Monthly Archives: March 2013

Inheritance and Identity

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In circles where the topic of cultural and ethnic identity comes up (which, obviously, isn’t many of the circles I spend time in), I always find myself cringing inwardly at some point throughout the conversation. As a white person, I struggle with feeling any desire to connect to my culture; after all, we have screwed up. A lot. Aside from this, as a mixed woman of mostly European descent, with whom do I align myself with? I am Irish/French/German/British/Swiss/Native American and possibly many small degrees of other ethnicities, all of which are complex and noteworthy and deserve both my pride and my humility when taking my heritage into account.

On Wednesday morning, my one remaining grandparent, my maternal grandmother, peacefully left this world after a month of declining health and almost twenty years of living with a mind that was irreversibly damaged by a massive stroke. It’s very sad to realize that the last remaining tie to that generation of my direct descendents is gone; I will no longer have the opportunity to spend time with someone that close to my family who has lived through events and decades that my parents have only heard stories about. Not only that, but she was a very sweet and lovable woman; she always smiled and laughed when people came to visit her, even after she lost the ability to communicate with words.

Yet there I’m carrying around so much joy on her behalf; when I cry (and I do, often) it’s because I feel like this is a beautiful thing for her. I truly believe that she’s now been completely restored, both mentally and physically. Her sharp mind is fully functioning again, and the woman who loved to dance is no longer bed bound and feeble. Most importantly, she will never feel loneliness again. She is back in the company of people she loved dearly; her siblings, her large extended family, and her husband, and probably most importantly, Jesus.

In spending the past few days reflecting on her life, I’ve been overwhelmed by the many photos and tidbits that have been unearthed; not only of her life, but of her parents, and her parent’s parents. I’ve been somewhat amazed by this part of my history. I knew my grandmother, but only heard stories about her mother and her mother’s mother. As Jason and I were looking through some of these photos last night, he remarked how strange that some of the non-physical similarities between me and my grandparents and great-grandparents were almost biological. In other words, not only was I bound to end up looking like them to some degree; I would also inherit their characteristics, their hobbies, their personalities.

For the first time, I feel a connection to my culture. I feel a sense of identity that I have affection and pride for.

My great-great-grandmother Molly emigrated from Germany and homesteaded on the land that I would one day marry Jason on. In her flower garden in the front yard of her cabin (the cabin we still visit) she grew hollyhocks.

G Molly

So when I spend time under the branches of the plum trees and love the land that I’m so blessed to be able to visit, I am taking after her. I also have a packet of hollyhock seeds in my seed box that I had intended to plant in my front yard one day, in the same way my own mother grows hollyhocks along her front fence.

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And seriously, who wouldn’t feel proud that this epic couple was a part of your family?

My great-grandmother Alice, who married Molly’s son, was the daughter of a beautiful Native American woman whose picture is displayed in my parent’s house. Alice was beautiful and graceful; she cared for her own children and oftentimes opened her house to her many grandchildren. She, too would spend summers in Door County with her husband.

G Alice

Jason and I have very likely stood in that same spot.

And then there was Grandma. I like to joke that I was named after a Bob Dylan song but in reality my name is a tribute to her, Joan. My middle name I share with my dad’s mom. My name itself is a part of my history, and I love that. I love that I have a name that not many other people have.

After her stroke, she came and lived with us for awhile. Because her mind had been damaged, she had to re-learn how to do many normal things, including how to read. As a 7-year-old struggling with my own reading, I found myself somewhere around her level. So we read to each other to pass the time. We read kid’s books and school books and I think I even read her some of my comic books. Within a few years, I was reading far beyond my grade level and went on to excel in most academic situations because of my reading skills.

While she forgot some things, one thing she remembered was how to crochet. So, one day she taught me. I never forgot how to do it, and when I got older I also taught myself to knit – all because we spent one winter afternoon working with yarn. Every time I let wool run between my fingers and create something, I think of her.

One thing that I didn’t know – and discovered this past week – was that she worked as a secretary for 11 years. A secretary!

Secretery

My grandmother was a devout charismatic Catholic woman. My first memory of attending church was with her and my step grandpa, when I was four or five. I don’t remember very much about anything, but I do remember singing next to her, and singing with all of the vigor my little voice could muster. I doubt I even knew the words, but I sang nonetheless. After the Mass, I asked her if I had behaved well in church, if I had been good.

“Yes” she said, “And you sang so well!”

And so on Saturday night, when I found myself playing my guitar and singing hymns at her bedside during what would be my last visit with her, I thought of that day. I look at her hands, and my mother’s hands, and I see mine.

Ever since I remember, my grandma had red hair. In fact, it was some time before I realized that it wasn’t even her real hair color and that she likely had grey hair underneath. She did – I saw it on Saturday for the first time. And while her natural hair was beautiful and thick, I like to remember her as a redhead and joke that I get my red hair from her.

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This week has been full of happy (and sad) tears, full of the ache of a beautiful end to her story. It has also been many moments of looking through these photos and saying, “Oh, there. There I am. That is where I come from”.

In doing this, I realize that I would like to see photos of my father’s family as well. To explore a whole other side of my history that I know in word but not image. I know, from scanned images of old census records, they were farmers and shipbuilders and that they came from France and Canada and Switzerland and most significantly, from Ireland.

I want to remember where I came from, and I want my children to know the stories. I want them to know that I grow vegetables because my father did and I grow flowers because my mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother did. I play my guitar and sing because both of my parents have a voice, and my hands, long and capable just like my grandma’s hands, learned from my father how to pick out the chords on the guitar. I spend as many hours as I can spare along the shores of Lake Michigan, and sometimes I bring a bag of yarn along to pass the time.

I have hair which, in its natural form, is curly like his and brown like hers (and also dyed red, like Grandma’s). I have his nose and her eyes, his Irish stature and her long arms and legs. When I have children, they will share these features with Jason’s features; his (truly) red hair and hazel eyes and intense propensity for freckles.

We’ll gather this weekend to honor her life. My family will sing songs at the funeral. I will see cousins and uncles and family that I haven’t seen since I was 19. One of my cousins has become a mother since then. I have grown dreadlocks and gotten married and become a homeowner. And while I have changed, have become my own person and created my own family, I will honor my inheritance. I will feel grateful for the things that were passed on to me that can’t be defined in physical characteristics. I will, maybe for the first time, identify myself as a part of a culture and not have to feel ungrounded.

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Jason saw these pictures and said, “She seemed like she was kind of a free-spirited person, wasn’t she? Like you and your sister?” Yes, I think she was.

 

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Things I dislike that the whole rest of the world likes

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Sometimes, when I take a break at work, I have occasionally been known to browse Pinterest. Being somewhat of a sheltered woman (we don’t own a TV and, since home ownership, we spend a lot of time rambling around our house), this habit has been somewhat eye-opening in the sense that I find myself thinking, “Really?” THIS is how people spend their time? THIS is what people like?” It’s made me realize…American pop culture can be really, really shallow. It’s also made me even happier about the fact that we don’t watch TV and aren’t planning on changing that anytime soon.

I keep a somewhat satirical mental list of fads, trends, and general silliness that I come across and can’t help but wonder, “Why…?” So, to get the writing juices flowing again, I thought I’d share my list with you.

Disclaimer: Please understand that I’m not trying to be a hater. While I get a little weirded out by intense fandom, if you happen to really enjoy/get satisfaction out of something on my list and keep your appreciation somewhat sane in nature, chances are I won’t judge you for it. These are, after all, simply my preferences.

(These are not in any particular order, by the way)

  1. The Hunger Games series
    I read them all, hoping that there would be some redeeming quality somewhere in the series. And while there were a few moments worthy of applause, I finally concluded that I wasn’t going to find the deep, redemptive moral of the story that I was looking for because these are Young Adult books and they aren’t supposed to have some intense meaning. They’re supposed to be exciting, action-packed, fluffy tales about an indecisive teenager having to choose between two hot boys, wearing lots of designer clothes she doesn’t really like, and somehow having to figure out how to save her post-Apocalyptic nation from self destructing on itself. The writing was fairly stale (on par with the Twilight series, which I also read), but again, they aren’t written to be critiqued on an adult level by someone whose favorite author is Steinbeck.
  2. Harry Potter everything
    I read the first few books and they were actually really fun and well-written. Again, they’re kids books, but they sort of reminded me of “The Chronicles of Narnia”. I’d like to finish reading the series at some point. Heck, I’d even do a weekend movie marathon where I watch all of them. What weirds me out, though, is people who have whole Pinterest boards or photo albums dedicated to all of the actors in the movie, recipes for butterbeer, and ideas for Harry-Potter themed parties. Tone it down a little bit, kids.
  3. Channing Tatum (or whatever his name is)
    Why do women think this man is attractive??? Ugh. I mean, if you want to marry a six-pack, then I guess he’s your guy.
  4. Cupcakes
    I hate cupcakes. I’m sorry. It’s probably because I dislike cake in general. In my opinion, it’s far too fake-tasting and laden with sugar. My teeth hurt just thinking about eating cake/cupcakes. I’ve even tried some of those fancy gourmet cupcakes and they were alright…they just don’t have enough depth to them. I guess I’m kind of a dessert snob; I tend to prefer desserts with a few different flavors/textures going on, and I have yet to eat a cupcake that was worth the sugar/calories to fit the bill.
  5. The Beatles
    You can harass me about this one, I get it. I know they were (and still are) a huge phenomenon that changed rock music. And don’t get me wrong, they’re OK. Shrug. I just don’t find anything particularly amazing about them. I think there were much more complex, progressive musicians from that era that I’d rather spend my time listening to. Besides, I will always be a Dylan girl at heart. He did write a song about me, after all.
  6. Zooey Deschanel
    I know I’m a wacko here because I once tried looking for memes that made fun of her and they don’t exist because seemingly everyone loves this chick. Except me. And my sister. She’s that quintessential hipster girl with big bangs and blue eyes that everybody worships but nobody can manage to maintain a relationship with (including poor Joseph Gordon Levitt). She always plays the same type of character in every movie, going around batting her long eyelashes, seducing poor under-achieving boys, and moping about, well, everything. If I hear one more person talk about how she’s so “quirky” and “endearing” I will vomit.
  7. Pregnancy Announcement photos
    Someday, if I have a kid, I would like to find some creative way of announcing it. But it should preferably be something that doesn’t involve bows, baby blocks, baby shoes, gender-reveal balloons/cupcakes/drinks, me vomiting while my husband holds a sign saying “We’re pregnant!” or a tire pump.
  8. Pink things for girls
    I was raised with no concept that girls were supposed to like all things pink. By the time I was six, my favorite colors were blue and green and I had no idea they were “boy” colors. I don’t get it. I like blue, on boys and girls. I like green and yellow and red and brown on them, too. Why do I have to decorate a girl’s room in pink? Why do I have to dress her in pink onesies or pink legwarmers? I mean, I get the whole nurturing of the feminine nature, but to me, pink screams “Barbie” and that is not the feminine nature I want to instill in my daughter. Shudder.
  9. Fitness/skinny motivation photos
    This is setting you up for some sort of eating disorder or compulsive behavior. Yes, I read (and sometimes pin) workouts that make sense to me, especially yoga sequences. Yes, I think it’s important to find motivation to exercise regularly and eat healthy. But that motivation should be YOUR own body and what’s right for it – not someone else’s body. Do I get jealous and a little bit insecure when I see photos of women with perfect abs or toned legs? Well, yeah, of course. But I wouldn’t want to use that to motivate me to work out for two hours every single day and never eat grains or potatoes or whatever is supposedly making me fat these days. What motivates me is that, by taking care of my body in the form of exercise and healthy eating, I am helping MY body be the best that it can be. And on that note, I get really, really sick of seeing one particular workout described as something that will “blast belly fat in two weeks!” Or, “Lose the thunder thighs in five days”. That’s crap. Nothing does that for your body aside from a long commitment to taking care of it.
  10. “Easy” DYI projects
    You know, those projects that usually involve spending $30 at Michael’s on unsustainably-produced goods to make something you could have reasonably bought at a thrift store for $5. Those projects that take hours. Those projects that never, ever look as good as the photos on someone’s blog. Those no-sew projects that involve an ungodly amount of hot glue and loose threads. Be curious, be willing to try new things. But take some of these tutorials with a grain of salt, my friends.

 

So, to end on a positive note, I will also list some things that I regularly see on Pinterest that I actually like:

  1. Jennifer Lawrence
    Despite my stance on her big-deal franchise, I actually really like this girl. She’s played some diverse roles, she doesn’t look anorexic, and she seems genuinely down to earth. I can get on board with this one.
  2. Engagement/Couple photos
    Jason and I are terribly awkward in front of a camera (just ask our wedding photographer) but occasionally, I see a couples photo that kind of makes my heart melt because you can see that the photographer “caught” them just being in love with each other. There are a couple of photos from our engagement/wedding that are like this, too. Anyway, I’m always looking for inspiration so that next time we end up in front of a camera for some reason, we’re not like, “Uh, let’s hug, I guess?”
  3. Vinegar’s greatness
    I use a spray bottle of vinegar for cleaning almost everything in my house. I’m so happy the whole rest of the world is catching on to the great, inexpensive, non-toxic wonder of it.
  4. Baking swaps
    Yes, you can substitute Greek yogurt or pumpkin puree for almost anything. This was life-changing for me. And remember that whole complex dessert thing? Some baking substitutes totally do this for me. Pumpkin puree with brownie mix is one such example. So much yum.
  5. Satire
    Anything that makes fun of Paula Deen, hipsters, dinosaurs, owls, the list above, and cats is totally acceptable.

What are some things that you dislike that other people go crazy over? What are some things that you actually like?