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Where I Come From

June 30, 2014
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Family is a peculiar form of karma. Whether I believe in rebirth or not, whether I believe that something in my prior life guided me to this one, whether I believe that those forces shaped who I have and will become, I believe in the karma of family. I don’t disbelieve the other, but the jury is still out. (Ask me again in my next life.)

Looking through old photos on Father’s Day, I reflect on the karma of my family. I see my grandparents as adults in midlife, my aunts and uncles as children, my parents as crazy teenagers, my brother and I as babies and toddlers. We live in this delusion that the ‘I’ who is now is the ‘I’ who has always been and will always be. “Be in the now,” they say, but inexpertly applied that simple direction cuts us off from our past and future. Be in the now, but also spend some time in the now reflecting on change. Who we were is not who we are and who we are is not who we will be, but each of those lives touch each other like the balls on a pool table, each one imparting direction and momentum to the next.

Roger and Brandon Sanford, family library, Tripp, South Dakota, c. 1982.

Roger and Brandon Sanford, family library, Tripp, South Dakota, c. 1980.

We have a lot of photos of my Dad and brother from when Brandon was little. I can imagine my mom took them, but somehow managed to avoid being in them. She still doesn’t like having her picture taken, something I’ve noticed in women of her generation. My Dad always has that big goofy grin on his face. There are very few pictures of me and my Dad when I was that young. More often, they are of the four of us, a little nuclear family, Dad holding Brandon and Mom holding me. Dad always has that same grin. Mom only smiles in about half of her photos – except their wedding pictures. She can’t seen to stop smiling in those. That was the family I was born into, Dad, Mom, Brandon, and then me.

I remember our library in Tripp. I remember that couch. I remember my parents sitting together in the evening reading books, sometimes with the television on and a sports game in the background. Dad had a business in Tripp, but it went under after a few years. We moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, just before I started kindergarten. Dad still works for a company that does that same thing as his family business. He still combs his hair the same way (he’ll never go bald), he still wears shirts with pockets, and those pockets are often full of pens and little screwdrivers. He still reads books in the evening, with the game on in the background. Brandon reads, too, and they share many of the same books. So do I, but less scifi novels these days, and more academic tomes.

Monica Sanford in the family library, Tripp, SD, 1980.

Monica Sanford in the family library, Tripp, SD, 1980.

Here I am in that same library, on that same couch.  I still have the teddy bear and the chipmunk. They are some of my oldest and most beloved toys. I don’t know if these photos were taken at the same time or not. What I do know, is that when Dad lost his job in Lincoln, he and mom sold those books for a nickle or a quarter each. They made the rent that way, until they both found new jobs in Omaha. For years, Dad regretted the loss of some rare scifi paperbacks. For years, they both slowly rebuilt their library. When the internet started and Amazon began, he asked me to go online, standing behind me at the computer while I searched for the second book in a trilogy that he hadn’t been able to find in a decade of weekly visits to the used bookstore. I was able to order it for him online. Shortly after, he signed up for a computer class at the local community college. He used his computer to scan in these photographs a few years later. He now uses the internet to research and book our family vacations.

Dayle Sanford, on the gulf coast of Texas, June 1978.

Dayle Sanford, on the gulf coast of Texas, June 1978.

My Mom is spooky. In all the photos I flip through, after I am born she looks like my Mom. Before I am born, she looks like … me. In found this one with her name and date attached. June 1978, five years after she and Dad were married, they took his Honda motorcycle down to Corpus Christy, Texas, and saw the Gulf Coast. She told me she made him buy that tall back because every time he stretched his long legs, he’d almost push her off the rear of the bike. I remember that motorcycle. I remember riding it (very slowly I’m sure) with my Dad around the little park in Tripp. He sold it, along with so much else, when they moved to Lincoln.

Mom doesn’t like change that much. She grumbles whenever Dad talks about buying a new house or a new car. She always says she can’t afford to go on vacation (we don’t believe her), but once Dad books the trip she always wants to come. When I was in school in Lincoln and would book flights to San Francisco or Chicago just because the tickets were cheap, she would tell me not to go (there are weirdos in San Francisco!), but I think she secretly wanted to come. I don’t know if she’s always been this way, but I look at this picture and I see a young woman having fun, being adventure and carefree. And about 4 or 5 months pregnant, since Brandon was born in October 1978.

Roger, Dayle, Brandon, and Monica, July 1982.

Roger, Dayle, Brandon, and Monica, July 1982.

This is the Mom I remember. I remember the big hair (that perm!) and I was glad when it went out of fashion. Her face still looks the same. I don’t know where this photo was taken, but I know it wasn’t in our house in Tripp. Both sets of grandparents were only a few hours away in Nebraska. They used to come and stay with us, or we would go and stay with them. They came up to help us move, Grandpa Dale driving their big van all the way from Tripp down to Lincoln, to our new home in a little brick apartment building. We couldn’t take our dog or cat and I was sad, but Mom found good homes for them. Mom used to bake bread in big coffee tins in that house in Tripp. She helped with Dad’s business, then went to work as a bookkeeper at the concrete plant outside of town.

When we left Lincoln for Omaha, she got a job with the big insurance company, Mutual of Omaha. She’s been there ever since. While Brandon and I were in elementary school she finished her bachelors degree one class at a time, going to night school at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Dad had to cook dinner on those nights. We ate a lot of PB&H sandwiches and boiled hot dogs, but we didn’t mind. Mom bought our first family computer, an Epson 387, so she could write college papers at home. Brandon and I learned how to use it and one of the first programs she bought for it, on a big 5-7/8″ floppy disk, was a floor planning software. She bought it for me. No wonder a decade later I enrolled in the College of Architecture.

I am not that little girl anymore, but only in the sense that an acorn is not an oak tree. My family planted the seeds of who I would become a long time ago, but the world watered and shined on them in interesting new ways. I didn’t stay in architecture. I didn’t stay in Nebraska. Ten years ago I was moving into my little condo in Lincoln so I could go to the university there and I never would have predicted I’d be here ten years later. I don’t think anyone would have, but when you look back on that long chain of karma, it doesn’t seem so far fetched. The most difficult trick shot on a pool table is easy to understand when you trace it backward. But everyone would say it’s impossible before it happens. Where will we all be in another ten years? Or twenty? I have no idea.

PS – If you think you won’t change that much in years to come, here is Dan Gilbert to explain it with graphs:

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 30, 2014 4:58 am

    That is one of the best talks that I have heard Dan do.

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