Tag Archives: William Yeater

Different Times, Same Journey

Different Times, Same Journey (CaD Gen 38) Wayfarer

As [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law [Judah]. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25 (NIV)

I have blogged often in my posts about my maternal great-grandmother, Daisy, who was the celebrated matriarch of my mother’s family. The untold story of Grandma Daisy is her complicated relationship with her husband, Will. As heralded as Daisy was for her faith, joy, strength, fortitude, Will was remembered by his family as a tragically broken man who, from birth, was trapped in circumstances that were not of his own making, and from which he would never truly escape.

One of the challenges for modern readers of Genesis is to understand the social customs and mores of the tribal Near Eastern Mesopotamian cultures in the time of 1900 B.C. There are aspects of humanity and human behavior in which “nothing is new under the sun.” At the same time, the matters of daily life, systems of family, marriage, commerce, religion, government, survival, and culture are largely foreign to a 21st-century reader.

Today’s chapter is a fascinating lesson in the roles of men and women with regard to marriage and widowhood. It was a true patriarchal system. A woman had no status but for her husband and/or sons. She could not own land or inherit an estate. Widows were in a particularly vulnerable position. Unless her husband’s family agreed to marry her to a relative and she produced male offspring (called a Levirate marriage), she could either return to her father’s household (if he would have her) or try and survive by prostitution or the generosity of others.

Once again, the recurring theme of deception crops up, now in the fourth generation from Abraham. In yesterday’s chapter, Joseph’s brothers deceive their father into thinking his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. In today’s chapter, Judah’s eldest two sons die, leaving him to care for his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to marry her to his third son once he was of age, and sends her back to her family as was the custom of that day. He didn’t keep his word, however, and married his youngest son off to another. Judah knew he was not keeping his pledge to Tamar in yet another deception.

Tamar, left in a vulnerable position with no recourse, shrewdly beats Judah at his own family’s game of deception. Eerily similar to Judah’s father’s deception of Isaac, Tamar disguises herself, pretends to be a prostitute in order to get Judah to sleep with her and impregnate her. Having birthed a son by Judah, he is forced to bring Tamar and his son into the family or risk public humiliation.

Which, in the quiet this morning, brought me back to the story of Will and Daisy who, like Judah and Tamar, lived in a culture of intense social pressure. Their divorce left Daisy alone and scandalized with five children to raise on her own with whatever meager means she could scrounge in that day. She even graciously agreed to marry Will a second time as he attempted to redeem himself and pull himself out of his endless cycle of poor choices and unfortunate circumstances. His death was a sad metaphor for his life. He was run over in the street. Not surprisingly, no one in my family talked about Will. I only learned his story because my great aunt investigated and wrote a short biography of her father. I believe it was a daughter’s attempt to understand and reconcile with a father who brought so much pain into her life.

And thus, I return to the fact that humans of every time and place in history are human. In that, there is nothing new under the sun. In Judah and Tamar’s story, in Will and Daisy’s story, are two human beings navigating their own life journeys complete with the obstacles of personal failings, generational sin, relational struggles, and cultural obstacles. Sometimes we’re hampered by our own choices. Sometimes we’re stuck with circumstances that were not of our own making. Sometimes we struggle against the systems of culture, religion, community, and society that are lined up against us. It’s all part of our journeys and our stories. How I walk that journey will impact the legacy and the journeys of my physical and spiritual descendants.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

An Entire Life Reduced to One Bullet Point

My Great-Grandmother, Daisy Yeater, holding my mother.
My Great-Grandmother, Daisy Yeater, holding my mother.

The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed,his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph). 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 (NIV)

My great-grandfather, born Wouter van der Wel in the Netherlands. Evidence suggests that he became angry when his widowed mother married her former teacher, a man much older than she. He left home by himself, crossed the Atlantic, settled in northwest Iowa and “Americanized” his name to Walter Vander Well.

My grandma Vander Well’s father, Daniel Bloem, was an alcoholic and was difficult to live with. A widower, his three daughters took on the burden of constantly looking after him. When my grandparents secretly got married, they told no one and my grandmother continued to live at home and take care of her father. A man of great temper, he asked my grandmother “When are you going to marry that Herman Vander Well?”

“I already have,” she replied honestly.

Then get the hell out of my house!” he responded.

Very little is known about my grandpa Hendrickson’s father, Perry Hendrickson. He contracted tuberculosis when my grandfather, the eldest of three siblings, was just ten years old. Not wanting to be a burden on his family, Perry Hendrickson shot himself at home. It happened to be my grandfather’s birthday when he came home to find his father’s lifeless body. Great grandma, Olive Hendrickson, farmed my grandfather off to be raised by family which likely saved his life. She drug the younger children through several tragic marriages and their lives appear to have continued down tragic paths.

Grandma Hendrickson’s father was William Yeater. As an adult he discovered that he was the illegitimate son of a local Irish immigrant named David McCoy. William sued for his share of the estate and won a large settlement. An alcoholic and philanderer, my great grandmother, Daisy, gave him second chances but eventually divorced him for good and raised five children through the depression through her unshakable faith in God and hard work. When William offered to share part of his settlement with Daisy, she flatly refused to take his money and provided for her children by herself.

I know that reading through the genealogical records isn’t the most exciting of assignments, but I have to admit that there are all sorts of things that resonate with me as I read the chronicles. As an amateur family historian, I’m fascinated by what nuggets of history and information get passed down through the generations. Consider for a moment that when Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, slept with his father’s concubine the year was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1900 B.C. Tradition holds that the scribe writing the Chronicles was Ezra who would have penned his work somewhere between 400-500 B.C.

For 1500 years, the one thing that gets passed down and remembered about Reuben was the mistake of sleeping with his father’s concubine and losing his birthright to the two sons of Joseph. Talk about tragedy. The tribe of Reuben for generation after generation across centuries and two millennia lived under the curse of being the tribe that could have had it all if great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandpa Reuben had simply kept his dick in his tunic.

Very little of our lives will be remembered. The few nuggets of information I have about my great-grandparents is far more than I know about their parents. I think about my ancestors. There are volumes of their life story that have been lost and their legacy is reduced to a single bullet point that conveys how subsequent generations remember them:

  • He was angry with his mother and ran away to America.
  • He was an alcoholic, temperamental, and a burden to his daughters.
  • He killed himself on his son’s birthday.
  • She lived a hard life and was married five times to different losers.
  • He was an alcoholic, a philanderer, and his wife wanted nothing to do with him.
  • She was a woman of faith and hard work. Her children honored and adored her.

Today, I’m thinking about my legacy. What will be remembered about me? How are my words and actions affecting future generations? What do I want my bullet point to be?