A hundred years ago, there was a legendary “tie yourself down” stretch of railroad along Beaver Canyon, one of the places my great grandmother, Sophia, worked as a cook for the railroad crews laying track. The road was so rough, several men were stationed there with the sole purpose of cleaning up the box cars that weren’t tied down and therefore tipped over and smashed on the rocks below. “Tie yourself down,” meaning prepare for a rough ride, is a phrase I whispered, to give myself courage, long before I knew the term probably originated with my family’s railroad background.
Stories are so powerful we don’t have to remember how or when we heard them only that they work. In this case, the family mantra for courage was just there, often repeated, not explained, until I asked.
What’s your “tie yourself down” story?
“Woolgathering?” my granddaughter asked.
I grew up on a sheep ranch in Idaho. She’s currently living in a high-rise apartment in Toronto.
Woolgathering n. Absent-minded indulgence in fanciful daydreams–adj. Indulging in fancies; absent-minded.
The American Heritage Dictionary that resides on my desk doesn’t even include a definition for the real-life activity that gave its name to dreams.
Poor people used to wander through pastures and fields, gathering the wool left behind, on fences, trees and prickly bushes, when sheep rubbed against them. If they were lucky, they’d find enough to make a sweater for the winter.
I did it for fun when I was walking the back roads of Ireland. In fact I still have a handful of that Irish wool. It sits on a shelf below the dictionary. Of course, in a world were “time is money” no one gathers wool any more, daydreaming is absent-minded, and stories are for children. Really?
Starting over is never easy. Yet, like it or not, starting over is common enough to have become its own classic story. According to this motif, starting over involves a journey, a struggle in a new place, and a change of such significance that the hero becomes a new person who often takes a new name. Going to college is an origin story. Getting married is an origin story. Having a child. Starting a new job. Moving to a new place . . .
Off to School
We say good-bye.
In this case, one of my aunts strikes such a classic pose, that we forget that going away to school wasn’t common in the 1940s. Not in Idaho. Not for a woman. She was setting off into unknown territory. The style with which most of us manage such a new beginning is often a reflection of how we think others have handled such things before.
In times of crisis does the family “take wing,” “ride it out,” “dig in?” The answer probably depends on how stories of beginnings are told in your particular family.