There’s an old expression in our family – you didn’t learn that from strangers – that I’ve heard said many times over the course of my life. Some people say, well, that nut didn’t fall far from the tree. Same idea. When I was 9 or 10, I thought I was so different from the rest of my family that I must surely be adopted. Now that I’m a bit older, I can see how closely certain personality traits passed down through generations of Hansens, Lightlys, Paulsons, and Millers are intertwined, and how much they’ve affected who I am and how I live my life.
My family history and the tales of my growing up years may not be as story-worthy as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, but our Little House on the Big Farm was bursting with colorful characters that have and continue to impact my life in ways I’m both oblivious to and very aware – the perfect storm of nature and nurture. I feel a great sense of connectedness to prior generations of my family, especially since moving back from Colorado Springs to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota where I grew up. Here are 10 things I didn’t learn from strangers.
1. Cooking Up a Storm: I started out the week making a big batch of Grandma Hansen’s Chicken Pie with Grandma Victoria’s Baking Powder Biscuits dropped on top for a church gathering at the Blue Belle Inn. Later in the week, I found a family recipe for Scottish Ginger Snaps in a cookbook and made them at a cooking seminar. Grandma had labeled them “Grandma’s Ginger Snaps” which means it was my great-great grandma’s recipe. Whether it was Grandma Vic’s famous Sunday roast beef dinners and homemade apple pie, or whatever goodies Grandma Hansen happened to be cooking up for her family, neighbors, or the occasional thrashing crew, I was taught how to cook it up right. And make lots of it. Besides, it was either stay inside and cook, or go out and drive tractor, which I did not like to do.
2. No Matter How Tired You Are, There’s Always Time for a Bedtime Story – or Two, or Three: Sitting around during the day, reading, when you should be working, is frowned upon in our family ;-), but at bedtime, that all changes. My Grandma Hansen was one of the best storytellers I know, and her funny voices for the Little Red Hen, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs still play themselves over and over in my mind. I follow the lessons learned even today, working hard at my bed and breakfast all summer and fall, making hay while the sun shines, and telling stories – writing novels – in the winter when things are slow.
3. Being Stubborn Has Its Perks: Danes (I’m half Danish) are a stubborn lot. But along with sheer willfulness, which can be a bad thing, comes tenacity and dodged persistence and stick-to-itiveness and the very building blocks that have helped me achieve my goals, get published, run a successful business and more. Don’t be a quitter. Never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Remember the Little Engine That Could saying I think I can, I think I can, over and over again until he could and did?
4. Keep Looking Up: My Great-Grandma Paulson wrote these profound words in my autograph book when I was ten or eleven. I knew what she meant – keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s the first rule, and the thing that makes everything else come together.
5. Mopars Rule: Okay, so I strayed from the fold when I was young and foolish. We try to forget those years… the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 323. Today, I’m back where I belong. I drive a PT Cruiser. My brother drives a Dodge Ram. My parents are on their third or fourth Chrysler mini-van. What can I say? We all tend to vote the same way on election day, too.
6. Getting Something for Nothing is One of the Greatest Joys on Earth: Found treasures, whether they be bargains or cast-offs nobody wanted bought for a little bit of nothing at a Crazy Day sale, or simple gifts from the earth like agates or fossils or a pretty red maple leaf pressed flat in a book or a little cluster of acorns, are some of the best things in life. If you haven’t tried it, you should – still. The Hansen way to thrill-seek.
7. One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure: I can’t walk like an Egyptian (good dancing genes do not run in our family), but I can talk like an auctioneer, or at least I could when I was little. My Grandpa Hansen took me to so many auctions that I picked up the lingo. More importantly, I learned about repurposing and adaptive reuse, and refinishing, and respect for the past – all things that hold me in good stead even today. I grew up snuggling under quilts made from worn out wool suits, watching Grandma working in aprons and wearing dresses made from flour and feed sacks. Water was used at least five times before it was thrown out on the garden to make the strawberry patch grow. And yes, I firmly believe that tin foil has three or four lives. And you should ask me some day about the things my Dad makes with discarded doors. Waste not, want not.
8. Worrying Doesn’t Help, But We Do It Anyway: There are several genes that I wish I had gotten from my family, but didn’t – the Fix-It Gene, and the Green Thumb Gene, for example. I did, however, get the Worry Wart Gene. I try not to succumb, but if you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
9. The Compulsion To Have 10 of Something When You Really Only Have 9: This one was my husband’s idea. I think the word he’s looking for is perfectionism. He’s right. In my world, everything needs to be just so. Neat. Tidy. Even Numbers. It’s a disease. But seriously, if you’re going to do something, why not do it right?
10. The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together: It was very important to my Grandma Hansen that we cousins got to play together. She facilitated countless family get-togethers and events where we were all together. Our family isn’t perfect – we have our share of black sheep, and family members who go their own way. But when we go to Mom and Dad’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s a joyous occasion, sharing not only food, but memories, and laughing about things we did when we were kids. The more nieces and nephews who show up, the better. I’m thankful that the glue that holds our family together is good and sticky. I think it’s called love, and I come by it naturally.