I come from a long line of pioneers. I come from people who crossed the wild and frightening North Atlantic in old wooden sailing vessels, leaving their homelands with the hope and vision of a new life. They logged their names at Ellis Island and then traversed the rugged landscape of the untamed frontier to homestead in the West. They were people of determination, perseverance and courage—traits that are somewhere in my gene pool, though seemingly not always accessible.
I think about these ancestors at times when my life seems challenging. Then it’s all put in perspective. My stress comes from worrying about meeting a deadline, juggling too many projects at once, whether I can find wireless when I’m traveling.
My great-grandmother worried about whether the ship would make landfall, losing her parents, about survival, about where the food would come from to feed her brood of children.
I learned of her from my grandfather one day when I was little. I was about seven or eight, old enough to understand the story he was about to tell, old enough to remember the moment.
We sat on the steps leading to the attic of the barn’s hayloft. He—an ancient-old gentleman I loved with my whole heart—and I—young, curious about everything, with the world at my feet—made quite the pair. We had gone up to the loft together, him lifting stacked trunks one from another, pleased when he found the one he was looking for. Brushing off cobwebs and an inch of dust, he sorted through its contents and pulled out an old carved box.
“Come, Little One, let’s sit for a spell and I’ll tell you a story.” So we plunked down on the steps and he lifted the lid of the box resting on his lap. Its contents were sparse, a few yellowed papers, an old gold ring, a brooch and an old-fashioned photo of two young girls. They were posed for the camera with hair done in the fashion of the day, with high Victorian necklines on their blouses and one of them was wearing the brooch, now in my grandfather’s hand.
“This belonged to your great grandmother; my mother.” He handed me the piece of jewelry while he spoke. “That’s her in the photo. It was taken before they left the Old Country, just before they boarded the ship for New York. The other girl in the photo was her sister. Your great grandmother was about fifteen or sixteen. They had left their homes with their parents to come to America to find a new life.”
He held me close during the telling. He was the rock of my childhood world. Whenever I found myself wrapped in his giant arms, I knew all was well. He continued.
“But unexpectedly during the crossing of the North Atlantic, their parents took ill and both died before they arrived in the New Country.”
I remember being shocked to hear this and very saddened. I can picture looking into my grandfather’s crystal blue eyes, soft with compassion, and he continued.
“The girls were orphaned while at sea with no family on board. As it happened, the young captain of the ship took them under his wing, making sure they were comfortable and well-fed.
“But Cupid changed the course of fate and the Captain and my mother fell in love. During the voyage he carved this box from one of the beams in the ship. He added the sea serpents on its sides and carved her initials on the top of the box.”
I ran my small fingers over the top and followed the curve of the serpents.
“As you know, they safely landed in New York and homesteaded on the Coeur d’Alene Lake where I grew up with my 11 brothers and sisters. My mother gave me the box for safekeeping and told me the story when I was in my teens. I’m giving it to you now, also for safekeeping and to be sure the story is not forgotten.”
“I’ll never forget it. I promise” And crossed my heart.
“It’s a story of love, Little One. My parents loved one another with greatness and they wished that for me, my siblings and our offspring. Fifty years later, I’m as in love with your grandmother as I was the day I married her and I want that for you too when you grow up. So I give you this box to treasure and as a symbol of our family’s love for one another through the generations.”
The initials on the box are KN for Katie Norup. My grandfather’s middle name was Norup. I continue the legacy and write as Anne Norup, with Love always at the heart of it all.
–Anne Norup, St. Valentine’s Day, 2010