Saturday, October 29, 2011

Making Friends

I have been making new friends these past few months. Charming people, really. Genuine, complex, lots of fun, inspirational. There's Florence, of course. I would love to grow up to be like her, if that's still possible at my age. I think most of all, I admire her ability to connect with people. Everyone gravitated to Florence, it seems. Her siblings returned to her home again and again to sit at her kitchen table and talk for hours. Her troubled nephew flagged her down on the highway once because he knew she would listen with compassion. The mentally handicapped man who sold spudnuts felt like he lost his best friend when she died. She held lawn parties and pajama parties. She inspired the youth that she taught. And she left a little of herself in each of her children.

Florence grew up in a trio of sisters along with  Fae and Blanche, wonderful women in their own right. I knew Fae as an older woman but have enjoyed making the acquaintance of her younger self. She grew to womanhood in the 1920s, the granddaughter of pioneers. Her determination to write her own story inspires me, and I find myself indebted to her again and again for the volumes of history she left behind. She brought her parents and grandparents to life for me. We share an affinity for the national parks, it seems, and a tendency toward rebellion tempered by an overactive conscience.

Of the three sisters, I find Blanche's story the most poignant. As a young girl, she held her baby brother while he died and then grew up watching her mother fade away with tuberculosis. She pinned her life somewhere between the fragility of her mother and the stubborn strength of a father who both exasperated and enthralled her. Somewhere in that netherworld between the two, she lost herself. A fine writer with a soul that reached toward lofty heights, she often stumbled but still found beauty along the way.

The sisters shared a pioneer grandmother known for her spunk and formidable nature. Nancy Bean married and divorced twice before leaving one daughter behind and crossing the plains with her second daughter. She met my great-great grandfather upon his return from the gold fields of California, and the two joined the original settlers of Parowan, Utah. Nancy helped the women of the town birth their babies and clothed the men with her homespun suits, all while raising a dozen children. I'm not sure her pioneer spirit filtered down through the gene pool to me, but I love having this powerful woman in my ancestral line nonetheless.

I can't pretend that I know exactly how this next life will shake out. I trust that the common vision of insipid angels singing endlessly with golden harps holds little semblance to reality. At least, I hope we have fashion choices in the eternities that reach beyond the formless white robe and unwieldy halo. I prefer to envision myself trading stories with Nancy while she teaches me how to weave or hiking with the trio of sisters through the mountains. Perhaps along the way we will encounter their father, Mahonri, with his beloved horses or Grandfather Zachariah target shooting with the pistol he called his "second wife." Until then,  I will content myself with the joy of discovering my new friends through the memories of others and the shadows their lives left on my path.

1 comment:

  1. What colorful personalities you have as relatives! I wish I had stories like that, or any stories for that matter, to help me 'know' my ancestors.
    Thanks for the strong reminder that even though they have passed on, we all have forebears who were real people with lives that were certainly significant.