Following the four winds, we came from near and far to a place on a lake shore not far from where we were born. We eight siblings, some of our children, their children’s children, and their children’s, children’s, children, four generations, assembled to renew bonds with hugs and kisses and to catch up on each other’s lives. Given we eight sibs range in age from early 60s to late 70s, some of the chatter among us dealt with our aches and pains, but much dealt with how blessed we were that we were all there, on our feet and with our wits about us (mostly). Given what we’ve gone through the last 50 years, the time difference between the two photos below, our gathering in one place was quite remarkable.
We are the children of Emil and Lucille (Wehr) Burger. Except for the youngest, we were all born in an old farmhouse with no plumbing. We grew up sharing chores, sharing clothes, sharing meals, and sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings. We slept, ate, prayed, did homework, and partied together.
Perhaps it was the isolation of our rural environment, but we became our sisters’ and brothers’ best friends who could always be trusted and called upon. In the early days the older of us cared for the younger, and now the younger of us care for the older. We all found our separate ways in life with our own spouses, different professions, and separate physical locations, but something that never changed was our love for one another and our desire to stay connected.
Our strong family connections didn’t happen by accident. Close family ties are traditional and prevalent within German immigrant communities. We were taught by the example of our older relatives how to treat each other both within and across generations so that our interactions of kindness, compassion, and empathy are second nature requiring no conscious thought or decision. Even in the faces of the previous generations captured in black and white family photos, you see love, acceptance, and joy; they liked each other; they enjoyed being together.
We can trace both paternal and maternal lineage on both sides of the family to southern Germany. From the Burger family quadrant, G-G-Grandfather Jacob landed in Dubois County, IN, bought a farm and built a house in which most of the following four generations were born, including us. The farm was finally sacrificed to progress as the adjacent town enveloped it, but not before our children and some grandchildren, now the 7th generation, came to know it.
I believe the combination of heritage, longevity of place, inter-generational association, and family tradition defines us as a Legacy Family. According to Freeman and Hausner (2009) authors of a book by the same name, a legacy family is:
” — one whose members are successful, healthy, and content across generations. Extended families enjoy each other, and each new generation seems to build on the shoulders of those who preceded them. They are connected to their heritage, maintain positive family relations, communicate effectively, and promote generational governance structures that assure the success of those to follow.”
The authors make the point that these family qualities do not occur by accident or mandate. They are the consequence of thought and effort by each generation.
Time changes many things; the farm that lasted through 6 or 7 generations is no longer there to provide a common “rooting medium” for family growth much less a place to gather. And now we live apart and there are so many modern distractions. However, the technology that might pull us apart, ease of transportation, communication, and entertainment, is the same technology that can and should keep us connected.
What is needed is an appreciation of the value that extended family brings and the will of the 40 and 50 somethings to maintain the “legacy.” Until age 40 we are caught up with ourselves and “what’s happening now.” After age 40, about the time we concede that bifocals would be useful, we begin to look backwards and forwards from our present lives, with concern for our elders and hope for our children. And we seek guidance for good decisions found in deep family tradition.
As we followed the four winds back to our respective homes, I hoped our spirits were renewed by our reunion, and that we were strengthened in our resolve to maintain our family legacy.
“Like branches on a tree we will grow in different directions, but let our roots remain as one.”