The day after my mother left home to go to college, my Nana (mother’s mother, Maurine Conover Jensen) attempted to serve her husband (my Papa, Joel Peter Jensen) peas at dinner. He kindly declined the invitation. She was shocked, “You’ve been eating peas for our entire married life.” His response: “I was only eating them for the children. Now that they’re all out of the house, I’ll never eat another pea again.” I never got to meet my Papa. He died before I was born, but I always feel a sort of connection to him because mister, I don’t like peas either.
When I was nine and attended the funeral of my other grandfather (father’s father, Paul Dean Proctor), everyone kept saying that I looked just like him. I found out this week that when my parents visited their ward when I was just four months old everyone said the very same, that I was the spitting image of Paul. Losing him before I even reached the age of ten left me with precious few memories of what he was like or his thoughts on things, but I feel a sort of connection to him because mister, I have that those cheekbones too.
My time at the BYU Jerusalem Center was one of the most important and precious periods of my collegiate experience and of my life, and it was only financially possible through an inheritance from my Nana and Papa. I knew that every penny of what they had was hard earned and every exotic experience I had was infused with the extra music lessons my Papa taught and the years of school administration and the dollars carefully set aside for when the furnace broke. I’d walk down the street along the walls of the old city and muse about how I was only there because of other streets that Maurine and Joel had walked down.
My great-great grandmother Catherine and her husband George Stevens were sweethearts since grade school. In fourth grade he sent her a valentine that said something like “the temple’s made of marble stone/the windows made of glass/there’s many a couple married there/I hope we won’t be last.” That heritage of love with early roots and astonishing longevity helps me cling to the hope of the love I will find in my life. I thrill to think of finding the George to my Catherine.
I am a product of thousands of stories. Thousands of choices and preferences and features and characteristics over hundreds of years combined to make me who and what I am today.
Another great-great grandmother of mine, Elizabeth Conover, died in a flash flood bringing sweet soup to an ailing neighbor in the next town. She couldn’t find someone to take her there, but she wouldn’t let that stop her from rendering the service she knew was right. She left me a vivid legacy of service by meeting her end in such an endeavor. Because of her, I want to be the sort of person who will not be deterred in my efforts to help the people around me.
Even the stories that I’m not aware of build one upon another and contribute to my heritage, as a member of the church, as an American, as a woman, as an adventurer, as a friend, as a traveler, as someone with a large space between her big and second toes, which it appears is a family characteristic. I am a product of sacrifice and passion and work ethic and struggle. So many stories, what will my story be?
Family history is such a lovely gift to be admonished by the Church to pursue. It’s important to know the names that you need to do the temple work for your ancestors, but what if your entire life’s experience was reduced down to only your name and perhaps the date and place of your birth? It feels reductive. I’m discovering more and more lately that family history isn’t just about names, it’s about a story too—a story of which you are a living part.
As I’m standing at this crossroads (feels like I’m always at a crossroads), I want to bound proudly and boldly into a direction that will make my great-great granddaughter proud, whoever she’ll be. Perhaps Elizabeth or George or Joel never knew me personally on this earth, but their time here has directly affected my time here and I’m ready now to move forward with their physical features and their sacrifices and their legacy and measure what my own effect will be.