My mom is a Chism. I am surrounded by Chism…or descendants of Chism. Being related to the whole county made dating difficult as a teen.
But dad came from another state.
In some ways I identify more with my grandpa Chism than with my grandpa Jordan. Maybe because of proximity. I spent a lot of time on this farm as a small child, not so much in Indianapolis. Maybe because my grandpa Chism had tractors. I don’t know. I am not writing a comparison, I am hurting a little and thinking of both.
I am who I am, in part, because they were who they were.
The “me” inside of “me” has a lot to do with who I thought they were. And who I thought they were is surprisingly different than who my sister thought they were. And that is different than who my dad thought they were.
So who am I? And who do my children think I am?
My grandpa Jordan passed away last week at the age of 89. I have spent a lot of time in thought about the man and my relationship with him. And in my own head I seem to be mourning both of my grandfathers which is odd because grandpa Chism died nearly 20 years ago.
I really didn’t know my grandpa Chism when I was an adult. I saw him through the idealistic eyes of a child. He was big and strong and did the things big, strong farmer guys did. He was also quietly tolerant of me.
But I had time to really get to know my grandpa Jordan. He was not quietly tolerant of me. He was strong but not big. He did things retired city people did…like scratch lottery tickets. But he was also a carpenter and I have a number of skills I learned either directly from grandpa or from my father who learned from grandpa.
So who am I?
Carpentry and farming go well together but am I quietly tolerant or not?
I have wrestled with this kind of thinking all week. I am not Tom Chism. I am not Sherman Jordan. But they are certainly both a strong dose of what I hold up as the ideal of man.
I am acutely aware of both of my grandfathers’ many flaws. They were not perfect men. As an adult I avoided certain conversations with grandpa Jordan and to this day thank God he gave me a polite nickname (Old-timer). So why did he have rude nicknames for everybody else? That’s not part of my picture of ideal manhood. But it is not fair to say that my grandfather was a jerk. He could be at times but so can I.
There were conversations I just could not have with my grandpa. We could not talk about politics or religion…but that’s common in any relationship. But we could talk about stocks and coin collecting and commodity futures. These were safe topics, especially if you just open the throttle and let him run. But never get him started on “rich people” or labor or any of his ongoing list of conspiracies…
I learned to handle my grandpa safely. Great. What does that have to do with me? And what ON EARTH does that have to do with the farm?
There was no Jordan farm until dad bought land in the ’80’s. I think that is an important detail in this reflection. There was no land. No tie. No roots. There is a Jordan cemetery somewhere in Tennessee but I don’t know anybody in there. I know an awful lot about the Chism people buried on the next hill over from my house. I live in a house my grandparents lived in…a house my grandpa’s uncle built. On land we have owned for nearly 200 years. Why didn’t the Jordan family settle? Why didn’t they build permanence?
I don’t know much of anything about Sherman’s father, Arthur. I remember vague stories of extreme poverty and abuse. From what I have put together, grandpa Jordan had a very difficult childhood right up until he lied about his age to join the Navy. Then he met up with his siblings again, opened a carpentry business with his brother and played euchre. I have memories of my aunts and uncles playing cards at the dining room table together. Even if he made insulting comments, I think we can safely say that grandpa was different than his father. Better. Even if still rough.
And my father is better still.
I am who I am because he was who he was. I am who I am because he pushed me to become more than he was…even if just to prove him wrong about me. And my kids, through positive reinforcement, will continue that refining what it means to be a Jordan.
There is a lot to explore within our family legacy and culture. Who am I? Who are we? What do we believe? How do we treat each other? What do we offer our future generations?
I haven’t answered any questions here. These are ideas I am struggling to understand and I hope you are too.
Julie and I are exploring, establishing and refining our family culture together with our parents and our children. We are purposeful about giving everyone a sense of belonging, love, place and purpose. This is our way of cleaning the world by cleaning our front step. How are you changing the world?