This week, my son Rob's friend, Jeremy, brought up a name connected to his family: Demarest. It's the name Jeremy gave his son. It was my grandmother's maiden name, and my dad's middle name. Goosebumps of connection, a comparison of our respective copies of that best-selling tome/doorstop The Demarest Family (his recent copy in a red binding; my 1938 copy, green), and a dive into his ancestry.com account, producing this:
                          Demarest, 1915
My Gramma's picture from her high school yearbook. I'd never seen it.
Serious goosebumps. Here I am, looking back from a distance of 107 years - and there, in that high school photo, is Gramma, looking ahead to me. There is a whole history-yet-to-happen in that high school picture.

I spent the rest of the day walking around in a cloud of fond remembrance: the art lessons when I was four, the special tuna sandwiches with chopped celery, the gentle reminder not to leave my toy truck on the steps. Sitting beside her, shelling peas from her garden into a big basket. The Christmas party when she put my high chair next to her at the head of the table, a table at which every guest had their own little crystal salt dish. (I have the salt dishes now.) She served mint jelly with lamb.

The only place in life I have ever felt completely loved and safe, was in the big high guest bed upstairs in Gramma's house, just off Route 46 in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, a place where I was cherished for no other reason than being me, and had no other job. The house dated back to the 1740s. To this day, I am drawn by some internal magnet to old houses and antique furniture.

I am the only person alive today who knew my grandmother; she died before my brother was born. No one else remembers her, but her life left an imprint on my life. In that sense, she lives on.

We are born into a pool of personal history, as unique as our fingerprint, comprised of our family, our birthplace, heirlooms, artifacts. It explains, perhaps, our love of mint jelly, our aversion to cats, our reading habits, our musical ability. It's more than genetics, it's the cumulative imprint of other lives upon our own. We add to it as we go through life: childhood homes, beloved books, music, skills, romances, friends and neighbors. It surrounds us as we walk around, informing our reactions, thoughts, opinions. I'm not talking about genetics, and certainly not about spiritualism - I have no desire to bring Gramma back from the dead to obtain her brisket recipe. I'm just saying our history makes its imprint on our lives, and affects the world we live in now, through those little imprints.

The book of Hebrews describes a "great cloud of witnesses" surrounding us. True. But I'm thinking more of how our back-history of people, places and things have left their marks, have contributed to our pool of history. Admittedly, sometimes we have to dredge the pond. Some marks we shrug off, some must be scrubbed off, some treated with a bath of forgiveness (there's a wellspring of the Spirit that can cleanse the worst of our pool's contents.) But some should be honored. I'm writing this to honor my Gramma, Mildred Elizabeth Demarest, 1897 - 1960.

What family history/backstory affects who you are today?

In case you can't read the yearbook picture's enigmatic caption, here it is: "Another quiet girl who seldom takes off the lid and shows her real self. She is a conscientious member of the Glee Club and also of the Latin Club."
Oh, but she was so much more.

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