Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Miracle Year: Copacetic

(To the left: a blurry me, Sandy & her half-sister Jeanie) My cousin Jeanie (one of my Aunt Rhoda’s 5 daughters) and her husband Kim live in a bucolic suburb of Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park. Jeanie had graciously invited us to stay with her and her husband when we came to the reunion; she said she had plenty of room…and, well, we needed a place to stay and she was family.

A week or so after I first talked with Sandy, Jeanie and I had spoken for at a couple of hours. But for the most part, we were strangers. More so than she had thought when she called…

It was in the mid 80’s that I found out the aunt of whom I had no memories lived 15 miles from me. I saw her several times but the visits weren’t successful. I was too immature, I was looking for a mom – and my aunt was looking for, what, I don’t know. Something I didn’t have or couldn’t give.

(To the right: Buster, Riff Raff & Bodhi at Jeanie's front door) So when Jeanie said she had met me at her mom’s once in San Jose when she was visiting, I said, “Really? Wow! How could I not have any memory of that? Are you sure?”

Jeanie countered with, “Do you have black hair?” I said, “No, not ever. Blonde, now turning….”

She said, “Have you ever lived in Iceland?” Now, that one threw me. I’ve dreamt of being in Reykjavík; I’ve got a burning desire to go to Iceland – maybe some Norse past life – but I haven’t made it yet.

And so now, Jeanie doesn’t have any idea who it was she met at her mom’s and who she’s been thinking was me all these years. And may never know… Uff da!

(To the left: Kim, Jeanie's husband) It came as a wonderful surprise to find out how well we all got along. Think about it: three total strangers -- with 3 dogs, no less -- move into your house for three days (and they also have a dog, Riely). But, her husband, Kim a laid-back California guy (and a dead ringer for Chevy Chase), is a talented guitar player (oops! think Pink brother tells me “Smoke on the Water” is an insult...), as are my husband and my brother; they’ve all worked construction, they're all GUYS. Jeanie and I are totally in sync when it comes to lifestyle, politics, interests, the way in which we see the world. We’re even both vegetarians. And we all love the tropics.

So the next installment of this story is sharing house in Belize or maybe the Bay of Islands in Honduras, somewhere with warm water and cold Margaritas. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Miracle Year: Sonja Holy Eagle

(To the left: Sonja Holy Eagle and examples of her work) Leaving Sioux Falls after staying at cousin Sandy’s one last night (after having supper with Melba in Worthington, MN) kind of marked the end of the reunion – but not the end of the trip. Steve, I, and the dogs still had another 1,500 miles to go.

Our next stop (besides doggie breaks) was Rapid City, SD, a 340-mile drive, straight east. I especially wanted to check out Prairie’s Edge -- a showcase for Lakota/Oglala Sioux art -- as well as to speak with Sonja Holy Eagle at the Dakota Drum Co. about painting my drum.

Several years before I'd had the privilege of meeting another remarkable woman, Yolanda Martinez, a striking mixed-blood Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache with some Mexican thrown in. Among Yolanda’s many roles (one of which is singing -- she is a 2004 NAMMY winner for Best Female Artist), is teaching drum making for use in healing ceremonies, meditation, prayer, dancing and singing. Taking one of her classes, I created an 18-in. elk-hide Apache-style drum -- and made a dear friend in the process.

(To the right: Yolanda Martinez leading a drumming session) Since its creation, I’d wanted to have my drum painted. The advertisement I’d seen in a South Dakota art magazine featuring Sonja Holy Eagle made me think she was the one to do it.

I walked into Dakota Drum and introduced myself. Explaining how I came to have my drum, I mentioned Yolanda’s name. Sonja’s eyes lit up. She said, “Oh, Yolanda! I haven’t seen her in a long time! We used to meet at pow wows all the time. Is she still in Las Cruces [NM]?” The answer being "yes," I caught her up on as much as I knew of Yolanda’s recent history.

Later that night, I emailed Yolanda. “Sonja Holy Eagle sends her greetings.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Biggest Rush

(To the right: part of a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park, wading through a "picnic area, day use only" spot) Although our ‘mission’ on the trip was the reunion, we also enjoyed being tourists. I’ve already mentioned visiting Ft. Bridger, Ft. Laramie and several ‘Oregon Trail’ sites.

But our favorite spots all turned out to be in South Dakota – the Black Hills (including Custer State Park), surrealistic Mount Rushmore, lively Deadwood and the [truly bad] Badlands. But among these spots, ‘best in show’ was Rushmore, a visual phenomenon that must be seen in person to really be appreciated.

(To the left: the Badlands under an ominous South Dakota sky) As we approached the Black Hills and the hill town of Custer – gateway to Rushmore -- the summer skies looked ominous. A fierce wind howled through the main street of Custer as we looked for a place to stay for the evening, the temperature in the low 50’s -- a situation very unusual, we learned, for South Dakota in August when it’s normally about 90 with humidity in the same range.

(Above: Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt & Lincoln) Since it was only around 4pm, we decided there was plenty of light left for us to make the trek to Rushmore. On the 16-mile trip, a black sky loosed torrents of rain and wind gusts rocked our white Ford Explorer (known affectionately as ‘Whitey Ford’); we nearly turned around.

Then suddenly we were among the blessed. As we turned into the parking lot, the sky cleared to reveal a brilliant sun, the wind died and we had the awesome experience of being among those from all over the US and, indeed, the world, who make the pilgrimage to worship at what is both a shrine to democracy and a unparalleled work of art.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Miracle Year: Eastenders

(To the left: Uncle Ted, me, Grandpa Husom, Steve & my Eastender Gran) All my life I've identified with “the princess and the pea” -- I have a very low pain threshold, and darn it, I do feel the pea. And, many friends have teased me about having been a Queen in a previous life.

So I find it pretty funny that my Grandma Husom, Doris Grace Butler Husom, born in England, was an Eastender. Her birth certificate says, born in “the District of West Ham, in the Sub-District of South East Ham,” 1904. About this area, Wikipedia says,

“...Eastender territory extended further east due to the 'diaspora' of East Enders who moved to West Ham about 1886 and East Ham about 1894 to service the new docks and industries established there.”

That means I’m a peasant. Or at least ¼ peasant. And I have strong suspicions that many other parts of me may be peasant also. Certainly the Norwegian part. Probably even most of the German part (my Dad’s side) -- but more on that another time.

Anyway, back to Eastenders -- which also refers to a British TV show that ranks as one of the most watched in the United Kingdom. An Anglophile, I’ve always gravitated to the monarchy/upper class, Bronte/Austen type shows on PBS and BBC; I thought Eastenders was a bit vulgar and common.

However, Wikipedia says about the East End matriarchs, central to the programme:

“[They are] strong, brassy, long-suffering women who exhibit diva-like behavior and stoically battle through an array of tragedy and misfortune…. These characters are seen as being loud and interfering but most importantly, responsible for the well-being of the family and usually stressing the importance of family, reflecting on the past.”

So, I guess I’m proud to be part Eastender. And if I could speak for my girl cousins, they probably would be too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Farm

(To the left: me & Shirley, my mother's namesake) There are many cousins I would like to spend more time getting to know; one of them is Shirley, named after my mother. A strong self-reliant survivor, she’s another one who lost a parent way too soon.

Shirley’s Dad, Dean, was the third oldest child after my mother (the oldest) and her sister Rhoda. A career Army man, he died of pneumonia when he was only 39 years old; Shirley was 15, a terrible time, I think, for a teenager to lose a parent. (I know because my own stepchildren lost their mother when they were 14 and 16.)

Divorcing her husband when she found out what he was abusing a child, Shirley bought a small Minnesota farm near Long Prairie and Swanville and raised her three children there, mostly on her own.

(To the right: Shirley, her husband Ken & several of her 11 grand kids) One day in the late 80’s, she saw a car with Washington plates come up her driveway. An older white-haired man get out of the car and begin looking around. the yard. Curious and a bit apprehensive, Shirley went out to confront him. When he saw her, he asked if he could look around the place as it was the farm he had been raised on. “The rock I played on is still there in the yard,” he said pointing.

Shirley introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Shirley Husom.” The visitor turned deathly pale and she quickly sat him down. Suddenly she said, “ I know who you are, you're Arnold Harnack. I’m Shirley, Dean’s daughter.” Hearing someone introduce themselves by the name of his long-dead wife was quite the shock for him.

Because it turns out that the farm Shirley had purchased was the same farm on which my father had been raised. Uff da!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Miracle Year: Bearhead Cemetary

(To the left: my much loved brother Steve) Bearhead Cemetery is in a small plot of pine trees, surrounded by rich dairy land, between the farm towns of Long Prairie and Swanville, MN.

From the first time that my brother and I talked about going back to Minnesota, a mental picture of visiting our mother’s grave played in my head. I’d been there before butSteve never. I envisioned us alone, sobbing out the years of loss together.

In reality, it was something else altogether, more about us paying our respects and honoring her memory.

(To the right: Sierra, Sandy, Jeanie, Olivia & Vicki) I’m thankful that Jeanie (a daughter from my Aunt Rhoda’s second marriage and a ‘new’ cousin) and her husband Kim, with whom we were staying near Minneapolis, decided to come with us to the cemetery – a half hour away -- after the reunion had concluded. With them came Jeanie’s daughter Vicki and granddaughters Sierra and Olivia.

Even though the graveyard is small, it took a while for us to find the Husom plots. Not only is my mother buried there, but my brother Arthur, my Grandma (Doris) and Grandpa (Clarence) Husom, Uncle Harlan (whose obit helped me find my family) and many others including great grandparents and great great grandparents. There are even relatives on my dad’s side buried on another side of the cemetary, my Aunt Violet (his sister) and her husband Tommy; their old farm was only a half mile away.

(Below: my mother's headstone, Shirley Elizabeth Harnack) The graves hadn’t been tended to in some time so Steve and my husband cleaned away the overgrown grass and weeds as best they could. In the end there were no tears, just acknowledgement. And maybe, just maybe, some amount of closure.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Miracle Year: A Circular World

(Above: Riff Raff, me, Bodhi, Hassan & Buster in Deadwood) On the way to the reunion I laughingly said the high point of the trip for me would be the reunion; for my brother Steve, Deadwood (a raucous and illegal -- it was on Indian land -- frontier town if ever there was one); and for my husband, getting on the plane in Minneapolis to fly home.

In the end, for both Steve and me, the reunion in Swanville, MN, (near Long Prairie) capped all. And my husband bemusedly enjoyed the reunion also; as an only child with 3-4 cousins he’s never met (and at this time has no interest in pursuing), this was his first exposure to relatives mingling, talking and laughing together. It helped that a couple of my girl cousin’s husbands, having married into the family in the past few years, didn’t know anyone either – and they and my husband are all about the same age.

(To the right: Melba, Ruth, Rachel & June) Besides Melba (daughter of my Grandpa Husom’s sister Anna), I met three other first cousins of my mom. Ruth, Rachel and June, daughters of my Grandpa Husom’s brother, Arthur. All three, who are very close, worked in academia and state government and never married; they are still healthy and now happily retired.

It was my fifth cousin David Husom, the photographer I met Googling the name “Husom,” who first told me about them (but wasn’t sure exactly how we were related) and said I should get in touch. Although invited, David couldn’t attend the reunion as he was to be vacationing in Canada that week, traveling through Long Prairie to get there. It’s a circular world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Miracle Year: German Internment

(To the left: Anna, Clarence [my grandfather] and Rena) Surrealistic trip fragments keep permeating my dreams. I look at maps, I wonder where the heck I am, worry about finding food and lodging, are the dogs OK, where’s Steve…

In my waking moments, I’m savoring new family bits and pieces I picked up.

I knew my ‘Great Aunt Rena,’ had given my parents my baby book when I was born and I’d heard a couple of wild tales about her from my dad – that she was an Episcopalian minister and spent some years in a German concentration camp.

What I learned at the reunion was that she was in Europe as a Lutheran ‘Augustana Synod’ missionary when the war broke out. We don’t know her circumstances during the first part of the war but for the last years, she was interned in Liebenau, a woman’s camp for “enemy nationals.” About Liebenau, Wikipedia says:

“A camp in Liebenau, close to Meckenbeuren in Württemberg, on Lake Constance was opened in 1940 and operated until 1945. It was situated in a castle and four adjacent buildings. Originally it had been a mental hospital run by nuns. By orders of Hitler, about 700 of the patients were exterminated with injections, to provide room for internees.

The first internees were about 300 British citizens from Poland. More British were brought in 1941 from Belgium, Greece, Netherlands and other countries. The food rations were augmented with Red Cross packages. The guards were old German soldiers veterans of World War I and treated the internees well, as several of them had been prisoners of war in British camps and had been treated well.”

Conditions were, of course, infinitely better than in the concentration camps whose main purpose was to work to death/exterminate inmates; but still, I’m sure it was no picnic. Food was scarce (but infinitely better, thanks to the Red Cross), the waiting and not knowing interminable.

(To the right: Larvik, Norway) Rena Husom, who never married, passed away peacefully in Larvik, Norway, in 1969. The municipality of Larvik (containing the town of Larvik) stretches from the Brunlanes coast in the south to the border with Lardal in the north, original home of the Husoms.

It makes me feel good that my mother was loved by such a person.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Miracle Year: Marvelous Melba

(To the left: Melba & her son Paul) It’s a late Monday afternoon, the day after the reunion and Steve and I are in Worthington, MN, on our way to Melba’s for supper, looking for her farm in the midst of a myriad of country roads with 4-way intersections.

Finally at the end of a dirt dead-end road, we find a complex of buildings – homes, barns and sheds amidst acres and acres of land. Stopping the car, Steve gets out and tentatively knocks on the door of a house and Melba comes to the door. We’ve found her.

(To the right: Melba & me) Weeks before the reunion, I’d gone through my mother’s photo albums. Familiar as I was with the contents, there were people I’d never been able to identify in several photos - a man, woman and child. Visiting cousin Sandy in Sioux Falls, she, our cousin Shirley and I went through more pics and found the same trio. This time on the back we found written “Melba.” Who’s Melba?” we asked each other.

Midway through the Sunday reunion, I find a lovely smiling petite white-haired women standing in front of me. She has a nametag that says “Melba.” “Melba!" I yell, "Who are you?”

I learn Melba is my mother’s first cousin, her mother was my Grandpa Husom’s sister, Anna. It never occurred to me that my mother had cousins – that’s how little I knew about her family. Melba’s not only my mother’s first cousin, they graduated from high school together.

(To the right: my mother & Melba, high school graduation) She shares a story: during their senior year, she, my mother and another girl rented a room from someone in Long Prairie, from January through March, so they could more easily get to school during the snowiest months. Sharing one double bed, each week they rotated who would get the coveted middle space. That’s the most personal story I’ve ever heard about my mother. Uff da!

What a wonderful gift I've received in meeting Melba!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Miracle Year: Reunion Trip Stats

I'm beginning to recover from adrenalin and sleep deficit, enough at least right now to post some trip stats...

Departure date/time: 9am, August 17, 2009

Arrival home date/time: 4:30pm, August 29, 2009

Miles driven: 4,815

States visited: (6) CA, NV, UT, WY, SD & MN

# of dogs on trip: (3) RiffRaff, Buster & Bodhi

# of times they got a potty/walk break: (?) can't count that high

Cheapest lodging: Winnemucca, NV

Most expensive gas: Winnemucca, NV

# of lbs. lost on trip (Elle): 6

# of days we had 3 meals: 0

Most awesome sight: Mount Rushmore, SD

Highest elevation reached: 8,559 ft (Cody to Yellowstone)

Most interesting person met (outside of reunion): Sonja Holy Eagle, Rapid City, SD

First rude driver/honker: Truckee, CA on the way home

Highest temperature: 107 around Vacaville, CA on way home

Lowest temperature: 44 going into Yellowstone National Park

National parks/historic sites visited: Ft. Laramie, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Devil's Tower, Jewel Cave, Badlands, Mount Rushmore

Favorite historical site (Elle): Oregon Trail remains in Wyoming

Favorite historical site (Steve): Deadwood, SD

Favorite animal observed: one particular buffalo in Yellowstone who definitely walked to the sound of his own drummer, traffic jams be damned