I’ve lived a nomadic life since I was a little girl. My father traveled for his work, eventually we settled down in a small town in Illinois. I traveled to get away from that small town. Then I married a man who kept moving to get away from his unhappiness. I thought he’d found it when we moved to a small Willamette Valley town. But after seven years, he decided happiness was on the east coast. I hope he found it.
I took my personal baggage and began moving again. I guess I was searching for happiness, too. First I thought it was in education; and it was one of the happiest times of my life. But college can’t last forever. Then it was a quest for discovering what to do with that education. There was a lot of traveling again; and I can’t say I found my true calling or happiness. But then happiness comes in moments, not in destinations.
It was about this time that my mother started searching for something. But for her, it was a search through the past. As far as I knew, her mother, her father, and her step-father were all Irish immigrants. But like most Americans, she didn’t know the whole story. Like a lot of people do when the reach their senior years, she began to look for the missing pieces. There was a lot missing. I have asked her to put it all together, but what I’ve gotten has been snatches for stories and a few pictures.
One picture she sent me was of her grandmother and grandfather in the 1890s. She says her grandmother was about eighteen. There is another even older one of her great grandmother in the 1880s. Apparently, the immigration spoken of happened a couple of generations earlier than I was told and it was from Scotland, not Ireland. I thought about all those paper shamrocks she pinned on me every year at St. Patrick’s Day all through elementary school. What was that about? Was it the father she never knew? Or was it the one she did know and never talked about?
I’ll never know the real story, but I look at those two pictures and wonder what the lives of those two women were like. They both lived in a time when there was hope and real opportunity in America. My great-great grandmother worked in a hotel when she was young, but I know nothing about the rest of her life. Did she have just the one child or more? Did she find success in America? What were her hopes and dreams.
My grandmother, I know, had a hard life. She had three girls over a span of fifteen years and was married twice. It couldn’t have been easy. My mother was born at the beginning of the Great Depression and grew up in a tiny little house in a small Ozark town. All I know about her childhood is that there was some shame in her family, which made her feel she had to be the best behaved and the best student in that little town. She graduated salutatorian of her class and married my father as soon as school was out.
I’ll always wonder about those three generations before my mother. My mother is now in a senior citizens home and doesn’t communicate with me much. I know she had a hard life. My father caused her a lot of grief, just as her father did her mother. Are we all doomed to repeat our parents’ mistakes? I got the choosing the wrong man from my mother and the traveling bug from my father. I guess I got the better deal from my father.