|Robert Ahrens and Mildred|
Perhaps it is because I live with constant reminders around me—paintings, photographs, Madonna’s bracelet, my daughter’s miniature “Carl feet” and even my own reflection. Perhaps it is because people regularly contact me to add their Ahrens work to my catalog.
Occasionally I receive an e-mail that reminds me of the greatest gift that writing The Oak Lovers has given me. It’s not dreams of fame or fortune, which would be nice, but have nothing to do with why I write. It’s not simply about restoring my great-grandfather’s legacy, much as I hope to do so. No, the greatest gift is that a century-old family rift has been mended. I'm an only child and don’t have a big family, so I cherish any new relatives I can find.
Inside one of my late grandmother’s scrapbooks I discovered a photocopied letter addressed to “Kim” from “Grandpa Ahrens.” It was about living on an Ojibwa reservation as a child and could only have been written by one of the sons from Carl’s first marriage. Where had it come from? There was no envelope. No clues. My aunts knew nothing about it.
|Martha McGowan, Kitty Turgeon, Kim, and Janice McDuffie|
Martha and I decided that a century was quite long enough for the two halves of the family to have been kept apart, and we agreed to meet at the Roycroft campus in East Aurora, New York. The very same place where Carl met my great-grandmother and eventually left Martha’s. We laughed about the irony of the situation. About a year later we met again, along with Martha’s mother, a granddaughter of Carl and Emily, at an exhibition of Carl’s work in Ontario.
This week I've had the pleasure of corresponding with the very same Kim who received the mystery letter from “Grandpa Ahrens” when she was in 6th grade. She has showered me with photographs of a family I never thought I would get the chance to know. It has been Christmas in October.
Thanks to the internet, chance, curiosity, and a century of time for old wounds to smooth over, you would barely notice a scar where the family rift used to be. A tremendous gift indeed!
Update: I have just learned that the photograph isn't a photograph, but rather an image of a completed painting by George A. Reid called "Family Prayer." It is one of his best known works and hung in the Salon in Paris in the 1890's. This explains why Carl, who was only 26 at the time, appears to have white hair. Reid could have used his frail build as the basis for an old man and changed his hair color.