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I stood under the suspended box that I had carefully painted in blocks of blue and pink waiting to pull the silver ribbon and learn the next big piece of information about the little fluttering baby in my belly. We’d done gender reveals for our other two children, but we’d already known what color would emerge. This time was different. We brought our two boys to the anatomy ultrasound and decided to let the ultrasound tech send us home with a mysterious envelope instead of a telling us outright. We would be surprised as a family, instead of Mom and Dad knowing ahead.
That plan was slightly spoiled by our two-year-old falling asleep on the drive to the party and refusing to be awakened for anything when I earnestly tried to include him. We would have to pull the ribbon without him. We had two sons already; surely this tug on the box would bring a cascade of pink. I’d always imagined life with a daughter and not had one yet, surely this would be her. My four-year-old had even made multiple comments about a sister in my tummy just a few days before I found out I was pregnant. We held our breath and pulled, and the sky rained…an absolute torrent of blue confetti. Time to pull out the old tubs of our baby clothes, it’s going to be another boy.
I really never imagined myself as the mother of three boys in a row. I actually thought every baby so far would be a girl and continue to be wrong. I absolutely adore my children, but my paradigms are still working on their little shifts to this third act of the “boy mom” life I hadn’t anticipated. The thing that brings me the most peace and joy about the whole thing is not that I know others with boy broods or see Instagram families like mine. It’s not even just how smitten I am with the boys I’ve got so far—the thing I cling to is knowing my beloved paternal grandmother Martha raised a family of four sons.
Why does it matter? Why does a woman’s experience in my own ancestry impact me in a greater way than someone whose story I read about in an article? It doesn’t take most of us who have ever done family history long to realize the confidence and empowerment that comes from hearing your ancestors’ stories of persistence and triumph. It’s not just any story of perseverance, when it’s your ancestor’s story, it’s really your story. It’s as if something that felt overwhelming or difficult before, suddenly feels like you’ve already done it. Your grandmother, who lived vibrantly and well, carved the path and invited you personally to follow.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching and the grocery store aisles smattered with hearts, I can’t help but think how this applies to our love stories.
I am the posterity of my grandmother, but my posterity will look to me as a grandmother and great-grandmother. What are the stories they will have from me? And could the way they handle their relationships and govern themselves in their marriages be affected by the record I left about mine?
I know because I am a romantic from a long line of romantics and the love my ancestors had for their spouses colored the way I saw the world and continues to affect the choices I make in my marriage today.
A recent family funeral brought me to the Salt Lake cemetery where I passed the grave of my mother’s parents. There, on their shared headstone, was a phrase I had not particularly taken note of before: “Eternal Sweethearts.”
Indeed, Maurine Conover and Joel P. Jensen were sweethearts in life as they are now in eternity. Maurine was filled with gratitude for her life and for the earth and she was joyous. She woke her home every morning with singing. She was deeply in love with her husband Joel and he with her, and they built a life around that love.
She looked to her grandmother Catherine for building tools, the way I now look to her. Catherine had married her childhood sweetheart (the one who proposed in fourth grade with a paper heart Valentine and a poem about their future temple marriage) only to lose him very young when he was serving a mission in New Zealand and she still had four small children.
Catherine took my Nana into her home once and pointed to a nail on the wall.
“I always asked George to hang his hat on that nail”
But George never would do it. They were a couple in harmony, but his hat would always be tossed onto the sewing machine, despite her wishes. It drove her crazy, but she told my Nana,
“Now, I’ve spent a whole lifetime without him, wishing I could see his hat on the sewing machine one more time.”
That story made an impression on me as a teenager, though I need to find my way back to its sentiment now that I have my own husband whose proverbial hats end up everywhere but the nails they go on.
For my Nana’s part, she took that story to heart and strived to make it known how much she valued the people she loved and the moments she had. She was determined to notice and appreciate rather than neglect or nag.
Fortunately, her husband was determined to do the same, not just with her or in their home, but in general. They were a gracious and grateful pair. They were both educators and once at a retirement party, a custodian stood up and said that in his fifty years of work, he’d only ever received two thank-you notes. One was from Joel Jensen and one was from Maurine Conover Jensen and neither knew that the other had done it.
In fact, their united character of gratitude made its mark in my recently released “It Is Well With My Soul” Gratitude Journal. Their gratefulness, as well as their love, both continue to impact me to this day.
But Joel died when my Nana was 64 and she lived a further 29 years without him. She wrote him a letter in December of 1982 (four years after his death):
“The seasons come and go without you and some way—one step at a time—I go ahead—trying not to lay the burden of my grief on the backs of our sweet children or their families. But some times, like Christmas, are especially hurtful…Instead of flooding my cheeks with tears, I do try to be productive and live with a positive attitude, but it hurts so much—I role play and pass for the coping woman, but inside my heart feels like it’s bleeding.”
But even with that aching grief, she would scour the newspapers for stories of people who had done wonderful things, and she had a stack of cards always at hand to write letters to those people to thank them or congratulate them on their good deeds.
Somehow as I read it now, I feel buoyed up not only be the story of their thank you notes, but by the heartbreak of her loneliness when he was gone. Aloneness feels less alone when you realize others you love and look up to have had those seasons too.
I share all this to pose the question; what record do you have so far of your love story for your posterity? (Might I suggest the aforementioned “It Is Well With My Soul” Gratitude Journal as the place to write it down?). Have you recorded the squabbles and how you learned later they didn’t matter? Or the things that made you realize they were your perfect match? Have you recorded the sacrifices and the lessons and what you wish you’d known sooner and what you’re grateful to know now?
These are all things your posterity (and specifically your posterity’s marriages) stand to gain enormously from.
At that same recent funeral, I noticed as we were walking into the church that my husband had dressed our two-year-old in knee high batman boots. I half-hissed as others walked by that I had set a more appropriate set of shoes aside for him for the solemn occasion. Why did I say it? What could be done now?
Wouldn’t you know, one of the first interactions we had upon entering the room where the family viewing was being held, was a distant cousin immediately approaching and saying, pointing to the batman boots, “you two are truly wonderful parents, letting your toddler dress himself. I’m sure it gives him such a sense of importance and control in life. Wow, seriously, great parents.”
We smiled at each other and decided to nod and accept the compliment rather than take the time to explain in that setting. But I also felt a little chastised. I immediately saw how little a two-year-old’s footwear at a funeral matters and how much more it matters for my husband to feel that he is not being scrutinized at every turn.
Less than an hour later, I sat and listened to talks about the person who had passed and what a kind and patient husband he was and how his wife always approached him with gentleness and love. Again, it felt that I had a heritage of compassionate consideration in marriage to live up to. How would I be remembered as a partner? How important is it that I always comment on the batman boots that come up in our marriage?
Virtuous examples are important. But virtuous examples from within our families and among our ancestors are crucial. We, today, are the ancestors of generations born and yet unborn. Now is our chance, not only to try to be the best example we can, but to record the things we learned and what we valued and how we showed our love. Your posterity’s love stories may be changed forever by what you shared from yours.
For a beautiful place to record such treasured thoughts and memories, check out our “It is Well With My Soul” Gratitude Journal, which is currently on sale for 25% off for Valentine’s Day. It is a hardcover with foil printed cover and silver lined pages, specially designed to be treasured forever. CLICK HERE to learn more.