It’s 4 am. I’m staying at my parents house in the country, feeding Molly while sitting on the antique couch that belonged to my grandmother and grandfather. Just behind me, I can hear the rhythmic, gentle tick of the 400 year old grandfather clock they brought out with them when they emigrated from the UK more than 60 years ago. (My little sister got into Granny’s bad books by winding the two clock weights around each other like a tightly coiled DNA strand when she was a toddler. You can imagine how well that went down!)
Lying beside me on the couch is a sleeping Birdy. If she happens to wake up in the night while I’m feeding she comes and finds me and sleeps beside me. It’s very sweet and nice to have company in the wee hours.
Outside in the soil, just a hundred metres from the house, lie the ashes of our miscarried son, Samuel. Over the road, lie the remains of my paternal grandmother, Ivy.
On the other side of the room on a desk, are two formal portraits of my maternal grandmother, Molly – the one our little Molly (now 5 weeks old) is named after. There were a number of reasons we chose the name Molly, but one of them was because of our common loss. A few years ago I discovered that my mother, who was an only child, had a little stillborn brother. It was only when we went through the trauma of losing Samuel that I found out more about what happened. Molly had developed severe pre-eclampsia and her kidneys were failing, putting her life in danger. The pregnancy had to be induced prematurely and she delivered a stillborn baby boy.
So as I sit here feeding baby Molly, I do so surrounded by this lineage, this history. When I’m back at home, I spend a lot of time asking Mum and Dad about our family history. It’s often prompted by an enquiry about a photo or an old piece of furniture. “Who did this belong to?” or ” Where did this come from?” or “Where was this photo taken?” In an old locked bookshelf in the sitting room, there’s a small, seemingly insignificant goat bell. To be honest, I’ve never even noticed it before. The key to that bookshelf snapped off in the lock years ago and it’s never been opened since. But yesterday I learned that the goat bell belonged to Mum’s grandfather, Sir Henry Newland. It was brought home from Gallipoli. He was later knighted for his pioneering work there, patching up the soldiers using an early form of plastic surgery, which makes it a pretty interesting little goat bell.
I’ve been thinking about lineage a bit in the context of Christmas – how important it was in Jewish culture. The gospels trace Jesus’ lineage back to King David to show his Kingship. Lineage is not really a concept we think about in modern life. But I think we are still biologically driven to reproduce and to see our family line go on. Most people don’t have kids because they love children. They have kids because they feel a drive to reproduce and to be a family. Men in particular seem to need to leave a legacy, to make a mark on the world. Having children is just one way of doing that.
Of course our spiritual heritage can be even more influential than our physical heritage. Molly’s second name, Jean, is after my husband’s paternal grandmother, Jeanie. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing her as she had already slipped into dementia by the time I met her, but I felt I got to know her a little bit at her funeral. Testimony after testimony was given about her strong faith and her faithfulness. Her son, Molly’s grandfather, now runs a missional Christian community and bible college. My grandmother, the original Molly, married an anglican minister, Andrew Hay, who was also involved in missions. My other grandmother Ivy, sang hymns to my father under the kitchen table when the Germans were carrying out air raids during the second world war and prayed faithfully for the safe return of her husband. Today my father is heavily involved in the local branch of the welfare charity, Anglicare. Over the holiday period a number of people knocked on the front door or phoned up asking for help with rent or grocery and power bills. All these things are different expressions of faith and they are all part of little Molly’s rich spiritual heritage. She will have to make her own choices about what she believes and how she expresses that, but we will make sure she knows where she comes from.
The name Molly means ‘bitterness’ or ‘out of bitterness’. The name Jean means ‘God is faithful’. Already Molly Jean is such a blessing to us. And I hope we can raise her to be a blessing to others, just as many of her ancestors were before her.
PS. Happy New Year!