The Room Where We Support Each Other, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ


Over the past year or so I have been reciting my mother line, seven generations back, as a mantra of gratitude that helps me sleep at night. Sometimes I also name my sixteen great-great-grandparents, though I often fall asleep before finishing.

I have gained courage from the strength of their lives, but I never wondered what my eight great-great grandmothers would think of me. My life feels so different from theirs. Perhaps I feared they would judge me and my life.

This weekend, while re-reading Woman and Nature, I followed the narrator through a Passage to the Room of Dressing:

Where the women are not close. Where the women keep themselves at a distance.  . . . where the women tell each other that they are happy.  . . . The room where the daughter denies she is anything like her mother. (156)

And on to the Room of Undressing:

Where the women stare into each other’s eyes. Where the daughter feels the life of the mother. Where our words are undressed. And we touch. This room of our touching where the mother teaches her daughter to face her secret feelings. (157)

As I entered into this Passage, my great-great grandmothers began to speak within me.

Anna Maria Hemmerlein, born in 1821 in Stettfeld, Bavaria, out of wedlock, died in 1907, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, mother of two sons, tailoress:

I was born without a father because the Church and State forbade poor men to marry. The law was directed against the men, but it was the women who suffered. My mother and I carried the stigma of illegitimacy, not my father.

When I found a man who loved me, the Church and State would not allow us to marry because he was a poor farmer. When the revolution came to Bavaria in 1848, we believed that a new Constitution would allow us to marry. When this did not happen, we left for America.

I loved my husband Thomas. He was a good hard-working man. Conrad was born a little over year after we arrived. We were poor, but we were happy. Conrad died before his tenth birthday. My heart was broken. Thomas never recovered from the loss of our dear boy. When George was born, I was forty-two. It seemed like a miracle. Thomas refused to rejoice. “God will take him,” he said. Thomas did not know that God would take him first, while George was still a babe in my arms.

Luckily for us, I had already begun to work from home as a tailoress. I managed to raise George on my own, teaching him my trade. When George married, I supported myself. God took George when he was only thirty-two, leaving his poor wife with five little children. The baby Irving John, your grandfather, became my favorite. I taught him to tailor. I lived to be a very old lady. I never asked for anything from anyone. I am so proud that you are naming the strength of women who love, care, and persevere without the support of men. I am proud that my blood runs in the veins of a feminist. That is a word I never heard, but I agree with it! Down to my bones.

Catherina Lattauer, born 1822 in Ober-Floerscheim in the Rhine River valley, died in 1869 in Cherry Ridge, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, farmer’s wife, mother of nine children:

My father died when I was a little girl. I was raised by my mother and my sister. The Protestant children went to school in Ober-Floerscheim, and I learned to read. After my brother left for America I followed him to New York City. What a place. I didn’t know what to make of it. I met my husband Heinrich there. Our first two children were born in the big city.

What a relief when we were able to move to Cherry Ridge and start the farm. Thank goodness my sister and my mother came with us. I had missed them so. It was hard work, and I had seven more children. I guess my body was worn out with the last one. I was only forty-six when I died. I never heard anything about women’s rights, but I always hated it when men acted like they knew everything. My mother was the best person I ever met. Heinrich could not hold a candle to her. I rejoice that you are speaking for women.

Elizabeth Reilly birth, Ireland, death, Ireland or England, wife of a landlord, mother of at least six children:

I came from a wealthy family. You may think I was lucky. I was not. My father arranged my marriage to a wealthy man, but he was not a good man. He drank and he gambled and sometimes he beat us all. I had five daughters and a son.

Lord Kelly committed suicide and left us penniless shortly after our last daughter was born.

We went to live with my oldest daughter, who had married well, as they say. Her husband was not as bad as my husband, but there was no love lost between them. I could say nothing when he belittled her or complained that he was forced to look after us. My children scattered to the four winds. You say you stand up for women? Where were you when we needed you? For us there was no help.

Annie Corliss, born Ireland c. 1840, died Lower East Side, New York, 1885, sailor’s wife, mother of nine:

I was a little girl when the potato crop failed. We went to England hoping for a better life and my father died there. My mother and I and my two little brothers boarded the ship from America. My brothers and many others died on the ship. My mother followed them. An Irish family took me in.

I met my husband James when I went to the docks to watch the ships arrive. He was little more than a boy himself when he promised to look after me. He came and went on the ships. I had nine children. When the last one, little Agnes, died, I was so sad. I saw the first two, Isabella and James, married, and then my heart gave out. I’m not sure how old I was, but I couldn’t have been much more than forty-five.

My life was not easy, but I loved James and the children. I never questioned my life, it seemed beautiful to me. But now that you mention it, I always knew I was stronger than James. I was the one who raised the children.

I never learned to read. I didn’t even know how to spell my name. My great-great-granddaughter writes books. Who would have thought someone like you could come from someone like me? Blessed Mother and All the Angels! I am proud.

Remembering Ancestors on Minoan Altar

 

To be continued . . .

 

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Lasithi, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol  has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.

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Categories: Ancestors, Earth-based spirituality, Feminism, Feminism and Religion

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21 replies

  1. Thank you Carol, this is so touching. It made me cry. Just last Circle, there was a new Member, and we spoke about when we close the Circle, we bring with us all of our ancestors from whom we are now here. Thank you for giving them words. We should all have words.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a wonderful post, Carol. I have just written a short story about my grant grandmother that was partly information I received from her. I loved the contact and I hope to “touch” more of my foremothers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful post, Carol. I do believe that we inherit both gifts and wounds come from our lineage, even when we don’t know as much as you do about our ancestors. Whenever we heal a wound, I like to believe the healing flows backwards and forwards. I hope Elizabeth Reilly feels the healing touch of your work and words.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hope so too. I actually know the least about her, but I do know the story of the gambling and the suicide and living with her oldest daughter. The youngest daughter, my great-grandmother always called her father “Lord Kelly.” That is about all I know.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The strength of women always amazes me. Your “genealogy stories” inspire me, Carol. Thank you for sharing them.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh how utterly beautiful and so moving… I read your words over and over again…unlike you I have difficulty connecting to my ancestral line – unless it’s the Indigenous Woman – then I seem to have less trouble… it makes me wonder if growing up in a sea of lies, silence confusion didn’t permanently damage my ability to re-connect with the European side of my bloodline.

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    • Wow, I hear the pain in your reflections, friend. <3 <3

      Like

    • So sorry to hear your story Sara. Patriarchy has harmed us all in different ways, some more than others. Although my ancestors on my father’s side discussed here had difficult lives I think all of them had good things in their lives too and I don’t think any of them were bitter with the exception of Elizabeth Reilly and there I am guessing. Last night I was thinking that both of my father’s parents lost a parent when they were children, that 3 of his grandparents and 3 of his greats did as well. That is a lot of deaths of parents. But it sounds like whatever happened in your family was much more difficult and caused more serious trauma.

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  6. I love the idea of reciting your ancestors’ names this way… what a moving and powerful practice. These stories are so amazing.

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    • Trelawney, I have been reserching for quite a few years. Luckily my father lived to 98 and was still alive when I began. Without his memories I don’t know how far I would have gotten. He was really pleased when I found where the Christs came from!

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  7. Thanks Carol, in regard to that room in your title, where we support each other, this came to mind…. Here’s a simple Japanese poem written by the 19th century poet and Buddhist nun named Rengetsu. She teaches wonderfully how our break downs or mishaps, cracks in our everyday lives, can open profound visions, and delightfully so, and thus she says —

    From the crack in the wall
    Of my mountain hut
    Katydids announce themselves
    And the moonlight too
    Pours in.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Another wonderful post about your ancestors. I was struck as I read it how important it is to remember these women’s lives. So many women faced so many challenges so bravely and must have thought they would be forgotten, as women were so quickly in their own time. But we, their granddaughters and great-great-great-granddaughters and back generations, we can remember them and honor their lives and make sure they are not erased from our collective memories. Last year I was able to trace my mother line back to about 1500 and I think about those women often. I think about how amazed they would be at my life and the freedom I take for granted. I bless them for persisting in the face of misery so that I can enjoy my life and work to make the world even better for any descendants I may have.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Like you, Carol, I recite my matrilineal line daily. For me it’s the beginning of my meditation. I only know 5 generations, because my grandmother immigrated to the US. It’s a powerful practice. I recently realized that I was the first generation of women to be able to live without survival issues, and therefore, great anxiety. I thanked my matriline for persevering, so that I could exist and live a good life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My motherline traces back to Mecklenburg. The last clear fact is the marriage of my 5x great grandmother Marie Dorotie Josten in 1751 in Zulow. There are 3 Jostens girls born in the right time period with Marie or Dorotie on their birth records so I don’t know which if any is her. It is possible to scroll through the whole church book on Ancestry and I can see at a certain point before 1751 the handwriting of the minister is pretty much illegible, so no wonder it has not been transcribed onto Ancestry.

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  10. What a beautiful post! I love hearing about others ancestry and the stories they hold.

    I too have traced my mother’s line and got all the way back to the 900’s. I hit some royalty along the way and the records were very easy to find after that. All along this journey I was doing what you did in this post, hearing the voices of the women, my ancestors as they told me their stories. It took me many years to do all the research and there was a lot of emotional ups and downs and many surprises. But the one thing I came away with was that if it hadn’t been for their bravery and sacrifices I wouldn’t be who I am today. They are my heroes and I speak to them often and still hear their voices urging me on to my own bravery.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m always amazed—though I shouldn’t be—at how strong our ancestors were. Imagine having birthed and raised so many children only to experience the death of some. Oh, my!

    I’ve done a lot of genealogical research about my inherited family, too. Fortunately, I knew two of my great- grandmothers, and one quite well (though at not well enough.) And, of course, I knew none of my Gr-gr- grandmothers personally.

    I’ve used research, development of character, photos & memory-gifts, even visiting museums and listening old music, etc., to give voice to them. It’s a form of fact-based fiction, but so are historical novels.

    Anyway, with the right amount of respect and work, I think that anyone ca n do it . . . as long as you’re honest about what it is:)

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  12. Wow, so moving and fabulous, Carol! I recently told a funny story about my grandmother at my singing circle’s variety show and I was wondering what I could do next year. I think now it would be good to tell the stories of my female ancestors. I’m lucky because my mom loves to tell family stories and my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother did, too. I don’t know as much about my father’s family. My father’s mother drowned in a flash flood along with her husband and all of her children except for my father. He was 18 and managed to survive the flood. She was a Southern woman, and she must have been a strong woman because she was working on her master’s degree when she met her husband, certainly not typical for women in the South in the 1920s. I know the bare bones, birth, marriage, and death dates for other women on my father’s side, and your stories have inspired me to imagine what their lives were like, especially the one whose husband survived Pickett’s Charge during the Civil War. Thanks again, Carol, for giving voice to your female ancestors.

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  1. The Room Where We Support Each Other, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ — – chusaengsri
  2. The Room Where We Support Each Other, Part 2 by Carol P. Christ – E-Concepts News

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