from A Year of Morning Thanks
I walked through a student lounge in Calvin Theological Seminary a couple days ago, where a massive portrait of my great-grandfather hangs, a man who was a professor there in the mid-to-late 19th century, a man who was gone long, long before I was born.
Professor Gerrit Hemkes doesn’t look like at all like me, and he’s got far better hair. His nose is thin and sharp, but there’s a round face that reminds me, in a certain way, of what I see in a mirror.
I’ve got a beard; he must have his loved his lamb chops. Could he wiggle his ears? I can’t. Touch his tongue to his nose. I can’t do that either. Did he laugh hard? Have to watch his weight? Was he by nature a conservative?
The truth is, I don't really know much about him. I know that as a teacher he didn't light up the classroom, but I've also learned he frequently edited the annual denominational book of facts and figures; a little volume called, shockingly, Jahrboek (it's Dutch--I'm not sure of the spelling), to which he often amended little stories and poems he created himself, I guess.
Years ago already, I discovered his proclivity for writing when an uncle gave me some ancient books. It was something of a shock to see those scruffy old things full of Dutch Calvinist ponderances my own great-grandfather had spun out of his imagination. Nobody else in my immediate family has ever had any interest in writing--nor reading, really. I don't know that my parents have ever quite determined where I come from.
Where any of us come from is a conundrum, a beguiling paradox. Simply enough, we come from our parents, but that doesn't mean we look like them, act like them, or share their tastes, their moods, or their dispositions. No bundle is so beloved as a newborn, nothing so humbling as watching them grow.
I don't really know what I owe Great-Grandpa Hemkes, but it's probably some odd package of proclivities and presentments, including a few personality traits I'm likely not proud of.
Whatever. This morning, I'm thankful I know him--know of him anyway; thankful that his picture is up there in Seminary; thankful that the old theologian likely taught me, in a number of ways, that I'm not alone.