I’ve been on a short vacation. It was supposed to be longer but for several reasons I cut it in half and instead of flying home, chose to take the “scenic route” and drive from St. Louis back home to the West Coast. I have a lot to process.
Today consisted of an ass-load of driving. Mostly across Missouri, which is as close to a “homeland” as I get. This trip was short and mostly sweet and I’m glad I made the pilgrimage. I stopped at Ozarkland for some of those fun road trip things (refrigerator magnets anyone?) and then set off North…
Back on the road I wanted to hear one song (America, by Simon and Garfunkel) and then I let my iPod play random songs in the “America” department (American Girl, American Idiot and the American Indian Movement song among them) but Simon and Garfunkel actually brought tears to my eyes.
I am generally not a flag waver, and not sappy about my country in the standard sense. Yes, many people have a very different idea of what our country means, but that’s part of the goodness of it.
The history of my family in this country is a long and painful one. None of them were wealthy. NONE. They were mostly (and I mean like 75%) farmers. Unlike many Americans I have found ZERO slave holders in my family and at least three people who married African or Mulatto spouses. (Ha! Surprise Dad!) And yes, the proverbial Cherokee, or…something like that. Native American anyway, several more of them than I was ever told about. But nearly everyone in my family was brutally poor, and it’s likely that that’s what brought them to America in the first place-being poor got many millions evicted from the British Isles.
I came back to where my parents lived their younger lives in order to pay respect to my ancestors, see my grandparents old home-place and “do some ancestor work”. It was an overwhelming experience that I will write more about when I’ve had time to process what the heck that was…For now suffice it to say that half of my family (living and deceased) completely blew me off (no surprise). The other side made me feel loved, and sent me green hugs, stories, gifts and magic.
Going back to my father’s tiny hometown was very sweet. It holds idyllic memories from childhood when we would go there every summer. I haven’t been there in 27 years. Seeing my grandparents’ old home-place was magical.
And so listening to “America” I didn’t so much think of flag waving, or the perpetual 1% of pure white rich capitalists who have always been with us, but about all of my ancestors that never fit in boxes. The farmers, blacksmiths, charcoal makers, vegetable peddlers, preachers, the many who came seeking respite from religious persecution, those who kept moving, trying to find a place where blackness or brownness or Jewishness or being not the “right kind” of Christian, or poor didn’t matter. All of them looking for good soil and a small home and to be left in peace.
And I think about my great grandmother, who died in 1955. She never had an easy life. She took care of the sick and the dying in her community, birthed the babies, and buried two husbands and a daughter. She saw ghosts, use herbal medicine, and “knew things”.
I am fiercely proud to be her descendant.
My body may be “read as white” today, but no one in my family ever came from money. I guess it still surprises me, that they were all so poor, because in this country we are taught that to be white is to be superior. I was taught that I was “white white”. That is a racist lie. ALL of my ancestors were brutally poor, save for the last two generations, who have stepped into the white privilege hawked by the capitalists to entice the poor into believing that they too can have the dream. My grandfather and father bought that ticket…and it has paid off for me. I have lived in privilege that even at the worst of times my great-grandmother knew NOTHING about.
But despite the racism, I AM proud of America. Her land, her beauty and all of her poor and colorful. Cheesy road-side attractions and all…I am proud of how hard all of my ancestors worked for me to be here.
But it comes at a price….and I owe them all something….