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February 23 • 11:38 AM
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Family story that needed to be told



shadow
shadow
October 24, 2007
For two weeks now I have been mulling over a personal story, wanting to share it, yet not quite sure how, with whom, or where to tell it. Without pulling in some past history, it would be, to most, just an isolated and less than powerful incident. At the same time, I thought, how do I embrace all the facts essential to the telling of it without making it so long others would say, "Who besides you cares?"

Even I haven't yet figured out exactly what about it isolated this story from the rest—what about it begs to be told. Is it about families holding in their hands the key to oral traditions, handing them down from generation to generation? Is it about God bringing glory back to himself no matter what? Is it a story precious to me but just so many words to the next person? I'll try to tell it and let you decide.

My grandparents came from Europe, bringing several children with them, and had enough later (including my mother) to make an even dozen. Their journey brought them to Pella, Iowa. A generation or so later, another family came from Europe and settled near Salt Lake City, Utah.

Nearly 40 years ago, one of my sisters went to Salt Lake City for a six-week project, and ended up staying a year, during which time she met, fell in love with, and married Bob, a son of that other family. What drew them together was, among other things, that he had come from the same European country, the Netherlands, as had her grandparents.

It was kind of a fun fact in our family that Bob and my brother Jim's wife, Gracia, who came into our family via Minnesota, had been born three days apart—in January of 1947. A not-so-fun fact was that the two of them were the only ones so far out of our family (of 12, plus in-laws) who have had cancer. Their illnesses overlapped some, Gracia having died in 1998, and Bob having died three weeks ago after a nearly 10-year battle.

That was background to my phone call to my sister two days after Bob's funeral. Because Iowa is not just around the corner from here, we usually only get there to visit my family once a year or so. Since Utah is much farther away, we've never gotten there to visit Bob and Leona (my sister); nor were we able to go for the funeral. Our communication was by phone.

All of us had seen each other at Dad's 90th birthday party in December, and knew it would probably be the last time. I had missed our family reunion this summer as well as our second five-year cousins' reunion, during which time a cassette—which had been copied from a record cut back before cassettes — was played on which my grandma had sung a song in Dutch. I had been told about that since. The only part of the translation that I remember was "Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest."

When I talked to Leona on the phone, she recalled her last few hours with Bob. She had popped that cassette in. Bob, by that time, was pretty much out of it, she'd thought. "But," she said, "he sang that whole song, in Dutch, with Grandma, whom he'd never met."

A few hours later, he just slept away—stepped over. And I'm not sure of the chronology of how or when things happen after death, but I don't think my sister was worrying about that either when she said, "And I bet Gracia said, 'Hey, man, what took you so long?'"

"Besides that,'' my sister told me in the same phone conversation, "The Iowa contingency being all practiced up because we'd sung it at Dad's birthday party, sang 'Great is Thy Faithfulness' at the funeral.''

See why I couldn't not tell somebody? And why I didn't know where to start?

Castle Creek
02 - 23 - 17
11:38
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