This house is and is not mine. I don’t own it or the land it’s on, nor any longer does anyone in my family, but in a way, it’s still mine. It’s where my paternal great-grandparents once had a farm and where my grandfather was born. It’s only a few hours’ drive from where I live now.
When Ruby was eight, I took her to see that farmhouse, and we found ourselves standing in front of a dark green, padlocked ranch gate festooned with No Trespassing signs.
“We’ll have to climb the gate,” I said. I put one hand on the gate’s upper rail and one foot on the middle rail and hoisted myself over. My daughter followed.
Holding hands, we walked up the dirt drive and stared at the low-slung house. A gate had fallen off its hinges and weeds grew through it. The paint was peeling, and some of the wood siding was cracked. Unraked autumn leaves blew around the yard. No one had lived in the house for the past several years, not since my grandfather’s last surviving sibling had died. But, I see more than that when I look at the house.
In the 1870s, my paternal great-great-grandmother, her husband, their three children, and members of their extended family left the Midwest for Oregon. When she left for Oregon, my great-great grandmother was 24 years old and pregnant with her fourth child. Twelve days after giving birth to a daughter, she died in the desert near Winnemucca, Nev.
The rest of her family, including the infant, made it to Oregon. My great-grandmother was her oldest daughter, and she fell in love with an Irishman. Family legend has it that one day he took her out riding horses and asked if she’d like to keep riding with him forever.
They married, bought this farm, and had seven children, one of whom was my grandfather. After my grandfather married my grandmother, they lived on a farm nearby. In fact, their farm was so close that when my family visited my grandparents when I was a child, my sisters and I would walk a short path across a field and through some trees to visit my grandfather’s brother and sister, who still lived in the house where they were born.
As an autumn rain began to fall, my daughter tugged at me to leave. We prepared to climb over the green gate once again, and I thought about all those people with the word “great” in front of their names that she doesn’t know much about. My daughter has the same name as my great-great grandmother who died in the desert, and I’ve always been glad that my daughter and her name are connected to that story. That house and its history is “mine,” but it’s also “hers.”
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