Every spring we started planning the annual migration back to our roots. It was all so routine and expected. However, by the 70's, after my parents had both passed away, we left their rose-covered graves in the Utah cemetery, and there was no real reason to go back. I had only one thing in common with my relatives, and that was our blood. However, I discovered that blood runs deep - very deep.
The view out over the desert of Eastern Oregon, from the newly dedicated Oregon Interpretive Center, was an impressive sight. The year was 1995, and with excited fascination I picked up multiple historic books about the Oregon Trail. With ruts still visible in the soil near the Interpretive Center, it wasn't difficult to imagine horse-drawn wagons, with families straining to walk the trail, on their migration to the West. Stories came to my mind, as told to me by my father, about our ancestors, who had walked the rugged trail too, but had migrated into Utah. Perhaps a book had been written about our family from ancestral diaries, that told of hardships or gave details of starvation and death as they became part of that great migration into Salt Lake Valley.
Staring out the Delta window, my eyes beheld the familiar Rocky Mountain ridges as the plane neared the Salt Lake Valley. On a search for family history, on a migration of my own, this was a mission to uncover my roots. With obvious excitement in my voice, one by one, I had called every cousin I could remember. "Do you have any pioneer stories of our family?" From under beds, out of closets, or carefully stored inside shoe boxes, came the stories - hundreds of papers, pictures, letters and diaries.
"Here's the family history that my Mom had. You are welcome to copy anything you'd like." Another family member said, "Here's a picture of great-great grandma Clarissa and her biography. She walked the distance from Missouri to Salt Lake Valley when she was a small child." Another cousin shared with me, "Here's the biography of great-grandfather Hans, who immigrated from Denmark. He sailed into New Orleans with his family, losing his father and two siblings on the way. Then Hans walked the distance from Missouri with his mother, a sister and brother into Utah Valley."
Disbelief stole my breath when some original documents were given to me. The original journal, bound in black and penned in old ink, and an old shoe box full of original letters, written by my grandfather Alva to my grandmother Lydia in 1899. My hands trembled as I pulled the fragile envelope from the box and carefully read one of the messages of love from grandfather, a man I never knew:
Freeport, Steffenson Co. Illinois
100 degrees in the shade. I believe it was 120 on the road where we was, but I stood it better than my companion.
I received your letter of the first, last night. Though I was tired, weary and foot sore, I felt in my heart to rejoice over that most joyful and welcome news of being papa to a big fat baby boy. Since last Friday morning I have felt all right, contented. I have had that testimony that you are all right. I was over joyed last night when I got your letter telling me that you was so well. I know that the Lord has been with you and me too...."
The "big fat baby boy" referenced in the letter was my father, who was born while his own father was serving two years as a missionary for his church.
I visited Grandfather Alva's small century farm, with the two-bedroom house at the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain, on the shores of Spring Lake. The farm looked wonderfully kept, with a white picket fence surrounding the the garden, and flower beds full of glorious dahlias. The huge old cow-barn, well over one hundred years old, stood strong, both in strength and fragrance. Now widowed, my uncle invited me to sleep in the very bedroom once occupied by my grandmother and grandfather.
I could not sleep. The room was filled with spirits of the past. "Get up and look outside." said a silent voice. I stood in the window, looking out onto the waters of the lake, blackened by the night, mirroring the full moon. I wept. This was the very same moon that shined on my grandparents bed when my father was conceived in love, along with six other children. I touched the stillness of the moment and felt the arms of love from my ancestors encircling me. Suddenly I knew where I came from and who I was. My migration was complete.
*Note: This story was published in the Oasis Journal 2011, Imago Press