I’m walking in their footsteps, I’m singing their old songs
I have ALWAYS had a stirring in my soul to know my family’s history. Not just names and faces, but who were they? What were their stories? Were they good? Were they kind? Did they love their kids and love Jesus even more? Why did they come here? What did they do here? Was their life inspiring, even if just in the simple way they lived, or did they take a path better left untraveled by the rest of us?
And so, when I first heard Keeper of the Flame, by Miranda Lambert, I fell in love, instantly, with it’s lyrics, it’s message, it’s meaning, at least, how it related to my own life…because in our family, I have always felt like a Keeper. A keeper of Words. Stories. Photographs. Family Heirlooms. Recipes. I keep them all. They are SACRED to me.
Somebody blazed this trail I’m treadin’ on
This past week we spent a few days at my grandparent’s farm in the hills of southern Indiana and I once again became that little girl, with a burning curiosity to KNOW the stories. Thankfully my grandma and grandpa did what they have always done…they tell me.
I know that…
My great-great grandpa Joe always owned a German Shepherd. That his wife, Winnie, made dresses for my grandma. That my grandpa’s side of the family were beer drinkers, while my grandma’s side drank a lot of wine. Except that one branch on Gramp’s side…they liked whiskey.
I learned that my great-great grandpa, August, was a farmer (like so many of my family were), a strong democrat, outspoken, easy going, a devout Catholic, dignified and he lovingly referred to his wife as Madam Queen. With nine kids, she 100% deserved that title.
I’m bent but I’m not broken. I’m stronger than I feel
As we sat around the kitchen table in the old farmhouse, with the cool air conditioned air around us, and a heat index of 110 degrees outside, Grandma talked about watching her Aunt Lizzie, cooking at the stove, in the dog days of summer, standing barefoot in a puddle of sweat.
Aunt Lizzie was the incredible woman who raised my grandma and her five siblings after my grandma’s mother died at the young age of 30. She left behind six kids, ages 11 to 6 months old. Lizzie was a nurse, unmarried and came back to the farm she grew up on, to help her brother, my great-grandpa who was grieving, overwhelmed and like many men during that time period, not at all equipped to deal with running a household or raising kids on his own.
My grandma’s dad never remarried. Aunt Lizzie got all of her nieces and nephews raised, out of the house and having babies of their own, before she finally tied the knot at the tender age of 80. God Bless that woman for raising my grandma.
I’m made of flesh and bone, not made of steel
Grandpa told me the story of his cousin driving to see a bootlegger with one of his friends. His cousin wrecked the truck. His cousin lived. The friend did not. I had no idea that as a result of that wreck, my grandpa went to his priest and pledged not to drink a drop of alcohol until he was 21. He stuck to that pledge even during his time in the service.
And then we came across this picture…
Two of my grandpa’s cousins. He paused at this one. Took a deep breath, and then said, “I took this picture and sent it to my cousin Jerry who was already over fighting in Europe. He wrote me back”… he paused, collected himself and continued…he said, “Jerry wrote me back and said that he could hardly stand to look at that picture because he was so homesick.”
Grandpa wasn’t “over there” yet, but knew his time was coming. It never came. He was drafted by the Navy, took the exams to see where he was the most proficient and because his parents had run a general store his entire childhood, he too knew how to run a store. So, he got to stay stateside, on the East Coast, running a commissary for the Navy during the war.
When he got home after the war was over, he worked, married my grandma, had a bunch of kids and continued to play the game he loved so much. I think this man loves baseball as much as he loves ice cream.
As we sat and talked, and sifted through box after box of pictures, I learned that my grandpa’s mom had the most beautiful flower garden under the sun. I learned that grandpa got awful chiggers every time he went squirrel hunting. I learned that sheep poop was used to help fight measles. That the only time my grandma ever saw her dad cry was when her brother was drafted to World War II. Her dad had served as a corpsmen in the first World War and knew the hell that awaited his son. I learned that a certain distant cousin who shall remain nameless was a “rounder”, and then I learned what “rounder” meant. I learned that my grandma kept this picture of my gramps in her wallet for many, many years.
I’m the keeper of the flame
The teller of the story
Keeper of the flame
For the ones that came before me
For the little pilot lights waiting to ignite
Like fireflies in the rain
Keeper of the flame
At times, my sentimental heart wears me out. But, I know it is part of my purpose on this earth, to make sure these stories and so many more, continue on. To help ignite that fire in my own kids or their kids, one day. To be a Keeper. Because, these are our ROOTS. It is what grounds us, and along with our faith in God, it is what anchors us. It is that place we go back to when we are lost and so desperately seeking to find ourselves. Or, it is that place that we just go for peace. Solace. Comfort.
Time is fleeting. Stories don’t tell themselves. ASK the questions. WRITE down the answers. You won’t regret it.
P.S. The pic at the top is of my four aunts and my dad in his Little League uniform, circa 1959.
As always, thanks for reading!