Recently, my Uncle Gary (my dad’s baby brother) really threw himself into our family’s genealogy and we’ve all enjoyed geeking out over surprising connections and faded photos and gravestone rubbings. My grandparents learned things and all the cousins learned things and our children learned things. It’s been a blessing in every way.
In the last year, we Farrars have endured great loss and also more of those surprising connections. Our family farm is no longer ours. Nannie and Papa are with Jesus. Uncle Gary discovered we are descended from a Mayflower passenger and today…is a decade since they put Reagan in my arms for the first time.
All this family stuff—what to do with it?
On July 9, 2007, we met her in real life though we’d been staring at her picture for months by that time. She was so tiny—only 15 pounds at 10 months old. She had perfect, dark hair and phenomenal, take-your-breath-away lips and eyes. Her name was Chen RuXian but the children’s home nannies called her Xian Xian. She was their favorite and then she was our daughter, Reagan RuXian.
So we went to Plymouth, Mass., and I took my uncle’s findings about our heritage along. We looked up Francis Cooke, the Farrar ancestor who courageously crossed an ocean, facing the unknown for the what might be. Over half the colony died in that first winter and I can connect myself back to one of the few survivors. It’s so special. I definitely need a t-shirt and maybe a really big buckle.
I posed beside a little house that represents the one the Cooke family had. Francis and his eldest son, John, came on the Mayflower but sent for Hester and the rest of their children later after life was safer in America. I visited with actors who could tell me his story (the plantation does not currently have a Francis Cooke but hope to add his storyline back into the retelling of the Pilgrims some day). And our sweet girl says to me, “Mommy! We are related to a Mayflower person?” She’s thrilled at this, her eyes dancing, her intense ownership of the connection so obvious.
Now, if you know our fearless foursome at all, you know that we value love over blood. However, ancestry is different, right? Reagan does not have Cooke blood flowing through her veins. Her ancestry lies on another continent. We’ve always celebrated China and her start there. And yet…
I’ve seen her run through a green wheat field and pull up a chair at my Nannie’s kitchen table.
She’s recklessly jumped off our diving board into the same pool Jody and I grew up swimming in every, single day.
She makes her sevens like I do, with the little line across the middle. Not because I taught her to but because she just does.
Reagan is a serious reader. She and I discuss books constantly, recommending good ones and reading aloud to each other. My daddy, to this day, reads aloud to us when he wants to share some passage that has delighted or even angered him.
She knows the names of my childhood pets and asks to hear stories of them over and over again. She gently corrects me when I leave out details I’ve mentioned in the past.
We named her after my grandfather’s favorite president.
She longs to sleep in a Camp Christy cabin and attend Ottawa University.
She knows how to make Watergate and seven-layer salad. The secret ingredient to my mother’s famous sugar cookies is safely nestled inside her.
It goes without saying who her favorite princess is and the other night, she knew Biggs died in the first Death Star battle when we played Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. I kissed her.
So what did I tell her when she asked about Francis Cooke? Is she related to someone who bravely immigrated to this new land? Would she have anything in common with him? Are they connected? I said, “Yes, baby girl! We are descended from a Mayflower passenger! Isn’t that incredible?”
The details can come later. Today, ten years after she joined our family, the big picture is all I see, is all that matters. Surprising connections indeed.