The Edmond Sun

Columns

August 17, 2012

Reconnecting a family across the generations

Morehead, KY — We had talked about it a few times and I had done my best to act interested.

It was pleasing to my wife to know she was a distant relative of U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of her native Utah, who is that state’s longest serving senator.

The two of them share a common great-great-great-great grandfather, as I recall.

Janet’s pride in her pioneer ancestors had led us to contribute a few dollars to a modest campaign to restore a historic home in upstate Illinois where Jeremiah Hatch had lived briefly while trekking to the West with his offspring.

She received periodic progress reports from a cousin on the restoration and a photo of a crumbling, two-story brick house with a gaping hole in the roof.

I teased her that the “Hatch House” had narrowly escaped urban renewal but she didn’t appreciate the humor.

The story of the Hatch family’s migration from Vermont to the Rocky Mountain West is long, sad and heroic with multiple deaths of young and old to disease and other dangers of the trail.

Their eventual arrival in the Utah Valley was celebrated as a triumph of faith, determination and hard work. Those of the clan who died during the journey were buried along the way.

I can’t imagine the anguish of parents forced to leave the grave of a little one in a remote, desolate place.

Janet’s fascination with the Hatch House spread throughout our immediate family and it was decided we had to visit the place.

We had driven for 10 hours when we finally reached the little town. Everyone was tired and hungry but first we had to find the Hatch House.

That was pre-GPS and our map was not the best. We drove up and down the narrow streets for about 30 minutes before pulling up to a house that looked exactly like the photo.

Janet was first to walk onto the partially-rebuilt front porch. We watched quietly from the street as she gently touched the weather-beaten nameplate of the Hatch House.

It was an incredible thing to see.

She smiled, trembled and broke into tears — as did the rest of us — as we watched her transcend the years to reconnect with five generations of her ancestors.

Today, after 41 years of marriage, I’m even prouder to be the husband of a woman as tough-minded, as courageous and as committed to her family as any of those women who crossed the plains nearly two centuries ago.

KEITH KAPPES is a columnist for The Morehead (Ky.) News. Contact him at kkappes@cnhi.com.

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