Friday, January 9, 2009

Family Relics

I unexpectently spent the last two weeks traveling the western United States. So I took to opportunity to visit with relatives from Indiana, California, Utah, and Oregon, and I found a common theme to my visits. In each case the conversation turned to the people through whom we were related. And when it did my hosts pulled out the relics that reminded us of our shared heritage.
Mormons loved relics. We don’t embue them with the miraculous power that other religions sometimes give to these artifacts, but we love them nonetheless. In my case I saw
  • A 17th century key to the home of an ancestor who lived on an island in the Irish Sea.
  • A boomerang picked up by my great grandfather on his mission to Australia.
  • A leather covered lead police stick used to clear the patrons out of unlicensed bars in 19th century Salt Lake City.
  • A 100 year old child’s top belonging to my grandfather.
  • And of course endless photos of people – sadly most nameless - and places.

As I write this (my wife is driving) I am following Interstate 80 east back home and we pass through a tunnel likely built with the electrical work of my wife’s grandfather. That tunnel is a relic we will never be able to touch, but we feel just as close to the hole in the side of the mountain as we do to my grandfather’s childhood toy.
Why? Perhaps because it makes us feel connected to our history. Mormons perhaps more so. We are a religion grounded in history, most of it recent and full of documentation. Many religions are based in historic events, but for them we know only the year it happened, and sometimes not even that. For Mormon history we know the date, and sometimes even the time of day. We know who was there. For some of us we have relatives that were there, making church history equal to family history.
I return home after this unexpected trip having met several people I previously knew only by name and few conversations. I also return with a richer knowledge of my family history some of it only possible because of the relics of the past.

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