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  • Writer's pictureMelina Meador

Do you know where your Great-Grandparents lived and died? Does it matter?

I have been recently re-immersed in my paternal family’s history. I’ve always loved the story of their immigration to Hoquiam, Washington from Sweden in the early 20th century. The lore of those days has been a part of my imagination since I was small. How they all drank coffee from a saucer with a sugar cube held between their teeth. How Grandpa Elven was called home for dinner by his mother’s voice ringing, “Elga, Eric, Elven, Edwin, Ellen and Veeeeeeeera!” And how he would run to the butcher’s for fresh cows blood to bring home, the dark liquid sloshing all over the pail I imagine, for his mother to make into blood-bread. He would smack his lips over that memory as the rest of us cringed.

These and other stories make up my family culture. That collective memory has contributed to my feeling of pride in my extended family, and then, in myself. Our last name, Backholm, is the same last name that the first Backholms carried to Grays Harbor county. They didn’t carry much else. And I grew up with people recognizing that name because of grandparents, uncles, and cousins in the area. We had a reputation. I realized what it means to have a family name when I moved for the first time away from home at age 22. I went to live in Watford, England, right outside of London, and for the first time in my life, no one knew or cared who Backholms were. I stood on my own merits and weaknesses, and earned trust, accolades, and criticism. It was an illuminating time.

It matters to me that I know where my great-grandparents’ graves are. I know something of their life. I am connected to my people through anecdotes, and physical locations. I smell hops and I can picture the smithy in Moxee, Washington, where my great-great-grandfather worked as a blacksmith. I hear the old song, “The Holy City”, and I think of what my Great-Grandpa must have looked like, and sounded like, when he sang that at the Hoquiam Lutheran church. I make cardemom bread and while braiding the smooth dough, I tell my daughter about her Great-Grandmother Helen, and how this is her recipe we are using. I want my children to hear the stories of their family tree.

They are without that family history in our little town in Central Washington. My husband moved here from Indiana as a young man, and we are the first Meadors to move here, except for an uncle and aunt and cousins, whom I am very grateful for. I wonder if we don’t lose something when we move away from where our family history happened. We have to work harder to tell those stories and look at pictures to remind ourselves of where we came from.

In 2019, I find myself building as a first generation citizen in Central Washington so that my children and grandchildren can settle into something bigger than themselves. I want them to hear stories of the Great Snow of 2014, and to drive by the home that Grandpa and Grandma Meador raised their children in. I am nostalgic to a fault, I know. But if we move from here, I don’t want to discount what we’re giving up; place matters. It has to factor in to any decision made. Not the main factor, certainly, but a major one.

Do you know where your ancestors are buried? Does it matter?

What stories do you tell people about your family?

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