My Words

I Wish I’d Asked

A little course work on ancestors…

They remind us they love us in their own peculiar ways. Janice with her flower talk, Ilene with her frosting. Giving bits of themselves in place of the stories that are too hard to tell. The stories of their beginnings, their hardships, their truths. For if they don’t share the hurt, they believe they’re only planting happiness. They do not realize the void left behind by their secrets. A void that would be happily filled with truths.

We pause and remember the early years. The years of our youth when history didn’t matter to us. Our concerns then were of homework and test scores, and who could play night games on a Thursday night. How our line of humans came to be didn’t cross our minds then. It is only now, as we age to point of self-reflection that we think back on all of the stories we never thought to ask.

I like to think that somewhere inside of me, the women who came before me stand tall. I like to think they would look at where I’ve taken myself and be happy for that. I like to think they would read my words and admire the way I use my voice and tell my stories. Maybe they’d even get a kick out of some of the not so perfect parts, like my grandma Buster did, giggling when my cousin Hayley and I said ‘fuck’ in family conversations. I like to think they would look at me – the latest in these lines traversing like the brass inlay on a fancy globe – and be proud of where they ended up in life. With me.

I didn’t get to know them all well enough, and I think on that now as an adult. I know Janice changed her middle initial to M so she didn’t have to completely give up her maiden name. A name that wasn’t even correct, changed by her ancestors after coming from Sweden. I know she loved her garden. I know she loved cooking a meal and having her family share her table. I know she loved reading a good mystery, and that she loved wearing glasses. She thought they gave way to the fact that she was smart.

I wish I knew what she wanted when she was girl. I wish I’d thought to ask more questions when she talked about starting school to be a nurse, deciding quickly it wasn’t what she wanted to do. Did she know what she wanted to do? Was it something that would have been allowed at the time? I think not. See, I think of her as being a little more feisty in her youth than she was at a grandmother in my years. She was funny and vibrant, and I think she would have embraced that more if she was part of a different generation. But I don’t know because I didn’t think to ask.

I think about my grandma Bear, and she is another mystery in my timeline, never to be solved. I know a lot about Ilene. I spent oodles of time with her during my childhood. So many hours of just the two of us, crafting or cooking, making cakes. I know her pinky was crooked because she cut her little finger off in the stand mixer. I know because I was there. It was a favorite story to tell in elementary school after the trauma. I know about her ailments and illnesses. I know she loved to listen to a man with a guitar, as we all did, reminiscent of nights at her parents tiny house, listening to her dad sing his songs while the smoke swirled in waves along the ceiling.

I know she loved my grandpa enough to marry him 3 times, and I know she was difficult enough for him to divorce her 4. I don’t know what she wanted for herself though. Married and a mother before she was eighteen, is that all she saw for herself? The daughter of a fix it man, mink rancher, gold miner, bar singer, and his wife Thelma. Did her own mother’s lot of just a mother and a wife influence her, or did she dream of more? Would she have opened a bakery? Would she have traveled the world? I wish I’d thought to ask what the real her had wanted for herself.

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