Thursday, March 9, 2017

#SOL17 Finding Family 9/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Finding Family

I arrived early to the photography meetup. I like participating in our group's outings, but I dislike having to frame my shots around the bodies of other photographers standing in my way. Early to an open house-style event usually means that I have a chance to sneak some emptier wide shots before it gets too full.

Our destination that October afternoon was a little white historic church, perched on the edge of a slight rise in the landscape. There was a small shoulder on the road for people to pull over and park, but otherwise the church's steps lead right down onto the sidewalk and out onto the road.

I joined the small group of folks standing around on those steps, waiting for the doors to open. I noticed the "National Register of Historic Places" plaque and another with a brief history of the church on it. I took a quite context-setting shot of each.

The doors opened from the inside and a smiling woman with curly dark hair welcomed us to the church. She asked if someone would be willing to help her ring the bell, so that we could signal that the event was starting. Another photographer friend stepped up, and the two of them yanked down on the thick rope that reminded me of a ship's rigging. A short series of rhythmic pulls and suddenly we could hear the bell clanging in the attic steeple directly above us. We had been welcomed.

I hurried past the others, around a corner, and into the main sanctuary of the church. The old wooden benches shone in the mid-afternoon light, and I quickly framed a few shots of the entire space. I must have only gotten two or three before shoulders and backs and tripods began to fill in where the empty space had been. I took a few closer-in shots, but the crowd continued to build.

I decided to move outside.

The cemetery was more than a hundred years old, framed along both sides by a line of sturdy trees, their leaves turning all shades as we crept through autumn towards winter. Gorgeous.

I took a few more photographs before deciding to move towards the back of the cemetery so that I could get shots of the headstones in the foreground and the church in the back. As I walked, my eyes darted around, looking for usual angles or distinctive headstones.

I was on photography-autopilot, not even noticing that I was reading the names around me, until one registered strongly enough in my subconscious for the rest of my brain to kick in. Thielke.

My mother was a Thielke. She'd grown up on the other side of town, in the house that my grandmother lived in until she'd passed a few years before. My grandfather Thielke had died long before I was born, and I don't think I had ever met any other members of his family.

But now I found myself face-to-face with Thielkes. Louis, 1855-1935, and Sophia, 1857-1932. To the side, a William Thielke, whose dates seemed to indicate that he was their son, and behind, another William Thielke, a brother. I knew them.

My grandmother had always had an interest in genealogy, and she had given her daughters and son each their own version of a family history book quite awhile ago. I didn't have my own copy, but I had paged through my mother's enough to remember some of the names. There had been a Louis and Sophia, I knew there had.

As my shock wore off, I took my time documenting their headstones, both close-up for history purposes and further back for more artistic effect, the original goal for the day after all. As I finished up and began heading back up the hill toward the church, that building and those benches began to have a deeper meaning. My family has been here before.


That October day was more than three years ago. Since then I found myself becoming a Board Member of the church (now simply a historic building, as the congregation ceased in the 1940s), working to ensure its preservation and protection for the future. I have gotten to see some of the original church records, including my great-grandfather's baptism records and handwritten accounts of the dues paid by the families, my great-great grandfather Louis among them.

My husband and I bought a house recently, less than two miles from the church, and I like to give my great-great greandparents all the credit, as I worked my story about them into the letter we sent along with our offer. You never know what might make the difference. And you never know who might be out there to find, even when you least expect it.

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful surprise, which obviously impacted you greatly. I was just watching, "Who do you Think you are" today; I never tire of it. Your photo inside the church is beautiful, as if it is shedding light through a window of opportunity. Here's a line I really enjoyed, "...framed along both sides by a line of sturdy trees, their leaves turning all shades as we crept through autumn towards winter." Thanks for sharing!


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