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History

June 8, 2012

 

I don’t imagine anyone doubts the truth of the saying about not simply marrying a person, but marrying a whole family. Me, I married a whole legacy.

At times, that is daunting. Consider that Caleb and I are third generation RCA missionaries, serving in East Africa. We live on the same spot where Caleb’s grandparents, Bob and Morrie Swart, lived in tents for 6 years while they built a school, clinic, and staff housing before building their own house and then continued to live another 8 years. This morning for church, we sat with friends and neighbors, worshiping under the same dome structure that housed Caleb’s dad as a boy. Encounter the right wizened old man and he just might mistake Caleb for “Boh”, you can almost see the years slip away from him and he’s living in another age for a moment–he’s still a boy and this is still the first white man he’s ever laid eyes on. That is a huge legacy of which to be a part.

I think in marrying a person, you make the choice–consciously or unconsciously–to absorb his history into your own. What has shaped him now shapes you, what he loves starts to beat in your own heart, and together your histories begin to intertwine. Two truly become one, not one person, but one unit–a family. This is the stuff we’re made of, for better and for worse. The ‘for better’, well, you can read pretty much anything I write and see the ‘better’. To mingle my history with Caleb’s, with his family’s, to see how that shapes the family we have created together, there aren’t words to hold that. I try and unpack it almost anytime I sit down to write and fall woefully short.

So let’s just move on to the ‘for worse’.

Fossil-hunting.

One of our favorite things to do is to go on cookouts. We load up Mater, the old rusty pickup truck, and drive out straight behind the village. We bump over grass mounds until reaching the sandy, dusty flats that stretch out every direction until they melt into Crocodile Mountain and the ridges and mountains that signify Kenya and Sudan. We keep going, passing ant towers twice a man’s height and continuing across an ocean of rock and sand. Once upon a time, we would have been floating, swimming through the brown-red waters of a now-receded Lake Turkana. What is left now are the remnants of what her banks once held sacred: behemoth crocodiles, bulbous hippos, catfish, nile perch. The kids narrate their bedtime stories to me as we drive–about a centuries-old man named Telekkey, the first foreigner to explore the region and ‘discover’ the lake, christening her with the name of Lake Rudolph. Before we wind up the steep ridge to cook our dinner on the same three rocks Caleb’s grandparents used in their cookouts three decades ago, we detour to the Fossil Beds. The kids spill out of the back of the truck and take off. They run as far and wide as their legs can carry them, up ridges and back down with their treasures clutched in sweaty hands and bulging from dusty pockets.

I get harassed about fossil-hunting in this family. So I’m awarding the Fossil Beds their proper respect by capitalizing the name. Apparently I haven’t shown the necessary enthusiasm and exultation needed to be a true fossil-hunter. Don’t misunderstand me. I like the Fossil Beds. Standing under a sky that burns white, with the history of millions of years crunching under my toes, I get a little lost in that feeling. But there are only so many crocodile teeth I can ooh and ahh over, and only so many vertebrae and fish spines and catfish skulls I can absorb into my heart and home. So somehow I’ve gotten the reputation of someone who ‘doesn’t like fossil-hunting and pouts by the truck whenever we stop’–Caleb’s exact words to our friends who came to visit last week. Hopefully his smile gave away the fact that he was just teasing and revealed the truth: that I never, ever pout. Ever.

I was explaining to my friend the real reason that I had acquired my bad rep, that in all the years of fossil-hunting, I’d yet to adopt the “Swart Stance”–hands clasped behind the back, steps slow and steady, back slightly bent, head down, eyes intent on the ground. We were laughing when she said, “Joanna, look,” and turned to snap this picture:

Witness, please, the outcome of histories mingling, for better and for worse. My children are doomed. Doomed to be freakishly wonderful.

Just like their Daddy.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Denise Krebs permalink
    June 10, 2012 3:21 am

    Joanna,
    You are a gifted writer, and you always make me weep a tears for better. This is lovely.

    Denise

  2. Effie Giles permalink
    June 15, 2012 2:22 am

    My dear Joanna,

    The waiting paid off. I have been waiting for your next entries, and again was carried along with your vivid descriptions of things I have seen there but which I see clearer through your words than when I saw them with my own eyes. Thank you for condensing so much time and space and life into such a few perfectly chosen words. And thank you for investing your life in it, and living it so fully.

    Grandma Giles

  3. Erin Moore permalink
    August 31, 2012 10:03 am

    Oh Joanna, this made me laugh out loud!

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