When she was a child, my grandmother received a locket as a baptism gift. That was in Calumet, Michigan. The family later moved to Hughenden. Then in 1931, my great uncle Elmer died from a ruptured appendix when he was sixteen and my grandma was twenty.
By her younger brother’s graveside in the Hughenden cemetery, my grandma lost that precious locket that she’d owned most all her life. That’s how it goes sometimes. Years later, in 1944, her father, my great grandfather, died. He was buried near his son Elmer, and as that grave was being prepared, the locket bearing my grandma’s initials was dug up.
Life is comprised of stories. My life is stories and your life is stories. These are scenarios that happened, that might happen, and that are happening right now. I love stories, but hearing the tales of the old folks who came before me leaves me feeling two different ways.
The first feeling is warm and sentimental. The old stories make me feel connected to the people whose blood flows in my veins. I treasure that connection, like time as a railroad track joining our stations along the way.
The second feeling is the stark realization that someday all that will be left of me is stories. And then, after a while, even the most colourful Lori stories will fade into time and eventually disappear. It’s true.
I like the story of my Grandma Knutson and her newborn baby, Jeannette, on their way home from the hospital following a March snowstorm. When the cutter tipped over in the deep banks, both new mother and new baby were pitched into a snowdrift. Good thing they were bundled up and that babies are typically a bit bouncy.
If you know me, you know I love ghost stories! Sadly, I’ve lost some of the belief in their plausibility. It’s too bad because the possibility of truth made those old stories especially thrilling. In this case, the truth doesn’t matter. I like hearing ghost stories and I like telling ghost stories.
Back in the day Grandma would tell me about the house she and Grandpa lived in on the edge of Hughenden Lake when they were first married.
She’d tell it like this: “Often, late at night, the door at the top of the stairs would slam shut really hard. At first this was terrifying, but after a while, we got used to it. We were startled, but we weren’t scared.”
Even so, my grandparents didn’t live in that house for long.
All the people involved in those stories are gone. The house, long since moved from the lakeshore into the village, stands here in town today. I wonder if the door at the top of the stairs slams hard enough to shake the walls. Does that particular draft, uneven foundation, or angry spirit still haunt the place?
People come and go from houses. We bring stories, we make more, and then we move on.
I always tell the story of Erwin Knutson, my dad’s uncle who was found dead in an abandoned vehicle outside of Wetaskiwin. It was December, 1957. The body had no identification on it, no wallet, and no money. But there was a slip of paper in one of the jacket pockets that read: Erwin Knutson, Hughenden.
My dad told me about him being fourteen years old and traveling to the Hughenden cemetery with his dad, the deceased’s brother, to deliver the rough box used to shore up the interior of that wintry grave.
I held onto that story and it became my novel, Denby Jullsen, Hughenden.
I’m grateful for the stories that connect me to my past and to my ancestors. I’m also thankful for the stories I’m living now, and for the good ones I imagine might happen.
This Christmas, my wish for you is that you remember and share your stories. This season, I hope you’ll make new ones to tell again and again down through the years because, in the end, the stories are all we’ve got.