A personal anniversary

Yesterday was a special day in the story of our family. On November 26, 1917, a baby girl was born in Isabel, South Dakota. Her father was the community druggist, and undertaker, and jeweler, and casket maker. It was a small town. One had to scramble to earn a living. Surrounding the town were homesteaders who were quickly learning that the plots awarded by the government were too small to support a family and the abundant crops promised in the advertisements were not possible with the drought that was sweeping the nation. Times were hard for folks in Grant County. Then things got worse. The nation slipped into a depression. Her father died. Just surviving became an intense challenge for mother and daughter.

That all happened before I was born and before I met the daughter. But I did meet her. She grew up to become the mother of three daughters. I married the eldest. She was the best mother-in-law anyone could hope to meet. She treated me with all of the love and respect and care that she showed to her daughters.

She didn’t like to make a big deal of her birthday. I suspect that some of her childhood and teenage birthdays were perhaps disappointing to her during the hard times. Or perhaps she was just by nature more comfortable focusing attention on others and deflecting it from herself. Whatever the reason, we never had a big birthday party for her. But the anniversary of her birth is still a significant date in my personal story. If not for her and her superb skills at homemaking, child raising, and home management, my life would have been so much different that i cannot imagine it.

That, however, isn’t the only anniversary associated with that date. It was on November 26, 2018, one century and one year after the birth of that woman that our daughter announced to us that she was expecting. It was very early in her pregnancy, and we didn’t have permission to share the good news for some time, but that led to the birth of our grandson. Our daughter and son-in-law had been hoping and trying to have a baby for several years. For what it is worth 2018 was the lowest birth rate in the history of keeping that kind of record in the United States. They weren’t the only couple struggling to have a baby, but their struggle was known to us because she is our daughter. Our results, however, were amazingly wonderful. We have this incredible baby boy in our family whose presence has already given us so much joy.

Over the months of his life, we have had several conversations with our daughter that have been salted with questions like, “Who does he look like more - Mike or me?” or “Do you think he looks like me?” or “Does he look like I did when I was a baby?” The questions have prompted us to bring out baby pictures and make our observations. In a sense, it doesn’t matter who he looks like. He is a healthy and happy baby. In another sense, it is fun to compare his appearance with the baby pictures of his mother and father.

I grew up immersed in family. I have brothers and sisters and we lived close enough to know dozens of cousins. We had aunts and uncles and grandparents around at holidays every year. There were many Thanksgivings that we celebrated surrounded by extended family. I married into another family. I had met the sisters and brother of my mother-in-law before we married. I knew her in-laws. I knew the cousins. We had shared Thanksgiving with extended family with her.

rachel patrick
Our daughter also grew up surrounded by family. She knew here grandparents and her aunts and uncles and cousins. She sat at table many, many times with our extended family. But there is a small difference. Being adopted, the family in which she was immersed was not made up of her biological relatives. I could look at cousins and imagine our shared genetics. I could look at members of my wife’s extended family and imagine some of the traits that she possessed that were also possessed by other family members. I could see similarities between her and an aunt. For our daughter in all of the world she has only knowingly met one person with whom she has shared biology. That person is her son.

That truth has not left her lonely. She is a happy and well-adjusted person. The stories of our people are filled with examples of family being much more than biology and genetics. Our people have long adopted family members and incorporated them into our stories. She knows the stories of grandmothers of our faith who were welcomed into our family and became a part of our people. She has know the love and acceptance of an extended family that is delighted to have her as a member.

Still, there is something unique to the relationship she has with her son. He does, by the way, look both like his mother and his father. And his father, being adopted, has a story similar to our daughter’s.

Maybe each of us carries a bit of mystery. There are things about my past that I do not know. There are stories of our people that I have not been taught. My father’s side of the family were people who moved often. We have some genealogy, but there are plenty of past generations whose stories we have not discovered. In our city there are quite a few people who have the same last name as I, but whose relationship I do not know. We might be relatives, but if we are the connections are unknown.

So we learn to live with mysteries. Another mystery is that of birth itself. The newest baby in our family has a story that is just beginning to unfold. He will go places and see and do things that we cannot imagine. For now, it is a joy to simply look into his face and imagine the stories that lie in his history and his future and know there are more questions and more mystery.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!