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Archive for September, 2010

Transcending Tragedy

My great-grandmother was an extraordinary women. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know anything about her beyond her name and few minor details.

I had the privilege to meet with her daughter, my great-aunt, and learned more about this woman who was a mystery to me.

Before Hattie, my great-grandmother, was 21, she had been married, divorced, lost a toddler to pneumonia, and had given another son up for adoption because she couldn’t feed herself, let alone a small boy. I could surely write page after page about the tragedies of these events. And they were tragedies of pain more than what most of us could think we could bear. I don’t want to dwell on the tragedies of Hattie’s life, but rather focus on the way she transcended tragedy to live a full life complete with happiness and renewal.

Hattie had courage. When she divorced her first husband because of his heavy drinking and carousing, she did so without support from her family. To divorce in the early 1900’s was tantamount to becoming a complete social outcast. It was expensive and difficult to do. But Hattie believed that the right thing to do for herself and for her children was to divorce a man who was not a good husband. It takes courage to go against the cultural rules of one’s society and even more difficult to defy one’s family and face the attendant consequences.

Hattie had strength to made decisions that were difficult and painful. I suppose this also suggests a certain level of pragmatism. When she gave up her son for adoption, I know it wrenched at her heart and hurt for decades after, but she did what she could to take care of her son and give him a stable home.

Hattie had hope. She was only 21 when she married my great-grandfather. He had lost his first wife to an accident and was left with 5 small children. Hattie had hope and trust that she could love again and find a man that was worthy of loving. Hattie and Lockwood were married for over 50 years. I think it requires hope to love again after such a disastrous first marriage.

Hattie was cheerful and patient. Hattie suffered from a stroke 20 years before her death. Her speech never recovered and she was not able to  utter a word for 20 years. Yet, she was patient with others, cheerful and happy. She never became surly, angry or discouraged with her inability to verbally communicate.  

Hattie went on to have three more children, two boys and one girl. One of the boys was my grandfather. She eventually repaired the broken relationship with her parents. She was a stalwart wife and mother, standing by her husband and children through the years. My great-aunt, Hattie’s daughter, remembers her as being very cheerful–especially through the ordeal of having a stroke.

Over the years, Hattie faced the ordinary gamut of human challenges. Deaths, accidents, war, uncertainty, family discord, poverty, etc. Yet she faced her challenges with grace and dignity. While it would be easy to frame her life within the tragedies that she dealt with, I think it would be far more productive and uplifting to view her in the framework of transcendance and as a model of courage. I am grateful to claim this woman as my great-grandmother.

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The only holiday I ever truly missed living in Sweden was Indepence Day. And now that I live in New York, I still don’t feel that I’ve celebrated it properly unless I am in Wyoming.

What is so special about my hometown’s Independence Day Celebration? Let me share. . .

1. A fabulous parade that runs on the 3rd and 4th. As a kid, I loved to attend both parades. Back then, the candy was plentiful and you could be assured a serious sugar rush from the candy haul. Today the candy isn’t as plentiful, but still comes at decent intervals. There are usually almost 200 entries with lots of horses, marching bands, dancing girls, old cars, military vehicles, etc. As a teenager, I marched in my share of parades in the band. To this day, I still get excited about a good drum section. (I played clarinet very badly and then spent a few years playing various instruments in the pit.) The parade had all my favorite components. It wasn’t blazing hot, a breezy 60 degrees kept the perspiration at bay. And all were happy.

2. Rodeo: I didn’t attend the big rodeo this year. Tickets are expensive, but I did enjoy an awesome show at the Slack. The Slack is a pre- or post- show for any contestants that run over the alloted number for the performances. Usually some of the best names run in the slack so they can hit another rodeo. They hit the rodeos hard so they can qualify for the NPR finals. Rodeo is the toughest sport I have ever witnessed. It requires tremendous skill, athleticism, intelligence, and sheer grit. I am so happy to see that this sport is thriving. I saw some great performances with team roping and other events.

3. Fireworks: I’m not talking about fireworks displays that are professionally organized. I’m talking about buying your own fireworks and shooting them off. Wyoming has extremely liberal laws when it comes to fireworks so the breadth of what is available to the public is astonishing. My husband is a bit of a pyromaniac and had so much fun lighting off some pretty serious stuff. The kids enjoyed the sparklers, bottle rockets, and snakes. I’m a sparkler girl and enjoyed a nice evening writing my name and drawing flowers in the night air.

4. Family makes the event even better. We really enjoyed the excitement and chaos from seeing siblings and their children from both my family and my husband’s family. And it was chaotic, but really fun!

I just love the feeling I get when I’m home, enjoying the festivities.

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