Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How We Change Time


It all began with Stephen King’s 11/22/63.

And a coffee shop.

And that silly question I asked myself (as most imaginative kids do at some point) wondering who’d I’d be—or even if I’d be if my mom or dad hadn’t been born?

Here’s where I bring it all together for you.

Remember my post last Tuesday about how we’re all being prepared for something? No one could argue 

I’m hardwired to work at coffee shops. I’ve worked as a barista in Connecticut, Hilton Head, and in Georgia. I must have a Sumatra blend pumping through my veins.

Only natural I started my job last week assisting the owner at a ______________ . You guessed it, a coffee shop.

There I am weighing and grinding beans, absorbing everything I can about the shop when I catch snippets of conversation the owner is having with a woman at the counter. The customer with long gray hair passes a well-researched handwritten family tree to the owner. I’m intrigued. Invited to join the conversation, I envision this woman, this genealogist, as a character from one of my novels.

She’s immediately likeable. The three of us engage in fascinating chitchat about bloodlines, difficult lineages to trace, and how every family has colorful characters in their tree. I laugh and share how as a kid I had an unusual comeback whenever I got teased “What’s your middle name, Isa?” Get it? Wendy “Isa” Paine. Ba dum dum. My comeback often had something to do with Thomas Paine being my ancestor. Yep, it flew right over their taunting heads. But it felt great to say (even though as a second grader I didn’t fully grasp who TP was or what that meant).

Then the genealogist in the coffee shop makes me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I jot down names.

And within twenty-four hours this woman went to work, digging up treasures from my line.

Are you wondering how I’m going to connect this to Stephen King’s latest, 11/22/63?

I read King’s book recently. 11/22/63 offers a glimpse of how the world changes each time Jake Epping walks down diner steps into a time travel portal and rewrites history.

The book churned up a lot of thoughts about how we’re influenced by the past—how history is secured like bricks beneath us. Without it we lack foundation. We’d crumble.

Before reading King’s book I might not have written down those names for the genealogist. King’s book sparked a curiosity in me that wasn’t there before.

That and the reality that this month marks the third anniversary of my father’s death. 

One of the first pictures the genealogist sent was a black and white photo of my dad as a little boy, all smiley-faced and full of potential. My initial reaction produced a few tears. Then, in his best Mufasa impersonation, it was as though I could hear my dad affirming the past matters.

All of us, every single second we are alive, are doing things to influence the future.

We change time.

Have you ever researched your family tree? Does genealogy intrigue you? As a kid did you ever wonder who you’d be or even if you’d be if your mom and dad had never been born? Finally, do you believe you are changing the world—that you’re changing time?
(Feel free to answer any or all of the above.)

*photos by stock.XCHNG
**Get this! In her devoted search of my lineage this dedicated woman sent me a real mindblower last night…my great grandfather X 9 was named Stephen Paine. Nothing unusual about that. But add to that his occupation as a miller. Well now, things just got interesting. I married a Stephen Miller.

28 comments:

  1. Ooh, sounds like you had some fascinating discoveries through the genealogist who helped you (your Paine connection). I began researching my family tree a couple of years ago, and I love the whole process of it. In fact, it's had such an impact, it led to a story... my current WIP. :)

    Btw, I bought SK's 11/22/63 a while back but haven't read it yet. I've been meaning to get to it, but it's a long one!

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    1. That's really cool your current work is inspired by the work you've done with your tree. I'm with you, it was a long one. But it held me and I can be picky when it comes to looooooooong works.

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  2. My grandparents did extensive research on their family lines, which I find fascinating. I'd love to delve more deeply into the rest of my family history one day. However, my fascination isn't limited to my own ancestors. In writing historical fiction, I've come to view genealogists as a great resource for both character and story ideas (it's fun to pull one aspect from this or that and mash them together) and for general time period information. I've always believed that the past matters because it has shaped who we are, whether we realize that or not. My life will be the past that shapes my children and yes, I hope I'm changing things for them.

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    1. I thought of my historical fiction writing friends. I thought of historians. I've been thinking a lot about history lovers with a whole new appreciation lately. Love how this can happen and I'm in my late twenties. ;-)

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  3. Love this, Wendy!! Especially the last tidbit about Stephen Paine--the miller! I've always had a strong connection to my family tree on my dad's side. That side is into history, and there's actually a book written with all the juicy tidbits of our heritage. I eat that stuff up! Enjoy all the new info you learn!

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    1. Surprising details just kept coming last night. Also found out great grandpa X10 was one of the founding fathers of our state capitol. This has been such a cool out of the blue experience!

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  4. After my Regency short story was accepted, I ran into a cousin of my mother's who had down extensive genealogical research and she told me my mother's paternal ancestors lived in the same area I'd chosen as the setting of my story at the same time the story took place!

    Is that weird or what?

    Of course, I'm sure they were not aristocratic in any way, since they emigrated to America soon after, but still…it boggles the mind. Can't wait to go there and look around for any traces of them.

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    1. Susana, That is so cool!

      I don't find it weird and the more I'm learning about my ancestors the more I'm beginning to wonder if we all don't gravitate toward some element of our past--our roots.

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  5. Fascinating, Wendy! I've never really researched my family line, but I enjoy listening to my grandparents tell me stories about our past relatives.

    And I have to be honest, it's a little intimidating to think that everything I do affects the future. I'm just really glad that I can't mess up God's plans for me. He's got this and He'll finish what He started in me.

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    1. I've always been a sucker for grandparent stories. But I never really thought too much before them & their parents. I wondered, but didn't feel compelled to know much more as I have lately.

      I mess up all the time. I feel freedom in this, in the truth I'm covered in grace and He can even use some of my mess ups. Yup, He's got it.

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  6. I haven't ever tried to trace my line, but one of my critique partners has been working on hers and what she shares with me is fascinating. I have wondered what would have happened if my parents had never found each other. It messes with your mind if you dote on it for long. :)

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    1. I was a deep little kid, I guess. Used to think of stuff like that quite a bit. Explains a lot. ;-) Nothing messes with my mind like trying to sort of math problems with my kids. The older they get the trickier the math--yikes, I'm in for it.

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  7. How cool to learn so much more about your past and family! I've never done much digging, genealogy-wise, but when I studied in London, one of the guys at my internship told me my last name is the Americanized version of the Scottish MacTaggart...since we know very little about my dad's side of the family, I latched onto that nugget...and when I spent a week in Scotland, I did a little research, bought a piece of the MacTaggart clan plaid, just had a little fun with the whole thing. :)

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    1. Oh, I'd be all over that plaid! We really want to go to Scotland! I think it must be a sign I'm getting old or something. But my fascination with my ancestors is growing more than I even imagined it would.

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  8. Oooh, Wendy, you touched on a subject I've often pondered. I was one of those kids who wasn't meant to be. You know the ones I mean. An oopsie baby. I used to wonder if my being here was God's hand at work. After all, I could easily not have been born had I been conceived in a different era.

    I remind myself that God opened and closed wombs all the time in Bible times. Since I doubt He's lost that power (insert wry grin and a somewhat sarcastic snicker), I like to believe I am indeed here for a reason. While I'm not entirely sure what that is, I happen to believe it has a lot to do with my family, my friends, and my writing. I'm enjoying the process of discovery.

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    1. I emphatically believe we are all here for a reason. Emphatically!

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  9. My husband is really into genealogy, but I admit, when it talks about it, my eyes glaze over. Maybe it's because I'm from peasant stock and he's all blue blood - maybe it's really envy masquerading as boredom!

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    1. Ha, love this Michelle! This is one of my favorite things about the Bible--to look back on who God chose to come before Jesus--the miserably flawed and all. Love it! I've always bypassed those long lists of begets and I've been inspired to pay closer attention.

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  10. King's book is NEXT on my TBR list!

    I am interested in my family's history. I thought it was cool that one of my cousins was able to trace the boat that my grandmom came over on.

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    1. See, right there. I want to know which boat. Which boat, Jennifer? Maybe there's more of a historian in me than I thought. ;-)

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  11. This is the kick I needed to connect with a member of my extended family who's done some genealogy work. I'm curious about it, but I've never taken that next step. Thanks! ~Chad R. Allen

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    1. How cool, Chad! Hope you enjoy your findings! It's been such an adventure for me. I wonder if a handful of things needed to click in place before my interest about my ancestors sparked in earnest. But I'm glad it has.

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  12. Wow! I just wrote a post for my blog that won't run until April about why I love to research the past. What we've done and the decisions we make affect our future. Love this post, Wendy!

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    1. I look forward to the April read!

      I used to be inclined to associate your second sentence with negative thoughts--shame, guilt, blah, blah, blah...but I'm beginning to see the beauty in noticing who has gone before.

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  13. I've always been so fascinated with my family history (just wish the records were better in India). I too have had those "what if my parents didn't get married?" questions. :) And now surrounded by history in Europe, I'm realizing how studying the past makes me realize the story is far greater than myself (and my country and language, etc). Yet, it's amazing how God allows me to be a part of His grand narrative! I have a part to play, if I'm willing and obedient. Amazing. Can you tell I'm excited about this topic. :) Great post!

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    1. Yes! I love your point about the story being far greater than ourselves. I wonder if someday we'll look down from heaven and watch in amazement the sparkling webs being woven. Blown away God's let me be a part of this.

      When the curtain closes for me I hope He's smiling.

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  14. How cool, Wendy! My aunt has actually become very involved in digging through our family tree, specifically my grandmother's line. What she's found has been fascinating. That is so fun that this woman at the coffee shop is doing some digging for you. :)

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    1. It just keeps coming. Tonight I learned that I'm of Viking heritage. (Doesn't that just explain everything?!) I also learned my great grandmother x25 led Welsh men into battle.

      I keep joking with my husband that I'm waiting for some TV show to come tell me I'm being spoofed because I sure do have some characters in my line! :D

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