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Gifts of my Foremothers

5 Generations of First Born Daughters - 1978

A few years ago, my sister and I started researching our geneology. We visited our aunt who had a large trunk full of old papers and photos. Most of it was unorganized, so we spent a few hours sorting through piles of memories, searching for nuggets of gold. I found a single piece of paper written by my grandmother, Marguerite, that intrigued me. It was titled, “On Being a Mother and a Mystic“:

Of all the qualities it takes to be a good mother, I have not yet decided whether being a mystic is an asset or a liability. There are times when your children wonder how you find out about things they think are completely secret and there are also times when you wonder whether you are worthy of being a mother. I have often wondered whether motherhood itself is the beginning of becoming a mystic.”

Marguerite Mary Gloyd Campbell

Marguerite mothered eight children, of which my father was the youngest. She died when I was thirteen. I remember her as a devout Christian who encouraged me to read from the children’s picture Bible when I was very young. It wasn’t until later that I found out about the wide range of spiritual belief she had explored throughout her life, ranging from I Ching to Scientology. The words she wrote above resonated deeply in my heart. Like her, I have often thought of motherhood as a spiritual practice, one that offers opportunities for deep growth in a myriad of ways, most of which are not available in any other area of my life. It has been one of my greatest joys to watch my children develop into unique, independent people with their own views on life and their own ways of interacting with the world. Ancestors from Marguerite's Gloyd {formerly Glyd} line lived in Salem, Massachusetts during the Witch Trials, and spoke out in defense of John Proctor when he was accused. This courageous and fiercely independent streak is clearly visible in my entire family line, both paternal and maternal.

Once, when I was in my early twenties, with three young kids running around, my maternal great-grandmother, Gail came to visit my home. She saw a calendar I had on the wall of my kitchen, on which I had marked off the days as they passed. She shook her head and gently clucked, “Oh no, don’t ever count down your days like that. They’ll be gone sooner than you think.” Back then, I was often looking forward to the next fun event coming up in the future or dreading the next terrifying challenge I had set myself up for. The days in between would pass by in a blur, as I anticipated what was to come with excitement or dread. What my granny said that day stuck with me. She inspired me to create a life that I actually wanted to live in, today. And to stop taking on things that I didn’t really want to do.

This wasn’t the first time my granny had impacted my life. When I was a young girl, I saw her only rarely, as she lived in California and I lived in Portland. My granny Gail asked me to be her pen pal and between the ages of nine and eleven, she and I wrote letters back and forth at least once a month. It was the first time I remember feeling a connection to any of my grandparents beyond the usual dispensing of hugs and treats that can so easily be taken for granted when we’re young and don’t know any better.

Gail Eileen Franke Fosdick

Years ago, I sat down with my granny Gail, my mother, my sister, and my grandmother {Gail’s daughter, Diana}, and asked her to tell us about her life. Granny was born in 1920 on a farm in North Dakota, the eldest of four children, and the only girl. She shared stories of her childhood with us:

At our farmhouse, we had no electricity, no plumbing, no hot or cold water, no phone. We did have a well. We pumped water to fill a bucket and carried it to the house and we carried it out the same way, every drop. We were careful not to waste it. The daily routine was a busy one. When we were old enough to do anything, we had little jobs to do. We never said we were bored. Mom would fix that for us. Since I was the only girl, I helped my mom set the table, do dishes and when my youngest brother was born, I helped her with him, kept him from under Mom’s feet when she cooked the meals. By now we were six people and we always had one or two hired help. That meant meals three times a day for seven or eight people. When I was old enough to understand a recipe, I started baking cakes, which I loved. That was mostly my job until I left home. Maybe one a week. I started ironing and when I wasn’t able to reach the ironing board properly, my dad made me a box to stand on. My mother was strict but a good mother. When we got out of hand or were rowdy and didn’t settle down with just a warning, she knew what to do. I can see her yet. She had a belt hanging on the pantry door; she’d take that belt and point it to us saying, “Do you want a taste of this?” and we knew what that meant. She never said, “Wait until your dad comes home.” She took care of everything right now. Needless to say, I can’t remember ever having the belt.

In 1941, Gail married my great-grandfather, Bob Fosdick, a sailor who was shipped out to fight in WWII shortly after their wedding. Gail, pregnant with her first child {my grandmother} moved in with Bob’s mother in California, leaving her family behind. She described feeling lonely, but happy to be off the farm, because “living the life of a farmer wasn’t for me,” she said.

Alma Priewe Franke

When I was nine, my family took a trip to visit relatives. It was during this trip that I met Gail’s mother, my great-great grandmother, Alma {Priewe} Franke, for the first time since I was an infant. Granny Gail told us what she could remember about her mother’s life, but there wasn’t much to tell. Alma had left her home in Minnesota when she was thirteen to live with her aunt in North Dakota. She grew up working on the farm and continued living the farm life after she was married. She rarely spoke about her parents and even though she was the eldest of many siblings, she had little contact with them. When I saw a picture of my great-great-grandmother, Alma on the farm in the 1920’s, with her knowing smile under a wide straw hat, and her arms on her hips in a confident stance, I knew she was someone special. And I knew that her strength and courage was within me. I knew I could access her knowledge, wisdom, work ethic, and the fierce love she felt for her husband, her children, and her home. Alma and her husband, George Franke, were not religious, but they were spiritual. They felt a connection with the land they tended. Alma would regularly go on long walks in the country to be alone and clear her head. She would return centered and present, ready to take on all that life on the farm could throw at her. Both Alma and Gail left their homes, all they knew, to carve out a new life.

My grandmother, Diana Fosdick Lamb {left}, followed her heart, seeking out spiritual fulfillment that she could share with her own children. My mother, Alison, did things her own way, raising my siblings and I unconventionally, in ways that may have appeared chaotic at the time, but have proven to serve us well as we’ve grown into wise and capable adults. I feel like I’ve manifested the best of all of my foremothers in my own life. I choose to live close to where I grew up, connected to my tight-knit family and the traditions that we’ve created together. I expand my horizons by carving out my own spiritual path and following the unpredictable desires of my creative soul.

Me & My Mother, Alison - 1978

The women who came before me gave me the courage to be whatever I want to be. And the wisdom to know what I don't want to be. They remind me that I can be more than one thing and that I don’t have to choose one dream over another. I can be a mother who loves to care for my home and family AND I can be an artist, an explorer of truth, a consciousness pioneer, an everyday mystic.

Blessings, Fellow Travelers,


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