The picture I posted yesterday is one of my favorites. In that photograph, my grandparents were young and full of life and hope. My grandmother glowed with the health of her pregnancy, and my grandfather had that same handsome, determined stare. I don't have any photos of my paternal grandfather. He died when my father was quite young. All I know is that he had a bad temper and died from some sort of stomach cancer. My paternal grandmother lived to be 97 and never married again.
My grandmother in the photograph, though, was a progressive woman. She believed in voting and argued with my other grandmother about that. She was active in her community and was strong-willed. They were good people, and they were gone too soon. They had two children, my uncle and my mother, at a time when most farm families were having large broods. I never asked why they only had two children, but perhaps it was because my mother was sickly. Or maybe my grandmother just didn't want more children.
I've always been fascinated with my roots, but I haven't taken the time to dig very far back genealogically speaking. I know that one family tree, from my maternal grandfather's side, goes back to the 1600s. My husband's family has a tree that traces his paternal roots back to Hungary in the 1800s. His mother's tree goes back to royalty in Scotland. My side is mostly English, Irish, Dutch, and Welsh, from what I've been told, with a little Cherokee thrown in.
This all begs the question, though, who are we? Are we our ancestors? Does it really matter where we came from? After all, I am not my ancestors. I don't live in Europe. In fact, I have yet to go there (but it's on my list). I wonder if it's just natural curiosity or if it's because none of us Americans feel like we know much about who we are. We are born and live in the melting pot, but we long to know our roots.
This all came up the other night at the dinner table. My husband and I were discussing politics and how disappointed we are in Barack Obama's comments (and his wife's comments) which would indicate more of an affinity for "African culture" than for American pride and culture. Pundits on CNN are defending Obama's minister, saying that we just don't understand the African culture.
Excuse me, what culture? How many of those in the congregation actually came from Africa? How many have even been there? Do they want to go live in Sierra Leone? In Darfur? I understand having some curiosity and pride in your roots, but come on. This is the 21st century in America. I'm not bemoaning what happened to my poor, starving relatives who came here to escape famine, religious oppression, or boredom.
I mean, I don't want to start a war with my blog, but think about it. What does it say when we are focused more on past generations than on the present? How can we change things and move forward if we are still identifying with the nations and religions of our distant ancestors? Who are we, really?
I was born in Georgia (small town) to poor parents. I grew up in Texas (big city) with a father who worked hard to put food on the table. I married and moved to North Carolina (Marine Corps base) and later to Maryland (for work). I never met or knew any of those distant ancestors of mine. I don't know what they went through. I don't know how they felt, who they were, what their hopes and dreams might have been. All I know is today. All I know is who I am. And really, isn't that a darned good start?
Peace - D