Life hangs on a narrative thread.
This thread is a braid of stories that inform us about
who we are, and where we come from,
and where we might go.
One of the threads of my life came from my Grandma Sophie who lived on a farm in northern Wisconsin. She was the elder in our family tribe and every summer we gathered at her home. She was a down-to-earth, hard-working, always humming, practical idealist. Growing up I loved being there living close to the land and experiencing the abundance of the season – vegetables from the garden, eggs from the hens, fruit from the trees, milk from the cows. But most of all, water from the well. How delicious and precious it was especially at the end of a hot day. We would haul up the bucket and pass the dipper around, each drinking deeply. Then laying back we looked up at the millions of stars. We knew somehow that this earth was home and that we were all connected – stars, water, garden, wind, plants, animals, neighbors and all the love that surrounded us.
This thread of story that home is soil and soul was a beautiful legacy I received from my Grandma Sophie. One of the themes of my life that I carry is the question, with whom do I belong? And, where is home? Realizing that I was yearning for a sense of belonging, led me into experiments in living across borders of geography, culture and faith. These questions have blossomed into themes now rooted in the events of my life, shared with my partner of more than 50 years.
Snap those fingers and tap those toes and sing along with me.
She has straight hair. He has curly hair.
How perfectly remarkably strange, Uh-huh!
DIFFERENT – Mm-mmmm But the SAME, Ah-ha!
Now isn’t it delightful, simply out-of-sightful,
Bein’ with you this way!
-W. Nikola-Lisa children’s book, Bein’ With You This Way
With this theme song plus our years of family camping experience carrying on Grandma Sophie’s cherished legacy, we began Cousins Camp with our seven grandchildren in 2009. Our home is on a river in the mountains of New Hampshire’s north country. Our grandchildren are different but the same, “some with curly hair, some with straight hair; some with short legs, some with long legs; some with dark skin, some with light skin;” some from Boston, some from Charleston … Yes, different but the same! We are Oma and Opa reflecting our family heritage and grateful for the opportunity to nurture a grandparent-grandchild relationship for a week every summer.
During our annual Cousins Camp we strive to live our core values, transmit family heritage, engage cousins’ imaginations, learn from each other, live close to the land and enjoy playing together. There are waterfront activities, sports and games, arts & crafts and Story Time. Responsibilities are shared, privileges enjoyed, conflicts resolved in Camp Council and family love celebrated every day. We begin the week with our Cousins Camp Promises, defining how we belong with one another.
COUSINS CAMP PROMISES
WE ACT WITH:
KIND WORDS OPEN MIND
HELPING HANDS LISTENING EARS
CARING HEART WALKING FEET
Every summer we talk about these six promises and our agreement to practice them every day;
we hold one another accountable. In Camp Council we talk about ways we have lived up to our Promises
and ways we all could do better. Every day we end Camp Council with an affirmation for each cousin.
In unison we say seven times:
Isabella Lukas Wren Jacob Sadie Charlotte William
You are a person, You are special, You are important,
Not because of what you look like, Not because of what you have,
Not because of what you can do,
Just because You are Isabella…
and WE LOVE YOU!
We tell our family heritage stories, from Grandma Sophie and her garden of rhubarb, green tomatoes and braids of four-leaf clover to Opa Heinrich and his workshop of wood, stained glass and bowls of ripe cherries. We share our own stories about how we met in Germany, learned to speak “Germlish” and gave birth to four children, their parents.
We live close to the land, harvesting herbs from the garden, fish from the river and blueberries and blackberries from the hillside. We love this New Hampshire land and celebrate our time climbing trees, swimming and kayaking on the river, and watching the deer and squirrels, the eagles and herons. Whether around our campfire or gazing into the star-filled night, we know we are related to all living beings and belong to this place, our home on Mother Earth.
My legacy story of soil and soul spans five generations and seeds future generations. By connecting past to present to future, we tell the stories of our lives and the essence of who we are, to whom we belong and where home is. This legacy of grand-generational family connections includes harvesting wisdom and blessing future generations. It increases my sense of belonging to the Earth and strengthens my identity with the whole human family.
This mini-story of my grand-generational connections reflects a universal story of grand-relationships where younger and older persons come together across generations and find a sense of kinship and mutuality. When we talk about grand-generational ties, I mean all grandparent types and their grandchildren who are related biologically, culturally or congregationally. Every elder is a grandparent to the grandchildren in his or her life, family and/or community.
The precious nature of grandparent-grandchildren relationships is in the gifts given and received from generation to generation. Grandchildren often have a very different relationship with their biological/cultural/congregational grandparents than with their parents. Grandparents who are freed from a parenting role can offer a different kind of support, empathy and understanding — making them trusted confidants and compassionate companions for their grandchildren. The gift of stories is a key to the grand-buddy experience. Grandparents offer the stories of their lives and connections to the past, sometimes spanning more than seven generations in histories of families, cultures, and congregations. Grandchildren bring stories out of their wondering, questioning and imaginations helping elders find new meanings, more hope and amazing joy.
What do you get when you connect an elder with a youngster? Grand-generational gifts of wonder and creativity, wisdom and spontaneity, insight and stories, stories, stories!
Pat Hoertdoerfer is mother to four adult children, partner to Manfred for 50+ years, Oma to 7 grandchildren, and enjoys retirement living in the lakes region of New Hampshire. Through her many decades she has lived her passions of sharing stories around a campfire, engaging multigenerational spiritual growth and participating in cross-cultural adventures.
Rev. Patricia Hoertdoerfer is a professional educator and a retired Unitarian Universalist minister who practiced her leadership in academic institutions, congregations, community organizations, UU camps and conference centers, and interfaith communities over the past 40 years. As a certified Sage-ing® Leader she is currently sharing her ministry with elders while engaging in service to future generations.