I Am A River – 52 Ancestors #182

The quilt, “I Am A River” was inspired by a dream during a very difficult period in my life in the 1990s. In fact, I refer to it as “the decade from hell.”

The “elevator pitch” summary from that decade includes the death of my sister along with the prolonged death of my step-father and my in-laws. However, the worst catastrophe was that my (former) husband had a massive stroke which did not kill him but severely disabled him both physically and mentally – meaning I was thrust literally in the blink of an eye into many roles for which I was either ill-prepared or entirely unprepared.

In the spirit of “anything that can go wrong, will,” the stroke occurred at the same time that my much-beloved step-father was dying. My mother was a basket case and so was I. Of course, all of this affected my children in different ways too, and none of it positively. The “decade from hell” doesn’t even begin to convey the magnitude of the swath of devastation.

There were many decisions that I had to make flying blind, with the future entirely unknown.

The Dream

In the dream, various people stood at the intersection of branches of a river where the river split into two divergent paths.  They reacted in different ways. One person kept looking back, regretting what had been left behind. One person crawled up on the rocks and tried very hard to avoid making any decision. Me, I craned my neck, peering as far as I could down both sides of the river, upstream and downstream, trying my best to discern the future to make an informed choice.

I felt the soul-searing anchor weight of knowing my decision affected the lives of others as much or perhaps even more than those decisions affected me. I might have a chance to recover.  Others would not if I made a poor choice.

Since it was a dream, I could have been all three people – dreams don’t have to make sense and I only remembered the essence, not the details, upon awakening. I also never forgot. The simple message of that dream haunted me.

Of course, in reality, we can’t see very far down the river or into the future anyway and even if we could, we’d never know what was hidden around the next bend. We have to make the best decision we can at the time and then simply hold on for the ride. Especially when your bucolic “Lazy River” ride has turned into a class V whitewater rapids, defined as:

Extremely difficult. Long and violent rapids that follow each other almost without interruption. River filled with obstructions. Big drops and violent currents. Extremely steep gradient. Even reconnoitering may be difficult. Rescue preparations mandatory.

Except – there is no rescue.

The dream represented different approaches to an uncertain and terrifying future – looking backwards and attempting to dwell in the high cliffs of the past, climbing out of the water onto the rock, trying to delay a decision, or trying to peer into the future.  It was impossible to simply having faith and go with the flow. “The flow,” in this case, was strewn with peril and death.

I am not that faithful “go with the flow” person. I worry. I fret. I stew. I worry some more. Especially when other people’s welfare is involved. I’m much more willing to roll the dice about my own.

The great irony in all of this is that when forced, I make a decision and simply march forward, one foot in front of the other.

I hear the poem, Invictus, and try my best to believe it. I repeat the phrases “bloody but unbowed” and “I am the captain of my soul” and attempt to convince myself I’m not afraid. Mostly, I simply refuse to acknowledge the shrill voice of fear.

It’s only when I have the luxury, or torture, of time to decide that I agonize over the “what-ifs.”

So here I am, standing in the middle of the river once again. I’ve come to believe we all stand in this river many times in our lives.

DNA

DNA has shaped both me and my life – indelibly. DNA literally created what I am in a biological sense and accounts in many ways for who I am in terms of my traits.

However, for the past 18 years, DNA has shaped me through genetic genealogy as well – allowing me to become acquainted with my ancestors in ways never before possible. To identify with them in a very personal way. It has taken me to places I never dreamed I could or would go – literally, figuratively and scientifically. A new frontier – the one within.

We have the capacity today to be closer to our ancestors through available records and DNA testing than ever before.  A new horizon has been reached – the threshold crossed.

So, it’s only natural that I would look backwards to my ancestors, perhaps hoping for some shred of advice or imparted wisdom as I stand once again on what seems like the continental divide.

What did my ancestors do when they had decisions to make? How did they make them? What were they thinking? Is there a guiding light there someplace?

I’d settle for a glimmer.

Were they wanderlusts or unwilling refugees? Some of both? Is that heritable? Did they bequeath it to me?

I picked up, moved across the country and changed my life when I was in my mid-20s. I was certainly not unafraid, but I was infinitely determined. My mother called it stubborn😊 I call it tenacious. A rose by any other name. I have no regrets.

Then, fate intervened again some 13 years later with my husband’s stroke. That was one horrific day – and only a beginning that shoved me unwillingly through a doorway from which there was no return.  A one-way portal.

More than a decade later, my life transformed again when I lost my mother. I also remarried. I didn’t anticipate or expect any of those changes back when I was making that first decision to move across the country with my small children in tow.

Sometimes you receive wonderful gifts of fate, opportunities, and sometimes you have to make lemonade out of lemons. Often, you think you’re doing one and you wind up doing the other. Gifts, lemons and lemonade all chained together in the garland of life. That, of course, is exactly why we worry and sit in the middle of that river.

The unknown. That damned terrifying unknown.

So, what would my ancestors do?

WWMAD?

Let’s take a look and see what wisdom the ancestors might impart, based on what we know about their life-altering decisions.

My mother always voiced this lament that made me laugh which made her cringe:

“If you would only just behave.”

This from the woman who danced in the 1930s into the 1940s – trailblazing for others to follow. Ironically, her decision to dance was more driven by the fact that she had no other skill with which to support herself, rather than a burning desire to perform.  What she wanted to be was a bookkeeper – but college money was for boys in the family, not girls. Girls danced.

If you’re going to dance, do it well enough to dance professionally.  That’s professionally as in stage and theater, not a strip club.  Turn lemons into lemonade.

Not to suggest I’m anything like my mother, but let’s just say this photo of me was taken after the genetic genealogy conference in Houston.

Ok. So. That “well behaved” thing is obviously never going to happen.

But where did it come from?

Grandmother, Edith Lore Ferverda and Great-Grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore

On to my next ancestors, who, I might add, are in this motorcycle photo taken in the early 1900s when motorcycle riding was entirely verboten for women.  Not only is my grandmother, Edith, in this photo, so is her mother, Nora, (last two, at rear) and her sisters. In case anyone wants to know where I got that “not well-behaved” propensity, um, it might be here! If you’re counting, this is four generations of misbehavior in a row.  Genetic much?

My grandmother, Edith Barbara Lore, (rear of the motorcycle) used to tell my mother, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

She would know.

Edith didn’t follow her heart and never really forgave herself for the lost opportunity – coloring the way she reacted to her family for the rest of her life. At some level, she spent her life grieving the opportunity she never took. Perhaps she was sitting on that rock in the river, or attempting to peer downstream.

Regret is poison.

Had my grandmother gone to Colorado with “the cowboy,” let’s just say that my life would not be the same and my grandfather would have been someone entirely different. I wouldn’t be me.

Ironically, the name of the man who so convincingly stole my grandmother’s heart and took it west with him, whom she was afraid to follow, is entirely unknown. Just “the cowboy.”

Fear – so often the ruler or our life – and our decisions.

Had Edith made a different choice, my mother and I would be different people, raised in Colorado, not Indiana. A ripple through the pond of life that would reflect for eternity – so long as my grandmother’s descendants live.

I don’t want to live my life with regrets like my grandmother – but who’s to say she wouldn’t have regretted following her love to the wild west. It’s a possibility either way. Life’s like that.  No promises. Uncertain at best. Sitting in that rock in the river.

Father, William Sterling Estes

My father, William Sterling Estes, made so many outright bad decisions from anyone’s perspective that I often want to shake him and ask, “What the Hell were you thinking?”  Clearly, I’m not looking for any advice from him.  Just like you don’t go to the bar and ask the drunk guy who is broke for financial advice.

My father wasted no time even trying to look upstream.  He was caught up in the adrenaline of the minute, swimming directly into the rapids without even a life vest. He did however, appear to develop a skill in the backstroke, especially after being caught in a net!

The best I can hope for comes from the old adage, “at least he can serve as a bad example.”

Grandmother, Ollie Bolton

My father’s mother, Ollie Bolton – that poor woman. She certainly didn’t live the life she signed up for as a misty-eyed bride of 18 tender years.

I don’t know if she lived her own dreams, or her husband’s. Did she really want to leave Claiborne County, Tennessee and move to Springdale, Arkansas almost immediately after she was married where her first few children would be born? Was that trip full of just-married “I’ll follow you anywhere” starry-eyed love? I’d bet the journey back was VERY different.

Ollie moved back to Tennessee a decade later with a husband, William George Estes, who wasn’t fond of work and was very fond of alcohol. They are pictured together below, although she may haunt me for that.

Ollie wound up with a husband that wasn’t, who drank more than worked and had a roving eye as well as other body parts. In the next chapter of her life, after a child burned to death and living in yet a third state where she caught her husband cheating, Ollie found herself alone, struggling and parceling out her children. I don’t know how much was by choice or because she had only poor choices available at that point.

How I wish I could talk to Ollie and understand how she made those horribly difficult decisions – her thought process and the circumstances I’ll never fully understand that affected my father so profoundly.

Choices.

So often our choices really aren’t our own. Thrown into the water and forced to swim or drown.

Forced upon us by circumstances in which we find ourselves. No one wants to be that person who is living with their children, destitute, ill, dependent and vulnerable in their old age.

My greatest fear isn’t death, and never has been, but that scenario! That!

GG-Grandfather, John Y. Estes

I think about my great-great-grandfather, John Y. Estes, who served in the Civil War, on the side of the Confederacy. He was listed as a deserter, supposedly captured, then became a POW. Did he put up a struggle, or was being “captured” really surrender or seeking the Union soldiers? Was he even serving of his own volition, or was he forced, conscripted? What did he think about when deciding to “desert,” if that’s in fact what happened? Was he brave or cowardly?

Eventually, after being held as a POW, John was released north of the Ohio River near the end of the war. I expect they thought the walk back to Tennessee on an injured leg would kill him, but it didn’t. Limping only slows you down. Sometimes impairments are more in the eye of the beholder and a matter of attitude. Maybe that tenacious, stubborn gene perchance?  Did I get a dose from both sides?

After his return to Claiborne County, Tennessee, John immediately sold his household goods to his eldest son who was only age 17 at the time. A transaction that raises eyebrows and provides nothing but questions. He continued to live in the home with his wife, because at least two more children were subsequently born.

Some 15 years after the Civil War, John Y. Estes walked to Texas with a bum leg. Why did he make that choice? What was the draw? Did he and Ruthy, his wife, discuss that choice before he left? What was their intention?

Was the attraction the land available in Oklahoma and Texas, although he never owned any there and appeared to abandon his land in Tennessee to his wife? Was this a form of unofficial divorce? Did he return to his roots? He lived on Choctaw land although his life in Oklahoma is murky at best.

Was he excited about an opportunity, looking forward? Or was he running from something, like his Civil War service or a marriage gone bad? Was he at odds with his wife? What was his motivation? How did he weigh the odds? Did he actually decide to walk 1000 miles, or did he just walk the first mile, then the second, then the third…until he had walked 1000? Analogous to simply jumping into the water and finding your self far downstream into uncharted waters.

Not only did he walk to Texas once, but he walked back to Claiborne County, then back to Texas again. Yes, three walks of more than 1000 miles each. Apparently his walk from the north to the south after the Civil War of 300 or 400 miles that was supposed to kill him was only training.

John was no spring chicken either. In 1865 when he was released as a POW, he was 47 and by 1880 when he first walked to Texas, he was 62. I can’t even begin to fathom walking to Texas, and back, and back to Texas again, at that age AND on a bad leg – so bad that his grandchildren’s recollection of him is that he was short and fat with bushy eyebrows and that he limped with one leg shorter than the other.

What drives, or inspires, someone to undertake a journey like that, at the age when others retire, especially with his “handicap”? Whatever in this world would cause him to undertake that journey a second and third time? Whatever it was, it must have been extremely compelling. Something caused him to plunge into the water and then swim upstream three times.

Why? What was he thinking?

And why did this man not leave a journal?  Some hint? So exasperating.

GG-Grandmother Ruthy Dodson Estes

And what of John’s wife, Ruthy Dodson? Did she proclaim “good riddance” when he left? Did he walk back to Tennessee, hoping to convince her to return to Texas with him? Did she actually decide not to go, or did she never decide, thereby deciding by not deciding? Was she attempting to peer down the river?

The only hint is that she says she is divorced in the 1880 census – but there is no divorce on record at the courthouse. Was she just saving face, missing him, and angry that John had left forever?

What did she think as he walked away for the last time? Did he turn around and look back with one last glimmer of hope? Was she too angry, stubborn or afraid to go?

Was she regretting a decision, or relieved? By 1883, when her son George moved to Texas too, she could have gone by train. But still, she stayed in Tennessee.

Ruthy had rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps her health was simply too poor to travel that distance. The family story says that she was disabled for 22 years and her son, Lazarus, had to carry her down the mountain from her cabin to his so she could live with he and his wife. Did Ruthy’s health prevent her from making the decision to relocate to Texas?

Or, God forbid, was Ruthy’s deteriorating health part of what drove John Y. Estes to walk to Texas after being married for 39 years? Subtracting 22 years from her death date tells us that she was severely disabled by 1881.  I really, really don’t want to think John simply, literally walked away from a wife who needed help. Escaping down that river.

GGG-Grandfather, John R. Estes

The father of John Y. Estes, John R. Estes who was born and raised in Halifax County, Virginia packed his young family up after his military service in the War of 1812 and probably joined a wagon caravan through the mountains to Claiborne County, Tennessee. He was a young man then, but surely he knew that he was saying goodbye to his mother, father and siblings and would never see them again? How did he do that? Was he under the delusion that he would return to visit? His mother died not long after he moved, but his father lived another 40 years. Did he look backward up on those river cliffs, longing for what he left behind – wishing to see his parents one last time?

And what about his wife, Nancy Ann Moore who would sit in her father’s church one last time hearing him preach? Did she get to vote or did she simply get dragged into the water along with John?

At least I get to vote. Which means, of course, I bear full responsibility for the outcome of that vote. Ying and yang.

GGGG-Grandfather, George Estes

John R.’s father, George Estes, was a Revolutionary soldier, served 3 terms, moved a family in 1781 to what would become Hawkins and Grainger Counties in eastern Tennessee, stayed a year or so, but then rode back to Halifax County where he spent the rest of his life.

George’s reverse path is really quite different, because no one ever “went back.” But George did! He rode his horse eastward, backtracking, even though he wasn’t married and there was no obvious compelling reason. What caused him to return? I’d love to know what he was thinking, as his decision is counter-intuitive, especially as compared to the other people following that same migration route westward.

Why?

What caused George to swim back upstream?

GGGGGGG-Grandfather, Abraham Estes

Abraham Estes, an orphan in Kent, England, married at age 25 in 1672 and buried his young wife before setting sail for America 9 or 10 months later. There’s no question that he was leaving heartbreak. He had nothing left to lose, and everything to gain. He didn’t care about what was down that river, because staying was so much more painful than leaving.

His decision, I understand, but others are much murkier.

Those Brave Souls

One brave soul, the founder of each family line in America had to make the decision to sell everything, pay for passage on a boat – or sell themselves as indentured servants – leave their homeland and head for the colonies. Of course, that assumes they weren’t convicts or slaves who had no choice at all. Sometimes slaves threw themselves into the sea, with full intention of drowning – because they believed death was better than what would follow. Perhaps they were right.

How did our ancestors make migration decisions? Were they made with excited optimism or with faces lined with worry about potential death. Did they really have choices? It’s one thing to decide for yourself, but what of the choice made for your wife and children – knowing that the old wives’ tale foretold that one child would die in each family for each sea crossing. Would you be willing to sacrifice a child to the watery grave – or did you think you would be the lucky unscathed family? Was their faith in whatever they perceived God or their religion to be such that they felt a child’s death was pre-ordained? Or, did they believe God would watch over them?

I’m afraid my rock-sitting in the middle of the river doesn’t do those brave ancestors justice. There was no question that they were never going home. There was no going back – no breadcrumbs. There were no phones. Letters were uncertain and best case, horribly slow.  Many never arrived at all. Whatever and whoever they left behind was unquestionably forever – and the future was obscured in the fog of an uncertain journey in a small leaky boat traversing a massive and often angry sea.

There was no guarantee they would survive the passage – and they clearly knew that. Yet, they made the decision to leave anyway.

I’d love to know how they reached that decision. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

GGG-Grandfather, Jacob Lentz

The paternal Y-line DNA tells us that our Lentz line was found along the Volga River about 3500 years ago, one of very few men living today who match ancient burials there. They belong to the Yamnaya culture whose men decided in some way to “migrate” to what is today Germany.

We know, unquestionably that they left their homes, traveling thousands of miles, but why, and how was that decision made? Were they soldiers or did they arrive as settlers with families? Did they have any idea where they were going, or did they simply follow commands to travel west and attack villages as they went? Did they stay and settle, or just leave their DNA in the local population?

And then there was Yamnaya descendant, Jacob Lentz, the humble vine-dresser, too poor to marry his “wife,” causing their children to be born without the “benefit of marriage.”  In 1816 a famine and crop failure nearly starved the family, prompting them to leave Beutelsbach, Germany and set sail for the new world in the spring 1817 – only to become shipwrecked by a murderous sea captain, nearly starved for a second time, then becoming stranded in Norway. Jacob lost almost everything – except his wife and three of his children. One of his children perished. The wives’ tale fulfilled.

There’s far more that we don’t know than we do.

Brave – Jacob Lentz was an incredibly brave leader – finding his voice when compassion called, organizing the shipwrecked survivors into a cohesive group and finding passage, with no money, a second time. He and his family became indentured servants, but after serving their time, Jacob became a Brethren, moving once again cross country and acquiring land in Ohio. In spite of that horrific life chapter, Jacob certainly achieved his dream. But, there were costs, unspeakable literal life and death costs as he buried family members and friends at sea as they died of starvation. a fate impossible to even conceive of ahead of time.

Jacob must has been inconsolably wracked as he realized how others suffered and died because of his decision, including his own child.

Sometimes we drown in that river. Sometimes we watch others drown as a result of our decisions. Sometimes we wish we could drown.

How did Jacob balance the risk versus the potential reward?  Was his driving factor hunger and poverty? Was he desperate to marry his wife? How did he muster the courage to get on the SECOND ship to America, after his horrific experience on the first one? Was his driving desire desperation?

GGG-Grandmother, Fredericka Reuhle and her Parents

Jacob’s wife, Fredericka Reuhle, left Germany with her husband, children and parents on that ill-fated journey. She and her parents left some of her siblings behind. What a gut-wrenching goodbye that must have been. I know the famine and crop failure drove them to leave – but why did some choose to stay?

Fredericka’s parents were about age 60 at that time. We don’t know for sure that they survived, but they weren’t listed among the dead in Norway. Maybe they thought their days of decisions were over – only to make the most life-altering decision of their lifetime.

Did that decision lead to a new life or a slow death? Did they find themselves indentured as servants at age 60, or did they find only a watery grave at the end of their journey? Did they too drown in that proverbial river?

Some ancestors made an active decision to leave, or stay, but refugees from famine or war often had little choice. Convicts had none.

My ancestral lines include many religious refugees. The fighting between people of different religious (and political) views is as old as humanity itself. Some seeking religious tolerance.  Some left to escape religion entirely.

GGGGGG-Grandfather, Murtough McDowell

Murtough McDowell was a political refugee from Ireland who homesteaded in Maryland by 1722, before Baltimore even existed. He and his young wife were clearly seeking opportunities. It wasn’t possible to own land in Ireland at that time – not for poor Protestants anyway. Land wasn’t guaranteed in the colony of Maryland, but it was possible – and I’m sure it was that possibility along with almost constant warfare that drew him away from Kingsmoss outside of Belfast. I’d say he left with a smile on his face – right up until he waved goodbye to his parents if they were still living. He lived to realize his dream – with three land patents to his name. That river of life was kind to him, as best we know.

GGGGGG-Grandfather, Johann Michael Mueller

Johann Michael Mueller was probably a religious refugee – one of those reviled Pietists. The Germans were probably glad to see these folks move on – as the Swiss had been a generation or two before. No matter, America was the land of opportunity where religious freedom was tolerated if not encouraged in Pennsylvania. Michael Mueller/Miller immigrated with his half-brother, Jacob Stutzman – two young men probably full of life, seeking opportunity. The decision to leave was probably relatively easy for them, and they had each other for company. They literally dove into the water together.

Eventually, Johann Michael Miller’s descendants would marry those of Jacob Lentz on the prairieland frontier of northern Indiana, adjacent the Indian village.

Great-Grandparents, Curtis Benjamin Lore and Nora Kirsch

My mother’s grandfather, Curtis Benjamin Lore, above with wife Nora, was half Acadian. C. B. Lore, as he was called, made some questionable decisions. You know, like marrying a second woman before divorcing the first wife. Those pesky details.

However, unlike the decisions made by other ancestors, I very clearly understand HOW he made that decision – and it had to do with the shotgun of his soon-to-be father-in-law, Jacob Kirsch, who was a crack shot. Jacob, of course, didn’t know that the man who had gotten his daughter, Nora Kirsch, pregnant was still married to someone else – or I’m thinking that C. B. Lore wouldn’t have been afforded the option of marrying Nora – he would have been pushing up daisies instead. Jacob Kirsch had already lynched a man just two years earlier, so there would have been no doubt in C. B. Lore’s mind about what Jacob could and would do. That decision was probably easy.

One river branch was sure and certain death and the other was unknown.

GG-Grandfather Anthony Lore

C. B. Lore’s father, Anthony Lore or Lord, led something of a sketchy life and was rumored to be either a river trader or a pirate. The one thing we do know, for sure, is that at one point, after a terrible rift in his Acadian family caused by his mother renouncing the Catholic faith and becoming, gasp, Protestant, that Anthony simply picked up and left L’Acadie, south of Montreal. He followed Lake Champlain into Vermont where he met and married his non-Acadian, non-Catholic wife, Rachel Hill.

Why he made the choice to leave is evident. That religious split within the Lord family colored both sides of that family into future generations where the religious battle was fought over and over for generations. Not for Anthony – he simply left.

Anything downriver had to be better than staying.

The Acadians

The Acadians, staunch Catholics, began settling in Port Royal, Nova Scotia about 1603, before Jamestown was founded, but their new homeland wasn’t to be forever. In 1755, some 150 years later, they were forcibly evicted by the English. Originally arriving in Nova Scotia as Catholics seeking refuge, their choice to remain neutral in Canada to maintain peace had backfired. When deported, 6 generations after arrival, it was as refugees once again – stripped of everything, at the mercy of anyone and everyone – families scattered to the winds. The only choice they got to make was whether to try to find their family members, their way back to Canada or attempt to rebuild a life wherever the ship they were herded onto landed.

The Acadian people had both literally and figuratively been herded into the river water.

These brave people risked everything to find family again.  Untold numbers perished.  True grit.

The 1709ers

The 1709ers were another group of refugees who weren’t refugees to begin with but became refugees in 1709 as a result of their decision to leave Germany in search of the elusive dream – free land. Some of the flyers distributed in Germany espousing that alluring “fake news” still exist, encouraging people to travel to America to claim “free land” supposedly being provided by the Queen of England, so we know why these German families made this choice.

We know that the decision was probably made quickly and in an adrenalin-fueled haze – sometimes the decision point to actual departure accomplished within days. What they didn’t know or expect was that they would be stranded first in Rotterdam, then in England for a year or so, then on to America where that “free land” to which they convinced themselves they were entitled never materialized.

Their lives might have been better had they had heeded the colloquialism, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

It’s stories like this that cause me to overthink things today. Am I sure I have every piece of information I need to make the decision?  Is the info all valid?

The 1709ers are a great example of the decisions we fear making – a one-way street where the dream becomes a nightmare that won’t end and from which there is no recovery. Maybe these people were a little too anxious to plunge into that river.

Native Americans

And then, of course, my Native ancestors who are very nearly lost entirely to history in the “settling of America.” Genocide, pure and simple, using the excuse that they were pagans and in need of religious conversion.

There are only remnants of their blood running in my veins today. But their story, their history has never been stronger – even if I don’t know all of their names. Some have been resurrected through the DNA of their descendants. Even if it’s only their Y or mitochondrial DNA that introduces me to them – they are then positively identified as Native and we can honor their sacrifices. They had to make horrific decisions. Akin to “how would you like to die?” Not if, only how. They had no good options. Both sides of their river was filled with deadly, impassible, class VI rapids.

Sometimes, being nice to strangers really isn’t the answer. But, how do you know? Where do the concepts of humanity to others and self-preservation separate?

The River of Uncertainty

Decisions are frightening and difficult.  No hints as to the unknown future.  No peeking around the bend in the River of Uncertainty.

In the end, will we say that we could have missed the pain, but would have had to miss the dance – or will we, like the 1709ers, be irreparably damaged as a result of what was expected to be a choice full of smiles and opportunity. Will we drown in those rapids, nameless, like my Native ancestors? Will we wish we were dead instead, or die a burden to our children?

Or, will we be like the redeemed doubter, George Washington, who said in September 1776, writing to his cousin, after losing New York City to the British in the Revolutionary War, “If I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings.” Then, uncertain, feeling inadequate and scared as hell, General Washington mustered the courage of his convictions and went on to win the war – and with it America’s freedom from England, irreversibly changing the course of history for the entire world.  Not to mention changing the life of every single American individually between then and now. He simply dove into the icy water, defying both fear and fate!

How does anyone know what’s down the river and around the bend? How can one best anticipate the future and make the decision with the least harmful outcome?

No one wants to become “that” burdensome ancestor who made a tragic decision.  We all want to be the success story – but none of my ancestors made the decisions they did knowing the outcome.

Therein lies the eternal human quandary. How to make the best choice.

Here I am, once again, having come full circle, in the middle of the river – left wondering what my ancestors would have done. The message I hear, strong and clear, is to consider carefully and then plunge with the courage of your convictions, embracing the opportunity, relishing the journey, and never looking back.

We are all the river and the river is life.

Journey

As you journey through life,
choose your destinations well,
but do not hurry there.

You will arrive soon enough.

Wander the back roads and forgotten paths,
keeping your destination in your heart,
like the fixed point of a compass.

Seek out new voices,
strange sights,
and ideas foreign to your own.

Such things are riches for the soul.

And if, upon arrival
you find that your destination
is not exactly as you had dreamed,
do not be disappointed.

Think of all you would have missed
but for the journey there,
and know that the true worth of your travels
is not where you come to be at journey’s end.

But in who you came to be along the way.

Roberta Estes

40 thoughts on “I Am A River – 52 Ancestors #182

  1. How beautifully written—and how poignant! Thanks for sharing this story of your family! You area pillar of strength and wonderful example!

  2. Oh my goodness….what a beautifully written and heartfelt expression of love and respect for your family. Imagine my own surprise when you mentioned Jacob Lentz….I, myself, am researching the Lentz family. I have located my early Lentzes in Pennsylvania but they were not the first Lentz arrivals…..i just cannot seem to go back any further. Perhaps our DNA will match someway, somehow. What an honor that would be! Blessings!

  3. That was poignant.

    Ecclesiastes 9:11
    ………and time and chance happens to us all.

    And, our character is determined, not by the cards that we were dealt, but how we played those cards.

    Roberta, you played your cards well.

  4. This one really struck a chord with me, beginning with the title. Thank you for it. I would like to recommend a book, written by my brother’s son-in-law, Mikkel Aaland. The title is “The River in My Backyard”. I am certain it will resonate with you. Check him and this book out on Amazon or just Google either one.
    Thank you again for all you do that inspires me.

  5. What a touching story – a work of fiction couldn’t have been more exciting nor more sad. It makes me want to write my ancestors stories-not as well as you have-but what a great lesson you have provided !

  6. Loved it! Your writings are very inspirational! In other articles, I have so enjoyed learned about the specifics of DNA.

  7. Your poetic family river was both deeply thoughtful and fascinating. So much to think about in my own ancestry. Many thanks for a wonderful story.

  8. Beautifully done, Roberta. If I may, I’d like to share your poem with my grandchildren.
    I suspect we share some of those McDowell ancestors; mine came from Raloo, a tiny townland north of Carrickfergus. Hugh McDowell came to the upcountry of SC in 1820, bringing 3 of his children but leaving behind a wife either very pregnant or just delivered of another son. As far as I can tell, he never saw his wife again, but after his death in 1829, his daughters used their inheritance to bring “their mother and brother” from Ireland. My “Granny McDowell” was one tough old bird, for sure!

  9. Dear Roberta, you’d better believe that your work is an inspiration–the true stories and personal observations you lovingly and courageously release into the world [read “wild”] are finding their way into our lives with a power you may not realize…or of which you may have never dreamed!! Thank you!

    • I second this comment, it is a wonderful story and really inspires me to try and write my family’s stories for their descendants. I just wish I could do it half as well. Thank you for sharing it.

      • Thank you so much. We all need to speak in our own voice and I’m sure your descendants will be oh so grateful and will hear you at a time when there is no other way they possible could. Please write!

  10. You are so right about regret being poison. And the people I know who are poisoned by it made the best decision at the time. Their regret is either for something that could never be, or due to information they could not have known at the time. And that experience tends to freeze current decision making, just at the time when not making a decision is the worst thing to do.
    For major life choices regret is indeed poison. For minor life choices like supermarket shopping, it can help us make better decisions.

  11. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. Roberta, you have the most beautiful way of putting things in perspective for your readers. I too had a decade like yours, about the same time, but like you, I’m still here, trusting that I made the best decisions possible during the awful times — and getting on with life.

  12. It’s time to quote Heraclitus.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraclitus

    I think about this simple concept every day of my waking life – about how the river is alwars the same, and yet always different.

    Is the river the same today as yesterday? Yes, and no.

    What is the river? How is it is different now?

    I say this with humility, The river is something to think about. It is something that we all can learn and benefit from, if and when we understand the underlying concept involved. Then perhaps we will understand and be part of the river.

      • To quote plumbers, AKA waste management engineers, “s–t flows downhill’.
        The law of gravity, rivers, and/or time also applies to genealogy over generations, We can’t change whatever our ancestors did, but if we are aware of their lives and our present moment in time we can learn from their mistakes, and/or aspire to their achievements. 😉

  13. Dear Roberta, What a marvelous story about facing adversity and how it is not always overcome, but what perseverance means. My only complaint is that because I couldn’t quit reading I was a few minutes late for work! Riveting! Inspiring! I too had a decade from hell time in my life. While it didn’t last a decade it was horrific. Isn’t it strange how one can look back and wonder how one managed to keep on keeping on! Thanks again for your story. Debi in Toronto

  14. One more thing Roberta and everyone…I hope you all listen to The Band! If you loved this post, you will love The Band (many of you may not be old enough to remember them, but a lot of folks are re-discovering their music). The self entitled album, *The Band* (sometimes referred to as the *Brown Album*) has a whole series of songs that are historical, and are really about our ancestors! But on another album, *Northern Lights Southern Cross* is a song I was reminded of while reading your post: “Acadian Driftwood.” It tells the story of the Acadians being forced from their homes where they went, how they felt: and it is just so good. And what is not to love about the song, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down!” And finally, Levon Helm went on to record after the band dissolved, and one of my very favorite songs to listen to is, “A Train Robbery” (Jesse James). Oh, the choices our ancestors made!!

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