Monday, June 3, 2013

NaBloPoMo: Roots, Rootlessness, and Resilience

When I saw that the theme of NaBloPoMo was "roots" this time, I confess, I sucked in my breath a little.  Because must as I love my CSA, and the bounty of the summer garden, "roots" is one of the hardest subjects for me to talk about.


Back in March, the NY Times published an article entitled "The Family Stories That Bind Us," about research suggesting that the more you know about your family story, the more resilient your family--and you--will be.

My family story, from my perspective, starts in my mother's house in NJ.  I don't know anything about my mother's parents, aside from the things my mother said about her mother when I was growing up, primarily about her cooking, and the fact that my mother's parents were of German ancestry.  My maternal grandmother died when my mother was still in her early days of teaching, and my mother lives, to this day, in the same house where she has lived since she was two years old (she and my father purchased it from her brothers, who had moved out to start their own lives elsewhere).  I've seen pictures of my mother's parents, and they look just like my round-faced uncle.  In my maternal grandfather's case: bald as a ping-pong ball.

I know even less about my father's parents, though I am named after one of them.  My father had eight brothers and sisters, one of whom died early in childhood, and lived on a farm in northern Spain.  When it became too much to support them all, when they were consuming more than they could contribute, my father was among the children sent to a Jesuit boarding school in France where, presumably, he was prepared to enter the ministry.  (I have two other uncles who also became Jesuit brothers, one of whom ended up in Guatemala and the other in Puerto Rico; I'm guessing, though I don't know, that they went to the same school.)

When he finished his Jesuit education abroad, my father was sent to teach in Cuba, and after some unrecorded amount of time there, escaped to the U.S. one day after he had stood in front of a firing squad who decided, randomly, to stop shooting students and teachers for the day.  The story is that he brought diamonds with him in the handle of a suitcase.  I don't know about that; I never saw the diamonds.  But it does seem to make my father a heroic, daring person.

via wikimedia Commons
And in many ways, my mother was strong, too, holding together her own house as a young woman, orphaned early in her adult life, with no family left in the local vicinity.

Writes Bruce Feiler, author of the NY Times piece, "if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come."

I can't draw a family tree.  I feel jealous of people who take pictures of four generations together, who know the names of all of their aunts and uncles, who have deep roots.  I don't have lots of family stories that go back generations on a family tree.  Mine is more like a single, thick taproot, like the ones that you find when you pull up surprisingly hardy dandelions.   I am the beginning of my own plant, which came, perhaps, from some strong seed stock.  I haven't planted myself in one spot; many years, I've had to scatter my seeds to the wind and take root again somewhere else.  Maybe I'm not as resilient as people who have big trees, and stories of bouncing back.  But it's what I have.

What about you?  What are the oldest ancestors you know about?  Do you feel like those family stories have influenced you?
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  1. Well you should envy anyone elses family tree, from what I am reading including my own...a lot of us don't have flourishing trees! It is often times hard I think for people to go back and recall things...our relatives that is...I think maybe they just want to forget, or don't remember. I don't know really.

    It was a wonderful and informative post, I enjoyed it very much! Love the pic of your root! Cute touch.

  2. My family is pretty intense about the family tree. We know who the first to cross the ocean in the 1700s was and his children and soforth. There are great chunks I don't know but I know someone in our family has the tree.Actually I have to make a family website with the tree on it somehow..that's one of my charges asa semi-tech savy adult family member. lol

  3. Such a powerful post. The ChickieNob and I have been working on a family tree for a year now, and this summer, we're building a website with a page for each person and audio interviews with every living relative we can find. A lot of it is stuff we found ourselves, pouring over old documents. Ship manifests. I connected with a distant relative in California and she sent me stuff that I never knew. It is very emotional to hold those stories, to also not be able to talk to those people anymore and confirm what we're finding. Or even let them know that we're finding it.

  4. I read this article and I was fascinated by it! I want to talk to my kids about our family - and there is a lot I don't know either. But I'd like to at the least, accentuate the good in what I do know - for them and also for myself.

  5. I love this post.

    On my dad's side, I know as far back as my great grandparents, who emigrated from the Ukraine. My grandfather and his 3 brothers fought in WWII - all came home, though my grandfather likes to say "thanks to the bomb and Harry Truman." They were going to do a Normandy invasion at Okinawa - for which my grandfather was scheduled to be the 3rd boat in the 3rd wave on the 1st day. Given that Okinawa was more fortified than Normandy, if not for the decision to use the bomb I wouldn't be here today.

    Kind of amazing to think about the ripples in the universe which allowed your father (and my grandfather) to escape death on those days, isn't it?

    My mother's side of the family is more obscure - early death and adoption (my grandmother was adopted, I think?) means I can't go back very far either.

    My parents moved a lot. I grew up in New Jersey, yes, but I lived in NY and for a short summer, NC.

    I have no childhood toys or furniture, and my mother even purged her picture albums (I rescued mine, thankfully - I at least have my baby pictures!)

    My inlaws, however, live in the same house - the one my FIL built 35 years ago. They have toys from when my FIL was a boy which my son plays with.

    I love the idea of planting myself in one place, creating my own roots. We bought our house with the intention of being here for 30 years, and I confess the idea of my son bringing his children to HIS childhood home fills me with warmth. I don't have that, and I'm often envious of my husband that he does.

    Anyway. Great post - gave me lots to think about. :)


  6. I like reading about your family hiStories. While they may be small in number, they are large in interestingness.

    I wish I'd paid more attention to my grandparents' stories while they were alive. I have a sense my maternal ones were earthy people. My paternal ones are mysteries.

  7. I love knowing my family's stories, and I have been working on various parts of my family tree, on & off, for the past 30 years. The Internet has been a huge help. The furthest back ancestor that I can definitively document is my greatx4 grandfather, who was a sergeant in the British Army, born in Ireland, came to Canada after the War of 1812 & settled in the Ottawa Valley. The branch of the family I know most about is on my maternal grandfather's side. My greatx2 grandparents were both born in Ireland but both went to Scotland as children, met & married there, emigrated to New York State in the early 1860s, then headed north to Canada & then west & back over the border into NW Minnesota in the late 1870s. They sent letters back to greatx2 grandma's parents & sister back in Ontario & the sister, bless her, kept many of them. When she died in 1949, a relative found them & had them transcribed & circulated among the family. The originals are now in a local museum -- an absolute treasure!! It was such a huge thrill to hold those letters in my hands & see the handwritten words.

    Through the Internet, I have connected with several fourth cousins (all of us share the same great x3 grandfather) in Scotland, and even a distant cousin in Australia!

    I never did much research on my father's (Ukrainian) side, figuring the language barrier would be hard to overcome... but I actually stumbled onto a family tree for my grandmother's family. Contacted the owner & it turns out my dad & his mom are first cousins -- I've met his mom, but not him. My great-grandparents were among the early Ukrainian settlers in Canada in the late 1890s & great-grandpa even has an entry in the Ukrainian-Canadian Dictionary of Biography. So you just never know what you'll find...!


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