Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Family And Ancestors

In Heathenry, we often talk of 'the ancestors' as though they're a nebulous term of faceless people, and for the most part, the vast majority of them are. In some cases, we may know their names, we may have details of where they were recorded living at the time of whatever census in whatever place, but nothing more than that. In the case of more recent ancestors that we might not have known, we may have some anecdotes passed down from older family members, but a lot of the time, unless we grew up with them and they were unimpaired by senility, we still can't really say that we knew them well.

For example, all of my grandparents except one passed before I was born, and the last one passed when I was seven. My memories of that grandfather, my last living link to that older generation are of going for walks with him, and people coming into the supermarket to find us because he'd wandered off, decided he was a lollypop* man and had taken to directing traffic on a busy road. You see, for the years I'd known him, he'd had Alzheimers disease, but years of travelling with my father in his truck and hearing stories about his youth and parents had told me of a very different man. One with a very strong work ethic who would work every hour he could for his family, and such love and devotion for his ailing wife who'd given birth to my father while sick with tuberculosis. My grandmother, his wife had suffered from health problems all her life and like my granddad had just kept on pushing through and trying to do her best by her family.

There was another streak in my father's family, and that was Spiritualism. Needless to say, I grew up with some very strange experiences.

My mother was one of nine children and grew up in an area that is now notorious for being rough in my hometown. I can't imagine what it must have been like for her mother with so many kids to care for, especially kids that ran amok to the extent I know my mother and her siblings did. One of my uncles used to steal/catch rabbits and chickens and they had them at their house, well... until the local council confiscated the chickens. My grandfather was a huge Popeye fan and worked on the buses. Both he and his wife passed within months of each other and their children banded together and raised each other until adulthood. My mum was raised by an older sister and she in her turn raised a younger sister. I can't imagine how hard things must have been for them. Until recently, my mum didn't really talk about her parents much. I think she has always been too sad about their passing to really volunteer information about them for years (like my father has with his) and so the qualities they had, I've kind of deduced from what I know and see in my own mother.

That they were hardworking is without question; you can't bring up nine kids well without being hardworking. My mother has always put fresh home-cooked food on the table and so I can guess that's what she grew up with. My mother has always taken a pride in having a clean house and clean curtains lest the neighbours think the family is scum. Being poor isn't synonymous with a lack of pride. So they must have also had a sense of pride in being clean and decent people. And that my grandparents died within such a short time of each other tells me that they were also very much in love and devoted to each other. My mum and her family, a resilient bunch, still very much miss their parents so it's without question that they are loved and missed. Last but not least, I think they must have also had a cracking sense of humour...well, with nine kids, I think you'd need to!

You probably wonder why I'm rabbiting on the way I am here. In all honesty, I didn't plan on going into as much detail about my family and how I admire the qualities they had/have. They may not have been famous or necessarily did anything that people tend to think of as being special, but they were good, hardworking, resilient, loving, proud, persistent (some might say 'stubborn') people. Needless to say, I really hope I make them proud with how I live my life and that I'm not a disgrace to them.

Often in Heathenry though, we tend overlook the more immediate ancestors in favour of those that were actually Heathen, and I'm not saying that they don't watch over us, just that our more immediate kin (not just blood kin here because family isn't always just a matter of blood, sometimes the most real family we can have has nothing to do with blood) have more of a vested interest in our well-being. And it is our parents that are the link to them. They are often the keepers of that family knowledge, those oral histories that keep the memories of the deceased alive. Unless our parents are complete...pardon my language, but fuckheads, we should respect them, love them, be thankful for the sacrifices they made in their lives so that we might thrive and not go whining to some shrink because they said no to us a few times back in the 90s when we wanted some extortionately priced trainers or jacket. That's all too common nowadays.

Our parents are just as much of a link in the ancestral chain as anyone else, they are the ancestors that still live, and when they're gone, we'll wish with everything that they're not.

So it's important to respect and love now.

Which is why I am really shocked by the most recent piece of news to come out of the Heathen community about a leader that allegedly embezzled $75,000 from his elderly mother, which led to her being evicted from her care home. Now, I'm going to insert the caveat here that a person *is* innocent until proven guilty and that I'm not saying this individual is guilty, but IF he is, I feel shocked and saddened by the thought. I know people treat their parents badly and do such awful things to them every day, but even so. From someone that is supposed to honour their ancestors, that kind of behaviour would be...dare I say it, but a sin? I can't think of a better word really here to express my feelings on that and yes, before people comment and say that 'sin is a Christian term', what on earth else would you call it?

As someone that lives over 3000 miles away from her family, I couldn't ever imagine such behaviour. Maybe it's because my time with my parents isn't an all the time thing? Maybe it's because the distance makes me appreciate the time I get to spend and chat with them all the more?

Today, or in the coming week, please do something nice for your parents (be they blood, adopted or those that have become your parents in life). Buy your mum flowers, go visit more than usual, call them, send them a gift, just let them know you love them. They're your family and greater than any treasure on earth for it.

My mother's family on my aunt's wedding day.

My maternal grandfather (in the middle).

My uncle Ronnie trying to stop me from being a sulky puss at a family wedding. I really wasn't happy with having to wear a bridesmaid's dress and all the photos that came with that. I was such a cheeky little cow with the photographer.

My dad's family. From left to right, my paternal grandfather, my grandmother and my dad.


Jon & Jen said...

Couldn't have said it better!

Birka said...

Thank you!