Family. I wish I knew mine better.
Sometimes it takes extreme circumstances to awaken us to something we take for granted as just part of life. This entire year has been one of those extreme circumstances for me. Until I moved to Whitefish a little over three years ago, I had never lived away from my family. While my brother lived in other state for much of my adulthood, my parents, many of my aunts and uncles, and cousins were nearby if not just down the hall. Because of their close proximity, they more or less just became a part of my everyday life. Nothing special. NOTHING SPECIAL until they were gone.
Why does it take separation or loss to make things, and yes people, matter more to us?
I never had the chance to truly know my grandparents. My grandpas had passed away years before I was born and my grandmas died when I was still very young – at an age when my grandma’s few and far between visits meant candied orange slices and fun with dentures but not much more. It pains me to write that, but it is true! I was not old enough to truly appreciate the wealth of life that sprung from my Grandma Dyrud, my mother’s mother. I do remember fondly our visits to her lifetime home from marriage forward- a converted rail passenger car that housed a family of 10 in Conrad, MT. She was widowed by my grandfather, Adolph Dyrud, when my Mom was 17 and never remarried. She was content in her faith and the lives of her many children. She was the bringer of orange slices and dentures. She prophetically announced during one of her last visits to our home in Rock Springs, WY that I, at the verbose age of 6, would be a pastor someday.
I visited my father’s mother in a nursing home in Plentywood, MT one time when I was all of 5 years old. Grandma Cummins had already succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s by that time and did not know me. We lived too far away to make more frequent visits. Much of what I know about Grandma Cummins – who was widowed by my Dad’s father, Frederick Dorph Morck (a good Dane!), when my Dad was 6 – comes from picture albums and a few stories about my Dad’s childhood. She was one of the few working women with children at that time. They also took in boarders to make ends meet. Then she met and married my Dad’s stepfather, Wilbur “Bill” Cummins – THE only border patrol agent for Sweetgrass County. My Dad had several older step-brothers and sisters I know nothing about – some from his Dad’s first wife who had passed away and others from his step father’s first wife who also had passed away. In those days, families that were far apart age and distance wise stayed that way in relationships as well.
My entire life I have envied those who knew their grandparents and actually had relationships with them as I feel somehow cheated out of my own history – not to mention the special love and bonding that grandparents seem to have with their grandchildren. I had and still have wonderful aunts and uncles who, perhaps realizing the void in my life left by the absence of grandparents, stepped in and filled my heart with pseudo-grandparent love as best they could.
When I moved from Billings to Whitefish – a place with virtually no family ties, I had the wind at my back. I couldn’t wait to live life on my own, to prove to the world that Miss Morck could stand alone and stand on her own two feet and remain upright – granted it would be much easier to do in Whitefish where the wind isn’t at a constant 30 mph breeze, but I digress. And yes, indeed, I proved it. But then the first and second Christmases that I couldn’t make it home hit home. And then illness after illness hit back home. And then Mom died. And then Dad got cancer. And I was here… Far away from it all.
Suddenly this busy, independent life of mine seemed to not matter so much. The chaos and callous of the world we get so wrapped up in didn’t matter so much. My life didn’t matter so much.
And then this started to mean something to me…. This antiquity my dear Aunt Mary sent with me when I packed up my things and moved West. It had belonged to my Grandma Dyrud, sat in her cozy little kitchen, and at one time registered the temperature. Aunt Mary thought I might like it. I set it on the little ledge in my own cozy little kitchen and let it be. This pastoral picture-thermometer of Meadowbrook Dairy, a Voermans Bros. property with a phone number of 89Y situated on Voerman Road in Whitefish MT – the very same Voerman Road I have run on every single day since I moved here – suddenly mattered to me. How did Grandma come to have this? I wanted to know! Had she been to Whitefish? What was her life like after she left her family in MN to move to MT? How did she manage any time to herself with 10 kids in a railcar? How did she come to trust in her dear Lord Jesus so deeply that He was all she needed in her long life? What was my I want to know, and I will never be able to ask her. All I have now, is our own little connection made here on Voerman Road.
My mother. We lived together for so many years; she was just part of my everyday life, sometimes a very frustrating part of it, but also a very wonderful part of it. She was always there. I know about her life. But as I think of her now, I really never got to know her. I know she grew up in the Great Depression in a converted rail passenger car with 10 brothers and sisters, lost her Dad at 17,was the state champion majorette (that was a big deal in those days), loved her summers as a nanny on Whitefish Lake and as a counselor at Flathead Bible camp, had a great time at the same college I went to, got into hot water a few times (doing things that I must never, ever, EVER do), met my Dad while teaching in Livingston, fell head over heels in love, married him 6 months later, and the rest is history…. History that I never really took the time to talk to her about.
Oh, Mom, how did you manage to throw that baton, twirl, catch it and keep twirling it without breaking your nose? I would have been so sick with nerves! How did you know that Dad was THE one other than his grin? What was your favorite date of all with him? How on earth did you manage to eat while buying all those shoes before you got married? Was your heart ever broken so deeply you were afraid to love again? What did it really feel like to become a Mom? When you were a little girl, what were you most proud of? Fearful of? How about that Trump??? OH! There are so many things I want to ask you!! Why do we disagree so much? Mom, will you ever forgive me?
Our one deep connection – one she seemed to treasure in her last few weeks – was the fact that I now lived in Whitefish, a place where she found so much joy in being. She only came here one time to visit me. And that one time I was so busy – busy with a choir performance and busy worrying about what we would do for dinner since she was hard to please and didn’t like going out until she was out, and busy making everything right, and busy with life, that I did not take the time to talk or listen to her. Did the sunsets on the lake make her cry too?
And now she is gone. And, I will never be able to ask her.
It is a hard, aching lesson to learn- what matters. But when you do, you realize that your own life really does matter because you matter to the people who matter to you. It is one of those wonderful circular courses where each relation grows from the other over and over again. You find your life fuller and richer as you share in other’s lives and as your relationships deepen beyond the surface niceties.
This Thanksgiving, this girl that proved to her family she could stand very well on her own, thank you very much, is going home to get to the heart of what really matters. My Dad.
I have always been Daddy’s little girl and for a long time that was all that mattered. Now I want to know what really matters to him. I will ask him all kinds of questions that never get asked because we are too busy doing life. And my brother and sister in-law… well they better be prepared to be peppered as well. After the life-shaking events of this year, we need to have a nice long chat!
I encourage you to do the same with your family and friends as you gather to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings and challenges we have been given this year. Relish the TIME you have with them. Go ahead, talk politics and religion around the table (trust me, someday you will cherish their perspective), and ask that silly question you are just dying to know the answer to over a game of Scrabble. Tell them what gets your goat and ask them what keeps them up at night. Take long, quiet walks and share your hearts, even in the silence. Ask for forgiveness. Forgive. Love.
Don’t let the heartache of the unspoken, the relationships that just touched the surface, and the letdown you feel after the chaos is over and the time together is lost be your lesson about what really matters. Cherish those moments of connection. Find the treasures in their hearts and take them with you. Because that is what really matters.