ancestral wisdom…

Today, I picked up, “The Literature of South Dakota” by John R. Milton.  This book was a gift to me from my grandfather when I was in college.  It fell open onto a short story, “ARCADIA IN AVERNUS” written by my great, great uncle, Will Otis Lillibridge 1878-1909.  Actually a pretty racy story for the time.  “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” is the subtitle.  Here’s the summary.The literature of South Dakota

Unhappy wife leaves marriage of convenience for another man, the couple running away to the Dakota prairie to set up housekeeping. All seems romantically well… until the ex shows up. Surprisingly modern (if a little theatrical) novella from the early 1900’s. From the posthumous collection of Lillibridge short stories, A Breath of Prairie, 1911. Arcadia In Avernus
There’s a term that’s haunting me.  In the short story a woman has a dream that she’s in a desolate place and she hears out of the darkness the sounds of human suffering.  The voices grow louder and she sees a man and woman walking toward her.  They are bent beneath a tremendous burden and both have wounds where they’ve carried the load.
lillibridge swing and farmhouse wall
In her dream she asks the man, “What rough load is that you carry?” and he wearily answers, The burden of conventionality“.
“We dare not drop it”, says the woman, hopelessly, “lest that light, which is the searchlight of public opinion return, showing us different from the others”.
He answers her gently, “But the burden isn’t useless, the condemnation of society is an hourly reality.”
We all must carry the burden of conventionality sometimes.  However, we also can choose to write novels (or join the circus or whatever) because we just never know how much time we have.
Thank you Uncle Will, you’re unconventionalness is a source of inspiration indeed.

Lillibridge looking back at SD

 

 

Thank you Grandpa Lillibridge for the enormous influence you’ve had on my life.

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Lowell Louis Lillilbridge, Burke High School Graduation photo taken 1927. He was a young man way ahead of his time coming from a small town in South Dakota.  I don’t think this was the graduation photograph that his father and stepmother particularly liked-it was perhaps even a bit scandalous in the day. Lowell (known as Louis) was graduating a year early and heading off to The University of Chicago to begin his studies. He had a remarkably keen intellect and was the most generous man I’ve ever known, both with his resources and spirit.

Lately, Grandpa has been visiting me in both my dreams and my waking life.  I often ask him what to do when I have challenges in my life.  I promise I am not going to get too (new age-y) here, I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about how much our ancestral knowledge plays a huge role in who we are and how we navigate the world.  Grandpa died July 24th, 1986. I was 19 years old then and my sorrow when he died was felt into my bone marrow.  Now as a 48 year old woman my access to him is much better understood.  He’s a part of me physically (deep set Lillibridge eyes and a decent inseam) and in my spirit.  In my dream last night he told me to “keep going and push harder”.  I can interpret this a lot of ways right now in my life and I am going to pay attention.  Thank you Grandpa for all that you’ve instilled in me.  I am eternally grateful and I am listening.

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A portrait of my Grandfather done by Linda Frasch in the late 1970s I would guess. My Mom just sent me this painting for my birthday.  I have always loved it because of the style.  It very much reminds me of the New Yorker artist Maira Kalman whom I adore.MK_Chapter2-4._V196582876_

Maira Kalman illustration from her 2012 book:  And the Pursuit of Happiness