This is Buzz. He is very important to me, and pushing 45 years old. He was knitted by my Great Grandmother Hogan, who we called Nana. Nana and Poppop (Johnny Hogan, my maternal great grandparents) were pretty important in my young life.
They had spent the bulk of their lives in the Yukon, before moving to Maple Ridge into the quiet woods to retire. Poppop had run a gold mining dredge for the Yukon Consolidated Gold Company, except during the war, when he built airfields for shuttle runs to keep war materiel flowing to the Easter Front across the pole. Nana had been a can-can dancer, a hot French import in a territory of over horny, under civilized men. How Poppop won her was the stuff of legends in the north. The usual tactics had yielded the usual results. One day my sister was going through Nana’s sewing stuff with her when she found a sharp little knife, with a .303 Imperial casing as its hilt. When asked what it was, Nana replied it was a garter knife. Young ladies kept them in their garter belts for when gentlemen callers got fresh. A soldier friend of hers gave it to her when they were dating. My sister asked if it was sharp, to which Nana replied “Ask Johnny”. Poppop laughed long and loud, while rubbing an old scar that ran across the top of his bicep, just below the shoulder. Well now. That hadn’t turned the trick with Nana.
No, what won Nana over was his cooking. Johnny Hogan was renowned for many things, mostly very manly skills of heavy equipment operation, mining and engineering, running cat trains up the frozen Yukon river………..oh, and making the best damned doughnuts in six hundred miles. Turns out Nana liked doughnuts, and they were hard to come by in the Yukon. Turns out, when you really like the milk, you buy the cow, or at least slap a brand and ring on that thar doughnut making stud bull. Thus came, in due course, my grandmother, and with a little assistance, and some time, my mother.
Now Poppop taught me a few things that would be important in my life. He taught me curling, a sport that remains important to me, and one which I had the chance to take up again with my wife in later life. When I was a child, I curled on a provincial champion team, back when brooms were corn, and sweeping sounded like a Huey dustoff. He was also a story teller, ah and what stories. Being a working man in the North, there are some things you learn to live without. Fingers being one. Or three in his case. Now how he lost them was never established, but we had any number of utterly plausible tales from him that we wanted to call BS on, but he would happily wiggle his stumps, and leave us doubting.
It could be that he sucked his thumb, and eventually pulled the other fingers back into the hand. It could be that he was an repeated nose picker, and sneezing cost him a finger at a time until he broke the habit. I could be that he shook his finger at an angry woman and she snapped it off and tucked it in his shirt pocket. The other two were from attempted protests at the finger snapping. Best not to argue with a woman son…… He taught me to love poetry, the reading of Robert Service poems, to hear Dangerous Dan McGrew, or Cremation of Sam McGee while a fire crackled in the hearth and the shadows gathered around the cabin were strong powerful things that sunk their roots deep in my soul, though it would be years before I knew it.
Poppop and Nana taught me to love the land, the wildness of it, the harshness of it. The utter lack of forgiveness in the land only made them love it fiercer, respect it, and always, always pay attention to it. They lived live with the utter acceptance of its realities, and its cost. They loved fiercely, protected those they loved, but not from the world, or the lessons it taught through pain and failure. They protected you from the true dangers, the ones you didn’t get a chance to learn from. They gave with open hands to those who had real needs, and looked on with calm resolution when what you needed was to get off your ass, and fix your own messes.
They died as they lived. Together. Nana failed. She got sick, and when the began the slide down to the grave, Poppop he just laid down and died. When Nana came around again and found out Johnny had gone ahead, she closed her eyes, and followed him home.
This is Buzz. He is a little ragdoll, knitted by my great grandmother. He has lived beside my bed for 45 years, and will likely do so until and unless I have a grand-child to pass it to.
I am a Heathen. I follow the Aesir and Vanir, the gods of my Northern European ancestors. I accept this world, see the holy and the profane, the sacred and the soiled, the splendid and the sordid that is within it, and I accept that our worth, our purpose, and our potential are all here. I accept that the living and the dead share this world, that the spirits of the land, of the animals, and of other spirits all share this land with us.
Looking back at it, I really wonder how much of my Heathenry I learned at his knee. I knew how much Granddad Mainer taught me about how to be Heathen, but if Granddad Mainer was the teacher of the warrior’s arts, the skald was Poppop, Great Granddad Hogan. Hail to you, my noble ancestors, hail to you who taught me how to be the man I am, the Heathen I could only be from your teachings.
Ancestor worship is a part of our way of life, because in very real ways, without acknowledging our ancestors we are ignorant of ourselves, who we are, what we are, and why we are driven to strive. There are feasts where we are reminded to do so, there are times to remember and offer to our dead.
There are also times like now, where you reach down and pick up a token that reminds you of one of your fallen, one of your friends or ancestors, one of your dead. You pick up the token and you smile, for a thousand memories flood back, a thousand lessons. You pick up the token and the words of the dead ring in your ears, along with their laughter, and even the rough feel of their hands. I can almost smell his doughnuts, and hear Nana’s knitting needles clicking as she chided him as he wove his stories for us.
Some people wonder what pagan idols look like. Well, lets let the whole “Heathen not pagan” argument go for a second, and say simply this; This is what I place on my alter to remember my maternal ancestors. My paternal grandfathers medals, and my maternal great grandmothers hand knitted doll. This is love, magic, and rememberance. This is what heathenry looks like.
I leave you with this, the Cremation of Sam McGee. No its not as good as Poppop, but it’s the best I can share with you.