I’m personally at a point in my life where I’m thinking a great deal about what plans I’d had when I entered my 20’s, where I am in my late 30’s, and what shape I want to start carving out for my future given the truths I’ve discovered in this elusive stage called “adulthood.” The changes that we make in a life are amazing. Have you ever thought about your best friend in elementary school who was so painfully shy? How shocked were you to learn that her path took her to become an increasingly famous actress? Or the little boy who didn’t like to get his clothes dirty that is now a wilderness survival guide? How did these changes happen? What key moments influenced those individuals to emerge into the radically different personalities we enjoy today?
As I gather these bits and pieces about my clans and their people, these moments keep striking me. How a person started out seemingly one way, but ended up another. Then I wonder, too, is it really that they changed or is it just that my understanding of them changed?
The one person most on my mind where changes are concerned is Esther Lillian Hookanson. This woman of my Hookanson Clan was also my paternal grandmother. She was a first generation American, her parents having immigrated to Los Angeles from Sweden. Her high school senior portrait is one of the four photos that make up this blog’s banner. Her story is one of the few that I’ve been privileged to know personally, rather than on paper only. Interestingly, I’ve also learned her story backwards- the woman I knew was old and frail and I had definite views about her. Claiming Our Clans and its research has helped me know her better, and perhaps in a better light.
The Esther I knew, as I said, was old already by the time I was born- 73 that year. She was past the point where she was able to take her granddaughter to the zoo, or teach her to bake the family recipes. To talk about the troubles that her granddaughter was having with her father and offer insight about when Esther’s son was a boy. The Esther I knew was someone I was obligated to, my love for her was duty rather than experience. I have lamented this over the years, but I don’t waste much time with the feelings.
Now, having said all this, I have started to wonder at the course of her life that led her to be the quiet and somewhat sorrowful old woman I knew. Her early days certainly didn’t seem lacking in adventure and action!
Esther started out life in a family that was well-off in an era where that wasn’t easy. Her family owned a high-end laundry service in Los Angeles. She was a lovely young woman with a soft smile. She grew into a lady who seemed gregarious, posing in men’s clothing while camping around California, showing off daringly for a camera with her friend in a swimming suit. She didn’t marry until she was 28, in an era when the median age for a woman to marry was 21. She met her husband at a golf club and continued outdoor adventuring into her adulthood. She was active with her grandchildren when they came along, almost always living near to them. When did the change happen? When did the joy of life leave? How could the daring Flapper Gal of the 1920’s evolve into the diminutive woman who would stop the car at an intersection regardless of the color of the light? What events happened that changed her into the woman who’s face was lined with apathy?
I likely will never know what took her from happy-go-lucky and adventurous to fearful and sad; probably I don’t want to know. But I am glad that I’ve seen photos to prove she once smiled and had a full, surprising, life. I am glad that I’ve seen the bits of paper that show her larger story and support that she was actually a dynamic person. I am glad that I have re-learned the lesson to not judge a book by its battered cover. I am glad to be reminded that we’re all on a journey and it’s a blessing to know a person’s story from start to finish, we don’t always get that chance.