Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rosalie's Eyes

I remember the last time I went to the Barrus Family Reunion. I was maybe 10 and I knew nobody. It was awkward.  There were kids running all over the park and my parents kept saying, "They're all your cousins, just go play with them." But I didn't.  I was relieved when it was finally time to go.

Twenty years later I am ready to try again. I want to know more of the woman whose eyes I share. 

It all starts the same, with so many smiling faces....familiar but unknown and I keep thinking, "They're all your cousins, just go talk to them." 

And I do, a little. Mostly, I read histories posted on the walls, trying to connect the lines from them to me and wonder at the lives behind the dates and places.

I giggle when my dad's cousin and partner in crime starts teasing my daughter...she has no idea who he is and when I tell her of the mischief he and my dad used to get into, her eyes grow wide with surprise. And this is why I came. I am just not a mom anymore than my dad is just a grandpa, just as she will not always be a little girl. I want her to know that. I want to know that. Connecting these lives adds perspective and inriches our heritage.

Later, there was an unexpected surprise from a man I had never met. He sat down next to me with a plate of food and continued a conversation with my dad. After a while he asked who I was and I pointed at my dad and said I was his. He didn't offer any introduction so I ventured a guess based on his wrinkles and a smile that looks like hers. "Are you Rosalie's brother?" My dad confirms that this is his uncle Ruel, the one he was named for.  I had assumed his name came more from his grandfather....I'm not sure I even knew he had an uncle by that name.

Then I get the story.

He had been over three months in a prison camp in Germany with conditions that left him as thin as a rail when the tanks rolled in to pull them out. "Anyone here from California? Anyone here from New York? Anyone here from Idaho? And just like that he was free again. That same month my dad was born.

Again, I get to know different parts of these lives I admire. What it must have been like for my grandma as a young mother, worried about her little brother in a prison so far away...what it must have been like for her little brother in a prison so far away.

Later I got to see the house where my Grandma was raised, and my dad was born,  the two huge pine trees still towering in front. My dad looks for a long time with eyes handed down from his mom and I wish I could see his thoughts.

I've seen this house before, but it seemed so much easier this time to picture my grandma there as a little girl, now that I see my own little girl playing in the ditch, making clover rings and giggling; seeing it all with eyes just like hers.

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