A Cowboy Heritage

A Cowboy Heritage

I’m reflecting on family connections in a new way today. This summer we attended a first ever family reunion for my mother’s side of the family. What a surprise to see our faces in old family photos in someone else’s albums! I had saved a few of theirs from my mother’s collection of old photos when she died so many years ago. At long last we not so distant relatives came face to face, surprised by resemblances, shocked by aging changes, delighted to share old stories and tell new ones.

The disconnect came about when both my mother and her father died in the same year. Our “cowboy” grandpa had really been our only link to that side of the family. My mother’s mother died shortly after giving birth and the baby had been shuffled from relative to relative for the first few years. She eventually became the responsibility of her grandmother who did her best to raise a reportedly feisty girl who grew into a beautiful and “scrappy” teen, according an estranged step-sister who told us some favorite stories of our mother’s young adult antics.

We visited our grandfather on the southeastern Montana ranch a few times when we were young. Grandpa visited us once a year at Christmas, descending from the train with his leather belt and silver buckle slung low below his beer belly and walking with legs bowed by numberless years of riding the range. Once I was invited to spend a summer on the ranch when I was 15. I’m pretty sure my grandfather hoped to marry me off to a cowboy before the end of the summer. It didn’t work.

As we five siblings grew into adulthood our fractured family and personal pursuits overshadowed our diminishing relationships. I was only 25 when my grandpa died and then our mother passed away suddenly three months later. Even then it didn’t occur to us that something had been severed. Not until the past year.

My youngest sister has felt the loss of family connections to our mother’s family the most acutely. She was only 12 when our mother died. When she asked and I began to dig, we found a cousin of our mother’s and began a correspondence. At last, my two sisters had a face-to-face with this cousin and another invited to join the mini reunion. Thus the family reunion became a plan and a reality.

From that wonderful reconnection with our grandfather’s clan, a new interest and connection with our grandmother’s family began to take shape. Now we enjoy a flurry of Facebook and email communication with people who live all over the US and who share our ancient history, have added us to their expanding genealogies and who have embraced us as eagerly as we have sought them out. We look alike, share similar interests and talents. We all have stories of tragedy and triumph, joy and sadness. I so love hearing about their life journeys, commiserating when our lives mirror each others, rejoicing in their accomplishments and they in mine, and learning more about our mother and why she became the person we grew up knowing.

I didn’t realize how wonderful this connection could be or what I had been missing all these years. Now I know. This feels right…connected to my past and my present through the diverse family that shares it with me.