Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Links in a Chain and Eternal Memory

I rarely use this blog for overtly personal things, but the last few weeks have been difficult for me and - as the blog's title says - I feel I have something worth saying and worth reading.

My dad and mom divorced when I was two years old. He moved away to California and it wasn't until I was about nine that he came back into my life. After a while he left once again. Things were never antagonistic. He wasn't a bad man. He never hit me or my mom, and never was verbally abusive. He just wasn't sure how to raise a son and lived with that guilt his entire life. That guilt meant that I only had sporadic contact with him since he often vanished without warning.

Jerry Lynn Bogle. Picture courtesy of Scott Walker.
A few months ago I received a phone call from someone I barely knew. He said he knew my dad, knew where he was living, and that he had Stage IV cancer. He asked if I had any interest in being reunited with him. I said yes. That random phone call from a virtual stranger enabled me to reconnect with my dad and allowed us to understand and forgive. I learned that my dad had been homeless for several years due to disability, and as the cancer progressed he spent a lot of time in the hospital. Because of that we didn't get to see each other everyday even after being reunited, but the time we did have with each other was positive.

After a major bout of pneumonia he was taken to Hospice. Everyone thought he had a month or so left. Unfortunately, less than 72 hours later, on June 9, he was dead at age 59. I am his only child.


Margaret Joy Coakley Koch
As I write this, it has been four days since I learned by maternal grandmother was gravely ill. I went to see her at the nursing home on Monday (July 9) and on July 10 she, too, passed away. She was 87. In terms of her children and their descendants, I am one of 75 who survive her: 7 kids, 23 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and 8 great-great-grandchildren.

I have always been fascinated by ancestry. Discovering one's heritage helps build a bridge between the past and present that not only gives one a sense of belonging and place, but can help to inform and guide one's future as well. In reality, no family is more or less special. Go back far enough and we are all related. It doesn't need to be that far either. Still, a family tree is made up of individual people and everyone is unique in some way. One love lost or never found, one illness or injury, even turning right instead of left could mean the difference of entire branches of that tree.

I am the product of my mother and a salt of the earth man named Jerry who helped to build structures across the country. And because of my mother, I am also the product of a small lady who always wore heels just to go outside and check the mail.

I am the product of these two very different people, and they are also the product of others. I'd like to talk a little bit about that.


Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I have been able to trace my ancestry back many generations. On my dad's side, I descend from a Scottish man named John Bogle who was born in 1530. On my grandmother's, from a man also named John, John R. Byrd. He was born in 1669 in Virginia.

Looking through all the parents of parents and so forth, I have in my family tree Civil War veterans, Revolutionary War veterans, pastors, tenant farmers, and men and women who braved crossing oceans to start a new life.

It would be impossible to list the details of all of their lives. There are hundreds of names. There are people from the former British Colonies, Scotland, England, Wales, and even Germany - all that have come together to emerge as a tall, skinny, dark haired-blue eyed, blogger from Murfreesboro, TN. One way to view those names in a family tree is as links in a chain. One link never connects and *poof* not only am I not an only son, but I and my 74 other relatives aren't here either.


One of the few family photos with most everyone in it. Taken circa 1995.
All life is fleeting and there will come a day for nearly all of us when the only thing people know about us are names and dates. Entire lifetimes - love, hate, birth, accomplishments, everything - reduced to a few lines of text. Even when going over all of the different things I know and remember about my dad and grandmother, when held up to the totality of their lives, I come away more than a little saddened. How is it that so much can happen, that so much can matter, yet so little remain?

The truth is, no matter how badly I want to know all of the things my dad did in California, or what my grandmother's life was like as she lived through WWII, all that really matters is they lived their lives in such a way to create some pretty good people. I am my father's legacy. My scores of aunts and uncles and cousins and I are the legacy of a grandmother born in Chattanooga. We do our duty and we serve witness to their lives by following the path they tried to lay out for us; despite their flaws.

To not let guilt stand in the way of relationships. To work hard to care for your family, even if that means you have to sacrifice. To not let petty disagreements or hurt feelings from decades ago allow those 8 great-grand kids from knowing the other 67 people they share blood with. And whether or not we are able to forge another link in the chain by having children of our own, to do our best to help those around us and make our corner of the world a little brighter.  

My own father helped the world when he gave what little he had while living in a car to those who didn't even have that. My grandmother helped the world by teaching us all about God and sharing her love of music.

Families can be complicated. Sometimes real hurt and anger can cause lasting rifts. 

I come from a collection of individuals. I exist because of the lives of countless others. I live now in the midst of dozens who all share blood. But just like my dad and grandmother picked how they lived their adult lives, I pick how I live mine. I can't change what has happened, but I can certainly decide what will happen by heeding the lessons of those who came before.

We may all be links in a chain, but we and those who come after us are also their eternal memory. Let us all remember that.

--Jacob Bogle, 7/12/2017

No comments:

Post a Comment