Thursday, September 3, 2009

Family papers

It's quiet around here this afternoon. E's off house-sitting for some friends who have taken their daughter to college in Southern California.  E's left with two dogs and two cats to ride herd on.  Plus a well-stocked refrigerator, and plenty of space to call her own.  She doesn't have much of any of that around here--well, apart from the two dogs, who she has more than enough of most of the time.  About thirty boxes of her belongings (she has more kitchen stuff at 24 than I had after a large wedding, including a Kitchen-Aid mixer.  I didn't get mine until Beve's mom died and left hers to me--one the the first made) are piled up in our carport at the moment.  They were in her room with a single file path between them to her bed, but Beve helped her move them back out of the room in time for our last guests of the summer.  That was over a week ago, and I really don't have a clue what we're going to do with them all.  Someday she'll have her own place and will be glad for the dishes, pots and pans, baking supplies, etc. For her sixteenth birthday, her dad bought her cookbooks and a couple of spring-form pans.  She still remembers it as one of her worst birthdays ever, though she's happy to have them now.  He knew something about her she didn't know about herself then...that's the Beve for you.

I went through the rest of the genealogy box this morning.  Discovered another ancestor who also owned slaves--Kean O'Hara.  His son James was the one who fought in the Confederate Army, so I should have guessed.  And James's brother's name was Charles, not Kevin. I read a copy of Kean's will and discovered some interesting things.  Kean left his slaves in inequal part to his three sons, and two daughters, 5/24s to his oldest son, Charles. 4/24ths to his other two sons, James and Theodore (who never married but was quite a poet, apparently), and another 4th to be divided by his daughters (who were married, with slaves of their husbands).  The rest were left to his wife.  It all seems very practical, until one realizes we're talking about human beings.  then it's sad. Very sad, from my 21st century point of view.

But though this Irishman, who'd come to the US in the late 18th century after an uprising he participated in, was clearly part of his time when it came to slavery, and had made enough money to warrant a 6 page will with many bequests, he was also ahead of his time in another way.  His monetary bequests to his daughters made it clear that those funds (and slaves, and piano in one case) were never to be given over to their husbands.  If the daughters died, their inheritance went directly to their children, and if there were no children, to their brothers.  In no way were their husbands allowed to have access or control of that inheritance.  This seems really progressive for pre-civil war America.  Unexpectedly modern in thought.  Why, I know families even today who think in terms of sons' rights but not of daughters.  I know it's hard to believe, but it's out there.

James O'Hara, the confederate soldier, eventually took his inheritance, and his bride, Patience MacKeever, and moved out to Tacoma, Washington where they had a daughter named Patience Teresa O'Hara, who was my great-grandmother (and namesake--I got my middle name from her).  Those slaves he'd been bequeathed had been long since freed by the proclamation and the war fought to preserve it.  I'd like to think that when the O'Haras came west, they left behind their old views on slaves, on what makes a person an actual person.  I'd like to think that...but who knows?

All this stuff is floating around in my head this quiet cloudy afternoon, with the dogs asleep at my feet, and the floor covered with piles of old papers.  It's all more interesting than I expected.  I like history, I like knowing where I come from, who I come from. Even if it isn't all a pretty picture.  There are drunkards in my family tree, and there are philanderers.  Patience O'Hara was married to my great-grandfather, Mat Roy Thompson, who spent most of his life with a woman named Ida Johnson.  After their first few years together, and three sons in quick succession, Mat only returned to Tacoma about every five years-- 1905, when my grandfather, Hugh, was born, 1910, when another Patience came along, and 1915, when the youngest, Maxine was born.  Imagine.  Imagine knowing your husband was off living with another woman.  Imagine those visits home which resulted with another child each time. What a damaging situation--for all concerned.

But I spring from such people.  And can look back and see the good in them as well.  What will my descendants think about how I've lived my life?  I'll be leaving plenty of written words for them to pour over.  They won't have to mucking around in the dark to discover who I am.  Maybe that that isn't a good thing.  Maybe it'd be better to burn all those journals, to whitewash the tombs of my life.  But I don't think so.  Let me be judged by who I really am, rather than who I would like to be.  Flawed, fallen, broken as my limb on my family tree might be, may it also speak of the other tree I'm grafted onto.  Adopted into.  Counted as bought with a price, a child of the King.  May that be the story of my life my descendents read.  The story of Him speaking and acting and moving, like a red-letter edition of His word--when they shuffle through the papers of my life, may every page be a red-lettered one.

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