In my journey as a Heathen I have been learning more about some of the practices of being a Heathen. One of those is honoring one’s ancestors. At first I thought that this was my family throughout history, and that thought was rather intimidating. After all, when my paternal great-grandfather came to America he intentionally left his heritage behind, wanting his children to be Americans, not Scandinavians, so he did not teach them anything about their heritage. The end result of this for me is that while I know that my family stretches back to the Scandinavian countries, I know nothing beyond a couple of generations. How was I supposed to honor my ancestors if I knew nothing about them?
In reading and in conversations with Rod and others that I trust I came to learn that I don’t have to actually know who they are to honor them. They are still there whether I know anything about them or not, and simply honoring that they are there is sufficient. This worked for a bit, but I felt like I needed some connection, someone that I could think about, chat with, that sort of thing, so I began to cast about in my memories for something. My grandfathers were obvious choices, but somebody else came to mind that actually surprised me: Forest Rice.
I had dim memories of this older fellow, much like my maternal grandfather, always wearing these green work clothes that seemed so common among farmers of that era, who smoked a pipe. I can’t actually form a strong mental picture of him with a pipe, but I remember empty Prince Albert tobacco cans all over the place, and as such they became common toys for me to play with whenever I visited them. I can dimly remember him tucking a pipe into a shirt pocket along with a slim box of matches, but I can’t honestly recall seeing him smoke the pipe.
Over the last few weeks I have been thinking more and more about the man, and getting a strong feeling that he was watching over me. I had figured that I would focus upon my grandfathers, but Forest kept coming to my mind every time I stopped to think about what I was learning. In the quiet times he would come to mind, in the stressful times he would come to mind…I just had this strong sense of him being there with me.
I knew that Forest and his wife were family friends, but I didn’t remember too much more than that, so I reached out to my mother for more information, hoping that I could learn more about him and perhaps figure out why he was such a strong presence in my mind. Following is what she told me, and suddenly so many things make sense:
Forest was indeed a pipe smoker and Prince Albert was his tobacco of choice. Lealas was Forest’s wife and their last name was Rice. They were good old farm people with hearts of gold. I knew them from the time I was about 12 years old and loved them dearly. They both died of cancer just a few weeks apart. They first came to my acquaintance when we moved to Hoopa when I was still in grade school, they then moved to Cottonwood after Dale and I were married. We visited them often when you and Eric were small, they were like another set of grandparents to you.
Forest and Daddy were more like brothers than his real brother, your uncle Larry, they shared the same interests such as camping, fishing, farming and anything out in the wild. Just good old country boys is what they were. That is where you get your interest in woodsy outings and picture taking of your adventures.
I always knew that my grandparents had a formative impact upon me from an early age, but this little story tells me that there was more to the story than I ever truly realized. Forest had a very real impact upon me as is evidenced by my love of the pipe. He is the only person that I can think of during all of my growing up years that smoked a pipe, yet the pipe seemed to come so naturally to me when I did take it up a few years ago. At the time I never really thought about it, just figured it was something I was picking up from a couple of close friends who also smoked a pipe. But in the back of my mind I had this picture of somebody else with a pipe, and that I had always loved the smell of pipe smoke. Over time I started to remember Forest, but I didn’t have anything concrete to really link him with my love of smoking a pipe.
In future conversations with my mother I intend to learn more about the times that I spent with the Rice family as I feel that while they are not blood relations, they are part of my family, and as such it is important that I learn as much as I can about them. Clearly they had an impact upon me from a young age, and only now are those times coming back to me. Now I can see why I have such a love of the outdoors, having learned it from my grandfather and Forest. Part of me has always yearned for a simpler life, a yearning strangely at odds with my love of technology, and that dichotomy has always made me wonder why I have two parts of me that are such opposites. Now, with this connection to Forest I can see how he and my maternal grandfather had an impact upon me, instilling that love from an early age.
So how does this tie in with my Heathen life? It gives me a stronger focus upon the man that has been at my side mentally for the last several weeks and months. Not only that, I believe that I shall dedicate the pipe that my mother purchased for me to Forest, and I will attempt to spend more time thinking about Forest when I smoke with it. This pipe will find a special place upon my family alter once I carve out a place for one. Until such time I will reserve this pipe for those times when I want to talk with his spirit, and I will leave some tobacco out for him in honor of his memory.