In my last blog post I told of my great-great-grandfather moving to Iowa from Sweden in the 1860s. I learned that story from my great-grandmother Paulines’s amazing yellow book of family history. She also told of how her father Sven had the idea of mailing a small packet of seeds to his mother Lena back in Sweden. He told her to plant them in a pot and see what grew. So she did. She carefully planted a few of the funny looking seeds, put the pot on the windowsill and waited. It wasn’t long before she had to move that pot to the floor and soon after that she was inviting her friends and family over to see this strange new plant from the New World. It was maize; she had a stalk of corn growing tall in her parlor! Corn had not yet been introduced to Sweden and Sven wanted to show his mother the new crop he was planting in Iowa.
I love that story! Lena was the wooden shoe maker and I would guess she wouldn’t have thought her life story was significant. Lots of folks made wooden shoes, she was no different. But how do you think she would have felt if she knew that her expertise would be appreciated by her great-great- great granddaughter in Iowa! And that I got a chuckle picturing that tall stalk of corn in her parlor! Lena lived in a world I will never experience except through the stories preserved in our family history. Yes her stories are significant! And so are yours.
When I promote storytelling, a common concern people have is wondering if their story is significant or thinking their lives are too mundane. I encourage everyone to look at their lives in new ways. You are important and you have a unique voice, a story to tell that no one else has lived. The historical era you live in also shapes your story. Your parents may remember how the Great Depression or World War II impacted their lives. Perhaps your life was impacted by the baby boom and ensuing prosperity, or the Vietnam War, either here or abroad. Were you a flower child, a hippy at Woodstock? Your kids and grandkids will be fascinated with how your life is embedded in history.
I was born in Kansas and grew up in Iowa and Illinois. I have farm roots on both sides of my family, but have no personal experience of farming. When I was about 10 years old my dad drove his family across Iowa as we headed to Lake Okoboji for a vacation. I lived in Illinois at that time and the soil there is an orange-brown clay. As we drove past a fallow Iowa farm field, the rich black soil amazed me, teased my imagination as I thought of my ancestors’ farms. Time folded back on itself as the fields shimmered in the summer sun. The emerald green corn reaching for the sky called to me, as it had called to my great-great-grandparents, the Iowa loam nurturing the vibrant corn, a constant over the years, a part of my heritage.
My patient papa heeded my cries to stop and I jumped out of the car with a leftover baggy from lunch and scooped in a few crumbles of black soil warmed by the sun. I imagined my family roots groping through the soil year after year, anchoring my soul to the rich Iowa farmland.