The Courage to Grow Old

the courage to grow old

Who was Caroline Autler Heinemann?

The history Heinemann in America doesn’t say a word about my third great-grandmother’s courage or lack thereof. The basis of everything I know about Caroline Autler Heinemann comes from these lines on page 54:

JOHN HEINEMANN of Hanover, German, was born and died in Deuderstadt, married Caroline Autler, born 1784 and died in Pennsylvania in 1868. She accompanied her five children to America in 1851 and to McKean County, where her sixth child, William Heinemann, had settled.

It then lists her descendants, and that’s it.

According to the passenger list of the Magdalene, Caroline and her family arrived in New York, New York on August 5, 1851. The record shows them bound for Norwich PA, confirming their intent to join the family members already settled there.

In 1860, Caroline lived in her daughter Elizabeth Heinemann Specht’s household, along with an unmarried daughter, Catherine. The census lists Hamburg as her birthplace.

Crossing into Parts Unknown

When I think of Caroline, I think of the Bette Davis quote, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Today we’d hardly call the mid-sixties “old age,” but Caroline emigrated at age 66 as a mother of ten and a widow. Her days and patterns, most likely, were firmly set. I can’t imagine she rejoiced when her children uprooted their lives in Duderstadt to join their brother William in an unknown land. In her shoes, I’d shrink from leaving my home for a place where my language and customs would brand me a stranger.

Thought I’ll probably never know for certain, I seriously doubt she wanted to make that journey. But she did.

the courage to grow old

What does it mean to have the courage to grow old?

I believe it runs deeper than not being afraid to die, although making peace with mortality is part of it. Age introduces loss—loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of opportunities. I think of where I’m at in my life right now—always full of plans and goals—and how some of my conversations with God as of late have touched on choosing well, since I can’t do everything all at once. I haven’t yet had to let go of something desperately wanted simply because I lack the time required.

Time and strength wane. Aging represents dwindling future possibilities. Upon leaving her country forever and essentially starting over at age 66, Caroline watched the door swing shut on who knows how many plans and dreams. How scary and shapeless the future must have seemed from the vantage point of that boat.

Shapeless, but not hopeless.

Refusing fear and seizing time

The Heinemanns found economic opportunity in the United States. Although Caroline wouldn’t live to see the empire built by her grandson, Nicholas, the seeds of that empire were planted by 1865, three years before she passed on. She saw her large family prosper in the seventeen years she lived in McKean county. In addition, living in the Specht household afforded her the opportunity to enjoy her grandchildren.

Again, I don’t and probably can’t know how Caroline approached her final years. It occurs to me that as possibilities fade, time passes and loss chips away at the collected elements that a person calls her life, that the courage to grow old requires the bravery to let things go, along with an urgency to fill the remaining time and space with significance. And you know, that doesn’t sound like such a bad habit to start even now.

#52Ancestors: Caroline Autler Heinemann and the courage to emigrate to the USA from Germany at age 66

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Special Stuff!

His Pepper HeartSpeaking of getting older—I just had a birthday this weekend. To celebrate, my new eShort, His Pepper Heart, is FREE for Kindle—today (2/29/2016) only!

(Note: I’m scheduling this post before the sale starts, so verify the $0.00 price before you buy, just to make sure!)

Update: The sale may be over, but my little poblano is still only $0.99. Go ahead… Snack on a Story!


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5 thoughts on “The Courage to Grow Old

  1. I’ve done genealogy for about 20 years and love your site!!! I look forward to your March writings as women of my family fascinate me.

  2. Your emails are wonderful…..but I thought you would want to know this: Today (3/7) I received your email—but it had a free kindle offer that was only good on 2/29………so sad I missed it. My guess is that others did as well.
    B. Doshi

    1. Oh no! I’m sorry, Barbara! I tried to figure out what went wrong, and all I can come up with is that I forgot that subscribers can set email posts to receive a weekly digest, so maybe that was the disconnect.

      Thanks for letting me know. Next time I run a special offer, I will make sure to tease it the week prior so weekly digest folks will see it in time.

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