If there is one hobby that rivals my love for art and writing, it’s genealogy. I have spent years working on my family tree, tracking old family legends and searching through documents, following my ancestors through wars, immigration, scandals, and everything in between. I once had a fellow genealogist tell me that the only reason he did genealogy was so that he could find living relatives. After all, dead people are just dead people.

Tracking down estranged and distant family members is great, but I have found that researching my ancestors is just as rewarding and interesting. And, even though they are dead now, those people who passed on their looks, illnesses, and tendencies were all real, living, breathing people at one time. They had feelings; they had stories to tell. As a writer, I find that those stories are important to me. It was these people and the lives they led that played a part in making me who I am today.

It is a well-known fact that genetics plays a large role in a person’s life. You may have great-grandpa Peterson’s nose or your great-great-great-grandmother Taylor’s allergy to citrus fruit. But fewer people stop to think about how their talents can also be passed down through the generations.

It was this thought that struck home yesterday when I was going through a folder of my great-grandmother’s writings. I had heard, at one point or another, that she had written down a few family stories. What I didn’t know, however, was that she had a serious talent for poetry as well.

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Born into a farming family in 1912 and being the third oldest of ten children, my great-grandmother had plenty to talk about. Her stories range from one about a mountain lion invading a relative’s house to the more modern stories of how my grandma, her youngest child, liked to find pet kittens from amongst the feral feline population that lived on the brickyard where my great-grandfather worked.

My great-grandmother was devoutly religious and very hopeful. I often find that my own writing has a tendency to reflect her style, if not topic, on a regular basis. My memories of her are few and far between. I was still a very little girl when she died. But even then, in the memories I do have of her, she is always smiling.

Most of her writing has been lost to us. Between the dementia she had in the last years of her life, (she threw away a lot of stuff during that time), and the numerous robberies that took place once the old house was vacated, not much of her writing has been left behind. Of what is left, however, I now see a clearer picture of who my great-grandmother was as a person, and I understand more fully where I come from. My research has brought me closer to many family members, people I never got to meet, but one theme in almost all of my great-grandmother’s poetry, a hope that I dearly hold onto, is that some day, I will be able to meet them. Right now, however, I must be content to read and imagine what it would be like to see each one, loving who I am. Because, in the end, who I am is, for the most part, a piece of who they were, too.


A poem by my great-grandmother, Edna Rabun. She dedicated it to her father.

Whip-poor-will’s Song

I sit here alone in the twilight,
While the world is hushed and still,
And I hear in the deepening shadows
The song of the Whip-poor-will.
Then in memory I’m carried backward
To a humble, sweet little home
Nestled close to the sheltering forest
‘Neath the lovely, star-sprinkled dome.

I think of those sweet days of childhood,
And the loved ones now far away.
How we’d sit on the doorstep together
And sing at the close of the day.
We’d search for the first star’s appearing,
A silvery dot in the blue;
Then count, as the darkening colors
Brought numberless glories to view.

Each night as we sat there together,
When the work of the day was o’er,
We heard nature’s evening chorus
Perform there before our door.
The old bullfrog by the brooklet
Sang the bass notes rich and deep,
And the katydid in the elm tree
Seemed singing her babies to sleep.

But the sound on those summer evenings
That I loved more than all the rest,
The sound that still brings back sweet memories
Of all that is dearest and best:
When I hear it, I feel a strange longing
Just to be a child there still,
And to hear from that same old doorstep
The song of the Whip-poor-will.

Oh! Many miles now separate us;
Oft we’re tired and careworn.
And a precious one is now sleeping,
To wake when Dear Jesus shall come.
All those children so happy and carefree
Are grown men and women now;
There are silver threads mid the blond and brown,
And furrows are masking each brow.

Tho the family circle is broken,
Oh may it be whole once more!
May we meet in the world recreated
On that sinless, glorious shore.
As we roam in the beauties of nature,
And hear birds carol praises still,
May we hear in that Beautiful Homeland
The song of the Whip-poor-will.


For those who are interested, this is what a Whippoorwill sounds like.


2 thoughts on “Genetics

  1. Thank you, My Precious Daughter, for sharing this. I was brought to tears as I read your words and remembered that dear lady. Reading her poem took me back to a much simpler and sweeter time. I could picture the doorstep and hear the whippoorwill. Thank you for treasuring your ancestors and working to preserve their memories.

  2. Oh Lyn what a wonderful tribute to your great-grandmother! She sounds like she was an amazing woman and her poetry is very good and very much like yours. What a blessing learning about ones family can be!!

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