Family Legacies Chapter 36

(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)

Seattle, Washington, August 2001

[Kate Jacobsen Cullen and Al Cullen’s youngest daughter, Allison, recalls the past and hopes that her parents are now both at peace. She is certain, however, that the ghosts of past generations will continue to haunt the current one.]

Allison began her letter to her old childhood friend:

My dear friend, Louise,

I must write and tell you that, at last, my father’s estate has been settled and my parents can now rest in peace. Michael, as you know, handled all of the negotiations, as my parents had left things in his capable hands. Sarah, particularly, resented Michael receiving this privilege, but I guess — as the youngest daughter — I had assumed all along they would never give it to me.

As you know, things were very tense for quite a while — with a threatened lawsuit and arguments back and forth. In the end, Katrina and Sarah finally agreed to seeing things our way. I signed the final papers this afternoon, and I feel as though a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not sure that Michael and I will ever have contact again with Katrina and Sarah, however. How sad my parents’ and my grandfather’s legacy.

I have thought about this over and over now for many weeks. There was clearly something very wrong with my mother; I’m not sure if my parents ever truly loved each other, but there must have been something there at the beginning. Mother was paranoid, nervous, jealous, sometimes violent. As a child, I often asked myself why. As an adult, I can see now that there lies a pattern within the family. I know that it at least began with my great-grandfather Jacobsen who — by all accounts — was a cold and distant man. I suppose that having to leave Denmark at the age of nineteen, for fear of being conscripted into the German Army, might make you serious and determined. In any event, I think there were great problems between him and my grandfather, Lars Jacobsen.

I have talked to a number of relatives who knew my grandfather well. They all tell me (without much embarrassment, I might add) that he was mean-spirited, violent, an alcoholic, a member of the KKK, and a womanizer (who had numerous affairs during his long marriage to my grandmother). I think I can say with certainty that my mother saw some terrible things as a child. I suspect I’ll never really know what she went through, because I think she kept some things to herself for a very long time — in fact, until her death.

Allison stared out the window at a large oak tree in her backyard. It was in full summer leafage and looked cool and comforting under the heat of the day.

My father tried to help my mother — I’m sure of it. But he didn’t know what to do. Back then, people didn’t go to counsellors, and a divorce was too shameful. In my early years, I thought that the four of us — my three siblings and I — had probably escaped any of my mother’s strange mental processes, but I know now — and especially after the battle over the estate — that all four of us have some issues with control, anxiety, depression, and perhaps even paranoia. I know that I am learning that I have anxiety to such an extent that I will probably seek counselling for it.

Allison stood up and stretched. She sat down on the couch and Black Cat leaped into her lap. The animal nestled and Allison stroked her pet’s head while Black Cat purred. A few minutes passed in quiet solitary peace, and then Allison stood up again and returned to her letter. She read what she wrote and then continued:

When I think about my family, Louise, I think of a line in Ibsen’s play, Ghost.

Allison raised her eyes to the ceiling and tried to remember the lines. Then she wrote:

“What we have inherited from our fathers and mothers is not all that ‘walks in us.’ There are all sorts of dead ideas and lifeless old beliefs. They have no tangibility but they haunt us all the same and we can not get rid of them.”

I find myself wondering, Louise, what legacy I have left for my two children. What ghosts? I suppose I will never really know.

Allison finished her letter with light-hearted news about her children and her grandchildren. When she finished, she folded it, inserted it into an envelope, addressed and stamped it, then sealed it. As she finished, her husband came into the room after a short jog. He saw the letter on Allison’s desk.

“Did you finish your letter?” Ed asked.

“Yes.”

“Feel better?”

“A little. A lot is over and a lot is changed. I feel as though I’m trying a new beginning without the chains of the past.”

Ed stared down at Allison. “Remember, hon, it’s hard to break the chains of past ghosts. But you can try.”

Allison reached up and kissed her husband on the check. “I know,” she said, “and it’s a beginning.”

Disclaimer: While it is true that my characters were inspired by my own genealogical study, I could not and did not know my ancestors with the same intimacy that I have created in my characters. Therefore, let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.

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