchildren, and long before any of the great grand children arrived.  Remembering, almost is like a fairy-tale from long long ago; a fairy tale - not because life was easy then and all good which is the resolution of the best fairy tales, but because the good is what we choose to bring forward in life and reproduce to the best of our abilities in our own lives and the lives of others.

My most vivid memories of these Grandparents remain from early elementary school age.  Lloyd Oliver Gossage - a Medic in WWI - was the oldest of three children; two boys and a girl.  Grandpa and Grandma married on Valentines Day 1921.  Grandma was the oldest of 10 children.   I was the oldest granddaughter of, eventually, six granddaughters, and as such also the fourth grandchild, of 15, nine being grandsons.  The fairy tale princess who is the star of this story is the second child of the third grandchild.  Her father was born 8 months and 1 day before me; his brother 8 months and 1 day after me.  It is as if our births within the family reflected the unique bond of our parents.  That bond existed, in part, simply because of family but also because, of the six children my Aunt was the first daughter.  I always felt a special bond with her too.  She truly loved children, and was very much an extension of her father’s qualities and love.   My Dad was the first child, and enough older to truly enjoy the arrival of a first baby sister as the fourth child in the family.  He was very protective of her through out their lives - of all the girls actually, more so when growing up than of his brothers who were closer in age - together a trio of rowdy, rambunctious boys, when allowed to be.

When I was in early elementary school Grandpa taught me how to milk a cow ;) as he probably taught all six of his children at some point in time, and later, his grandchildren.  Grandpa Lloyd was a quiet, steady, gentle presence, soft-spoken, no one kinder, a heart full of love  - and love for the outdoors.  Is that how all the cousins and his children knew and remember him?  I suspect so.  It is certainly how I knew and remember him.  The outdoors and Grandma were his home - the home he loved with an immeasurable breadth and depth.  When he was at rest inside from all the day’s work outside, rain or shine, hot or cold,  he would read.   Rarely was Grandpa without a book, or newspaper, or a professional periodical in his hands, while inside - even with the cacophony produced on the occasions when all the grown children and the grandchildren were able to congregate at holiday times.  Even on those occasions Grandpa was always a place of stillness in the exciting and chaotic vortex a passel of children will create, and in which they thrive until it exhausts them, or those around them who send them outside to play!   I don't know for sure, but it is an educated guess, for many reasons, that it was probably Grandpa who spent the most time reading to their young children when they were pre-school age - reading out loud to them exactly what he was reading for himself.  And it was probably Grandma who treated them to a fantasy children's story now and again. 

Grandpa was born in Marathon County Wisconsin just prior to the start of the 20th century that being very late in the 1800s, then raised by a widowed father near Lake Coeur d’Alene, from around about the age of 10 years old, onward.  His Wisconsin Grandfather had lost an arm, the result of an injury as an Ohio soldier during the Civil War.   His father, Great Grandpa Robert, had migrated with his young family from Wisconsin before Grandpa was 10 years old, via Montana where he had owned land in the mining district, before settling in the mining district of the panhandle of Idaho.  Grandma’s family had arrived to the region from Minnesota where she was born, when she was eight years old. 

Grandpa knew weather, and climate, inside out.  Of course I only realized this in much later years at which point I since have been in awe of his near genius expertise in that respect, same as  I am in awe of that seemingly natural ability in the ancestors of many in whom that skill was a necessary survival skill that had been developed.  I continue to  also be in awe of the descendants of these folks who choose to carry on with the same tradition and the embodying of that skill.  It is becoming a far less common skill than it once was, the wisdom of which passes seamlessly, and almost unrecognized as such, from one generation to the next.  

Grandpa was also a realist (so was Grandma) with his head in the clouds and his feet on the ground - always a serene countenance who as an adult brought a wonderful dimension of the cosmos to reality for those in his life.   I learned from watching him how to roll a perfect cigarette (though I never needed to do much calling on that skill ;) )  From observation, I found years later that I too had what seemed an inborn skill for the rolling of a perfect cigarette.  Grandpa kept a red metal can of Velveteen tobacco the size and shape of his shirt pocket, in his shirt pocket.  He was not a constant smoker.  When he smoked it was an event predicated by skillfully removing exactly the correct amount of tobacco from the red container, placing it on the carefully held paper in exactly the right place, then proceeding as if by magic to create a cigarette.   He smoked  actual tobacco without modern day pollutants and additives, thus never suffered from damage to the lungs for that reason, nor because of excessive smoking. 

I also learned from watching him how to correctly fell a tree in the woods,  and decades later did so correctly (although a small trunk not destined to be cut into lumber, and not in the woods).  I did it correctly though because of remembering how he did it.   Grandpa was also an Aquarius, as was Grandma.  As such, when discipline was necessary, it was the imposing of expansive limits as learning experiences, rather than the cruelly punishing and isolating limits of discipline superimposed by some adults.  That does not mean they did not get angry if required.  I’m sure their children could tell many tales of their own experiences.  I have experienced Grandma being a force of nature when it was necessary, but not in a harmful way when discipline was necessary.  I never experienced Grandpa being in “angry force of nature” mode.

No one could produce a meal like Grandma could - from start to finish - on the wood burning range; everything ready on time and cooked to perfection.   From a young girl's perspective it was truly a production which was an awesome sight to behold. Smooth as clock work, no wasted time, no extraneous tasks, no wasted motion - she seemed to effortlessly coordinate and manipulate time, perfectly, and in doing so created a fluidic gracefully choreographed counterpoint “dance” of sorts in coordination with the required tasks.  She truly was a sight to behold while preparing dinner.  And dinner at Grandma's was always a blessing.

From watching and “helping” Grandma I learned to make butter, cottage cheese, and Apple Butter while still early elementary school age.  No one's homemade bread was better - especially with a slather of butter and a little sprinkling of sugar, as a treat; or sometimes Apple Butter if the previous year's store of Apple Butter in the cellar had not yet been depleted.  Grandma made it from fruit the size of walnuts  produced by the small Crab Apple "orchard", consisting of a few trees out behind the barn.  

And I remember from having been very young, taking a nap on their bed which was covered with a quilt. Grandma told me she made it from all the clothes they had worn out which were too full of holes or too thread bare in spots, that it was not possible to resize them for the younger children, thus they become unusable as clothes or cleaning rags, and instead became the fabric of the quilt.  I truly loved that quilt - all the life and love it embodied as their immediate family’s history in the way that only some quilts do.   The squares weren't more than three inches across with the foundation inside being an old worn blanket, first restored to pristine cleanliness, then becoming the inside foundation of that quilt.  It was a “real” quilt . . . the kind that is tufted together securely from one side through the blanket to the other side, with a tightly secured knot of yarn at each apex of each of the seemingly endless squares.   I am not the only Grandchild to have fallen asleep on under that quilt while trying to count the squares!   It was a very sturdy warm quilt which it was impossible to imagine would ever cease to exist.   I was always determined to make a similar quilt from old worn out clothes . . . and still am. 

I used to feel so sad for all of the newer and younger extended family who had never had the opportunity and experience of knowing Grandpa in his tangible, corporeal form - and the life Grandpa and Grandma had made together for their family.   By having done so they contributed their love to all the grandchildren, yet to be born grandchildren, and additions to the family in the future by marriage, thus also the great grands who would arrive in their own time . . . ad infinitum into the future, long after our grandparents were gone.  

I feel so very fortunate and grateful to have experienced only the good there was to know, even though I knew of many of their difficulties.  The strong love is what lives on.  I have learned in my own many decades as an adult that it is the good, only the good, which ushers in and becomes a part of the life force of each subsequent generation whether or not we are able to identify it's origin.  That does not mean we do not learn about the difficulties, heartbreaks, and sorrows of the generations before us, which are also a part of us in a unique way so that we feel an amount of empathetic emotional pain to our depths about it and because of it.  That too is an inheritance of individuals in subsequent generations.  

What it does means is that the priceless treasures which help us to rise above and move beyond difficulties were also passed on to all of us from our ancestors.  Whether or not their environments enabled their abilities to transcend their difficulties, we also inherited the resilience and love that our ancestors needed and worked hard to find, create, and recreate so they could try to move forward to  provide for their families and experience as much good in life as possible, however difficult it was at the time to do so.  When we understand, thus tap into that love and resilience as our birthright, it becomes a part of us, an ever expanding inclusive love and resiliency that is a treasure from our ancestors, to all their descendants, in their own times, to improve upon and increase as we each embody it in our lives, whether or not those ancestors were gone before our time, and whether or not we knew them or knew of them. 

Everyone on this earthly sojourn has so many ancestors to be proud of for a variety of reasons regardless of whatever difficulties and injustices those ancestors experienced or may have caused, in life.  Whatever their errors they are not ours to account for, understand, yes - condone and account for, no.  Their sustaining treasure through the ages, given to us to make our own, is their genuine love which we add to, each in his or her turn, so that it grows exponentially as it moves into the future with the arrival of subsequent generations.  And that love reaches us from a from a point of origin we have in common that is at least as old as the dawn of humanity.   It is a palpable part of the reality of every person on earth, with the potential to extend far into the future from the momentum we provide when we embrace the inheritance of that love, ourselves.

I saw Grandpa in the face of my cousin’s daughter.   I saw him as her Great Grandpa.  Wow.  So why did that bring a tear of joy?  First, undoubtedly, because she did not ever have the opportunity to sit on his lap and be held by him and read to by him, while he was living.  Secondly, because I saw only the young carefree child her Great Grandpa  would have held on his lap and read to until she wriggled around enough to be set free to run outside and play, even though at the same time I have a present awareness of the heartache she has experienced in her life.   And perhaps because, in part, it is also the season of the year to put aside dwelling on the difficulties we experience, and instead reminisce about all that has been good and will continue to be good in our lives as we move into a New Year.   But what produced that tear, initially, was an unexpected glimpse of Grandpa peeking out through my cousin's photograph.  

Whatever anyone else may have seen in my cousin's fairy tale photo, and whomever else anyone may have seen in her countenance, I saw in it, and in her, generations of our ancestors extended from the past as far into the present as the children she is raising.  And who knows for sure where, from there?   It reminded me that as family, and as importantly the human family, we experience our grandparents, some times great grand parents too, being focal points who actively provide a continuity of love, as part of a universal fractal process from the past into the future; a legacy process emanating from all previous generations and  continuing on through all descendants into the future.  It is the same universal process of which everyone is a part in their earthly sojourn.  It is the job of each of us to do justice to those before us by doing our part to improve upon and expand the range of that perfect love from the distant past with which we have all been blessed.