Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Morning Thanks--a seaman

Start here. He was a seaman, a sailor, merchant marine. Twice in his short life on board he lived through shipwrecks. He married someone local, lived with her on a small island, and had children--four of them.

Three of them died, two in just a few weeks, victims, I suppose, of some contagion that probably killed others. Think of it, three times in two years they put children into the ground in a churchyard full of people with names just like his and hers. 

When their only remaining child was four years old, he took his family on a huge trip across the ocean. It was 1868, and they left for America in the company of twenty or thirty others from the island, in part, or so it's said, because his theology wouldn't accept the truth as offered in the church where he was reared. Three years after the Civil War, he and his wife and daughter emigrated, then headed west to a brand new community in a place called German Valley, Illinois, because a woman on the island knew someone who knew someone--it was one of those things. 

It didn't take long before he and most of they group they came with kept going west, then stopped where more people sort of like them were putting down roots--Germans, not Dutch like he was, but people who carried steadfastly a similar theology, in a place named Ackley, Iowa. 

A couple decades passed. He must have gotten a little itchy, not alone. Loads of people were moving west in the 1880s, so they went too, likely took a train out as far as they could go, then a wagon, maybe even a covered wagon. I don't know. There were five kids by then, four American-born. He found the kind of cheap land he was looking for in a place called Douglas County, Dakota Territory, just a bit north of a brand new burg named Harrison, where the residents, like him, were Dutch.

He and his family didn't last long in the brand new state of South Dakota. He probably wasn't the farmer he thought he could be. Besides, they suffered droughts that wilted crops and thinned animals. He must have questioned whether his family could live out there on the frontier.

Besides, the Indians, not all that far away either, were rambunctious, and on the other side of the state there was a battle, a big one--hundreds died--at a creek called Wounded Knee. He probably didn't think of it that way, but in reality it wasn't a battle at all but a massacre.

Nothing could have prepared him for life with Indians. Just down the road, even the Yanktons, were doing that devilish Ghost Dance. People he knew could hear their infernal drums going all night long. 

So they left, went back east to central Iowa, to Parkersburg, where he quit the farm, lived in town, down by the river.

Meanwhile, their kids got married, so by the turn of the century he and his wife, alone now, moved to northwest Iowa, where one of them lived. One of his boys became a preacher and took a church in the region, then filled a local pulpit one Sunday, maybe five miles from the town where he and his wife lived. That Sabbath, he and his son took the wagon to the church down the road. Must have been a joy for him to hear his boy preach the gospel. 

That night, a heart attack killed him. His wife said she heard him breath hard, then stop altogether. 

He's buried here, in Orange City, beneath a barrel-like tombstone that sits almost awkwardly amid the graves all around.

He was my great-grandfather, and that's what I know about his life. This week, reviewing all of this for his extended family, I discovered he was my age that night his wife discovered him not breathing. Our mutual lifetimes are almost exactly the same. By his great-grandson's bio, he died less than a month ago.

What an immense difference in the character of our lives. I'm not pouting. I'm not rethinking anything in my almost 69 years. I've got no particular regrets. I've been greatly blessed. I'm merely marveling aloud, something literally wonder-full.

In C. C. Schaap's obituary, the Dutch newspaper, De Volksvriend had this to say about him: 
We may be deeply moved by the departure of this honorable man. For city and society, it is a painful loss when these kinds of people particularly are taken from us--not only because of their exemplary walk, but also because of the prayers they offered.
My great-grandfather died almost fifty years before I was born, somehow closer to me than he ever could have known. 

This morning I'm thankful for him and his wife, Neeltje, and what they left me--very, very thankful.

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