Saturday, January 11, 2014

Stains of Sadness...

I have been thinking about writing about this a lot - often - too often to count. It did not happen to me, but it pains me. These thoughts occur more than I would like them to do so. And, when they do, I am overwhelmed. Most of the time if occurs with me looking at a picture. Other times it happens when I see some trait in my children that reminds me of him and then my mind jumps, runs, faster than I can stop it and I am saddened. It lingers over family photographs in a manner which cannot be described.

The backdrop of this is a simple statement of something that occurred almost a century ago...almost 90 years ago to be exact. My great-grandmother was murdered. I have heard some say she was slain. I know the words mean the same, but it seems to me like it is a nicer word. Murder sounds heinous and evil. The manner in which she died was pure evil. It ripped apart a family. It took a mother away from her children. It left a stain of sadness upon us. And, I do not think people often think about how things affect those further down the line...but, it does. I know it obviously affected them then, but it lingers...I do not know how to explain it. I do not know if others in my family think the same, feel the same, are affected the same. I am not sure why it is heavy upon me as it is...but there it is again, and again, and again. I think the main thing is that I feel there must be a way to honor this woman that I never knew. There must be a way to live a life of matter and worth and virtue that would make an impact.

The short version of this tale is that while she was milking the cow, the children were sitting on the back steps of the home. A first cousin of my grandfather approached her from behind. She turned in his direction as he approached, and he brought an ax down upon her head. She fell to the ground. There are conflicting reports then after. My uncle told me he remembered her being struck twice, the second blow after she was already incapacitated on the ground. The stool was turned over. The cow was still tied. The blood was spilling. And he turned and approached my grandfather and his siblings. Later the children were found. Both my uncle and grandfather were unconscious, being each struck by the ax or handle. My great-grandmother was still barely alive and finally died (in great pain and moaning). My grandfather was the most severely injured of the three children. He was in a coma for well over a month. He was released from the hospital after 3 months. 

The children were separated and went to live with varying relatives. Eventually, my aunt and grandfather were raised by my great-grandmother's sister and husband, whom we knew and loved as my great-grandparents. My uncle went to live his grandmother. The cousin was tried as an adult and went to prison. There is more to the story than this obviously, but that is the backdrop of this post.

I have a picture that was given to me by a distant relative of my grandfather and his siblings with their paternal grandfather and great-grandmother. The picture is one I like to have, as it is one of the only ones I have been able to locate that shows all three siblings together at a young age and it is a photograph of my great-great-grandfather and great-great-great grandmother. She is old and weathered in this photograph. You can see she has lived through much. What strikes me more than that when I view it is that to me it seems staged.
I know that pictures taken in the mid-1920s were rare as a rule for most. Although, other pictures of family members from that time do depict that life was hard. Pictures show the way the times really were...but, more importantly, people in the pictures may not always look very happy, but they stand together. I am not sure how to explain that beyond that description.

I know that pictures taken in the mid-1920s were rare as a rule for most. Although, other pictures of family members from that time do depict that life was hard. Pictures show the way the times really were...but, more important, the people in the pictures may not always look very happy, but they stand together. I am not sure how to explain that beyond that description.

When you like someone, in general, and take a picture with them, you stand near them. There is an element in taking photographs that lends people to lessen their personal bubble space. The "three-foot rule" is lessened. Does that make sense? In general, when people tend to be wary of someone, cautious of someone, not feel cared for by someone, they do not lean into them for a photo. If they feel this way, they stand stern and rigid. If they feel wary, they stand at caution. Even children will do this when they feel uncomfortable.

So, the question that ponders me when I see this picture is why are they as they are? Okay, I will state by viewing this that the great(X2)-grandmother is just really sitting there. I have some of the other photos with the same arrangement with other family members who were present at this gathering that day and the great(X2)-grandmother and great-grandfather are sitting the same in each. The various people move to positions around them to take pictures with them. So, the manner in which those two are sitting or arranged does not bother me. My aunt looks as though she was stuck in the middle, perhaps slightly confused, with the sun in her eyes. She is too young perhaps to know the difference. My grandfather is the smaller boy. He does not stand near his grandfather, showing about two feet between them. My uncle is the older boy, who has a little more than a foot between him and his great-grandmother. My grandfather's head leans away, my uncle's head is lowered, and my uncle's shoulders are tense. It appears the boys are leaning away from the grandparent figures. I may see things others do not. Although, the picture seems rigid and unnatural.

The grandparents in this picture are from the paternal side of their family. The children were raised by their maternal side. They may not feel comfortable with the people here, grandparents or not. It is saddening to see. I know my uncle often spoke about not feeling loved by his father. He had lost his mother and then his father sent him to someone else to be raised. Their father sent all of them to someone else. He may have had his reasons, and they may have been very valid...but, in some sense, I know they each at times wondered why.  

I look at this and never want my children to feel unloved. I look at this and hope they never feel unwanted. I look at this and hoped they have been raised in such a manner, that no matter where they are positioned in this world, they feel surrounded by the grace of the Spirit and are comfortable with their person, knowledgeable of their place in Christ.

And, there is also part of me that believes her story should be told, not the way it was reported by the papers, but through the memories of my uncle. Her story told by her child who loved her and grieved her death and passing for the remainder of his life. Her story told so others may know the story of a life well lived and not a story about him. All the newspaper reports focused on him...perhaps there needs to be a story about just her??

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