reaching through time

When Justina was born with beautiful red hair, both sides of the family tried to claim origin of the trait.  My family explained that my mother’s mother had red hair and that it showed up every other generation.  Noonie (Her real name was Amy, but Noonie was her ‘grama name), Loren’s mother, claimed that she and her mother had had red hair, and showed me a braid of her mother’s hair that she had received as a child. I never knew much about Noonie’s childhood, except that her mother had died in a fire when she was a young child. Apparently some well meaning relative had thought to save the braid for her, and Noonie treasured it, but I always had an imagined picture in my head of this motherless child clutching a braid of hair.

A few years ago, after Noonie passed away, Justina took an interest in genealogy, with the goal of finding where Amy had been born and how she had ended up on an eastern North Dakota farm, married to a farmer. has specials once in a while where you can get a free 2 week membership to search all their records, so we both signed up.  Searching backward from her marriage, we spent hours on the phone, discussing back and forth where she might have been born, did countless searches for relative names, knowing only the woman’s name who had raised her.  And all at once, we found a census record from Nebraska, and there she was…I believe she was four years old when we found her, her name looking out of place, listed among a family in a handwritten census register.  For some reason, it choked me up to see her name there…we had searched and searched for her, and finding her was like finding a lost child.  It still brings tears to my eyes.

Nebraska!? How did she get to North Dakota?!  We tracked her from Nebraska to central North Dakota, as the family she lived with moved there.  From there we watched census rolls, and lo and behold, she showed up as a “girl of labor” in the 40s, working for farm families.  I assume this is like a nanny, and farm helper rolled into one, because she was only about 14, when we started seeing that title.  We tracked her forward in census records for a few years, watching her move to different families, as her work changed.  Census takers in those days would travel from farm to farm, walking or using a vehicle, staying with families, bringing news, one family after another, often staying in the same area for weeks. One day, Justina and I were talking on the phone as we deciphered the handwriting of a particularly messy census taker. We were discussing where Amy might be, and as i glanced down the line of names in the ledger, absently looking for her name, my finger stopped dead before I found it.  The name there beside my finger gave me a brief start.   I continued moving down the list, and a few lines lower was Edwin Zundel, Amy’s future husband.  As we moved back up the list, and down once more, we found Amy’s name a few lines above with the Zimmerman family, listed as “Ad.Daughter…and the last question was answered.  Noonie was the ‘girl next door.’ 🙂   In 1930, she was 11, and Edwin was 6.

The name that had stopped me earlier was Justina’s name!  there in a 1930’s census was- “Zundel, Justina”, my Justina’s great grandmother, her namesake…a story all by itself.  It was so peculiar to see her name there.  An eerie feeling of reaching thru time…and a feeling of coming full circle…

savoring time…

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures- Thornton Wilder

Ah, well, my coffee cup is empty, yet still warm…the woodstove is roaring and the house is quiet in this early morning. I have not written lately– too many things in the way.  Never a moment to sit down and collect my thoughts…and put them into some type of coherent order that is decipherable by another!

The thing that has captured me lately is the good times.  As you know, this ‘turning 50’ thing has really made me shift my thinking.  No longer do i see myself as immortal, or having unlimited time.  No longer do i use the phrase ‘someday’.  No longer do i put things off…well, some things i put off, but not important stuff :).  It may seem morbid, but it has made me live with much more intention.   i was looking back to earlier days in my life, when life seemed carefree …and somehow easier.  But at that moment in time, that carefree time, when my kids were small and i was juggling grad school plus a 2 hour commute each way and a full time job, i don’t remember thinking, “ah, these are the good times!”  The times were good, and i wonder if i realized that.  I think i was just trying to get thru the days, and counting credit hours until my masters was finished.

I want to recognize the best instants when they are happening.  I think some call this ‘living in the moment’.  I don’t want to mark time, or waste time, i want to savor it.  I want to breathe in each moment and recognize it for good, bad or ugly, but i don’t want to miss it in my preoccupation with tomorrow.

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