The Wailing Wall
Who knew that CuzinPalooza would turn out to be so emotionally draining and profound?
As we come to the point where we bring “the last 1/3 of Mim” (almost but that’s another chapter) to her final ending point, we seven cousins had already formed an indelible and lasting connection that none of us had anticipated or imagined when we set out on this journey.
We range in age from 55 to almost 70, we hail from the far reaches of the country, Portland, Oregon and Mendocino, California to Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin. All our parents roots were here, in Wisconsin, and most specifically here, in Ettrick, population 351 (could it have been much less even in their day at the turn of the last century?).
We are here on the homestead that our great-great grandfather, Knut K Hagestad (known to us as K.K.), built in the 1850’s upon settling in this pristine southwestern Wisconsin Valley. It was obviously resonate to him of his homeland in Ulvik, Hardanger, Norway. Lush green pastureland peppered with Holsteins, whose own origins are directly traced to his importation of the original herds. The thickly wooded hills yielded the oak that he would chop, saw and form into the primitive cabin home where he and his wife, Astri, would raise their 4 children.
We have come to this farm today at the invitation of the current owners, Carolyn and Leland Briggs, to leave the last of my mother’s ashes on the land her ancestors first claimed as their own. Leland has mowed and primped the lawns for hours in 100 degree heat to have it shining and precisely perfect for us. Carolyn has prepared food, wine, history and stories, all with loving forethought to welcome us cousins “home” and has gone so far as to have a spot for Mim all picked out in the meadow above the home, under a crabapple tree which she apologized was not in bloom for the occasion!
We wandered, as if in a daze, into the exquisite small home, not quite knowing how we each felt but somehow all sensing that we were on a bit of sacred personal territory. As Carolyn showed us floor plans of the original cabin home and their own additions to it and their journey of discovery as they reworked it and made it their own, we were drawn into the kitchen, its windows opening out onto the vast meadows and hills beyond.
One by one we turned to our right and there, behind us and out of our initial line of sight, was the wall.
The exterior wall of the original log cabin, hand crafted by K.K. himself for his new and growing family in the 1850’s. The “wailing wall” now, for us, his descendants of generations on.
We all had the same reaction. Overwhelming emotion. The tears sprang up so unexpectedly and fresh from places so deep within each of us that we had no warning, no words, only raw body wrenching sobs as we gazed at the now petrified oak beams, so loving preserved and polished as to be individual works of art each and of themselves. To see the axe and saw hashes left by Knut, to touch the original chinking he had wedged between the boards with his own hands a century and a half before left us shaken, ragged with emotions we didn’t know how to embrace no less express.
Carolyn and Leland were silently respectful of our sudden, jolting responses and we, in our own turns, were gentle with each other and ourselves as we adjusted to this newfound wellspring of information we hadn’t known existed a moment before.
Sob, process, hug, contemplate, sob some more.
This day was taking our collective breath away.
We had yet to get to our reason for being here, my mother and her final journey home, but we all needed to incorporate this new family processing “chip” into our cores, Intel Inside if you will, before we could go further with the day.
But henceforth and forever, the Fillners had their very own Wailing Wall, a touchstone to their past and a reminder of their responsibility
The Wailing Wall