"Catherine"

 “Story is a search for community.” ~ Christiana Baldwin

Christiana Baldwin makes a valid point. Our Creator created us to fellowship and become members of a larger community.  Sort of a, “No man is an island.” Sort of Idea is presented here. I also agree that within our own stories, is the essence of our true selves, and that in turn helps us to associate with those who are much like us.

The Bible is told primarily through individual stories.  Even the teachings of Jesus were in large part, taught with the assistance of stories and parables. Stories help us to understand, remember, and retain spiritual concepts and our histories because they give us mental images that help us latch onto and retain that knowledge.

I am currently reading, Too Close To The Sun, by Sara Wheeler – The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton. Finch-Hatton, an Englishman, lived at the beginning of the twentieth century in British East Africa in what is known today as Kenya. He, the literary muse of Karen Blixen, was a colonial pioneer of Africa.  He championed the very first laws protecting the hunting of African animals from a vehicle and was responsible for the legislation creating the largest game reserve in Kenya and one of the largest in all of Africa. Created from the Serengeti National Park, at over five thousand square miles, Tsavo National Game Preserve is today a fitting memorial for Finch-Hatton.

I’ve no idea why I’m attracted to the stories of these people who colonialized East Africa. Berkeley Cole, an Irishman who helped to settle Kenya, was a friend of Finch-Hatton’s. Much of Cole’s personal correspondence is available today within the public record in Belfast, Northern-Ireland; I am reading his various writings also.   
Why do I love their writings?  Within the last month, I have discovered my great-grandparents on my father’s side immigrated from Ardcath, County Meath which is located directly north of Dublin.  Their records have been obscured for decades because their records and the ship’s records they sailed upon were recorded with ships that sailed seven years previously to when they sailed.  They sailed for America - for Philadelphia onboard the SS William Penn in March of 1851 with four children. Perhaps it is because these people (Blixen, Cole, and Finch-Hatton) came from the same parts of the old-world (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Denmark) as my great-grandparents, on both sides of my family, that I am drawn deeply to their stories. 

Perhaps additionally, it is because they were of the same generation as my father (he fought in WW1) that I am interested in learning about their lives. On some level, as Christiana Baldwin states, they are part of my community. A community that I feel a connection to because of shared genealogical and country backgrounds. Without a formal college education, I have been attracted to the apparent ease with which these individuals were able to write. Now, with a couple of writing courses under my belt, I find myself looking beneath the surface words of their writings, and trying to understand the structure or framework with which they created and formulated their sentences.

These people are all long dead, and yet today with the help of type-setting we can continue to hear their voices. Their words on paper are reflections of their thoughts about their lives. It is awesome to be able to hear another’s thoughts, if only by reflection. Is this literary interest of mine a practice of grief? Perhaps it is, in a small way, a way of dealing with death. Is it a way to keep both strangers and family alive? I do not know.  I have found, if we do not openly explore our feelings about those who have passed, those feelings will demand to be explored at some future point in our lives.  Even if it is decades after the event, unresolved issues with those deaths will demand to be acknowledged. Baldwin states that through the stories of others, “We find the people with whom we really belong.” I think that I agree with her.  

What does that say?  That I belong with a bunch of long dead people? I believe it implies if I were able to travel back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I could have easily been friends with these individuals. Through their written words, thoughts, and ideas, I sense that we would have understood each other.

How can I possibly say this? My grandparents, who were only a few years younger than these individuals, were people who were not only my relatives, they were my friends. If I was able to become friends with my grandparents, then I do not find it too much of a leap to consider that I would have easily been friends with my great-grandparents and others who would have lived during the same historical period. Indeed they remain alive today through their stories and writings, and from that, their spirits remain with us too.  My history and my community can be summed up in a statement my great-grandmother, Catherine, made long before I was born - when she was seventy-nine years old. She, a Kansas pioneer living in north-eastern Kansas stated, “I have fourteen children, three of whom are still living.”  One of those living children, Richard, was my grandfather. That is my community – my story – my grief. That is my great-Grandmother, who immigrated from Ardcath, Ireland, telling me over thirteen decades later that I am a part of her Irish community.  When my great-grandfather, Nicholas, passed away, Catherine erected his grave marker.  It was carved with seven lines of her written verse on the back.

Today, those lines of verse have been rubbed (paper held against the stone words and over-rubbed with charcoal, chalk, or Crayola to produce an impression upon the paper) so many times by visitors and relatives that they are almost entirely worn away, they are nearly illegible.  Someday, I may write about what she, part of my community, wrote. Her words to her husband, a husband with which she left her homeland and family in 1851 to start a new life in America, still ring out clear-as-a-bell today.  That Irish couple are today an integral part of my story.