By Jenna Ebener
Imagine entering a home more than 100 years old nestled in the woods along the river. A sign “All because two people fell in love” welcomes you as you cross the threshold. Fifty relatives are gathered in the expansive living room. Dozens of people are opening gifts at the same time while cousins are wrestling and wrapping-paper balls are flying throughout the room. Amidst the chaos, an elderly couple sits in their armchairs watching by the fire with expressions of joy and love. This description is a snapshot of what it was like to experience Christmas night at my grandparents’ home for 24 years.
While I have only one brother, I am blessed to be a part of a large extended family. My dad has nine siblings and I have more than 20 first cousins. Many of them are still living in Illinois or Iowa. I grew up hearing the beautiful story of how my grandparents met. My grandpa was serving in the Coast Guard during World War II. He saw a picture in a local business magazine of a woman bowling. He sent her a letter and when he returned home, he met and soon married her. Over 65 years later, my grandma is no longer with us, my grandpa is in a Veterans home, their house has been sold, but their legacy remains.
This legacy involves memories of a family that is large and close knit. I grew up knowing all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. My grandma was, to me, the image of Mary. Her calm demeanor accompanied a grandmother filled with deep love and compassion. She was a woman strong in faith who was never without a rosary. I spent much of my childhood in their huge home: playing ping pong in the attic with the angled ceilings, sledding on the giant hill, being greeted by my grandma with hot chocolate, putting together puzzles with her and discussing hunting with my grandpa. I was privy to countless traditions, especially those around Christmas time.
Our family thought this year might be different, since we could no longer host Christmas at that memory-filled home. This year, my parents hosted Christmas. While we didn’t have fights with wrapping-paper balls, we made up for it with battles over a game of spoons and the Saran Wrap game. Laughter was plentiful and new memories were made. It was not the home that was the reason for all of my wonderful childhood memories; it was the people, shaped by decades of tradition, love and faith. My family continues to pass on to their children the legacy my grandparents began. My family realizes that the secret to my grandparents’ deep love and success was not money, but faith and religion. It is my family who has shaped my passion for the outdoors, for relationships, for children, for social work and for staying strong in my faith.
I have always been thankful for my large and close family. As the years continue and events happen, my family continues to remain close. I realize how truly blessed I am and how much my family has shaped who I am. Relationships are the deepest treasure to me, and I am realizing where those roots began. “For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). I have my grandparents to thank for lessons on the meaning of that passage. I reflect on and cherish memories, old and new, and I use them as a guide of how to spread the love of God.
(Jenna Ebener graduated in 2015 with a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)