Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Story That Needed Telling

I just finished reading a book called, "Bold Spirit" Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America (written by Linda Lawrence Hunt, published by Anchor Books, 2003) which is about a woman who walked from Spokane, WA to New York City, in the late 1800's. It is an amazing book. The woman who wrote it spent about 20+ years researching this story and the book she created from her findings is fascinating. I am so impressed with the writing, as well as the woman whom the story is about. I absolutely love stories about strong, independent women, especially those who are devoted to family and this woman's story fills that bill.

The amazing thing about this story is that all the author had to go on was 2 newspaper clippings and a report written by an 8th grade boy, a story he had heard passed down to his mother from her elders. I love research and the amount that was necessary to fill in all so many blanks is remarkable. Helga walked with her 18 year old daughter and stopped in towns along the way, talking with newspaper reporters who printed stories about their trek. She kept a diary as she walked but it was lost or stolen when she reached her destination. All that was left was the family stories. Such a tragedy! She walked to save the ranch she and her family lived on, as someone had offered her a large amount of money to advertise a new garment for women to wear that was easier to walk in and ride a bike in, a shorter skirt than was the fashion at the time. The skirt came to the top of her shoes! Even more amazing, Helga had given birth to 10 children and had lived through surgery - remember this was the late, late 1800's!

Now, what really made an impact on me was the fact that this woman's story was silenced by her family. The family was not happy about her making this walk and while she was gone, her disabled husband had to care for the children. 2 of them contracted diphtheria and died while she was away and the children never forgave her for being gone. They didn't allow her to talk about her travels and, for that matter, silenced her when she spoke out on things like politics - women in that era just weren't supposed to have opinions. She did eventually write down her story and asked a granddaughter to take care of her story but the daughters burned the manuscript after Helga died. The granddaughter never knew about the journey until she was an adult.

The author talks about how women have been silenced in the past. She also talked about how family stories are kept quiet. I can really relate to this. I found out, on accident, that my oldest sister was my half-sister and that my mother had been married and divorced before she met my dad. I also found out, by overhearing my mom's conversation, that my paternal grandfather committed suicide. All this before I was 7 years old! Now, I think it would have been better for these stories to have just been part of the family, not something a young child should discover and wonder about. My kids know all this, they are not hidden knowledge. I try to be honest with my kids about things, as much as I think they can understand. But I also understand that these are different times I am living in than they were 30+ years ago. Family issues like this just weren't discussed. But I do have family stories that were handed down, funny things or eerie stories (my family in the east was big on ghost stories!) that I heard over and over, when I was growing up. Like the one about my paternal grandfather standing on the porch, in broad daylight, and saw a woman in a long, Victorian black dress, holding a parasol. She glided down the sidewalk and right up to the bottom of the porch. And then she just disappeared into the sidewalk! Now, as a kid, this both scared me and fascinated me. As an adult, I just have to wonder who started that story and why. My grandfather died when my dad was just 9 so maybe there was a lot of eerie things that seemed to happen after that. I don't know. I have never liked ghost stories and don't tell them to my kids. I think I just realized why I feel that way!

Anyway, I want to urge you to look for the family stories that you may not know about. Are there stories that SHOULD be told? Fascinating facts that should be handed down to the kids? Ask your elders - before it's too late. And don't be silenced yourself. Your opinion matters! This story about Helga Estby's walk would have been incredible, had it been told firsthand by her. Think of the historical value alone! A lot was going on in our country at the time she walked. But, thankfully, her story was rescued by an author who told it well. Praise the Lord for our generation who have learned from the strong women of the past.

1 comment:

Leingangs said...

We have several interesting family stories, some I know and some I do not.

We will be praying for Todd.

I am starting school (reluctantly) on the 10th. I do not feel ready yet. Summer went way to fast! And I feel like I missed it. :o)