Think about it with me for a minute. What is your answer to the age-old question of what shapes a child's life more? Is it nature or nurture?
When I look at Michael Earles, my paternal great grandfather by adoption ( he adopted my grandmother Evelyn) I have questions. I wonder what drove him. Was he running with fear to escape the life his parents told him about in Ireland? Or was he running towards opportunities his parents exposed him to in their new world, America?
Imagine life in Michael's home in 1860. You're about five years old and your father's a farmer in Wisconsin. The bedtime stories could be ones of suffering and death of friends and relatives enduring the six years of the Potato Famine of Ireland. Stories of how they had nothing to eat but potatoes until even those were scarce, leaving families to beg in the streets to survive. Were those images impressed upon him to scare him to make something of his life so as never to have to endure suffering like that?
Or were the stories full of adventure? Tales of escaping sure death as they, along with thousands of other families uprooted themselves with the clothes on their backs, hope in their hearts, and sheer determination to make a better life for themselves in America.
Was he given images of suffering or hope aboard ships that carried his parents and brothers into New York in 1849?
The story doesn't matter as much as the interpretation of it offered by the storyteller as he or she plants it in the fertile mind of the listener, who is often a child. A child who is open and vulnerable to new concepts and ideas, and sometimes unable to discern between the character's feeling and the feelings a parent ignorantly projects onto the character.
You can tell the story of The Three Little Pigs a number of ways. The pigs can be victims or courageous, slow to learn, or eventual team-players. It can be a story of horrendous loss of property and life (the wolf's), or triumph of good over evil.
How did Michael's parents talk to him about their past, present and future?
I was wondering because Michael did a lot with his life. He helped build railroads in Kansas, Colorado, and Montana. He started logging companies, purchased and operated a saw mill in Washington State, and helped organize the American Savings Bank in Seattle, of which he was a director and stockholder. He owned two steam tugs that operated in Puget Sound in the late 1880's, and one steamboat The Betty Earles, named after his first daughter, that carried passengers to and from his lodge, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort on Lake Crescent, Washington.
|The "Betty Earles"|
When I contemplate his life and the things that he did I think about transportation and how it was changing the United States. I think of a man who saw a need and filled it. He was an opportunist in the best sense of the word. He was one of the first to use a "steam pony" in his logging business when others were sticking to horses, waiting to see what would happen with this new tool.
I've come to the conclusion that a person can only run on fear for so long. Their true nature eventually shines through. His parents may have driven him to "succeed" or not to "fail". No matter how and why Michael started on his quest to achieve, it seems that he was just a driven man. Driven by curiosity to fix problems that slowed him down.
Yesterday I laughed seeing a bit of Michael in myself.
It was a beautiful day and I'd suggested we go apple-picking. There were 8 of us and only 5 seats in the car. As the rest of the family was drawing straws to see who would stay home and who would get one of the 5 seats I left the heavy mood of the kitchen, grabbed the keys to the car, and drove down the street to my friend's house. I came home with a promise to use her 8-seater car in 1/2 an hour much to the surprise of the rest of the family. There would be no one left behind.
Some people just think that way. They see a problem and solve it. Others are there to put their arm around you while you figure it out. Some people just make the best of a bad situation, sometimes complaining because they can't see a solution to their predicament.
At first I was intimidated by Michael. I focused on his accomplishments. I think I see him differently now. I can feel how he might have been experiencing his circumstances and matching who he was by nature to what life presented to him. He fit perfectly into that era. I believe America, especially the Northwest was waiting for him.
I learned a little bit more about myself as I studied Michael's life. I could see better how we are all different, yet important. My life's story will be vastly different from Michael's. But if he and I were to sit and talk I think we'd be able to empathize a bit as we compared the circumstances of the era we were both born into:
- There is suffering because of economic and natural disaster.
- Families are being torn apart and tried.
- There are great opportunities for those willing to make the shift from the world we know to what the "new world" is offering.
Whether someone creates a company that employs thousands, or lovingly and tenderly holds a starving child taking his last breath in mortality, that person has done his part, and done it well. Both require one to see who they are for and in the world and to acknowledge the importance of the role they play.