The ad captures my attention~ discover your past, your family’s story. I begin a quest to discover the history of my family, to know their stories. Regrettably, it never occurred to me to enquire about family when I had the chance. The relatives I knew kept silences and secret whisperings locked away.
An ancestry membership started me on a journey to discover my past, to discover the men and women whose spirit, hard work, and resilience contributed to my DNA. Like Alice, I fall down the rabbit hole to emerge in England. Perhaps this partly explains the allure of floral and chintz. I cannot pass a vintage thrift shop; I must enter and wander the aisles, linger with the china tea cups and saucers.
Cabbage roses capture my attention. Closing my eyes, woodland hares and rose bushes come into focus. A calico cat peeks out from behind a stone shed, its stealthy body poised, yellow eyes set upon a morning robin, watching as the bird alights atop the country garden’s netting. Sweet peas inch up the strings, their perfumed fragrance intoxicating, carried on a gentle breeze.
A paper bag princess, royalty eludes me! Instead, I discover a fascinating world, its simplicity steeped within the doctrines of the Church of England and the land. I am descended from working class people; tenacious spirits, the farmers and carters beckon me to pause and pay respect. The great, great, great-granddaughter of hardworking men and women who tilled the beautiful pastoral lands around Shropshire, England. I wonder if an everlasting thread connects us still. At times, their presence fleeting, their faces mirrored back. Perhaps these old souls smile when they view my humble garden, the sunflower seeds and tightly rounded sweet peas unfurling from seed coat jackets. Maybe they tenderly gaze back from the faces of those I hold dear.
I stop to study the women’s photographs. I note beauty and grace, the comforting resemblances to those now here. Standing tall, their proud high foreheads face the camera. Beautiful dark eyes share the untold stories, the stories of strength and courage. These courageous women, many sent to work as domestics while still children, some missionaries in China, others interned. Many grieved babies lost to consumption and disease. Many lost husbands. All had mouths to feed. These tireless women, their beautiful, haunted eyes beholden to the emotions, sorrow and joy. Beholden to the land and the seasons.
When in doubt, I imagine these women sending forth heart beats fueled by a fierce strength and unrelenting resilience. Loyal to family, sheltering one another throughout life’s storms, imagining the opportunities, if only wealth or education had happened along their paths. They forge on, some daring to dream of a future with opportunities and choices for those waiting in line.
Discovering a family’s past, uncovering the mysteries and facts, I set my compass down. It is an honour to gently sift through the stories, unveil the lives of ones so true. I take away their gems and stones to polish and shine. I gather strength from their life stories. I cherish who I am.