Pieces of String

“Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. [It is] impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating, impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.”¹

This is as true in the past as it is in the present. Not only because of the interconnectedness of family members,  but because like it or not the actions of the past affect life in the present:

  • My paternal 2nd great-grandmother died when my great-grandmother was five years old, the oldest of three daughters. Her immigrant father remarried two years later and his new wife gave birth to a son the following autumn. My great-grandmother married at sixteen and had three children in six years. She and her husband divorced and she gave their children away. My grandmother, the only child who stayed with family, was given to her paternal grandmother. That grandmother was widowed, having lost her alcoholic husband to suicide. My grandmother’s poetic reference to her grandmother was that she was “of the old world”, teaching my grandmother to cook and sew and care for a home. My grandmother married at 19 and had four children in five years before divorcing her absentee husband. What did each of these women learn about family? What part of the web did they pass on to their children?
  • My maternal 2nd great-grandmother left Sweden at 16 and married within three years of her arrival. Her husband was a seaman so she was, in many respects, a single mother. Her daughter (my great-grandmother) married at 19 and had three children in six years. Her in-laws were excessively interested in the upbringing of those children. Her husband sought a divorce, during which he had my great-grandmother committed to an asylum. The children, my grandmother among them, remained in the custody of their father. As a result my grandmother’s parents could not, forever after, be in the same room. What did each of these women learn about family? What part of the web did they pass on to their children?

The web woven by my family continues to grow, every ‘string’ causing vibrations that impact the others. Positive or negative, each impact permeates the whole of our family. How will our trials and errors, triumphs and failures, joys and miseries impact the whole of our web? Only time will tell.

¹ from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

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