Allie and Arthur Tipps with Ruby, O.R. and Hazel circa 1902 Allie and Arthur Tipps with Ruby, O.R. and Hazel circa 1902

The little boy perched on the arm of the chair is my grandfather, O.R. Tipps. He already looks serious, ready to grab life by the horns. I am grateful to have inherited a dose of his determination and sharp mind. I had to look elsewhere to learn the arts of intuition and play and the importance of Sabbath rest.

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Ann, Jack, John and Ed Mathys circa 1923 Ann, Jack, John and Ed Mathys circa 1923

Grandfather John Mathys immigrated to this country when he was a baby. His sons, my uncle Jack and father Ed (in the sailor suit), were first generation Americans. John focused on being an American, and consequently didn’t talk much about life and family back in Belgium. Unfortunately, stories of my Belgian ancestry were lost in the bubbling melting pot.

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Harriet and Albert Owen and some of their children and grandchildren circa 1920 Harriet and Albert Owen and some of their children and grandchildren circa 1920

I can’t imagine raising fourteen children as my great-grandmother Harriet Owen did. Instead, I’ve increased my family through the inclusion of a wide network of friends and have come to understand myself as part of the global family.

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Ed and his granddaughter, Laura 1986 Ed and his granddaughter, Laura 1986

This is one of my favorite photos of my father, Ed Mathys, and my daughter, Laura Thurston Baszler. Ed shortened his long stride to match Laura’s—even across the generations, it’s possible to make adjustments so we can walk together.

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Sue Mathys, 1986 Sue Mathys, 1986

This is one of the last photos taken of my mother. She taught me to think big, look far and create something beautiful out of the fascinating things I saw. Thank you Mom.

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Nancy Jane Tipps and Uncle Tom, circa 1940 Nancy Jane Tipps and Uncle Tom, circa 1940

This photo of my namesake, Nancy Jane Tipps, was taken with her Uncle Tom a year or so before she died. Nancy Jane had the reputation of being a sweet, delightful girl. I tried to be sweet and delightful too—that is part of my nature—but as I grew up my wilder, bolder side emerged also. I wonder what Nancy Jane would have been like if she'd lived into her adult years?

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Mary Sue Tipps, circa 1929 Mary Sue Tipps, circa 1929

Mom looks nervous, eager to please in this photo. I wonder if she struggled, as I do, with the paradox of a strong will and a desire to fit in. While Mary Sue was wearing very prim and proper shoes cinched tightly in this photo, both of us preferred bare feet.

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Dancing Ann

A grandmother dancing in the fields on her way to earning her master's degree—Ann Cahoon (Mathys) was a woman ahead of her times. When I was her age, I was still playing it safe and following the expectations of my culture. It was almost ninety years after this photo was taken before I could hear the song beating my own heart and dared to let go and dance.

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Ann Cahoon's graduating class Ann Cahoon's graduating class

These twelve women graduated from Milwaukee Downer College in 1915. Ann Cahoon is on the back row right. I applied to college in 1972, and almost all of the women I knew were heading there after high school. It was easy to assume that I got there on my own and to forget all of the women who opened doors for me to follow generations later. I don't want to do that.

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Circa 1893 Circa 1893

The baby dressed from head to toe is Ann Cahoon (Mathys) who, twenty-five years later, fought to loosen the dress code for women at Kansas State University. As a teen I swore short skirts, girdles and hose were comfortable. Now, I am grateful for bold women like my adult grandmother Ann and mother, Sue, who left behind corsets, pointy, high-topped shoes, and high necklines as the only way to be fashionable.

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Sue and Ed Mathys, 1974 Sue and Ed Mathys, 1974

Barefoot Mama and sock-and-shoed Dad. While that detail was typical, seeing my parents at the ocean's edge was unusual. When I was a child, the great outdoors wasn't something my family explored much, and oceans were a long way from West Texas. As much as I remain hesitant to step out physically onto new beaches (or adventures), my parents taught me that an occasional dash of unpredictability was good for the soul.

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As we come to terms with our paradoxical heritage, can we find compassion for ourselves and those who came before us?

What would we be able to give today's generation and the ones that will follow if we could see our past with clear eyes?

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