These last few days have evoked a lot of feelings and make it hard to think what is appropriate to write in a public blog. We have been in Iowa. This is the place my mother always wanted me to think of as home, as in “when are you going to be coming home?” I wasn’t born here (that was in Illinois), I did not live here as a young child (that was in Nebraska), and I have not lived most of my life here (that would be Washington for the past 40 years). I remember more than once responding to my mother’s question about coming home with something like “Mom, Seattle is my home, but we are thinking about coming to visit you in Iowa in the summer.”
Despite that point of view, there clearly is something about returning to the place and interacting with the people I knew when I was young. There have been joyful and beautiful experiences in these past three days but there have also been moments of sadnes, disturbance, and even anger. I would rather focus on the positive experiences and leave the others for my private contemplation and growth. So, the following is a very filtered account.
We were treated to a wonderful personal guided tour of SAC air force base outside of Omaha on Thursday.
On Friday I had the chance to visit the gravesite of my great great great grandparents Johann Christian Langenfeld and Joanna Christina Eckes in St Joseph Cemetery in Earling, Iowa. They were born in Germany in the 1820’s; married there in the 1840’s; imigrated to Wisconsin in the 1860’s; moved to Iowa in the 1880’s; and died there after 1900. Johann’s grandfather (my 5th great grandfather) had converted from Judaism to Catholicism in order to marry his wife in Germany in 1772. We do not know his birth name but the Christian name he took at the time of his baptism was Johannes Quirinus Langenfeld; Johannes for his wife’s father; Quirinus for the St. Quirinus church in which they were to be married; and Langenfeld, for the town in which they lived. I hope to visit the village of Langenfeld some day so I might be able to stand in a place where my 5th great grandfather stood. For now, I have to settle for the satisfaction of standing in a place in Iowa where my 3rd great grandfather lived at the end of his life.
I also visited Harlan, the county seat of Shelby county Iowa, the county where 5 generations of my ancestors lived. There I picked up a couple of local items related to family history and my own memories. Two cases of a very locally available mustand, “Denison Mustard.” That should be enough to satisfy my eating and cooking mustard needs for a couple of years. Also, I picked up a couple of bottles of Templeton Rye. Although the current product is a commercialized version of the prohibition era bootleg version, it still satisfies a desire to collect a couple of items related to family history. Templeton Rye was the local brew at during prohibition and was known to be the favorite of Al Capone in Chicago. He always had a steady supply sent his way. My adoptive father, as a young man in the prohibition era, made some money running a water wagon. It carried large volumes of fresh water from farms with fresh water sources to homes and household that did not. Apparently his water tank also had a secret compartment for transporting some of the local brew out of sight of the local authorities.
On Saturday I went to a high school class reunion. Having never attended an official reunion in the previous 45 years since I graduated high school, I have to admit I had some qualms about what to expect. It could not have been a more pleasant reunion. About a dozen classmates showed up for a brewery tour, a dinner, and a social hour. So many memories and so good to catch up with people from the past.
Finally, today we were invited to a bruch by one of my cousins from the area. It was a wonderful experience. An opportunity to reconnect with a large number of the cousins with whom I had attended the annual “Goeser family reunion” many times when I was young.
As I said, there have also been a few expericences that evoked other emotions. On Friday I visitied the area of Omaha where I lived as a young child, a period of time for which I have no memories. We also visited the church where I was baptised. I found myself overwhelmed for awhile with the sadness of not ever having known my father; of the secrets about my early life I have had to dig to uncover; and of the many more details which I will never know. It was sad, but it was also good, because I am determined not to be a person who perpetuates the cult of secrecy which seems to have been accepted as normal by so many in my family.
There were also, other experiences related to family involving secrecy, rudeness, and just plain lack of respect. I survived those experiences and hopefully learned from them. My life motto in recent years has become “Every Day is Practice for Tomorrow” and these last few days have provided plenty of experiences from which I hope I can learn and improve my own practice of life for tomorrow.