I am a generation of one, without roots, and currently without even a place to call home, so people’s rootedness often seems strange — and compelling — to me.
Perhaps the most fascinating story of roots was one I heard at a Chinese buffet in DeKalb, Illinois. Not that the buffet had anything to do with this particular history — it’s just where we happened to have our conversation.
I had arranged to meet an author I had collaborated with on a steampunk book called Break Time. This book exemplifies the wonder of the internet — the authors collaborating on the project came from four different countries, and none of us had ever met in real life. So I was thrilled to finally be able to meet one of the authors — Dale Cozort, who writes science fiction and alternative histories.
Dale, his wife Elaine, and I had a pleasant chat over plates of delicacies until I happened to fill a momentary pause with an idle question. “Do you live here in the city?”
Elaine said yes, they lived in town, in one of the first houses built there.
That sure caught my interest! When she told me the house had been built by her great-great-grandfather, I asked how they came to own the place. I expected her to say that they bought it when it happened to come on the market, but what she said made my jaw drop.
Her great-great-grandfather, Eli B. Gilbert, an attorney and Civil War officer, had built the house in 1864, and it had been in her family ever since. She grew up in that house and is the fifth generation of her family to own it.
Wow! Talk about roots!
There are reminders of the past everywhere, including portraits of her progenitors. Apparently there are places in the attic Dale and Elaine are still exploring, and they keep finding fabulous treasures, such as her great-great-grandfather’s will. They have donated many of the documents they have found to the local library, and there are probably more to discover.
Can you imagine being so bound to a place? No wonder Dale writes alternate histories! History colors everything he does, everything he touches. The house even stirred up my muse! What if someone living in the house were to open a door expecting to enter their bedroom, for example, but entered the room as it was 153 years ago, before the Civil War ended? Oh, my.
Elaine and Dale invited me to the house and, stepping inside, I could feel the weight of all that history. Elaine said, almost sadly, there were no ghosts in that house, but in a way, the house itself is a ghost — or at least a testament — of times past.
Such an unexpected and unplanned joy of this trip — meeting Dale and Elaine and being introduced to their history and their house. I just hope that in my amazement and enthrallment, I remembered to thank them.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)