Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. — Deuteronomy 32:7
The photo above, taken in 1988, represents four generations of my father’s family, the Riessingers: my “Mammaw,” my father, yours truly, and my oldest daughter. A lot has changed since we had this photo made. Mammaw has entered eternity, my dad is approaching his 87th birthday in August, I’m looking at 51 in April, and my daughter will be 25 in November. My youngest daughter, who was not yet born when this picture was made, will be 19 on the same day in November. Time marches on.
When I look at this photo I am reminded of the chain of the generations, how we pass on not only genetic material, but also traditions, hopes, pain, and faith. No matter what transpires, we are linked by birth, by blood, and by story.
My Mammaw was a strong woman. She knew her share of pain and want, having lost her husband too early. Yet she picked herself up out of her grief and learned to drive, got a job, and made a life for herself. She loved her son and two daughters, and her five grandchildren as much as life itself. I learned so many important life lessons from her — many of which I didn’t fully appreciate until after she was gone. The only thing I know she ever wrote off as a complete failure was her attempt to teach me to iron properly. Oh, well, no one is perfect.
Just yesterday I sat with my father and youngest daughter drinking coffee and talking. My dad, who I remember as being strong and handsome and able to do almost anything, now walks with a limp after two hip replacements, has frail, hurting hands, and forgets a few things. Yet when I look at him, I still see that handsome, smiling man who would bring me gifts from his travels with the Postal Inspection Service (Chinese silk pajamas, dolls, and postcards from all over the United States), who would carry me on his shoulders, and who held me when I cried. He’s had his ups and downs over the years, and lately more valleys than peaks, but he is still my father, and I carry his legacy to the core of my being.
The last time we met over a cup of coffee, before I moved to Pennsylvania, he looked at me and said “I was a good dad when you were little girl, wasn’t I? You know I loved you.” What do you say in response to something like that? Of course, I know. Yes, daddy, I know you love me to the best of your ability and that even though we’ve both let each other down over the years, we are still of the same blood and flesh, the same stubborn German stock. Just today my daughter told me, “You know, you have some of PePaw’s traits, too. You’re both really stubborn.” Could do worse, I suppose.
I wish I knew more about the generations of my father’s family. I would love to have the stories of my great-grandparents written on my heart. As it is, I rely on a few photos and memories. I have a photo (thanks Aunt Dot) of my grandfather at the fire department, I have a black and white photo of him in his shoe repair shop, and I have a couple of photos of great-grandparents. My favorite photo is one of my father as a small boy. He had a hole in his shoe, so his hand is covering it. My grandmother’s generation was the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without generation.” Ah, we can (and should) learn a lot from the generations who came before us.
Thanks, dad, for life, for stubbornness, for contributing in more ways than I’ll ever be able to tell you to who I am today. Thanks, Mammaw for the love and life lessons. Thank you generations I’ll never know.