Caption: My grandmother, Ida Stone, on a family vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC; at my wedding in 1988; on another family vacation with her husband and children; on her high school graduation day; with my son; and the log house she was born in on June 8, 1918.
An Early Imprint Becomes A Mother (of a) Quest
Today is my paternal grandmother’s 99th birthday. On June 8, 1918, Ida Dorothy Hodges was born in a log house (not cabin, or she will correct you) in a hollow at the bottom of a small mountain in Surry County, North Carolina. Except for a few summers, she lived in this well-loved family home until she married my grandfather, Walter Cecil Stone, at twenty. I’ve heard whispered accounts at family gatherings of how she inserted the number 21 into her shoe so as not to be telling a lie when asked if she was “over 21” at the across-the-state-line wedding ceremony in Virginia… but we’re not supposed to know this story, so just forget I mentioned it.
In the conscious parenting world, and now prenatal neuroscience, we talk of early imprints, often meaning Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) that leave negative and draining neurological damage, making us vulnerable to modern stresses, resulting in mental and chronic illnesses. But there are other imprints, positive and nourishing imprints we receive as well from those who impact our young lives, from our direct biological parents, caregivers, relatives and even our ancestors (see Mark Wolynn’s book, It Didn’t Start With You).
I credit my nearly 20-year Mother (of a) Quest for all things holistic and sustainable to the early imprint of pilgrimages to my grandmother’s home. During high holy days, like Christmas and Easter, my father would scoop my brother and I out of our beds at four a.m. and tuck us into the roomy back seat of our Ford Fairlane with pillows and blankets, sometimes never waking us up before setting out on the seven or eight-hour journey from the coast of Virginia to the foothills of North Carolina.
When my brother and I arrived, we were surrounded by rolling farm land and an extended family who ate together, sang together, and shared our stories together, especially those about our pioneering ancestors listed in reverently held books like The Stones of Surry, or teasing tales like when my father’s childhood mule, Brownie, would run away from him, tour the hillside, and come back after chores but in time for dinner.
Over time, this childhood imprint transformed into an amalgam, a composite memory of the meaning of “family” – sacred, holy, connected, joyful – and left an expectation in my cells that blossomed when I gave birth to my own child, back in Virginia, many years and miles away. My experience of grief, shock and isolation as a new mother was not unique. And it wasn’t just my family, but seemingly everyone’s family, that disintegrated over the past fifty years in America. The anguish of this early imprint sparked a thousand questions when I failed to find or create my own extended family after my son’s birth. (Read Lisa’s stories about her quest here.)
Over the years when I would return to my grandmother’s home, I would look around through the eyes of an adult, trying to understand what happened. My grandmother served as a constant, an unchanging and clear model for something that I often believed I must have imagined. Sometimes I felt like a time traveler returning to Brigadoon, hoping to glimpse once again insight into an age, or time, that most people believed impossible, sentimental or unworthy of our efforts anymore.
Sometimes I wondered if my grandmother descended from a different species of humans. Her insight was uncanny and her willingness to share it in her quiet voice, unnerving. When I handed her the newspaper clipping of my fiancé proposing to me she said, “Huh, he’s in armor… and your shoe is coming off like you’re going to run away.” Yes, that’s right, he’s an emotional fortress and I’m an escape artist and this will be the dynamic of our relationship for the next three decades. As a Missionary Baptist, my grandmother would disapprove of the idea of divination, but at a glance, she saw through two kids on a bridge romanticizing the mine fields that lay before them. (See the photo of Lisa’s engagement to Keith to the right and read her story here.)
As a part of my quest to learn to farm sustainably, in 2007 I visited her after spending a few days learning about biodynamics at an institute near her home. I sat at the dining room table with her, the one with the giant lion paw pedestal that frightened me so badly as a child I knelt in my chair, unwilling to risk dangling my toes near the massive claws. She asked me what I had learned about farming at the institute and, trying to respect what I thought may be her beliefs around fairies, moon phases and stars, I lightly skimmed the surface in my explanations. But when I looked up, her eyes were sparkling.
“My daddy planted by the stars,” she said, seeming to also hold back the whole truth of this ancient farming knowledge for fear of offending some modern taboo or invisible room monitor. “And the brownies.”
Now wait, I thought. Brownies? Fairies? She stood up and, with her hallmark intentional and measured pace, walked toward the wall near the refrigerator and pulled down the calendar and handed it to me. At first I stared at the red ink calendar unremarkably. It was the same brand that always hung in her kitchen, so unchanged year to year you’d have to look close to make sure it was a new year: Ramon’s Brownie Calendar. But then I saw them: brownies and moon phases and planetary symbols sprinkled through daily date boxes. Perhaps this was as far as modern sensibilities or churches would allow some to go, but clearly those who knew the meaning and connection of these symbols KNEW… there was a greater intelligence to work with above and below the soil and most of our ancestors would have perished without this knowledge and wisdom.
There were other times I visited my grandmother and would not dare share my latest mindful meditation retreat, but watched her with wonder as she clearly already practiced, I don’t know, prayer? Something, something that allowed her to possess and know her own mind. Never hurried, she stunned me with her casual ability to say, “Well, I got to studying on this and…” To me, she appeared to know when she was shifting into a thinking brain and then back to the present moment, and without spending all of that money on books, tapes and retreats!
The Imprint’s Impulse
On my last visit to her home last year, she leaned forward and asked pointedly, “Do you let your doctor give you a flu shot?”
“No,” I said. “They have too many adjuvants in them.”
“Well, that doctor keeps trying to give me one and I told him I haven’t had the flu since the Spanish Flu in 1920.” I tried to imagine a shot-pushing medical doctor taking on my 85-pound grandmother and immediately felt sorry for him.
Still smiling from her tale of surviving the Spanish Flu, my grandmother leaned forward, crooked her finger at me and pointed my twin aunts toward the back of the house. Once in her bedroom, we gathered around the high post bed she worked to buy for herself before marrying my grandfather in 1939. Three years later, she gave birth to my father in this bed. This is how everything is in my grandmother’s house: everything is a story, brimming with meaning and purpose. When a coffee cup’s handle broke off decades ago, it became the egg cup and is still in its rightful place in the cupboard.
Because nothing is ever fussed over, or ceremonial, sometimes I find it hard to determine how to respond to my grandmother. So when she pulled out a bag of quilted squares and told me it was the last quilt she began before my grandfather passed suddenly from a heart attack in 1985, I just nodded my head and said thank you. One of my aunts pointed out the colorful Ohio stars were lovingly hand-stitched from my grandfather’s shirts. I thanked her again and carefully carried the bag home, wondering what I should do with them as I hadn’t sewn since I was a child, and then just quilts and clothes for my doll.
Then I remember the pile of little boy shirts at the back of my son’s closet. Oh gosh, I forgot. All through my son’s boyhood I collected and saved his plaid shirts with the hope of creating a quilt for him and his children. It was almost an unconscious act. An impulse from a deep well of women harkening back, how many generations? An impulse straight out of that early imprint: Well, of course this is what you do. You save good shirts and make something else from them… something that echoes through time and generations the connection and love you shared together and now pass on to them.
I have tried to calculate the ways my grandmother’s quiet, meaningful life impacted my own, but there is so much woven into the fabric of my own being, I doubt I will ever know.
When I returned home, I found a local quilting guild who happily blew up my phone with emails, texts and calls when I asked for help. The quilter who showed up patted me on the back when I cried, blubbering that these quilt squares were my grandfather’s shirts and hand-sewn by my grandmother, so did she want to make the quilt on the living room floor where I could watch? Kindly, she explained the modern process of pulling the quilt through a large machine in her “studio” as she was a real artist. And she was. You can see the quilt in the photos above, and the lovely caption tag sewn on the edge to tell everyone, “Pieced by Ida from Walter’s shirts.” (Thank you Ann Philbeck for creating this quilt for my family to cherish!)
My Grandma Is Not A Hippie
My grandmother lived in a log house, survived the Spanish Flu, grew, harvested and canned her own food, made her family’s clothes and quilts, birthed at home, is mindful of her thoughts, and yet, my grandma is not a hippie. But I, as her granddaughter trying to understand and emulate her life, have been called a hippie and worse for two decades. I don’t feel like a radical doing this work. I’ve always felt like I just wanted to go home, and to take everyone with me.
How odd. We’ve come so far, for better or worse, as a culture in a century, but my grandmother is still the same. She is herself.
My grandmother, Ida Dorothy Hodges Stone, may be the most sane, whole, human and evolved person I know – even though she may frown on the evolved idea. It seems like I have spent my entire life, and certainly my life as a mother, trying to have my grandmother’s life, trying to become this whole person I see as possible when I am with her.
My son left for college this past year. His boyhood shirts are still waiting for me to create a memory quilt, and I will someday, but for now, my Mother (of a) Quest is over. Now I have a new quest, also inspired by my grandmother: How to be, to possess myself, while the world changes continuously all around me?
Surry County, North Caroline, my grandmother’s home and home to the fictional town of Mayberry in the iconic Andy Griffith Show, was not spared from global markets, the decline of family farms and the disintegration of family and community life. Documentary filmmaker, Bill Hayes, captures the small town’s decline and rebirth in his film, The Real Mayberry: Stories from Small Town America (see the trailer below). I spoke with him last year about his project and its mission to explore “how small town America can survive and keep its heart and soul.”
Knowing if you’re from the same neck of the woods, you’re most likely connected somehow, I asked my grandmother about Bill and his family. In an email exchange, I shared the predictable story of our connection with him: my uncle played piano at his wedding and my grandmother and her sister used to visit his mother in his father’s hardware store. His mother “worked on people’s feet,” as a healer of sorts.
Hayes’ film captures the devastation of the small town’s economy, as clothing mills moved out of the country for cheaper labor. The film flashes to scenes from the Andy Griffith Show (Mayberry is named after Mount Airy and is the real home of actor Andy Griffith) and shows how Mount Airy is experiencing a rebirth. Or trying.
Is Conscious Parenting Elitist? In America, Yes.
It is this piece of the quest for holistic, sustainable, peaceful living that escapes some of us – the reality of the context of our lives and how it is determined by forces often beyond our control, and some beneath or above our culturally conditioned consciousness. In the early days of mother activism, I often heard people criticized Families for Conscious Living (the parent nonprofit group of Kindred) for “being too political.” Now, it is becoming culturally imperative and encouraged to examine and own one’s “privilege,” or how the deck was stacked for or against you from the beginning of your life.
Conscious Parenting, meeting the biological needs of infants and children for optimum development into whole adults, has also been criticized as elitist from the start. And in America – the only developed country without paid family leave, sporting the highest maternal morbidity rate – it is. The cost of bringing children into America today also includes the cost of a parent’s mental health, as new parents are so isolated and lacking social support, “three to six months postpartum — 42 percent of mothers and 26 percent of fathers exhibit signs of clinical depression,” according to a 2010 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Reading last month’s wildly popular ProPublica piece on why the US is the official “worst place in the world to give birth” I felt disoriented, as if reality continually collides with a cartoon world. The study’s revelation that doctors are fascinated with technology and ignoring mothers is a surreal echo from Monty Python’s movie The Meaning of Life, where, in one scene, a mother in labor is ignored while a group of male doctors and a hospital administrator speak reverently about the new “machine that goes bing!”
The NPR/ProPublic story quotes CDC public policy physician:
“People became really enchanted with the ability to do ultrasound, and then high-resolution ultrasound, to do invasive procedures, to stick needles in the amniotic cavity,” said William Callaghan chief of the CDC’s Maternal and Infant Health Branch.
Over the years, my return visits to my grandmother’s home became a benchmark for my own spiraling feeling of mangled despair and failure at recreating the experience of my childhood. I feel this failure is profound and debilitating for many of us, even those who did not have a grandmother’s role model life – or the life of someone who is connected to their own minds, souls, then family and earth. Maybe connection was easier a century ago. Maybe the imprints of our ancestors on our psyches still guide us toward a better world.
If you listen to Ray Castellino in Kindred’s video interview, you’ll hear the sound of something beneath and surrounding our imprints, something he calls our Blueprint: the unifying field we all carry with us as a “reference point” for returning home to ourselves, especially after trauma, or just the daily experience of living in a disconnected, industrial culture.
I believe we are nurtured, supported and loved in the cells and souls of our being more than we know, or can imagine. As the grandfather of the conscious parenting movement, Joseph Chilton Pearce, shared in his lifetime of work, it just takes that one attuned adult in our lives to help us realize our own capacity for wholeness and wellness.
Gratefully, my imprint-driven twenty year Mother (of a) Quest did yield evidence of a growing conscious living/parenting movement, and a dynamic network of individuals and organizations in this consciousness-raising movement, whose scope is beyond returning to a way of life made culturally impossible today, and toward a future where we can, through many layers of connection, create sustainable humans, preconception and onward, as a path to a peaceful, sustainable world.
Originally and continually inspired by my grandmother, I have worked with professionals, parents and activists to collect and present these resources and hundreds of writers exploring the frontier of whole human consciousness as a path to peaceful and sustainable living. It has been an epic and ongoing adventure. (Listen to Lisa’s presentation on the New Story of Childhood, Parenthood and the Human Family that shares some of her discoveries here.)
Happy 99th Birthday, Grandma. Thank you for the role model of your life, your love and your being that you shared so generously with me and our family for nearly a century. We love you.
Watch The Real Mayberry below: