Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Extended Meditation on Fathers and Missing Fathers and The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin / Update with additional relevant photos added / And now an update when a relevant quote appeared

1.  My father during World War II.  There was something about my father that was missing, although he was present.

2.  My father's father in the early 1900s.  First child in the family to be born in the United States, his two older brothers having been born in Norway.  Two of his younger siblings died during a smallpox epidemic when my grandfather was a young boy.  The family had a farm on what had recently been Dakota land in Western Minnesota.

3.   My father's mother's father and grandfather (first on the left in the top row and on the far right).  My great grandfather was born in the United States.  My great great grandfather was born in Norway.  They had a farm on what had recently been Dakota land south and east of Minneapolis. 

My great grandmother is the second person from the right in the top row.  Her mother came with her family from Norway when she was a young woman.  A few years after their arrival in Iowa, she became pregnant while working as a domestic servant for a family in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.  There is a record of the birth and christening of my great grandmother and the name of her father who disappeared from her life.  He was said to be German.  My research shows that his mother was either English, Irish, Welsh or Scottish (I have recently found a distant cousin on who looks very much like me and my first cousins on my father's side).  My great grandmother's mother died when she was 6 years old.  She was raised by her grandparents and then her mother's brother and his wife.  She went to college and became a teacher.  She met my great grandfather at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

4.  My fatherless great grandmother, a few years after her mother died.

5.   I have no photo of the younger sister of the great great grandfather who settled on Dakota land south and east of Minneapolis and have often wondered about her life.  That sister remained in Norway and, at age 30, gave birth to a daughter whom she raised alone, working as a laborer on a farm near where she was born. 


1.  My mother during the years her father was serving as a doctor in the U.S. Army in World War I in France.  She was two years old when he left for war and 3 years old when he returned.

2.   My mother's father as a boy soon after his father disappeared in the 1870s.  He had a younger sibling who died as an infant in a cholera epidemic in Boston some years before my grandfather was born there.  My grandfather's parents were both young people from Germany -- his mother from the Achern in the Black Forest and his father from Stadtlengsfeld.

3.  My mother's father in his Army uniform in 1918.

4.   My mother's father arriving home from war in 1919.   Before returning to the United States, he had spent a short time in England and Ireland. My grandmother brought my uncle and my mother to Boston to meet him.  I just noticed how my mother is holding my grandfather's finger and how lost my uncle looks.  I wonder who took the photo.  Could it be my mother's grandfather, seen in the following photo?

5.   My mother's mother's father who had roots in London in the 1700s, with the family leaving England for Canada and then leaving Canada for Boston.  At one time my great grandfather was the president of the Theosophical Society in Boston.

Boston was built on what had been the land of the Massachusett tribe.


When I visited a friend last week, she had three books that she was giving away.  She said that The Orchardist was the best of the three and so I took it home with me.  Something prompted me to begin reading it immediately.  It wasn't long before I wondered if I should keep reading.  The story was becoming disturbing to me on a deep level, but then I remembered how many times I started reading Beloved before I was able to read beyond about the same place in that book.  I kept reading The Orchardist and, at times, felt that there was much about the story that reminded me of Beloved.  There was also something of the beauty and melancholy of Richard Brautigan's writing and that of his daughter Ianthe, something universal, archetypal, unsettling and yet filled with an odd clarity about missing fathers, shattered families, hard-won healing in later generations, and strong families that can be formed by people unrelated by blood.

It turns out the young woman who wrote The Orchardist was strongly influenced by Beloved.  

One of the main characters in The Orchardist, Clee, is Nez Perce and a childhood and lifelong friend of Talmadge who, along with a woman friend of his, steps forward in the role of parent to two young girls who are alone in the world.  The fruit orchard he tends so lovingly is on Wenatchi land, about 300 miles from where the Nez Perce live today.  The story begins with the death of Talmadge's father.  His mother brings him and his younger sister to live and work in an apple orchard near the Columbia River in Eastern Washington State.

The story takes place in the years that my fatherless great grandmother was growing up on her grandparent's farm in Iowa, where Winnebago, Sauk, Fox, and Oneota people had once lived and brings into focus so many family histories of settlers and indigenous people.  So many missing fathers, along with men who step forward to father the children of other men.  

The Orchard, like Beloved, is a book I will read again.  Not immediately but eventually.  I first read Beloved in the 1980s and then again in this past year.  I don't have time to wait that long to re-read The Orchardist.


Synchronicity?  Just now I was given more to meditate on via Beth at Alive On All Channels:

Sometimes when you are devastated you want not a reprieve but a mirror of your condition or a reminder that you are not alone in it. Other times it is not the propaganda or the political art that helps you face a crisis but whatever gives you respite from it.

Recollections of My Nonexistence :: by Rebecca Solnit

1 comment:

Pixie said...

Every generation seems to have it's own pain and suffering. I don't know if I could read that book but I may look at in the library. I tried to read Beloved and then remembered the story and had to stop. I guess we'll see.