Photo by Vern C. Gorst, circa 1923. The Commons.
In case you’d rather listen:
Why Roots Matter
Listen friends, what I want to tell you is this.
Where you came from matters.
You may be the daughter of a governor, surrounded by private schools, and horseback lessons, and security guards. Or, you may be the under-parented waif, sitting at a Formica table, sharing a bag of potato chips for dinner with your brother. Regardless, the story of your source matters. The good and the bad of it. The hot and the cold of it.
The stories you were taught in your childhood, and those you wrote for yourself in your teens…
The beliefs you held when you came of age, and the hard lessons you learned in the decades that followed…
The family photographs in albums and shoe boxes, and the instagrams on your phone…
It’s all part of an essential narrative. Every twist is a part of the root system unseen below the surface of your present.
The tangled stories of your family tree carries life to the heartwood of your being. Full of pleasure or rife with pain, they are the building blocks of you.
How do you take care of these stories? Where can you tell them, breathing them into life? True, inside the therapist office you can shed tears over the father who missed every single birthday, or the family that melted away –but can you tell your stories in your own living room? Once in blue moon at a family reunion you can make grandma’s apple cake and laugh at all your in-common quirks. But the rest of time, how do you remember?
How could you notice your roots on a regular basis? How could you build story telling into the rhythm of your year? How can you make sure to pass on accounts of victory, and cautionary tales to your children?
Well, you,could start by celebrating the dead.
It’s true that I am as anglo as they come. I don’t have a fascinating story of immigration. I only speak one language. My family has been here for so long, we no longer know where our deep roots are planted. To make matters worse, my culture is charmed by the new, and obsessed with the young. I have no cultural habits of remembrance. And so I borrow from my neighbors to the south, learning their good lessons. I become the silly gringa practicing something she only half understands. I celebrate Dia de los Muertos –The Day of the Dead.
I don’t do it properly — taking the day off with my neighbors to have picnics in the cemetery, leaning against the gravestones while we eat our ancestors favorite foods. I don’t build an ofrenda as big as a dinning room table, festooned with golden marigolds, bright mirrors, paper flowers. The damp climate of my home town insures that I can’t make sugar skulls. But I have my own right-fit version. One my family has come to love. One that helps my children remember.
Because of my bastardized take on All Saints…All Soul’s…The Day of the Dead, my children know our family stories. They know about their great-grandmother and why she got a tattoo when she was 80. They value their well-clad feet as they hear how only the oldest of my grandfather’s siblings had the privilege of shoes. They are connected to the brother they never knew, dead before they were ever born. Gone but not forgotten.
And we know other stories too, because of the Dead. Catherine can tell you all about her name sake, who stood up against the powers-that-be when the church ignored the poor. Both girls listen as their dad, not usually one for traditions and art projects, shows them the icon he made of Rosa Parks and explains how her act of defiance inspired him to take his own stand. Ancestors of blood and of choice shape the next generation, and answer the question for us all, “how shall we then live.”
It is a wide, opinonated world we live in. We are buffered about by the pro’s and the con’s. Shaped by the urgent instead of the important. You need your roots, as I need mine. To anchor us in true things. To help us stand.
Are you connected to your ancestry? Can you makes space for the sad and the joyful bits of your history? Are you passing your stories down?
I think you are. I know you can. I hope you will.
This month in the Flock, we are learning to celebrate our ancestors in simple, meaningful ways. Day of the Dead is celebrated October 31-November 1st. It’s not too late to access this month’s video lessons, or to share ideas on our private facebook page. Won’t you click here to join us?