Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Honoring the Past and Considering the Future: A Family Tragedy Continues to Unfold

My mother told me a story today.  One I hadn’t heard, which is surprising, since I consider myself to be the family historian.  But this is one that really made me ponder the way of things.

When my mother’s father, William (on the left) was a young man he set off to Napoleon, North Dakota to homestead. (I’m assuming it must have been around 1915 or so).  He claimed a piece of land next to his sister’s farm and started breaking sod, weathering the bitter North Dakota winters in his tiny homesteader’s claim-shanty. 

One day, he was out spreading manure on his field and his nieces and nephews came over, as kids are wont to do, to hang out with their funny Uncle Bill.   Mother said he was very fond of his sister’s children, and being a jovial character, I’m sure the feeling was mutual for the kids.  But that day while busy with work, one of the children, his four year old nephew, fell beneath the tractor and was killed.  One can only imagine the horrible scene which  followed, and shortly thereafter, my grandfather gave his land to his sister and went back home to Marion, South Dakota, where he was to meet and marry my maternal grandmother Grace some years later.

My mother exists because of this accident and the subsequent choices made.   We all exist—my four sisters, our twelve children and the soon-to-be fourteen great-grandchildren, all of us living hinged to this seemingly unrelated tragedy which transpired so many years ago.  Would this knowledge have brought comfort to my grandfather’s sister?  Probably not.  But none the less, I owe a debt for my own existence to that tragic accident and one other untimely death in our family.  This inspires me to try not to waste one second of this precious gift—life!  which was bequeathed to me by these others who relinquished theirs too early.

  Time has a way of working quietly, forming the future and we seem almost pawns to its agenda.  While this is not an original idea, it does strike rather close to home these days.  Some call it God, some say karma, others say fate, or even luck.  Or maybe there is no plan, and we hold on with white knuckles for ourselves and our children’s sake, hoping for the best.

Perhaps we might take a moment to honor all that has come before us and all that will follow. When faced with our own limitations and problems, perhaps we might consider the unseen consequences that will, most surely result from any and every choice we make or irrelevant incident which seems to befall us and forge ahead anyway.

Perhaps I should quit taking it all so personally.  Maybe it has nothing at all to do with me… and everything to do with those to come, and those who have come before me.

Anyway, my intention was to bring intentional pause and not be a Debbie Downer but that’s what’s ruminating over here on the Mid-Life-Crisis front.
Until anon,



  1. The past makes us see that our decisions to choose this road or another at the crossroads will have ramifications. Sometimes an inciting incident must happen to cause us to change our direction. Call it what you will, like our novels, life can change at that turning point. I hope you document all this interesting, if sad, information.

  2. Well said. Thanks for stopping by and offering your viewpoint.
    ~Just Jill

  3. I read your account of this tragedy and sat back to think. It was indeed tragic for all concerned that the child died, but while that event triggered other events – your grandfather’s return and his marriage to your grandmother, I can’t see that that was tainted with tragedy. Is a flower, blooming on a grave, a tragic thing? Or is it something larger? Life seems to move forward and build upon events to produce beauty and joy. Who knows what that child’s life would have been, for joy or for pain. But the event lead to the joy of your grandfather’s marriage (I loved that photo). Your own writings seem to follow the growth of beauty, heartsease and smiles from seemingly random events, whether or not they can be understood.
    Meanwhile, I am happy to see the nut-tree in flower again and hope that time and tide will bring you back more and more, and smooth out the crises, worries and exhaustion.
    Diana at Diana Wilder – About Myself, by Myself

  4. Wow, thanks for sharing, Jill. Tou'r epost really did make me take a step back and think. I'm hoping I'll remeber that next time I get to stressed out to think straight.

  5. Ahhh, the little nut-tree...your seed would have sprouted no matter what life's circumstances seemed to be involved. I think the universe had/has it's place for you no matter what. Thanks for the "intentional pause". That's always a good thing.

  6. To Diana and Debbie: My most sympathetic readers and blog besties. Thanks for stopping by and offering your words to mine. How apt that my real-life bestie should post after you. You women all make me think and thank. ~Jill

  7. It is amazing to think of what might have been. My story: I was born prematurely in 1957 (7 weeks early at 4 lbs.)...blue and not breathing. The nurse placed me to the side to take care of my mom, thinking that I was a goner. I whimpered, and the doctor paid attention to the wee mite. He inserted a trach. I still bear a small scar on my throat. The Breath of Life flowed through me.

    1. Very powerful Helen. Truly.
      How's that freckle?

  8. Interesting thoughts going on in the land of the mid-life crisis. This stuff drives me nuts though. Thinking about all the ricocheting incidents in life that possibly lead to this exact point where we're standing -- it's enough to drive a person mad. It's like trying to figure out how far space extends into the universe.
    But it is interesting to learn how one thing like that changed the course of so many lives.

  9. Thanks for sharing such a personal story about your family history. You show a lot of reflection in conveying the ripple effects that came from the tragedy in your family from generations past.

  10. I think every moment is like that. Everything we do now leads to something that would happen if we didn't. Your story reminded me of a good writing friend's story. Her grandmother or great-grandmother (I can't remember which) was too sick to go on a company picnic that entailed taking a steamboat to an opposite riverbank where the picnic grounds were. The boat sank, and nearly everyone on board drowned. How spooky to think one might not be here if it weren't for a narrow escape like that.


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