Saturday, March 4, 2017

Family and myth

I was talking on the phone with my brother, I think it was 6 or 7 years ago.  He was telling me things that he had heard about our family that he didn't think I knew about, and he was right.  But more than that, some of what he told me seemed more like myth; here are some things that make us more special.  I have been thinking from time to time over the intervening years about how much we mythologise our family histories.  I mean, we all want our stories to be special, right?

There were a few things that I had grown up knowing.  Like I knew that my grandma was part Cherokee.  She knew her grandpa had married a Cherokee, and that was why her hair was so dark and her nose had the look it did.  Now, there was also a family rumor that there may have been some Native American on my grandpa's side, too.  But others in his family denied it, so it was a maybe.  But my grandma?  That was a known fact.

So when someone shared a link with me on Facebook about why so many white people claim to have some Native American in their family, something about white guilt and feeling special or different or something.  I don't really remember, because I just skimmed it, because that wasn't my family.  My family, it was a known person attested to by my grandma.

Except, then I did a DNA test a few months ago.   And you can guess, but after 61 years knowing one sure thing about my family, I learned it isn't true.  I am English and Irish and Scandinavian with a few tiny traces of other mostly white people.  White through and through.  So white I still don't know how I could possibly have such brown eyes.

It has been really hard to wrap my head around.  How could my beloved and trusted grandma get this so wrong?

We want our family stories to be wonderful and magical.  And let's be real here, those of us who are educated and have big hearts and grew up in the US thinking about the history and culture of our country, well there is a lot of ugly in that mix.

But I also come from a long line of strong women who survived some really hard circumstances.  I come from a long line of deeply spiritual and intelligent people, even if much education was not often available to many of them.  I come from a musical family, and a family of storytellers.  I come from a long line of people who tell the most horrendous stories of surviving some really crazy stuff, and yet who keep finding the silver lining and who keep laughing together.

And that is the mythology I hope that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will carry into the future.  With the advances in testing, they may grow up knowing more truth about who they are they my grandma could have ever imagined.  And really, aren't the very best stories the ones that you can prove?

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