What Do the Grandmothers Say?

d552dd4f-ba83-4ab3-891d-3ac90c162874I’ve been thinking a lot about my great, great grandmother, Katherine McCabe. Like me, she was mother to three boys. I discovered her last Spring while doing family history research (I’ve been an avid family genealogist since 2000) – even finding this photo online of the McCabe family, who came from Cavan, Ireland in the 1800s. Here she is, dressed in black, standing right above my great, great, great grandparents John and Eliza. The family settled in Campbell and Bath, New York and Kate eventually married my great, great grandfather John C. McNamara, who left her a widower in 1905.

For some reason she has stayed with me. Perhaps it is because I can see a bit of myself in her expression here. Or perhaps it is because she also had three sons. Perhaps it is because I’m about to birth my third child, and the continuation of my family tree is unfolding. In gestating a new member of my family, I can feel the cells from thousands of ancestors and places culminating in my story, my baby’s story. These moments before birth connect me to all the women before who have birthed my lineage into being. I can feel some of their journeys tangibly through my research: traveling across oceans during tumultuous times. Fleeing the potato famine. Living in crowded boarded houses in Brooklyn. So many mothers losing so many children. Accidents. Whole lifetimes of stories. Widowed. Old… The heartbreaking cycles of life coalesce here and now as I wait for baby to be born. Days aren’t just days – they are actually the culmination of millions of years of evolution, genealogy and history.  Days aren’t just days – they are the ongoing writing of deep, rooted story lines, weaving pattern lines on my skin, my children’s skin, right here.

So what do the grandmothers say? They remind me that each lifetime is but a blink in the annals of time. Birth, Death, Childbirth, Marriage: these are the key signposts of a life that remain in the records of family history. They remind me to take the ‘long’ perspective: seeing beyond any given moment into the vast continuum of life. They remind me to marvel at what has survived. They remind me of the preciousness of each of our individual life stories. And, finally, they remind me to confront my own mortality. They have come and gone and so will I…

What will survive? What will be forgotten? What is important? These are the questions I ask as I prepare to welcome a new life. What do I want to leave for the future? Yes: Letters to my sons. Yes: Family stories. Yes: Meaningful work in support of Earth and Life. Yes: Good food. Yes: Nourishing traditions… Yes: Love…

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