Updated: Jul 24, 2022
I recently met my great-great grandmother. Well, to be honest, I also recently met my great-grandma as well. Unexpected encounters, the both of them. Here in Spokane, I live just a mile from one of the city's oldest cemetaries, Fairmont. My street, Wellesley Avenue runs right up to its impressive main gates. I have long known that my grandparents and great-grandparents on the "Codd" side of the family are buried there; how could I not for the site is marked with a massive stone monument prominently displaying the family name while scattered at its feet are the much smaller stones of the Codd family including the grandparents I never knew, Ambrose and Geneva (Sweeny), the great-grandparents, William and Bridget, and my Uncle Phillip, who died of appendicitis at the age of fourteen. Also, there are my dad's Uncle James and his wife, Florence, and two daughters, who tragically died one winter night when their vehicle slid into the Couer d'Alene River near Cataldo, Idaho. I stop by fairly often actually; the cemetary makes for great brisk walking with its cooling shade of great pines and the occasional sprinkler to cool me down at the 3.5 mile mark on an 82 F day. I know remarkably little about these Codd ancestors; my dad and uncles and aunts did not speak often about any of them...maybe the sad death of young Phillip excepted. Anyway, they were all dead by the time I was born. My grandpa was a lawyer and lumberman, and from what I've heard, not the nicest fellow ever created by God; grandma Geneva was surely of the long-suffering type. I've seen a photograph of her in her old age: a beautiful lady even then.
What perplexed me a bit was the strand of ancestors on my grandma Sweeny side of the Codd side of the family. Where might they be buried? I did some snooping on the internet and discovered that Great-grandma Sweeny was also buried in Fairmont; in fact, not far from my grandma Geneva and the Codd gang she had married into. I had found some plot numbers, so a couple of weeks ago, I paused my brisk walk and went looking for her grave. I did some back and forth, then some up and down walking slowly among the old tombstones scanning the names for a Sweeny in their midst. I was at it about fifteen minutes and just about ready to give up, when I spotted it right in the middle of several larger stones. "Oh, there you are, Lida Sweeny!" I ambled over to the stone and was unexpectedly touched to be standing there before my previously forgotten great-grandmother. Lost, but now found! I placed my hand on the stone and wondered what prayer might be appropriate for someone so dead so long, so lost, but now found? Well, she was an Irishwoman so I said a Hail Mary, then an odd thought occurred to me: I should thank her for her part in making me. After all, 1/8th of my genes come from Lida Sweeny buried here beneath my feet. How might those genes be manifest in me all these decades later? My kind of puggish nose? My increasingly bushy eyebrows? My introversion? No way to know, but I said out loud anyway, "Thank you Grandma Lida for helping make me me. I am grateful for the sufferings and sacrifices of your life now unknown. I am grateful for whatever joy and happiness you knew along the way. I am grateful for your doubts and your faith, your mistakes and your grace. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit..."
That seemed enough for the moment, so I decided to move on and get back to my exercise regime. As I moved past Lida's stone, I turned and noticed something odd. On its back face there was another inscription. Her hubby perhaps? I moved back and took a closer look. No hubby here, nor son nor daughter. On this face of the stone was the name of one Mary Bond. The dates of birth and death a generation earlier than those of Lida's. Lida's mother? I could only presume so; I remember the Bond family name being somewhere in our family tree. (I later checked on the internet and found that indeed Lida was the daughter of Mary). So, this Mary Bond is my great-great grandmother...1/16th of my genetic inheritance (I don't guarantee my math on any of this!). Well, I could not pass Mary by without another Hail Mary, the same words of gratitude as I had with Lida, and something additionally: "Mary and Lida, whenever it is my turn to be buried below these or similar lawns, I hope you'll be there to meet me on the other side, greet me, pull me into your bosoms in a great-great-grandmotherly embrace, and let me know what you gave me in this life. This nose? These eyebrows? My attraction to quiet? Faith?"
Over the past few weeks, I've been briskly walking past the Codd's and the Sweeny's, not stopping for prayers or chats, but waving to them as I go by as one would if they were seated on their front porches in the old days and all that was needed for now is a gracious wave and a happy "God bless you!" That grand Sunday dinner together for catching up with the whole bunch of them will come later. Until then, dear Great-Great-Grandma Mary, and Great-Grandma Lida, and Grandma Geneva and all you other Sweeny's and Codd's and Dufaults and Menards (Mom's side), enjoy one another and Jesus and Mary and the choirs of angels. We'll all catch up soon enough. Know you are not forgotten. And thank you for everything...