It seems that my whole childhood was a lie. Not the “Santa Claus is real” or the “Tooth Fairy put a quarter under my pillow” type of lie that every childhood has, but a real identity lie. One that may have led to ridicule (or may not have, I was kind of a little jerk when I was a kid.) One that gave me a sense of always being on the fringe of normal. One that I didn’t realize until I’m older had left me with questions about who I really was.
In elementary school, starting in Third Grade, I took French. I don’t remember why exactly I ended up taking French over Spanish. Something about not returning the form on time, or my parents not having the foresight to see that Spanish may have been beneficial- I don’t know. All I know is that I didn’t choose it. I would never have chosen it. My teacher, Ms. Nussbaum, scared the shit out of me.
French classes continued until Junior High School. Maybe into High School, I don’t remember and I won’t bother to look it up. All I know is I can recite the “Solomon Grundy” poem in French and I know where my Aunt’s pen is. (It’s on the dresser.)
So, as they do to this day, language classes always hold “Cultural Fairs” and “Ethnic Feast” where the kids are supposed to bring in dishes native to their nationality. I always dreaded those days (I didn’t know then what I know now, that ethnic food is DELICIOUS),I never ate a thing my classmates brought in. Spanish food and Italian food and Jewish food and German food, ack. Gross. The most ethnic dish my family ate was lasagna, made with Ragu pasta sauce. What did I usually bring in?
Because I was told I was part American Indian.
It seemed that this ethnic piece of my pie trumped my German piece of the pie (dad’s side), so no, I’m not bringing in Schnitzel. We were half American (mom’s side) and a portion of that was Native Indian.
That cornbread was accepted in my lower grades because what little kid doesn’t like corn bread and Cowboys and Indians? But as I got older and brought in that pan of maize cake and explained that I was part Native American Indian, I started getting major side-eye from both my classmates and teachers. When they asked what tribe I was descended from, I couldn’t answer. When I pressed my mom on what tribe we were, I never got a straight answer. I stopped bringing in corn bread.
Fast forward a few years to Seventh Grade. March 17, everyone is wearing green because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Not me, unfortunately. I’m not Irish, I’m Protestant (Lutheran) so I’m not wearing green. Here, my mom says, wear this shirt. It’s more suitable to your heritage.
My orange Tony The Tiger shirt. Orange.
I know now that it’s not a slight to wear orange. The Irish flag is green (Catholic) and orange (Protestant) and the white symbolizes the peace between them. But I grew up in a working middle-class neighborhood in the 70’s and those Irish kids were listening to their Irish parents talk about the Troubles in Ireland. I think if I was a boy, I would have been beat up. Not that I wasn’t threatened or stalked or intimidated. There was no way I was taking the bus home that day. I begged a ride from a friend’s mom and they went out of their way to take me home.
So I grew up “knowing” that I was 50% German, 50% American, which included American Indian. I “knew” my mom’s side of the family founded the Long Island town of Hewlett because that was Nana Ethel’s maiden name. I “knew” I wasn’t Irish (even though EVERYONE is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day). I “knew” my ancestors came over on one of the ships soon after the Mayflower landed in America.
These are the “lies” I grew up with. Not intentional, absolutely not. Just repeated from generation to generation without a smidge of fact checking or research. And for the next 40 years, I was content to believe them.
It wasn’t until I started going to the cemeteries with Dad that I became interested in my family history. When Joyce contacted me after coming across this blog post I became even more so. When Sandy wiped out all of the family photos and I had to rescue them and started really looking at these people in these old photos and wondering how they were related to me, I was hooked. I had to know where I came from. Who were my ancestors? Where are those Native Americans? How was I related to the Hewletts?
Thank you Ancestry.com. And MR. And Zombiegirl and her quest for scholarships.
Last Christmas, MR gave me the Ancestry.com DNA kit. He’s fully supportive of me finding out where I come from and what I’m made of. I spit in the tube and mail it out.
Eight weeks later, I get the email I’ve been waiting for. This is it, this is my past revealed to me. I will finally get some questions answered and some facts validated. I can’t wait for MR to come home, I have to open it now. My hands are shaking as I click the email…