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Friday, 12 September 2008

The Last Tree in the Forest

By Nana Royer


“Ironwood, Michigan, 1926” is the place and time of the photograph taped to a wall in my computer room. Five figures stand in a line, including a little girl on the right far end with droopy bloomers and a shock of white blond hair.

Now, in 2008, at the age of 87, she is the last tree standing in her forest. The other figures - her mother, father, and two sisters - have long been gone and it has been at least seven decades since she left this mining town in the Upper Peninsula.

I am not sure why I find this photo so absorbing; I often find myself gazing at it. Perhaps it has to do with the knowledge that my mother Naomi, the baby of the family, felt like the forgotten child.

Her oldest sister (in the center with the fur lined hem) was 20 years older than she and this was an era when children were expected to be seen though not heard. She describes her childhood as “growing up on an (emotional) iceberg,” the legacy of her Finnish immigrant parents.

Theirs was a hard life. Her Dad worked in the iron mines, a well-paying job at the time, but one that ultimately caused his untimely death of black lung disease. Of the six children born to her mother, two died at very young ages. This was the norm back then.

My mother recalls when at one point, as a baby, I was only mildly ill, her mother saying to her “I think you might lose this one.” Obviously, she didn’t, but such was the expectation at the time of my grandparents.

My own grandson Jackson is now the age of my mother - his great-grandmother - in that picture. Perhaps I find the photo so fascinating in that there is such a disparity in the photos of my grandson with that of my mother at the same age. His impish grins are a world apart from the sad, self-effacing, obedient little girl with bowed head of the 1926 photo.

His upbringing includes walks with his Dad (my son Corey) to the park, fishing and camping trips with both parents, swim lessons, bike rides, trips to the dinosaur museum, climbing with Dad, and frequent contact with extended family and friends. He knows that both parents think he’s absolutely wonderful, and they spend time speaking both English and Spanish with him so that he may grow up bilingual. All of this attention was virtually unknown to that little towheaded girl of 1926.

Pondering this 1926 photograph makes me think about the evolution of dynamics in families and in generations. Perhaps some things do change for the better. Perhaps negative dynamics are diluted with each generation and positive interactions are enhanced. At least I hope so. It points to some hope for our species.



[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Poignant! My thoughts often follow the same path. Isn't life a trip?

This was such a wonderful post..and to be seen and not heard...how many times did I hear that from my mom..

Wow..the fascination of the photo and the difference in the generation of how we inter act with our kids..

I loved this story..thank you for sharing..

Dorothy from grammology

Oh how I identified with this story.
Your Mother is only 7 years older than I am.

I have often thought of the differences in attitude that have developed between your Mother's and my time and the way my Grandchildren are treated and respected by their parents and grandparents.

I am going to go way out on a limb here and ask this question: Do you think the distant attitude our Grand- parents had toward their children (Our parents)as they grew up was a defense mechanism? Think about how casually your grandmother told your Mother."You may lose this one." It was very common then to lose a child to any number of diseases.

Were they so afraid of losing their child that they didn't want to get too close because it would hurt that much more when they did lose the little boy or girl?

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