I’m not very sentimental. I know. It shocks even me considering that I’m fairly emotional and I always assumed emotion begot sentimentality; but if there be a dichotomy to be had, I will find one and do my best to embody it.
I never made a baby book for my beloved child. I have no recollection of what she wore the first week of her life. My mom, kept the empty envelope of baby oatmeal and plastered it inside of a photo album. I’m lucky there was Instagram, or there would be no proof Ellie actually existed. (Aside from her toys ALL over my backyard). I just don’t think in terms of memory-keeping. I hate clutter. Life is to be lived. And then moved on from.
But, lately, there has been something rising up inside of me like dough. Up and out of the bowl. The older I get, the more I wonder about the people I am related to, that came before me. The more I realize how our history actually matters. I was brought up in a fairly unique situation considering my ancestral roots were only blocks away. In fact, I lived at the very top of a street bearing my last name. My great uncle died in combat in Normandy, and having been brought up in the same town in which I was raised, when they structured the development they gave his name to two streets: John Place, and Vanderberg Place. The church in town also bears his name beneath a stained glass window, honoring the fallen troops. I never knew it to be weird, that my family name graced the corners of our town.
My Great-Grandmother, Maude, raised her boys in the same town I grew up in. Three of her own, and one she adopted by default because he was orphaned and just, kept hanging around. I heard that that was just the kind of woman she was. Her heart as large as her hands- big, farming hands. From what I know of her, she had a low dark brown bun, was both gentle and firm and her pie crust could make grown men cry. When my Aunt died (her granddaughter) she left me her white bowl, for rising dough. I wonder sometimes if she’s the reason my heart breaks for little ones without parents, and why the kitchen always offers me a peace hard to find anywhere else.
My Aunt went to seminary for her Masters in Divinity before my home church was even thinking about the fact that perhaps maybe women had something to say about Jesus, after all. She went on to become an ordained Presbyterian minister. She’d send me books every year, and when she couldn’t afford to send them from Texas, suggestions. The Chronicles of Narnia and the Anne of Green Gables series were all her doing- they were the ones that shaped me. She challenged me theologically- she made it so I knew that it was safe and good and right for women to use words like, “hermeneutics” and “eschatology”. She gave wheels to my thoughts, when I thought they had no way to get to where they wanted to go.
I walk downtown often, still. The little downtown where my Grandpa raised his family. Where he worked as police chief and took me to breakfast at the diner, where he’d always put ketchup on his eggs and wink when my nose would scrunch up in disgust. It was an old war habit, he said. Where I would spin and spin at the counter and he would say, “Tickle tickle on the knee, if you laugh you don’t love me,” and I would try to hold it in until my lungs burst in laughter and his eyes would twinkle and whisper that he knew I loved him anyway. I walk the same street that I did at twelve, and at five, and at two. The same street my Dad learned how to walk on. The same street my grandpa learned how to walk on when it was all grass and field and devil’s hole was an actual swimming pond instead of a puddle. I wonder what his father thought of this place when he first saw it, coming from the Netherlands. All the Vanderberg men were lanky, with dark blue eyes. I wonder what he would think of it now. Of the fact that were still here.
I wonder if history is any indicator of what is to come. My daughter now runs up and down the street in the town where my family has rooted itself. She is the fifth generation to sniff the daffodils along the river’s edge. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m sure it means something.