Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Father’s Father: Mark Dutcher Eaton

Mark & Ruth Eaton
My grandfather’s name was Mark Dutcher Eaton. My dad was 28 when his father died. I am a decade past that age myself, and my heart breaks for him to think about it. I can’t imagine losing my dad now. I really can’t imagine not having had him in my life for the last decade.
I only have one strong memory of my father’s father. I had just turned six when my Grandpa Mark died. He had cancer. I have a softer memory of him, just before he passed, lying on a green couch in the front room of the house, covered in an afghan while we visited. Other than that, I have just the one memory of him that I have held tightly to.
I have protected that memory from alteration and exaggeration. I keep it sacred; it has always felt important. I think of it every holiday season. I do not know how old I am in the memory, but I am staring up at him and he seems seven feet tall. And in the memory, my Grandpa is healthy.
We stop in to see them on our way to dinner somewhere. I like coming here. I like the stone fireplace. My Grandpa smiles the biggest smile and asks us if we want a cookie. My parents protest but he isn’t listening. They acquiesce but tell us we can only have one while he is gone from the room (and they mean it).
He comes back from the kitchen with a round tray full of different kinds of cookies. He says we can have whatever we want but our parents’ eyes are on us. I can’t decide. I look up and he is smiling. It is such a bright smile. [As a grown up, when I see that smile in my memory, it reminds me of what delight looks like]. I take a cookie. I don’t remember which kind I picked. But I remember that he’s wearing a sweater. I remember that I barely know him but I know he loves us.
Thus endeth my memories of Grandpa Mark. If I was a couple of years younger, I wouldn’t have any. So I am grateful for it, grateful for that vision of his smiling face.
Still, I wish I had more memories of him, or knew more stories of what he was like, something I intend to rectify moving into this new year. Not just him, though. My family didn’t spend a lot of time talking about those who had died with us kids, though I do remember hearing them talk about people we’d never met. How could we have contextualized unknown names and faces when our worlds weren’t any larger than our immediate families with their smiling faces and warm laps we felt free to climb up on?
A large part of this ancestor work for me comes from wishing I had asked my grandparents and great-grandma about their parents and grandparents when they were still alive. But I didn’t. What I can do is to try to collect what stories can be found for my nieces and nephew. After all, names and dates don’t tell you about who they were. And having more personal context helps you connect to those you did not know.

What about you? Do you know who your parents’ parents were? Or their parents? Why not start off the new year by honoring the loved ones who are no longer with you? Remember them. Pick a memory of those you lost, of your grandparents and your great-grandparents, maybe siblings and parents if you have lost them. Write out the memory of them for the children that will come after you who never knew them or might not remember that they once did.

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