Today is my grandmother's birthday -- it's easy to remember because all of the numbers are the same. She would have been 94, and in fact, it's been almost 10 years since she passed away. As her only grandson I often felt like I had a place of honor or responsibility (often unfair to my siblings and cousins). See, Grandma always wanted to teach me about our family's past, about who she was and where we came from, how she and her ancestors lived as estranged German-speaking Mennonites in Oklahoma. I never listened for very long, was often bored because I was too young, and I always hated Oklahoma (the heat, the wind, the flatness). But the tables have tuned and her wishes have been granted -- I am the keeper of our family's history, and I can't get enough of it or Oklahoma, a place so stunningly-ecologically diverse. I have a 90,000 word memoir in draft form about immigration, prairie, wildlife, land allotment, oil, outlaw gangs, the Cheyenne, and more.
Whenever I visit my folks I rifle through drawers and closets for relics my Grandma held on to. This weekend I found the below image, which on the back simply states that one of the women pictured is Katie Peters, who is my great grandmother. I don't know the date, so she could be anyone. Still, these are my people, who plowed up the prairie and helped conquer the last "wild" places in the central U.S. with sweat and hunger and hope -- even as the hope of other cultures (human and plant and animal) were marginalized. I honor my family, and with my work in prairie advocacy, I honor the wild places hungering to come back with their full resilience. In a way, I've been given an opportunity by my ancestors to heal the misunderstandings of people and place -- not to condemn or undermine what they sacrificed, but to fully come home to the places where they sought refuge and freedom. Our lives are imperfect circles made whole by questions we can never answer.