I’ve spent the past week in a gorgeous historic house on the south Whidbey Island banks of the Saratoga Passage of Puget Sound. I first attended Christina Baldwin’s Self as Source of the Story writing retreat in 2012, five months after I moved back to this corner of the country. I’ve returned to the alumni retreat four times. It’s a gift I’ve given myself.
I’m writing, reading, and listening to the powerful stories of my writing sisters, eating delicious healthy food, watching eagles carrying sticks into a nearby copse for nest building and two coyote pups trotting about. The first four days the cerulean sky reflected on the calm waters and the white mountain range sparkled on the horizon. Yesterday we cocooned in front of the fire, as the world disappeared in gently falling snow.
I am honored and humbled to sit in communion with the natural world and in community with these beautiful women and bear witness to their sacred words and experiences. Although each year some of them begin as strangers, they are my tribe.
It’s different to be here this year, not escaping the lonely claustrophobic years of caring for my mother; and not writing about those years, that manuscript complete for now. Yesterday, on the first day of Lent and the new moon, in the midst of this gathering of women, some of whom first heard the beginnings of my story more than six years ago, I pushed the manuscript out of the nest. I sent it to a small press/editorial company (that auspiciously had its beginnings the same year I began my journey of mother care) for an assessment. Later this month I am going to submit the first 26 pages to a contest. It’s time to see if it can fly.
And now it’s time to move on to a new project. This week I’ve immersed myself in the letters written by my elders during WWII, when they were younger than my children are now, and the stories of their lives on the Michigan farm when they were the ages of my grandchildren. It’s hard to put down an old familiar project and pick up a new one. I feel a little lost. But I look toward spinning the threads of my ancestors’ story into yarn, that it might then be woven into a blanket to wrap around those who will never know them: my children’s children’s children’s children, and their cousins.
The Seventh Generation Principle is based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. The decisions my grandparents made in the way they raised their children in love and strong values, and saw that all six of them got a college education—inconceivable for the 1930s and on a farmer’s income during the Great Depression—can be seen one, two, and three generations later (my lifetime) and will continue, I trust, to the seventh generation and beyond.
This is where I’m from. This is where the seventh generation of my family will be from.
These are the legacy years, when we of a certain age look back at where we have been and ahead to what we will one day leave behind. In the legacy writing circle I facilitate, we wrote “Where I’m From” poems last week, in the style of George Ella Lyon. (How serendipitous that my father’s name is George and his mother’s name is Ella.) I invite you to write your own poem—it’s so much fun. (Google “where I’m from template” for help writing it, apologies that I can’t get a direct link.) Here is mine.
Where I’m From
I am from the slamming wooden screen door and Mr. Bear’s house in the woods,
from Breck shampoo and Ipana toothpaste, iodine and oleum percomorphum.
I am from the house on the bay and the home on the hill,
from stinky sulphur mud at low tide and fresh perfume of evergreens after rain.
I am from the big leaf maple whose arms hide me from parental view.
I am from the bookmobile and the green canoe,
from Stellajoe and George
and Ella and Jessie.
I am from “go help your mother,” “don’t sass me,” and my southern grandmother’s “well ahl swanee.”
I’m from staying put and cross-country moves,
from independence and courage.
I’m from crossing the ocean on a sailing ship and the country on the Empire Builder.
I am from my parents’ Great Depression,
and from my man on the moon.
I am from “This Is My Father’s World,” Girl Scout badges, and piano lessons in the pink house.
From Boston baked beans and chocolate “stir over low heat until thick” Jell-o pudding.
I’m from homemade 2×4 building blocks and dish gardens,
from heart disease and dementia.
I am from eight decades of antiquity stuffed onto basement shelves.
From a thousand letters and shoe boxes of photographs
snapped on cameras that line my window sill
where I sit at my father’s desk to put stories of days and people long gone between the covers of a book.